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The Numbers Game: Who will help most?

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Oct 29 2008 5:41PM

It's one thing to add a good player to your team. It's another to add a good player that's a good fit.

There are many reasons why teams win and lose games and obviously, it boils down to scoring points and preventing your opponent from doing the same. Some teams can do both and some teams can't.

In The Numbers Game, we like to look at the two ends of the floor separately, to break down where teams are strong and weak, and how teams can improve.

For this first edition of the 2008-09 season, we're seeing how some of the summer's big acquisitions fit in with their new teams. Do their skills help in the areas their team was the weakest in last season? Who's a better fit: Elton Brand in Philly or Jermaine O'Neal in Toronto?

To evaluate, we use per-possession numbers, which take a team's pace out of the equation and tell you how good teams are on each end of the floor.

Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (league rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (league rank)

Philadelphia 76ers: Elton Brand

Off: 107.7 (19)
Def: 107.3 (6)

The Sixers went 22-12 to close the season last year by forcing turnovers and getting out on the break. They ranked second in the NBA (behind Boston) by forcing 17.5 turnovers per 100 possessions and second (behind Golden State) with 20.3 fast break points per 100 possessions.

As the numbers indidcate, the Sixers, generally speaking, were not a strong half-court offensive team. They struggled in the half-court without shooters, without a player who can create his own shot and without a player could at least draw a double-team.

Brand, however, should give the Sixers a threat down low. He is one of the best low-post bigs in the league and he'll make the Sixers a much more efficient team in half-court situations. With Andre Miller, Andrea Iguodala and Thaddeus Young, they'll still look to run, but now they have a go-to guy when they can't. Not only is Brand effective in the post, but the pick-and-pop game with he and Miller has looked sharp in the preseason.

Half-court offense is not the only way that Brand should help the Sixers.

With Samuel Dalembert (3.7 offensive boards per game) and Reggie Evans (2.8) leading the way, the Sixers were the best offensive rebounding team in the league last season, grabbing 31.8 percent of the available offensive boards.

On the flip side, defensive rebounding was an issue for Philly. They forced a ton of turnovers, but they weren't as strong of a defensive team as they could be because of a lack of defensive rebounding. Philadelphia's guards often got out of position by trying to get steals and Dalembert would leave the offensive glass exposed by looking for blocks.

Brand should be that guy who stays in position to keep opposing bigs off the glass, secure the board and help the Sixers get out on the break more often.

Compatibility Rating: 9 out of 10 (One point short of perfect because Brand is not Kevin Garnett)

Toronto Raptors: Jermaine O'Neal

Off: 112.0 (9)
Def: 108.8 (14)

The Raptors were a solid offensive team last year. They were No. 1 when it comes to taking care of the ball, averaging a league-low 13.1 turnovers per 100 possessions, and they were No. 2 from downtown, shooting .393 from 3-point range.

But the Raptors were weak down low. While they were a good defensive rebounding team, they didn't give themselves many second chances on the offensive end, ranking 25th by grabbing just 23.4 percent of available offensive boards. Also, they were a jump-shooting team, ranking 25th with just 38.6 points in the paint per 100 possessions. Chris Bosh is a terrific player, but he does most of his work in the high post, not down low.

Further, the Raptors ranked last in free throw attempts with 22.6 per 100 possessions. Getting to the line is a key component of a good offense, especially in close games, and the Raptors didn't do it enough. Not coincidentally, they were 15-25 in games decided by nine points or less.

O'Neal averaged 2.4 offensive boards per game during his eight seasons in Indiana and will definitely give the Raptors extra opportunities with his rebounding. In addition, his low-post skills will give them more balance offensively. He's not the best at getting to the line (he averaged 6.5 free throw attempts per game over the last six seasons), but he'll get there enough to help Toronto in that category.

Defensively, the Raptors were barely above average. They were a good defensive rebounding team, were also solid in transition defense (allowing just 11.9 fast break points per 100 possessions -- fifth-best) and protecting the paint (allowing 42.1 paint points per 100 -- 11th-best).

