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Power Rankings Notebook: 5 most improved offenses this season

Breaking down stats and film on key storylines throughout the league after the first 7 weeks of the season.

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

The Cavs and Hornets have seen a big jump in their offensive productivity in 2021-22.

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. Most improved offenses

League-wide efficiency remains down from last season, which was the most efficient season in NBA history. Through Wednesday, the league has averaged 108.3 points scored per 100 possessions, down from 111.7 last season.

Now, efficiency has increased from the start of the season faster than it did last year …

League-wide efficiency by month

2020-21 2021-22
Month Games OffRtg Diff. Month Games OffRtg Diff.
December 67 108.8 October 93 105.6
January 222 110.7 +1.9 November 225 108.4 +2.9
February 212 112.6 +1.8 December 60 112.3 +3.9
March 204 111.6 -1.0
April 240 112.0 +0.4
May 135 113.1 +1.1
TOTAL 1,080 111.7 TOTAL 378 108.3

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
Diff. = Jump from previous month
Through Dec. 8, 2021

Still, league-wide efficiency is down from where it was at this point in 2020-21 (110.9 per 100), and 26 of the league’s 30 teams have scored fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. When we look at the league’s five most improved offenses, one of them actually isn’t scoring more efficiently …

Biggest jump, points scored per 100 possessions

Team 2020-21 Rank 2021-22 Rank Diff.
Cleveland 105.2 28 107.7 19 +2.5
Charlotte 110.1 23 112.5 3 +2.4
Golden State 110.5 20 112.4 4 +1.9
Utah 116.5 4 116.9 1 +0.3
Chicago 110.4 21 109.9 8 -0.4

Through Dec. 8, 2021

Here’s a deeper look at the five offenses that have managed to improve (or come close to improving) in a season where efficiency is down dramatically …

1. Cleveland

The Cavs rank third defensively, having *allowed 9.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season, and they’re still worse than league average on offense. But when you take the league-average drop into account, they’ve actually improved a little more on offense (+5.9 points per 100 possessions) than they have on defense (-5.6).

* We’ll look at the league’s most improved defenses next week.

Cleveland has seen the league’s biggest jump in effective field goal percentage, from 50.8% (29th) last season to 52.6% (15th) this season. That’s come with the league’s biggest jumps in both field goal percentage in the restricted area and 3-point percentage, along with its third-biggest jump in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (at the expense of shots in the paint) …

Cavs in the restricted area…

  • 2020-21: 60.6% (27th), 35% of FGA (3rd)
  • 2021-22: 66.7% (7th), 30% of FGA (8th)

Cavs from 3-point range…

  • 2020-21: 33.6% (30th), 34.7% of FGA (25th)
  • 2021-22: 35.1% (13th), 40.2% of FGA (16th)

Among 220 players with at least 200 field goal attempts and at least 100 this season, Cedi Osman (from 45.8% to 60.4%), Jarrett Allen (from 62.4% to 70.7%) and Darius Garland (from 51.7% to 55.8%) have seen the second-, eighth- and 35th-biggest jumps in effective field goal percentage. Also important is that Allen, whose 70.7% is the highest among 140 players with 200 field goal attempts by a wide margin, has accounted for more of the Cavs’ shots while he’s been on the floor (16.8%, up from 15.5% in his time with Cleveland last season).

2. Charlotte

The Hornets are one of six teams with a higher effective field goal percentage than they had last season, with P.J. Washington having seen the most significant jump (from 52.2% to 57.7%) among their returning players and Kelly Oubre Jr. (56.9%) being an upgrade over *Devonte’ Graham (51.1%) in that regard. Miles Bridges has actually seen a big drop (from 59.6% to 53.5%) in effective field goal percentage, but his increased usage isn’t a bad thing given that he’s been a more effective shooter than three of the Hornets’ other starters.

* Though Graham’s mark was better than Oubre’s with Golden State (50.1%) last season.

Also critical to the Hornets’ improvement has been the league’s biggest drop in turnover rate, from 14.9 per 100 possessions (sixth highest) last season to just 12.7 per 100 (third lowest) this season. LaMelo Ball has seen his individual turnover rate drop from 12.1 to 10.9 per 100 possessions used, while Bridges (from 11.5% to 8.3%) and Cody Martin (from 12.0% to 5.9%) have also seen significant drops.

3. Golden State

Draymond Green has seen a drastic increase in his effective field goal percentage this season.

The Warriors have seen the league’s second-biggest jump in effective field goal percentage, even though Stephen Curry’s has dropped from 60.6% last season to 57.4%, his lowest mark (not including the season in which he played five games) since 2013-14. Draymond Green has seen a huge jump, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole have been improved, and the combination of Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr. (combined effective field goal percentage of 57.5%) has been an upgrade over Oubre and Kent Bazemore (51.7%).

