Since James Naismith invented the sport of basketball, there have been an infinite number of changes to the game. Whether it's rules, the uniform, roster size, or position versatility, the game is continuously changing.
But until the past couple of years, the statistics of basketball have remained unchanged. For over 50 years, we looked at the same point, rebound and assist totals as ways to quantify a player’s value on the floor. In reality, those meaningless stats didn’t actually tell us a whole lot.
Boy has that changed. Over the past few seasons, statistics and advanced analytics have changed not only how we view the game, but how the game is untimely played. More so than ever, front offices of NBA franchises are littered with analytical-oriented minds, such as Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Memphis Grizzlies VP of Basketball operations John Hollinger, whose decisions are heavily influenced by these new metrics and analytics. These decisions, most famously the Rudy Gay trade, are shifting the landscape of the league.
Thanks to sites like numberFire, the common fan can now easily go and find information that is molding the modern NBA.
However, this new gold-mine of data can be a bit overwhelming for the casual NBA fan. So I’m going to give you 10 very telling stats from across the NBA, but also explain exactly what the mean.
DeMarcus Cousins Leads the NBA in usage percentage at 35.3%.
Over the course of his first three seasons in the league, Cousins has shown flashes of his immense potential, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. But after a huge contract extension, many wondered whether Big Cuz could consistently be a team’s premier offensive weapon.
This stat proves that and then some. Usage Percentage is an estimate of a team’s possessions used by a player while on the floor, a category usually led by some of the best players in the game. The fact that Cousins is leading the league in Usage Percentage while posting career high per 36 min numbers is a great sign towards Cousin’s development offensively.
While he likely won’t finish the season atop the leader board, he is proving he is more than worthy of his contract as he’s becoming one of the better offensive centers in the league.
Paul George is shooting 58.7% on shots from 10-19 feet away from the basket.
George made the leap last year and has turned into one of the league’s elite players due to his stingy defense and evolved offensive repertoire. However, that repertoire was previously limited due to spot up three-point shots and drives to the basket, lacking a mid-range jumper.
But it seems PG took that to the gym with him over the summer, as he is now shooting that exact mid-range shot about 20% better than league average. This not only shows his overall offensive improvement in Year 4, but his development as a pick-and-roll ball handler as well, as the mid-range shot is normally there for the taking for a ball handler.
One of the top-10 players in the league already at age 23, it's getting harder and harder to cap off George’s ceiling.
The bottom-four players in the NBA in net rating (+/-) are members of the Utah Jazz.
In the season of tanking, perhaps no team is succeeding more towards their goal of getting the top pick in the 2014 draft than the Utah Jazz. The Jazz are off to a 1-14 start, and are the worst team in the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
This is rare to see in itself, as teams are not usually this bad, but the fact that they have the four-worst players in the league in terms of Net Rating is even worse. Richard Jefferson (-20.6), Derrick Favors (-19.8), Enes Kanter (-17.8) and Gordon Hayward (-17.8) seem to be doing all they can to help Utah get in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes.
During a season with many more horrendous teams than good ones, I’d be shocked if the Jazz don’t finish off the year as the worst of the worst.
Thaddeus Young and Michael Carter-Williams are both top five in distance covered at 3.6 miles per 48 minutes.
When two players on the same team cover 3.6 miles per 48 minutes while on the floor, it can only mean one thing: fast-paced offenses. Coach Brett Brown has preached pace with his squad, and they are running all over the place to a surprising 6-9 start.
The 76ers know that they are not a talented basketball team, but they are a young and athletic one. Because of this, they league the lead in pace (possessions per 48 min) at 102.00, and are essentially running teams out of the gym.
This is also causing a massive increase in the 76ers stats, especially Young and MCW. Being that the team is averaging 9% more possessions per game than last year, it would make sense that 76ers like Young and Evan Turner have a 9% increase in their points, rebounds, etc. from last year. This could have a huge impact on future contracts, awards (ROY for Carter-Williams) and general inflation of a player’s perceived value.
Ty Lawson is averaging 8.5 assists per game on 19.1 assist opportunities per game.
It has been known for a long time that assists don’t tell the entire story of a passer, as it’s one thing to make a pass, but the passer can’t control if the shooter makes the shot. With the assist opportunities metric, which are the passes by a player to a teammate that would be an assist if the shot were made, we can see how a players assist totals are being impacted by their teammates shooting.
In the case of Ty Lawson, his teammates are hurting him. Lawson is third in the NBA in opportunities but only fifth in actual assists, with a conversion rate of 44%. Compare that to Stephen Curry who averages 8.9 assists with a 62% conversion rate, and you can see just how impactful a team’s shooting can be towards our perception of a player’s passing ability.
