Ten NBA Thanksgiving Trends

The NBA season is not even a month old, yet a bunch of important things already happened. The Lakers have used three coaches. The Thunder broke up their core. The Clippers, Grizzlies, and Knicks have put their names into the contender basket. Andrew Bynum hurt himself bowling. We’ve had a 3-overtime game and one night with four overtime games. The Wizards have won a ga… no that hasn’t happened quite yet. But it almost did!

Anyway, even though it would be dumb to make any conclusions about anything meaningful 10-12 games in, we’re far enough into the season to ask questions about things that have stood out or changed from our expectations. So I decided, on this wonderful Thanksgiving day, to take a look at ten notable nuggets from the beginning of the year.

1. Milwaukee’s Turbo Offense

The secret to Milwaukee’s high-scoring offense is that it’s not actually great at all. But the team, which in the not-too-distant past played at a snail’s pace, suddenly leads the league in pace by over a possession per game. Milwaukee averages over 101 points per game (good for 6th in the league) but is just 16th in offensive efficiency. It makes sense to run faster, with lightning quick guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis leading the way. But no one knew just how quickly Milwaukee would move up and down the court, especially since Scott Skiles has the (rightfully earned) reputation of a defensive coach.

Also, Milwaukee’s off to a decent 6-4 start despite not getting anything from their starting frontcourt in most games. Ersan Ilyasova may have picked up Andris Biedrins Syndrome during the summer, as he somehow lost his jumper and all his confidence over the summer. His starting job may be in jeopardy, especially if John Henson plays anywhere near as well as he did against Miami. If that happens, look for even a quicker pace going forward.

2. New York’s Turnover Turnaround

The Knicks finished last season with the most turnovers per game of any NBA team. Linsanity had something to do with that, but not everything. So now that the Knicks have committed the fewest turnovers per game so far this season, you have to wonder whether this will hold up.

The answer: not likely, but they should remain among the best in the league in protecting the ball. They currently average 10.7 per game, which would be an NBA record. But with an offense predicated on iso-Melo and a bunch of shooters who (mostly) know their roles, the team will certainly be hard to turn over. Jason Kidd rarely makes bad decisions, Melo rarely passes (kidding – despite his low assist numbers, all indications are that he has passed effectively), and none of the players are turnover fiends.

We could also talk about the shooting and rebounding, but that’s a topic for another day. The reversal in turnovers would be unprecedented, so that’s something that deserves watching.

3. Portland’s Horses

The Blazers bench is, well, something horrid. So Terry Stotts hasn’t used it much at all, setting an alarming rate for his starters’ minutes in a year in which wins likely won’t mean much for the team down the road.

Portland’s front four (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Damian Lillard) are each averaging 37+ minutes per game, which puts all four in the top 16 in the league in minutes per game. Only Meyers Leonard has played every game among non-starters, with Stotts’ rotation changing seemingly every night while he looks for a decent combination. With the starters carrying the load, the Blazers have started a decent-enough 5-6, but they can’t keep up the minutes for the whole year I imagine.

4. Jrue Holiday’s Possession Dominance

Jrue Holiday might not even be in the top 10 in usage rate, but it sure seems like it. The Sixers, who are off to a somewhat surprising 7-5 start without Andrew Bynum, have given Holiday almost all play-making responsibility. He has responded by putting 8.6 assists per game, while also leading the league in turnovers and playing over 38 minutes per game. Holiday, who never had anything resembling this much usage, has responded rather well. The turnovers are concerning though – even if he’s gotten better recently. The Sixers’ season might not be a waste if Holiday performs at a near all-star level.

5. Charlotte’s Offensive Competence

I’m not saying the Bobcats have a good offense – they rank just 21st in efficiency. But if they can maintain this offensive pace, they’ll exceed pretty much all expectations. Most, if not all, NBA observers expected the Bobcats offense to only be marginally better than it was last year. But Kemba Walker has completely transformed his game, and Byron Mullens now shoots threes, and MKG hasn’t been bad.

6. Chicago’s Shooting Struggles

This just in: Chicago misses pretty much everyone it dumped this summer. More than anything, it misses C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver, who actually knew how to shoot the ball and did so regularly. The Bulls average only 12.5 threes attempted per game, which is by far the worst in the league. They also rank 29th in 3FG%, which does not bode well for their prospects. While Derrick Rose will create space upon his eventual return, he might not have anyone to pass it to. Hinrich has been awful. Deng still has a wrist problem, and with his minute load he may disintegrate into dust particles by mid-season. Belinelli is nothing if not consistently meh. And Rip Hamilton might be moved for cap reasons at some point during the season despite maybe being the team’s foremost perimeter threat.

In other words: Chicago’s problems won’t be magically solved when Rose returns, especially if he returns at less than 100%. If Hamilton is dealt, that’s another blow.

7. Josh Smith’s Contract Year Letdown

I had HIGH hopes for Smith this year, given his free agent status. So of course, he comes into the season and becomes more Josh Smith-y, with more long jumpers and anemic play. I expected him to stop some of that play, partly because he’ll get paid more and partly because the Hawks suddenly were flush with shooters surrounding him and Horford. He has been nothing short of massively disappointing.

Of course, Smith has time to turn it around. But maybe he will just never understand that his long-range shooting kills his team. Maybe he doesn’t realize how good he and his team would become if he just resisted taking even half of the shots he currently takes.

8. O.J. Mayo’s Contract Year Redux

Mayo moved to Dallas on what most believed was a below-market deal over the summer. So far, he’s proving most people right. Though Mayo is shooting a fluky 52% on nearly 6 threes per game, he finally is showing the scoring potential that had NBA-types salivating when he came out of high school. Still: if he can maintain an above-average three point conversion rate – and I don’t see why not – he’ll get way more than $4 million on the open market.

9. Denver’s Dominant Rebounding

The Nuggets lead the league in rebounding differential (+8.5 per game), mainly because they are absolutely gunning for offensive rebounds. Kenneth Faried averages 5.5 offensive boards per game alone, which leads the NBA. JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos combined for nearly 6 from the center position. And they need it too, because their shooting has been so, so bad. You figure Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson won’t shoot in the low 20s in three point percentage for the whole season, but if they do, the Nuggets will get a lot of those misses.

10. Three Point Shooting Everywhere

This just in: NBA teams are shooting more and more threes as time goes along. So far this season, teams are averaging 19.3 threes attempted per game, a full attempt more than last year. Granted, the lockout may have depressed three point attempts as it did shooting numbers on the whole. New York and Houston lead the way with 27.7 and 26.7 attempts per game, respectively. Last year’s leader, Orlando, is actually one of the worst in the league in attempts this year (with a new coach and no Howard or SVG, that’s to be expected). Most teams are slowly but surely realizing the value of strong shooting to offense as a whole, and this year seems to have a ton of shooting. Ones that are desperate for shooting may have to pay up for the like of J.J. Redick, as it’s suddenly a hot commodity.


One Response to Ten NBA Thanksgiving Trends

  1. Steven Kucher says:

    The bucks are pretenders. Ain’t nobody messing with the Knicks, Knicks, Knicks. Josh Smith is killing my fantasy team, but Mayo is a great late round steal for me. Both guys are punks though. Happy turkey day. Good read. Go LeBron!

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