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 Sure, it’s always fun to continuously circle back around a contrived argument between outdated television hosts and ostensibly bespectacled computer geeks, recycling the same straw man points over and over… Wait, that’s not fun at all?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.
Do you have any interesting or shocking statistics that you want to share? Leave a comment below or send a tweet to Ben Dowsett here.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN