The Extra Pass: Identifying Offensive Calling Cards

1 Comment

The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at which teams are outperforming all others in specific areas of the game.

Play logging has been used by NBA teams for quite some time, but the derived numbers were rarely made public. If we wanted to know, for example, which team performed the best in transition opportunities, we could get in the ballpark with general inferences. We could gather that a team like the Los Angeles Clippers, with dunking machines controlled by the league’s greatest point guard, were probably really great in transition, but without the raw data, it was tough to know for sure.

Synergy Sports removes a lot of that guesswork. They log every single possession from every single game, and place each play into one of many categories. The categorization may not be 100 percent accurate all the time, but you imagine logging every offensive play for the Washington Wizards with no “???” category available to bail you out. It’s not easy. That said, Synergy does give us solid numbers to work with, and today, we’ll use those numbers to see which teams are leading certain offensive categories as we approach the halfway mark of the season.

Isolation

Top Team: Los Angeles Lakers – .92 PPP (points per possession), isolation plays used 11.6% of the time.

Go figure —  the struggling Los Angeles Lakers are actually tops in the league in points per possession in isolation, mainly because Kobe Bryant has been a one man wrecking crew all year. Bryant has accounted for 200 of the Lakers’ 342 isolation attempts (58.4%), and he’s converted at the league’s 13th best rate, netting .97 PPP when he goes iso.

You can possibly point the finger at Bryant for not getting teammates involved enough, or creating a selfish culture within the organization, but you can’t say he hasn’t been productive when he calls his own number. To even further prove that point, Bryant is the league’s best post scorer (1.15 PPP) this season, hitting over 63% of his shots. That only accounts for 8% of Kobe’s total attempts, which makes you wonder if the Lakers would be better off if Bryant were allowed to spend more time on the block.

Post Up

Top Team: New York Knicks — .95 PPP, accounts for 6.5% of all possessions

Ah, sweet, sweet moderation. The Knicks rarely post up anyone who doesn’t have an actual post-up game; a basic concept which a lot of teams struggle to grasp. To wit, of the Knicks’ 165 post attempts this season, 93 of those have gone to Carmelo Anthony. Thankfully for the Knicks, Anthony is a monster with his back to the basket, and he has relied pretty heavily on his post game this season (17.2% of his attempts). His impressive 1.04 points per possession in the post ranks 6th among all NBA players. There’s nothing small (at least offensively) about Melo at the 4.

Pick-and-Roll, Roll Man

Top Team: Miami Heat — 1.29 PPP, accounts for 5% of all possessions

The Heat don’t feed their roll men on screens very often at all, but when they do, it’s two things: successful, and most likely to be Chris Bosh. Miami’s only “true” big man accounts for over half of the team’s roll attempts. It must be nice to have LeBron James scanning the top of the defense and firing passes to you — Bosh is the 10th best roll man in the NBA, scoring 1.23 PPP, using those dives to the rim to make up 18.4% of his total attempts. Basically, if you can catch the ball (sorry, Joel Anthony) you’re going to score efficiently as LeBron and Dwyane Wade’s roll man.

Pick-and-Roll Ballhandler

Top Team: Houston Rockets — .92 PPP, accounts for 13.5% of all possessions

With Jeremy Lin and James Harden sharing the same backcourt, the Rockets really go heavy with pick-and-rolls when they’re not flying up the court in transition. While Lin looks to score more often than Harden does coming off a ballscreen, it’s Harden who ranks as the league’s most effective scorer as a ballhandler in that setting. Harden averages a whopping 1.11 PPP on ballscreens, best in the league, and he’s accounted for 45% of the Rockets made field goals by pick-and-roll ballhandlers.

While the road paving screens set by Omer Asik have helped free him up, you can only imagine the damage Harden could do with a big time finisher becoming his dance partner. It’s scary, but Houston can become even more dangerous offensively in the future by pairing the league’s premier pick-and-roll talent with a guy who can really catch and finish on the other end. Keep an eye on this.

