NBA Four Quarters (03/10/17)

By Sean Pyritz

NBA taglines have ranged from “This Is Why We Play” to “Where Amazing Happens.” However, this season, a more appropriate slogan might be, in the immortal words of Keith Hernandez, “Who's This Chucker?” Combined, the league is on pace to make well over 23,000 three-point jumpers, a dramatic leap from 20,940 made last season and a 60 % percent increase compared to 20 years ago. However, the gains are not rooted in improved accuracy – teams are shooting 35.9 % on threes this year compared to 36.0 % in 1997.

The rise of chucking has come at the expense of the smash-mouth tactics – getting to the free-throw line and grabbing offensive rebounds. Toronto has the best free throw rate this season, but they would not crack the top ten in either 2007 or the top 13 in 1997. Same story for offensive rebounding. At the current pace, this season will mark the lowest number of offensive rebounds grabbed per game in league history. There are many factors that play into these trends beyond the Costanza-fication of the league like the prevalence of small-ball and the prioritization of transition defense over crashing the glass.

However, smash-mouth basketball is not dead. Through Wednesday March 8, three teams rank in the top ten in free throw rate, offensive rebound rate, and two-point attempt rate – Minnesota, Phoenix, and Toronto. Under old-school coach Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves thrash opponents on the offensive glass. Their starting frontcourt duo ranks second in combined offensive rebounds per game behind Cleveland. Phoenix attacks the basket relentlessly from all angles. Starting guards Booker and Bledsoe combine for over 10 made free throws per game while six players average over one offensive rebound per game. Tyson Chandler was top ten in offensive rebounding and Alan Williams has picked up right where he left off. In Toronto, Lowry and DeRozan form the best backcourt in the league in terms of free throws, amassing over 12 makes per game combined, often coming out of isolation – the Raptors are the best in the league at drawing fouls out of isolation. None of these teams feature players proficient at drawing fouls in the post, a departure from historical smash-mouth tactics, but the spirit is still alive.

New Starters

Be it due to injury, trade, or a need to shake things up, an opportunity in the starting lineup can come at any time. These three players have capitalized on their opportunities in big ways.
*All stats through Wednesday March 8

Over the last 25 games, the Mavericks have a 16-9 record and have the 6th best net rating in the entire league. The biggest change? Seth Curry became a full-time starter. And he's been very effective, taking over as their second leading scorer at 16.8 points per game while also chipping in 2.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. However, the most exceptional part of his starting run is his shooting, particularly from distance. Since January 12, Curry has the 7th highest three-point percentage for volume shooters with at least three attempts per game, eight points better than his “MVP” brother. True to the family name, Curry is also shooting 51.1 % on pull-up three-point shots, third best amongst players with at least two attempts per game, and good for a positive winning force in Dallas.

When Pau Gasol broke his hand in warmups on January 19, the Spurs spent six games searching for a replacement until finally settling on Dewayne Dedmon. He has not disappointed. The Spurs have been the best team in basketball since he joined the starting lineup, amassing a 14-2 record. Since January 31, Dedmon has the 6th highest rebounding percentage and the Spurs have the 4th highest. But more importantly, Dedmon introduces an element of verticality missing from the Gasol-Aldridge starting frontcourt. Dedmon has been a top ten finisher near the cup as a starter, often slamming exclamation points to the end of Spurs possessions like this:

I picked Saric as a player to watch at the beginning of the year. He was awarded 6th Man of the Week honors here in January. A series of unfortunate events for the Sixers ended with Saric assuming not only the role of starter, but also that of best player on the team. Saric has excelled in both roles. While his promising three-point shooting has soured significantly, the rest of his game has soared to new heights. In his seven games as a starter, Saric leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 17.7 points and 9.0 boards per game, respectively. Yet it has been his feel for the game as a playmaker that has been most impressive and encouraging. Super Dario has the 6th best assist rate amongst forwards over this stretch, dazzling the Sixers front office and spectators alike with passes like these:

Sometimes the opportunities the men above capitalized on expire. Sean Kilpatrick knows what it's like to fill-in as a starter and return to a more familiar (and more appropriate) role as a reserve. On January 5, the Nets rejiggered their starting lineup, shifting Kilpatrick back to the bench where he has remained with the exception of a lone start in late January. In his new role, Kilpatrick has predictably failed to match his performance as a starter, but this week he's flashed some of the efficiency and aggression that surprised so many earlier in the season. In four games, Kilpatrick averaged 20.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and a spectacular 7.3 free throw attempts, where he shot 89.7 %. While the Nets were only 1-3 in that stretch, any Nets win is a minor miracle these days and Kilpatrick was a +4.3 on average in those games – a positive force on winning and plenty enough to earn 6th Man of the Week.

No Lead Is Safe

Overshadowed by the greatest comeback in Champions League history, the 8th largest comeback in NBA history was mounted on Wednesday night by the San Antonio Spurs – erasing a 28-point deficit versus Sacramento. The Kings received another healthy reminder that no lead is safe in the NBA. Over the past week (March 2-8) over 50 % of the 53 games played have featured at least one blown double-digit lead. All told, 36 such leads were blown.

Of the 27 games that featured such a blown lead, both teams erased a double-digit deficit in seven of them. In the remaining 20 games, the team that blew a lead finished with an inquisitive record of 5-15. The only team to blow a big lead in the fourth quarter – Portland, up 12 with 10:26 to go against OKC – managed to hold on and win. Two teams shared the shortest-lived ten-point lead at three minutes and thirty-one seconds. Miami squandered a twelve-point lead quickly against Charlotte, but managed to pull out the win. Phoenix was up 11 on Washington with 7:23 left in the third quarter and it was gone with 3:52 in the same quarter. Earlier in that same game, the Wizards held a 22-point lead – the largest lead lost by a winning team this week. In summation, a double-digit lead is far from secure.

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.

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