Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Category Archives: STATS

James and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Ten Games

James Harden’s 2014-15 season ended with a splat. If you remember, Harden bumbled and stumbled his way into a 2-11 shooting night with a reckless 12 turnovers and a game score of one. Houston was bounced from the playoffs and Harden had the summer to vanquish whatever demons crept through his pores on that late May day.

It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 10 games for James

That was nearly six months ago, plenty of time to recalibrate and find the touch that made Harden’s 2014-15 campaign one of Houstonian bliss. Ten games into the new season though and whatever oddities plagued Harden at the end of the playoffs have hardened into a crust. He’s a career 44% shooter from the field with a 51% mark at eFG (adjusted to account for threes being worth one more point than a normal field goal). Since his days as a 20-point scorer began, he averages just under four turnovers/game. Through ten games of the 2015-16 season, Harden’s efficiency has nosedived to 37% from the field with 4.9 turnovers/game.

Comparing Harden to players other than Harden doesn’t offer a much more favorable view. Since 1985-86, just six other players have managed 210 shot attempts with sub-40% from the field over their first ten games. Except for Kobe’s banged up/shot slinging 2014-15, each player below saw some degree of improvement from their early struggles to their end season stats. (As an aside, what in the hell happened in the Atlantic division in 2002-03 that three players began the season so ineptly inefficient?)

data courtesy of basketball-reference.com

data courtesy of basketball-reference.com

It’s not that the list above is filled with bad company, rather it’s an ugly snapshot in time of otherwise talented players.

Much of Harden’s woes from the field can be traced to a combination of increased fascination with the three-ball and significantly decreased accuracy from that spot. His current approach to the three is enough to make Antoine Walker un-shimmy. After putting up between six to seven threes/game over the past three seasons, he’s jacking nearly ten/game in 2015. For context, prior to this season, no player in league history had ever averaged nine three-point attempts/game. Stephen Curry’s shooting 11.5/game this year, but he’s also making a whopping 45% of them. By contrast, Harden’s ten attempts/game are coming with a 24% efficiency. There’s no reason to suspect that his accuracy won’t creep back up to the 36-37% rate he’s maintained his entire career, but it’s also hard to envision him maintaining the current volume.

While Houston has plenty of issues that have contributed to a 4-6 record with a pair of three-game losing streaks (most notably a defense giving up 107.8ppg [27th out of 30th] with a DRtg of 108.9 [29th out of 30]), the chart below highlights the Rockets early-season dependence on Harden’s offensive efficiency for success. In wins, he has an eFG% of nearly 54 while in losses that number drops to under 32%. As a reminder, his career average is 51%.

James Harden eFG by game 2015-16

There’s such a paradoxical element to Harden’s young 2015-16. He’s averaging a career-high in points at 28.4ppg bolstered by nearly 12 free throw attempts/night while sinking 86% of those attempts, but that’s countered by a career-low in ORtg (estimate of points created per 100 possessions). He’s getting more rebounds than at any point in his career, but that’s driven by him seeing more minutes than ever at small forward as Houston’s been forced to go small due to injuries. And CBS Sports’ Matt Moore pointed out that even those numbers come with caveats:

The NBA’s SportVU data has Harden logged for the second-most defensive rebound chances on the team, at 10.8 per game. He’s grabbing just 5.5, with only 1.4 contested. That is a horrendous rate, which is fine if he’s not being asked to do that, but with the Rockets going small, the guards have to rebound, and they’re not.

Speaking of said injuries, through ten games, Houston’s dilly dallied with five different starting lineups to accommodate the health of Dwight Howard and dings to Terrence Jones. Reserve guard Patrick Beverley has spent the season banged up and the assimilation of Ty Lawson appears to be confounding the entire populace of Houston – Lawson’s to-date performance as a Rocket makes Harden’s struggles feel like sunbeams and smart vacation. There’s a continuity issue here reflected in their streaky play (three-game losing streak followed by four straight wins then another three-game losing streak) and need for total domination by Harden to win. In wins he’s averaging 38ppg with a near-38% usage rate while losses 22ppg and 32% usage and a despicable 15% from three on 53 attempts.

We have three-plus seasons of video and statistical evidence that defines a true Harden identity. While he’s been historically bad over ten games, history tells us he’ll progress to the mean at some point and we’ve already seen it happen in a few Houston games this season. The question for coach Kevin McHale and Harden are more of a when than an if. But like Alexander’s mother tells him in the book which this post takes its name from: “Some games are like that. Even in Australia.”


