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. More scoring
Scoring is up in more ways than one.
Through Wednesday, the league has averaged 112.7 points per team per game, up from 110.6 last season and the highest mark in the last 53 seasons (since the 1969-70 season). The league has shot better — from 2-point range, from 3-point range and at the free throw line — than it did last season. But right now, the jump is more about pace than efficiency.
Points per game, efficiency and pace, last five seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
Pace = Possessions (per team) per 48 minutes
Through Nov. 16, 2022
There have obviously been fewer take fouls stopping fast breaks. According to Synergy tracking, 16.6% of league-wide possessions have been in transition, up from 15.6% last season. According to Second Spectrum tracking, the average possession time is down from 14.8 to 14.6 seconds long. And that’s with offensive rebounding percentage up from last season, so there are actually more extended possessions.
While the rise in scoring is more about pace than efficiency, league-wide efficiency through Wednesday (111.7 points scored per 100 possessions) is a little higher than it was last season (111.4 per 100). That last-season number is for the full season, with efficiency typically climbing as the season goes on. At this same point last season (through Wednesday of Week 5), the league had scored only 106.8 per 100 possessions.
There wasn’t such a big jump two seasons ago, the most efficient season in NBA history. That was a 72-game season, but through about this point (18% of the season complete), the league had scored 109.7 points per 100 possessions. Ultimately, it finished at 111.7.
So, before every team has hit the 15-game mark, we already have the most efficient season in NBA history (111.73, a tick above the 111.70 from ’20-21). And given the typical rise in efficiency as the season goes on, it will likely stay that way.
2. Efficient scoring
Speaking of efficiency, and high scoring …
Through Wednesday, there are seven players averaging more than 30 points per game, something only Joel Embiid did last season. (There were eight before Giannis Antetokounmpo scored only 16 points on Wednesday.) In fact, at this point last season, nobody was averaging 30-plus, with Embiid ranking 22nd at 21.4 ppg.
And those top seven guys are scoring rather efficiently. Prior to this season, there were five instances in NBA history of a player averaging 30 ppg (over at least 50 games) with a true shooting percentage of 63% or better.
30 points per game, true shooting percentage of 63% or higher, NBA history
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))
(Adrian Dantley: Underappreciated.)
This season, six of those seven players averaging 30-plus are doing so with a true shooting percentage of 63% or better.
True shooting percentage, 30-points-per-game scorers, 2022-23
Through Nov. 16, 2022
So Stephen Curry’s true shooting percentage of 70.1% would, by a wide margin, be the highest mark for any player averaging at least 30 points per game in NBA history, topping his two previous marks. Kevin Durant (65.1%) would come in as the fifth-highest mark for a 30-point scorer. Amazingly, their teams are a combined 12-18 through Wednesday.
3. More early offense in New York
As noted, pace is up. Through Wednesday, 21 of the league’s 30 teams have played at a faster pace than they did last season. But the team that’s seen the biggest jump is a bit of a surprise.
Biggest jump, possessions per 48 minutes
Through Nov. 16, 2022
The New York Knicks rank 10th in pace, having ranked 30th and 29th in Tom Thibodeau’s first two seasons as head coach. The Knicks have actually ranked no higher than 17th in pace since Mike D’Antoni was their coach in 2011-12.
The pace stat is affected by both a team and its opponents, so it’s not totally about how much a team runs. But the Knicks have run more often. According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Knicks have averaged just 14.2 seconds per possession, the league’s ninth lowest mark and down from 15.4 seconds (third highest) last season. According to Synergy tracking, 19.8% of their possessions have been in transition, the league’s second highest rate and up from 13.9% (fourth lowest) last season.
In their win against the Nuggets on Wednesday, the Knicks had 20 or more fast break points for the fifth time this season, having registered 20 or more just five times all of last season and just once (!) in 2020-21.
They’ve clearly made a more conscious effort to push the ball, and not just with the dribble. The Knicks have averaged 14.2 pass-ahead passes per game, seventh most in the league and up from 11.5 (24th) last season, according to Second Spectrum. Jalen Brunson ranks fifth among individuals with 6.3 pass-ahead passes per game.
