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

Thompson’s playmaking a steadying force for defending champs

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson danced unabashedly in China after winning another NBA championship, and it got shared all over social media. He smoked a stogie on the rooftop, letting loose to reveal another side of himself.

“I didn’t plan for that video to go viral,” Thompson said matter-of-factly. “I was just having fun. I’ve always been myself and having fun while doing it and learning to enjoy every day, because it goes by so fast.”

Coming to that mindset, however, has been a process for the seventh-year Golden State guard, who acknowledges for so long he put extreme pressure on himself to be the best.

The quiet, more under-the-radar Warriors All-Star of the bunch, Thompson has provided a steadying hand early on for the reigning NBA champions who are favored to capture a third title in four years.

“I used to stress a lot more at the beginning of my career about my performance,” Thompson recalled. “Now, it’s not like I don’t stress, but I play more carefree and I’m more able, if I play as hard as I can I’m satisfied with the results. … I used to compare myself with all players and want to be the best so badly, but now it’s all about winning and having fun and realizing basketball is more of a team sport than anything.”

After a recent practice, Thompson dazzled right alongside a couple of visiting Harlem Globetrotters, spinning the ball on his finger, rolling it up and down his arms, off his knee and then a foot soccer-style before swishing a short jumper.

“I should’ve been a Globetrotter!” he yelled.

It’s a new look for this hang-loose, beach-loving Splash Brother.

The approach is working for the Warriors.

“He still carries the threat. You have to honor him,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s great at making the right play. Their whole team is. I think he’s trying to fit in with their whole buy-in that ball movement and passing is greater than any one man carrying the bulk of it.”

Still, his numbers are stellar. Thompson has had a fast start this season, which previously hasn’t been the case.

Thompson credits the familiarity with teammates and a comfort in coach Steve Kerr’s offense.

“He’s taken another step in his game. Just the experience that he’s had in his career, every year he’s gotten better and I think this year he’s shown how at the end of the season he carried it over to the beginning of this year,” backcourt mate Stephen Curry said. “Historically he hadn’t started seasons well but this year he’s locked in. He’s obviously shooting the ball well and playing great defense, but I think the biggest thing is his playmaking in situations where he’s drawing a crowd. He’s making great decisions setting guys up and just playing under control for the most part this entire season.”

Life off the court is great for Thompson, too, and that helps him be stress-free on it.

Look closely, and it’s easy to see he has come out of his shell.

On a day off last week, he golfed a popular public course close to Oracle Arena. Thompson signed someone’s toaster last spring, and it became a superstition.

In July, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Oakland Athletics game, then drove an IndyCar in September while serving as Grand Marshal of a series stop in Sonoma.

Thompson shares his training tricks on social media and posts photos with his bulldog, Rocco.

He recently donated $75,000 to relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating Northern California wildfires, committing $1,000 per point for a three-game stretch during which he scored 69 points – but added to that total.

He is a spokesman for chocolate milk and an obscure – in the U.S. anyway – Chinese shoe company. He signed an $80 million, 10-year extension to wear the sneakers.

“Life’s good,” Thompson said. “I never thought I’d get paid millions of dollars to wear shoes and apparel. I’m very proud to be a part of Anta. … It’s so cool that I’m big in China. I never thought I’d be on billboards and posters in China.”

Thompson has found a balance during the offseason to stay sharp, mixing up his workouts with outdoor activities he enjoys.

“It took years for me to figure out how to prepare the best I can for the season. I finally learned in my sixth year,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in shape almost year-round because as you get older it’s harder to get back into shape. It’s easier to get out of shape than it is to get back into shape. I do other things besides basketball to stay in shape in the offseason. I think that just keeps my mind fresh.”

He hopes to do a formal swim from Alcatraz, or even a triathlon. He swims in the ocean – “my favorite place in the world” – whenever he can. Freestyle is his strength, butterfly not so much. He plays hours of beach volleyball or just throws the football around and runs routes through the sand.

At work, he has been a model of consistency. Thompson is determined to be a better passer, creating for teammates whenever possible. He also usually guards the opponent’s top perimeter scorer.