4,000 Minutes (or the death of)

A while back I started researching the enormous amount of NBA minutes LeBron James has played in his decorated career. I’ll be exploring this in future work, but focusing on something different today: The 4,000 Minute Club because Dancing with Noah is interested in nothing if not interested in creating exclusive clubs for groups of large men that strut into statistical significance.


The 4,000 minute club is made up of any player that has appeared in 4,000 minutes or more combined across regular season and post-season for a single year. It’s a testament to some elite level of indispensability to your team, Cal Ripken-ish durability, and team success.

The 4k club is unique in that it’s possibly nearing extinction as you’ll see through the numbers below. While NBA Finals participants have the opportunity to appear in more total games than their NBA forebears due to playoff series expansion, things like sports science or common sense have resulted in minute reduction. A good, but isolated example of this is last year’s MVP Stephen Curry appearing in an MVP record-low 32.7 minutes/game. Golden State’s a unique example in that they’re able to blow out opponents without big minutes required of their top dog, but last season’s league leader in minutes played was James Harden who appeared in less than 3,000 minutes for the regular season – the fewest minutes played in a non-lockout season since 1958-59 when the NBA only played 72 games. These are microcosms of the broader downtrend in minutes played.

To arrive at a modern, contextual list of players, I separated the NBA/ABA into a pre-modern and modern era:

  • Pre-Modern: beginning of time to 1979-80
  • Modern: 1980-81 to present

The 4k threshold has been surpassed 55 times in NBA/ABA history with 36 of those seasons occurring in the pre-modern period when Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell stalked North America feasting on the blood and bones of knobby-kneed opponents. The top-10 of most combined regular and playoff minutes all occurred between 1961-62 and 1973-74 when pros wore low-top Chuck Taylor’s, shorts that would make John Stockton blush, and didn’t yet have the perks of chartered air travel or modern exercise science. The list below is made up of Wilt and Kareem, then four guys from the ABA which had an 84-game season.

11-12-15 - Wilt & ABA 4k minutes

Regardless of how it’s explained or rationalized, it’s difficult to wrap your head around Wilt the Stilt playing 48.5 minutes/game over the course of a 92-game season. He appeared in more than the available regulation minutes not for a game, a week, or a month, but an entire damn season. These super charged numbers are incomprehensible in the way Babe Ruth’s hitting and pitching stats are impossible, in the way Cy Young won over 500 games and threw nearly 750 complete games. They are so far beyond any current comprehension that they’re not comparable to the modern, post-Wilt game.

11-12-15 - 4000 minute man

Instead, the modern breakout exists in a world closer to current standards of sanity and tolerability. Successful teams like the Spurs and Warriors have readjusted what is and isn’t acceptable with NBA player workloads while coaches like Tom Thibodeau are regularly admonished for throwing big minutes at players that who hobble on future arthritic joints.

The modern list is different and while it’s likely less of an achievement, it still speaks to something of the implicit meaning of the US Postal Service’s “rain, sleet or snow” motto that American’s love and cherish so much: We work hard.

18 players appear 19 times on the list of modern guys who have surpassed the 4k limit. They range in age from 22 to 34, in total games from 94 to 107, from MVPs to a lanky, lean Tayshaun Prince. 14 of the 19 occurrences made Finals appearances and every player on the list appeared in more than 40 minutes/game in the playoffs. Enough with demographics, take my hand and let’s explore this wonderful numerical forest.

11-12-15 - Modern 4k minutes

The table above is sorted by total minutes and right at the top of this who’s who of NBA MVPs is “Thunder” Dan Majerle. Not exactly the two guard I would’ve expected to see at the top of the list, but when the Suns made the Finals in 1993, Majerle was an indispensable spoke. He appeared in all 106 games for Phoenix with 33.5% of his total 4,270 minutes played coming in the playoffs. His playoff MPG (44.6) represent the highest lift over regular season MPG with an increase of 5.6 minutes capped off by a 28-point performance on 6-8 from three in a 59-minute triple OT game in the Finals.

Only one player made this list without even advancing to the conference finals. Back in 2002-03, Allen Iverson appeared in all 94 of Philadelphia’s games, averaging a whopping 43 MPG. I don’t think anyone questions Iverson’s toughness, but for a player who weighed under 170lbs and averaged nine free throw attempts/game to play 43 minutes every night for 94 games is remarkable. Worth noting: The following season Iverson appeared in just 48 games.

