Power Rankings Notebook: Best records vs. best teams
Breaking down stats and film on key storylines throughout the league.
Each week during the season, NBA.com writer John Schuhmann surveys the league to compile stats and notes for his in-depth Power Rankings. Before the next rankings drop on Monday, here are some of the storylines he’s keeping an eye on this weekend.
1. Best vs. the Best
The Memphis Grizzlies just had what was, essentially, the best back-to-back set of the season, wins in Brooklyn and Cleveland on Monday and Tuesday in which Ja Morant totaled 62 points. It’s one of only two 2-0 back-to-backs for any team this season where both opponents were among the 14 teams currently over .500. (The other: Miami beating Charlotte (at home) and Memphis (on the road) on Oct. 29 and 30.) Through Wednesday, only the Suns (11-3), Warriors (12-6) and Heat (11-6) have better records in games played between those 14 teams than the Grizz (12-7).
The Nets are just 8-9 in those games, and the loss to the Grizzlies on Monday was their latest failure to beat one of the best teams in the league. There are eight teams that are more than five games over .500 and the Nets are 0-7 against the other seven, with two losses to Chicago and having yet to play Utah.
Games played between top eight teams
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Through Jan. 5, 2022
The Nets’ two losses to the Bulls were both rest-disadvantage games, where they were playing the second game of a back-to-back, while the Bulls were rested. But five of the Nets’ seven losses within the top eight were by 13 points or more, while one of the other two (vs. Phoenix) was a blowout that they made somewhat close (they never got to within five) with a fourth-quarter run.
Kevin Durant (29.6 points per game) is the leading scorer in games played between the league’s top eight teams, but has an effective field goal percentage of just 50.6% in those seven games (vs. 58.3% otherwise). James Harden, meanwhile, has an effective field goal percentage of just 40.7% against the best teams.
Five of the Nets’ seven games within this group have been at home, but the first of those blowout losses was in Milwaukee on opening night. And the Nets’ next chance to pick up a high-quality win is Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), when they host the Bucks. Their first chance to play one of the top eight with Kyrie Irving will be next Wednesday in Chicago (10 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Here are some notes on the other seven teams in regard to the 29 games above:
• Four of the Bulls‘ six games within the group have come against the Nets (2-0) and Heat (0-2), and their first of four meetings with the Bucks isn’t until Jan. 21. They will host both Brooklyn and Golden State next week (Wednesday and Friday).
• The Warriors have won their last five games within the group. Six of their seven games (their two losses and each of the last four wins) have been within five points in the last five minutes. They’ll have three games within the group on a four-game trip next week: at Memphis on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV), at Milwaukee on Thursday (7:30 p.m ET, TNT), and at Chicago on Friday.
• The Grizzlies are 0-2 at home (losses to Miami and Phoenix) and 5-1 on the road within this group. Only one of their games within the top eight (a win at Miami) came during their 10-2 stretch without Ja Morant. Their next game within the group is Tuesday against Golden State, having split their first two meetings with the Warriors.
• The Heat were 6-0 within this group in October and November, and they’re 4-0 (wins over the Bucks, Nets, Jazz and Bulls) when they’ve had both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in the lineup. They’ve yet to face the Suns, who they’ll visit on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, League Pass).
• The Bucks played the Nets (winning by 23) and Heat (losing by 42) in the first three nights of the season, but have had just three games within this group (including two against Miami) since then, having yet to play the Bulls, Warriors, Grizzlies or Suns. As noted above, they’ll visit Brooklyn before they face any of those other teams.
• The Suns won their first three games within the group, but have lost their last three. They’ve played the Warriors three times (1-2) and the Grizzlies twice (1-1), but have yet to play the Bulls, Heat, Bucks or Jazz. As noted above, they’ll host Miami on Saturday.
