The Extra Pass: An early look at SportVU data and Wednesday’s recaps

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Chances are at some point this season, you’ve heard about SportVU.

For the uninitiated, SportVU is a player tracking software that utilizes cameras positioned around the court to collect all sorts of data. It’s a major breakthrough for analytics, and while a good portion of teams have had the software and data for a few years, now SportVU is in every NBA arena.

Even better, us common folk now have access to a lot of the data thanks to NBA.com’s impressive stat site.

Drawing hard conclusions from these numbers so early is a dangerous exercise, as dealing with sample sizes this small is generally frowned upon.

But, you know, that’s no fun. Let’s take an early look at some of the new data out there and see if the initial numbers match up with some common perceptions.

To remove a few of the outliers, we’ve filtered out any player who has played in less than four games and averaged less than ten minutes a night. Basically, for the sake of this exercise, garbage time is played on another planet and doesn’t factor in.

To the SportVU goodness:

Fastest Average Speed

The average speed in miles per hour of all movements (sprinting, jogging, standing, walking, backwards and forwards) by a player while on the court.

Leader: Patty Mills at 4.9 MPH

Well how about that? I was torn between choosing Wall and Tony Parker as my guess before finding the answer, but it’s actually Parker’s backup who is moving at the fastest average pace in the league.

This makes some sense, particularly when you factor in the way point guards fly around screens and move without the ball quite a bit in San Antonio’s offense. It’s probably not a coincidence that Mills, Danny Green (6th) and Parker (7th) are all in the top-10 for fastest average speed.

Mills is also the leader in distance traveled per 48 minutes at 3.9 miles. Bradley Beal leads all players in actual miles traveled per game at 2.9, which is almost like sprinting, cutting, and banging your way through a 5k (3.1 miles) every night. Fun!

Touches Per Game

The number of times a player touches and possesses the ball.

Leader: Chris Paul at 103.3 times per game.

Looking off Chris Paul and running the offense without him? Strictly prohibited.

Paul likes to control every aspect of the game while he’s on the court, and the best way to do that as a 6-foot-1 guard is to almost solely take care of the ball the entire game. The other players on the roster know where their bread is buttered.

Here’s something fun: the top-15 players in touches per game are all point guards…except for Kevin Love. Thanks in large part to his massive efforts on the glass, Love gets his hands on the ball 91.5 times per game, good for fourth among all players.

Here’s another thing you would probably never guess: Derrick Favors (76.9 times) is touching the ball more than LeBron James (72.8) this season. Might want to fix that, Miami.

SportVU also tracks where players are getting their touches, which might be the most useful stat of them all. Nikola Pekovic leads the league in touches within 12 feet of the basket, while Marc Gasol gets a whopping 16.4 touches at the elbow per game, which is over five times more than the next closest player (Anderson Varejao).

Points per half court touch is another neat way to see who is really looking to score whenever they get it. That’s a category dominated almost entirely by big men who live in the paint and pure spot-up shooters, which makes sense.

Points Created By Assist

Points created by a player through their assists per 48 minutes.

Leader: Chris Paul at 38.7 points created by assist per 48 minutes

Breaking: Chris Paul is good at basketball.

Next in line to the throne? Believe it or not, it’s Jeff Teague.

Teague has really progressed as a distributor over the years, and now that he has the ball in his hands more than ever before, he’s creating tons of open looks with all that speed.

This list tends to favor guys who can break down a defense, as players like John Wall and Eric Bledsoe rank in the top-10 along with passing mavens like Ricky Rubio.

Other than Teague, the biggest surprise on this list was Stephen Curry, who currently ranks 5th in the league in points created by assist per 48 minutes. Playing next to catch-and-shoot, 3-point machine like Klay Thompson doesn’t hurt, but it does go to show that Curry is underrated at breaking a defense down and finding wide open shooters.

We could probably go all day with this, dear reader, so let me supply you with a link to where all this great information lives and humbly step out of the way. Remember: just open an Excel sheet before you fall down the rabbit hole. Bosses love Excel sheets.

D.J. Foster

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(Editor’s note: This was an in-game tweet from Matt Barnes’ twitter account after he was ejected for shoving Serge Ibaka Wednesday night in an incident involving Blake Griffin. We put up an image of this rather than the tweet itself because of expectations it would be pulled. My apologies if the language offends.)

