Power Rankings

Power Rankings Notebook: Increased workloads & impact of 2 new coaches

Breaking down stats and film on key storylines throughout the league after the first 2 weeks.

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics have increased their 3-point rate to begin the season.

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. Team drive-and-kick: The Boston Celtics

League-wide 3-point rate (the percentage of field goal attempts that are 3-pointers) is down from last season, breaking a trend where the rate has increased for 11 straight seasons. Through Wednesday, teams have taken 38.6% of their shots from 3-point range, down from a(nother) all-time record of 39.9% last season.

But the 3-point rate is up in Boston, where the Celtics have taken 47.2% of their shots from beyond the arc, the highest rate in the league and up from 42.5% (eighth highest) last season.

The Celtics are led by Jayson Tatum, who is averaging 30.1 points per game with 42.6% of his field goal attempts (the highest rate of his career) coming from 3-point range. One would think that, as the 24-year-old adds to his game, he’d be taking more 3-pointers off the dribble. But Tatum has averaged just 3.8 pull-up 3-point attempts per game, down from 5.1 last season and 5.4 two seasons ago.

So, while Tatum can be a great one-on-one bucket-getter, he’s more likely to shoot his 3-pointers off the catch. And while the Celtics are a team with multiple ball-handlers, 90.7% of their 3-pointers have been assisted. That’s the league’s third highest rate.

The opposite is true of the Celtics’ 2-pointers. Inside the arc, only 43.7% of the Celtics’ buckets have been assisted. That’s the league’s third lowest rate.

Every team in the league has assisted on a higher percentage of their 3-point field goals (league average is 82.4%) than they have on their 2-pointers (51.3%). But for the Celtics, that differential is extreme. It will probably go down as the season goes on, but for now, the Celtics’ differential (90.7% vs. 43.7%) is the biggest of the last 10 years.

The Celtics are Team Drive-and-Kick. They attack with the dribble and shoot off the catch.

Malcolm Brogdon corner 3-pointer

Other teams — Dallas and Milwaukee — rank in the top 10 in 3-point rate with a primary attacker. The Celtics are one of four teams — the Clippers, Thunder and Spurs are the others — with four guys averaging at least seven drives per game.

Plus, the Celtics are the only team that ranks in the top five in 3-point assist rate and in the bottom five in 2-point assist rate. Other teams that rank in the top 10 in the former and in the bottom 10 of the latter are Oklahoma City (second and 21st — led by the guy who’s averaged almost six more drives per game than any other player) and Toronto (seventh and 22nd).

The anti-Celtics are the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the lowest differential between their 3-point assist rate (68.7%, 30th) and their 2-point assist rate (56.3%, 10th). Donovan Mitchell (20-for-39) and Caris LeVert (10-for-19) rank second and 19th, respectively, in pull-up 3-pointers (they’re both shooting better than 50% on pull-up 3s). The Cavs’ interior scorers (other than Mitchell) are generally assisted on their interior buckets.

With their high 3-point rate, the Celtics can have issues when they don’t shoot well. And with their 11-for-41 (27%) performance from 3-point range in Cleveland on Wednesday, the Celtics have lost three of their last four games, with two of those losses coming at the hands of the Cavs.

The Celtics will get another chance to avenge a defeat when they host the Chicago Bulls on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). A day later, the Celtics will be in Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

2. Team ball movement: The Chicago Bulls?

Zach LaVine and the rest of the Bulls have been pass-happy to open 2022-23.

The Bulls that beat the Celtics last week are a different team than the one that went 1-14 against the top four teams in the Eastern Conference last season. The personnel isn’t much different — the Bulls ranked fourth in the percentage of last season’s minutes (87%) that came from players still on the roster this season — but the Bulls have seen a big change in how much they move the ball.

According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Bulls have averaged 390 passes per 24 minutes of possession, the league’s highest rate and up from 315 per 24 (22nd) last season. That’s the league’s biggest jump by a huge margin.

Biggest jump, passes per 24 minutes of possession

Team 2021-22 Rank 2022-23 Rank Diff.
Chicago 315 22 390 1 75
Sacramento 332 12 375 2 42
Utah 304 29 324 12 19
Miami 336 10 350 7 14
Indiana 356 3 367 4 11

Coach Billy Donovan said this week that the increase in ball movement is about that record against good teams, and to keep opponents from knowing what’s coming.

“I think when we got really inundated with a lot of injuries [last season],” Donovan said, “trying to keep things simplified, we, at times, in my opinion, got stagnant. We didn’t have enough ball movement. And we were so DeMar-reliant, especially in our second unit. He was unbelievable, the way he carried us. But … we had a hard time against those better teams.”

