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. 40-point games
We’re a little less than halfway through the season and with a 44-point performance from Kevin Durant on Wednesday, there have been 89 40-point games, which is already the 11th-highest total in the league’s 77 seasons. At this pace, the league would finish with 190 40-point games, 48 more than we’ve had in any other season.
It seems like there’s a big performance (or two, or three) every night. Over the four days in January, there have been seven 40-point games, including Donovan Mitchell’s incredible 71-point performance, one of five 40-point games on Monday alone. But this isn’t the highest rate of 40-point games the league has seen. When there were 142 40-point games in 1961-62, there were only nine teams and 360 games played total. So for every five games played, there were two 40-point performances. This season, there are two for every 13 games played.
Most 40-point games in an NBA season
|2022-23||89||575||15%||7||Antetokounmpo, Doncic (8)|
40PG = 40-point games from an individual player.
Total GP = Total games played in the league.
% = 40PG / Total GP
Rank = % rank among the 77 NBA seasons
The ’61-62 season was, of course, the season in which Wilt Chamberlain averaged an NBA-record 50.4 points per game, playing in all 80 of the Philadelphia Warriors’ games and averaging 48.5 minutes per contest. He scored 40-plus in 63 (79%) of the 80, accounting for 44% of the league’s 142 40-point performances. But it wasn’t all Chamberlain that season. There were four other players — Elgin Baylor (16), Walt Bellamy (12), Jerry West (11) and Bob Pettitt (10) — who had at least 10 games of 40-plus in ’61-62.
Chamberlain is obviously the all-time leader in 40-point games, with 98 more than any other player. The active leader is James Harden, who is currently fourth on the all-time list with 101:
Most 40-point games in NBA history
Harden is not one of the 32 players with a 40-point game this season, but his Sixers are one of eight teams with multiple players — Joel Embiid (seven times) and Tyrese Maxey (44 on Oct. 28) — who have had 40-plus. The Cavs, Warriors and Blazers each have three players who have scored 40-plus this season. Here’s the complete list of teams with multiple players who’ve scored 40-plus points this season:
- Cleveland (3 players, 8 games): Darius Garland (3 times), Caris LeVert (1) and Donovan Mitchell (4)
- Golden State (3, 7): Stephen Curry (3), Jordan Poole (2) and Klay Thompson (2)
- Portland (3, 5): Jerami Grant (1), Damian Lillard (3) and Anfernee Simons (1)
- Philadelphia (2, 8): Joel Embiid (7) and Tyrese Maxey (1)
- Chicago (2, 6): DeMar DeRozan (4) and Zach LaVine (2)
- L.A. Lakers (2, 4): Anthony Davis (2) and LeBron James (2)
- New Orleans (2, 3): CJ McCollum (2) and Zion Williamson (1)
- New York (2, 2): RJ Barrett (1) and Julius Randle (1)
There have also been eight teams that haven’t had a 40-point game this season: Charlotte, Detroit, Houston, Minnesota, Orlando, Sacramento, San Antonio and Utah. The Spurs have gone the longest (more than three years) without a 40-point game, with their last coming from LaMarcus Aldridge (40 points) on Dec. 23, 2019.
The Rockets have allowed seven 40-point games this season, most in the league through Wednesday. They’re followed by the Bulls, Kings and Wizards, who’ve each allowed five. The only teams who’ve yet to allow a 40-point game are the Grizzlies and Thunder, though they’ve each allowed a player to score 39.
Oklahoma City will face one of the league leaders in 40-point games on Sunday, when they host the Dallas Mavericks. Luka Doncic has eight 40-point games thus far, going for 50-plus three times over the course of the Mavs’ current seven-game winning streak.
Most 40-point games, 2022-23
Before they go to Oklahoma City, Doncic and the Mavs will begin a two-game homestand with a matchup with the Boston Celtics on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT). The Mavs are 7-1 in Doncic’s 40-point games this season, with the only loss having come in Boston the night before Thanksgiving (with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined to score 68).
2. MVP in the paint
With the Mavs in fourth place and ranking fifth in offensive efficiency, Doncic’s Kia MVP candidacy is stronger than ever. But of course, there are several candidates putting up numbers that could be considered MVP-worthy. And among them is the guy who’s won the award in each of the last two seasons.
Last season’s awards certainly don’t need to be relitigated, but in discussing the season Nikola Jokic is having now, it’s worth noting that his 2021-22 MVP case was multi-pronged:
1. The film: Watching Jokic, it was clear that no other player was more important to their team than he was to the Nuggets. He was the fulcrum for the league’s sixth-ranked offense.
2. Unprecedented boxscore numbers: No player in league history had averaged at least 27 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists per game.
3: Scoring efficiency: Jokic’s true shooting percentage of 66.1% was the best mark among the 109 players with a usage rate of 20% or higher last season and the fifth-best mark for any player in NBA history who’d averaged at least 25 points in 50 games or more (405 total player seasons).
4. On-off differential: The Nuggets were 16.3 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the floor (plus-8.4) than they were with him off the floor (minus-7.9), the biggest differential (by a healthy margin) among 261 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a team last season.
5. Durability: Jokic’s 76 games played were the most among the top five vote-getters (and third most among the 12 guys who received any votes last season.
This season, Jokic’s scoring and rebounding numbers (25.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game) are down, while his assists are up to 9.5 per game. (25, 10 and nine has been done five times prior.) He’s again been pretty durable, playing in 34 of the Nuggets’ 37 games (on pace for 75). If he’s any less important to the Nuggets’ success, it’s only by a small margin. His on-off differential is even bigger, with the Nuggets having been 24.3 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than they’ve been with him off the floor (what would be the second biggest differential in the 16 years of on-off data).
Jokic’s efficiency is also up. With the Nuggets having the league’s second-ranked offense, Jokic’s true shooting percentage of 68.7% would be the highest mark for any player in NBA history who’s averaged at least 20 points per game. And what’s interesting is that he’s scoring more efficiently by shooting fewer 3-pointers.
Jokic has taken just 15.4% of his shots from 3-point range, his lowest rate since his rookie season and down from 22% last season. He’s also taken a career-low 9.6% of his shots from mid-range.
Put that together and Jokic has been doing more work in the paint. He’s taken 75% of his shots in the paint, the highest rate of his career and up from 68% last season. With that, his field goal percentage in the paint (67.8%) is the best mark of his career and ranks fourth among 77 players with at least 200 paint attempts. (Teammate Aaron Gordon ranks fifth at 67.7%.)
Nikola Jokic shooting in the paint
%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts.
Jokic has been a capable 3-point shooter in his career, but he seems to be passing up open 3-pointers more this year, patiently waiting to find a path into the paint …
(Nice try, Batman.)
With his change in shot selection, Jokic has seen a big jump in free throw rate. His 43 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field is a career-high rate and up from 35.7 last season. And as great as a shooter as he’s been in the paint, he’s even more efficient (81.2%) when he gets to the line.
Jokic and the Nuggets lost in a tough rest-disadvantage game (it was the end of a stretch of five games in seven days) in Minnesota on Monday, having had their win over the Celtics the prior night delayed by nearly 45 minutes. They’ve still won 10 of their last 13 games and sit atop the Western Conference standings (holding a 1-0 head-to-head tiebreaker with the similarly 24-13 Memphis Grizzlies.
3. Changes in shot selection
Jokic hasn’t seen the biggest drop in 3-point rate from last season, a distinction that belongs to Kelly Oubre Jr. Oubre (currently out with a hand injury) has taken 42% of his shots from beyond the arc, but that’s a big drop from more than 59% last season. Two of his teammates have also seen big drops, with the Hornets having seen the third biggest drop (from 41.8% to 35.7%) among the 30 teams.
Biggest drop in 3-point rate from 2021-22 to 2022-23
|Kelly Oubre Jr.||191||553||34.5%||59.3%||80||260||30.8%||41.7%||-3.8%||-17.7%|
|Larry Nance Jr.||23||70||32.9%||28.3%||10||25||40.0%||15.0%||+7.1%||-13.4%|
3PA% = 3PA / FGA
Minimum 150 FGA in each of the last two seasons (220 players)
The drop in 3-point rate hasn’t really worked for the Hornets, who’ve seen the league’s biggest drop in points scored per 100 possessions (-6.0) from last season and currently rank last on that end of the floor. Among the 220 players with at least 150 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, Terry Rozier (from 53.9% to 45.7%) and P.J. Washington (from 57.3% to 49.8%) have seen the third and fifth biggest drops in effective field goal percentage. There’s been some improvement (the Hornets rank 28th offensively) since LaMelo Ball’s return to the lineup, but not much.
The drop in 3-point rate has worked for Larry Nance Jr., who’s seen the biggest jump in effective field goal percentage (from 56.9% to 67.1%) among the 220 players with at least 150 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons.
The anti-Oubre is the Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart, who’s taken 48% of his shots from 3-point range, up from just 9% last season. The change in Stewart’s shot selection has resulted in just a small jump in effective field goal percentage (from 52.6% to 54.2%), but it’s more about his fit next to rookie center Jalen Duren. The Pistons’ offense has been better with the two on the floor together (111.6 points scored per 100 possessions) than it’s been overall (110.8, 24th), but the Detroit defense has been terrible either way.
There are a few other big men among the players who’ve seen the biggest jumps in 3-point rate from last season:
Biggest jump in 3-point rate from 2021-22 to 2022-23
3PA% = 3PA / FGA
Minimum 150 FGA in each of the last two seasons (220 players)
The 3-point rate jumps have really worked for Damion Lee and Al Horford, who’ve seen the second and ninth biggest jumps in effective field goal percentage among the 220 players with at least 150 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons.
4. Streak strength
The Brooklyn Nets’ 12-game winning streak (longest in the league this season) came to an end with a loss in Chicago on Wednesday. The streak took the Nets from sixth place to second in the Eastern Conference, and though they’re now technically in third (losing the division-leader tie-breaker to the Bucks), they’re still just a game behind the first-place Celtics.
Here’s a quick look at the six winning streaks of eight games or more this season, along with the cumulative winning percentage (using current records) of the opponents on those streaks.
Longest winning streaks, 2022-23
|Brooklyn||12||Dec. 7||Jan. 2||203||262||0.437||4|
|Boston||9||Nov. 4||Nov. 18||166||181||0.478||4|
|Milwaukee||9||Oct. 20||Nov. 5||153||196||0.438||3|
|Cleveland||8||Oct. 22||Nov. 6||149||160||0.482||3|
|New York||8||Dec. 4||Dec. 20||148||159||0.482||4|
|Philadelphia||8||Dec. 9||Dec. 25||136||174||0.439||4|
OppPCT = Cumulative winning percentage (through Jan. 4) among opponents on the streak
Wins on the streak against teams that currently have winning records
So the Nets’ streak has been the longest by three games (which matters most), but it’s the weakest in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage.
Having lost to the 17-21 team that’s 6-1 against the top three teams in the East, the Nets will now play three straight games against teams that are over .500 overall. That stretch begins in New Orleans on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
5. Taking care of business vs. beating the best
Brooklyn is currently 10-10 against the other 16 teams that currently have winning records. And, despite the loss in Chicago on Wednesday, the Nets have the best record (15-3) against the 13 teams that are currently below .500. That differential (record vs. bad teams compared to record vs. good teams) is the fifth biggest in the league. The biggest belongs to the LA Clippers, who have also taken care of business against bad teams, but are just 5-13 within the top 17.
Biggest difference, record against bottom 13 vs. record against top 17
|vs. .500+||vs. < .500|
The Clippers can improve on that 5-13 mark with their game in Denver on Thursday. After playing in Minnesota on Friday (it’s their ninth back-to-back of the season), they’ll return to L.A. for a five-game homestand that includes games against the Mavs, Nuggets and Sixers.
There are four teams (including the Bulls) who have better records against opponents that are currently over .500 than they do against opponents that are currently below .500. They’re led by the Bucks, who have the best record (12-5) in games played between the top 17 teams in the league.
Better record against top 17 than against bottom 13
|vs. .500+||vs. < .500|
The Bucks have a chance to take care of business on Friday, when they host the Hornets (8 p.m. ET, League Pass). They’ll then have the weekend off before embarking on a four-game trip that begins in New York on Monday.
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