NBA Coast-to-Coast (1/11/18)
In a new weekly article, NBA Coast-to-Coast, we'll begin breaking down trends in play and interesting tidbits in the NBA as they relate to team rankings, sports betting, and overall style of play. We may cover anything from recent trends in line movement to coaching rotations that may affect the outcome of games.
THE BEST BAD TEAM
The Hornets are 15-24, 11th in the Eastern Conference, and six wins out of the last playoff spot. Coming into the season, no one would have expected the Hornets to compete with Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, or even Washington, but no one would have expected a 15-24 record.
A starting rotation of Kemba Walker, Nicholas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and Dwight Howard should be sufficient to make the NBA playoffs. While injuries have played a factor, their success has not correlated even now that they are mostly healthy. So what gives?
Well, they aren't nearly as bad as their record would indicate. For example, they are 12th overall in our most current rankings. Charlotte also isn't being as disrespected in the betting market as you'd expect.
The downfall for the Hornets is surely offense. They're shooting 44.1% from the field, 44.7% from two, 29th in the NBA, and 72.4% from the line, which ranks 27th and Dwight Howard surely doesn't help their cause. They also have the worst eFG% in the league on a team where they have adequate shooting ability.
The issue doesn't seem to be entirely a failure of players, but a failure of players and coaching combined with poor shot selection.
As you can see above, Charlotte's shot selection is scattered nearly randomly about the floor. From what we know about general shot selection, taking advantage of the post and three pointers is the acceptance. The Houston Rockets are a perfect example of this guide.
The reduction in shooting by nearly every perimeter player for Charlotte has resulted in huge negative effects on the outcomes of their games. However, we shouldn't expect every player to continue to shoot so poorly. As a snowball effect, Dwight Howard is having his worst season offensively in some time by shooting 54.1% from the field where nearly all of his attempts come from the post. Typically, Cody Zeller, who is a plus-player, could be taking some of Howard's minutes while he struggles; but, Zeller's knee injury has sidelined him for some time, requiring Dwight to shoulder the load.
We should expect the Hornets to turn their season around, in some regard, going forward given their history as a decent starting rotation. However, it may be too late to make the playoffs as simply playing .500 basketball for the rest of the season likely results in a playoff miss.
THE NEW TOM THIBODEAU
A historically old school, defensive-minded coach like Tom Thibodeau would be, and may be, upset about his team's defensive effort this season. However, Minnesota's offensive accomplishments makes it a bit easier to swallow for Thibs.
After finishing 31-51 last season, good for 13th in the Western Conference, the Timberwolves made a number of upgrades, inlcuding Jimmy Butler, and have found themselves among the league's best teams in a way you wouldn't expect from a Thibodeau-lead squad.
Minnesota ranks forth-worst in shooting percentage against. Though we don't see the Timberwolves as one of the bad defenses of the NBA, they rate worst in the league in opponent two-point shooting percentage where they rate worse than the Hawks, Kings, Cavs, and Nuggets.
One area that does help the TWolves is turnovers as they seem to take a ton of risk defensively. They turn their opponents over in 14.9% of possessions, third in the NBA, while only turning the ball over 11.9% of their own possessions. The +3.0% turnover mark is 43% better than any other team in the entire NBA. They don't have to drastically outshoot teams if they create three percent more possessions for themselves.
Nonetheless, the biggest difference for Minnesota this season is their offensive attack. They rank fifth overall in shooting percentage, tenth in eFG%, eighth in TS%, and fifth in offensive rebounding, which is another way of creating more possesions.
With Steph Curry and James Harden missing time due to injury, our model ranks the Timberwolves second overall in offense, only behind the Cavaliers. The advanced metrics back up this idea.
As you can see, there's only one regular in Minnesota's rotation, Gorgui Dieng, that we can definitively say is a poor offensive player. The Timberwolves probably won't make it to the Finals, or even the Western Conference Finals, but they do have a hopeful future with a coach that has adjusted, for now, to the new-style of basketball.