DeMar DeRozan’s usage rate is 27.7%, down from 30.8% (the second highest mark of his career) last season. His time of possession has seen a much more significant drop, from 5.5 minutes per game (15.2% of his time on the floor) last season to just 4.4 (12.8%) this season. But his touches per game are actually up (from 61.4 to 62.1).

The changes have yet to bare fruit in regard to offensive efficiency. After their (ugly) win over Charlotte on Wednesday, the Bulls rank 22nd offensively, having seen the league’s seventh biggest drop in points scored per 100 possessions (-2.4) from last season. And before the Charlotte game, they had played four straight against teams that rank in the bottom 10 defensively.

“I think it’s gonna take us some time,” Donovan said, “because there is a lot of reading and just randomness to it. I don’t want to say it’s different. I think DeMar can play in any style, because he’s done that throughout his career. The same can be said for Vuc (Nikola Vucevic) and Zach. It’s just all those guys learning how to play and make reads off each other.”

The Bulls are playing quicker. They rank 27th in average possession length (13.9 seconds), according to Second Spectrum, down from 14.7 seconds (16th longest) last season. Even in late-clock situations, DeRozan has been willing to get off the ball, which has kept moving …

Bulls ball movement

That’s pretty. And if there’s more of that, the Bulls can be tougher to defend while still letting DeRozan do his thing when the situation calls for it.

“My hope is that’s the one thing you want to be able to do,” Donovan said, “is not have a ceiling offensively, where you’re like, ‘O.K., we have no room for growth.’ I think that we can continue to build out and get better at this, but it’s going to take a lot of work on everybody’s part.”

Keeping the ball moving against a defense that switches a lot is a challenge. And once again this season, the Celtics are near the top of the league in the percentage of ball-screens that they’ve switched. But the Bulls’ win over the Cs last week, in which they assisted on 69% of their buckets, was their second most efficient offensive performance (120 points on 102 possessions) of the year.

They already have two wins over the teams – Miami, Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia – that finished in the top four in the East last season. And they’ll go for a third on Friday.

3. Quality wins (Early edition)

The upstart Jazz have pulled off some surprising wins vs. quality foes.

Through Wednesday, there are 15 teams with winning records. Here are the teams with multiple wins over those 15…

4 wins

  • Utah: 4-2. Beat Denver, New Orleans and Memphis (x 2).

3 wins

  • Toronto: 3-0. Beat Cleveland, Atlanta and San Antonio.
  • Cleveland: 3-1. Beat Chicago and Boston (x 2).
  • Minnesota: 3-4. Beat Oklahoma City (x 2) and San Antonio.

2 wins

  • Phoenix: 2-1
  • Portland: 2-1
  • Charlotte: 2-2
  • Denver: 2-2
  • L.A. Lakers: 2-2
  • Dallas: 2-3
  • Miami: 2-3
  • Philadelphia: 2-4

What counts as a quality win will certainly change as the season goes on. This calculation doesn’t count wins over the Warriors (3-5), Clippers (4-4) or Sixers (4-5). But it’s interesting to see who has beat the teams that are also winning games early in the season. And with four of those wins, the Utah Jazz stand alone.

4. New coaches make defensive changes

New coach Darvin Ham has his Lakers switching less on pick-and-roll defense than they did in 2021-22.

Two teams that are defending pick-and-rolls a lot differently than they did last season are two teams that made coaching changes: the Charlotte Hornets and the Los Angeles Lakers.

With Steve Clifford back in Charlotte, the Hornets have switched just 13% of ball-screens, the league’s fourth lowest rate and down from 34% (fourth highest rate) last season, according to Second Spectrum. According to Synergy, the Hornets have also played just one possession of zone, having ranked second in total zone possessions (852) last season.

In L.A., Darvin Ham has the Lakers also switching a lot less. They’ve switched just 10% of ball-screens, the league’s second lowest rate (only the Knicks have switched less frequently) and down from 26% (11th highest) last season. According to Second Spectrum, the Lakers have defended 56% of opponent ball-screens (the league’s highest rate) with “soft” coverage.

And for both teams, more drop coverage has led to a drop in points allowed per 100 possessions. The Lakers (second in defense) have allowed 8.5 fewer per 100 than they did last season, while the Hornets (13th) have allowed 3.1 fewer. Those are the league’s second and eighth biggest drops through Wednesday. (The Bucks have seen the biggest drop.)

