NBA Opening Night: Numbers to Watch for Each Team
Over 3,188 hours, 132 days and 18 weeks -- that's how long it has been since a meaningful NBA minute has been played on a professional basketball court.
It's been a long offseason for us NBA fanatics, but the start of the 2015-16 NBA season is finally upon us. And the league is ready to welcome us back with open arms, with three great matchups on tap for tonight.
Rather than breaking things down game-by-game, I will instead be examining one number, from each team a season ago, that will be key not only to tonight's games but to the rest of the season. That number will be something to watch for as the young season progresses.
It's just the first games of the season -- however, performance in premiere matchups such as tonight's may be an indicator of things to come. It'll be interesting to see whether or not these teams will improve upon, sustain or fail to reach the same numbers as a year ago.
Here's what to watch for.
Detroit Pistons: 27.7%
This is the percentage of available offensive rebounds ripped down by the Pistons a year ago. That figure was good enough for third in the NBA, as the Pistons thrived on the offensive boards, with the second-most offensive boards in the entire league. That was, in large part, a product of their star center, Andre Drummond, and his league best 18.3% Offensive Rebound Percentage.
However, the recently departed Greg Monroe had a lot to do with that as well. He had an Offensive Rebound Percentage of 11.2% to his own name and finished 11th in total offensive boards. Ersan Ilyasova figures to step in as the new power forward in Detroit, and he doesn't have the same ability to crash the offensive glass. He's much more of a stretch four and finished 2014-15 with an Offensive Rebound Percentage of 7.0%. It'll be interesting to see if the Pistons can sustain their effectiveness on the boards absent Monroe.
Atlanta Hawks: 13.5%
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers -- that's what plagued last year's otherwise super-efficient Hawks team. Even after earning the league's sixth-best Offensive Rating the Hawks could have been even better had they handled the ball with more care. The above number is the percentage of possessions in which the Hawks turned the ball over, which placed them 19th in the NBA in that category.
Their 14.2 turnovers per game weren't much better and were lackluster enough for 16th in the league. What saved them last year was their ability to turn over their opponents 16.1 times per contest, therefore winning the turnover battle over the long run. Atlanta really can't afford to count on that again this year because, if they want to hang with the big boys, mediocrity in something so important as ball security will just not cut it.
Cleveland Cavaliers: 0.177
This minuscule number is the Free Throw Rate -- free throw attempts per field goal attempt -- allowed by the Cleveland Cavaliers' defense in 2014-15. Why is such a number so important? It was first among all NBA teams. Great, so what -- am I right? No. Wrong.
That was a very crucial part to the Cavs' success a season ago for one big reason -- they were just 10th in the league in Free Throw Rate themselves. A rate of .287 is nothing to scoff about, but that number should be a lot higher with off-the-dribble attackers LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and offensive-board-crashers Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.
Sure, the Cavaliers enjoyed a lot of success this past season and might have even been one injury away from a title, but that's beside the point. If Cleveland would get to the line as often as they should, they'd have a huge advantage night in and night out. Let's see if they intend to do that this time around.
Chicago Bulls: 48.9%
If you're thinking that's the Bulls' astonishingly great, league-leading field goal percentage you see there, I'm sorry to burst your bubble. Disappointingly, it's their Effective Field Goal Percentage, which situated them 21st in the league a season ago. The reason why that number is so low is obvious -- the Bulls were very average three point shooters (15th in three-pointers made, 16th in attempts and 10th in three-point percentage).
Fortunately enough for Bulls fans, that should change real soon. With Fred Hoiberg now at the helm, expect Chicago to open it up on offense by promoting better spacing and shooting more open threes as a result. They were just 16th in the league a year ago with a Three-Point Attempt Rate of .269 while Hoiberg's 2014-15 Iowa State Cyclones had a rate of .354.
The likely change in offensive philosophy should improve upon the Bulls' already proficient Offensive Rating of 107.5 a year ago, possibly elevating them to elite status this year. I can't wait to see if that'll happen.
New Orleans Pelicans: 7.1
That's not even double the number of three pointers Stephen Curry made per game in his MVP season, and the New Orleans Pelicans expect to compete in today's NBA by making just over seven treys a contest. What did Wayne Gretzky say though? "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." That's certainly the case here as the Pelicans attempted a mere 19.3 threes last year (23rd in the Association). They have to let it fly more often this year.
Maybe the Pelicans were more selective with their shots from downtown, but how can you not put an emphasis on taking more threes when your team shot 37% and ended the season fourth in the entire league? An emphasis might be unnecessary though with Alvin Gentry's uptempo offense, Anthony Davis' three-point focus and Ryan Anderson's gunslinger mentality. Particularly, the thought of an Anderson-Brow four-five combo is terrifying. Will the offense live up to the hype or will they fail to capitalize on what appears to be a strength for a second consecutive year?
Golden State Warriors: 11.7
It was hard to come up with one number for the defending champs to either improve on or maintain in their quest to repeat this year. I said it was hard though, not impossible. 11.7 is the number of offensive rebounds the Warriors gave up to opposing offenses a year ago. That number is very "unchampionlike" as it was the fourth-worst in all of the league and led to vital extra possessions for opposing squads.
Tristan Thompson showed us in last year's playoffs just how glaring a weakness it was for the Warriors and their small-ball lineups. Teams should be keying in on that this year against a team with very few glaring weaknesses. On the other hand, if Golden State improves on this aspect of their game, it could spell a second consecutive title for the boys of the bay area.
As always, it will be fun to see who improves in what areas and how that affects their play in a new year of NBA basketball. Let's get the games started already!