Off Screen

Top Team: San Antonio Spurs — 1.1 PPP, accounts for 5.6% of all possessions

The Spurs have lots of capable 3-point shooters they can run basic pindowns or single-double screens for, but it’s their “Motion” set that nets them a ton of easy buckets on a nightly basis. Surprisingly enough, it’s Tony Parker who does the most efficient work coming off screens away from the ball for San Antonio. Parker is the league’s best points per possession player coming off screens, registering a ridiculous 1.3 PPP on 63% shooting. Although the Spurs go to it very rarely (5.5% of Parker’s possessions), it’s a deadly weapon Gregg Popovich won’t hesitate to use when the games start to matter a little more.  Can you imagine chasing the lightning quick Parker through screens set by big trees like Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter? No fun at all.

Transition

Top Team: New Orleans Hornets — 1.27 PPP, accounts for 9.2% of all possessions

The Hornets only take fast break opportunities when they’re absolutely, positively there, as they play at the league’s slowest pace. Because of this, you can’t exactly call them the league’s best fastbreak team, but they are effective when they do push the ball. Should they run more? With Anthony Davis keying the break with blocks and rebounds, Ryan Anderson being a perfect trailer, and Eric Gordon flying up the wing with Greivis Vasquez running the point, it sounds pretty darn good in theory. So long as Monty Williams is the coach in New Orleans, though? Forget about it. His teams play painfully slow every year.

Spot Up

Top Team: Golden State Warriors — 1.12 PPP, accounts for 18.2% of all possessions

No surprises here. The Warriors secret to success in this area is that they shoot a boatload of 3-pointers. Of Golden State’s 595 spot-up attempts, 316 of those have come from behind the arc. What’s even crazier? Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have combined for 75 percent of Golden State’s total spot-up attempts.

Well, needless to say, those opportunities are going to the right guys. Curry notches 1.37 PPP on spot-up shots, and Thompson connects for 1.3 PPP. ranking them 4th and 9th in the league in that category. With this backcourt, the Warriors can shoot their way into almost any game.

Overall

Top Team: Miami Heat — 1 Point Per Possession

It’s the Miami Heat who rank first in points per possessions, a fitting spot for the team with the best player in the world, and really, it’s the versatility of LeBron James as a scorer that has the Heat here. James is 11th in isolation (.99 PPP, 24.7% of possessions), 9th as a pick-and-roll ballhandler (.97 PPP, 18%), and 1st (!) as a spot-up shooter (1.55 PPP, 8%). There literally isn’t anything he can’t do offensively.

Overall though, the Heat do face some competition from the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are right on their tails at .99 PPP. Oklahoma City ranks in the top-5 as a team in the post up, spot up, off screen and transition settings, and Kevin Durant is becoming frighteningly well-rounded as a complete scorer as well. The only race tighter than this one might be this year’s battle for MVP.

Numbers from MySynergySports.com were used in this article. 

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer: ‘I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in’

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
1 Comment

The Clippers will probably miss the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. But they’re also even further from landing a high draft pick. They’re in that middling position some teams find perilous.

But not Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times:

Ballmer also vowed that the Clippers won’t tank to get a better draft pick. “That ain’t us. Nuh-uh, no way,” he said. “People can do it their way. We’re going to be good our way. We’re not going to show up and suck for a year, two years. I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in. How could we look you guys in the eye if we did that to you?”

The 76ers missed the playoffs five straight seasons, but they emerged from that self-inflicted drought with two franchise cornerstones – Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – and multiple other helpful pieces. The Process worked as intended.

But this is also why the NBA needn’t freak out about other teams replicating Sam Hinkie’s plan. Few have the stomach for it.

Ballmer doesn’t. The Clippers are trying to attract free agents. The better they are in the interim, the more credibility they’ll build.

Jordan Clarkson, Yao Ming keen observers at Asian Games basketball

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson watched from the bench, not quite able to make it to the Asian Games in time to play in the opening game for the Philippines.

Yao Ming was there, too, also keeping a close eye on the Philippines’ opening 96-59 win over Kazakhstan.

