Points Per Possession – The April Edition

If you don’t know what points per possesion is, go back and reread my former column about team stats in the NBA. I had some free time & took the team data from 82games.com & put it into a spreadsheet. Here are the teams ranked by points per 100 possessions:

Offense:

Rank	Team	Pts	Poss	OpPts
1 SAC 103.6 91 113
2 DAL 104.5 92 113
3 MIL 98.6 90 109

4 SEA 97 88 109
5 MIN 94.5 87 108
6 LAL 98.6 90 108
7 MEM 97.3 90 107
8 IND 91.1 86 106
9 DEN 97.1 91 106
10 POR 91.2 85 106
11 LAC 95 89 106
12 SAS 91.5 87 105
13 GSW 93.1 88 105
14 ORL 94.6 90 105
15 DET 89.9 86 104
16 HOU 89.3 86 104
17 MIA 90 86 104
18 BOS 94.8 91 104
19 NOR 92 88 104
20 UTA 88.7 85 104
21 CLE 93.3 90 104
22 NYK 92 89 103
23 PHO 94.1 90 103
24 NJN 89.5 87 102
25 PHI 88.3 87 101
26 WAS 91.9 91 101
27 TOR 85.7 86 100
28 ATL 91.2 90 100
29 CHI 89 90 98

Since I did this a little over a month ago, the Knicks have gotten a little better. They were 24th offensively, and now they’re 22nd. The Spurs seem to be the big winners, moving up 7 spots to #12. I guess that’s what happens when you win 17 straight games or is it the other way around? Maybe improving their offense (combined with the best defense in the league) helps you win a bunch of games in a row. The Nets were previously near average at 18th, and now they’re among the bottom at #24. That seems about right with the injuries they’ve had, especially downgrading from Jason Kidd to Lucious Harris.

The top 6 teams are relatively the same. Sacramento & Dallas are still far beyond everyone else in scoring. Milwaukee has crept into the top 3, while Minnesota dropped to 5th, but at that level the changes aren’t significant.

Let’s check out the other side of the ball.

Defense:

Rank	Team	Pts	Poss	dpPts
1 SAS 85 87 97
2 DET 84.7 86 98
3 IND 86 86 99
4 NJN 87.1 88 99
5 HOU 87.2 86 101
6 MIN 89.7 88 102
7 PHI 90.3 87 103
8 TOR 88.6 85 103
9 LAL 94.2 91 104
10 MEM 94.2 90 104
11 MIA 89.9 86 104
12 DEN 96.1 91 105
13 BOS 95.9 91 105
14 NOR 92.2 87 105
15 NYK 93.4 89 105
16 SAC 97.7 91 106
17 GSW 93.8 88 106
18 UTA 89.9 85 106
19 CHI 95.6 90 106
20 MIL 97.3 90 107
21 CLE 95.7 89 107
22 WAS 97.4 91 107
23 ATL 96.7 90 107
24 POR 92.3 85 108
25 PHO 97.7 90 108
26 DAL 100.3 92 109
27 SEA 97.7 88 110
28 LAC 99.1 89 110
29 ORL 101.5 89 113

Over the last 5 weeks, Detroit has upped their ranking to #2, from #5. We all remember the 75 point streak, and you have to wonder how much of that is due to Rasheed Wallace? Same with Boston who has done the most dramatic change. In February, they were ranked 22nd, and now they are 13th! Is John Carroll that much better than Jim O’Brien?

The Knicks’ defense has slipped 4 spots to #15. So the Knicks have gotten better offensively, and worse defensively. Could this be due to the replacing of Mutombo with Nazr Mohammed?

Just to give you a little perspective on how the teams ranked combined in offense and defense, I’ve computed their net points per 100 possessions. This is done by taking the number of points they score per 100 possessions, and subtract it from the number of points they give up per 100 possessions.

