Thursday, November 21, 2013

Points in The Paint: November 21

Paul George is shooting his way into the NBA's elite. (Flickr)
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

Here are some storylines from the last week of basketball:

The Atlantic Division Is A Dumpster Fire

On Wednesday night, the 5-7 Philadelphia 76ers squared off against the 4-7 Toronto Raptors. Toronto won the game and took over possession of first place in the division. At 5-7.

The Raptors win was the first win by any team in the division since last Friday (when Brooklyn beat Phoenix by two). Since then, teams in the division have lost seventeen straight games when not playing each other. I'm not quite sure how it's possible.

As a matter of fact...

The Eastern Conference Is A Dumpster Fire

There are 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. Through Wednesday's games, only four of them have winning records - Indiana, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta. Charlotte is 6-6 to give them five teams at .500 or better.

There are currently 15 teams which, in aggregate, have outscored their opponents on the season. 10 of them are in the Western Conference. The worst team (by scoring margin) in the league is Utah, the next six worst are all in the East. The East sucks.

Paul George

It doesn't seem fair what George is doing right now.

Last year, George averaged a 17/7/4 on 42% shooting from the floor, 36% from three, and 81% on free throws with a foul rate of .233 (i.e. he attempted .233 free throws per field goal attempt). This season, George is averaging a 24/7/4 on 46% shooting from the floor, 36% from three, and 84% on free throws with a foul rate of .353. His scoring has increased dramatically, thanks to a robust foul rate, but, most notably - a shocking spike in two-point field goal percentage. Last year, George shot 36.3% from mid-range (defined here as anything inside the three-point line, but outside the paint). He was 105-289, attempting about 3.6 shots from that range per game. This season so far, he's shooting 55.7% from the same range, 34-61 (5.5 attempts per game).

His mid-range usage has gone up, but he's shooting 20% better than he did last year. The likelihood that he keeps this up all year is, well, roughly zero. But he's undoubtedly the No. 1 reason why Indiana has started the season 10-1 and look like more than just a passing threat to Miami in the East.

"LOL That's Cute" -LeBron

While Paul George has been making The Leap, LeBron has been doing The Usual.

His per game averages don't exactly jump off the page. 26 points, six rebounds, seven assists. Yawn. (Don't bother mentioning that, other than Wade, he's the only player to do it since Jordan in '89, and he's done it seven times.)

What does jump off the page?

He's shooting 60% from the floor. He's shooting 48% from three.

While George is shooting 55% from midrange on 5.5 attempts per game, LeBron is shooting 78% at the rim on 7.3 attempts per game. The craziest part is that LeBron's figure is totally sustainable - he shot 76% at the rim last year on 7.1 attempts per game. In the month of February last year, he shot 64% for the month (13 games).

Over the last few seasons, LeBron has started to take fewer and fewer shots from the mid-range, and more and more shots in the paint. You can see the disparity between LeBron and George. George has taken 116 shots either from mid-range or above-the-break threes (i.e. not in the corner). He has an effective field goal percentage of 50% on those attempts. James has taken just 69 attempts from those areas, with an effective field goal percentage of 47%. But LeBron has 113 shot attempts in the paint to George's 67, and LeBron's 72.5% shooting rate in the paint dwarfs George's 49.2%.

The sample sizes are small, but the margins are enormous. While everyone seems to be having conversations about George's development and Indiana's early success, to some extent they're losing sight of the fact that LeBron James is still, unequivocally, the best player in the world.

Game(s) of The Week: Golden State 116, Oklahoma City 115 (Thursday); Dallas 123, Houston 120 (Wednesday)

Last Thursday's game was probably the best game of the year. I found this frustrating, after I spent some time last week trying to figure out what the best game of the year had been and why the Clippers were prominently involved in some of them. That ran Thursday morning, 12 hours before Oklahoma City and Golden State put on an absolute show.

What people will remember are the back-to-back shots by Westbrook to (apparently) with the game and Iguodala to (actually) win the game:

But what people will probably forget is the comeback Oklahoma City made to even get it to that point. Golden State led by as many as 14 points with 7:11 remaining (and still led by 13 with 6:16 remaining) before Oklahoma City went small with Reggie Jackson, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka.