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Jazz 111, Pelicans 105: Jazz win! Jazz win! Jazz win! Utah got their first win of the season with a hot offensive night — they shot 51.4 percent overall and hit 9-of-22 from three. Gordon Hayward led the way with 11 of his 27 in the fourth quarter as the Jazz made a couple of key runs in the fourth, one 7-0 midway through then a 7-2 when the game was tight late. Enes Kanter had 21 and 10. Anthony Davis continued to be a stud — 29 and 15 — but New Orleans couldn’t stop Utah down the stretch and lost because of it. — Kurt Helin

Orlando 94, Milwaukee 91: The Bucks led this game by as many as 19 points in the second quarter before the Magic turned this one around, and it was a career night from Arron Afflalo that was the difference. Afflalo finished with 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but scored 29 of those points in the second half which included his hitting 7-of-9 from three-point distance. The Bucks had a chance to tie on the final possession, but after receiving a dribble handoff from Nate Wolters, O.J. Mayo was quickly double-teamed and ended up turning it over trying to pass out of it. — Brett Pollakoff

Philadelphia 123, Houston 117 (OT): This was a really fun game, despite the absence of a notable star on each side. James Harden sat out with a foot injury for the Rockets, and Michael Carter-Williams missed this one with a bruised left arch. The players that remained put on a show, with Jeremy Lin lured in 34 points thanks to 9-of-15 shooting from three-point distance, and James Anderson finished with 36 for the Sixers, including this huge shot which sent the game to OT. It came down to the final few possessions, and a late turnover from Dwight Howard helped seal Philadelphia’s fifth win of the season. — BP

San Antonio 92, Washington 79: Tim Duncan was 1-of-12 from the field and finished with just two points in 26 minutes, and yet the Spurs still won easily with six other players in double figures. The only thing worth noting on the Wizards side is that Trevor Ariza left the game with a hamstring injury, and although Martell Webster stepped in nicely with 21 points in his absence, Ariza was off to a solid start to the season and this could be more bad news in Washington. — BP

Portland 90, Phoenix 89: This one went down to the wire, and Damian Lillard made sure it ended in the win column for the Blazers with his driving layup through a wide-open lane with six seconds remaining. Marcus Morris was the closest defender, but he remained frozen for some reason, apparently hesitant to cut off the guy flying to the rim for an uncontested look at the game-winning shot. Suns fans want to complain about a missed goaltending call by the officials on their final crack at a buzzer-beater, but no one is going to make that call in that situation, especially when P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris had point blank looks and just couldn’t finish. –BP

L.A. Clippers 111, Thunder 103: The Clippers took control following the ejection of Serge Ibaka with 6.2 seconds left in the first half. The Thunder were getting whatever they wanted offensively until that point, so trading Matt Barnes (who was also ejected) for Ibaka on this night proved to be a most favorable strategy. — BP

Nuggets 111, Lakers 99: The Lakers were on the toughest back-to-back in the league (West Coast one night, at altitude in Denver the next). Combine the Lakers tired legs, the fact they don’t really play good defense anyway, and how Denver pushed the pace (102 possessions) and Los Angeles just wore down. Kenneth Faried showed why other teams might want him in a trade with 23 points and 11 rebounds; Timofey Mozgov added 23 for Denver. Pau Gasol had 25 for the Lakers but needed 27 shots to get there. –-KH

Bobcats 89, Celtics 83: So much for that four-game winning streak. Charlotte raced out to an 18-8 lead and while this was never a blowout the Celtics never recovered from that. Al Jefferson had 22 points for the Bobcats as Boston had no answer for him in the paint (they missed Jared Sullinger in the paint). Boston isn’t good enough to take a night off, a lesson Charlotte seems to have already learned.--KH

Knicks 95, Hawks 91: Knicks owner James Dolan guaranteed a win Wednesday and hit got it, so everything should be fine in New York… for a day or so. Carmelo Anthony was hot early with 10 first quarter points (he finished with 25) and by the second the Knicks were up by 17. Then in the third the Hawks came back behind Al Horford (10 of his 23 were in the quarter) and took the lead during a 15-2 run. In the fourth Andrea Bargnani played well (not on defense, of course, but he had 8 points and he tried to rebound) and helped the Knicks get the win. The biggest thing is the Knicks defense wasn’t bad.--KH

