Harris Finds a Home?

The 2019 NBA trade deadline has come and gone and I wanted to take a moment to comment on one of my favorite deals that was struck before the clock hit 3:00 PM. Tobias Harris is a player that is no stranger to relocating mid-season. The twenty-six-year-old is currently in his eighth NBA season and just received news that he has been traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Philadelphia 76ers. This will be the fifth team that Tobias Harris will play for in his professional career (He previously played for the Milwaukie Bucks, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons).

Tobias Harris 2-7-19
Tobias Harris: Photo Credit usatoday.com

It didn’t take long for Harris to show his excitement. After he was informed of the trade, Harris responded via Twitter with the following post, “Excited for this new opportunity with the @sixers, let’s get to work and bring another championship to Philadelphia”. The post trade tweet from Harris perfectly captures the direction of the 76ers organization. We can see that the team has clearly committed to a win now strategy as they have not been shy dealing young assets and plenty of draft picks to make what I believe is now the strongest starting lineup in the East.

Overall, this seems to be one of the better trades we see at the deadline for both teams involved. The Clippers have fallen through the rankings after a very strong start this season. It seems that now, competing for an eight seed in the West, they have decided that their current roster can’t top the best teams in the league and they are looking to rebuild with future assets as opposed to pushing for what would likely be an early departure from the playoffs.

Tobias Harris Graphs Stacked
Top: Tobias Harris’ Shooting Percentages; Bottom: Tobias Harris’ Scoring Efficiency

Philadelphia on the other hand is bringing in a talented young player who is in the midst of a season where he is posting career bests in three-point percentage, overall field goal percentage, and points per game. Tobias is a player that can contribute in every column on the stat sheet and will be a welcomed addition to this youthful starting lineup.

With the last-minute moves made this season it appears that “The Process” or re-build of the 76ers roster is just about complete. Outside of the Tobias Harris deal, Philadelphia also added depth to their roster with the acquisition of James Ennis from the Houston Rockets and Jonathan Simmons from the Orlando Magic. Many sixers fans are thrilled with the aggressive work of the front office at the trade deadline. It puts the team in a strong position to make a push deep into the playoffs and maybe to their first NBA finals appearance since 2001. The big question that we will have to wait and see the answer too will be can this team really pose a threat to the best rosters in the league? Golden State is boasting a starting lineup of All-Stars and will be a tall wall for any team to conquer this season.

Regardless of where the 76ers season ends, it is nice to see Harris finally find his way to a competitive roster. In his career thus far, Harris has only been on a playoff qualifying team once (Detroit 2015-16) and they were eliminated in just four games by that years Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. I know I speak for a lot of fans when I say I can’t wait to see how this Tobias new Sixers roster mature together.

End of January Power Rankings 2019

We are approximately two thirds of the way through the NBA season and we have the strongest ranking model yet. With a few changes, the model is now showing an R-square value of 99 percent. The model is still predicting winning percentage which may not be the best way to rank teams since it leaves out strength of schedule. It does however give us a good image of what teams are expected to finish with the best records this season.

Rankings 2-2-19
Rankings based on games played up until 2-1-19

Milwaukee stayed at the top of our rankings and are showing no signs of slowing down. However, there have been some rumors and roster changes that could lead to substantial late season movement. Golden State for example has a very good chance of moving to the top spot. With DeMarcus Cousins’ return from injury, they now have what is likely the best starting lineup in NBA history. In case you didn’t remember, all five Warrior starters were in last year’s All-Star game.

The Los Angeles Lakers are another team I would expect to move a little higher up in the rankings. With LeBron James back in the lineup, there is no doubt the team is better. The Lakers are also one of the most popular teams for last minute trade rumors this season. Based on the feedback they got from their first few offers to the New Orleans Pelicans, it doesn’t seem likely that Anthony Davis will be making his way over to the golden coast before the trade deadline. But, with a plethora of young assets and a need to make space for any the many stars who have expressed interest in joining the King in LA, they could still be working on a last-minute deal to better position their team for the future.

One team we should expect to see move in down in the rankings is the Indiana Pacers. With Victor Oladipo out due to a ruptured quad tendon that is likely to keep him sidelined until 2021, it would be no surprise that the Pacers are not able to perform at the same level. There are some rumors that indicate they are open to trades to keep their team relevant in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture. Memphis Grizzlies’ starting point guard Mike Conley has been rumored to be a player of interest in the Pacers trade rumors.

