Here is the first of what will be periodic reports on some statistics that have recently caught my eye.
I. With a 6-6 record, the Nets are not surprisingly in the middle of the pack in most team statistical categories. Here’s a rundown:
--The Nets are hitting 44.6% of their field goal attempts. That ranks 14th in the NBA.
--The Nets are hitting 77% of their free throws. That’s 13th.
--The Nets are averaging 4.6 blocks per game. That ranks 19th.
--The Nets are drawing 21.8 fouls. That’s twelfth most.
--The Nets are holding their opposition to a 45.5% field goal percentage. That’s twentieth (below average, but not as bad as everyone thinks.
--The Nets are committing 12.7 turnovers per game. That ranks as 8th fewest, which qualifies as above average. However, their opposition is just committing 13.3; the differential is tenth best.
There are a couple of things that they are doing well, though:
--The Nets are hitting 38.6% of the three-point attempts. That ranks seventh.
--The Nets are attempting 27.8 free throws per game. That ranks fifth.
On the negative side:
--The Nets are committing 25.6 fouls per game. That’s the worst. As a result, the opposition is attempting 31.8 free throws, which is second worst in the league. The free throw differential is fourth worst.
--The opposition is hitting 41.8% of their three-point attempts. That’s second worst in the league in perimeter defense.
These stats, though, include the first few games, when the team was still figuring out how to play together, and the three games when Devin Harris was out with his injury and the team was shelled. Have the Nets played any better since his return (and since Brook Lopez was inserted into the starting lineup, which happened at the same time)? Let’s take a look.
Over the past five games:
--They have given their opponents a ridiculous 159 free throw opportunities over the five games—that’s 31.8 per game, for those counting, the same as their season average. Only Milwaukee has committed more fouls over their past five games than the Nets. The silver lining? They have ATTEMPTED 165 free throws themselves.
--They have allowed the opposition to shoot 46.6% from the field, which has actually gotten worse. On the plus side, though, they have hit 48.3% of their shots; only Phoenix (49.7) has shot better than that for the entire season.
--The Nets are hitting 43.8% of their three-point attempts, which is an improvement over their season-to-date numbers, and would lead the league if they could have shot at that rate all season. However, they are allowing the opposition to hit 44.6% of their three-point shots over the past five games. As shown above, that is several percentage points worse than the Nets’ season-to-date mark. The opposition is also attempting more threes than the Nets--about 4.6 per game more.
--Over the past five games, the Nets have committed slightly fewer turnovers than the opponents, 56 to 64. That’s only 11.2 per game, an improvement over the first seven games, and would be the lowest average in the league if they could have done that the entire season.
--Also, over the last five games the Nets have tied for the highest PPG average in the league, at 111.4 (tied with Golden State). They’ve given up the second most, though (108). They’ve averaged 2.0 more steals per game than their opponent, which is seventh-highest in the league over that span.
UPSHOT: It's pretty unlikely that the Nets can continue to shoot as well as they have recently. To continue to be successful, then, they have to either reduce the opposition's three-point shooting percentage, or reduce the number of times they send the opponent to the line. Or both. I would say that these are two of the key factors for the upcoming road trip, in addition to getting some production from the two starting forward positions.
II. Here’s a stat that I thought I’d break out into a separate section for emphasis. This hasn’t been covered by the press, but believe it or not, the Nets have recently been dominating their opponents on the glass. Over the past five games, they’ve grabbed 58 offensive rebounds in 202 opportunities, a 28.7% success rate. Defensively, they’ve allowed 45 offensive rebounds by the opposition, in 195 opportunities, a 23.1% rate. That's a pretty nice spread; on average, they've grabbed 2.6 more offensive rebounds than their opponents, which would lead to roughly 2.5-3 points per game. If they can keep this up, it will go a long way to helping them remain at or even surpass .500.
III. With all this talk about how bad the Nets have been at defending the perimeter, I thought we should take a look to see if they have at least been successful at defending the area inside the arc. That would not only include the paint, but also your typical 12-15 foot jump shot. The way I’ve done this is to remove the three-point baskets and attempts from the opposition’s overall shooting percentage, and then compare the resulting percentage to that of the rest of the league. It turns out that, among two-point shots, the Nets are holding the opposition to a 47% shooting percentage. That is exactly 15th in the league, and not a whole lot worse than ninth best (46.6%). The Celtics rule here, holding the opposition to just a 40.8% shooting percentage inside the arc. Cleveland is next, at just over 44%.
