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Ranking The Free Agents – Point Guards

There aren’t that many elite point guards available this summer, but the cap crunch should still make the market for them quite fascinating.

Matt John

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Well hoop freaks, the NBA season is officially over. With the NBA Finals concluded and the draft coming up, there’s no hurt in taking an early look into the free agency period happening less than a month from now. Especially since this one is going to be a change of pace compared to the last two.

The new TV deal between the NBA and ABC led to an exponential rise in the league’s salary cap, as it went from $70.1 million to $94 million in the summer of 2016, then from $94 million to $99 million in 2017, which led to a whole lot of excess spending over the last two summers.

This summer, however, will not be the same. The salary cap rose to $101 million, which, combined with the amount of salary that teams already owe to their current rosters, means there’s not going to be many nine-figure salaries being tossed around willy-nilly this time.

Because of that, expect this free agency period to be the equivalent of a whiplash effect. There are going to be plenty of players who aren’t going to see the luxurious contract offers that they deserve. Not necessarily because they didn’t earn said contract, but because money is so tight that no one can offer the contract they want.

With money being so tight this summer, there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the available free agents this summer, particularly with our first installment: Point guards.

This isn’t the strongest class of points guard available on the open market, but with the NBA’s current financial climate, no one can firmly grasp what kind of money these guards are going to make, with the exception being one particular guard from Houston, which makes it all the more fascinating.

A fair amount of these guys deserve more than the Mid-Level Exception, but they might have to settle for it. So, without further ado, here’s what the market looks like for point guards that will be available this summer.

Based on the $101 million projected salary cap, maximum salary amounts are expected to fall in these ranges:

$25,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience

$30,300,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience

$35,350,000 for players with 10+ years of experience

Max Guys/Near Max Guys

Chris Paul – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $24,599,495

The Chris Paul experiment was a monumental success in Houston. Paul may have played just 58 games as a Rocket, but of those 58 games, the Rockets lost only eight of them. Paul’s role in the Rockets having their most successful playoff run since the days of Hakeem the Dream would make giving him the max a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, it’s precisely the injuries, along with his age, that makes Paul’s contract situation a little open to question. Even at 33, Paul still is one of the best floor generals in the game, but his persistent injuries at this point in his career make investing in him a risk.

Reportedly, Paul will not take a penny less than a max contract, which may make contract negotiations a little tough for the Rockets. General Manager Daryl Morey could meet Paul’s demands, but Paul’s health and age concerns could lead to a compromise between the two sides.

Houston is going for the hail mary this summer, as they hope to keep Paul and Clint Capela as well as bring in LeBron to form their own super team. No matter what the details of his next contract will be, it would be in the Rockets’ best interest to keep Paul, even if it means throwing caution to the wind.

Mid-Level Guys

Rajon Rondo – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $3,300,000

After bouncing around the league for the last four years, Rondo may have finally found a new home in New Orleans. Rondo’s comeback season, along with his reputation for stepping up in the playoffs, contributed to one of the NBA’s most pleasant surprises with the Pelicans.

Rondo should also expect a significant pay raise, as he was one of the NBA’s best bargains, but the drought in cap room makes it hard to envision eight figures in his next contract.

It’s hard to see New Orleans letting Rondo go after all he did for them, but their hands will already be tied with DeMarcus Cousins. Rondo may go to the highest bidder, but his best bet might be to stay with the Pelicans and roll the dice next summer.

Isaiah Thomas – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $6,261,395

This time last year, Thomas was advocating for a Brinks truck, but for now, he’ll have to settle for a compact pickup instead.

All that could have gone wrong for Thomas has gone wrong since being traded last summer. After flopping badly in Cleveland, Thomas revived himself a bit mid-season in Los Angeles only to opt for season-ending hip surgery.

Because Thomas’ value has cratered to where it is now, he won’t see any large long-term offers, so his best option would probably be to take a one- or two-year prove-it type deal.