Net Points

Rank	Team	OpPts	dpPts	NetpPts
1 SAS 105 97 8
2 IND 106 99 7
3 SAC 113 106 7
4 DET 104 98 6
5 MIN 108 102 6
6 LAL 108 104 4
7 DAL 113 109 4
8 NJN 102 99 3

9 HOU 104 101 3
10 MEM 107 104 3
11 MIL 109 107 2
12 DEN 106 105 1
13 MIA 104 104 0
14 BOS 104 105 -1
15 NOR 104 105 -1
16 GSW 105 106 -1
17 SEA 109 110 -1
18 PHI 101 103 -2
19 NYK 103 105 -2
20 UTA 104 106 -2
21 POR 106 108 -2
22 TOR 100 103 -3
23 CLE 104 107 -3
24 LAC 106 110 -4
25 PHO 103 108 -5
26 WAS 101 107 -6
27 ATL 100 107 -7
28 CHI 98 106 -8
29 ORL 105 113 -8

Dallas is a surprise at number 7, because they have the 4th worst defense in the league. It just shows you exactly how good their offense is. The converse is true with the Nets, who have trouble scoring, but excel at keeping their opponents from doing the same. I wonder if the teams could help each other with a trade, or if they would loose their edge by dealing from their strength?

Don’t start placing your postseason bets solely on that chart above. There are many factors that aren’t covered by the above list. First is injuries. If the Nets’ don’t get Kidd & Martin back, they’ll be lucky to get past the second round. The Lakers have had their players injured for most of the year, and will probably be healthy for the playoffs. Secondly, home court advantage is a big factor in the playoffs. San Antonio might have the best combination of offense & defense, but right now, they’re a 3rd seed. Having to win a series or two (or three!) on the road will diminish their chances at a championship. Finally there are the unforeseeable events, including getting an extra defender.

Grizzlies Get Defensive

Man I was mean but I?m changing my scene
And I?m doing the best that I can.
I admit it?s getting better
A little better all the time

— “Getting Better”
The Beatles

Tonight’s opponent is the Memphis Grizzlies. A team that finished 28-54 (.341) last year. Dallas finished in first place in their division last year. This year is a different story. Memphis at 44-26 is tied with Dallas in the standings for the 5th seed. This can only further solidify Jerry West’s genius as a GM. In case you didn’t know, West was the GM of the Lakers from 1982 to 2000. Not only did he help to shape the Lakers in the 80s, but he was the one to bring Shaq & Kobe to the Los Angeles.

So how did Memphis improve so much? My best guess is they turned it up on the defensive end. Last year Memphis’ points per 100 possessions were 97.6 for, and 100.7 against. This year the offense is a little worse at 96.4, but the defense is an impressive 93.9! That’s an almost 7 point turn around. The biggest difference in the team stats department is lowering the opposing team’s eFG% (effective FG%, aka adjusted FG%, aka accounting for treys in FG%) in jump shots. (As opposed to dunks, tips & close – you really have to look at the graphs on 82games.com). Last year they allowed .434 eFG% from jump shots, and this year it’s down to .401.

The largest changes roster-wise is the addition of Posey & Wells, a full season from Mike Miller, and 20 minutes a game from Bo Outlaw. Other than Outlaw, I’m really not familiar enough with the players to comment on their defensive prowess. With Outlaw, you can just look at his stats and tell he’s a defensive specialist. Why else would someone that scores 6 points in 25 minutes stay in the league for 12 years? Funny thing is I can recall Outlaw playing for teams like the Suns and the Magic, because he’s one guy that always gets your attention on the court. He’s a freakishly athletic player, with seemingly little basketball skills on the offensive side. Kind of like Dennis Rodman minus the circus show.

I can’t believe that Bo Outlaw is a good enough defender to account for all of this difference. The assumption doesn’t have to be that Posey, Wells & Miller are great defensive players, but rather they’re probably better than the guys that they replaced, namely Gooden, Giricek, and Person. Of course there could be other factors as well, such as coaching, defensive schemes, improvement in the players that were there, voodoo dolls, etc.

