Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Category Archives: STATS

What a long strange trip it’s been

The 2014-15 regular season is receding from view with haste. The playoffs and awards season are upon us like locusts, but before we’re enveloped in the madness of “Hero Ball,” let us remember what a long, strange trip it’s been in the form of 29 completely random stats that remind us we’re nothing if not anchored to the outliers of numerical histories.

  1. 2,000 points: James Harden was the only player in the league to hit the 2k tally, an otherwise arbitrary number dependent on a combination of scoring prowess and relative durability. With the exception of a bizarre 2003-04 season when no one scored 2,000 points (the only time in league history short of lockout seasons), this was the first time just one player has reached the plateau since the halcyon days of 1958-59 when LSU’s favorite son Bob Pettit stood alone on a mountain of points.
  2. 82 games: Despite all the high-profile injuries that left portions of this season and chunks of entire teams in tatters, 28 players appeared in the full 82 games.
  3. 3,000 minutes: No one appeared in 3k minutes this season. This is the first time since 1958-59 when NBA teams only played 72 regular season games that we’ve had no one cross the threshold.
  4. 1.7 steals/game: Nerlens Noel became the third player in league history 6’11” or taller to average at least 1.7 steals/game. The other two? David Robinson (twice) and Hakeem Olajuwon (nine times). Noel is three years younger than Olajuwon was when he accomplished it for the first time.
  5. 40% free throws: For players who have qualified for the free throw percentage leaderboard, only two have ever shot below 40% for a season: Wilt Chamberlain in 1967-68 when he shot 38% and now DeAndre Jordan at 39.7%.
  6. 32% defensive rebounds: The most motley crew I could’ve possibly assembled is the list of recent players who’ve grabbed at least 32% of available defensive rebounds while qualifying for the rebounds/game leaderboard:  Joel Pryzbilla and Troy Murphy in 2009, Kevin Love and Kris Humphries in 2011, Dwight Howard and Marcus Camby in 2012, Reggie Evans in 2013, and now DeAndre in 2015. Also, Ben Wallace, Dennis Rodman, Swen Nater, and Bill Walton achieved the feat in earlier seasons. How about a free throw contest with this crew?
  7. 250 threes made: Prior to 2013, only three players had made 250 threes in a season: Dennis Scott and George McCloud in the 1996 three point-line shortened season, and Ray Allen in 2006. Steph Curry past three seasons:
    • 2013: 272 threes made (league record)
    • 2014: 261 threes made
    • 2015: 286 threes made (league record)
  8. 55-90-60-25 club: What the hell kind of club is this? 55% eFG, 90% FT, 60% TS, and 25% usage. This exclusive club includes Larry Bird (twice, in 87 and 88), Kevin Durant (2013), and now Curry.
  9. Four turnovers/game: DeMarcus Cousins joined 1978 Artis Gilmore as the only two centers in league history to average over four turnovers/game. Cousins averaged 4.3 while Gilmore was at 4.5. Disturbingly (or amazingly, depending on your view), Cousins had a higher TOV% as a rookie (18.5% in 2011 compared to 16.3 this season).
  10. 34% Usage: Probably not a huge surprise that Cousins averaged over four TOs/game given that he had the highest usage percentage of any center in Basketball-Reference’s database which dates back to 1977-78 for usage: 34.1%. Shaq is next on the list with a 32.9% usage in 1998. Somewhat surprisingly, number 20 and 22 on the all-time list are occupied by Rik Smits.
  11. 267 free throw attempts: the number of free throw attempts the Kings had more than the next closest team in the league, the Rockets. Sacramento shot 2,400 to Houston’s 2,133. 385 teams in league history have attempted more free throws in a season than Sacramento this year.
  12. 658th: that’s where the league’s leader in personal fouls committed ranks all time. The Denver Nuggets committed 1,882 personal fouls this season which doesn’t make a pimple on the ass of all time foul ranks.
  13. 8.6 assists/game: by Russell Westbrook this season; the most assists/game for a league-leading scorer since 1973 when Tiny Archibald led the league with 34points/game while averaging 11.4 assists/game and playing in a ligament-popping 46 minutes/game.
  14. 32.7 minutes/game: Steph Curry hasn’t even appeared in 33 minutes/game this season because Golden State simply hasn’t needed him to. It’s looking and feeling like he’s our 2015 MVP and if that’s the case, he will have appeared in the least MPG ever for an MVP, just edging out 1978 MVP Bill Walton who appeared in 33.3 MPG. Despite the low minutes, he’ll have the most threes made and highest three-point percentage of any MVP.
  15. 27-7-16 club: That’s 27pts, seven assists, and 16 or more WinShares; a new club previously inhabited by LeBron James (three times), Air Jordan (once), and Oscar Robertson (five times). And now those illustrious NBA Champions are joined by the bearded one, James Harden.
  16. 19.7 points/game: Completely random, but that’s the number of PPG both Anthony Davis and James Harden currently average for their careers.
  17. 30 PER: Anthony Davis just recorded the 18th +30 PER in league history with a 30.8 – the youngest player in league history to do it. Of the 18 occasions on which it’s occurred, 14 players made it out of the second round, three were eliminated in the first round, and once a player scored a +30 PER and didn’t make the playoffs although that was back in 1963 when just six teams qualified for the post-season.
  18. 66 games/season: Anthony Davis’s current career average.
  19. .399 eFG%: For any player in NBA history who has started at least 180 games in their career, Ricky Rubio is dead last in career eFG% with the aforementioned .399.
  20. 1.1 FTA/game: Rajon Rondo averaged 1.1 FTA/game while appearing in nearly 30 minutes/night. The only player who made less trips to the line while appearing in as many minutes was JR Smith – a player whose game is predicated on shooting at least six threes/game.
  21. 10-2.5-50 club: Another oddball club? Of course, this one is Chris Paul’s own special, nut-punching, insurance-slanging, point guarding club. In back-to-back seasons he’s the only player in league history to average at least 10 assists, less than 2.5 turnovers while shooting over 50% eFG.
  22. 22 PER: Tim Duncan joined John Stockton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players aged 38 (by February 1st) to reach the 22 PER milestone. Duncan’s was 22.6, Stockton’s 22.3, Jabbar’s 22.7.
  23. Rudy Gobert: Only player in the league to average over two blocks with over nine win shares, and a Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) greater than five. Worth noting that he’s the youngest player in league history (22) to accomplish this and just the seventh player to put this line together. His illustrious fellow defensive stalwarts include Duncan (once), Kevin Garnett (once), Dwight Howard (once), Dikembe Mutombo (once), Olajuwon (twice), David Robinson (once), and Ben Wallace (four times).
  24. 32 FGA/100 possessions: Westbrook’s 32 FGA/100 were three more FGA than number two – Dwyane Wade. List surprises:
  25. 6.2/16.4 3p/3pa/100: No one shot or made more threes per 100 possessions than … wait for it …. Charlie Villanueva.
  26. Dollars/minute:
  27. 1 steal, 1 block, 5 DWS: Only 14 times in league history have players 6’7” or shorter accomplished a steal and block per game with a DWS of 5 or higher. Draymond Green (1.3bpg, 1.6spg, 5.2 DWS) joined the club this season. Others inductees include: Gerald Wallace, Shawn Marion (king of the club with six appearances), Paul Pierce, Air Jordan (twice), Charles Barkley, and Dr. J (twice).
  28. 18/11/10: Prior to this season only Robert Parish (1989) and Wilt Chamberlain (1971) had reached at least 18ppg, 11rpg, and 10+ WS. Pau Gasol, the nicest man in the league, joined that fine company this season with the Bulls.
  29. 25/6/6: Every season since his rookie year, LeBron James has averaged at least 25ppg, 6rpg, and 6apg. In that time, Russell Westbrook (2015) is the only other player to accomplish the feat. Prior to LeBron pulling it off in 2005, the last players to do it were Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan in 1992. This is ridiculous.

What a long strange trip it’s been

 

Young assailants seizing the Spring

Maybe it’€™s happened before like back in the weird forgotten 1970s of America, but rarely have we seen a batch of rookies arrive with such an emphasis on their hair: Nerlens Noel‘s brick top flat top, Elfrid Payton‘s Edward Scissorhands angles, Nikola Mirotic‘s light-swallowing beard. And there’€™s also Andrew Wiggins. If the NBA is a league for its radiant styles, it’s all predicated on deep substance and now that spring is upon us, the aforementioned rookies have combined their obvious talents with money-winning consistency.

The number one pick and boringly-styled hair-having Wiggins hasn’€™t required the same type of learning curve as his cohorts. His monthly splits look like a pyramid of sorts with a steady climb through the holiday season and a peak in January. It’s not that he’€™s fallen off, just that his January with nearly 20-points/game, a 55% TS, 109 O-Rating, and nearly a three/game was better than anything else he’s done this year.

Data from Basketball-Reference. Layout from Tableau.

Data from Basketball-Reference. Layout from Tableau.

 

It’s beyond the stats though. A couple nights ago the young Wiggins (just turned 20 in February –€“ to be young again) delivered one of the dunks of the year when he used every bit of his 40+ inch vertical and smash slammed on everyone’€™s favorite French basketball player, Rudy Gobert:

But Wiggins is the exception and not the rule. Unlike his elaborately-coiffed rookie counterparts, Wiggins’€™s excellence is already old hat (we’€™re in hyper time). Noel, Payton, and Mirotic have needed a combination of time and opportunity to replicate their previous successes at the NBA level.

Take Payton, the 6’4″€ Louisianan point guard who’€™s about a year to the day older than Wiggins. Payton was Orlando’™s opening night starter, but lost his spot about halfway through November when he his TS was in the low 40s and his Ortg was in the high 80s. Then March rolled around and maybe it was the All-Star break (which he participated in) or turning 21 and finally being able to drink or who knows, but things have come easier including back-to-back triple doubles in March and a seven-game stretch where he averaged 14-pts, 9.5-asts, nearly eight rebounds and a pair of steals while shooting 50% from the field. Orlando only won a single game in that stretch, but … well, let’™s not focus on that.

all the rookies

Mirotic is a bit different and not just regarding ethnicity or age. Mirotic’s rookie season has existed at the mercy of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau who patrols the sideline with his Cookie Monster voice and stubborn rotations. Only an intervention brought on by injuries have unshackled the Montenegrin Maestro. From October to February he averaged below 20 minutes/game despite the Bulls going 12-2 in games where he played over 25 minutes. March has been something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mirotic as his numbers cranked up in a way that would demand PED testing in baseball. His scoring has gone from under six points/game in February to over 20/night in 15 March games. His usage rating was up over 30% for the month which if pushed out across a season would put him in the top-ten in the league. Despite the increased usage and minutes (over 30minutes/game in March), his TS is still a close to 58% on the strength of shooting nearly 84% from the line on over seven free throw attempts/game. It’s almost like the increased reps and opportunity have resulted in Mirotic having even greater confidence and comfort exploring the range of his offensive talents.

And then there’s Nerlens. I’€™m writing about him last because he’s the most titillating of the bunch which isn’t to say he’s the best because I don’t know or care to know who’€™s best. It’€™s just that Noel, with his flat top and baseline-to-baseline high-energy act of harassing opponents like a never-ending human basketball Exxon Valdez disaster covering the opposition in some thick suffocating existence is my favorite. In as much as each of these players has grown and developed from the fall to the spring, Nerlens’€™ growth is the most striking. The increase in on-court opportunity has been light as he’€™s hovered around 30 minutes/game all season, but meanwhile his game has come together in a way that one hopes breathes hope into the fledgling Philadelphian fan base. Noel hasn’t even turned 21 yet, but if we believe in the guy we’ve seen in March, then we’re looking at a kid capable of averaging in the teens in points while grabbing double digit rebounds, getting over two steals and two blocks each night. He’€™s the rare big man with elite agility, quickness, and length that allows him to completely disrupt the other team’s offense. Again, if we have trust that his March numbers aren’t some funky aberration then we’re looking at a kid capable of defensively impacting the game similar to David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and now Anthony Davis. (Off topic, my phantasmagorical mind can’t help but root for a New Orleans frontline anchored by the Brow and Noel.)

Month over month progress for the ever-rising, ever-evolving human oil spill (that's a compliment!), Nerlens  Noel

Month over month progress for the ever-rising, ever-evolving human oil spill (that’s a compliment!), Nerlens Noel

Spring will soon be over and with the exception of Mirotic, these rookie years will end with the regular season. After all, we can only be rookies once and while people are lining church pews to celebrate Easter Sunday with Jesus and adults in snow white rabbit costumes gnaw on oversized carrots while doling out Cadbury eggs and listening to biblical tales of resurrection, these rookies will be transitioning into summers of work and expectations. With our favorite rookies, we’ll sleep through sunny summers and wake up sunburnt and confused at the falling leaves of Halloween with the presumption that Marches and Aprils are signs of things to come. Okafors and Mudiays will be the new kids, but for our four rookies above, the leeway that comes with being a first timer is forever out the window. It only gets harder from here.

From Zaza to MJ across a bridge of Oakley

Overtime is the realm of the weird in the NBA. Michael Jordan scored 69 against the Cavs in a single OT, it took two OTs for his historic 63 in the Boston Garden, and what has been referred to as “the greatest game ever played” between the Celtics and Suns at the 1976 Finals took three OTs before Boston finally pulled away. And after the Nets-Bucks went to war for three extra periods recently we can add Zaza Pachulia to the list of brain-scrambling beneficiaries of the triple OT.

Pachulia, by some act of effort or opponent ineptitude, accumulated 18 offensive rebounds. The obviously rhetorical and trendy question is: Who does that? The literal answer is that since the 1985-86 season (which is the first season Basketball-Reference provides full box scores), just two other NBA players have achieved the Full Pachulia: eccentric friend of Kim Jong-Un, Dennis Rodman in 1992 and legendary tough guy Charles Oakley in 1986.

For a sucker like me who’s prone to slipping and falling down rabbit holes with an Alice-like expertise, this was all too much to resist. Oakley’s game wasn’t just unique for the 18 offensive rebounds. Instead of resting on the laurels of setting a record, he mercilessly battered a Milwaukee Bucks frontline for 35 points, 26 rebounds, and seven assists with three steals for good measure. It was good enough for Oak’s career high points and second best rebound game. He grabbed 38% of his team’s own misses and 37% of all misses. Comparatively speaking, Zaza was at 37.7% OReb and Rodman was 38.5% — and the Worm also had a ho-hum 34 boards that night.

The Oakley game took place in mid-March of 1986 when a young Michael Jordan was coming back from an early season broken foot and there at the bottom of the box score, playing just 13 minutes in a bench role was Jordan. A bit further digging revealed this was MJ’s first game back after sitting out the majority of the season. Maybe Oak was trying to let his running mate know he had his back or maybe he saw it as his one of his last chances to fire up shots without conscience (indeed, he never got close to the 27 field goal attempts he had that night) or maybe one of the Bucks had the audacity to challenge his Oakhood. Whatever the case, he was more attack-minded than any other game in his career.

Over the course of digging to confirm this was MJ’s first game back, I scrolled through a few games before and after Oakley’s 35-26 performance on the 15th of March. On the 17th, the Bulls traveled to Atlanta where a superior Hawks squad beat them by 10. The outcome didn’t do much for me until I saw MJ, again in a bench role, had a DRtg of 67 – in a losing effort. He only played 14 minutes, but was apparently covering the court like a pack of virulent demons (or maybe just an Alvin Robertson on speed acid) for that 14 minutes where his usage rating was 58.7% and he tallied seven steals. The seven steals in 14 minutes is the least amount of time a player’s ever needed to reach that completely random achievement. (To continue would be too much of an affront to even these statistical non-sequiturs, but it’s worth calling out that Marcus Banks had seven steals with the Celtics in 17 minutes in 2004 and Doc Rivers had nine steals in 18 minutes while with the Clippers in 1991.)

But whatever, maybe weird graphical representations are a better way to get these points across:

03-23-15 - Zaza, Oak and MJ

Guess John Henson’s Strange

It’s the tail end of the NBA season and we all know what that means: Unpredictable lineups, superstars and future franchise players randomly sitting games because there’s nothing left to play for, tanking accusations and of course, the wide world of bizarre statlines. In a game tonight that had no meaning at all except for developmental reps, possible performance-based incentives and a chance for Orlando to improve their odds at winning the lottery, the Bucks of Milwaukee went down to Orlando to face the Magic. I didn’t watch any of this game until overtime when I realized some variation of the NBA Twilight Zone starring John Henson was unfolding at the Amway Center.

Henson is well known for his lanky frame and Phil Jackson-styled walk which includes a sort of hitch in or around the hip area. I’m no physiotherapist, but Henson’s gait looks like something that will give him trouble in the future. It certainly didn’t give him any trouble tonight as evidence by this tremendously unpredictable line:

Henson. 

It was a game overflowing with unpredictable oddities and copious amounts of rebounds to be had by all. Nikola Vucevic of “Guess I’m Strange” fame recorded his league-leading fourth 20/20 game with 30 points and 20 rebounds (that’s back-to-back 20/20s for Vucevic) and the recent Magic addition Tobias Harris (picked up in a trade with the Bucks in February) had a career night against his former team with 30 points and 19 rebounds including a game-tying three that sent the game in OT. It was an ultimate expression of NBA-condoned vengeance.  

But it was Henson who caused destruction with his spindly arms and hands blocking and disrupting shots on his way to that 25-rebound total. His 17-point, 25-rebound, 7-block combination is the only one achieved by a Bucks player since at least 1985-86 (that’s as far as Basketball-reference’s game finder goes back for blocks and boards). That piqued my always-inquisitive mind so I asked the basketball machine who was the last player to beast mode like Henson did tonight. The basketball machine told me:

John  Henson joins the greats - 04-10-13 

Updated to include 25-rebound filter

Updated to include 25-rebound filter

*Ed’s note on the larger table above: the rebound filter is set to 20. On the second table, the accurate 25-rebound filter is set–which actually puts Henson in a more exclusive group. Also, interesting to see Hakeem’s destruction of Orlando back in 1989 on the list. I explored the conditions of that game in a previous post here.* Lot of great games and names that list, including the most recent by Joakim Noah just over a month ago, but John Henson? This string bean of a basketball player? This long legged leaper in a league full of long legged leapers? 25 boards? We haven’t seen another player this young put up at least 17 and 25 since a 21-year-old Shaquille O’Neal went for 24 points, 28 rebounds and 15 blocks (while only attempting a single free throw—so strange) back in 1993.

