Being 59 days into the NBA season, there is a large enough body of work and sample size to begin evaluating some statistical leaders. The initial chapters of the 2013-2014 schedule have offered a number of surprises, some pleasant, others gut-punching.
Feel good stories include: the emergence of the Portland Trail Blazers, an early return to form for Russell Westbrook after his meniscus injury, a personal/career resurrection of Michael Beasley in Miami, as well as some teams thought to be tanking performing far beyond expectations for a myriad of reasons: the Boston Celtics (Brad Stevens and Jordan Crawford, and the Phoenix Suns (the two headed point guard monster in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe and the floor stretching of Channing Frye and the Morris twins). There are also a number of disappointments that the NBA season has brought: the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose, the disparity between the Eastern and Western Conferences, and the death of basketball in New York.
But here at BBALLBREAKDOWN, there is always something to analyze. Some leaders of statistical categories are just as they’ve been and should be, but there are anomalies and pleasant surprises all across the league.
The leader thus far has been the Utah Jazz’s Gordon Hayward with 1044. A team that stinks of tanking (many point out the fact that Jabari Parker is a member of the Mormon denomination, thus making him more likely to remain in Salt Lake City come free agency, as reason for this), Hayward has been asked to run the Jazz offense as rookie Trey Burke learns the ins and outs of being an NBA point guard. But literally – run, Hayward has traveled 74.98 miles so far this year (averaging out to 2.6 miles per game), a category that he also leads the league in, according to the NBA’s SportsVU. It’s difficult to infer if this is out of necessity because the Jazz lack offensive options, or its a more sinister motivation by the front office to wear out the team’s best player as he’s set to become a restricted free agent this summer. The fatigue definitely set in for a four-game stretch, when Hayward shot 13-53 and average 9.9 points a game. (source)
Another interesting notes about the NBA’s minutes are that the Portland Trail Blazers still need to address their bench woes. With the acquisitions of Mo Williams, Dorrell Wright, and Thomas Robinson, it was thought that the team patched up their most glaring need. But in conjunction with missing rookie combo guard C.J. McCollum, it has led to three Blazers starters in the top 10 for minutes played: Aldridge (4th), last year’s minutes leader Lillard (8th), and Nicolas Batum (10th). The only other team to have more than one player in the top 10 are the Detroit Pistons with Josh Smith (3rd) and Brandon Jennings(9th). As Portland prepares for a deep playoff push, it will be crucial that coach Terry Stotts be able to look toward his bench for stretches to both prevent injury, and reinforce the identity of an entire team, not just its starting lineup.
Defined by basketball-reference as: “an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor per 100 possessions.” Looking at the top 10, you’ll see the usual suspects: Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant. But sitting at the top of the list is the man in the middle for the Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins. Recording a 32.1 usage rate on Hollinger metrics, the most surprising part of his league leading number is the efficiency with said touches. “Boogie” is in the midst of a career year, as he is at a career high in points (22.8), assists (3.3), minutes (31.1), and field goal percentage (50.1). He’s also getting to the line more than he ever has (8.1 FTAs/game).
The most interesting part of all of this is that Cousins is the only member of the top 10 in usage who’s a big. Not only must he have the ball fed to him in the half court, but he is also more likely to catch it in the heart of the defense and within arms reach of multiple defenders. The remainder of the competition are all point guards (Curry, Rose, Irving), or ball handling wings (Durant, LeBron, Carmelo). Perhaps with new head coach Mike Malone (the primary offensive assistant for last year’s Warriors) now in Sacramento, the attitude and composure problems of Cousins are behind him and he can realize his potential as a franchise player.
Time for a bit of trivia and process of elimination. This player holds his opponents to a 42.9% of field goal makes at the rim (Roy Hibbert holds them to 42.1%), has more blocks than Dwight Howard(52) or Andre Drummond (44) with 55, and he intimidates his opponents into taking less shots at the rim (3.1) than Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka, and Deandre Jordan. And to top it all off, he’s only in his sophomore season! Congratulations, if you guessed Anthony Davis, then you can join this writer in completely overlooking former Tar Heel and Bucks front court member John Henson!
John Henson’s defensive impact and his development offer the smallest of silver linings to an otherwise forgettable Milwaukee Bucks season. With Larry Sanders out and Ersan Ilyasova recently going down with injuries, Henson will be given a larger spot to shine. The most noticeable statistics, courtesy of NBA.com, are the splits between Henson’s production coming off the bench versus as a starter. In 26 games, Henson has started 13, and come off the bench 13 times. In his starts: Henson plays 34.7 minutes, shoots 53.9% on 11.7 FGA, attempts 4 free throws, pulls down 10.2 rebounds, scores 15 points, and has put up all six of his double-doubles. In those 13 starts, the Bucks are able to claim four of their five wins. When he comes off the bench, Henson’s numbers dip as he plays 22.7 minutes, shoots 50.9% on 8.5 FGA, only attempts two free throws a game, and the largest discrepancy is with rebounds, only grabbing 5.8. However, his block rate is nearly identical.
Whether some of the above outliers will regress to the mean or become a precedent over the course of the next 55 or so games of the season, the privilege of finding out is something to surely bring holiday cheer.