Michael Jordan is the oldest player to reach 4k minutes and the only player in the modern era with two 4k seasons to his name. We’ll focus on his age-34 season when he appeared in 103 games averaging 39.3 MPG. While lacking the nightly minute madness of Iverson’s 2003 or Majerle’s beastly playoff run of 1993, MJ carried a massive load for 1998 Bulls. Scottie Pippen spent the season fighting injuries and the Bulls front office over contract issues and the result was a 34-year-old Jordan leading the league in usage while appearing in the most total minutes of his career. The combination of shouldering the load for this Bulls team and navigating the front office shenanigans of GM Jerry “Crumbs” Krause no doubt added to MJ’s decision to hang up the high tops following 1998.

We’ll wrap up the player-level analysis with the youngest guy on the list and the one who originally led me on this 4,000-minute quest: 22-year-old LeBron James in 2007. He was probably a year ahead of schedule carrying a team that just wasn’t that good all the way to the Finals. Playing 40 minutes/night in the regular season and nearly 45/night in the playoffs was the only way this team could compete and it wore down the young LeBron. After exceeding 55% true shooting in the regular season, he dipped below 52% for the playoffs.

11-12-15 - Bron 2007

The glut of minutes coupled with an average team and more creative defensive looks in the playoffs sucked the life out of Bron’s 2007. It’s telling that there’s only a single point guard (Gary Payton) on the list above. And with James so frequently playing that ball handling/offense-initiating role, it’s fair to wonder if that and a dose of Spursian common sense have resulted in just one 4k season for him.

The last time we saw a player cross the 4k barrier was 2008 with a 29-year-old Kobe Bryant. Given the aforementioned stats about Steph Curry and Harden last year coupled with theories that players are more susceptible to injury due to a multitude of factors (sleep deprivation, poorer diets, playing tons of basketball at younger ages, and poor weight training habits) and advances in sports medicine and biometric testing point to what should be a smarter, more cautious approach to managing player health and minutes, aka assets and investments. Though one could make the counter argument that advances in science may reveal new and better ways for athletes to protect their bodies and thus play even more minutes. The future is a damn abyss to which we’re all inevitably hurtling and nothing should be a surprise. But if teams follow the lead of two of our league’s most successful franchises, then we’ll no doubt see minutes trend downward and friends of the 4k club remaining a tidy, fraternal group of 17 (RIP, Moses Malone).

James Harden and the 43-13 Club

Once upon a time in the pre-presidential Obama days of the NBA, young Mr. Michael Jordan showed up for a game in Indianapolis against the Pacers and their funny two-guard, Reggie Miller. Jordan’s Bulls lost by four points, but it was due in no part to Jordan who crapped all over the Pacers for a sizzling 47 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists, four steals and two blocks while shooting 57% from the field and 13-14 from the line. Egads!

Of course Michael Jordan, he of “commerce over conscience” infamy, is the modern-day NBA (defined as 1985-86 which is the first season basketball-reference offers certain box score stats) pioneer of the 43-13 club; aka 43-points and 13-assists, a truly dominant offensive game mixed of equal parts attack and distribution, but all attack.

So how’d we arrive here? James Harden delivered us to this moment on a Friday night in Sacramento in November with his vintage Hardenesque performance: 43 points on 23 shots with 16 FTAs and 13 assists. Harden was a rock or ogre or something irrepressible. And it was kind of fitting that in a league where all two guards are measured by their ability or inability to emulate his Airness, that the two-guard with the most un-MJish game would be the latest in a short line of NBA greats to repeat his feat from 1989.

James Harden considering Mars

James Harden considering Mars

Here’s the criteria:

  • 43 points or more
  • 13 assists or more

The inductees:

  1. Michael Jordan, 26-years-old in 1989: 47pts, 11rebs, 13asts, 4stls
  2. Larry Bird, 33 in 1990: 43pts, 8rebs, 13asts
  3. Kenny Anderson, 23 in 1994: 45pts, 8rebs, 14asts, 4stls, 20-23 from FT
  4. Antoine Walker, 24 in 2001: 47pts, 5rebs, 13asts, 4stls, 9-14 from 3
  5. Tracy McGrady, 23 in 2003: 46pts, 10rebs, 13asts, 2blks
  6. Allen Iverson, 31 in 2007: 44pts on 16-22 shooting, 15asts
  7. Gilbert Arenas, 27 in 2009: 45pts, 13asts
  8. LeBron James, 25 in 2010: 43pts, 13rebs, 15asts, 4blks, 1-9 from 3
  9. James Harden, 26 in 2015: 43pts, 13asts, 7 TOs

It’s an illustriously exclusive crowd Harden’s just joined, but fitting given the versatility of his game. Long a playmaker and dynamic scorer, the Beard is one of just 12 players in league history to average 27ppg and 7apg over the course of a single season. Where our eyelashes barely bat at the inclusion of MJ, Bird or LeBron, Kenny Anderson and Antoine Walker are more surprising. Anderson’s game was necessitated by an injury to Derrick Coleman while Walker’s was an outmatched team on the road where he caught fire.