After getting a special exemption from the NBA to play for the Philippines in Jakarta, the US-born Clarkson should be ready to suit up for the next game against China. And that has the attention of ex-Houston Rockets and Chinese all-star center Yao.

Clarkson, one of three NBA players given an exemption by the league to play in Jakarta, said he had a frustrating time while his status for the tournament was being considered. The NBA also granted exemptions to Houston Rockets 7-foot-1 (2.17-meter) center Zhou Qi and Dallas Mavericks forward Ding Yanyuhang to play for China.

“We went back and forth so many times, saying I was going to play, then I wasn’t going to play,” the 6-5 (1.96-meter) Clarkson told Philippines’ reporters after Thursday’s game. “Now, being able to participate is awesome.

“I’m very excited to know that I’m finally getting to do this, being able to play … for the country. It’s definitely something that I’ve been looking forward to.”

Clarkson, who qualifies to play for the Philippines through his maternal grandmother, has four days to get familiar with “fun style of play.”

“I feel the support, the love all the time,” he said. “My grandma is real proud I’m able to do this now.”

The Philippines is playing a tournament for the first time since 10 players and two coaches were suspended following a wild brawl in a World Cup qualifier against Australia on July 2. Three Australian players were also suspended.

Video of the brawl was widely played around the world, with punches thrown, chairs tossed at players, and security needed to restore order.

Luka Doncic picks DeAndre Ayton for Rookie of the Year

AP Photo/Matt York
2 Comments

Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic stirred plenty of pre-draft debate. I found them so similar, I rated them in the same tier atop the draft.

Those frequent pre-draft comparisons often lead to lasting personal rivalries, each player still trying to one-up the other throughout their careers.

But that might not be the case with Ayton (whom the Suns drafted No. 1) and Doncic (who went No. 3, to the Mavericks via the Hawks) – at least from Doncic’s perspective.

Doncic, via Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

I would say [Phoenix center Deandre] Ayton. He was the No. 1 pick. He’s tall, he’s strong, he can do so many things.

Maybe Doncic thought he couldn’t choose himself. After all, Forsberg also wrote:

Ask any member of the 2018 NBA draft class who’s going to win Rookie of the Year, and the response is almost universal: “Can I pick myself?”

But Marvin Bagley III (whom the Kings picked No. 2) was quoted talking through the possibility of picking himself before settling on teammate Harry Giles. Doncic isn’t quoted saying anything similar about himself.

Either way, it’s a little surprising to see Doncic pick Ayton. So much for Doncic trying to convince people he’s better than Ayton.

Ayton is my pick, too. He’s physically ready for the NBA and should post scoring and rebounding numbers that impress voters. His biggest deficiency – defensive awareness – tends to get overlooked with this award.

I also wouldn’t rule out Doncic, who’s so skilled and polished already. But I’m concerned about NBA athleticism shocking his system.

Will ex-Syracuse commit Darius Bazley still play in NBA’s minor league as planned?

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
2 Comments

When Darius Bazley announced he’d skip his freshman year at Syracuse to play in the NBA’s minor league, it seemed he could start a trend.

But what if Bazley doesn’t even follow that path?

He just participated in the Nike Basketball Academy in Los Angeles and apparently struggled.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

After Bazley decided last spring to skip college basketball and play in the G League this season, there were heightened stakes for him at this event and not many positives to take away from his performance. There is speculation among NBA scouts that this might have been the last competitive action they will see from Bazley until the NBA pre-draft process next spring — or even the 2019 summer league. If he doesn’t feel ready for the G League, he could reconsider his decision and forgo competitive basketball for the year

I was never convinced Bazley was shaking up the system rather than just responding to his unique circumstances. This obviously doesn’t change that thought. Mitchell Robinson did the same thing just last year before the Knicks drafted him in the second round.

Maybe Bazley will still choose playing in the NBA’s minor league. He could develop there. But he’d also risk exposing his flaws and hurting his stock. On the other hand, maybe it’s too late and the cat is out of the bag.