• The Jazz have the league’s No. 1 offense and, after being held under a point per possession in Chicago on Oct. 30, they’ve scored 116.6 points per 100 possessions over their last five games within this group. But their fifth-ranked defense hasn’t held up against the best teams in the league, and their one win here was in Milwaukee (Oct. 31), when the Bucks were without both Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. Their loss to the Warriors (a rest-disadvantage game) on Saturday was their first against one of these good teams since Thanksgiving, and they don’t have another until Jan. 23. But that is the start of four straight games against the Warriors, Suns (x 2) and Grizzlies.
2. What goes up…
When the Knicks had the league’s most improved defense last season (rising from 23rd on that end of the floor in 2019-20 to fourth in ’20-21), their opponent’s 3-point percentage was always part of the context. They certainly played hard and cohesively on that end of the floor, but maybe they got a little lucky with their opponents shooting a league-low 33.7% from beyond the arc.
There has consistently been a correlation (though small) between a team’s opponent 3-point percentage from one year to the next, but in the 42 years of the 3-point line, only one team (Houston in 1989-90 and ’90-91) has led the league in two straight seasons. And this season, the Knicks have seen the league’s biggest jump in opponent 3-point percentage, ranking 15th at 34.8%.
But the Knicks haven’t just seen a regression to the mean in regard to opponent 3-point percentage. They’ve also fallen back down the standings in regard to their own percentage from beyond the arc. They saw the league’s biggest jump in 3-point percentage from 2019-20 (33.7%, 27th) to last season (39.2%, third).
But with that No. 3 ranking in success rate, only 35% of their shots, the league’s seventh-lowest rate, came from beyond the arc. This season, they’ve gone for higher volume, with 43% of their shots (the league’s seventh-highest rate), coming from 3-point range. And no team has seen a bigger jump in 3-point rate.
But with that increase in volume, the Knicks have seen the fifth biggest drop in 3-point percentage from last season to this season (35.3%, 13th).
Among the 15 most improved 3-point shooters from ’19-20 to ’20-21 (minimum 100 attempts each season) were Julius Randle (27.7% to 41.1%), RJ Barrett (32.0% to 40.1%), Derrick Rose (30.6% to 38.8%) and Reggie Bullock (33.3% to 41.0%). Rose has actually shot better this season (40.2%). But the other three have fallen back, with Bullock (now playing in Dallas) shooting worse (30.2%) than he did two seasons ago.
Among those top 15 most improved 3-point shooters from last season, Bullock is joined by Tony Snell, Blake Griffin and Jeff Green, who have also shot worse this season than they did two seasons ago:
Most improved 3-point percentage from 2019-20 to ’20-21
|Player||2019-20||2020-21||Diff.||3PM||3PA||3P%||vs. 20-21||vs. 19-20|
|James Ennis III||32.5%||43.3%||10.7%||3||6||50.0%||+6.7%||17.5%|
Immanuel Quickley wasn’t among this group last season because he was a rookie. But he’s also seen a drop, from 38.9% to just 33.5% this season. Evan Fournier joined the Knicks and has seen his 3-point percentage drop from 41.3% to 36.3%. The league-wide 3-point percentage has sunk to 34.9% from 36.7% last season, but the Knicks’ drop has more than doubled that.
On defense, the Knicks have seen the fourth-biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions, dropping from fourth on that end of the floor last season to 19th this season. But just as disappointing is that they’ve only risen one spot (from 22nd to 21st) on offense despite adding a more offensive-minded backcourt, unable to sustain their ’20-21 success from beyond the arc.
Despite some brutal 3-point shooting (6-for-28), the Knicks did score relatively efficiently in a win over the Pacers on Tuesday. At 18-20, they currently sit in 11th place in the East, but are in a virtual tie with the 10th-place Celtics, having split the first two meetings. Game 3 in the season series is Thursday at Madison Square Garden on TNT (7:30 p.m. ET).