The Lakers’ only game against a team that currently ranks in the top 10 offensively was their overtime win over the Pelicans on Wednesday. But it was the Pelicans’ least efficient performance (117 points on 115 possessions) of the season. The Lakers’ four-game homestand concludes this weekend with games against the 14th-ranked Jazz (Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) and seventh-ranked Cavs (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Two of Charlotte’s eight games have come against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively. The Hornets will face the Grizzlies’ ninth-ranked offense in Memphis on Friday (8 p.m. ET, League Pass).

5. Carrying a heavier (or lighter) load

Nuggets swingman Bones Hyland has seen his usage rate soar this season.

Here are the players who’ve seen the biggest jump in usage rate from last season and its effect on their true shooting percentage…

Biggest jump in usage rate

2021-22 2022-23 Diff.
Player USG% TS% USG% TS% USG% TS%
Bones Hyland 23.1% 55.8% 31.5% 50.4% +8.4% -5.3%
Jaylen Nowell 20.5% 58.1% 26.5% 45.9% +6.0% -12.2%
Tyrese Haliburton 18.4% 59.5% 24.4% 63.7% +6.0% +4.2%
P.J. Washington 15.4% 58.8% 21.4% 55.1% +6.0% -3.7%
Andre Drummond 18.1% 57.4% 23.7% 55.9% +5.6% -1.5%
Keldon Johnson 21.0% 57.4% 26.5% 60.3% +5.5% +3.0%
Tyrese Maxey 19.9% 59.4% 25.3% 63.3% +5.4% +3.9%
Devin Vassell 18.4% 54.0% 23.3% 54.1% +4.9% +0.1%
Lauri Markkanen 19.2% 58.2% 23.9% 60.6% +4.7% +2.4%
Desmond Bane 22.6% 59.2% 27.2% 60.7% +4.6% +1.5%

USG% = Percentage of team’s possessions used (via FGA, turnovers or trips to the line) while on the floor.
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))
Minimum 500 minutes in 2021-22 and 100 minutes in 2022-23 (221 players)

Some notes…

  • With Jamal Murray back, Bones Hyland has played just 28% of his minutes alongside Nikola Jokic. That’s down from 39% last season.
  • Jaylen Nowell has had a couple of big games, but probably shouldn’t be fourth (behind only Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Giannis Antetokounmpo) in field goal attempts per 36 minutes (22.9). He’s 7-for-33 (including 0-for-7 from 3-point range and with just three free throw attempts) over the Wolves’ last three games.
  • Tyrese Haliburton is shooting a little more, and that’s been a good thing. His true shooting percentage of 64.4% ranks 10th among 56 players with a usage rate of 24% or higher.
  • With the absences of LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier and Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington is obviously getting more shots. But, like Bridges last season, his efficiency is down with the increased usage.

Here are the players who’ve seen the biggest drop in usage rate…

Biggest drop in usage rate

2021-22 2022-23 Diff.
Player USG% TS% USG% TS% USG% TS%
Reggie Jackson 27.3% 48.8% 18.6% 43.3% -8.7% -5.6%
Nikola Jokic 30.9% 66.1% 22.8% 68.3% -8.1% +2.2%
Fred VanVleet 23.3% 55.2% 15.7% 51.8% -7.6% -3.5%
Josh Hart 18.4% 61.0% 11.4% 59.4% -7.0% -1.6%
Patrick Beverley 15.8% 53.9% 9.5% 44.1% -6.3% -9.8%
Derrick White 19.6% 54.9% 13.6% 58.2% -6.0% +3.3%
Aaron Holiday 18.2% 54.4% 12.5% 58.9% -5.7% +4.5%
Jerami Grant 25.3% 55.6% 19.7% 58.3% -5.6% +2.7%
Terrence Ross 19.6% 51.5% 14.1% 58.2% -5.5% +6.7%
Devonte’ Graham 19.1% 51.4% 13.6% 58.4% -5.5% +7.0%

USG% = Percentage of team’s possessions used (via FGA, turnovers or trips to the line) while on the floor.
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))
Minimum 500 minutes in 2021-22 and 100 minutes in 2022-23 (221 players)

  • Not surprisingly, the returns of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have Reggie Jackson again carrying a lighter load after seeing a big jump in usage rate from 2020-21 to last season. Unfortunately, his efficiency has again taken a drop. (It’s early.)
  • Nikola Jokic has seemingly taken a back seat as he welcomes back Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Considering that the two-time MVP is one of the league’s most efficient scorers (again), that’s not necessarily a good thing.
  • Josh Hart and Jerami Grant are now playing alongside Damian Lillard for the first time, while Terrence Ross and Derrick White have moved from the bench to the starting lineup (probably temporarily, in both cases).

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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.

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