Dante Exum* – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $4,992,385

No one will be victimized in restricted free agency more than Exum. Since his very raw rookie season, Exum missed his second season because of an ACL tear, was put in the doghouse in his third season, then missed most of his fourth season with a shoulder injury.

Despite all that, Exum showed more and more flashes of the terrific and unique player many pegged him to be coming out of the 2014 draft since returning from his shoulder injury. He has a very limited sample size, but Exum is a versatile 6-foot-6 point guard who plays exceptional defense.

Something to keep in mind with Exum, along with some of his other fellow 2014 NBA draftees, is that because of the cap crunch, his best option might be to take the Qualifying Offer, then wait until next summer where he will be Unrestricted and there should be more available money.

Marcus Smart* – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $4,538,020

Avery Bradley – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $8,808,989

Milos Teodosic – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000

Darren Collison** – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $10,000,000

Austin Rivers – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $11,825,000

Elfrid Payton* – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $3,332,340

Patrick Beverley** – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,000,000

Fred VanVleet* – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611

Mid-Level or Below Guys

Spencer Dinwiddie** – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,524,305

Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $15,453,126

Shabazz Napier* – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $2,361,360

Devin Harris – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $4,402,546

T.J. McConnell – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Shelvin Mack** – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000

Seth Curry – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $3,028,410

Derrick Rose – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $290,951

Marquis Teague – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $83,129

Ty Lawson – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $8,313

Mario Chalmers – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Julyan Stone** – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary $1,524,305

Trey Burke** – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $784,160

Raymond Felton – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Yogi Ferrell* – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611

Jarrett Jack – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Brandon Jennings** – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $130,911

Jameer Nelson – Detroit Pistons – Last year’s Salary: $1,429,818

Jose Calderon – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Shane Larkin – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Michael Carter-Williams – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $2,700,000

Dwight Buycks – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $748,160

Isaiah Canaan – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $997,547

Larry Drew II – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $74,159

Lorenzo Brown – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $16,626

Tyler Ennis – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,524,305

Tim Frazier – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $2,000,000

David Stockton – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $44,495

Joseph Young – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Raul Neto – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382

Briante Weber – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $83,129

Malcolm Delaney* – Atlanta Hawks – Last year’s Salary: $2,500,000

Jonathan Gibson* – Boston Celtics – Last year’s Salary: $44,495

Isaiah Taylor** – Atlanta Hawks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611

Andrew Harrison** – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611

Wade Baldwin** – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $229,892

Tyler Ulis** – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611

Kyle Collinsworth** – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $290,304

Shaquille Harrison** – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $175,000

Josh Gray – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $46,080

Walter Lemon Jr. – New Orleans Pelicans – Last year’s Salary: $46,080

*Qualifying Offer (If made, player becomes restricted free agent)
**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If player is waived by current team before contract becomes fully guaranteed, becomes unrestricted free agent)

It is true that outside of Paul, there aren’t that many golden options out there as far as point guards go. However, the cap crunch has made it so that impactful players such as Rondo and Thomas could be had for much less than what they are worth.

Gentlemen, start your engines!

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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NBA

NBA Daily: DPOY Watch – 11/19/19

A familiar name is back at the top of the Defensive Player of the Year rankings with established contenders and youthful upstarts nipping at his heels.

Jack Winter

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A month into the regular season, the race for Defensive Player of the Year remains fluid. Even as longtime contenders and preseason favorites further assert their will defensively, a group of position-less wings and dogged guards are making a major impact on that side of the floor, too.

More or less, it comes down to one simple question still: Can anybody dethrone Rudy Gobert and his tenacious, defensive unit-leading prowess?

Here’s where Defensive Player of the Year stands as December quickly approaches.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics; Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors; Patrick Beverley, Los Angeles Clippers; Jevon Carter, Phoenix Suns

5. Jonathan Isaac – Orlando Magic

Only Anthony Davis has more combined steals and blocks than Isaac’s 45. His individual defensive performance against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 6, when he collected five steals and six blocks, is arguably the season’s most impressive.