Thompson is off to his best shooting season ever, with career highs of 49.4 percent shooting from the field and 45.6 percent on 3-pointers.

“I think his playmaking has been the best it’s been in his career,” Kerr said. “He’s really doing a good job of putting the ball on the floor and moving it on, drive and kick game, finding the centers in the pocket for little floaters. … It’s been his best passing season so far.”

Thompson used to get teased for his lack of assists, and it remains a running joke.

“I got thick skin,” Thompson quipped, “honestly I don’t really care.”

That carefree approach has taken time, and the Warriors are better for it.

 

Report: Mark Cuban in process to buy Mavericks’ G-League team

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There will come a day, in the not too distant future, when every NBA team will have an owned and affiliated G-League team. It will be a place for them to develop young players — guys they drafted but need more run than they’d get in the NBA, guys on two-way contracts, and just players they like and want to give a chance. The NBA is more and more becoming a development league — and if the one-and-done rule is replaced with something akin to the baseball rule for players going to college, having a strong G-League team will matter even more.

Which is why the news that Mark Cuban is about to buy the G-League team already affiliated with the Mavericks makes sense. Marc Stein of The New York Times broke the news.

While the name of the guys signing the checks will change with the Texas Legends, little else will.

It’s just another sign of the future in the NBA.

Isaiah Thomas is up for a Cavaliers vs. Celtics playoff clash

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Isaiah Thomas says he has moved on from the trade this summer that caught him off guard, shipping him from Boston — where he was a fan favorite — to Cleveland.

Sort of. Like a lot of sudden relationship ends, Thomas says he’s moved on, but it doesn’t sound like he totally has yet. Look at what he told Sam Amick of the USA Today in an interesting Q&A.

“I’ve put it behind me, and I’ve continued to try to do that… But other than that, every day that I’m in the gym or that I’m on the court or in the weight room or doing whatever I have to do to get back to who I was, and get back to being 100 percent healthy, yes I do use it as motivation.”

Thomas has yet to set foot on the court as a Cavalier, spending the start of the season rehabbing a hip injury. He’s expected back next month.

It’s very early in the NBA season, we’re not at 20 games or even Thanksgiving yet, but it has become evident that the Cavaliers have some legitimate defensive concerns, and that the Boston Celtics are a legitimate threat to them.

That would set up a series between Thomas’ old team that he’s still a little angry at, and his new team in Cleveland. And Thomas is good with that.

“Oh, that would be lovely. That would be the story that God made, and it probably will work that way. It always does. It always works – I’m not going to say in my favor, but it seems to always work out no matter what the circumstance is. That would be a special moment. If they make it there, and we make it there, and then we clash, and then you never know what’s going to happen. But I’ll be ready for whatever happens.”

Not enough NBA players use the word “lovely” anymore.

But I’m with Thomas, I want to see that series, too.

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out two more weeks due to sprained ankle

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With Isaiah Thomas still rehabbing, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, when he is available (he’s only played in half of Cleveland’s games). More Rose has not been good for Cleveland’s defense, and it’s forced Tyronn Lue to play Kevin Love more at center just to have enough shooting on the floor, so there are driving lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Now we will have to see what Lue and the Cavaliers do without Rose for a couple more weeks. Rose will be out for a couple of weeks with his sprained left ankle, the team announced Friday afternoon.

“Due to continued symptoms, the ankle will be immobilized in a boot for the next week and he will also undergo an extended treatment process over the next two to three weeks.”

Rose has averaged 14.3 points on 47 percent shooting this season in Cleveland.

With Rose and Thomas out, Cleveland has gone with Iman Shumpert technically as the point, although LeBron handles the playmaking duties. He brings some size to the position, but he can’t defend quick point guards well (not that Rose could). This new lineup has won the Cavaliers a couple of games in a row, although that has been far more about their offense making runs rather than their struggling defense (last in the NBA) stepping up.

It’s been tough to get a feel for this Cavaliers team and what they really are this season, in part due to all the injuries. This simply adds to that mess.

The Cavaliers take on the slumping Clippers Friday night.