Power Rankings

Power Rankings Notebook: Warriors' defense, Nets' offense & league-wide comeback stats

Breaking down stats and film on Golden State's defense, Brooklyn's mid-range mastery and all those comebacks.

The Warriors have struggled to defend this season, with and without Stephen Curry.

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. The Warriors can’t defend their championship if they can’t defend

After their 30-point loss in Brooklyn on Wednesday, the Golden State Warriors are 15-18, in 11th place in the Western Conference and probably without Stephen Curry for another couple of weeks. Through Wednesday, they’ve been 19.1 points per 100 possessions worse with Curry off the floor (minus-12.1) than they’ve been with him on the floor (plus-7.0), with most of that differential (16.3 per 100) coming on offense.

One would think that Curry’s absence could spark some defensive improvement, because if the Warriors are going to win some games without their star, they may have to do it ugly. The best shooter in NBA history having the second-best* shooting season of his career has possibly been a crutch for the defending champs, to where they’ve felt (consciously or subconsciously) that they haven’t had to defend at a high level to win (or at least stay competitive in) games.

* Curry’s effective field goal percentage of 62.5% is the second-highest mark of his career, topped only by his 63.0% in 2015-16.

Last season, the Warriors had the league’s second-ranked defense. They were No. 1 through the first 20 weeks (falling because Draymond Green got hurt), and they ended their season by holding the Celtics to just 97.9 points per 100 possessions (Boston’s worst stretch of offense all season) over the last three games of the Finals.

But the Warriors have allowed 124.8 points per 100 possessions as they’ve gone 1-3 since Curry’s injury, with the nadir being the 91 points (on 53 possessions) they allowed in the first half in Brooklyn on Wednesday. The champs now rank 25th defensively, having allowed 7.5 more per 100 than they did last season. That would be tied for the seventh biggest season-to-season jump in the last 25 years.

Part of the defensive drop-off is personnel. In the offseason, the Warriors lost Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica off their bench. The first two were very good defenders, while Bjelica, at worst, was a veteran with size who knew where he needed to be. Also, at this point last year, the Warriors had allowed just 92.6 points per 100 possessions in 323 minutes with Andre Iguodala on the floor. Iguodala — one of the best defenders of the last 25 years — has yet to play this season.

But, having won the championship six months ago, the Warriors are also (and not unexpectedly) less hungry than they were last season.

“Last year, we came in and we hadn’t made the playoffs in two years,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday. “So we couldn’t wait to show everybody that we were still here.

“You win the championship and there’s just a natural, human nature drop-off. You’re just not as on edge. Combine that with some other factors, injuries and stuff, and we haven’t gotten there yet.”

Over the 26 seasons for which we have play-by-play data, only two teams have ranked outside the top 10 defensively and gone on to win a championship, and both were defending champs. The 2000-01 Lakers ranked 22nd and the 2017-18 Warriors ranked 11th defensively in the regular season. Both teams were able to flip the switch, and both had the No. 1 defense in the playoffs. (Five eventual champions, including last season’s Warriors, ranked outside of the top 10 offensively in the regular season over those 26 years.)

The Warriors won’t make the playoffs if they don’t regain some of the “edge” they had last season and improve defensively. The good news is that, with their six-game road trip over, the Warriors now have the longest homestand for any team this season: Eight games over 17 days. They’ve, amazingly, allowed 14 fewer points per 100 possessions at home (106.1, fourth-best home defense) than they have on the road (120.1, league’s worst road defense).

The homestand begins with the Warriors’ Christmas Day matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies (8 p.m. ET, ABC), their first meeting of the season with the team that was No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings, is tied for first place in the Western Conference, and has the league’s 11th-ranked offense.

2. Mid-range mastery in Brooklyn

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Brooklyn are on pace to be the best mid-range shooting team over the past 25 seasons.

The Nets had nine players in double-figures in that win against the Warriors on Wednesday, and they were led by Kevin Durant, who scored a relatively modest 23 points. Durant was just 2-for-5 in the paint and 1-for-3 from beyond the arc, but he made six of his nine attempts from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line). And thus continues the greatest mid-range shooting season we’ve ever seen.

