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Divining What’s Real and What’s Not From Preseason Anomalies

Two things that are invariably true about the preseason. First, we’re going to see things that don’t translate to the regular season. Second, once the regular season starts, there will be changes from last season, that, if we look back on the preseason, will have been manifested then.

What we’re looking at here is a predictive view of what preseason statistical anomalies may or may not be “real.” To determine that we’ll consider what, if anything, explains the adjustment.

Chicago Bulls Pace and Three-Point Shooting

One thing that stands bizarrely out in the preseason statistical leaders is the Chicago Bulls and the vast, vast, vast number of three-point shots they’re firing up, as well as the number of shots in general. They’ve fired up the second-most three-point attempts (33.0), made the most (12.7) and are firing off 92.3 shots a game overall. And they’re doing that without Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson or, for the most part, Pau Gasol, in the lineup.

To put things in perspective, in their entire history of regular and postseason games, the Bulls have topped their current three-point average one time, and that record is 34. They’ve attempted 33 another four times.

As for those 92.3 field goal attempts per game: During former coach Tom Thibodeau’s previous tenure, the Bulls only had 13 games in regulation where they topped that mark. That’s from a pool of 449 games he coached.

Be certain of this: The Bulls will look very different this year under new coach Fred Hoiberg, and this isn’t an anomaly. So far, the chief beneficiary has been Doug McDermott, who spent his rookie year either injured or in the doghouse. But Hoiberg is letting the dogs out and McDermott leads the NBA with 11 three-point makes this preseason.

He won’t maintain that kind of production, but look for him to get an enormous boost under the new coach.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Efficiency

Another team with a new coach that is looking appreciably different is the Billy Donovan-led Oklahoma City Thunder. Granted, it helps to have Kevin Durant back, but holy efficiency Batman, this is ridiculous.

So far this preseason, the Thunder are scoring a league-high 116.8 points per 100 possessions, and their true shooting percentage as a team is 62.1 percent. Those numbers are significant improvements from the 104.5 and 53.2 from last year.

Now, again, part of that is getting Kevin Durant back. But a lot has to do with Donovan as well. This team is a lot less, “give the ball to Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant and stay out of the way.”

They’re moving the ball and getting good shots as indicated by their shot chart. While Westbrook is still taking the most of them, it’s only 12.5 per game, and he’s averaging 9.0 dimes as well.

The Thunder have played just two games, but there’s a chance this indicates a change in philosophy, finding a happy medium for Westbrook, where he’s still aggressive, but not to the point where teams can key on him without having to be concerned about sacrifice.

Look for a more efficient season from the Thunder and Westbrook in particular, with their star point guard piling up assists.

Denver Nuggets Defense

The Denver Nuggets look like a defensive dynamo from the stats, yielding just 90.4 points per 100 possessions in their first three games. That, though, is more nuggets of fool’s gold than the real thing.

The players logging the most minutes for them are a small list of people who are either young or proven to be bad-to-mediocre on defense: Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Joffrey Lauvergne, Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton.

And while the Nuggets have played good teams in Chicago and the Clippers, their defense wasn’t that impressive against the Clippers, and the Bulls were sitting out most of their team, with their starters logging a total of 33 minutes.

This is more a verdict of bad players trying to make a team playing hard and playing well. Yes, it works during the preseason, but once the regular season starts and they’re going against starters giving regular-season effort, it’s not going to last.

Denver wasn’t a good defensive team last year, and they won’t be one this year.

Kobe Bryant’s Great Shooting Night

I’d be remiss not to include this:

Cari Champion isn’t the only one to highlight this “amazing night,” but it’s the ultimate in irresponsibility to use preseason to validate a position. It’s a 10-shot sample size against Maccabi, for crying out loud. Let’s not make this out to be more than it is — which is very little.

That said, in his other games, Bryant has given more reason for genuine optimism. He’s used just 28.5 true shooting attempts to notch 34 points for a true shooting percentage of 59.6 percent. And two of those games have come against the Utah Jazz, which offer a pretty stellar defense.

The key seems to be in his (for him) relatively moderate usage of 29.4 percent. If he’s really taking his mentoring role seriously, he might continue to look less to create for himself and more for his teammates once the games start counting. His accrued numbers might not be as big if that’s the case, but he would be a far more effective player.

All stats were obtained from NBA.com and were current before games played on October 12. 

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