Golden State has also seen the second-biggest jump in offensive rebounding percentage, going from 30th (22.2%) last season to 11th (27.5%) this season. The Warriors’ jump in second-chance points per 100 possessions (from 10.2 to 12.1) basically accounts for all of their overall increase. Kevon Looney has grabbed 14.0% of available offensive boards while he’s been on the floor, a rate that’s up from 9.8% last season and ranks fourth among 277 players who’ve averaged at least 15 minutes per game. Gary Payton II, meanwhile, ranks second among guards who’ve averaged at least 10 minutes per game at 7.2%.

4. Utah

The Jazz’s effective field goal percentage of 57.3% would be the second-highest mark in NBA history, behind Brooklyn’s mark of 57.5% last season. The Jazz ranked fifth in effective field goal percentage last season (56.3%), and they’ve still managed to see the league’s third-biggest jump.

The Jazz are once again leading the league in 3-pointers made and attempted, but the improvement has come in the paint. They’ve shot 60.9% in the paint, the league’s best mark and up from 56.8% (14th) last season. Six of their top seven guys (all except Jordan Clarkson) have shot significantly better in the paint than they did last season, which is kind of remarkable.

Jazz shooting in the paint, last two seasons

2020-21 2021-22
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Bojan Bogdanovic 205 407 50.4% 69 122 56.6% +6.2%
Jordan Clarkson 233 428 54.4% 56 108 51.9% -2.6%
Mike Conley 124 250 49.6% 48 84 57.1% +7.5%
Rudy Gobert 390 568 68.7% 126 170 74.1% +5.5%
Joe Ingles 90 148 60.8% 19 28 67.9% +7.0%
Donovan Mitchell 224 455 49.2% 114 201 56.7% +7.5%
Royce O’Neale 67 109 61.5% 27 39 69.2% +7.8%

Through Dec. 8, 2021

5. Chicago

The Bulls’ improvement is less about shooting (though they’re in the top 10 in effective field goal percentage) and more about turnovers and free throws. They’ve seen the league’s second-biggest drop in turnover rate, from 15.1% (fourth highest) last season to just 13.5% (seventh lowest) this season. They’ve also seen the league’s biggest jump in free throw rate, from 19.7 attempts per 100 shots from the field (30th) last season to 23.1 (15th) this season.

In both cases, the addition of DeMar DeRozan has been huge. His turnover rate of 7.2 per 100 possessions used is the third-lowest among 48 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher. Plus, his free-throw rate of 39.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field is 11th highest among 140 players with at least 200 field goal attempts. As noted in this week’s Power Rankings, DeRozan and Zach LaVine have combined to shoot 34-for-35 (97%) on clutch free throws.

2. Flash against the switch

One way to take advantage of a switching defense is for the screener to maintain inside position on the guy he’s screening. Late last season, the Celtics ran a play to take advantage of the defense that had, *at that point, switched ball-screens more than any other. As Jayson Tatum set a screen for Marcus Smart, Luke Kornet flashed to the strong-side elbow. With Brooklyn’s Jeff Green switching the ball-screen, Tatum sealed Kyrie Irving (Smart’s initial defender) and rolled to the rim, getting a feed from Kornet for a dunk …

Jayton Tatum pick-and-roll

* By the end of the season, Charlotte (41%) had surpassed Brooklyn (40%) for the highest percentage of ball screens that they switched.

This season, the Celtics are the team that’s switched the highest percentage of ball screens (41% through Wednesday), according to Second Spectrum tracking. Last week, the Jazz ran a very similar play against them.

When Al Horford switched a Rudy Gobert ball-screen for Mike Conley on the left side of the floor, Gobert rolled to the rim ahead of Josh Richardson. Rudy Gay flashed to the right elbow, where he had a much better angle to feed Gobert than Conley. Marcus Smart saw what was happening and wisely left Jordan Clarkson (in the left corner) to step in front of Gobert’s roll, even calling for Richardson to “X out” to Clarkson. But Gay read the defense and his skip pass beat Richardson there …

Jazz play vs. Boston switch

Good play from Quin Snyder (it was Utah’s first possession of the second quarter), good help from Smart, good read from Gay and good shot from Clarkson.

The Jazz have won five straight (and nine of their last 11) games, having scored a ridiculous 129.4 points per 100 possessions over the winning streak. They now take the league’s No. 1 offense to Philadelphia, with the Sixers having the league’s fifth-ranked defense since Joel Embiid’s return from COVID. Their matchup on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV) is the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

After that, the Jazz are in Washington on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), with the Wizards having fallen off defensively since their 11-5 start.