Isaac, at 6-foot-11 with long arms and an increasingly sturdy frame, simply makes plays the vast majority of defenders can’t, even when the box score doesn’t recognize them. His activity, quickness and instincts routinely allow him to be two places at once defensively. He’s among the game’s most switchable defenders, and there may not be a better help-and-recover player in all of basketball.

It’s not just steals either as both blocks and the ever-important eye test support Isaac’s nascent case for Defensive Player of the Year.

Isaac is the Magic’s only starter with a negative net defensive rating. Better, Orlando — a franchise that goads opponents into more two-point jumpers than any team in the league — forces 5.4 percent more mid-rangers than average with Isaac on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. He’s top-three in defensive field goal percentage allowed at the rim, too, an ode to both his mastery of verticality and penchant for highlight-reel blocks.

Isaac is realizing his potential as a game-changing, all-court defensive force in his third NBA campaign. He’s probably not a big enough name to garner legitimate consideration for hardware this season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be worthy of it – or fail to emerge as a perennial DPOY candidate going forward.

4. Bam Adebayo – Miami HEAT

Adebayo’s modest on-off numbers defensively almost certainly aren’t what they would be if the HEAT weren’t subject to so many key contributors coming and going early in the season. Jimmy Butler missed the first three games of 2019-20, and Justise Winslow has been sidelined by a concussion since Nov. 7 after sitting out two earlier games due to back spasms. Derrick Jones Jr. has played in just four games while dealing with nagging groin and hip injuries.

Through it all, Adebayo has been the linchpin holding Miami together on defense. His rare versatility allows Erik Spoelstra to pair him with offensive-oriented bigs like Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard upfront as well. Ultimately, the HEAT have been at their best defensively during the brief time he’s spent at center – a lineup configuration we’re more likely to see when Winslow and Jones return from injury.

Among the numerous attributes that make Adebayo special defensively is his equal penchant for highlight-reel plays and more unspectacular, nuanced ones, both of which make a major impact. He has a keen sense of timing and angles as a pick-and-roll helper, prodding at ball handlers with active hands while splitting the difference between them and the roller.

Adebayo isn’t an elite rim-protector and the statistics say as much. But preventing attempts around the rim is just as valuable as affecting them and the HEAT surrender 9.1 percent fewer shots in the restricted area with Adebayo on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass – the league’s second-biggest discrepancy among high-minute bigs.

As the season continues, don’t be surprised if Adebayo fades from the DPOY conversation. Miami is loaded with quality defenders, and his numbers-based case may grow accordingly thin as Spoelstra gets full use of his planned rotation. Adebayo’s influence, though, will remain obvious to anyone watching the HEAT regardless.

3. Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers have quietly been among the league’s most disappointing teams, going just 3-5 after winning their first five games of the regular season. But don’t chalk those struggles up to Embiid, who has nipped at his turnover rate and made strides from beyond the arc while remaining Philadelphia’s defensive panacea.

On a roster stacked with stellar defenders like Al Horford, Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson, Embiid’s net on-off defensive rating of -11.3 is easily a team-best among regulars. His individual rim-protecting numbers are still lagging behind career norms, though team-wide data suggests Embiid has been as big a deterrent around the basket as ever.

Why? His rare blend of size, timing and understanding as the last line of defense, which Embiid puts on display in the clip below. Covering for multiple mistakes by Tobias Harris, he first cuts off Cedi Osman’s middle drive despite being in ICE position, then recovers for an effective contest at the basket when his teammate gets beaten backdoor.

The 76ers’ opponents have attempted 7.2 percent fewer shots at the rim with Embiid on the floor, while their accuracy on those tries dips 6.1 percent, per Cleaning the Glass. Also indicative of Embiid’s rippling influence in the paint is Philadelphia’s league-worst opponent free throw rate spiking nearly 10 points when he’s sitting.

