One Key Stat For Every NBA Playoff Team
By Ian Levy
Nylon Calculus, brought to you by The Step Back
Houston Rockets -- 118.1 points per 100 possessions
The Houston Rockets landed the top seed in the Western Conference, driven in large part by the offensive synergy between James Harden, Clint Capela and new addition Chris Paul. The pairing has worked out as well as Houston could have expected and their offensive rating when this trio is on the floor together -- 118.1 points per 100 possessions -- is more than six points better than their league-leading season-long mark. Anyone who wants to knock the Rockets out of the playoffs will have to slow this trio down but it certainly won’t be easy.
Minnesota Timberwolves -- 58.0 percent
The Timberwolves thrived on offense this season, despite an unconventional approach that didn’t rely heavily on movement or 3-pointers. One of the keys was their impressive ability to score off the dribble. Minnesota scored on 57.8 percent of their drives this season, the highest of any playoff team besides the Cavaliers. Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins all averaged at least 7.0 drives per game and all shot better than 45.0 percent on their drives. The ability to test defenses with penetration will be key to their playoff hopes.
Golden State Warriors -- +7.2 percentage points
The Warriors aren’t exactly sure when Stephen Curry will be able to return to the lineup, but a Finals run will be a lot easier if he’s on the court. This season, the Warriors team true shooting percentage has been 7.2 percentage points higher with Curry on the floor. Obviously, his own shooting prowess is a factor but it’s also the pressure he puts on a defense that creates space for his teammates. The Warriors can be terrific even without Curry, but his return would push them back towards potentially unstoppable.
San Antonio Spurs -- 704 possessions
Without Kawhi Leonard for the bulk of the year, the Spurs increasingly ran their offense through LaMarcus Aldridge in the low post. No player used more possessions on post-ups than Aldridge’s 704 this year, more than a hundred more than any other player in the league. He ranked in 80th percentile in efficiency and provided San Antonio with a consistent avenue to a high-quality look when defenses tightened. The Spurs led the league in low-post frequency and were the only the team with a single-digit turnover percentage on post-ups. Post-ups don’t always yield the highest expected value but they were a consistent source of points for San Antonio all season long.
Portland Trail Blazers -- -3.6 points per 100 possessions
In a stacked Western Conference, not many people expected the Portland Trail Blazers to establish themselves as the biggest potential challenger to the Warriors and Rockets. Portland’s surprisingly strong season has been driven by huge improvement at the defensive end -- the Blazers are allowing 3.6 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season, a change that was good enough to take them from 21st to ninth in the NBA. If the Blazers can keep turning opponents away and allowing Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to do their thing at the other end, they could keep surprising everyone.
New Orleans Pelicans -- 0.402 points per touch
The Pelicans season looked like it might be over at the end of January when DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles’ tendon. Instead of slipping into draft lottery oblivion, Anthony Davis stepped into the middle and helped lead this team back to the playoffs. Since Cousins went down Davis has been averaging 0.400 points per touch, the second-best mark in the league for players who average at least 50 touches per game. Kevin Durant is the only player who has been more efficient than Davis as a high-volume scorer over that span and the Pelicans will need The Brow to be at the top of his game if they’re going to pull off a first-round upset.
Oklahoma City Thunder -- 4.8 screen assists per game
He doesn’t get nearly as much attention as Paul George and Russell Westbrook, but Steven Adams has been just as important to the Thunder’s success this season. In particular, his skill in the pick-and-roll game helps open Oklahoma City’s offense. Adams’ 4.8 screen assists per game rank second in the NBA and are one of the reasons that Russell Westbrook ranks eighth in the league in points scored per game as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and Paul George ranks sixth in points scored per game coming off screens. Adams does all the little things that can help this team reach its ceiling.
Utah Jazz -- 51.9 percent
The return of Rudy Gobert is what helped spark the Utah Jazz’s surge back into the Western Conference playoff picture. The impact of his presence on their interior defense is just enormous. This season, opposing players are shooting just 51.9 percent within six feet of the basket when Gobert is the closest defender. That’s 10.0 percentage points lower than the season than the combined season average of those players from this area of the floor.