3. Meandering to a corner 3

This season, Danny Green has found some new pathways to his patented corner 3-pointers.

After leading the league with 90 corner 3-pointers last season, Danny Green is tied for eighth with 22 this season. He’s one of eight players who’ve attempted at least 50 3s (not including backcourt shots), with more than half of them having come from the corners.

Green’s corner 3s often come as a result of the attention paid to Joel Embiid. Sometimes, it’s as simple as Embiid getting double-teamed in the post and the ball finding its way to a stationary Green (directly from Embiid or via a swing pass) in the opposite corner.

But Green isn’t always going to stand still. And sometimes, his corner 3s come via some off-ball ingenuity.

Midway through the second quarter in Charlotte on Monday, Shake Milton entered the ball to Embiid posting on the right side of the floor. Kelly Oubre Jr. doubled off of Milton, who cut through the paint just as Green was drifting from the left wing to the baseline. And at that point, the Sixers’ spacing didn’t look very good …

Sixers' spacing

But with Oubre doubling, Cody Martin (Green’s defender) had to pick up Milton. And with his defender occupied, Green continued past Embiid to the right corner. Embiid flipped him the ball and he drained the 3 before Oubre could rotate out …

Danny Green corner 3-pointer

The Sixers haven’t defended well without Embiid and they struggled offensively in his first four games back from a nine-game absence, but they’re 14-11 (in sixth place in the East) overall and 11-4 with their big man after sweeping their two-game series in Charlotte this week.

Both of those games (against the shorthanded Hornets) were close and the next two games should prove to be a bigger challenge. After the Sixers host the 17-7 Jazz on Thursday, they’ll get a visit from the 21-4 Warriors on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

4. Back to sender

Late in the Brooklyn-Dallas game on Tuesday, the Mavs were doubling Kevin Durant, both at the top of the floor and in the post. With a minute and a half to go, Jalen Brunson doubled Durant in the post and the Mavs rotated well out of it, with Tim Hardaway Jr., Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis each sliding over to the next guy around the perimeter, and Brunson scrambling to Nicolas Claxton on the right block …

Mavs double Durant

James Harden was able to beat Doncic off the dribble, but the Nets’ advantage (4-on-3 away from the double-team) had been lost.

Of course, the initial advantage was Durant playing 1-on-1. So the Nets posted him in the same spot on the next possession (after a timeout). Hardaway was the guy doubling, and when Durant passed out of the double, the Mavs again rotated and Hardaway started scrambling to the weak side. But instead of swinging the ball to Harden, Patty Mills (after a quick head fake toward the swing pass) got it right back to the league’s leading scorer, who had inched a little closer to the basket after giving up the ball …

Durant turnaround jumper

Watching both Mills and Durant, that was clearly something the Nets talked about during the timeout. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Durant has shot 22-for-35 (63%) on post-ups, the best mark among 28 players with at least 25 field goal attempts out of the post. So you can understand why the Mavs were doubling, and why the Nets got the ball right back to him.

Without Durant, the Nets lost in Houston on Wednesday. Durant didn’t have any post-ups when the Nets beat the Atlanta Hawks a month ago, but he scored 32 points on 13-for-20 shooting. The two teams will meet again in Atlanta on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), when the Hawks will be without the guy (De’Andre Hunter) who was Durant’s primary defender in that first meeting. The Nets’ four-game trip concludes in Detroit on Sunday (6 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass).

5. Player-to-player assist leaders

The Trae Young-to-John Collins connection is the top player-to-player assist pairing in the NBA this season.

Here are the players with the most assists to a single teammate, along with their assists per 36 minutes on the floor together …

Most assists from one player to a single teammate, 2021-22

Scorer Assisted By AST MIN Per 36
John Collins Trae Young 77 712 3.9
Anthony Davis Russell Westbrook 68 651 3.8
Kevin Durant James Harden 64 656 3.5
Miles Bridges LaMelo Ball 56 680 3.0
Deandre Ayton Chris Paul 53 481 4.0
Stephen Curry Draymond Green 50 552 3.3
Devin Booker Chris Paul 48 482 3.6
Jarrett Allen Darius Garland 47 544 3.1
Evan Fournier Julius Randle 46 683 2.4
Clint Capela Trae Young 46 627 2.6

MIN = Minutes on the floor together.
Per 36 = Assists per 36 minutes on the floor together.

Of Young’s 77 assists to Collins, 48 (62%) have been on buckets in the restricted area. Most of those are standard pick-and-roll assists. But one from Sunday, with Collins diving behind a pinching Miles Bridges, was pretty special…

Trae Young assist to John Collins

* * *

John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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