As we all know, statistics and advanced analytics have become an integral part of basketball evolution in recent years. Every professional team uses numbers data to evaluate their play and try to figure out what the other team is trying to do on the court. Although certain categories differ from others based on what they are measuring, almost all of them carry the same load of significance when it come to winning basketball. That has been shown time and time again, as team with very different playing styles (and therefore different statistical parameters), had much success regardless of how they were playing. For example, Dallas had the best offensive rating in league history last season, but was less than average on the defensive end which resulted in them exiting the playoffs in the first round. No one stat can describe how good a team is performing. What stats do a good job of doing is describing what type of basketball a certain team is playing on a consistent level. That’s exactly how I am going to describe three teams that have torched the NBA for the last 10 games, giving a clear picture of what type of basketball they are playing this year.
New York Knicks
34-28, 4th in the Eastern Conference
Last 10 games: 9-1
Key Statistics: Defensive rating, opponent shooting numbers
The Knicks are definitely the feel good story of this NBA season as they have exceeded all expectations and are fighting for a home court advantage in the playoffs. Julius Randle has been playing like an All-NBA talent with the elevation of his shooting and playmaking, RJ Barrett has made enormous strides in his outside shot, and Immanuel Quickley is one of the best rookies from this year’s draft class. However, I think that the biggest adjustment was the arrival of Tom Thibodeau, a defensive mastermind who has demanded of his teams to play elite defenses and was one of the people that deserve the most credit for Boston’s title run in 2008 because of his defensive schemes. It is evident that Knicks are playing elite defense for the most of this season and that is the main reason why they have been able to achieve so much success. The stats back it up. Even though they are 4th in defensive rating, they top the league in almost all opponent shooting percentages. New York’s rivals are shooting only 44.2% from the field (best in the league), 33.7% from three (best in the league), and are scoring only 104.7 points per game (you guessed it, best in the league). The Knicks possess switchability like few other teams in the league, as they have big guys who are comfortable with defending the perimeter while also cleaning up in the paint. A perfect example is Nerlens Noel, who wasn’t really seen as a starting center in the NBA until Mitchel Robinson got hurt and Thibodeau gave him the responsibility to anchor the defense. Somebody should’ve said something to Ingram:
27-34, 10th in the Eastern Conference
Last 10 games: 8-2
Key Statistics: Pace, free throw attempts, recent defensive rating
Are the Wizards actually going to turn this season around? Until recently, they have been one of the worst teams in the league, even after acquiring Russel Westbrook at the beginning of the season. The bad start was largely thanks to the fact that Westbrook was playing injured, Thomas Bryant got injured again, and both Russ and Beal have missed a number of games. Over the last 10 games however, the Wizards are playing really good, winning 8 of those matches in their quest to secure a spot in the play in tournament. Obviously, Westbrook and Beal are the two biggest factors for this success. One is averaging a triple double yet again, while the other is fighting for the scoring title, yet again. Having two players with that much gravitas is reflected in the stats. Washington shoots the 3rd most free-throws in the league and gives themselves a lot of opportunities for easy points. Because both of their stars excel in attacking the basket, it is no wonder they are looking for opportunities in transition and fast basketball. It comes as no surprise that a team with Russel Westbrook is leading the league in pace, as he always tries to run the ball and create an advantage while the defense is not set up. Still, this has been a trend all season long and didn’t have too much effect on Wizards being so good lately. The main reason? This guy.
Los Angeles Clippers
43-20, 3rd in the Western Conference
Last 10 games: 8-2
Key Statistics: three-point percentage, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage
It seems that people are forgetting about the Clippers when it comes to teams who might win the Larry O’Brien trophy. It is evident that they shouldn’t. Their offense has been scorching hot all season long, and the stats finally show their defense is coming along as well. In the last two weeks they are the 4th best defense, but overall they have the 10th best defensive rating in the NBA. While these numbers are supposed to improve in the playoffs, the offensive side of the game is what the Clippers are known for this season. They are playing a very efficient style of play as it seems Ty Lue has put in a system where most of his players can contribute. PG has been the main, ball-handling, creator while Kawhi is injured, and putting him in pick and rolls and surrounding him with shooters is definitely working according to their stats. The Clippers are the most accurate three-point shooting team by far this season, shooting 41.7% from beyond the arc. That percentage would be good for second best in league history if the season ended right now, showing that the stats the Clippers are putting up are quite historic. It is really amazing to see that 8 players who are part of a regular rotation are shooting over 40% from the three-point land: Their success on offense can be seen from the advanced stats as well. They are second in true shooting percentage only to the Nets, and their 60% true shooting is enough for third all-time because of their excellent free-throw and three-point shooting! Kawhi has always been regarded as one of the most efficient players in shot selection, but what he, George, and the rest of the supporting cast are able to do this season on both sides of the floor is truly unique. Efficient field goal percentage tells a lot of the same story. The Clippers are third in the league in that category, even though they are around the league average for three-point attempts. The numbers tell a story of a well-established offensive system which maximizes efficiency and smart offensive possessions. You don’t need to shoot a lot if you are making a lot to be efficient