As we wait for basketball to resume -- with 971 games in the books -- here are 10 numbers to know from the 2019-20 season thus far:
1. Rookie at the rim
Zion Williamson has averaged 20.9 points in the paint per 36 minutes, the highest rate for any player (minimum 500 minutes played) in the 24 seasons for which the stat has been tracked.
Last season, Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 17.5 points in the paint per game, the highest mark for any player (minimum 40 games played) since Shaquille O'Neal averaged 19.6 in 2002-03. This season, Antetokounmpo has topped his own mark (17.51 vs. 17.47), even though he's averaged almost two fewer minutes per game. His points in the paint per 36 minutes (20.4) would be the highest mark since Shaq averaged 20.8 per 36 in 1998-99...
... if it weren't Williamson, who has topped any mark from Antetokounmpo, O'Neal, and everybody else in the last 24 years.
Williamson made four 3-pointers in his debut, but shot 2-for-9 from beyond the arc after that. And he's shot just 2-for-10 from mid-range to start his career. But he's taken 85% of his shots in the restricted area, the fifth-highest rate among 296 players with at least 200 field goal attempts this season. The No. 1 pick in last year's Draft has played just 19 games, and his seven games of 20 or more points in the paint matches LeBron James, and more than than Anthony Davis (6), Joel Embiid (1) or James Harden (6).
Williamson's 565 minutes represent a small sample size, and maybe he can't sustain this pace moving forward. But maybe he can. Those 565 minutes are also his initial sample size, and you can certainly make the argument that he'll become more efficient in the paint as he gains experience. Williamson's 63.1% shooting in the restricted area ranks just 53rd among 89 players with at least 200 restricted-area attempts, and if you compare rookie shooting numbers with those of fourth-year players, there's a slightly bigger jump in the restricted area (from 59.9% to 62.7%) than in 3-point percentage (33.2% to 35.9%).
• For the season, Russell Westbrook ranks third in points in the paint per game (15.2) and seventh in points in the paint per 36 minutes (15.2). But in mid-January (a couple of weeks before the Rockets went to their center-less lineup), Westbrook changed up his shot selection. And since then, he's led the league with 20.4 points in the paint per game and ranks third with 19.9 per 36 minutes.
2. Rim protection like no other
The Bucks' defense has allowed 13.7 3-pointers per game, most in NBA history.
That number is somewhat pace-aided. The Bucks have averaged 105.4 possessions per 48 minutes, the fastest pace in the 24 years for which we have play-by-play data. The 13.0 3-pointers they've allowed per 100 possessions is only fifth-most in the league this season.
Still, it's rather amazing that a team can allow so many 3s and still have the league's No. 1 defense by a wide margin. The 101.6 points the Bucks have allowed per 100 possessions are 3.3 fewer than any other team and 8.4 fewer than the league average. That latter differential is the second best in the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data, just a hair behind that of the 2003-04 San Antonio Spurs.
The Bucks ranked first defensively last season, and they've been the league's fourth-most improved defensive team, allowing 3.3 fewer points per 100 possessions. Though they've seen a jump in opponent 3-point percentage, they've seen the league's biggest drop in opponent effective field goal percentage, from 50.3% (1st) last season to 48.6% (Also 1st) this season.
It's all about how well they've protected the rim. The Bucks led the league in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area (58.0%) last season, and they've only gotten better. They've seen the second-biggest drop from last season, leading the league again at 54.9%. As a whole, the league has shot 63.4% in the restricted area, the highest mark in the 24 years for which we have shot-location data. But the Bucks have managed to produce the lowest opponent mark of the last six seasons.
Brook Lopez is one of two players (Hassan Whiteside is the other) who have played at least 750 minutes and have more blocks (149) than personal fouls (147). Opponents have shot 46.9% at the rim when Lopez has been there to protect it. That's the best rim-protection mark -- by a wide margin -- among 23 players who have defended at least 300 shots at the rim. His brother Robin has the best mark (45.8%) among 69 players who have defended at least 200 shots at the rim. And Giannis Antetokounmpo has the best mark (41.8%) among 233 players who have defended at least 100 shots at the rim.