82games.com goes one step further, and breaks down stats by three point shots, two point jump shots, and "inside shots." By their calculation, opponents are hitting just 35.9% of their two-point jump shots, which is the fifth stingiest in the league. Roughly 40% of the opponent's total shot selection is classified in this category. The Nets are not so successful at "inside shots", however: the opposition is successful at 61.8% of these shots, which is sixth worst in the league. On the plus side, however, only 30% of the opposition's shots are considered "inside shots," which is one of the lowest percentages in the league, so the Nets must generally be doing a decent job at closing off the paint. They've also given up just 28 dunks, which is the second lowest total in the league.
IV. Over the past five games--in other words, since Devin returned from his injury and Brook entered the starting lineup—the Nets have been outscored in just FIVE of the 20 quarters (21 if you include overtime). That’s it—five times (they’ve been even on two occasions). Moreover, there’s been no truth to the rumor that they’ve had the most trouble in the third quarter; they’ve been outscored just once in that frame over this time period (by Cleveland, by 15 points). Combined, they’ve outscored their opponent in every quarter overall: by two points in the first (the numbers brought down by a -11 against Toronto); by 11 in the second; by two in the third; and by 9 in the fourth. Three times they outscored their opponent in a quarter more than five points: once by 7, once by 8, and once by 9. Yet three times they were OUTSCORED by more than 9 (11, 12, and 15, the latter two in the same game). In other words, the few times that the Nets have lost a quarter recently, they have gotten totally bombed.
V. Brook Lopez is certainly catching on fast. In five games as a starter, he is now averaging 14.6 PPG on 59% shooting, with 9.0 rebounds (3.6 offensive), 1.6 blocks, and just 3.8 fouls and 1.0 turnovers in just over 32 minutes per game. Impressively, he’s hitting 69% of his free throws as well. Here’s a question: Last year, how many rookie bigmen averaged 14 and 8, on 50%+ shooting?
How about in 2006-07? Answer: None. How about 2005-06? Answer: None (Charlie Villanueva comes closest, averaging 13 PPG and 6.4 RPG). How about 2004-05? Okafor! Except for the field goal component, but we’ll take it. Dwight Howard made the rebound and FG% cutoff, but averaged just 12 PPG.
Are you getting the sense that Lopez could be kind of special?
To be fair, I’m cheating a bit by throwing out Brook’s games as a reserve (I didn’t do the same for past rookies). And, of course, there is no guarantee that he can continue this pace his entire rookie season; five games is an awful small sample, after all. Still, though, it’s impressive, and shows how difficult it has been for rookie big men to put up those sorts of numbers. Even if he levels off at 13 and 6, he’ll compare quite well against other rookie bigs this decade.
Stats aside, Brook’s development has been startling. He is getting more confident in his post game, and has demonstrated strong rebounding skills. As shown in point II. above, he’s doing a fine job both grabbing offensive boards and limiting the number of offensive boards that the opposing center has pulled down. Suddenly Keyon Dooling’s proclamation that he could be a "top five center" by the end of the season doesn’t look quite so crazy. Still a little crazy, though.
VI. Now the Nets are off on their usual November West Coast road trip. It has become an annual Thanksgiving weekend tradition, the result of a scheduling conflict at the Izod Center. Reading what the beat writers and the armchair experts on the discussion boards are thinking, it seems as though the predicted outcome ranges between a 2-2 mark and a 0-4 mark. No one is daring to suggest that the Nets could actually win more than they lose on this West Coast swing. Thus, expectations are that the team will return from the road trip with an overall record somewhere between 6-10 and 8-8. This naturally led to the question: How would this start match up against the team’s record to begin prior seasons?
To find the answer, I looked at the Nets’ overall record on the date they returned from the West Coast trip. The idea was that, regardless of the number of games that have been played, the part of the schedule ending with this annual road trip should be considered the "beginning" of the season. Obviously, the total number of games that the team had played up to that point will vary. Also, in some years, the road trip consists of four games (such as this year); in some years, five. With that in mind, here are their records to start the season each year this decade:
What we notice: Despite the pessimism surrounding the team’s fortunes prior to the start of the season, the Nets should return from this trip with a record no different than most other years this decade, the two Finals years notwithstanding. If the Nets go 2-2 on the trip, and return with an 8-8 record, they will have as successful a start to a season as they’ve had since 2002-03. A 1-3 trip (7-9 record overall) would be roughly equivalent to their AVERAGE start over the past five years; that average is a record of 5.6-8.6. For the decade, their average record has been a slightly better 6.75-7.75.
What else we notice: Wow, they sure were horrible back in 2004-05. Yet they still made the playoffs, when all was said and done. Maybe they made a trade or something.
Remember, too, that the Nets reached the playoffs six out of eight years this decade, and the finals twice. Maybe there is reason to be optimistic after all.