Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you all had a great day with your family and lots of good food.
However, in my humble opinion, the Real Thanksgiving was celebrated six weeks ago.
Jokes aside, there are plenty of things to be thankful for in the NBA, like the 10-7… Kings?!?
However, let’s save the best for last (just like pumpkin pie!), and start in Boston.
The historic Celtics offense
Scoring has increased exponentially over the past decade and that trend is not likely to abate anytime soon. The average offensive rating is currently 112.6, but the Celtics are on another planet: They score an absurd 120 points per 100 possessions, which would be the most in league history.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown average 51.2 points, 14.6 rebounds and 8.1 assists on 49/35/85 shooting, and the entire team hits threes at a 39.7% clip. More impressive is the fact that they make all those attempts while taking 44.6% of their shots from outside the arc, which ranks first in the league with Golden State (Daryl Morey just felt a surge of Dopamine somewhere in Philly) .
The scariest thing is that this team can still have the best offense even as their shots dwindle, as the gap between Boston’s 120 offensive rating and second-place Phoenix (117.2) is wider than the gap between Phoenix and Dallas on the ninth place (114.5).
Sure, their location-effective field goal percentage (54.8%, 8th in the league) is higher than their actual percentage (58.3%, 1st), but that doesn’t take into account the quality of shooters Boston has. Of their top seven players by minutes played, only Derrick White and Marcus Smart shot below average from deep historically, and they’re looking good too: According to NBA tracking data, the Celtics take 19.3 wide-open threes per game ( 6th most league wide), which they categorize as a shot with defenders more than six feet away.
So even if Al Horford, Grant Williams and White don’t continue to make 45% of shots from deep, Boston can remain an elite strike just because of the looks they generate.
More importantly, the Celtics also lead the league in half-court offensive attacks to an absurd degree. They currently score 107.2 points per 100 possessions against solid defenses, and the difference between them and second-place Sacramento (102.7) is greater than the difference between Sacramento and Utah in ninth (98.5).
The sample size isn’t small either: 81.3% of Boston’s assets are of the half-court variety, the sixth highest percentage in the league. Remember, the Celtics’ half court was their Achilles’ heel during last year’s Finals, so this may be the most encouraging stat of their season so far.
Come playoff time, a rematch between them and Milwaukee could be even better than their run last season. We’ve previously covered how the Bucks changed their defense scheme to avoid threes, so when these juggernauts meet, it would be like witnessing an unstoppable force versus an immovable object.
And hey, as long as Luke Kornet keeps doing this on defense, Boston has as much chance as any team of winning the title this year.
The Trae / Dejounte partnership
Atlanta made a huge gamble in the offseason by trading three future picks in the first round to acquire Dejounte Murray, and the returns so far have been interesting to say the least.
Check out their on/off splits:
Both at: +7.4 net rating, 117.2 offensive rating, 109.7 defensive rating
Trae on, Dejounte off: -8.9 net rating, 110.7 offensive rating, 119.6 defensive rating
Dejounte on, Trae off: -9.5 net rating, 99.8 offensive rating, 109.3 defensive rating
It’s concerning to see Atlanta still struggling to give offense when Trae sits, even with Dejounte running the show. However, the most surprising statistic is just the Trae minutes.
Last year, the Hawks had a net score of +3.2 and an offense score of 119.3 with Trae playing, and that was without the presence of Dejounte. Many of those minutes were spent alongside Kevin Huerter (who is currently lighting the fire in Sac-town), so it seems Atlanta may have underestimated how impressive Red Velvet was as a secondary creator.
It’s important to note that Bogdan Bogdanovic also played a vital role in those lineups, and his ongoing injury has left a gaping hole in a squad that is still anemic offensively without Trae.
Atlanta’s playbook hasn’t changed either. They were second in the entire league in pick-and-roll frequency last year (22%) and first this season (22.8%). The number of P&Rs that Trae manages actually has increased from 14 last year (most in the league) to 14.2 this year (second to Luka), so hopes of him playing more off-ball have not exactly gone according to plan.
Meanwhile, Dejounte also has 8.6 P&Rs, and while that’s less than last year (10.5), it still ranks 13th in the entire league per game.