Timberwolves 124, Cavaliers 95: This was a rout from early on — Ricky Rubio had 10 points and 8 assists in the first quarter, Corey Brewer leaked out on the break to 12 points in the first, and this was pretty much over. Minnesota hit 11-of-22 from three and shot 54.9 percent overall. They did whatever they wanted.--KH

Raptors 103, Grizzlies 87: Memphis has some real defensive issues when the Raptors can come in and drop 103 on them (and put up 116 points per 100 possessions). Kyle Lowry set the offense up and had 21 points on 10 shots, while Rudy Gay had 23 (on a not terrible 8-of-18 shooting, that’s an improvement). Memphis was willing to let Gay shoot the jumper and he was 4-of-6 from deep and made them pay, hitting some key ones when Memphis would make a little push. Mike Conley had 29 points to lead Memphis, but it wasn’t enough the way they defended. –-KH

Reports: Dwyane Wade “leaning heavily” toward joining Cavaliers

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This race may have been decided before it ever started.

While Miami has the draw of home, and Paul George and Russell Westbrook have come hard at him, it seems Dwyane Wade always knew where he wanted to be after Chicago — reunited with LeBron James. Just now in Cleveland. From Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Dwyane Wade is leaning heavily toward the Cavaliers as his new team once he clears waivers and may have already decided on a reunion with LeBron James, league sources with knowledge of Wade’s thinking told cleveland.com…

Wade has given no indication publicly what he will do, and at least three teams — the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and his old team the Miami Heat — are interested in him. His agent is taking calls from those teams and others, and Wade told the Associated Press he would do his due diligence as well.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN confirmed this.

This is not a shock.

What does Wade want in a destination? A chance to make another run at a ring, minutes, and a comfort level with the organization. Cleveland provides all of those, plus easy access to the Gravy Fries at Greenhouse Tavern (which may not be on Wade’s in-season approved list by his nutritionist).

Even without Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are and should be the favorite to come out of the East, then take their swings at the Warriors (or whoever comes out of the West, I feel obligated to write just to be nice to the folks in Houston and Oklahoma City). The Cavaliers are smack in the middle of the NBA’s second tier. Wade averaged an efficient 18.3 points per game for the Bulls last season, and he can for stretches still dial-up his vintage self and dominate games.

Wade would probably start at the two over J.R. Smith, and even if he came off the bench he could get just about all the minutes his aging knees will handle. And obviously, with his good friend LeBron there, Wade has comfort with the organization (just don’t expect him to sign more than a one-year deal).

This was always the most likely outcome, Wade and LeBron together again for one more run.

John Wall urges Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers to defend Kaepernick

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When Donald Trump ranted last Friday night to slam the NFL, then turn around Saturday morning and revoke his invitation to the Warriors to visit the White House — in a classic “you’re not breaking up with me, I’m breaking up with you” move — the biggest names in the NBA responded. LeBron James, Chris Paul, Adam Silver, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Bill Russell, Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and many others responded to stand behind the Warriors and behind NFL protestors and Colin Kaepernick.

John Wall said at media day he thinks the NFL’s biggest stars need to go after Trump as well, specifically calling out Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers in an interview on CSN MidAtlantic (seen above).

“Most of our franchise guys or big-time players in the league are African-Americans. You have Chris Paul, you have Dwyane Wade, you have Carmelo Anthony, you have LeBron James that went and talked at the ESPYs….

“So you have guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers — love those guys, very talented. Until those guys come out and speak, I don’t think the NFL is going to make any adjustments. Remember when we were dealing with our stuff, with [former Clippers owner] Donald Sterling and all that type of things, it was like, ‘Well if LeBron and those guys don’t come out, if Kobe don’t come out and say nothing, it’s never going to be a stand taken.’ When those guys came out and started talking, what happened? He’s fired. The stand stood. Until those guys in the NFL come up and stand up for Kaepernick and for those guys … until they do that, I don’t think anything’s going to change.”

I’m not sure Donald Sterling was the best analogy because the league was more than happy to push him out the door once the window opened, he had been an embarrassment for a long time. The players’ words helped, but they were one part of a much larger push.

But his point is valid. NFL owners — including the ones who backed and donated to Trump during the election — called him out, and rightfully so. What kind of person comes out in favor of concussions and against player safety and long-term health? But where are the voices of the two biggest names at the most prominent position in the NFL?