Context for games like these matters. In Harden’s case, it was his sixth game of the year, the first three of which had all resulted in 20-point losses with last season’s MVP runner-up shooting a combined 12-54 (22%) from the field and 3-32 (9%) from three. His team has been ravaged by early injuries and the challenge of integrating speedy playmaker Ty Lawson into the attack. On this Friday night, there was no Dwight Howard, no Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, or Patrick Beverley. So against an undermanned (no DeMarcus Cousins) Kings team, Harden seized the reigns and torched the Kings. It was without peer as his best game of the new season with the Rockets largest margin of victory and his own highest usage and ORtg.

Which takes us to the final noteworthy relationship of the 43-13 club; the relationship between usage and Ortg. The 43-13 club means you’re accounting for no less than 60 of your team’s points. A player becomes the catalyzing engine driving the offensive attack from multiple planes much to the defense’s helplessness. I expected higher usage rates which isn’t to say the rates aren’t high, but below we see a consistent relationship: mid-30s usage, mid-130s Ortg – with a couple of truly unique outliers. Allen Iverson’s 44 and 15 on 16-22 shooting stands out as a model of harnessed efficiency which, given his career-long struggles with efficiency becomes the greatest outlier and a likely topic for a future edition.

Stats courtesy of the great Basketball-Reference.com.

Stats courtesy of the great Basketball-Reference.com.

25-25 starring Young Drummond with supporting role from Young Dwight

On November 3rd, Andre Drummond, all of 22-years-old, notched the second 25-25 game of his career with 25 points on 12-17 shooting and 29 rebounds – a career high. In the process he joined Al Jefferson and Dwight Howard as the only three active players in the league with more than one 25-25 game. Guys like Shaq, Tim Duncan, Patrick Ewing only achieved the feat once in their storied careers, but at 22 Drummond’s already done it twice.

11-05-15 - Drummond in Detroit

As I looked over this list in all its randomness dating back to 1985-86 (which is worth noting because Wilt Chamberlain, that giant NBA version of Babe Ruth, had three seasons where he averaged 25-25 and went for 30 and 23 as a career average), a few things stuck out in their oddball numerical beauty:

  • Hakeem Olajuwon sits on the modern 25-25 throne with five such games
  • One of Olajuwon’s games was a 32-point, 25-rebound, 10-block performance which I’ve previously written about and is one of the more dominant/lopsided individual stat lines I’ve come across.
  • The highest game score on the list is a 48.6 from Olajuwon on a night back in 1987 when he stuck it to the Sonics of Seattle for 49 points, 25 boards and six blocks. What the shit kind of night is that?
  • Kenneth Faried joined the club last year in a game in which he played just 30 minutes – the least minutes of anyone in the club.
  • RIP Lorenzen Wright
  • And finally, the similarities between Dwight’s and Drummond’s appearances on this list.

By the time he was 21, Howard had his two 25-25s and I can only assume that most folks suspected these wouldn’t be the last two such games of his career. And given that he’s just turning 30 in a few weeks, it’s possible he tacks on a few more, but since his peak is well in the rearview, it’s unlikely.

25-25s aside, the young Dwight-young Drummond connection comes with intrigue not because of the similarities: they’re both powerfully built centers that use size, skill, and athleticism to dominate and they’ve both been coached by Stan Van Gundy; but the nearer they become statistically the better the future looks for Drummond.

At the end of Howard’s fourth season he was a two-time all-star with appearances on the NBA All-Defensive second team, All-NBA third team and All-NBA first team. He was highly decorated and more than prepared to take the torch as the league’s best big man. Drummond was named to the All-NBA Rookie second team back in the day and that’s it. Despite his size and athleticism and despite numbers that favorably compare to Dwight, he’s been unable to crack the code of the NBA’s off-season awards.

