NBA Four Quarters (03/24/17)

By Sean Pyritz @srpyritz

There is no better storyline in the NBA than the MVP race. Kevin Durant simultaneously took himself (via injury) and back-to-back MVP Steph Curry (by outscoring him) out of the discussion leaving a fatal four-way between Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden to settle the matter. We will spend the next few weeks breaking down the tale of the tape before picking an eventual winner.

As a means of injecting understandability into the analytics of the MVP debate, the concept of points created has been all over the place this season. In place of the complicated usage rate, points created is simply the number of points scored by and points scored off an assist from a specific player. You may have heard announcers say something like “Russell Westbrook is responsible for x percent of Thunder points when he's on the floor,” which is to say he is scoring a lot of points and his assists are resulting in a lot of freaking points. While I like this idea for its simplicity, I would like to propose a couple tweaks before utilizing it in our MVP comparison. Allow me to explain.

The first issue is one of fairness. If we are going to include points created by an assist we need to remove points scored from an assist. You can't have it both ways. If James Harden hits a three-pointer from an assist, Harden did not create those points, just as the players on the receiving end of his assists did not create those points. Thus, the points created formula should only include unassisted points. The second adjustment stems from a problem with assists in general with respect to free throws. Even in the age of analytics, as far as I know, there has been no adjustment to assists to include passes that lead to players getting fouled and shooting free throws. From my perspective, there is no question that a pass leading directly to a shooting foul should count in the realm of assists, but there is no record of these events – a black mark to the advanced stats movement. Since there is no easy way to add the missing points created by passes leading to free throws or to separate the points scored from “assisted” or “unassisted” free throws, the points from free throws should be thrown out the window. The result is a new concept, which we will call “field goal points created” - simply the points from made shots combined with the points created by assists.

Presented as a percentage of total points from field goals for their respective teams while they are on the floor, the field goal points created leaderboard for our MVP candidates through Wednesday March 22 is presented below. I've included the past two Steph Curry MVP seasons for reference and because the specific data on assists only dates back that far. Westbrook and Harden separate themselves here, much as they have in public discourse throughout this season. Both of them happen to be responsible for twice as much field goal scoring as Kawhi Leonard, a staggering difference and a demerit on his resume. We will look into what may be behind these numbers next week. Let's not forget about LeBron, who is blowing away Curry's previous two MVP seasons in this arena and currently plays for the best team in the East (at least when he's not resting – sorry I couldn't put that joke to bed).

It's A Make or Miss League

Last week, a lot of people (my friends) were asking me what was up with the Warriors, who had just lost five of seven without Durant. My answer was simple: they're not making shots; the same shots they routinely make. In those seven games, the Warriors shot 31.1 % from three-point land; Steph and Klay made only 27.7 % and 27.3 % of their respective threes. Since Steve Kerr took over in 2014, the Warriors are 7-12 when Steph and Klay both shoot under 30 % from three in the same game – including three of the five losses in this “slump.” The reasons behind the shooting struggles are unknowable as outsiders, but Kerr obviously thought enough of fatigue to sit his stars in San Antonio. Shockingly, the Warriors are undefeated in five games post-rest. Steph and Klay are shooting 46.9 % and 53.2 % from deep, respectively. As it happens, Golden State is 46-1 when both shoot over 45 % from long range – a feat they've achieved twice in these past five games. It's amazing what making shots can do for you.

Inevitably, talk surrounding the vulnerability of the Warriors lands on Andre Iguodala. He's getting old, his defense has slipped, he's not much of a shooter, can't be relied upon to score if needed, etc. Bullocks. Quietly, this is Iguodala's finest season in a Warriors uniform. He's never shot the ball better, posting a career-best 60.8 true shooting percentage and his highest three-point percentage since his All-Star season in Philadelphia at 35.8 %. Also, according to the super-stats, his defensive metrics have actually improved this year, despite entering his age 33 season. Introducing Kevin Durant has not changed Iguodala's integral role in the success of this team on both ends of the floor. His box score stats hardly catch the eye, not even in a good week like this past one, but his impact on winning hardly goes unnoticed. While it is not the equivalent to the award that was robbed from him last year or the one he will likely not even be in contention for at the end of this year, we hope he can accept the 6th Man of the Week award as a humble consolation prize.

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.

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