But the success of the Bucks' defense actually starts with the number of attempts they've allowed at the rim. That 54.9% shooting in the restricted area still translates to 1.10 points per attempt, a rate better than the league average (1.06) for all shots from the floor. It follows that preventing shots at the rim is just as important than defending them.
Last season, only 27.3% of the Bucks' opponents' shots came in the restricted area -- the league's lowest rate. And again, Milwaukee has produced a drop. This season, only 26.0% of their opponents' shots have come in the restricted area. The next closest opponent mark is 28.1% (Brooklyn) and the league average is 32.3%.
The Bucks are the best in the league, by a wide margin, at protecting the rim. And they're the best in the league, by a wide margin, at defending the rim. The 36.7 points in the paint they've allowed per 100 possessions represents the fewest anyone's given up in the last 13 seasons.
Zion Williamson, as noted above, has averaged the most points in the paint per 36 minutes in the last 24 years. His lowest PIP/36 number of the season came when he scored just 10 points in the paint in 32 minutes against the Bucks on Feb. 4.
Just as amazing is the Bucks' ability to protect the rim without fouling much. They rank fourth in opponent free throw rate, allowing just 22.0 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field. And the Bucks have grabbed 77.6% of available defensive rebounds, leading the league with the highest rate in these 24 years for which we have play-by-play data. The 10.5 second-chance points that they've allowed per 100 possessions is also tied for the best mark of the last 24 years.
The Bucks can be beat with elite ball movement (out of paint attacks) and shot making. Six different teams - Denver, Memphis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio and Utah - have had their season high for made 3-pointers against the league's No. 1 defense, and the Bucks have lost four of those six games.
But the Bucks will continue to play the numbers. The league may be taking more 3-pointers than ever, but shots in the restricted area remain the most valuable on the floor. The Bucks sell out to prevent and defend those shots, and they've been rewarded for doing so.
3. Mr. Clutch
Chris Paul leads the league with 144 points scored in the clutch (when the score is within five points during the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime).
But efficiency has been a factor as well. Paul has shot 46-for-86 (53.5%) in those situations, the fourth-best mark among 28 players who have attempted at least 50. That includes a pretty incredible 17-for-27 (63%) from mid-range, as well as a 43-for-46 (93%) showing on clutch free throws, the best mark among 32 players who have attempted at least 25.
There might be some luck baked into that 17-for-27 from mid-range, but it's also an extension of what Paul has done at all points of the game this season. Paul has an effective field goal percentage of 54.2% on pull-up jumpers, the second-best mark among 139 players who have attempted at least 100. His 1.09 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler also rank second among 56 players who have averaged at least five ball-handler possessions per game. And his 53.9% from mid-range is the best mark among 79 players with at least 100 such attempts. In fact, it's the second-best mark on at least 200 attempts in the last 15 seasons, with Kevin Durant's 55.1% last season the only one that tops it.
At the age of 34 and in his 15th season, Paul knows how to take advantage of the way most teams defend the pick and roll. That's a big reason why the Thunder are 29-13 (including 25-5 since Nov. 25) in games that have been within five points during the last five minutes. They rank fifth place in the West with the conference's seventh-best point differential.
4. Late-game struggles in Dallas
The Mavs rank 29th in clutch offense, having scored just 94.3 points per 100 possessions with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
The Mavs are the anti-Thunder, in seventh place in the West with the conference's third-best point differential (+6.0 per game).
Overall, the 115.8 points per 100 possessions the Mavs have scored represents the highest mark in the 24 seasons for which we've had play-by-play data and -- likely -- NBA history. That doesn't mean that the Mavs have the best offense ever. The difference between their mark (115.8) and the league average (109.9) is 5.8 points per 100 possessions, just the 24th-best mark of the last 24 seasons. (The biggest differential belongs to the 2003-04 Mavs, who scored 9.0 more points per 100 possessions more than the league average.)
Still, the Mavs have had the most efficient offense in the most efficient season in NBA history (see No. 10 below). They rank among the top five in field goal percentage in the paint (57.5%; 4th), effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (52.7%; 2nd), and turnover rate (12.7 per 100 possessions, 2nd). No other team ranks in the top 10 of all three.