Philadelphia is too talented defensively to be anything less than elite on that end for long. And when they inevitably rise the ranks in defense from ninth, Embiid will still be the biggest reason why.

2. Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers

It says a lot about the Lakers’ enviable roster of proven defenders that their opponent shot profile doesn’t align with tenets of modern basketball. Los Angeles ranks 11th in preventing shots at the rim and 20th in preventing shots from deep, while forcing only an average rate of shots from mid-range.

But what should be a recipe for mediocrity has instead yielded the league’s top-ranked defense, a ringing endorsement of the Lakers’ personnel and Frank Vogel’s ability to get a veteran team to buy in on that side of the ball.

The presence of Davis, to be clear, doesn’t affect those numbers in an overtly-positive manner. Opponents shoot fewer threes when he’s on the floor, but take more shots from the restricted area. They don’t commit turnovers at a notably higher rate, either, and actually get to the line more often. Davis’ defensive rating is 99.1, the exact same as Los Angeles’ mark with him on the bench and just a hair lower than its season-long rating.

No matter. The Lakers’ wealth of defensive talent and commitment to the scheme shouldn’t affect Davis’ DPOY candidacy to the extent a similar dynamic might others.

The statistics are there, naturally, if that’s how you want to make Davis’ case. His 38 blocks lead the league by a comfortable margin, plus more steals than any other top-tier shot-blocker save Isaac and Andre Drummond. Opponents are shooting a laughably low and league-best 30 percent against him at the rim, interior supremacy buttressed by Los Angeles coaxing a far worse shooting percentage from the restricted area with him on the floor.

Davis is a physical outlier. Other elite rim-protectors, like Embiid and Rudy Gobert, just can’t do what he does across 94 feet.

That alone doesn’t make Davis the DPOY frontrunner — but combined with his sweeping all-around effect and the Lakers’ team-wide dominance, it certainly burnishes his resumé.

1. Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz

Gobert was second on this list two weeks ago and fifth in our preseason rankings. The assumption was that the Jazz’s overhauled personnel, including a full-time deviation from playing another big next to him, would lead to a downturn in their team-wide defensive performance, thus weakening Gobert’s chances for another DPOY award.

Wrong.

Utah owns the league’s second-stingiest defense. Its entire system is based around the premise that Gobert is waiting in the paint to challenge any would-be penetrators, letting Royce O’Neal, Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell and more put pressure the ball in a way they otherwise wouldn’t feel comfortable.

The Jazz allow 6.9 percent fewer shots at the rim with Gobert in the game and accuracy on those attempts dips by 4.5 percent, per Cleaning the Glass. Their defensive rebounding percentage drops from a dominant 77.6 to 70.8 when he goes from the floor to the bench, with the added bonus of committing far more fouls in that scenario, too.

Gobert isn’t as versatile as Davis and less likely than Embiid to come out of nowhere for soaring weak-side blocks. But to suggest that his impact is limited to tangible and intangible rim-protection would also be remiss. It’s not often, for instance, that Karl-Anthony Towns gets embarrassed in isolation on consecutive possessions.

Look at Mitchell at the end of the clip above. No player in basketball is more prone to inspire his teammates and ignite home crowds by virtue of defense than Gobert. He plays with an arrogant edge that helps make his team’s whole greater than the sum its parts on that end — and it’s once again propelling Utah to the top of the league.

Gobert will face a steep challenge in joining Dwight Howard as the only players to ever win DPOY three times in a row. But as the first month of the regular season has made abundantly clear, any expectation he’d fall from consideration was foolish. For now, then, he’s the leader — but who might come for the back-to-back crown next?

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G-League

Kyle Collinsworth In Familiar Territory

Kyle Collinsworth has been making his mark for the Salt Lake City Stars, which shouldn’t feel too different to him since he’s dominated in Utah basketball before. Matt John writes.

