Season Preview: Pacific Division
By Jay Cipoleti
No playoff team took fewer than 2,100 Restricted Area shots last season, save for the Warriors, who took only 1,977. As a result, Golden State also significantly lagged the playoff average Free Throw Rate of 0.282, managing only a 0.255 FT Rate.
Enter Andre Igoudala. Iggy took 875 shots last year in Denver, only 22 more than the departed Jarrett Jack. Where he chose to take them bodes very well for the Warriors this year. While Jack was busy avoiding the Restricted Area and with it, trips to the foul line, Igoudala was attacking it and racking up the freebies.
Jack was the only player in the League with more than 350 Mid Range FGAs, 200 attempts In The Paint, and fewer than 100 shots in the Restricted Area. The result was a 0.231 FT Rate that made his 45.3% make rate in those two midrange zones less efficient than it appears (and really, when does a midrange game ever appear efficient?).
Iguodala took only 303 shots in those two midrange areas combined, while making 73.4% of his 289 Restricted Area attempts (second only to LeBron among players with 200+ RA attempts) and earning steady trips to the foul line (0.301 FT Rate).
Factor in Steph Curry's 52.8% C3 make rate and the possibility he will see many more of those looks with the emergence of Kent Bazemore over the summer, and the healthy returns of David Lee and Andrew Bogut, and the Warriors are poised to become one of the League's elite offensive teams.
Like the Warriors, the Clippers exited the 2012-13 season in need of improvement in one shot zone to join the elite offensive ranks. Unlike the Warriors, it isn't the Restricted Area. The Clips' 64.9% RA conversion rate trailed only the Heat's 67.2%, although for all the Lob City talk their 2,296 RA attempts ranked only 13th.
Again unlike the Warriors, the Clippers need to up their shooting percentages beyond the 3-point line. Their 38.3% Corner/34.7% Above Break make rates fell below the playoff averages of 39.6%/35.8%. In their first round loss to Memphis, those percentages dropped to 35.7%/29.1% on 28 and 86 attempts, respectively.
They addressed that in the offseason with the selection of Reggie Bullock (43.6% 3s at UNC last season) and the addition of Jared Dudley (43.1% RC3s; 38.3% AB3s) and J.J. Redick (40.6% LC3s; 36.2% AB3s). With Chris Paul running the show, this trio manning the corners, and Doc Rivers ensuring there is no drop off on the defensive end, the Clippers will be eyeing a top seed in the West.
The Lakers did not have a single five-man lineup play more than 339 minutes last year. Contrast that with the Pacers, whose Big 5 played 1,217 minutes, or the Thunder's primary quintet that played 1,307 minutes, and at least the lack of continuity this season won't be anything new for head coach Mike D'Antoni.
The Lakers return just a single five-man lineup from a year ago. The combination of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks and Steve Nash played a total of seven minutes together as a full unit last season.
The closest thing to a building block the Lakers have returning (at least until Kobe Bryant is healthy) is the trio of Steve Blake, Pau Gasol and Jodie Meeks, who saw action together for 221 minutes over 20 games last season ... and offensively they looked eerily similar to the Bobcats.
|Four Factors Comparison||eFG%||FTA Rate||TOV%||OR%|
With most every team in the League, past is prologue to an extent. With the Lakers, there are just questions and white space.
Can 39-year old Steve Nash and 35-year old Kobe Bryant return to pre-injury form? There is a long case history that says no.
A more basic question -- how will this roster replace the 2,597 departed shots? Or the Kobe shots, 1,591 of them, that will be allocated elsewhere until he returns?
Those questions can only be answered once the games begin. All the more reason to tune in to the Lake Show this season.
29th in Offensive Rating. 24th in Defensive Rating. 28th in Net Rating. The task of rebuilding the Suns appears daunting. Where do you start?
Let's start in the much maligned Mid Range, where the Suns attempted 28.55 shots per game, tops in the West and second only to the 76ers in the League. As the following scatter plot shows, there is a distinct and significant correlation between the number of Mid Range shots a team attempts and its Offensive Rating. Mid Range attempts go up, offensive efficiency goes down ... unless you have Kevin Durant or LeBron James taking those MR shots.
The Great Mid Range Divide occurs in the 23-24 shots per game gap. In 2012-13, 14 teams attempted fewer than 23 MRs per game; only 2 of them (Pistons, Pacers) had an OffRtg below 102.0. Conversely, 16 teams, led by Philly (99.5 OffRtg) and Phoenix (98.2 OffRtg), attempted 24+ MRs per game, with only 5 (Portland, Golden State, Toronto, Dallas, Utah) topping the 102.0 Offensive Rating mark.
Newcomer Eric Bledsoe will help reallocate the Suns' shots into more high-value zones. Last year with the Clippers, nearly half of his FGAs (264 of 568) came in the Restricted Area, with only 146 Mid Range attempts.
The rebuild in Phoenix will take time. The move away from the reliance on Mid Range jumpers is a good first step.
In a lot of ways, the 28-54 Kings resembled a playoff team last season. Their 103.0 OffRtg matched the League average of 103.1, besting six of the 16 playoff teams. Across all Four Factors on the offensive end, Sacramento was the embodiment of the League average, and with 16 of 30 teams making the postseason, the League average puts you just inside the playoff bubble.
|Four Factors||Sacramento||NBA Average|
The defensive end was an entirely different story, where the Kings could politely be termed hospitable. Only five playoff teams allowed opponents to shoot higher than 60% in the Restricted Area, none higher than the Knicks 61.9% allowed. The Kings all but rolled out the red carpet for opponents in the RA, allowing teams to shoot a League-high 65.6% in the RA.
On those rare occasions when opponents did miss, Sacramento was courteous enough to allow them to rebound 29.0% of their misses, also a League-high.
To address that, the Kings selected ... an electric guard combo of sharpshooter Ben McLemore and rim attacking Ray McCallum, Jr. The seventh-fastest team in the NBA last season will likely play even faster this year.
The Kings are bringing an uptempo, high scoring style of basketball to Sacramento this season. Unfortunately, so will everybody else.