5 NBA Stats to Know Through Week 21
The last few weeks have seen a significant rise in production from players who were not necessarily expected to put up huge numbers for their respective teams.
Along with a few upstart players, some very interesting teams are making a push for a playoff spot, including the Charlotte Hornets, who despite a poor record, have some metrics that suggest top teams would not want to face them in the first round of the playoffs. That also may be the case for a young Minnesota Timberwolves team that appears to be hitting their stride to end the season.
What should you know about the NBA through 21 weeks?
Khris Middleton has a net rating of +17.6 over his last 8 games
Many in Milwaukee had to fear the worst when Parker was lost for the season to an ACL tear a few weeks ago. However, the return of Khris Middleton has gone better than nearly anyone could have expected. Over the last eight games, Middleton leads the Bucks with a net rating of +17.6 to help stabilize the young squad.
What stands out most is the defensive ability he brings alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. Middleton is averaging 1.2 steals per game on the season and has already picked up 0.3 defensive win shares in 13 games played. That has been a big reason for the Bucks' defensive rating of 96.4 in those last eight games.
Coming off a season in which he posted career highs in points, assists, and three-pointers made, it seemed unlikely that Middleton would improve on that end, yet he has. His per-36-minute numbers are a sparkling 18.9 points, 5.3 assists, and 1.8 threes made this season.
The one concern some had was how Middleton would play with the increased usage that Antetokounmpo sees, but the loss of Parker has mitigated much of that issue; Middleton's usage is similar to what he saw last season.
The loss of Parker certainly hurts the team’s chances of a first-round upset, but the trio of Middleton, Antetokounmpo, and Parker seem poised to deliver big things in Milwaukee in the near future.
The Charlotte Hornets rank 11th in nERD
Entering the 2016-17 season, the Charlotte Hornets seemed like a near lock to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Coming off a 48-34 season and returning their roster completely intact, Charlotte had the look of a team poised to make a jump.
Now 66 games into the season, our nERD team rankings seem to echo that statement, as the team currently sits 11th overall. Despite the solid ranking in the metrics, the Hornets are a meager 29-37 with just a 12.5% chance to make the playoffs.
It is also interesting that Charlotte currently sits fifth in the Eastern Conference with a point differential of 0.9 on the year but still remain 3.5 games behind the Bucks for the 8 seed.
What may be the culprit behind some of the struggles is a team defense that had a defensive rating of 104.3 last season but has now jumped to a poor 107.4 this season. This could be attributed to the poor defensive play of star Kemba Walker, who has a pitiful defensive real plus-minus of -0.84, which has allowed players such as John Wall and Kyrie Irving to dominate the Hornets.
With just 16 games left in their season, it appears unlikely the Hornets return to the playoffs, which according to the metrics would be a significant boost for a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are likely to get a weaker opponent in round one as a result.
Alan Williams is averaging 18.4 points and 15.3 rebounds per 36 minutes on the season
As we highlighted in this piece last week, the Phoenix Suns' decision to go young has yielded some fantastic results with Tyler Ulis. The jump for Ulis may be nothing in respect to the huge performances of Alan Williams.
The second-year big man has taken the place of Tyson Chandler in the Phoenix rotation and has responded with six double-doubles in the last eight games. Those numbers have bumped his per-36-minute numbers to a gaudy 18.4 points and 15.3 rebounds on the year.
Last season, Williams averaged 6.8 minutes per game. This season, he is up to 12.7 minutes per game, and over the last two weeks, that has jumped to 26.6 per contest with his newfound role.
What has remained constant over his career 461 minutes is an elite defensive rebounding rate of 30.1%, which would put him at seventh overall on the season.
Although his numbers do seem a bit inflated, it looks as though Phoenix has found a reliable young big man.
Karl-Anthony Towns is scoring 28.2 points per game over his last 15 games
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been without shooting guard Zach LaVine for 15 games after he tore his ACL last month. Karl-Anthony Towns seems to have taken it on his shoulders not to let the team slip. In those 15 games, he is averaging 28.2 points per game.
The boost in scoring should come as no surprise, though. Without LaVine on the floor, Towns trails only Andrew Wiggins in usage at 28.2%. However, the huge thing for the Wolves is that, in those 15 games, Towns is shooting a sparkling 60.8% from the field and 83.1% from the free throw line.
One player who should also get credit for Towns' ascendance is Ricky Rubio, who has an assist rate of 43.1% without LaVine on the floor. The reliance on Rubio to be the playmaker without LaVine on the floor has led Towns to a true shooting percentage of 67.4% since the All-Star break, up 8% from his pre-All-Star numbers.
Towns has always been touted as a future offensive star, and it appears that the loss of LaVine has only expedited this timeline.
Bojan Bogdanovic has an effective field goal percentage of 62.5% with the Wizards
The Washington Wizards' addition of veteran swingman Bojan Bogdanovic at the trade deadline did not move the needle for most observers. With Otto Porter having a career year and Markieff Morris eating up 31 minutes a game, there did not appear to be the need for a third wing.
In 24.7 minutes a game since joining the team, Bogdanovic has proven that to be inaccurate. His effective field goal percentage of 62.5% is second on the team during that stretch. That has been big for the team because -- over the last two weeks -- Porter has shot 48.8%, down from his dazzling 52.5% season-long rate.
The main concern that Washington has to wonder about is that, during his 10 games with the team, Bogdanovic has a defensive rating of 113.7. This should not come as much of a surprise as his defensive real plus-minus on the year is a dreadful -2.87, which is 95th of 98 qualified shooting guards.
The defense is an issue, but if Bogdanovic can continue to be another reliable deep threat for Washington, they become a legitimate contender to make a run during the playoffs.