Matt John

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For Kyle Collinsworth, playing basketball in Utah is nothing out of the ordinary.

The 28-year-old grew up in Provo and went on to become one of the most storied basketball players in the history of Brigham Young University. Since graduating from BYU in 2016, he’s bounced around a bit in the NBA. He’s had stints with the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and the Toronto Raptors. When the Utah Jazz added him this season to play for their G League Affiliate, the SLC Stars, Collinsworth was excited for home aspect alone.

“It’s always good to be home,” Collinsworth told Basketball Insiders. “My family’s here. My wife’s here. We’ve got a house here, so it’s just nice to be able to be home and do what I love at the same time. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Even though Collinsworth grew up and played college basketball in the mountainous region, he surprisingly didn’t grow up a Jazz fan. In fact, the team he grew up rooting for happened to be the only one that has given him legitimate NBA minutes in his professional basketball career — the Mavericks.

Going from a Mavericks fan to a Mavericks player was an experience Collinsworth truly treasured, especially since he got to play with his boyhood idol.

“It was incredible,” Collinsworth said. “Growing up, (we were) huge Mavericks fans. (With) Dirk being my favorite player, being teammates with him was surreal.”

In 2016, Collinsworth was brought in to play for the Mavericks’ G League affiliate, the Texas Legends, before being called up at various points to play for Dallas. In the 2017-2018 season, Collinsworth played 34 games in Dallas. Collinsworth didn’t mince words when praising the organization and how they’ve been able to get to where they are now.

“It’s just another testament of consistency. Those guys, day in and day out, bring the work, and that’s why they are champions,” Collinsworth said.

Following his stint with the Mavericks, Collinsworth is now back where it all began for him. However, it’s not just the Utah climate that he’s used to. He’s also pretty used to filling up the box score when he’s on the court.

Back when he played for the Cougars, he was renowned for his all-around game. In his four years in college, Collinsworth’s total points scored (1,707) placed him 11th all-time among BYU men’s basketball players, while his total rebounds (1,047) and total assists (703) placed him first. In fact, his 12 triple-doubles are the most any player in NCAA history has recorded over his collegiate career.

His game has continued to shine through in the G League this season. In the three games he’s played for the Stars, Collinsworth’s all-around game has shined for the team, as he’s averaged 12.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Stars head coach Martin Schiller praised Collinsworth for what he brings to the floor.

“His all-around game, offensively and defensively, as well as leadership-wise, his game impacts the team a lot,” Schiller told Basketball Insiders.

With Collinsworth being the oldest player on the roster at 28 years old, his experience has made him quite the influence in the locker room, which has served very well for his younger teammates.

“It stabilizes us,” Schiller said. “The guys listen to him. The guys believe in him. He played legit NBA minutes, so the guys respect him and therefore it’s very important to have him.”

When the Stars faced the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Friday night, they found themselves down by double digits in the second quarter. The Stars rallied back and were able to come up victorious for their first win of the season. SLC was never deterred even when the odds were stacked against them, which is exactly what Collinsworth has emphasized in the example he sets for his team.

“Just (be) Steady Eddie,” Collinsworth said. “Always bring the energy and just stay steady (because) there’s a lot of games…You have to keep your head up and stay positive, through the good games and the bad.”

Previous BYU alumni have opted to go different routes in their professional basketball careers. After failing to find a place in the NBA, Jimmer Fredette has gone on to become an icon for various leagues overseas. His former college teammate Brandon Davies has also played in various foreign professional basketball leagues.

Others have gone back and forth between the NBA and overseas. Eric Mika has played in several foreign leagues before signing with the Stockton Kings this season. For Collinsworth, his path has steadfastly remained the same in order for him to achieve his one goal — to play in the NBA.

“Back in the NBA is the goal for sure,” Collinsworth said. “That’s why I’m back in the G League. I’m trying to make that happen.”