Three questions the Boston Celtics must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season:
53-29, lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

I know what you did last summer: Sent Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons, a move they could potentially regret after dealing Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. The Celtics also signed big time free agent Gordon Hayward away from the Utah Jazz. Finally, Boston took Jayson Tatum in the 2017 NBA Draft.

THREE QUESTIONS THE CELTICS MUST ANSWER:

1) Can Irving lead without diminishing the role of other starters? I think it’s a complete misnomer to think that Irving is solely a one-on-one, isolation type player. However, fans do like to get in a very black-and-white mode when analyzing players, and bias can show strongly here.

Irving has said that he wants to be more of a team player when it comes to the Celtics, which is good news for Brad Stevens and company. Irving is an excellent offensive player, and his talents should not be wasted, but there is some concern that he might dominate too much of the ball and won’t give a guy like Hayward and enough room to operate. That might’ve worked okay last season when Thomas was the engine that made the Celtics go, but Boston arguably has a better starting five this season than last.

I think there is real issues here when it comes to fit moving forward, and it is going to center around whether Irving can play team defense and handle the leeway he will be given on offense. Remember, the other thing here that hasn’t been talked about much is the extra operating space that Irving will be granted now that he is out of LeBron James‘s shadow. It might be very tantalizing to take advantage of that situation, but for Boston’s success he will need to find a happy place in between.

2) What kind of bench depth can the young players produce? Boston didn’t want to trade Avery Bradley away, but they also didn’t want to pay him. That issue becomes doubly as important now that they used Jae Crowder, the successor that wing spot, to deal for Irving.

The Celtics are a top-heavy team this season even if they did get better. They will rely more and more on guys like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and the rookie Tatum.

Marcus Morris will be a huge part of their rotation as will Aron Banes with Kelly Olynyk in Miami. Danny Ainge is playing the long term look here, so it won’t necessarily matter if the team isn’t on par next season to him. However, a championship style run for this season will depend on immediate production from the three young wing players.

3) Are they good enough to get past the Cavaliers this time around? This is the big question that everyone in Boston wants to answer. The Cavaliers are their longtime rivals in the Eastern Conference, and now that they have swapped roster pieces it will be more than just basketball on the floor. It will be a social curiosity.

Whether or not the Celtics will be good enough to get past LeBron James will really depend on the answers to questions one and two above. The only way that Boston can replicate their production from last season will be to jell together quickly. That means getting a real rhythm on offense between Hayward, Horford, and Irving.

It also means finding a way to play defense with Irving at the point guard position. It’s all well and good to say that both Thomas and Irving have been liabilities on defense, but now teams have game tape on what Stevens did with his squad on that end of the floor come playoff time. This team will need to stiffen and do some things to mix it up to make sure they aren’t beat by their own game film next spring.

Bill Russell takes a knee while wearing his Presidential Medal of Freedom

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When we talk of Bill Russell, it’s often the on-the-court accomplishments — an 11-time NBA champion and five-time MVP who anchored the Boston Celtics through the greatest dynasty in NBA history, one of the best defensive players ever to set foot on the court. He’s more than simply a Hall of Famer, he is one of the game’s all-time greatest players.

With that, we often overlook Russell the activist, who took part in the Civil Rights movement. A man who faced plenty of racism as a player — being jeered by white students in college while he played, not being allowed to stay in the same hotel as white players in North Carolina during an All-Star tour in 1958, and much more — he was public in his refusal to tolerate any of it. It was his efforts on that front as much as basketball that led then President Barack Obama to award Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Russell tweeted out this photo of himself wearing that medal and supporting the NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.

Russell is not going to be silenced. Not now, not ever. He remains a strong voice that the NBA should heed.

Following in the footsteps of Colin Kaepernick’s protests against violence and social injustice last season by taking a knee during the national anthem, more players were doing so this season. When President Donald Trump called on NFL owners to “fire” the players taking a knee during the anthem, it led to a backlash among players and a much more widespread adopting of players taking a knee this past weekend. Even backers of the president — Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, both of whom donated to Trump last election — called Trump out for his comments.

It will be interesting to see how NBA teams handle anthem protests this season. Last season teams linked arms in a show of solidarity (the NBA has a rule that players must stand during the anthem) but you can be sure the league and players union are already discussing this. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was among the multitude of voices calling out Trump for what he said, let along high-ranking union members such as Chris Paul and LeBron Jamesthe latter of whom called the president a “bum.” Those slams of the president continued on media day Monday.