Brunson has certainly brought a new pace to his new team, but it’s also remarkable to see Julius Randle in get-it-and-go mode, even after a made basket …
Early offense is generally better offense and league-wide effective field goal percentage is highest early in the clock (and goes down from there). This season, the Knicks have taken 58% of their shots in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock, up from 51% last season. They only rank 18th offensively through Wednesday, but that’s an improvement from four straight seasons in the bottom 10. The Knicks are one of three teams — the Pistons (11 straight) and Magic (10 straight) are the others — that have had a worse-than-average offense in each of the last eight seasons.
The Knicks had some rough results last week, losing to the Nets by 27 points and then allowing the Thunder to score 145 on Sunday. But they’ve begun their five-game trip (their only stretch of five games in seven nights this season) with wins in Utah and Denver.
The trip continues with a game against the Warriors (who lead the league in pace) on Friday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN). It wraps up in Phoenix and Oklahoma City on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) and Monday (8 p.m. ET, League Pass).
4. The champs are defenseless
So Stephen Curry has the highest true shooting percentage in NBA history for a player averaging at least 30 points per game … and the Warriors are 6-9. To figure out why they’re 6-9, you have to look at the other end of the floor.
After their loss in Phoenix on Wednesday, the Warriors rank 27th defensively, having allowed 7.5 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season (when they ranked second). Efficiency is up league-wide, but that’s the league’s biggest jump by a huge margin
Biggest jump, points allowed per 100 possessions
Through Nov. 16, 2022
The Warriors did lose their defensive coach in the offseason, but Mike Brown’s Sacramento Kings rank 26th defensively, having allowed just 0.1 fewer points per 100 possessions than his old team has (though that’s an improvement for the Kings). What’s more important may be the players the Warriors’ lost off their bench
The new group of Warriors’ reserves has been bad. This team is 6-9 even though its starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 21.0 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among 19 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. But that success is more about offense (127.2 scored per 100, 8.0 more than any other lineup) than defense (106.3, fifth among the 19).
The bigger difference between Draymond Green’s minutes on the floor (plus-4.8 points per 100 possessions) and his minutes off the floor (minus-7.4) has been in offensive efficiency. The 111.5 points per 100 possessions the Warriors have allowed with Green on the floor is 8.7 more than they allowed with him on the floor last season (102.8). That’s bigger than the Warriors’ overall jump (7.5 per 100).
Opponent 3-point shooting has had something to do with the Warriors’ defense; Opponents have shot 36.2% from beyond the arc (12th highest opponent mark), up from 33.9% (third lowest) last season. But the percentage of their opponents’ 3s that have been wide open is up a bit from last season, and the Warriors have also seen a big jump in opponent field goal percentage in the paint.
Along with that, they’ve seen the league’s second biggest drop in defensive rebounding percentage and it’s seventh biggest jump in opponent free throw rate. They rank last in the latter category, with their opponents attempting 30.5 free throws for every 100 shots from the field.
The Warriors have played a tough schedule in regard to opposing offenses, with eight of their 15 games having come against teams that rank in the top six in offensive efficiency. They’ll get some relief in that regard over the weekend, hosting the Knicks (who rank 18th offensively) on Friday and visiting the Rockets (27th) on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, League Pass).
5. Putting length to good use
When he came into the league two seasons ago, Aleksej Pokusevski was little more than a curiosity. He was a gangly seven-footer who shot line-drive 3s and got bullied (or lost) on defense. Pokusevski showed some improvement last season, but in each of his first two seasons, the positives came in just quick flashes.
Year 3 has brought a little more consistency. Pokusevski has shot 18-for-46 (39.1%) from 3-point range, with much more arc on his shot …
On defense, some added strength has certainly helped, but it’s like Pokusevski finally realized that he’s 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-3 wingspan. He’s making much better use of his size, blocking 2.7 shots per 36 minutes. That ranks fifth among 256 players who’ve played at least 200 minutes and is up from just 1.1 blocks per 36 last season. That’s easily the biggest jump among players who’ve logged at least 200 minutes this season …
Biggest jump, blocks per 36 minutes
Minimum 500 minutes in 2021-22 and 200 minutes in 2022-23 (220 players)
Through Nov. 16, 2022
In years past, Pokusevski wasn’t much of a deterrent at all. Now, opponents might want to avoid him if they want to get their shot off clean …
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