NBA Statistical Anomalies: What Will Last?
With consistency, hard work and a little luck, the upstart Charlotte Bobcats could maintain their hold on the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture until the end of the regular season.
The same could also be said for the perennial favorite Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference, which illustrates just how unpredictable the early weeks of an NBA season can be.
The last month hasn’t taught us much. We’ve seen some brilliance (a few impressive games from James Harden, for example) and whatever the opposite of brilliance is (Landry Fields, we’re looking in your direction).
But it can be hard to tell which trends are indicative of future performance and which are just an aberration?
That’s why we compiled a list of some statistical anomalies. We don’t have a crystal ball, but history can help us conclude what trends are fleeting and which ones are here to stay:
LeBron James has hit 43.9 percent of his 3-point attempts: James has never been automatic from downtown, but he’s been better than you may realize. Last year he improved to 36.2 percent from distance and his current career mark is a respectable 33.2 percent.
Of course, 43.9 percent is a major improvement, but it’s one he might be able to sustain.
James is shooting fewer 3-pointers (just 3.2 per game, which is still less than his career average of four per game) and because he’s been playing more power forward, he’s being defended by players who are less equipped to defend long-range shooting.
And hanging out with Ray Allen probably hasn’t hurt either. Verdict: James levels off, but still finishes with a career-best mark.
Brook Lopez ranks fifth in blocks: The Nets center averaged 1.8 blocks per game as a rookie, but never had that level of success again until this year. Currently Lopez is blocking 2.5 shots per game, 0.97 shots per foul (sixth overall) and 4.04 shots per 48 minutes (sixth), which are all figures he’d probably be happy to finish his year with.
The truth is, Lopez is quite capable of sustaining that figure, but it’s not necessarily a good thing. Despite blocking shots, Lopez isn’t the best interior defender. The Nets yield 39.1 ppg in the paint (17th in the league) on 49.9 percent shooting (24th) so as long as teams think they can score under the hoop, Lopez will have opportunities for blocked shots. Verdict: Lopez’s block stats will dip slightly
Sacramento Kings guard Jimmer Fredette ranks 12th in Player Efficiency Rating – The Sacramento Kings guard has posted impressive shooting stats, but he’s done it over a limited amount of playing time (he’s only appeared in 12 games and his minutes were cut in half from last season, down to 9.4 per game).
But we’re not just dealing with small sample size. Fredette’s PER is bound to come crashing down to earth for some other reasons as well. His improvement from beyond the arc was expected (after hitting 36.1 percent of his 3-pointers last year, he’s hit 9 of 20 attempts so far this year), but the real shock is that he’s hit 17 of 31 2-point field goals. If Fredette was expected to hit over 54 percent of his 2-point field goals, he’d be getting more than 10 minutes per game. Verdict: It won’t last
Jerry Stackhouse is among league leaders in true shooting percentage: For those who don’t know, true shooting percentage (TS%) includes free throw and 3-point shooting percentage. Whereas the league leaders in traditional field goal percentage tend to be interior players, anyone can lead the league in TS%. For instance, teammates Tyson Chandler and Steve Novak ranked 1 and 2 in that category last year, respectively. Chandler boosted his TS% by hitting nearly 70 percent of his 2-point field goals while Novak — who made only seven 2-pointers all season — finished second by making 42.3 percent of his 3-point attempts.
This year the TS% rankings have been dominated by bigs, some of whom are destined to come crashing down to earth. However one name stands out because he’s A.) Not a seven footer and B.) Not known as a great shooter.
Nets swingman Jerry Stackhouse is a career 40.9 percent shooter from the field. He’s made 31 percent of his 3-point attempts in his career, but somehow he’s currently making 50 percent of his field goals and 53.6 percent of his shots from downtown for a career-best TS% of 69.4.
Keep in mind, Stackhouse is now 38, so this old dog didn’t suddenly learn some new tricks. But while it seems unlikely that Stackhouse will continue at this torrid pace, he does have a few advantages this season that he didn’t necessarily have at previous stops in his career.
He’s currently surrounded by good shooters and passers in Brooklyn, and he’s also not really seen as a main offensive threat. In other words, he’s had plenty of opportunity in the corners, where he’s hit 11 of 15 3-point attempts. Verdict: This won’t last, but he might have a gradual decline.
Jamaal Tinsley leads the league in assist rate: Nobody should be surprised that Celtics guard Rajon Rondo is second in the NBA in assist rate, which is the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in an assist. After all, Rondo had at least 10 assists in 37 consecutive games.
However, the name above Rondo on the assist rate scoreboard might surprise a few: Jazz point guard Jamaal Tinsley.
Tinsley posted a 40.7 assist rate in 2002-2003, but since then has seen that number dip as far as 26.1. That’s why it’s so surprising to see him flourishing in Utah after missing the 2010-2011 season.
This season Tinsley is posting a ridiculous 52.5 assist rate and there are reasons to think he can maintain this level of production.
First, he’s a backup, and won’t be pressured into too many minutes.
But the larger reason is that coach Tyrone Corbin uses his backup point guards in a very traditional manner, which is why Earl Watson led the league in this category a season ago. Tinsley just has to continue running the offense as he has been and then let Derrick Favors, Randy Foye and Enes Kanter take care of the rest. Verdict: Tinsley finishes the year with the NBA’s top assist rate
The Hornets are second in the league in points in the paint: First-overall pick Anthony Davis ranks fourth in PER, but he’s appeared in only six games. So, how is it that New Orleans is posting 45.9 ppg in the paint.
A lot of the credit can go to Greivis Vasquez, who has averaged 8.8 apg this season. Outside of Ryan Anderson, who is averaging 3.4 3-pointers per game, all of Vasquez’s potential targets look to score in the paint. That’s a group that includes Robin Lopez (11.1 ppg), Al-Farouq Aminu (10.3 ppg) and even Jason Smith (8.4 ppg), who is taking fewer attempts from the perimeter.
The logical thought is that the Hornets achieved this success in the paint on the fast break, but the truth is, they rank 29th in possessions per game. In other words, this is the work of Monty Williams’ half-court offense.Verdict: It will last for the most part, but New Orleans will continue to be a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of offensive efficiency (they currently rank 14th with 101.9 points per 100 possessions)