As a result, it shouldn’t be surprising that Atlanta’s attack is mostly just my turn, your turn, back and forth between the two guards without much movement.
Any hope that Trae would build in more off-ball moves is now gone…when Dejounte has the ball he usually just stands around and sometimes looks for a spot-up pic.twitter.com/qJ9yF0QtBD
— Bill Huan (@bill_huan) November 25, 2022
Shockingly, the Hawks are actually 9th on defense, but that comes with huge red flags. Opponents currently have a 52.5% effective field goal percentage against Atlanta, the 6th lowest percentage in the league, but the Hawks actually rank 24th in location effective field goal percentage as opponents are expected to have 54 instead. Shoot 9%.
Given that Atlanta has been in the bottom five on defense in two of the last three seasons, it’s likely that the opposing team’s poor shooting has more to do with luck than plans, and there will be a drop-off soon come.
Offensively, the Hawks are also surprisingly 20th in the league, and they should improve once Bogdanovic returns and they have more time to acclimate Dejounte into their system. Still, Atlanta ranks 25th in effective field goal percentage (51.2%) and 29th in location effective field goal percentage (53%), as they have the lowest three-point frequency (27.6%) and are the bottom 10 in shot frequency around the rim as well (32.3%).
All things considered, it’s hard to see how Atlanta can be a true Eastern contender. Even as their offense improves, the Hawks still have the shooting profile of an 1980s team, and the numbers also suggest that their current defense is a fluke.
The most popular team in the league is… the Kings?!?!
LIGHT THE BEAM, BABY, LIGHT THE BEAM!! THE
KANGZ KINGS ARE 10-7 AND JUST WENT ON A SEVEN GAME WIN STRETCH.
In 50 years I’m going to talk about this as if it were the second coming of the moon landing.
In all seriousness, Sacramento actually looks… competent?
The Kings currently have a net score of +2.4 (7th) with an offense score of 117.1 (4th), and much of their improvement can be attributed to De’Aaron Fox’s elite play.
After being one of the worst clutch players in the league last year, Fox completely flipped that script. He currently leads the league with 50 points in the clutch this season, which is even more impressive when you consider he’s managed that in just 38 minutes.
Fox has also made 20 of his 31 field goal attempts during that time, and while he won’t continue to shoot more than 64% during crunch time, his improvements in decision making suggest that Sacramento can now lean on him as a reliable lead ball. handler and proceed to lead an elite strike.
Watch the first possession in the following clip to get an idea of what I mean.
In the past, Fox would probably have forced that shot instead of finding the big one for an easy dunk, but he now routinely takes an extra moment to scan the field to make sure he’s making the right play.
However, there are some statistics that indicate that Fox and the Kings are unlikely to sustain their current level of play. For starters, Fox is shooting 53% from midrange and 38% from depth, which are both career highs and substantial improvements over last year (46% and 30% respectively).
Sacramento also outperforms their projected shooting percentage as a whole, as they are second in effective field goal percentage (57.6%) but 15th in location field goal percentage (54.3%).
That said, Fox also takes 24% of his shots around the rim in his career, and if that rises to his usual ~35% average, then it could offset a potential drop in pull-up efficiency.
More importantly, Sacramento’s defense is in great need of improvement. Unlike Atlanta, the Kings rank 6th in opposing effective field goal percentage (53.7%), but an unlucky 29th in actual percentage (56.2%). They allow the fewest open threes per game (11.8), but opponents still shoot an unsustainable 43.8% on such attempts. Overall, the opponent earns 38.8% on threes against Sacramento, the second highest percentage in the entire league, but history shows that allowing lower quality shots should result in defensive improvements.
In short, the numbers suggest the Kings’ defense will improve more than their offense will decline, so there’s plenty of reason to believe their recent rise is a sign of things to come rather than a flash in the pan .
Check out this week’s article by Dr. Pittsley on interesting Spurs numbers from the first quarter of the season. The Professor’s Corner is one of the best series on SBNation, so don’t miss it!
Thanks for reading and see you all next week!
All stats courtesy of Cleaning the glass and NBA stats.