At 36.1%, Durant is having one of the worst 3-point shooting seasons of his career. And he doesn’t get to the rim a lot for someone his size. But through Wednesday, he’s an amazing 126-for-220 (57.3%) from mid-range. That isn’t just the best mark among 64 players with at least 50 mid-range attempts this season, it would also be the best mark for any player with at least 200 mid-range attempts in the last 25 years.

Best mid-range FG%, 200+ attempts, since 1998-99

Player Season FGM FGA FG%
Kevin Durant 2022-23 126 220 57.3%
LaMarcus Aldridge 2021-22 115 206 55.8%
Kevin Durant 2021-22 226 407 55.5%
Kevin Durant 2018-19 254 461 55.1%
Matt Bonner 2004-05 120 219 54.8%
Kyrie Irving 2020-21 112 206 54.4%
John Stockton 1999-00 167 309 54.0%
Chris Paul 2019-20 157 291 54.0%
Seth Curry 2021-22 122 230 53.0%
Dirk Nowitzki 2010-11 353 667 52.9%

Three players from 1996-97 — Muggsy Bogues, Steve Kerr and Dell Curry — would be on this list if we used all 27 seasons of shot-location data, but it’s fair to say that the data from that first season is a little sketchy.

Though most of those ’21-22 Seth Curry shots came with the Sixers, half of those top 10 marks (including two of Durant’s three) belong to Brooklyn Nets players in the last three seasons, which is rather amazing. (The Nets’ Cam Thomas also shot 49.7% on 145 mid-range attempts as a rookie last season.) One might see that and question the Nets’ shot-location tracking, but LaMarcus Aldridge, Thomas and Durant all shot better than 56% from mid-range on the road last season.

The best mid-range shooting team of the last 25 years was the 2020-21 Suns, who shot 47.4% from between the paint and the 3-point line. But, with Durant, Kyrie Irving (54.4%) and Curry (51.0%) having taken 359 (76%) of their 475 mid-range attempts, this season’s Nets are at 51.8% through Wednesday. (At 48.2%, the Celtics are also beating that Suns mark from two seasons ago.)

The ridiculous 2-point shooting of Durant and Irving isn’t limited to the mid-range. They’re also a combined 134-for-222 (60.3%) on non-restricted-area shots in the paint, holding two of the five best marks among the 116 players with at least 50 non-restricted-area paint attempts.

Tracking of restricted area vs. non-restricted-area paint shots can be inconsistent from arena to arena, but according to Second Spectrum tracking, Durant and Irving have shot 60.2% and 59.3% on all pull-up two pointers, which would be the two best marks (minimum 100 attempts) in the 10 years of player tracking, topping Stephen Curry’s mark of 57% in 2017-18.

If you’re defending Durant, it seems the only thing you can do is try to take away his space, so that he can’t get to his pull-up. But even if you keep him from planting both feet, he can just shoot off of one …

Kevin Durant shot off one foot

Durant and the Nets have won 11 of their last 12 games, climbing to within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Milwaukee Bucks and to sixth in offensive efficiency. But only one of those 11 wins has come against a team that currently has a winning record, and that was Portland playing without Damian Lillard. Taking care of business against bad (and shorthanded) teams certainly isn’t a bad thing, but the Nets will get a more serious test when those first-place Bucks visit Brooklyn on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

3. Pelicans, Grizzlies winning and developing at the same time

Second-year guard Jose Alvarado (left) and rookie forward Dyson Daniels have received major minutes for New Orleans.

As you might expect, there’s a negative correlation between teams’ success and how much they play rookies or second-year players. Nine of the 15 teams that have given more than 16% of their minutes to rookies or second-year players have losing records, while only two of the other 15 are currently below .500.

But there are exceptions to the rule. And the two teams that have enjoyed the most success while still playing young (or inexperienced) players are the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans.

