With two weeks behind us in the NBA, there has been enough time for an opinion to begin to form on most teams. The Pelicans can’t rely on Anthony Davis to carry them to the playoffs by himself, the Jazz appear to be the same defensive juggernaut that ended last season, and the Warriors are a decent NBA team.
The start of a new season also means we can finally stop relying on last year’s stats to predict what’s going to happen this season, even though some of those statistics might be misleading.
This is the third season NBA.com’s SportVU data has been available, and with each season comes more information. But with most teams having played only six or seven games, there isn’t enough data yet to determine if what we’re seeing means that the player is as good, or as bad, as the data shows, or if he had an outlier performance that won’t last. Here are a few of the extremes.
Shown above are the players that have at least three catch-and-shoot attempts (a jump shot outside of 10 feet where the player possessed the ball for less than 2 seconds and took no dribbles), sorted by attempts per game.
Some of the players seen aren’t surprising. Klay Thompson, Eric Gordon, Kevin Durant and Kyle Korver are some of the best shooters from deep in the entire league, and giving them more shots from those areas is an intelligent move. And then there’s Marcus Thornton.
Thornton is averaging 6.8 catch and shoot attempts per game after averaging only 2.5 last season, as he’s had to play more for the Rockets due to the number of injuries the team has suffered. The surprising number for Thornton, however, has been his efficiency. Normally, a player suffers a drop in his efficiency when asked to carry more of a load offensively, but Thornton has increased his effective field goal percentage from 54.6 percent last season to 60.3 percent this season on about four more attempts per game.
There have been problems with the Bulls’ offense early in the season, but it isn’t because they’re missing these types of shots. Jimmy Butler, Doug McDermott, Tony Snell and Nikola Mirotic have combined for 16 attempts per game with effective field goal percentages of 79.2, 77.8, 66 and 52.8, respectively.
One of the buzz phrases when discussing the NBA today is rim protection. While we’ve learned that the rim protection numbers provided by the SportVU data don’t necessarily mean the player is a good defender — Pau Gasol held opponents to 48 percent on 10 attempts at the rim last season and nobody confuses him for a good defender — it’s a start.
The farther to the right and down the player is, the better of a rim protector he is, and one name stands out more than any other, Rudy Gobert.
Gobert, with his 7-foot-8 wingspan, has allowed opponents to shoot just over 30 percent while defending over 11 shots per game at the rim — both lead the league. Gobert allowed opponents to shoot only 40.5 percent at the rim last season, which suggests that his number might regress slightly this season, but it’s difficult to imagine it being too much higher than it currently is.
This is one of the reasons that Jazz have won four of their first six games despite a below average offense, but it might not be the most impressive defensive performance in his own division.
The first overall selection from the 2015 draft class is living up to the hype after only five games. Karl-Anthony Towns is nearly averaging a double-double with three blocks per game, but his rim protection numbers are what stand out.
Towns has challenged 10.6 attempts at the rim per game so far this season putting him behind only Gobert, Gasol and Hassan Whiteside. Unlike Gasol and Whiteside, Towns is allowing opponents to shoot under 36 percent at the rim.
Again, Towns is only five games into his NBA career, and while he projects to be a future star, it’s unlikely that he’ll maintain this level of production for 82 games. But that doesn’t make this stretch any less impressive.
In the fictional MVP of the First Two Weeks race, there is Steph Curry, and then there’s everybody else. Ninety-two players average 20 minutes per game while scoring 13.3 points or fewer. Curry is averaging 13.4 points per game on pull-up shots alone.
Field goal percentage is a statistic that is becoming obsolete with effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage publicly available, but it’s the statistic the SportVU data uses for this specific information and still has some value.
For example, it shows some of James Harden’s early struggles. Through seven games, Harden is averaging 7.7 points on pull-up shots, but doing so while shooting a miserable 28.6 percent on those shots. He averaged seven points per game on over 37 percent shooting on pull-up shots last season, which shows there is no reason for concern this early.
One of the early surprise teams has been the Portland Trail Blazers, and pull-up shots show some of the reason they have been so successful. The backcourt of C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard has been a nightmare for opposing defenses this season. The tandem has averaged 18 points per game on pull-up shots alone while shooting 45.9 and 40 percent on those shots, respectively.
No matter how you look at it, Andre Drummond has been the best rebounder in the league so far this season. He’s averaging 20.3 rebounds per game this season — which would be the highest since Wilt Chamberlain’s 1969 season — and he would have the 13th highest rebounding average when considering his contested rebounds alone. Drummond has more offensive rebounds than the Charlotte Hornets and has accounted for nearly 50 percent of his team’s total rebounds.
A few of these numbers will inevitably regress to normalcy. Towns probably won’t be the second-best rim protector in his rookie season, Drummond won’t be the first player to average 20 points and 20 rebounds since Chamberlain, and Curry probably won’t remain on pace to make 445 threes on the season (which is more than the Timberwolves and Grizzlies made last year).
Two weeks can’t tell us everything we need to know about the new season, but it can hint toward what to expect at its conclusion.