The Knicks’ prospects against a good defensive team is not promising. They are 15-28 against teams that rank among top 19 teams in points against, and 18-10 against the bottom 10 teams. They are also 6-15 against the best 10 teams in def eFG%. In other words they struggle against good defensive teams & eat up the bad ones. Now before Knicks’ fan can go into despair these are stats for the entire year, and the team has changed much since then. Also remember that the Knicks are home tonight, which evens things out considerably.

The Best & Worst Offenses & Defenses

I dragged this lake looking for corpses
Dusted for prints, pried up the floorboards
Pieces of planes and black box recorders
Don’t lie

— “Private Eye”
Alkaline Trio

If you wanted to know quickly which teams had the best & worst offense & defense in the league, you might go to ESPN.com NBA stats page. You can click on the team-by-team comparison link and you’d see which teams have scored and given up the most points. You can sort the teams by a few different stats, and for this example you might use points scored per game and opponents points scored per game. So according to this you might conclude the best NBA offenses are:

Rank	Type	Pts
1	SAC	104.6
2	DAL	103.3
3	SEA	97.8
4	LAL	97.6
5	MIL	97.1
6	DEN	97
7	MEM	97
8	LAC	96.5
9	MIN	95.5
10	ORL	94.9
11	BOS	94.6
12	GS	94.4
13	PHO	93.6
14	CLE	92
15	POR	92
16	NO	91.9
17	NYK	91
18	NJ	90.7
19	WAS	90.6
20	SAS	90.1
21	IND	89.8
22	ATL	89.7
23	CHI	89.6
24	PHI	89.6
25	DET	89.6
26	UTA	88.9
27	HOU	88.3
28	MIA	88
29	TOR	84.9

And the best defenses:

Rank	Type	Pts
1	SAS	83.9
2	IND	84.9
3	HOU	85.1
4	NJ	86.5
5	DET	87
6	TOR	87.3
7	MIA	89.4
8	MIN	90
9	UTA	90.6
10	PHI	91.2
11	NO	91.8
12	NYK	92.6
13	POR	93.6
14	LAL	94
15	MEM	94.4
16	GS	95.2
17	ATL	95.2
18	DEN	95.3
19	CLE	95.3
20	MIL	95.4
21	CHI	95.7
22	WAS	96.2
23	BOS	96.6
24	PHO	97.2
25	SAC	97.3
26	SEA	98.8
27	LAC	98.8
28	DAL	99.8
29	ORL	100.7

But if you’ve ever seen an NBA game, you know some teams’ offenses are faster than others. This is because some teams like to run down the shot clock because they want to slow the tempo, where others like to take the first or second available open shot, because their offense is good enough to get an efficient shot off quickly. A team like Dallas or Sacramento would have more chances to score than let’s say Miami or Toronto. So the team that scores the most points in a game may not have the best offense in the league, because they simply might have the fastest offense in the league.

Well some smart people have already thought about this. They said, maybe instead of looking at how many points are scored per game, we should see how many points are scored per possession (or 100 possessions). Unfortunately the people at ESPN have never thought to ask this question, or at least have not thought it important enough to put it on their stat page. Luckily the good people at 82games.com have. You can’t sort the teams all nice like the ESPN page, and they don’t even have a page where all the teams are displayed. They only have the information by team pages. But with some patience, a good spreadsheet program, and 10 minutes of free time, you can do some quick analysis yourself.

So here we are, the best offenses in the NBA, by points per 100 possessions (pPts):

