Statistical Anomaly: Jazz @ Thunder

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Thunder’s blowout win over the Jazz.

Oklahoma City is the highest scoring second quarter team in the NBA (27.8 points per game) and are typically even better at home (28.8). Utah managed to hold the Thunder to a mere 21 points, but lost the quarter (12) by more points than the lost the other 36 minutes by (11).

There is no doubt that Kevin Durant is an elite talent in this league, but his 23 turnovers and 22 assists over the last week (5 games) is a bit concerning. When you consider that KD is shooting 50.5% from the field, his 4.6 turnovers per game over the week is costing the Thunder an average of roughly five points. It didn’t matter (OKC has outscored its opponents by 52 points) this week, but the playoffs are played in a much tighter window. Interestingly enough, Durant has excelled more than normal at the free throw line when he is plagued with the turnover bug. Over his last ten 3+ turnover games, Durant has made 101/108 (including 44/46 in his last four such games) free throws. This shows the maturation in the game of the three time scoring champion, as he understands when he is struggling and finds a way to positively impact the game.

Serge Ibaka managed only three rebounds and one blocked shot against the big front line of the Jazz. One would assume that rebound total and blocked shot total would be directly correlated, indicating a dominating force in the paint. However, entering this game, Ibaka was averaging 4.3 blocked shots in games in which he grabbed three or fewer rebounds. He isn’t your prototypical center of the past, but his style of play very well could be the new norm in our increasingly athletic league. Here’s a look at how many rebounds Ibaka averages this season based on number of shots blocked.

Everybody tends to focus on the shot count when it comes to comparing Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but why not look at shot location instead? The Thunder beat the Jazz with Westbrook not making a single three pointer, something they have done on a regular basis over the last two regular seasons. In fact, OKC has a higher winning percentage in games in which Westbrook doesn’t make a three (0.767) than when he does (0.705). The Thunder will peak as a team when Westbrook plays his game (attacking the rim and pulling up for midrange jumpers) and lets Durant take care of the outside shooting.

Each Jazz starter totaled at least 18 minutes of action, combining to shoot 25.7% from the field and score 26 points. Utah’s four bench players who played 18+ minutes shot 45.7% and scored 51 points. With Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson both playing at less than 100%, the Jazz are frantically searching for ways to make the playoffs. You have to wonder, though, would they be better off missing the playoffs? Qualifying for the eight seed isn’t really as much of a selling point to their free agent eligible paint protectors as a young and promising floor general they could acquire in the draft. With Derrick Favors playing well, is that far of a stretch to say that the Jazz (as currently constructed) are a top 10 PG away from being a similar team to Memphis?

Silver lining time for Jazz fans. Enes Kanter nailed all six of his free throws and has now converted on 90.9% of his freebies dating back to February 2nd. Kobe Bryant (83.4%) is considerably behind the 20 year old while the league’s leading FT shooter (Kevin Durant) is just slightly ahead (91.1%). If the Jazz lose one or both of their big men this summer, Kanter has showed promise as an interior presence (55.6% from the field and nearly 14 rebounds per 48 minutes) and seems to be developing an outside game thanks to the tandem of Jefferson and Milsap.

The Jazz seem to be in free fall, but the Lakers lost Kobe Bryant to the dreaded “severe ankle sprain”. Utah, when healthy, can dominate the paint on both sides of the floor, which gives them a chance in most games. Can they take advantage of the Bryant injury? If they do qualify for postseason play, can they ugly their way to a win or two? I realize they may lose most of their scoring/rebounding this offseason, but they do have some nice pieces, and may be closer than you think to being a legitimate playoff team who can win a series.

Synergy Sessions: Debut Edition

A relatively new tool in the world of advanced statistics, mySynergySports offers much in the way of furthering the conversation, as chronicled in HP’s Understanding Advanced Stats series. Author’s note: Please excuse the funky symbols occasionally encountered in older posts — they’re simply HTML leftovers from the Malaysian assault suffered earlier this year. The relevant content is still all there. One day I’ll get around to fixing up my previous posts, but for now my bucket is pretty full.