Yes, it’s highly esteemed company that Henson joined tonight, but I don’t have a clue what type of player he is or will become. Even in the dying embers of overtime, Henson’s length and leap timing was an obvious skill, but something (something named Larry Sanders?) has caused Henson’s minutes to decrease over the past few months from 17mpg in January to roughly 10mpg in February and March to just four mpg in four April games. Then there nights like this and nights like November 21st, 2012 when he went for 17pts and 18 boards against the Heat. So who is John Henson and what is he to you?

Who are these men?

Who are these men?

Kobe Bryant: over 38 over 34

In a vacuum, I think all of us can agree that what Kobe Bryant’s doing in his 17th NBA season is mostly ridiculous. With a handful of games remaining this season, Bryant has amassed 1,456 games (playoffs and regular season) and spent 53,897 minutes on the court. To list off his accomplishments, both statistical and of the award variety, would be like reading through a ledger that includes every sin any of us committed. It would go on and on and we’d fall asleep out of monotonous exhaustion and boredom and then we’d wake up and the voice would still be droning on.

For me, and I assume, for many of us, one of the most impressive aspects of Kobe’s long, long run has been remarkable consistency of it. So many games and years later and the man is still performing at a level that exceeds his career averages (his career averages are admittedly tipped by his first three years in the league). His game is as identifiable as any player’s in the league. Just when we think he’s lost a step and is on the decline (2011 appeared this way), he bounces back with Orthonkine therapy and back-to-back 27ppg, +20PER seasons—at ages 33 and 34.

Being the lightning rod he is, Kobe’s accomplishments come hand-in-hand with overreaction from the pro-Kobe and con-Kobe camps which are both bolstered by millions of basketball fans who sit at computers or on smartphones pounding away at the keys and venting through Kobe-based superlative arguments. The objective or indifferent fans marvel at Kobe’s resilience and shot-making ability while shaking their heads at the head-scratchingly bad shots or lackluster defense that we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing.

But as I started this post, I’ll reiterate: In a vacuum … I’m not interested in opening up or hashing out or re-hashing debates that have no ending. After Kobe’s game yesterday, a 14-point loss to the Clippers that gave them a 4-0 sweep in the Battle for Los Angeles; a game in which Kobe played 47 minutes (Mike D’Antoni’s never been shy about running guys into the ground and most elite athletes need someone to force them to rest, so the Kobe/D’Antoni combination is mostly a poor match when it comes to the long-term consideration of Kobe’s physical health), I found myself asking: Who does this? Who plays 47 minutes at 34-years-old? Who’s 34 and putting up 25 points and 10 assists? So I did what I do, I had to answer this question for myself and the answer was interesting enough to share it with you:

I took Kobe’s season-to-date stats (as of 4/8/12) and plugged them into Basketball-Refrerence.com and took a look at how this season compares historically at a couple different levels. First off, I just focused on players who have averaged at least 38 minutes/game at age 34 or older. I don’t know what my hunch was going into this, but as I think more about it, it makes sense that only a few times in league history has circumstance demanded a player of this age pour so much of himself into the game and only so many times has the player actually been able to hold up to the rigorous demands of an NBA schedule for so many minutes every night:

 over 34 over 38

It’s an interesting list. Of the 15 seasons included there, only three players went on to win titles (Jordan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in 1972). With the exception of Lenny Wilkins’ Cavs in 1973 and Anthony Mason’s Bucks in 2002, each player did make the playoffs, although it’s worth noting that several teams were low-seeded playoff teams that needed every ounce of production available from their best players—similar to the Lakers dependency on Bryant this year.

To take it a step further in terms of production at age 34 or older with 38 minutes or more played each night, I layered in points, PER and Usage%. Only a single other player compares favorably to Kobe in these measures:

 kobe and mj

MJ edged Kobe in PER (25.2 vs. 22.7) and usage rates (33.7% vs. 31.8%), but in both cases, these teams relied on these shooting guards for so so much production. The results were drastically different and the purpose of this post isn’t to delve into that aspect of these post-34 seasons, but to explore the rarity of what an aging Kobe Bryant’s doing this season which is about as rarefied company as you can come across. As an aside, these explorations often reveal some unexpected random piece of information and in this case it’s Karl Malone’s 2001-02 season where he averaged 38mpg as 38-year-old power forward and had a usage rate of 28.8%. For perspective, that 28.8 would rank 8th overall this season and place him ahead of James Harden—and he was 38.  