This was the second night of a back-to-back for Oklahoma City, and the second game where Kendrick Perkins wasn't with the team following a death in his family. Had Perkins been with the team, he probably would have been in the lineup, and this comeback never would have happened. It was a frenetic pace that allowed Oklahoma City to cut into the deficit, by swarming the ball on defense and continually attacking the basket on offense. Playing Westbrook, Jackson, and Durant together opened up an interesting chapter of the playbook for the Thunder - Golden State was usually able to contain the initial attack, but having three dynamic ball handlers on the court allowed for secondary attacks, or even a third dribble-drive on a single possession. The scrambling Golden State defense couldn't contain the penetration, and Oklahoma City got open look after open look. More than anything else, the main takeaway from the game was how well the Thunder play with Durant at the four and Ibaka at the five.

Wednesday night, the Rockets and Mavericks squared off on ESPN, and it was yet another late night Western Conference offensive explosion. Houston scored 68 first-half points for the second night in a row (they did the same in a blowout win over Boston on Tuesday) but Dallas came storming back with a 36-19 fourth quarter to win the game.

The first half was dominated by Houston, thanks in large part to Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard. Howard made his first 11 attempts from the field, mostly layups and dunks after Parsons attracted the defensive attention, but many were on straight post-ups, where Howard exhibited some fine footwork and took advantage of a Dallas scheme that opted not to double-team him under any circumstances.

Yet the fourth quarter came down to what is quickly becoming a dynamite offensive group - the Jose Calderon-Monta Ellis backcourt along with Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. The fifth player is usually either Vince Carter (if they're going small) or Samuel Dalembert (if they're going big), but that foursome is where Dallas made their comeback.

Monta Ellis has been an offensive force this season, shooting 49.5% from the floor, his highest shooting percentage since 2008, when he was a near-unstoppable scoring machine for a wide-open Don Nelson offense in Golden State. He shot 53% that year, thanks to over half his attempts coming near the basket. This year, 44% of his attempts have come less than eight feat from the rim, his highest frequency since that 2008 season.

Ellis and Nowitzki have developed an explosive two-man game on the left side of the floor, which can be initiated just about anywhere on the line from the left elbow extending to the break in the three-point line. As Ellis attacks towards the middle of the floor, the further he travels means the further the hedging big man has to recover to Dirk, who is just about automatic as automatic as it gets from that area. If the big man doesn't hedge aggressively, Ellis is usually able to get to the top of the key with an active dribble and no defender in front of him - effectively the most dangerous position an offensive player can be in other than uncontested at the rim.

Dallas killed Houston with this action down the stretch. Ellis and Nowitzki combined to shoot 9-for-11 in the 4th quarter, 9-for-9 from inside the arc, with most of the shots generated by the side pick-and-roll. They should continue to have a great deal of success with that look until a team with the right scheme or the right personnel establish a blueprint to slow it down.

NBA Power Poll 2.0

The Isiah Thomas Division

30. Utah Jazz

The Least of The East

29. Milwaukee Bucks
28. Boston Celtics
27. Cleveland Cavaliers
26. Philadelphia 76ers


25. Sacramento Kings

Digging A Hole

24. Brooklyn Nets
23. New York Knicks


22. Los Angeles Lakers

(Gulp) Playoff Teams?

21. Orland Magic
20. Washington Wizards
19. Detroit Pistons
18. Charlotte Bobcats
17. Toronto Raptors


16. Denver Nuggets
15. New Orleans Pelicans
14. Phoenix Suns

The Relative Juggernaut

13. Atlanta Hawks

Swiss Cheese

12. Memphis Grizzlies
11. Houston Rockets

Better Than Expected

10. Dallas Mavericks
9. Portland Trail Blazers
8. Minnesota Timberwolves

Not Going Anywhere

7. Chicago Bulls
6. Oklahoma City Thunder

Unlimited Ceiling

5. Golden State Warriors
4. Los Angeles Clippers

The Sharks

3. Miami Heat

The Upstart

2. Indiana Pacers

The Machine

1. San Antonio Spurs

Statistical support from

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