The Grizzlies (19-11) and Pelicans (18-12) currently sit in second and third place, respectively, in the Western Conference. They’re doing that while ranking seventh and fourth in the percentage of their minutes that have gone to first or second-year players.

Highest % of total minutes from rookies or 2nd-year players, 2022-23

Team %Rookie Rank %2ndYr Rank %1or2 Win PCT Rank
Houston 21% 2 37% 1 58% 0.290 28
Oklahoma City 13% 7 34% 2 48% 0.438 21
Orlando 20% 3 19% 4 39% 0.364 26
New Orleans 6% 14 27% 3 33% 0.600 7
Indiana 22% 1 10% 12 32% 0.500 15
Detroit 20% 4 10% 13 30% 0.235 30
Memphis 15% 5 11% 11 26% 0.633 4
Toronto 7% 12 16% 5 23% 0.438 21
Sacramento 11% 8 8% 19 20% 0.567 11
San Antonio 14% 6 5% 23 19% 0.333 27

The Pelicans have three second-year players — Herb Jones, Trey Murphy and Jose Alvarado — in their rotation, and (though Jones has missed nine games) all three are in the top 13 in total minutes among second-year players. And Dyson Daniels’ 441 minutes rank 16th among rookies.

The Grizzlies are one of three teams (the Magic and Jazz are the others) with three rookies – David Roddy, Jake LaRavia and Kennedy Chandler – who’ve played at least 100 minutes. Santi Aldama, meanwhile, ranks 10th among second-year players with 700 minutes played. Those rookies might not play as much when the Grizzlies are fully healthy, but second-year wing Ziaire Williams (108 minutes through Wednesday) is just starting to play after missing the first 24 games of the season.

New Orleans has 31-year-old CJ McCollum as its veteran leader, but both the Pelicans and Grizzlies are led on the floor by guys in their fourth season. Zion Williamson is still just 22 years old, while Ja Morant just turned 23 in August. So it’s not like their room for growth ends with those first and second-year guys in the rotation.

Some more notes on rookie and second-year minutes:

  • The Rockets’ 58% would be the fifth-highest percentage of minutes from rookies or second-year players in the last 20 seasons (since 2003-04). The highest percentage in that stretch belonged, of course, to the 2014-15 Sixers, who got an amazing 67% of their minutes from rookies or second-year players.
  • The ’14-15 Sixers were an exception in regard to teams over the 50% mark, in that they were a worse team (in regard to point differential per 100 possessions) the following season. Fourteen of the other 15 teams that have topped the 50% mark over that stretch saw a jump in point differential per 100 possessions the following season. That includes the three teams — Detroit (52%, +0.5 per 100), Houston (50.3%, +2.2 per 100) and Orlando (51%, +4.7 per 100) — that got more than 50% of their minutes from rookies and second-year guys last season.
  • At the bottom of the list this season are the Sixers (0.3%, 19 total minutes from rookies or second-year players), the Mavs (1%, 72 total minutes) and the Timberwolves (2%, 152 total minutes).
  • The Bulls (11%, 10th lowest) and Hornets (12%, 12th lowest) are the two teams that have gotten less than 16% of their minutes from rookies or second-year players and have losing records through Wednesday.
  • The Suns are the only team that hasn’t gotten any minutes from rookies this season, while the Heat are the only team that hasn’t gotten any minutes from second-year players.
  • League-wide, only 17.6% of 2022-23 minutes have come from rookies or second-year players. That would be the second-lowest rate in the last 20 years. But we can probably expect it to increase as the season goes on.
  • Only one of the 16 teams that had a rate over 50% over the last 20 seasons has made the playoffs. That was the 2004-05 Bulls (54%), who had the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, but were the No. 4 seed (because they didn’t win their division) and lost in the first round. The highest rate for a team that won a playoff series belonged to the 2017-18 Sixers (41%).
  • The 2019-20 Heat had the highest rate (34%) for a team that reached the NBA Finals over the last 20 seasons, while the ’03-04 Pistons had the highest rate (22%) for a team that won a championship. Fifteen of the last 19 NBA champions got less than 10% of their regular-season minutes from rookies or second-year players. The ’09-10 Lakers, the ’19-20 Lakers and the ’20-21 Bucks each had the league’s lowest percentage in the regular season.

That last note doesn’t bode well in regard to the Grizzlies’ or Pelicans’ ability to win the championship this season, but it may be that in this season of parity, anything can happen.

After vaulting into first place in the Western Conference with a seven-game winning streak, the Grizzlies have lost the first two games of their four-game road trip. They’ll face the much more experienced Suns on Friday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN) before visiting the champs on Christmas.

The Pelicans, meanwhile, have lost four straight games to fall from first to third place in the West. They’ll try to right the ship against the Spurs on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) before visiting the Thunder on Friday.

4. Big comebacks aren’t as common as you might think

Damian Lillard and Portland have the best record in the NBA when trailing by 10+ points.

It might seem like a double-digit lead isn’t very significant these days. And, indeed, teams have a better record when trailing by double-digits than they did 20 years ago. If you look at five-year spans, that winning percentage continues to increase as time goes on and teams shoot more from 3-point range. But you might be surprised to know that, collectively, teams still win less than 25% of the games they trail by at least 10 points.

League-wide record when trailing by 10+ points

Seasons W L PCT
1998-99 – 2002-03 1,090 4,467 0.196
2003-04 – 2007-08 1,301 4,928 0.209
2008-09 – 2012-13 1,343 4,811 0.218
2013-14 – 2017-18 1,453 5,126 0.221
2018-19 – 2022-23 1,330 4,351 0.234

This season, every team in the league has a winning record in games it’s led by double-digits, and every team has a losing record in games it’s trailed by double-digits.

The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Portland Trail Blazers (for the second time in three nights) after trailing by as many as 14 points on Wednesday. That was the Thunder’s ninth win (they’re 9-15) in games they trailed by double-digits, tying them (with the Blazers themselves) for the league lead. Portland still has the best record (9-10) in games it’s trailed by double-digits.

Best record, trailing by double-digits, 2022-23

Portland 19 9 10 .474
Cleveland 16 7 9 .438
Brooklyn 18 7 11 .389
Indiana 21 8 13 .381
Oklahoma City 24 9 15 .375

Only one team hasn’t won a game it trailed by at least 10 points. That’s the Spurs, who are 0-18 after falling into a double-digit deficit.

Worst record, trailing by double-digits, 2022-23

San Antonio 18 0 18 .000
Minnesota 14 1 13 .071
Charlotte 26 3 23 .115
Golden State 17 2 15 .118
Houston 24 3 21 .125

Over the previous 26 seasons of play-by-play data, only one team hasn’t won at least one game it trailed by double-digits. That was the 1998-99 Clippers, who were 0-35 after trailing by 10-plus. There have been 11 teams over those 26 years with winning records after trailing by double-digits, with the best mark (12-8) belonging to the 2015-16, 73-win Warriors.

As noted above, every team has a winning record in games they’ve led by double-digits. They’re led by the Grizzlies, who have yet to lose a game after taking a double-digit lead.

Best record, leading by double-digits, 2022-23

Memphis 19 19 0 1.000
Milwaukee 23 20 3 .870
New Orleans 21 18 3 .857
Indiana 18 15 3 .833
Minnesota 18 15 3 .833
Philadelphia 18 15 3 .833

And while the Blazers are tied for the most wins after trailing by double-digits, they’re also tied (with Dallas and Orlando) for the most losses (7) after leading by double-digits.

Worst record, leading by double-digits, 2022-23

Orlando 15 8 7 .533
Houston 9 5 4 .556
Charlotte 12 7 5 .583
Detroit 12 7 5 .583
Miami 16 10 6 .625
Portland 19 12 7 .632
Dallas 20 13 7 .650

So while double-digit leads are generally meaningful, a team with a double-digit deficit has come back to win half (16) of the Blazers’ 32 games.

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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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