Rank	Type	Pts	Poss	pPts	OldRank	DRANK
1	SAC	104.6	91	114	1	+0
2	DAL	103.3	91	112	2	+0
3	SEA	97.8	89	109	3	+0
4	MIN	95.5	87	109	9	+5
5	LAL	97.6	90	108	4	-1
6	MIL	97.1	90	107	5	-1
7	MEM	97	90	107	6	-1
8	LAC	96.5	90	107	8	+0
9	POR	92	86	107	14	+5
10	DEN	97	91	106	7	-3
11	ORL	94.9	89	106	10	-1
12	GS	94.4	89	106	12	+0
13	NO	91.9	88	104	16	+3
14	IND	89.8	86	104	21	+7
15	UTA	88.9	85	104	26	+11
16	BOS	94.6	91	103	11	-5
17	PHO	93.6	91	103	13	-4
18	NJ	90.7	88	103	18	+0
19	SAS	90.1	87	103	20	+1
20	DET	89.6	86	103	23	+3
21	HOU	88.3	85	103	27	+6
22	MIA	88	85	103	28	+6
23	CLE	92	90	102	15	-8
24	NYK	91	89	102	17	-7
25	PHI	89.6	87	102	24	-1
26	WAS	90.6	90	100	19	-7
27	ATL	89.7	90	99	22	-5
28	CHI	89.6	90	99	25	-3
29	TOR	84.9	85	99	29	+0

The first team that jumps into the top 5, that wasn’t there before, is the Timberwolves at #4. Even though they only score 95.5 points a game, they would score 109 points if given 100 possessions. They just play at a slow pace of only 87 offensive possessions per game. (The average pace is 88.4 possessions/game). Portland also jumps into the top 10, while Utah & Indy move into the middle from the bottom 10. The big losers are Cleveland, Washington, and my own beloved Knicks, who drop to 6th worst.

Now for the defenses:

Rank	Type	Pts	Poss	pPts	OldRank	Diff
1	SAS	83.9	87	96	1	+0
2	IND	84.9	86	98	2	+0
3	NJ	86.5	88	98	4	+1
4	HOU	85.1	85	100	3	-1
5	DET	87	86	100	5	+0
6	TOR	87.3	85	102	6	+0
7	MIN	90	88	102	8	+1
8	LAL	94	90	103	14	+6
9	PHI	91.2	87	104	10	+1
10	NO	91.8	87	104	11	+1
11	NYK	92.6	89	104	12	+1
12	MEM	94.4	90	104	15	+3
13	DEN	95.3	91	104	18	+5
14	MIA	89.4	85	105	7	-7
15	MIL	95.4	90	105	20	+5
16	UTA	90.6	85	106	9	-7
17	GS	95.2	89	106	16	-1
18	ATL	95.2	89	106	17	-1
19	CLE	95.3	89	106	19	+0
20	CHI	95.7	90	106	21	+1
21	WAS	96.2	90	106	22	+1
22	BOS	96.6	91	106	23	+1
23	SAC	97.3	91	106	25	+2
24	PHO	97.2	90	107	24	+0
25	POR	93.6	86	109	13	-12
26	DAL	99.8	91	109	28	+2
27	SEA	98.8	89	110	26	-1
28	LAC	98.8	90	110	27	-1
29	ORL	100.7	89	112	29	+0

Not much difference here among the top teams. The Lakers move into the top 10. Meanwhile Miami and Utah drop out of the top 10 into the middle of the pack, while Portland takes the biggest dip to the 5th worst defense in the league.

Unfortunately it’s hard to judge the Knicks current team using these tools. The team has experienced a large turnover in their roster. These stats are for the Knicks over the entire year, which includes players like Van Horn, Charlie Ward, as well as Marbury and Penny Hardaway. However we can use it to learn a bit about tonight’s opponents, the Kings. The Kings are the team’s top scoring offense both by points per game, and by points per possession. Their 91 possessions/game tell you that they have one of the league’s fastest paced offense. Their defense is lacking, 7th worst in the league.

So then you might ask, if they have a great offense and a poor defense, shouldn’t they be an average team? Not necessarily. If anything they might be a little bit better, since their Pythagorean expected wins says they should have about 1 or 2 more wins, based on their points for/against. However, you can look at the offensive numbers above, and realize that they are a LOT better offensively than most teams. The difference between them and the #5 Lakers, is 6 points (per hundred possessions). This is the same difference between the #5 Lakers and #23 Cleveland.

So the Kings’ offense is very good, which is why they have the best record in the league.