If Lawson has the same 62% conversion rate on his 19.1 opportunities as Curry, he would average 11.7 assist per game. So in this exercise of advanced analytics, we can see that Lawson is becoming one of the best passers in the NBA, but the Nuggets lack of shooting is impacting his numbers.
Monta Ellis is second in the NBA in drives per game (10.7) and first in points per game on those drives (7.9).
Ellis has always been one of the more polarizing players in the league, mainly due to his lackadaisical defensive efforts and horrible shot selection. But a horrible underrated part of his game was his ability to drive to the basket, either to score or distribute.
Now in Dallas, Ellis is shining in his role as a slash-and-kick penetrator, to the tune of career highs in scoring, TS%, and eFG%. This is mainly due to his increasing in drives per game. A drive is defined as a possession where a player travels to the basket from at least 10 feet away, and is an integral part of the game. A drive to the basket condenses the defense, opening of passing and cutting lanes or giving the driver an easy shot at the rim.
If Ellis continues his efficiency as a driver, he’ll shed his polarizing label and likely post career highs across the board. Look for Monta as a possible All-Star candidate.
Roy Hibbert leads the NBA with a block percentage of 10.4%.
Out of all the stats I came across in doing research for this article, Hibbert’s block percentage is the most stunning. When Hibbert is on the floor, he blocks over 10% of opponent shot attempts, a figure that would rank fourth all time behind only Manute Bol.
Hibbert has a career block percentage of 5.5%, so what is causing this? We could just chalk it up to a young player reaching his prime at age 27, but that would be the easy way out. Instead, his block percentage gives us insight on how he blocks 4.3 shots per game. Hibbert has made the “rule of verticality” a well-known idea, as going straight up for a block, as Hibbert does, limits foul calls (career low 2.8 per game) and maximizes a shot-blockers maximum height, giving him a better shot at blocking an attempt.
Hibbert as easily cemented himself as the best big-man defender the NBA has to offer, and could put himself in the history books if he continues his record shattering numbers.
The Portland Trail Blazers rank fifth in the NBA in nERD at 64.4.
The Blazers are off to an incredible 12-2 start, but many basketball fans are skeptical of their long-term success. Are they likely to keep it up?
Portland had a remarkable offseason, turning one of the worst benches in NBA history into a strength of the team. With that, they now have an elite offense (fourth best in the NBA at a 110.4 ORtg), and an average defense (12th in the NBA at a 104.1 DRtg). This all combines to being numberFire’s fifth-ranked team in terms of nERD.
These numbers all scream out regression, especially for a team with a recent history like the Blazers. But I think GM Neil Olshey has done a terrific job building this team around Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. However, while I believe they’ll make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference, I struggle to see them as title contenders. History shows that an elite defense is more important to title contention than an equally elite offense, and I can’t see the Blazers and all their minus defenders becoming a top-10 defensive team.
The Houston Rockets lead the NBA in three-point attempts per game at 26.8.
Houston led the NBA last year with 28.9 three-point attempts per game, one of the highest marks ever. But when Dwight Howard came to town, there was some worry that his constant requests for ball-stopping post-up attempts would slow the offense and ultimately cut down on the Rockets three-point shooting.
But fret not, Rocket fans. Instead, Dwight seems to be having the same effect on the team as he did in Orlando where the Magic routinely led the league in three-point attempts. With Dwight as the lone big-man, offensive spacing and ball movement are at their peaks, which result in a barrage of three-pointers by Houston’s arsenal of shooters.
I hoped that Kevin McHale wouldn’t change his offensive philosophy in order to please Dwight, as last year’s Rockets had one of the best and most pleasing to watch offenses in the NBA. McHale stuck to his guns, and the Rockets are once again on pace to lead the league in the game’s most rewarding shot.
Knicks lineups with Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani have a defensive rating of 109.6.
All-NBA defender Tyson Chandler is one of the best rim-defenders in the entire league, and an essential part of the Knicks team as he often covers up for his teammate’s defensive deficiencies. Since Chandler went down with an injury, the Knicks have been in a tough spot with deciding who to play at center.
With a load of injured veterans at hand, they instead went with shooter, and notoriously horrible defender, Andrea Bargnani. As you might have guessed, when he and Melo share they floor, their DRtg is more than three points worse than the worst defense in the league.
The Knicks are a team in heavy turmoil without maybe their most important player. Playing Andrea Bargnani at center is not optimal if you have any aspirations. While there isn’t a clear cut solution due to roster limitations, the Knicks need to change something defensively (possibly a Kenyon Martin rejuvenation), or risk being at the bottom of the Eastern Conference until Chandler comes back.