Someday we’ll say goodbye to Kobe, but it appears it’ll be a lot later than a whole gang of people thought…

The Ascension of Nikola Vucevic

As we wind down this 2012-13 season, Dancing with Noah has just a few planned posts remaining. Like the entire “Guess I’m Strange” series, there’s potential for players in the league to deliver these unexpected, incomprehensible performances that kick and push me into exploring said performance in brief write-ups. So while there are just a handful of posts to go, who can say what tomorrow will bring?

Before the season, if someone would’ve put us all in a room: A great big ballroom for basketball fans with chandeliers that have mini basketballs for light bulbs and chairs covered with the worn, dimpled leather of a basketball, and asked us two questions, none of us likely would’ve answered anywhere near correctly for these specific questions:

  1.        Who will lead the league in 20/20 (points and rebounds) games?
  2.        Who will come out on top of the Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynum megadeal?

The answer to number two is abstract and can’t be measured today or tomorrow or yesterday, but I can write, with a fair amount of certainty, that Doug Collins is as frustrated with the results of that trade as anyone and that’s saying something given the complete shitshow it’s turned into for the Lakers. The reason for Collins’s frustration can’t be limited to Bynum’s health concerns or Andre Iguodala’s continued consistency in Denver. Nay, it must take into account the accelerated development of the league’s leader in 20/20 games and the answer to question number above: Nikola Vucevic: a 22-year-old listed at 6’10”, 240lbs, but who looks to be a solid 7’0”, 250lbs+ and rebounds with the competency of an all-pro.

Regardless of your fondness or Rob Henningan’s fondness or the fondness of Vucevic’s own parents for his development this season, none of us expected this type of growth and development. Keep in mind, Vucevic, didn’t even arrive in the states until 2007. He averaged 12rpg as a senior in high school and never over 10.3rpg in his three seasons at USC. He showed promise as an NBA rookie averaging 10.9rpg over 36min/game, but nothing, not even his lineage (his dad Borislav was a pro player for 24 years—24!), predicated this season’s rebounding explosion.

So it was that we arrived at the Magic-Cavs game on this Sunday afternoon and saw the developing Vucevic take advantage of a bruised and battered Cavs team to the tune of 21 points and 21 rebounds for his league-leading third 20/20 game of the season.

Vucevic - 04-07-13

Nikola Vucevic: Catching NBA fans off guard since 2012.

Guess Ricky’s Strange

In the midst of all the Father/Sonning that’s been going on here at Dancing with Noah, real life actual NBA games are still going on and that means players are still doing strange things at strange times. Last night I was out and about until 9:30 PST and when I arrived home, I saw this intriguing stat line by Spain’s own wonderchild, the imaginative visionary Ricky Rubio: 19pts with 5-6 from deep, 12 assists and 8 steals. Say word? Word.

It’s pretty damn phenomenal if you start wrapping your head around it and not just in NBA historical terms (as you’ll see below, Rubio’s the only player in league history to accomplish 12sasts/8stls/5 3s in the same game), but in Rubio terms as well. A little over a year ago on March 9th 2012, the rookie Rubio, all of 21 years-old, tore his ACL. At that time, his career highs in the aforementioned stats were 14 assists, 6 steals and 2 3s. And in the 49 games he’s played this year he hadn’t bested any of those career highs. Then last night shows up and the Bucks and maybe some Brandon Jennings, maybe some Monta Ellis, maybe some JJ Redick are splayed wide open in front of an attacking Rubio who didn’t just exceed his career-high of 2 3s, but more than doubled it. The steals are equally impressive for this opportunistic defender who’s been averaging over 2.5 steals/game from February to now. And all this occurred in a mere 34 minutes of play.

rubio

In the spirit of keeping things fresh and avoiding that stale cracker (no racial reference) texture, I guess Ricky’s strange:

Guess Spencer’s Strange

The usual elements were in place for something statistically outlandish to happen on Saturday night, March 16th, 2013: An NBA game with little-to-no discernible historic purpose shaded over by an eye-catching stat line from Seattle’s favorite Republican NBA player: Spencer Hawes:

The game: Central Division-leading Indiana Pacers at the Andrew Bynum-less Philadelphia 76ers

The Matchup: Roy Hibbert vs. Spencer Hawes

The Assumption: Hibbert and Hawes guarded each other (I wasn’t present for the game and didn’t see the matchups, so this will remain an assumption).

The line: Spencer Hawes: 18 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 blocks

The history: Hawes becomes just the sixth player since the 1985-86 season to accomplish the 18 x 16 x 8 x 7 line:

 Guess Spencer's Strange - 03-17-13

As is often the case with these abnormal stat lines, the company Hawes just joined is about as decorated as you can get. Every other player on the list has won the MVP award and there are a total of 11 NBA championships between them. The games listed above are games for the ages; the numbers pop off the page and while they’re random in every sense of the word, each time this particular line has occurred, it’s resulted in a win.

Beyond honoring Hawes for his performance on Saturday night I want to acknowledge a couple of things about Charles Barkley. For starters, he’s the only guy on the list under 6’11”. Barkley blocked seven shots in a game? And in the same game he wrecked the 86-87 Trail Blazers for 31pts, 21rebs and 9asts? I shake my head at numbers like this. If it happened today, we’d be discourteously shoving each other out of the way to anoint his game as one of the best of all time. To add a little more to the bizarro element of Barkley’s performance: He didn’t even start.

As much as I want to dive deeper into the on-court life of Charles Barkley, the emphasis is on the magnificence of Spencer Hawes on this strange spring night in 2013.

How Reggie Evans referred me to Akeem Olajuwon on December 17th, 1989

Last week I wrote a brief piece on Manu Ginobili’s 15 assists in 23 minutes of play. And previous explorations of statistical oddities have included Al Jefferson playing +50 minutes and attempting zero free throws, Isaiah Thomas scoring 27 points in under 16 minutes and Rajon Rondo’s 3×15 triple double. Through the research of these anomalies, I always learn a little something like Bob Cousy never shot over 40% from the field for his entire career (it was a Jamal Crawford stat that led me there). Last night I was digging through box scores looking for stories I had missed during the evening and despite Deron Williams’s immaculate night from three (11-16 from deep) and Kobe’s much-needed heroics, the oddball line of the night went to the University of Iowa’s own Reggie Evans who got to the line 16 times and grabbed 24 rebounds.

That line put him in the company of some of league’s best and most dominant big men of the past 30 years:

Reggie's company - 03-09-13

It’s no surprise to see Shaq, Dwight, Hakeem or Charles Barkley on this list. Lorenzen Wright and Joe Barry Carroll are more of the Reggie Evans variety, but Wright played 44 minutes and Carroll (aka Joe Barely Cares) played 55 minutes so it’s a bit more of a volume play. Evans played just 32 minutes (the only guy on the list under 40 minutes) and is also the oldest player at nearly 33 years. He grabbed just under 35% of the total possible rebounds while he was on the court. By comparison, Evans leads the league in this stat at 24.9%.

This is where these little weekend posts typically end. I’ll throw a youtube clip on the end of it and put it out into the world for consumption, but not this time. If you look back up at the table above and find #4 on the list: Hakeem Olajuwon’s 32-point, 25-rebound, 20-free throw attempt, 10-block performance against a hapless Magic squad on a chilly Sunday night back in December of 1989. I was nine years old at the time and most likely completely oblivious to The Dream’s ridiculous performance what with my age and the fact that Christmas was a week away.

This game sent me on a bit of search today; a search to have some context and understanding around Olajuwon’s game. The quest took me from the Houston Chronicle’s archives to the Orlando Sentinel’s archives to USA Today’s archives, then the SI Vault, onto reviews of newspaper database sites and finally to what felt like the grail of news of resources: NewsLibrary.com which has an easy-to-use/search database of hundreds of millions of articles and stories. Throughout this search, I was continually appalled by the lack of quality, the lack of results and terrible usability on some of the aforementioned sites. Most notably, the Houston Chronicle and USA Today have truly pathetic archive sections that either don’t work as intended or are impossible to find.

Media critiques aside, what Olajuwon accomplished in Orlando that night hasn’t been done by another player in the league in the 28 years covered by Basketball-reference’s box score database. In digging through the stories and recaps of the game, it’s plain to see the Magic were overmatched from the get go. This was Orlando’s inaugural season in the league and their roster reflected it with a group of pro basketball rejects; unwanted and unloved by the rest of the league’s General Managers. The team featured Scott Skiles, rookie Nick Anderson, Reggie Theus and other guys you likely haven’t heard of unless you’re around my age (32) or older. On the night Olajuwon crushed them, they started Mark Acres at center and Sidney Green at power forward. Missing from the lineup was their scoring leader and rugged PF, Terry Catledge. So it was Acres, Green and rotation guy Jeff Turner (owner of a 6ppg career scoring average). To compare the post mismatch in today’s terms, it’d be like sending Mark Madsen, Shelden Williams and Reggie Evans to war against well … no one in today’s game compares to the 1989 Olajuwon, so just imagine those three guys I just mentioned trying to stop the Dream.