Toronto Raptors -- +17.1 points per 100 possessions
The Raptors underwent some enormous changes to their offensive style this season but the development of their bench has been just as important to their success. Toronto’s bench mob -- Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl -- is outscoring opponents by an average of 17.1 points per 100 possessions with offensive and defensive efficiencies that would both rank first in the league if stretched across the entire season. These Raptors have had their share of playoff disappointments but they’ve never been better, or deeper, than they are this season.
Washington Wizards -- 109.8 points per 100 possessions
The Wizards were able to survive offensively for two months without All-Star point guard John Wall, in large part because of the emergence of Tomas Satoransky. The Wizards averaged 109.8 points per 100 possessions with Satoransky on the floor while Wall was out, a mark that would have ranked sixth in the NBA across the entire season. Satoransky is a skilled shooter and playmaker and his emergence as a third guard alongside Wall and Bradley Beal could be the depth the Wizards need to finally get over the playoff hump.
Boston Celtics -- 49.5 percent
The Celtics will be playing the entire playoffs without Kyrie Irving, their leading scorer and primary offensive initiator. Their young backcourt players will need to step up but they’ll also need to lean on their defense. Opponents shot just 49.5 percent against Boston this season, the second-best mark in the NBA. Boston was also much better on the defensive glass this season and turning those opponent misses into easy transition scoring opportunities will be key for them as they try to advance.
Milwaukee Bucks -- 694 field goal attempts
Giannis Antetokounmpo has become one of the hardest players to guard in the NBA, and he does it all without a real 3-point shot. Giannis has attempted 699 shots in the restricted area this season, second only to LeBron James. He also shot 71.1 percent in the restricted area, fourth among players who attempted at least 500 shots in that zone. Every defense knows that Giannis is going to be trying to get to the basket, and yet know one seems able to keep him from getting exactly where he wants. Milwaukee will need Giannis to be superb in the playoffs and, as usual, he looks up to the challenge.
Cleveland Cavaliers -- 37.4 percent
The Cavaliers enter the playoffs with a dramatically different roster than they began the year with. However, the roles of everyone around LeBron are still clear -- space the floor on offense and hold your own on defense. In the regular season, Cavs besides LeBron made 37.4 percent of their 3-pointers. That includes marks over 40 percent for Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon and Jordan Clarkson. LeBron has been having one of his best season ever and if his teammates are making shots, he becomes even harder to stop.
Indiana Pacers -- 14.8 fastbreak points per game
The Indiana Pacers ranked 23rd in pace this season, a mark that belies their commitment to creating quick offense in transition. The Pacers ranked fifth in the NBA with 14.8 fastbreak points per game, the highest mark in the Eastern Conference. They also ranked third in the NBA in points off of turnovers per game. Indiana has been able to make some enormous comebacks this season, in part because of their ability to push the ball and create runs. As defenses tighten in the playoffs, they’ll need to sustain this transition attack to keep getting easy buckets.
Philadelphia 76ers -- 17.1 potential assists per game
With Joel Embiid’s status up in the air to begin the playoffs, the offensive creation of Ben Simmons will be increasingly important for the 76ers. The rookie is averaging 17.1 potential assists per game, the fourth-most in the NBA. His passing is infectious and helps drive the 76ers ball movement in general, one of the reasons they average 52.3 potential assists per game, by far the most in the NBA. Keeping the ball moving should help create open shots and hopefully keep the team’s playoff run going until Embiid can return.
Miami Heat -- 440 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts
Wayne Ellington made a strong Sixth Man of the Year case for himself, shooting 39.6 percent on 447 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts this season, the second-most attempts in the entire NBA. His shooting helps space the floor for the dribble penetration of Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson -- one of the reasons Miami’s offense was 3.6 points better per 100 possessions with Ellington on the floor, the best mark of any Heat backcourt player. Miami will need to hit some 3s for a playoff upset and Ellington is just the guy to do it.
Nylon Calculus covers basketball analytics for The Step Back, a premium NBA vertical at FanSided.com