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

Report: NBA not bringing other eight teams to Disney World bubble

Knicks vs. Bulls
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The NBA bringing the “Delete Eight” teams to its Disney World bubble to train as other teams depart?

Like other plans for the Knicks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Hornets, Timberwolves and Warriors… it’s not happening.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBPA has no interest in that idea, sources said. It’s a non-starter. The inevitable solution for the eight teams left out of Orlando: The NBA and NBPA agreeing upon voluntary workouts in the team facilities, sources said.

The NBPA won’t agree to mandatory reporting for players on the eight teams outside of the restart but will eventually allow it on a voluntary level, sources said.

Bringing those other eight teams to the Disney World bubble was always a ridiculous idea. Why would the NBA jeopardize its highly profitable setup just so some lousy teams could train and maybe hold glorified scrimmages?

Voluntary team workouts are a reasonable allowance. Though it’s difficult to ensure players coming and going from a team facility won’t spread coronavirus, some players are playing basketball in groups, anyway. At their own facilities, teams can at least enforce protocols to increase safety. And players who’d rather be more careful wouldn’t be forced to participate.

There’s no reason to make anything mandatory. These eight teams’ seasons are over.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.