Numbers in sports don’t always have to be an endless, contentious point of debate. Sure, it’s always fun to continuously circle back around a contrived argument between outdated television hosts and ostensibly bespectacled computer geeks, recycling the same straw man points over and over… Wait, that’s not fun at all? Right, that’s seriously not fun at all.
Let’s change the tone for a brief moment during the offseason doldrums. Here are some strange, shocking and ultimately entertaining stats you never expected to see from the 2015-16 NBA season.
Beasts of efficiency (not really): By the traditional definition and minutes thresholds, most numerically inclined NBA fans will know that Stephen Curry “led” the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) last year, with a 31.5 mark that challenged some of the most efficient seasons in league history (it ended up eighth of all-time, trailing seasons by only Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Wilt Chamberlain).
In actuality, however, small-sample theater reveals that Curry did not technically lead this category last year. In six minutes apiece, the top spots were actually held by Thanasis Antetokounmpo (32.9) and Rakeem Christmas (32), with Curry taking home bronze. In another entertaining twist, San Antonio Spurs fan favorite Boban Marjanovic was ranked fifth. Somehow, it feels like these guys might find a bit tougher sledding if they played a Curry-like minute load.
The streakiest of the streaky: Many NBA players have the ability to get hot, but which can get the hottest? That’s impossible to quantify, right? Partially wrong, actually.
Using NBAMiner.com, we can track one element of streakiness: Scoring runs. Steph Curry (surprise, surprise) tops the category for last season, scoring 24 consecutive points for the Golden State Warriors in a December game at the Charlotte Hornets, and Paul George (21 straight against the Detroit Pistons in January) is the only other to break 20 consecutive for his own team. If we include the opponent, Reggie Jackson’s 16 straight points for either team against the Portland Trail Blazers on November 8 tops the field.
A look down this list reveals a few pretty huge surprises, though. The group of guys who scored at least 15 straight during a game last season includes P.J. Tucker, Marcus Thornton and Rodney Stuckey. Also, the longest such streak during the regular season for a Cleveland Cavaliers player belonged not to LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, but to Kevin Love’s 17 in a row against the Orlando Magic in mid-November.
Taking the cake by a mile here, though, is the Mamba himself. Not only did Kobe Bryant pull off this feat twice in his age-37 season with over 55,000 NBA minutes on his body, he did it twice in the same game – his final NBA appearance, at that. Bryant scored 15 straight Lakers points between the 5:12 and 1:47 marks in the first quarter of his NBA finale at home against the Utah Jazz, then topped it not two hours later when he scored 17 straight from 5:41 to 0:14 in the fourth quarter.
This isn’t search-able without a lot of manual clicking, but here’s a dollar to yours that this had never been done in NBA history prior to Kobe pulling it off. The man sure knew how to leave a lasting impression.
Jamal Crawford, not quite king of four-point plays: Long known around the league for his ability to hit ridiculous shots, often while falling down or being hacked, Jamal Crawford is the safe bet to lead the NBA in four-point plays each year – and he has indeed been at or near the top of the list for the last half decade.
He’d have been on top of the heap this year, too, were it not for some extremely inopportune struggles at the line. Crawford came decimals short of leading the league in free throw percentage, but two of those misses came after a made triple and a corresponding foul, meaning he only converted five of his seven four-point play opportunities, per NBAminer.com. The seven chances tied for the league lead, but Damian Lillard and Isaiah Canaan – the only other two players with seven such opportunities – each converted all seven of their free throws, and James Harden nailed all six of his. For this year, at least, Jamal will have to settle for top five in his signature category.
New-look Warriors beat you everywhere: The Golden State Warriors have become synonymous with deadly long-range shooting, and for good reason. With the addition of Kevin Durant, though, their offense will become even more unstoppable – and perhaps not in the ways you’d first imagine.
Per SportVU data, guess which two players led the league last year in field goal percentage on drives to the basket among high-volume drivers? Yeah, it was Durant and Curry. In fact, the Warriors will now boast four players (Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) who finished last season in the league’s top 30 for driving efficiency (points scored per drives attempted) among guys who drove at least 200 times. For good measure, Durant was far and away the most efficient post player in the NBA of players with at least 100 possessions.
Now, these figures obviously tie in directly with the Dubs’ historic marksmanship. It stands to reason that teams forced to contort themselves to defend the most dangerous distance attack ever will naturally cede more space in the middle of the court. With Durant coming aboard as perhaps the league’s greatest individual representation of that give-and-take, we may honestly even be understating how potent this group will be next year. Be afraid, NBA. Be very, very afraid.
Travel time discrepancies: One tiny detail worked against Golden State last season, and seems likely to continue doing so moving forward: The number of miles they traveled between various game destinations. The Warriors led the NBA in total distance traveled over the course of the regular season at over 53,000 miles covered, per NBASavant.com. Counting the postseason, they topped 72,000 miles.
By comparison, the Cleveland Cavaliers – Golden State’s NBA Finals opponent – traveled the least. The Cavs flew just over 35,000 miles in the regular season, and a hair under 48,000 when adding in playoff games. That’s nearly 25,000 fewer miles covered over a seven-month period. Could this have contributed to what ended up as a four-point margin for their entire seven-game Finals series? We’ll never know.
(A brief aside: For those wondering why the league still hasn’t scrapped conferences and divisions for a more balanced schedule, this variance in travel time plays a big role. Even under the current system designed in part to make things as even as possible in this area, we still see massive discrepancies over a single season. This would only get worse if teams like Golden State and Portland were forced to visit each NBA city an equal number of times.)
Frontrunners and cellar-dwellers: The L.A. Lakers and L.A. Clippers have swapped places in Los Angeles’ sports hierarchy over the last few years, and their status as in-game frontrunners or the negative flip side last year serves as a nice metaphor. Both teams seemed to view the first basket of a given game as a deciding factor pretty frequently, just on different ends of the spectrum.
The Clippers won 11 of their 53 games without trailing once, per NBAMiner, which was nearly double the total of any other team in the league (four teams never even did it once). On the flip side, the Lakers lost 11 times without ever holding the lead in a particular game (once again, no other team had more than six such instances). Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also the fifth straight year the Clippers have led the former big brother franchise in home attendance at their shared Staples Center home.
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