3. Much better inside the arc
In Power Rankings this week, it was noted that Devin Booker has been much improved on pull-up 3-pointers, and he’s now at 41.5% on pull-up 3s, the sixth-best mark among 80 players who’ve attempted at least 50. That’s up from 30.8% last season, when he had the third biggest differential between his percentage on pull-up 2s (49.9%) and pull-up 3s among 74 players who attempted at least 75 of each. Only Kendrick Nunn (47.5% vs. 26.5%) and Terry Rozier (51.5% vs. 30.9%) had bigger differentials. And when the difference is that big, your pull-up 2s are worth more than your pull-up 3s.
Here are the players with the biggest differential this season, among the 90 guys who have attempted at least 35 pull-up 2s and 35 pull-up 3s.
Biggest difference, pull-up 2-point percentage vs. pull-up 3-point percentage
|Lonnie Walker IV||34||76||44.7%||8||45||17.8%||27.0%|
Minimum 35 attempts each (90 players)
Through Jan. 5, 2022
Seth Curry’s 59.1% on pull-up 2s would be the best mark for a player with at least 100 attempts in the nine seasons of tracking data, topping his brother’s mark of 57.0% in 2017-18.
Stephen Curry is actually near the other end of the list this season, having shot 39.2% on pull-up 3s and just 32.4% on pull-up 2s. That differential is only topped by those of Lonzo Ball (40.0% vs. 23.3%) and Bojan Bogdanovic (42.4% vs. 31.0%).
4. The Gobert UCLA cut
Rudy Gobert hasn’t taken a shot from outside the paint this season, but he’s shot an efficient 76.5% in the restricted area. Most of those buckets are on the pick-and-roll or on put-backs, but the Jazz do have another way to get Gobert a catch near the rim. And it’s with a play — a UCLA cut — that teams would normally run for a guard. In fact, the old Jazz ran it for John Stockton.
The player making the UCLA cut (then Stockton, now Gobert) passes the ball to the wing and then rubs off a screen at the strong-side elbow. Here, the Jazz disguise it, with what looks like a “delay” action (perimeter player comes out of the corner to take a handoff from the big):
Simple, yet effective, in part because opposing centers aren’t used to guarding that kind of action and also because the screener’s defender doesn’t want to let him get open after setting the screen. If Lonnie Walker IV stays in front of Gobert’s cut to the rim, then Jordan Clarkson will have an open 3. (Feel free to question the legality of that Clarkson screen, though.)
5. The Hart break
It’s still not clear if/when Zion Williamson will play for the New Orleans Pelicans this season. Without him, the Pels have seen the league’s biggest drop in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area, having led the league (at 38%) by a healthy margin last season.
But the Pels still rank in the top five in that regard, with 31% of their shots having come in the restricted area. The burly Jonas Valanciunas leads the team with 125 restricted-area buckets, which account for 38% of his scoring. Next (with 88 buckets) is 6-5 guard Josh Hart, who has shot 71% in the restricted area, a mark which ranks third among 38 guards with at least 100 restricted-area attempts.
Hart isn’t much of a scorer in the half-court offense; He’s averaged about three field goals per game in the last 18 seconds of the shot clock. But the guy is relentless in transition. And one of the most entertaining aspects of Pelicans games is watching Hart put defenders on their heels as he makes a beeline for the basket:
Hart isn’t Giannis Antetokounmpo, but you do need to build a wall against him, because often, one defender in front of him, even if it’s one of the league’s best rim protectors, is not enough:
And if he sees someone his size or smaller in front of him, Hart’s not stopping until he gets to the rim:
Hart ranks fifth in the league with 3.9 fast break points per game, with only LeBron James, Ja Morant, Anthony Edwards and Giannis Antetokounmpo ahead of him. Those four guys all average more than 22 points per game overall, while Hart averages just 12.9.
That’s a career-high mark, but fast-break points account for 30% of it, and that’s the highest rate among 286 players who’ve scored at least 150 total points.
Highest percentage of points on fast breaks
|Gary Payton II||286||67||23%|
Minimum 150 total points (286 players)
Through Jan. 4, 2022
At the bottom of the list are Danilo Gallinari (3/272), Davis Bertans (2/170), Derrick Favors (2/150), Dwight Howard (2/150) and Hassan Whiteside (4/259).
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