Yet down the stretch of close games, the Mavs' offense has fallen apart. The team has taken 223 clutch field goal attempts, with Tim Hardaway Jr. (33 clutch FGA; 37.9% clutch eFG%), Luka Doncic (65; 36.9%) and Kristaps Porzingis (40; 32.5%) accounting for 138 (62%) of those, despite ranking 64th, 67th and 70th in clutch effective field goal percentage among the 71 players who have attempted at least 25 such shots.
The Mavs are the only team that took more than half of their clutch shots (51.6%) from 3-point range. But they rank last in clutch 3-point percentage at 22.6%. Doncic has shot 6-for-35 (17%) on clutch 3-pointers, the third-worst mark among 40 players who have attempted at least 20. He's 0-for-9 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, with eight of those nine attempts having come from beyond the arc.
Also, while the Mavs rank 15th in overall free throw percentage at 77.3%, they rank 28th in clutch free throw percentage (just 70.5%). Put it all together and they're 14-21 in games that were within five during the last five -- the worst mark among the 16 teams in playoff position.
In games that weren't within five in the last five, the Mavs are 26-6. Only the Celtics and Lakers, with five losses each, have taken fewer Ls in games that weren't close at the end.
The Mavs' 40 wins have been by an average of 14.8 points, while their 27 losses have been by an average of just 6.9. They've made the league's second-biggest jump in winning percentage from last season, but it could be bigger. At 40-27, they have produced the league's biggest difference between "expected" wins (based on point differential) and actual wins. Their point differential mirrors that of a team who'd be 47-20 at this point, a record that would rank them second in the West.
5. LeBron's favorite target
LeBron James has 172 assists to Anthony Davis.
That's 42 more assists than any other player has to a single teammate and 30 more assists than James has had to a single teammate in any of his 16 prior seasons.
At the age of 35, James is averaging a career-high -- and also league-leading -- 10.6 assists per game. Davis is the biggest reason why. His combination of size, skill and athleticism is unmatched among James' teammates over 17 seasons.
Prior to 2019-20, the most assists James delivered to a single teammate in a single season was 142 (Chris Bosh, Heat; '13-14) … in 870 more minutes together than James and Davis have played together this season. The 1,317 minutes James and Davis have played together ranks 107th among all two-man combinations this season. But the 4.7 assists per 36 minutes from James to Davis is the most among the 34 combinations where one player has at least 75 assists to the other.
|MIN = Minutes on the floor together|
Per 36 = Assists per 36 minutes on the floor together
* No lineup data prior to 2007-08
Next on the list for total assists from one player to a single teammate:
• Young and Collins have played only 915 minutes together, so those 119 assists translate to 4.68 per 36 minutes, just a hair behind the 4.70 per 36 from James to Davis.
• Jokic has 123 assists to Murray, and Murray has 107 assists to Jokic, making this the second straight season when they've been the only pair with at least 100 assists to each other. Other combinations with at least 60 assists going in both directions: Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn (65 and 63), Jokic and Will Barton (72 and 62), and Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic (73 and 60).
6. Ben McLemore's perfect season
Ben McLemore has taken 470 field goal attempts … without one coming from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line).
This one is on the quirky side, but still noteworthy. The player with the second-most total field goal attempts without a single mid-range attempt is Bulls rookie Daniel Gafford, who has taken all 134 of his shots in the paint.
In the 24 seasons for which we have shot-location data, only two other players have at least 100 field goal attempts without a single one from mid-range:
• Ed Davis, who took all 142 of his shots in the paint with the Blazers in 2016-17.
• Gary Clark, who, with the Rockets last season, took 13 of his 151 shots in the paint and the other 138 from 3-point range.
McLemore has taken more than three times as many shots as any of those other guys, without ever taking a shot with his toes on the line or pulling up from just outside the paint. The discipline!
• Of the 229 players who have attempted at least 300 shots, Rudy Gobert has the second lowest percentage of shots coming from mid-range (2-of-506). Four more centers follow Gobert, with Cody Zeller the only one who's attempted more than nine shots from outside the paint (75 of his 80 shots from the outside have been 3-point attempts).