My friend and esteemed basketball writer and thinker Ian Levy just wrote a nice in-depth piece on the dissimilarities between these two that goes well beyond simplifications of them being large athletes that rebound and dunk. And where Dwight’s defense has long been Hall-of-Fame level (he’s the only player since the inception of the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1982-83 to win it three straight seasons), Andre’s merely a good defender. Though we’re looking at significantly different players, there are intersections and overlaps between their first three seasons. Below, in the most unscientific way possible, I’ve attempted to identify these intersections via my own made up statistic that includes traditional big man stats PPG, RPG, BPG combined with PER minus turnovers to arrive at an arbitrary stat for each of Andre and Dwight’s first three years in the league.

11-05-15 - Drummond vs. Dwight

The above unscientific approach is interesting because it takes a variety of stats and makes a fat stat patty out of them which, when viewed in their entirety is strikingly similar in terms of progression and production. Additionally, through three seasons, both players were 21 and were just getting to know Van Gundy: he didn’t start coaching Howard until his fourth season and Drummond in his third. None of the above is presented to imply that Drummond = Dwight. Drummond is a much better offensive rebounder and plays more to his own strengths offensively which results in less turnovers. Young Dwight was the superior defender, (somehow) had a broader array of offensive moves, and was able to stay on the court for longer stretches without getting in foul trouble.

And yet, even with those copious variations, the statistical similarities are hard to overlook. If we shift forward with a similar eye and the little four-game sample we have of this season, it doesn’t take ultra-optimism to imagine a 2015-16 season out of Drummond. Dwight made significant leaps in his fourth year with improvements in scoring (ppg and FTA/game), rebounding (total boards and rebounding rate), and offensive and defensive impact (career bests in offensive and defensive win shares and offensive and defensive rating). Four games into 2015-16 is too few to plant any flags in Drummond making a similar leap, but with the paint cleared of former running mate Greg Monroe and a hand-crafted SVG roster that creates greater space for Drummond, the magic eight ball indicates sunny days for the big man. Or, if November 3rd’s ridiculous 25-29 game provides some kind of symbolic indicator of the future, then step to the side, lest you be dunk slammed on by the giant Andre Drummond.

The Grandiosity of Steph Curry in Autumn

We’re in November and the Golden State Warriors have played less than five percent of their total regular season games. The most recent, their fourth of the young year, was punctuated by a violent 119-69 Mike Tyson-over-Michael Spinks type victory over the Grizz – the same Grizz that took a 2-1 lead over GSW in the playoffs just six months ago. In the breezy 28 minutes he played, reigning MVP and pioneer of “new NBA” style basketball Steph Curry incinerated the Grizz for 30 points on 16 shots. Speaking in purely statistical terms, this was a below average game for Curry in 2015-16, but like I cautioned, we’ve got 78 games to go.

But in the young offering of the new season, Steph’s taking what was already a nuclear game and style replete with some kind of next world hand-eye coordination, progressively audacious handle, Doc Holliday trigger finger, and already all-time range and accuracy combination, and building on it.

In 2014-15, his first season under the guidance of Steve Kerr, Curry was a joy to behold, roughly achieving the same averages he had in 2013-14 (pts, rebounds, asts, 3s, stls, etc) while appearing in four less minutes per game. Comparing his 2014-15 to 2012-13 is even starker: he played six more minutes per game that year, but his per-game averages were lower as were his shooting percentages. His per-36 numbers from 2014-15 outshone what had already been all-star caliber numbers. Improvement is expected, but as we’ll see, the type of improvement is mostly unprecedented.

I’m going to paraphrase here and most likely screw this up, but there’s a four-quadrant concept that occurs in learning and task mastery:

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know – you’re unconscious
  2. You become aware of the things you don’t know – your consciousness develops so you can at least identify what you want to improve upon
  3. You consciously begin to tackle those things of which you recently became aware
  4. You unconsciously do the things you recently did in a conscious state

If last year’s MVP/NBA champion season was step #4 for Steph where execution became second nature like breathing and sneezing and laughing, then the four games we’ve seen of him in 15-16 are closer to that scene in The Matrix when Neo is all “What are you trying to tell me, I can dodge bullets?” and Morpheus responds, “No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.”

Was there a point where Steph realized he didn’t have to metaphorically “dodge bullets,” that it would just happen instinctually? On opening night last week, his first quarter should’ve been an indication to all of us that instead of seeing the illusory images on the court, he was deep in some meta coding, interpreting his opponent’s futile defensive efforts as nothing more than unprejudiced attempts designed to deter him. In the first quarter alone he shot 9-13 (would’ve been 9-12 had he not heaved up a 40-footer as time expired) with 24 points. It was lightning, violence, blitzkrieg, all-out attack, a metaphor for war. It was, intentionally or not, a battle hymn that rang out across the TNT-powered sound waves through speakers and pixels into our feeble senses.