I don’t mean to put down Turner, Acres and Green, but rather to show how outmatched the Magic were. The Orlando Sentinel’s write-up (written by Barry Cooper) praised the bench group (which Turner was a part of) for their hustle while spelling out the facts simply: “…Acres played hard against him (Olajuwon), but most of the rebounds Olajuwon grabbed were nearly uncontested.” As for Green who started in place of the ailing Catledge, “perhaps the Magic’s best post-up defender, didn’t take a shot and had only two rebounds in 10 minutes.”

Here’s the box score where we see Olajuwon had a ridiculous D-Rating of 72 for the game. It was his second triple double of the season and the fifth of his career. The 25 rebounds tied his career-high at that point and the 20 free throw attempts set a new career-high. In calling out that Olajuwon hit just 12 of his 20 FTAs, Houston Chronicle writer Eddie Sefko interestingly wrote “But for a change, not everybody jumped on Olajuwon’s back.” Given that he averaged over 24 points while leading the league in rebounding at 14rpg and blocks at 4.6bpg, played 39mpg while appearing in all 82 Rockets games; it’s intriguing that Sefko mentions this and reminds me of the Olajuwon section in Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball where he references some of the less desirable traits of Olajuwon’s. While Sefko’s message is partly referring to his poor free throw shooting, you can piece together something of a love/hate relationship that existed between Houston fans and Olajuwon during this period.

The Chronicle’s recap also includes a quote from Orlando coach Matt Guokos that was left out of the Sentinel’s home town recap: “The discouraging aspect of going to the basket and getting shot after shot blocked kind of got to us.” Imagine the psychological impact of Olajuwon patrolling the paint that night. Your leading post scorer is out for the game, you’re an expansion team that was thrown together with spare parts. It’s almost Christmas and the excitement of being part of a new franchise has worn away and the reality that you’re playing against the best center in the league is wholly evident. You try to get in the paint for high percentage shots, but every time you turn a corner or beat a defender, there’s Olajuwon, crouched in his defensive position, but he’s a predator, he’s the hunter. He waits and times his jumps perfectly. Sure, he blocks 10 of your shots, but how many does he alter? How many times do you second guess penetrating? And at the end your coach finally admits what you and your exhausted teammates had been feeling all night long: It’s discouraging. He was just too good.

Olajuwon himself acknowledged the mismatch: “In a game like this, they really don’t have a legitimate center in the middle, so we have to take advantage of that.”

The Rockets underachieved in this game and it led to Olajuwon playing big minutes (43) out necessity more than anything else. Despite winning by 15, Houston was up just one point heading into the fourth quarter. By that point, the Magic were done driving into the paint and settled for jumpers which Olajuwon presumably tracked down on his way to the 25 boards. It was the perfect setting for Akeem to have a big game and he took full advantage.

My journey into the rabbit hole of box scores and recaps today is just an extension of the box score readings I used to do when I was a kid. I’d find the Sports section in the Des Moines Register, flip to the back to see the box scores and look for the explosions, the inconsistencies, the triple doubles, the 50-point outbursts and find some sense of satisfaction in the deviations. So many years later and years removed from reading box scores and getting dark ink smudges on my fingertips and thumbs, I’m still intrigued by the abnormal accomplishment and appreciate it for being one of the few things in sports that’s still so unpredictable; just like it’s unpredictable that a Reggie Evans 24-rebound, 15-free throw attempt on a Friday night in March in 2013 would lead me to contemplating Akeem Olajuwon’s relationship with Houston fans in the winter of 1989.

Twin Tower days prior to Olajuwon's obliteration of Orlando

Twin Tower days prior to Olajuwon’s obliteration of Orlando

Guess Manu’s Strange

Trends and their meanings and sources are always insightful in sports, but I’m just as interested and sucked into the completely random stat line or statistitical accomplishment like the one that occurred on Friday night in the whipping the Spurs applied to the Kings. After dropping a stunner to the Suns in overtime a few nights before, the Spurs took out their frustrations on the Kings in the form of a 130-104 victory where San Antonio shot just over 60% from the field and scored 130 points on just 84 shots.

It was this environment of cleanliness and efficiency that Tony Parker went down with an ankle injury forcing Manu Ginobili into playmaking duties where Ginobili set a career-high with 15 assists and did it while spending less than 23 minutes on the court. That makes him one of just three players to achieve this random act of prolificacy over the past 28 seasons and of the accomplishment Manu had this to say: ”Yeah, it just happened…” For that, I guess Manu’s strange:

Manu dimes - 03-02-13

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