• Of the 183 players who have attempted at least 200 shots from outside the paint, the ones with the highest ratios of 3-point attempts to mid-range attempts are McLemore (infinity), James Harden (48.1), Duncan Robinson (38.8), Svi Mykhailiuk (35.6) and Trevor Ariza (34.5). Three more Rockets (Austin Rivers, Eric Gordon and Danuel House Jr.) are in the top 10.
• There are 12 players who have taken at least 200 shots from outside the paint with more mid-range attempts than 3-point attempts. They are led by DeMar DeRozan (11 times as many mid-range attempts as 3-point attempts), LaMarcus Aldridge (2.2), Domantas Sabonis (2.1), Dejounte Murray (1.7) and Russell Westbrook (1.4).
7. Bad Jimmy, Good Jimmy
Jimmy Butler has an effective field goal percentage of 33.8% on shots from outside the paint, the worst mark (by a wide margin) among 183 players who have taken at least 200 shots from the outside.
|Minimum 200 total FGA from outside the paint (183 players)|
eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
Butler's issues from the outside have been three-pronged:
1. Butler is one of those 12 players (noted above) with at least 200 attempts from outside the paint and more mid-range attempts than 3-point attempts, so he's not maximizing his points per attempt.
2. Butler has shot 49-for-158 (31.0%) from mid-range, the second-worst mark among 79 players with at least 100 mid-range attempts.
3. Butler has shot 29-for-117 (24.8%) from 3-point range, the third-worst mark among 242 players with at least 100 3-point attempts.
Butler's poor shooting has extended to clutch situations. On shots when the score is within five points during the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, he has an effective field goal percentage of 30.8%, the worst mark among 71 players with at least 30 attempts. He's 14-for-40 (35%) on clutch 2-pointers and 3-for-20 (15%) on clutch 3-pointers, the second-worst mark among 40 players who have attempted at least 20. Butler is tied (with Zach LaVine) for the league lead with 15 field goal attempts to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime … and he's made just one of those 15 shots.
But Butler ranks 46th in true shooting percentage, which measures overall scoring efficiency, among 137 players with at least 500 total field goal attempts at 58.3% (the league average is 56.4%). While Butler has shot poorly from the perimeter, he has taken just 38% of his shots -- the lowest rate of his career -- from outside the paint. And while he hasn't shot as well in the paint as he had during the previous few seasons, his 55.8% this season ranks a tick above the league average. He's scored 1.40 points per possession in transition, the second-best mark among 101 players who have averaged at least two transition possessions per game.
Drawing fouls is a big component of Butler's efficiency, in transition and otherwise. He has gotten to the line for a career-high 9.1 free throw attempts per game. He has a free throw rate of 67.9 attempts per 100 shots from the field, the second-highest rate among 229 players with at least 300 field goal attempts (trailing only Rudy Gobert) and up from 40.4 last season. That's the biggest jump among 200 players with at least 250 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons.
On the other end of the floor, Butler is one of two players (Memphis' Tyus Jones is the other) that have played at least 750 minutes and have more steals (92) than personal fouls (74).
And despite poor perimeter shooting from both Butler and Derrick Jones Jr. (who ranks third-worst in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage, league-worst in corner 3-point percentage), the Heat are tied for the league lead in 3-point percentage (38.3%), as well as rank third offensively vs. the league's top 10 defenses (110.6 points scored per 100 possessions in 24 games), and have had the league's second-most improved offense overall, scoring 5.5 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season.
8. The James Harden Club
This is the sixth straight season in which Harden has made at least 200 3s and 600 free throws. Only two other players have ever done it: Gilbert Arenas with the Wizards in the '06-07 season) and Russell Westbrook (Thunder, '16-17), who nailed exactly 200 3s to make the cut.
Agent Zero was ahead of his time. Arenas also came one 3-pointer shy of the 200/600 Club in '05-06. Isaiah Thomas (245 3PM, 590 FTM; Celtics, '16-17) and Kevin Durant (192, 703; Thunder, '13-14) have also come close.