Everyone has to pay their dues to make their dreams come true. For Kyle Collinsworth, that means showing Utah what he’s got in the G League.

It may not be ideal — but for him, at least it’s familiar terrain.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Five Stats To Keep An Eye On Revisited

Before the season, Basketball Insiders identified five statistics that could be worth watching in the 2019-20 season. Quinn Davis revisits those five to see how they have looked over the season’s first month.

Quinn Davis

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Before the season, Basketball Insiders pinpointed five statistics that could be worth watching in the 2019-20 season. These statistics each helped tell the story of last season and could be vital in determining the standings of the current campaign.

A month into the season, here’s an update on how those five statistics, and the impact they’ve had thus far. 

Philadelphia 76ers — Forced Turnover Percentage

After starting the season 5-0, the Philadelphia 76ers fell a bit back down to earth and are now sitting at 8-5. Some of the regression can be blamed on a Joel Embiid suspension and a Ben Simmons shoulder sprain, but there have been some legitimate areas of concern over the last eight games.

Their defense, which was operating at an elite level during the first five games, has fallen now to a good-not-great 11th in the league. Interestingly, their forced turnover percentage has not been the culprit for the decline.

The 76ers are up to 11th in the league in forcing turnovers this season after finishing 28th in that category in 2018-19, per Cleaning the Glass. The new additions Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle, along with an increase in aggressiveness on that end from Simmons, have been in key in forcing loose balls and errant passes.

While this is encouraging, the increased aggressiveness may be a direct factor in one of their biggest flaws over the first 13 games. The 76ers are currently 29th in the league in opponent free throw rate, giving up 25.1 free throws per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass.

A high foul rate can be seen as a necessary risk for this 76ers team. An increase in turnovers could lead to more transition opportunities, which could help an offensively-challenged team generate more easy baskets.

So far, though, the risk has not been worth the reward. Despite going from 28th to 11th in forced turnover percentage, the 76ers efficiency and frequency in transition have remained relatively the same. They’ve generated transition opportunities off of 68.4 percent of their steals, just one percentage point higher than last season, per Cleaning the Glass. These opportunities have netted them an additional 1.7 points per 100 possessions, only slightly better than last season’s number of 1.6.

For Philadelphia to get back on track, something will have to change. Going forward, it will be important to see if the 76ers can keep up their rate of forcing turnovers while simultaneously reducing their foul rate and generating more transition plans. 

Los Angeles Lakers — Half Court Efficiency

The Los Angeles Lakers have jumped out to an 11-2 record and sport the best net rating in the league. They have done so with a very impressive defense that ranks second in the NBA through the first month.

Meanwhile, their offense hasn’t lagged too far behind, as they rank 7th in the league on that side of the ball. Last season, the Lakers struggled offensively, particularly in the half-court where they were unable to consistently generate open looks.

They were a particularly bad shooting team in 2018-19, finishing last season with an overall three-point percentage of only 34 percent. The Lakers were expected to improve in that department this season with multiple shooters being brought into the fold.

But, while the team has taken a step offensively, it hasn’t been because of their shooting.

While Danny Green has been a marksman, shooting 42.2 percent from three, the rest of the Lakers’ roster has not been up to snuff. Overall, they sit at exactly the same percentage as last season when it comes to three-point shooting, 34 percent.

Their offense has been humming thanks to some old-fashioned domination around the rim. The Lakers are shooting 40.4 percent of their total shots at the rim and finishing 69.1 percent of those attempts, per Cleaning the Glass.

That kind of efficiency around the basket will mitigate any shooting concerns. But, if some of the Lakers’ role players can begin to hit their outside shots, the Los Angeles offense could prove even more imposing.

Denver Nuggets — Opponents’ Effective Field Goal Percentage

One of the harder to project statistics in the NBA is the opponents’ field goal percentage. This number can vary from year-to-year for no reason other than luck.