But the Raptors ranked 25th in shot-blocking (just 4.58 per 100 possessions) and had poor perimeter defense, ranking 21st by allowing opponents to shoot .368 from 3-point range.

O'Neal has averaged 2.42 blocks over the last eight years, so he should help in that category. In general, anytime a team adds length to its lineup, it will help the defense, but this is an area where the Raptors need more than just a personnel fix.

They need to improve their defensive discipline, communication and energy in order to be a top defensive team and contend in the improved East.

Compatibility Rating: 8 out of 10 (A pretty good fit as well)

Houston Rockets: Ron Artest

Off: 108.2 (17)
Def: 103.0 (2)

The first idea that likely comes to mind when you think about the former Defensive Player of the Year Artest in Houston is that he'll improve their defense.

Well, their defense didn't need much improving.

The Rockets were the second-best defensive team in the league last year (103.0 rating) and have been an excellent defensive team for several years.

There's always room for improvement, though, as the Celtics are still a better defensive club. The Rockets were solid in most aspects defensively, except that they only forced 14.9 turnovers per 100 possessions, 18th in the league. Artest, who averaged 2.33 steals per game last season, will help them get more steals.

That should help the Rockets' offense as well, because they were 28th in the league last season with a measly 9.1 fast break points per 100 possessions.

The Rockets don't get to the free throw line enough, though, as Houston was 25th in the league with 25.2 trips per 100 possessions. Artest, who has averaged 5.6 free throw attempts per game over the last two seasons, should help a little there.

Compatibility Rating: 6 out of 10 (But just try to score when he's on the floor with Shane Battier and Yao Ming)

Cleveland Cavaliers: Mo Williams

Off: 107.6 (20)
Def: 107.9 (11)

Offensively, the Cavs were mediocre across the board last season. The only category that they excelled in was offensive rebounding, ranking second in the league by grabbing 30.4 percent of available offensive boards.

Here's how Williams should help the Cavs shed their mediocrity this season.

He'll push the ball to get them more easy buckets on the break and he's a solid three-point shooter, which will help Cleveland spread the floor. The only area that Williams likely won't improve much is their points in the paint, where they ranked 20th last season.

Cleveland's defensive numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. The Cavs have been the best defensive team in each of the last two postseasons, and much of their regular season struggles last year can be blamed on holdouts, injuries and trades.

On the other hand, Williams (a former Buck) was on the worst defensive team in the league last season, and one that's been poor for a while now. He may be a weak link for the Cavs unless he can get with the program.

Compatibility Rating: 7 out of 10 (Because we worry about the defense)

Portland Trail Blazers: Greg Oden

Off: 108.6 (15)
Def: 109.7 (16)

Offensively, the Trail Blazers didn't have much to speak of in the paint. Portland ranked 30th in low post scoring last season with 35.6 points in the paint per 100 possessions. Oden's not yet a go-to guy in the post, but he should get plenty of scoring chances down low even if his teammates are creating them for him.

The Trail Blazers were weak on the defensive boards last season, ranking 25th. Oden, who averaged 7.8 boards in 23.7 minutes in the preseason, should help them there.

The defensive boards will help them get out on the break as well. The Blazers ranked 29th last season with just 9.0 fast break points per 100 possessions.

Compatibility Rating: 9 out of 10 (But the Oden factor will take some time)

Quick Math

Mickael Pietrus (Magic) -- Orlando's weaknesses defensively were forcing turnovers (24th) and blocking shots (26th). Pietrus' length should help with both. His 0.71 blocks per game over the last two seasons are solid for a wing player.

James Posey (Hornets) -- The Hornets were good on both sides of the ball, but Posey can make them an elite defensive team. He'll help them rank better than 14th in forcing turnovers.

• Scott Skiles (Bucks) -- The Bucks have been a terrible defensive team in recent years. Skiles, who last coached in Chicago, made the Bulls one of the league's the best on that end. He'll change Milwaukee's mentality and over time, make them a much stronger defensive squad.

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