These days, reaching 600 made free throws is tougher than the 200 made 3s. Over the last five seasons (including this one), there have been 50 instances of a player making at least 200 3s, but only six of a player making at least 600 free throws (Harden five times and Westbrook in '16-17).
To get to 600 free throws made, you have to average exactly eight in 75 games. Before the season was suspended, Hawks All-Star Trae Young had already eclipsed the 200 3-pointer mark while averaging 8.02 made free throws -- though he had missed exactly seven of the Hawks' 67 games.
Expect Young, and maybe fellow sophomore Luka Doncic, to join the James Harden Club at some point in the future.
9. Young Hawks
The Hawks have doled out 53% of their minutes to rookies or second-year players, the league's highest rate. Rookies are getting 27% (2nd overall) and second-year players, 26% (3rd).
The Hawks' record stands at 20-47, not far off last season's 29-53 showing, despite ranking as one of the league's most improved teams after the All-Star break last year. But they're still very young and have actually recorded the league's seventh-biggest drop in point differential per 100 possessions, from -5.5 last season (26th overall) last season to -7.4 (28th overall) this season.
Having first or second-year players log more than half a team's minutes isn't particularly unique. The Hawks are the 10th team in the last 10 seasons to do so. And there's promise in the improvement most of the other nine have seen the following season:
|NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions|
FSNetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions the following season
The previous nine teams that distributed more than half of their minutes from rookies or second-year players have an average improvement of 3.3 points per 100 possessions. The '16-17 Lakers obviously added LeBron James in the summer, but still kept a young core that showed some improvement.
• The Hornets (48%) rank second in the percentage of their minutes distributed to rookies or second-year players. They're followed by the Grizzlies (43%), Wizards (39%) and Warriors (37%).
• The Lakers rank last, at 0.1% (15 total minutes from Kostas Antetokounmpo, Talen Horton-Tucker and Zach Norvell Jr.). They're followed by the Jazz (1%), Nuggets (5% -- much to the chagrin of Michael Porter Jr. fans), Rockets (5%) and Spurs (7%).
• Those are all Western Conference teams, of course. In total, rookies or second-year players have accounted for a little more than 25% of the minutes on Eastern Conference teams and a little less than 20% in the more veteran-laden West.
• Twelve of the 16 teams that have distributed more than 20% of their minutes to rookies or second-year players are non-playoff teams, with the exceptions being the Grizzlies, Heat (35%, 8th), Thunder (31%, 10th) and Celtics (24%, 15th). Twelve of the 14 teams that have distributed fewer than 20% of their minutes to rookies or second-year players are playoff teams, with the exceptions being the Kings (8%, 25th) and Spurs (7%, 26th).
10. Most efficient season ever
The league has averaged 109.9 points per 100 possessions this season.
This ranks as the most efficient season in the 24 years for which we have play-by-play data and, likely, in NBA history. It would surpass last season's mark of 109.7 points per 100 possessions.
Compared to last season, turnovers are up, offensive rebounding is down, and the free throw rate is down a tick. But the most important thing in this league is shooting, and league-wide eFG% has hit an all-time high for the fifth straight season. From 2014-15, it's risen from 49.6% toward this season's mark of 52.8%.
Standard field goal percentage is 46.0%, down slightly from 46.1% last season. But teams are getting more value from their shots, and not just because the percentage of shots that have come from 3-point range has risen for a ninth straight season (up from 22.2% in 2010-11 all the way to 38.2% this season).
League-wide 2-point percentage has also reached an all-time high at 52.3%, in part because the percentage of 2-point shots that have come in the restricted area -- the area of the floor that produces the most points per attempt -- has also risen for a ninth straight season (from 40.5% in 2010-11 to 52.3%). Mid-range shots have accounted for just 13% of all field goal attempts, down from 38% 20 seasons ago.
Also, while free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is down slightly, the league has shot 77.1% from the line, the third-best mark in NBA history and up from 76.6% last season.
If we get more regular-season games and offense struggles after a long hiatus, 2019-20 could slip from its current status as the most efficient season in league history. But it would be a small price to pay to have hoops back in our lives.
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