Early Season Statistical Surprises
The NBA season is approximately 1/3 in the books, with most teams having surpassed the 22-game mark. There are teams that are living up to expectations, like the conference leading Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls, and there are teams that are struggling under the weight of enormous pressure, much like the New York Knicks, who if the playoffs started today would be on the outside looking in.
The same thing can be said of players, some are performing as expected, some are struggling; and then there are players who are putting up numbers that are almost too unbelievable to be real. Here is a look at some of the most interesting early season statistical surprises.
Note: all stats are thru games played on 2/2/12
The Point Guard Race for Rookie of the Year
Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers are both putting up numbers that are worthy of Rookie of the Year status. Rubio is averaging 8.4 assists per game, good for fourth in the NBA. That puts him ahead of superstar point guards Deron Williams and last year’s MVP Derrick Rose. Even more impressive, Rubio started the season coming off the bench for the ‘Wolves; as a starter he is averaging 9.4 assists per game, which would leave him trailing only Steve Nash among the league leaders. Perhaps even more surprising is Rubio has proven he is an adept defender as well. He is third in the league in steals ahead of 2011 all-defensive players LeBron James and Tony Allen.
Irving may not be at the top of any statistical categories like Rubio, but he is having one of the more remarkable shooting seasons by a rookie in recent memory. Irving is approaching what is known as Steve Nash territory. He is currently shooting over 50% from the field, 40% from the three-point line, and 80% from the free throw line. If Irving can get his free throw shooting percentage above 90%, he will join an elite group that includes Nash, Larry Bird, and Dirk Nowitzki. Only five players since 1979-80 have ever finished a season averaging over 50% from the field, 40% from behind the arc, and 90% from the free throw line. Even if Irving comes up short, his numbers are nothing short of spectacular, and more importantly they are translating to wins. Last season the Cavs only won 19 games and had a .232 winning percentage; this year they are playing at a .400 level and are only 1.5 games out of the last playoff spot.
Tyson Chandler Can’t Miss
Chandler is having arguably one of the best field goal percentage-shooting years in the history of the NBA. He’s always been solid from the field; in fact, he’s currently fifth on the all-time field goal percentage leader board shooting over 57% for his career, ranking him ahead of some of the game’s all-time greats, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. What’s more impressive, though, is his hot start to the 2012 season. This year he’s shooting an astounding 70.9% from the field while playing almost 34 minutes a night. Unfortunately, he’s only averaging 3.3 made field goals per game and to qualify for the league leaders he needs to average 3.7. Currently Marcin Gortat is the league leader at ONLY 56.3%, more than 14 percentage points lower than Chandler.
The Lockout Continues to Hurt Team Scoring
The good news for head coaches like Tom Thibodeau and Greg Popovich is defense is leading the way this season. The bad news for fans is scoring is down across the board. The month of January saw the lowest team scoring average (94.2 points per game) since March 2004 (94.1). Last season there were 11 teams that averaged over 100 points per game; this season there are only three. The league’s worst offense in 2010-11 was the Milwaukee Bucks at 91.9 points per game. This year there are seven teams averaging fewer than 91 points; surprisingly, the Bucks are not one of them, as they have pushed their average to over 94. Last season no team shot worse than 43% from the field; this year there are eight teams shooting below 43%, with the Sacramento Kings shooting a league-low 40.2%.
Big Names Struggling Big Time
The Portland Trail Blazers traded for Ray Felton in the hopes of making a deep playoff run. Unfortunately, Felton is shooting a lowly 37.5% from the field, a downright miserable 19.8% from behind the arc and he is leading the team in turnovers. Recently he’s also been benched in favor of Jamal Crawford during crunch time minutes in the fourth quarter.
Rashard Lewis is making the max contract he signed back in the summer of 2007 look worse and worse. This year he is averaging fewer than nine points per game on 40.1% from the field and 28.6% from behind the arc, his worst numbers since his second season in the NBA back in 1999-2000.
The clock may be finally running out on Jason Kidd. Not only is he dealing with injuries this season, but also when he has been on the court he’s been ineffective. In 16 games this season Kidd is averaging career lows in points per game (4.1), field goal percentage (28.2%), three-point percentage (25.8%), and assists (5.1).
Kobe Bryant is leading the NBA in long twos (shots between 16-23 feet) taking 8.9 per game – almost a full shot more than the next highest player. However, he is making 45% of them, well above the league average of 37.9%. The real issue for Bryant is he continues to shoot almost five three-pointers a game, while making only 28% of those attempts. If Bryant were to cut out the threes, he’d be shooting exactly 50% from the field, which he’s never done before.
Carmelo Anthony has been taking a lot of heat lately for not setting up his teammates or making everyone around him better. However, Anthony is leading the Knicks in assists at 4.3 per game. Amar’e Stoudemire meanwhile, is averaging 1.6 assists against 2.9 turnovers. Maybe the problem isn’t with Anthony?
Chauncey Billups has been known as ‘Mr. Big Shot’ throughout his career, and he’s already hit some big shots for the Los Angeles Clippers this season, but he is also struggling from the field. Billups is currently shooting better from behind the arc (35.1%) then from inside of it (33.9%). A feat he’s managed to accomplish twice before in his career.