NBA Four Quarters (03/31/17)

By Sean Pyritz @srpyritz

Last week
, we opened our breakdown of the MVP race with a discussion surrounding points created. When it comes to the percentage of “field goal points created,” Westbrook and Harden shoulder a larger burden than LeBron and especially Kawhi. This week we unpack the scoring component in order to add some nuance to the MVP debate.

The stats page has a helpful feature thanks to its partnership with Synergy Sports. Tracking each and every possession with detail, Synergy breaks every possession-ending action (made basket, foul, turnover) into ten different play types, plus a miscellaneous category for the plays that fall through the cracks. Pouring over this data, we can begin to understand how our four stars score as well as how effectively they do it.

As a general starting point, let's take a look at the total number of possessions used by each of our MVP candidates: Westbrook – 2500; Harden – 2150; LeBron – 1670; Kawhi – 1580. Echoing our findings from last week, the candidates have unequal scoring roles on their respective teams. However, while sheer volume surely counts for something, it comes with a price. The overall points per possession figures are as follows: Westbrook – 0.93; Harden – 1.00; LeBron – 1.03; Kawhi – 1.09; collaborating the idea that efficiency tends to drop as opportunity rises. Valuing efficiency versus volume is a critical part of this MVP race.

The graphs below dig below the surface into the specifics of the Synergy play type data. For simplicity's sake, I separated the ten play type categories into four groups – pick and roll (PNR), isolation (including post-ups), off the ball (cuts, put backs, spot ups, etc.), and transition. The first two groups are individual in nature, the third relies upon teammates/assists, and the final is a mix of both. In the first graph, the scoring distribution is broken down into the percentage used in each play type group. Beneath that, the second chart shows the scoring efficiency of each player in the four play type groups.

We can summarize information from the graphs into a few key takeaways. First, James Harden is a pick and roll maestro (just don't ask him if there are any available houses in Tuscany). His ability to maintain efficiency as a scorer with incredibly high volume sets the foundation for his MVP case, and that is without saying anything about his passing. Secondly, the divergent distributions of scoring opportunities between Westbrook and Kawhi are indicative of difference in their overall efficiency and the offensive philosophies of their respective teams. Westbrook spends more time in less efficient individual offense, while Kawhi relies heavily on more efficient opportunities created by his teammates. Oklahoma City has constructed a simple offense around their dynamic superstar and set him free, while Kawhi flourishes within the team-centric ball movement in San Antonio. Whether or not each of them could perform in the other's shoes is an interesting thought experiment but not what this MVP race is about. A more relevant question is how much should team values factor into the case for each candidate?

We the Fourth

I was watching a Boston Celtics game recently and a graphic appeared next to Isaiah Thomas as he sat on the bench. With Game of Thrones pun intended, the graphic read “King of the Fourth.” While Thomas is undoubtedly a lethal 4th quarter scorer, it might come as a surprise to know that the Celtics have actually performed worse in fourth quarters this season compared to the first three quarters. The table below shows the change in efficiency from the first three quarters to the fourth quarter. As you can see, the Celtics net rating drops 0.2 points per 100 possessions after the 36-minute mark. For as incredible as Thomas is on offense, his liabilities on defense are equally crippling. The team with the biggest improvement in the fourth quarter is unsurprisingly the best fourth quarter team in the NBA – the Toronto Raptors. Many of the teams with large changes in net rating from the first three to the fourth quarter are on the extreme ends of the standings, which is to say these teams are involved in a lot of blowouts where the fourth quarter is 12 minutes of garbage time. Interestingly, in the case of these two teams, both Boston and Toronto have identical records when tied or trailing entering the fourth quarter: 11-22. So the difference in the change in performance once the fourth quarter rolls around between these two teams is not a matter of circumstance. With these squads on a collision course for a barnburner second round series, the ability to execute in the fourth quarter may decide the winner. Then we will find out who really is the “King of the Fourth.”

Two weeks ago, I picked the Blazers to claim the eighth seed in the West over the Nuggets. Since then, Portland is 7-1 shooting 40.8 % from three-point range, both good for second in the NBA behind the Warriors. A big reason for the resurgence in Portland is Allen Crabbe. With possibly the highest salary to notoriety ratio in the league, Crabbe is at least living up to his end of the bargain when it comes to shooting the ball. At 43.8 % from downtown, Crabbe is the fourth-best three-point shooter amongst bombers with at least three attempts per game. This past week Crabbe has really ripped up the nets, nailing 50 % of his threes on nearly five attempts. He's also flashed the disruptive length on defense this week that snatched him the big contract, averaging 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals including four in Portland's huge win over Houston on Thursday. Play like this earns Crabbe the 6th Man of the Week award and will help Portland hang on to the eighth seed.

Crazy Stat of the Week

Earlier this week, Russell Westbrook set a record for most points in a triple-double ever. That got me thinking about the other categories of the triple double. Here are the all-time leaders in the four other stats of the triple-double:

· Assists24 (tie) Isiah Thomas in 1985 and Rajon Rondo in 2010. The most assists in a triple-double without a turnover belongs to Scott Skiles who dished out 17 dimes without turning it over in 1990.
· Rebounds – 28, Shaq in 1993. Including this Shaq game, there have been three triple-doubles that included 10 offensive rebounds (the other two were Hakeem Olajuwon and Alvin Robertson). DeMarcus Cousins set the record for most rebounds in a triple-double without an offensive rebound with 20 versus the Pelicans of all teams in 2015.
· Steals – 11, Kendall Gill in 1999. Only eight triple-doubles have featured steals as one of the categories including the only quadruple-double to feature steals. Alvin Robertson had a quadruple-double with 10 steals in 1986.
· Blocks – 15 (tie) Manute Bol in 1987 and Shaq in 1993 (the same game from above with 28 rebounds). Triple-doubles with blocks have been achieved 64 times by just 23 men. Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo are tied for the most block triple-doubles with 10 a piece.

OT: Late Game Heroics

Please enjoy a compilation of the best shot making and playmaking in the clutch from the past week, complete with replays and fantastic calls by broadcast teams.

Bonus late game heroics dedicated to Russell Westbrook and his incredible single-handed comebacks this week. Check it out.

Also enjoy the could-have-been buzzer beaters from the week.