Synergy is unique in the stats world in it’s approach, giving researchers stats and annual ranks on players by the possession, specifically Points Per Possession (heretofore referred to as “PPP”), as well as logging and categorizing every possession by every player in every game in video logs on offense and defense. The defensive part is especially helpful since defense can often be difficult to quantify by straight numbers. Used in conjunction with other defensive stats we can now get a clearer picture of which players are truly having an impact on the D end of the floor.

However, Synergy is a subscription service with a finite number of ‘scripts available, so much of the basketball world doesn’t have access to these particular metrics. Never fear, we’re here to help!

First up, expounding on the #NBArank conversation on Carmelo Anthony, I got into an interesting exchange with a couple of New York Knicks fans and a Utah Jazz writer wherein I intimated that Melo has been basically the same player his entire career.

Aside from Melo and Big Al’s BasketballReference advanced stats, let’s see what we can find from Synergy, specifically in regards to passing and defense, two of the main points of contention in the convo. Both players posted career highs in AST% last season — Melo by a little, Al by a little more — but when it comes to Synergy, we don’t yet have specifics for the assist stat aside from being the Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler. Nevertheless, we can still learn something about how these players play offense by looking at the types of offensive plays they do post at Synergy. For instance, an isolation play is exactly what it says it is, and not assisted by a pass from a teammate.

As one would expect, Melo is primarily an Iso player, going to it 35.4% of the time, scoring a relatively meager 0.84 PPP on a mere 37.4% field goals, good for only 59th-best in the NBA. By contract, Al goes Iso only 6.3% of the time, scoring 0.83 PPP, 65th-best. Synergy has only been around for three seasons, but Melo went to the Iso about 37% of the time when with the Nuggets.

Jefferson’s go-to move on offense is obviously the Post-up, nearly half the time at 48.2%, scoring 0.96 PPP on 47.5% FGs, 18th-best in the NBA. The Post-up is Melo’s second-most common O play at 13% of the time where he lands 0.95 PPP on 44.3% FGs, good for the 21st ranking in the category. Melo should clearly be posting up more and going iso less. In Al Jefferson’s last year with the Minnesota Timberwolves he went to the Post-up an astonishing 57% of the time. His first year with the Jazz that dropped to 38% of the time. Clearly, once on a team known for passing Jefferson’s game met with adjustments.

Both players post their best PPP in the halfcourt offense on Cuts, a play made by slipping a defender, moving to the basket without the ball, then being found by a teammate. This would be Al’s second-most-used offensive play, 13.9% of the time, where he lands an astounding 1.27 PPP on 63.4% FGs. His last year in Minnesota Al Cut a paltry 6.8% of the time. He’s benefited greatly from the improved offensive system in Utah as compared to that in Minny. Melo goes to the Cut only 4.3% of the time, but he’s very successful when he does, posting 1.21 PPP on 61.1% FGs.

As for defense, in 2009-10 on Minny, Jefferson was overall ranked 299th giving up 0.93 PPP. In 2010-11, his first year in Utah, he leaped all the way up to 70th giving up 38.5% FGs on 0.82 PPP and only 0.74 PPP on 35.5% FGs on Post-Up defensive plays, which was 49% of the time. Surprisingly, his best D-ranking came this year on PnR defense, ranked 36th-best while giving up 0.83 PPP, his being the target of opposing PnRs about 10% of the time. 2011-12 saw some regression on defense, Jefferson falling back to 199th overall, giving up 0.84 PPP. His Post-up D remained solid giving up 0.77 PPP, and while he was targeted on PnRs less, 9.3% of the time, he gave up a not-so-hot 0.91 PPP. Clearly there’s work to be done here on Al’s part. It may worth noting here that Al Jefferson is one the top three clutch-time shot-blockers, so we know he’s capable of a better effort when the chips are down. Utah was in a lot of late-game situations last year.

2009-10 Carmelo saw him ranked a lowly 398th overall on defense, giving up 1.03 PPP in Iso situations, 0.98 in Post-Up, and 1.01 on Spot-ups, his three most common defensive stances. Remember, there’s only about 400-450 active NBA players at a given time, so that’s really bad. 2010-11 saw a moderate improvement to 331st overall, but he was still giving up nearly 1.00 PPP in most defensive situations. As noted by both Knicks fans and Clark, Melo improved — for him — fairly dramatically on defense last season for New York, giving up 0.84 PPP overall, good for a 240 ranking. His Post-up defense was an incredible 0.52 PPP, good for 2nd in the NBA, although he is quite a bit bigger than much of his competition at the 3-spot. He showed little interest for chasing his man, however, posting a dismal 1.13 PPP on D in Spot-up situations, ranked 344th. It’s pretty clear Melo still only plays D when it suits him, and I’d bet without looking that he leaks out in transition often on said Spot-ups.

RAY’S SO FLUFFY I’M GONNA DIE!

With his third team in just over a year’s time, and before we bounce to PDX, it should be noted that Felton wasn’t even close to the same player in NY as in Denver, where he was a cog in the Carmelo force-out trade. Obviously, he is primarily a P&R Ball Handler, an average of 42% of the time for an average 0.81 PPP, but his role changed dramatically in Iso and Spot-up between the two locales.

In New York he rarely went Iso, only 7.8% of the time, good for 0.80 PPP. Once traded to Denver Iso became more prevalent, 10.9% of the time, but good for only a measly 0.59 PPP on 28% FGs. This negative effect was counteracted, though, by the most stark contrast to be found, in the Spot-up game. With the Knicks, Felton took Spot-ups only 8% of the time, whereas once in the Mile High City it skyrocketed to 19.8% of the time, 1.25 PPP on almost 48% FG shooting. Where Felton scores best seems to be in Hand Off situations. There were far more of these in New York where it was 9.4% of his offensive game, good for 0.95 PPP. In Denver he only did so 2.7% of the time, but hit on 1.44 PPG, on 66.7% shooting.

On defense he was again two different players between the Knicks and Nugs. As the PnR Ball Handler on D he went from giving up 0.88 PPP in NY to 0.71 in Denver. In Spot-ups he went from giving up 1.24 PPP to 1.04 PPP. But these gains were negated Off Screens where in NY he gave up only 0.64, to Denver where he failed to fight over or through screens properly giving up 1.26 PPP.

Once in Portland Felton played Ball Handler less often, 39.6% of the time where he scored poorly at 0.70 PPP, only ranked 116 on 40% FG shooting. The Spot-up trend obtained with the Nuggets continued where he did well 17.8% of the time for 0.99 PPP, but shot only 37.8%. Isolation, never a strength, was seen nealry 10% of the time, but he scored only 0.74 PPP and 33.8% FGs. The Trailblazers were a bad fit. But that’s not news to you.

Felton wasn’t awful defensively for Portland, defending the PnR Handler 45.9% of the time and holding him to 0.79 PPP, but that’s where the D highlights end. In Iso, Spot-up, and Off Screens he gave up at least 0.90 PPP, and was particularly susceptible to opposing Post-ups, giving back 0.97 PPP.

It will be interesting to see what Mike Woodson does with Felton now back in New York once again, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Hey, at least he’s reportedly less fluffy.

In case you haven’t yet been apprised of how Enes Kanter spent his summer, he spent it in a way that would make Vince McMahon proud.

Kanter posted up 112 times, 30.2% of the time he was on the floor on offense, but scored only 0.79 PPP on his man. Yes, he had trouble getting above the rim. Billed as a rebound beast coming in, he certainly lived up to that end of the deal where he’s extremely fundamentally sound, going glass 25.6% of the time, scoring 0.97 PPP on Offensive Rebounds, a massive proportion of percentage on O. He was most successful on Cuts, 17.5% of the time for 1.14 PPP. A pretty clear pattern emerges here for the Jazz, that being ball and player movement, where their big men can get easy looks.

On defense Kanter still has some work to do where he gave up 1.05 PPP in Post-ups. He showed some promise on PnR defense, but didn’t defend it enough to qualify for a ranking, and often lost his man in the screen switch.

It’s exciting to see a player work so hard to buff up in the offseason. I just hope he worked on his basketball skills just as hard.

If I didn’t get to your Synergy Session question this time keep ‘em coming, I’ll be sure to fit you in in future posts.

Send mySynergySports questions to @Clintonite33 on Twitter, hastag #SynergySession

Can Enes Kanter Become A Man Among Men?

Flickr - pietrozzo

Young phenom Enes Kanter was a man among boys coming up through the various Euro league tournaments and Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, California. With an NBA-ready body since his mid-teens the game came easy to him against young men. He readily dropped gaudy numbers such as 23 points and nearly 17 rebounds in the 2008 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship tourney, following that up with an MVP award in 2009 with 18.6 points and 16.4 rebounds in the U-18s the following year for FIBA.

Big things are expected from the 2011 three-pick by the Utah Jazz in the NBA draft, even after not playing competitively for about two years due to an obscure NCAA violation when he made the leap to Kentucky from high school. It’s relatively easy to appear as an explosive offensive player when you tower above your competition, getting to the rim and finishing at will.

Kanter’s first real taste of what was to come in the NBA came during the darkest hours of the NBA lockout when he got some quality playing time with the Turkish National Team at EuroBasket 2011. Turkey was a favorite to reach the medal rounds coming in, but went away disappointed, not even qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics in the tournament. Kanter’s numbers were very indicative of a boy among men at EuroBasket, dominating short stretches against inferior competition while struggling against true NBA’ers for the first few stints and games, although he did come on toward the end as he got more PT and shook off the rust. Still, that wasn’t the NBA.

All we really got to see from Kanter until last summer were his workout videos where he appeared to have explosiveness going to the paint. I was a skeptic. It’s easy to appear dominant when you’re being guarded by cardboard cutouts, cones, and a folding chair. Turns out that was a safe assumption.

The 20-year-old Turk has excellent hands that can get the ball deep into the paint, but that’s where the buck stops. Last season he found himself converged upon, unable to get above the rim and finish so easily as he’d been accustomed to coming up through the ranks. He found himself in a whole new ball game, one where bulling to the basket with a lowered shoulder simply couldn’t just happen anymore. Used to backing down the opposition at will it was a bit of a shock to run into a wall like himself, as he found out when attempting to post up the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Nikola Pekovic. Kanter bounced off of Pek with the look of a kid who had just realized for the first time that they can’t fly with a sheet and safety pin.

But don’t panic just yet. This is an intelligent, coachable kid who listens intently to the staff and veterans whenever they spot something awry in his game. As the season, last, progressed Kanter began to pick up tips and footwork from the elder-statesmen on the Jazz, learning to use his feet to free up his shot, then adding in an up-and-under move from Al Jefferson, pump-fake’r extraordinaire, fondly dubbed by CJ Miles “the Up-and-UnderKanter.”

Always with a nose for the ball on the glass, able to net baskets from offensive rebounds, he now had quality vets ahead of him, like Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who truly want him to succeed, despite the fact that either or both could very well be training their own replacement — a fact both veterans are well aware of. They don’t care. They just want to win, knowing that carrying an entire team on the backs of a couple of paint warriors is a daunting task at best in the NBA without a true perimeter threat. Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor has given Utah’s Fearsome Foursome of Jefferson, Millsap, Kanter, and Derrick Favors some relief there this offseason with acquisitions geared toward opening up the paint, something that should benefit Kanter’s development greatly in the upcoming years.

Already in the Orlando Summer League games we can see an Enes Kanter with improved footwork, although he still has a tendency to try and make it to the rim on shear strength — old habits die hard.

The signs of future success are there, and as he learns to pace himself, instead of attempting to prove himself by pushing it all the way every possession he’s on the floor, tiring quickly in the process, leaving his offensive game vulnerable to defensive attacks, he’ll begin finding better ways to score. We know he has range, if he yet lacks confidence in it in real-game-time situations, and the necessary footwork to free himself up for easier field goal attempts is certainly in the works, at least when he’s not pooped out and reverts to previous tendencies from days when he was the only Redwood in the forest.

If I had to judge the potential based on what I’ve seen of Kanter, which is quite a lot considering, and knowing him to be a hard worker and willing listener, a bright and polite young man who listens to every word spoken to him as intently as anyone I’ve ever seen, there’s no reason this ceiling can’t be raised in time to one where he plays a prominent role on a successful, deep-run playoff team.

But for now, he’s not quite ripe. Fortunately, he has the best of support from his fans, coaches, organization, and teammates, all of which want badly for him to succeed in the NBA. Right alongside them. I know after trying to contain a front-line of Jefferson, Favors, and Millsap the last thing I’d want to see coming in would be a huge, hungry Turk ready to prove himself.

I can already hear the groans from opposing frontcourts.