Last season the Nuggets improved their defense greatly and went from one of the worst units in the league to an average one. But, when digging into some of their numbers, it became clear that some of this may have been due to a lucky streak of opponent shooting, as the Nuggets gave up very similar looks to those they gave up in 2017-18, but opponents simply shot a worse percentage on these attempts.

This season, the Nuggets’ defense has improved even further. They are currently holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 49 percent, third in the league, per Cleaning the Glass.

The Nuggets give a few too many threes, particularly from the corner, but opponents haven’t punished them as they’ve shot just 32 percent overall from three against Denver.

So, looking at the tracking data on NBA.com, it would appear as if some of that luck has carried over from last season. The Nuggets are giving up about the same number of wide-open three-point attempts as last season. On these attempts, opponents are shooting 37.1 percent, which is slightly under the 37.6 percent they managed last season.

That number is not extremely lucky, as 11 NBA teams have had better luck than Denver on wide-open shots this season. Where the Nuggets have gotten particularly good bounces, however, is on open shots, classified as those attempts when a defender 4-6 feet away. On these attempts, opponents are shooting just 26.5 percent, good for the second-lowest number in the league.

The Denver defense has certainly improved this season, but it’s unlikely they maintain their current pace in terms of opponent shooting. 

Milwaukee Bucks — Offensive Rating without Giannis

One of the big reasons for the Milwaukee Bucks’ success last season was the performance of their bench. While Giannis Antetokounmpo was certainly the conductor of the team’s attack, the team fared very well when he hit the bench.

But, with the departure of Malcolm Brogdon, there were some who questioned how the team would perform without their MVP on the court. And, so far, it appears as if those reservations were valid, to a point.

This season, the Bucks have felt the loss of Brogdon quite a bit, but not in an overly drastic way. When Antetokounmpo is on the floor, the Bucks boast about a 112 offensive rating, compared to a 107 rating when he sits, per Cleaning the Glass.

Last season, the difference dropped about three points, from 116 when Antetokounmpo was on to 113 when he was off.

Milwaukee’s offense stayed at an elite level last year when Antetokounmpo sat on the back of impressive three-point shooting. But, this season, the Bucks have been getting up a similar number of attempts when he sits, but the shots have just haven’t fallen. From 2018-19 to 2019-20, the bench’s three-point percentage has dropped from 37.4 percent to 32.1 percent, per Cleaning the Glass.

While this is partially attributed to the loss of a 40 percent three-point shooter in Brogdon, the Bucks still have a plethora of solid shooters who should be able to hit more shots as the reigning MVP rests. As the season goes on, it wouldn’t be a shock to see these numbers level out in their favor.

Houston Rockets — Second Half Net Rating

After starting the season in a bit of a rut, the Houston Rockets have ripped off eight straight wins and have played about as well as many expected them to coming into the season. Like last year their success could be attributed mostly to a dominant James Harden, who’s averaged 40 points per game in that stretch.

Last season, the Rockets would often get out to a hot start, but struggle thereon and occasionally give up leads in the second half. The culprit of the second half malaise was theorized to be a tired Harden, given his gargantuan workload, or perhaps a predictable style of play that opponents would catch on and adjust to after a couple of quarters.

Whatever the reason, the addition of Russell Westbrook was to serve as a potential antidote. Last season, Westbrook’s Thunder excelled in the second half of games, as his seemingly boundless energy had a way of wearing opponents down as games went on.

And, in fact, the Rockets have proven much more assertive in second halves. They are currently sporting a 2.2 net rating in the first half, a number that has improved to 3.6 in the second, per NBA.com.

While Harden has continued to take a lion’s share of the work, Westbrook has added a transition threat to the Houston offense and has certainly played a key role in its improvement. If the Rockets can maintain this energy and efficiency throughout entire games, they could prove a major threat come April and May.

Those five statistics are just a few of the interesting trends and storylines to follow across an 82-game season. So, be sure to check back with Basketball Insiders to follow them along.

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