11-03-15 - Steph shot chart game 1 updated

But it didn’t stop there and hasn’t stopped. We’re still hibernating in small sample size theater season, but something strange is afoot, like white walker afoot or when the levee breaks afoot. Through these piddly four games, Steph, this time under the substitute coaching of Luke “Son of Bill” Walton, is obliterating his own MVP-level stats and he’s somehow doing it with rarefied combination below:

  • Less minutes/game
  • More shots (more on this)
  • Increased efficiency (very little on this)

Because the Warriors can beat other playoff teams like the Grizz by 50 points on random Monday nights, there’s no need for Curry to play big minutes. This is our loss. In four games, all against playoff teams, GSW’s closest game was a 14-point victory. He’s averaging under 32 minutes/game. What we’re seeing though is that his slice of the offensive pie has grown in 2015-16. Where Curry’s career average for field goal attempts/game has sat right 16 attempts with a career high of just under 18 FGA back in 2012-13 in 38 minutes/game, Curry’s now cramming in 21 shots/game. He’s somehow getting up 32% more shots/game than his career average while appearing in the second lowest MPG of his career.

11-02-15 - Steph YoY FGA

It doesn’t stop with field goals. As part of that 21 FGAs/game, Curry’s pushing an unprecedented nearly 11 3s/game. To put that into context, the most 3PAs a player has ever attempted on a per-game basis was Baron Davis back in 2004 when he put up 8.7/game. Curry’s clearly a prolific gunner himself and holds the top two single-season records for 3s made. His career high of 8.1 3Pas/game is good enough for sixth on the all-time list. But if we compare his current little four-game stretch to his career average of 6.5 3PAs/game, we see a ballsy bold leap of 64%. And if we’re truly interested in blowing our minds all over the walls in blue and gold Warrior-themed blood spatter in queer basketball-themed Rorschach patterns, then layer on the context that Curry’s spike in volume is being accompanied by a career best three-point accuracy (48.8%). He’s hitting five threes/game!

11-02-15 - Steph YoY 3pa

So Curry’s hovering around the perimeter, chucking record-setting threes and hitting them at paces typically reserved for guys who trade volume for efficiency. He’s taking advantage of spacing and passing and ball movement and all that good stuff. Yes to all of that, but for any notion that he’s merely perfecting the areas of already-existing strength while other aspects of his game stay flat or see small rises, he’s again a step ahead. For his career, Curry’s shooting a paltry 3.5 free throws/game. He’s third all-time in FT% just behind Steve Nash and Mark Price, so he’s getting the most bang for his free throw buck, but at 3.5 attempts/game with a career best of 4.5, he’s good at getting to the line for a point guard, but nothing special. In our shortened present season he’s somehow expanded his offensive range to include seven FTAs/game. For a guy that shoots over 90% from the line, seven FTAs/night is free points, a rhythmic bonus that builds on what’s already elite confidence. Where his increase in 3PA/game was a stunning 64%, his increase in FTA/game relative to his career average is nearly double at a 99% increase and the graph below more so than the others above clearly illustrates this spike.

11-02-15 - Steph YoY FTA

While I’ve touched on Steph’s increased makes, I chose to focus on the attempts to show the early tidal change from last season. Maybe it’s having Walton at the helm instead of Kerr or maybe Klay Thompson has a bad back. Perhaps Kerr and company saw something in the numbers or on film, something like, “More Steph is better.” Regardless of the impetus for the jumps in volume, the return Golden State’s seeing on his increased offensive aggressiveness are eye popping and head shaking. Who averages 37ppg in under 32mpg for a team that beats all comers by double digits? It is unprecedented, I swear it is. It has to be.

We’re dealing with the smallest of sample sizes to the degree that every stat called out in this piece should have an asterisk next to it (“Hey man, it’s less than 5% of games, chill!”), but what we’re seeing even through these four games is borderline comical in the way that peak Pedro Martinez or Aroldis Champan were/are comical; we know what to expect and the opponent thinks they know what to expect and it doesn’t matter. The stats tell this truth as well as any verbose language or overused thesauri ever could. And sure sure, it’s probably unsustainable, but what if by some dint in the makeup of things, it is sustainable? If there’s even a shred of sustainability going on here, may god have mercy on all their basketball-playing souls because in this new NBA, the man shooting 50% on 11 3s/game is king.

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:


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…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 448 other followers

%d bloggers like this: