With about 15% of the NBA season already complete it’s now safe to look at some of the small sample sizes players have produced to see what’s going on thus far this season. It’s time to pay more attention to the NBA season and the emerging trends. Besides the Eagles are on a bye week and it’s eerily peaceful at the NovaCare Complex. Plus it’s easier and more fun to get nerdy with NBA stuff.
And as the 2013/2014 season begins to unfold some things have changed, and others have remained the same. The Spurs are in first place out west. Deron Williams is injured. Shaq and Chuck are ragging on Dwight and Blake. James Dolan once again taking the lead in the worst NBA owner race. On the flip side, the Warriors might have taken that next step with the addition of Andre Iguodala. Monta Ellis looks like he finally “gets it.” The Blazers are in second place out West, and Andrew Bynum has logged minutes on an NBA court.
One individual player though who has changed his game quite a bit this season is my Sixers’ leading scorer, the mercurial Evan Turner. Labeling him mercurial is a complement and honestly a stretch because to an outsider it seems like the guy is constantly in a poor mood and a bit of a whiner. Kind of like Ross from friends. As villain-ish as Turner has continued to be though, he looks to have really bought into new Sixers’ coach Brett Brown’s system. Turner has eliminated a lot of the mid-range jumpers from his game and replaced them with driving to the basket, which in turn has led to getting to the free throw line more. This has already been discussed ad-nauseum on other blogs, but now it is my turn to do the same.
The first thing to notice is that there is a whole lot of fucking red Xs on the shot chart, and in case you couldn’t have guessed those are his misses last season. The grey boxes on the chart show the distribution of Evan’s shots in each zone. Last season 25.6% of Evan’s shots were attempted from the mid-range area. That would be the shots in the 16 foot to 24 foot range. The ones that are aaaalmost as far back as a 3 pointer, but still only count for two points. As for the restricted area, where shots are taken when attempting a layup or dunking, Evan only attempted 29.09% of his shots from that area. The restricted area is obviously a place where a higher percentage of shots are made despite being surrounded by enormous rim protectors such as Marc Gasol or Joakim Noah. And when it came to 3 point shooting Evan attempted 14.9% of his shots from that area. Unfortunately 3 point land has never been a place Evan has felt comfortable, the same way Ariel never felt comfortable living under the sea. For his career Evan is 31% shooter from 3 point territory, and he actually posted his best percentage of his career last season at 36.5%. Unfortunately that 36.5% is still below the league average. Those mid-range shots I mentioned earlier are what really hurt Evan’s numbers last season, resulting in a 41.9% field goal percentage. Additionally settling for those fall-away low percentage mid-range shots led to Evan only attempting 2.5 free throws a game, which was still a career high. For those that aren’t big NBA fans, neither the FG% or FTA is a very good number at all. As a reference Lebron, the league MVP, had a 56.5% FG% last season and averaged 7 free throw attempts per game.
Jump forward to the 2013/2014 season, with the subtraction of coach Doug Collins and the addition of Maine-iac coach Brett Brown, and all of a sudden Evan has begun to realize what he is much better at. Taking the ball to the basket and attempting a lay-up. What Evan is still learning though is that he can’t beat everyone to the rim, and as a result has had the ball shoved back down his throat on a number of occasions already this season. Baby steps though. Here’ is Evan’s shot distribution chart for the current season.
Notice the difference? Evan is now taking 41.67% of his shots in the restricted area. That’s up 12.5% from last season. By going to the basket Evan has also squashed his school girl crush for the mid-range shot. This season only 15.7% of his shots have come from that same low percentage area. By driving to the basket Evan’s FTA are up to 5.4 attempts per game, more than doubling his previous career high. Aiding Evan’s efficiency scoring the ball has been his 84.3% shooting from the free throw line, which is also a career high. Unfortunately Evan has continued to struggle from beyond the arc only shooting 17.6% on his 3 point attempts thus far. The good news there is that unless Turner has pulled a Rick Ankiel that number will normalize at some point to his career average of 31% meaning we should see the Turner 3 Point Laser Show later this season. Despite his issues behind the 3 point line Turner is still shooting a career best 46.5% from the field. Below is a second graph illustrating how Turner’s shooting has been compared to the league thus far this season. The graph below doesn’t include last nights numbers.
The blue area is how the league is shooting as a whole from each of the designated areas. The left and corner three spots are the same for the league averages, but are broken out individually for Evan. Evan’s been better than the league average in four of the different zones. Evan’s been strongest finishing around the rim, confirming what anyone who has watched the Sixers closely this season has taken notice of. Evan’s making 66.2% of his shots in the restricted area, while the league average right now is at 50.82%. However Evan has a lot of work to do with his 3 point shooting currently a god awful 7.1% on 3 pointers above the break and converting zero of his 3 point attempts from the right corner. As I said before I expect this to change some time soon, but if Turner continues to struggle beyond the arc players are going lag off him more and more clogging the paint making it more difficult for him to get to the basket.
Because I’m an absolute nerd for this stuff, I decided to create the same radar chart for two additional players, Stephen Curry and Lebron James. First up here is how Curry is performing so far this season.
To the surprise of no one Curry is shooting well above the league average at the 3 point line above the break, where he takes a majority of his 3 point shots. Curry’s other strong suit so far has been the mid-range area. Unlike Evan though Curry struggles finishing around the basket. None of this information is new, but it’s another way to see a player’s strongest attributes when it comes to making shots on the floor.
Finally here is how Lebron is shooting compared to the rest of the league so far.
Look at it. Process it. And now begin to appreciate what a brutally efficient scorer Lebron has become with the ball. Before continuing full disclosure, Lebron has only attempted a handful of corner 3s this season so the 100% from the left corner is a little misleading. Where Lebron has been preposterously good has been finishing around the rim. He’s currently hitting 80% of his shots in the restricted area. 8-0 fucking percent. There is certainly a very good chance this comes down as the season progresses, but if it doesn’t I’m going feel like more and more of a moron each week for picking Chris Paul to be MVP this season. Apologies for getting off topic, but I have one last point to make, and my buddy Tanner and I are in agreement, if Lebron wins the title again this season, there is all of a sudden going to be a conversation about who is the greatest player of all time. Another title would mean three for Lebron by age 29, along with a 4th title appearance in a row, something that Jordan never accomplished. Baring major injury that means Lebron will have another 6 or 7 years to match Jordan’s number of titles. We can continue to romanticize Jordan, but unless Lebron finds himself in his driveway full of pain killers having a golf club swung at his head by his wife he’s going to have an argument for the thrown. And if he continues to play at this level there might not be an argument when he calls it quits.