One last team that deserves a little recognition for their efforts to improve is the Dallas Mavericks. On top of the breakout performance of rookie phenomenon Luka Doncic, the Mavericks worked out a trade to bring in the young star Kristaps Porzingis. Though Porzingis may not see the court this year due to his continued recovery from an ACL tear, fans all around the league are eagerly waiting to see the young duo in action. As long as Porzingis can stay healthy, Dallas may be the up and coming team to watch in the Western Conference next season.

Overall, I am very happy with the new model and will continue to look for ways to improve it. Feel free to contact me through the main website with any ideas, comments, or topics about what you want to hear more about.

The Warriors Boogie

DeMarcus Cousins has progressed through his rehab with little to no setbacks and is expected to take the court for the first time as a Golden State Warrior shortly after Christmas. Prior to the season, the Warriors’ signing of Cousins had the NBA community in an uproar. Warriors fans were thrilled and others were giving up on their favorite team before the season even started. It’s safe to say that the other teams still have hope as the Warriors have fought through injuries and drama, landing them in the second spot in the West with a 15 and 7 overall record.

With a starting lineup boasting four current NBA stars, there have been lots of questions about what DeMarcus Cousins’ role will be in the lineup. To try and understand Cousins’ role and effectiveness with his new team, I decided to take a look at other players who have gone through serious ACL injuries. For this analysis, I decided to compare player stats from the year of their injury to their first and second seasons back playing after recovering (seasons only counted if the players played 20 games or more). The stats I chose to look at for this analysis were field goal percentage, assists, rebounds, and turnovers. Some of the main stats we see such as steals and blocks were not included because they typically have a small year to year variance and it would be hard to attribute minor changes to the injury.

DeMarcus Cousins Golden State Warmups
DeMarcus Cousins in Golden State Warmups: Photo Credit Sportingnews.com

With the use of Kaggle.com, I was able to acquire a dataset of all NBA injuries between 2010 and 2018. From there I sorted through the data to leave only the players with torn Achilles/ACL injuries. With these filters applied only 38 players remained. Of those 38 players, 9 stopped playing directly after the injury or only attempted one more season (these players were removed from the dataset for lack of relevance). 5 players are currently recovering or haven’t played at least two seasons of 20 games or more since their ACL injury so they were removed from the dataset as well. This left me with 24 players with recent Achilles tears to examine.

In most cases, players returning from serious injuries are eased back into action. For that reason, I chose to take player stats per 36 minutes of playing time so decreased minutes per game wouldn’t skew player efficiency. A common mistake sports analysts seem to make is looking at totals without thinking about why they are the way they are.

When the dataset was finally put together, it lead me to some surprising findings. Regardless of player age we see that players do seem to take a step backwards in their first season back from a serious ACL injury. In the second year, there are still less productive stat lines, but many players start getting back to their output prior to injury. The most surprising observation had to be how close the post injury hustle stats were to their pre-injury output. In most cases, assists and rebounds dropped less than one per game in the averages.

Field goal percentage is a different story. All but four of the 24 players in the study dropped in overall field goal percentage their first year back and for the most part the drops were significant. Even in the second year back we see almost half of the players shooting worse than they were prior to injury.

Achillies Injury Stats
Red areas show stats that are under players production levels prior to ACL injury. 

Shooting appears to the area most significantly affected by ACL injuries and for that reason I think DeMarcus Cousins will actually do well in the Golden State. In fact, this may have been the ideal place for him to land this season. The Warriors certainly have enough scoring and outside shooting. If Cousins comes back and starts shooting like Andre Drummond from the three-point line, he can still be a beneficial part of the Warriors starting lineup. No offense to Jordan Bell, Damian Jones and Jonas Jerebko, but DeMarcus Cousins brings something to the team that the Warriors haven’t had in the splash brother’s era. He is a dominant NBA center and a powerful offensive presence under the basket. Even if Cousins isn’t playing at the level he was prior to injury, he will still be a more effective scorer in the paint than the Warriors’ current options and he will likely be a better defender, rebounder, and passer.

Cousins may have found the best place to get back up to speed. He won’t be forced into a lead offensive role he isn’t ready to take on and he will be a valuable addition to a team that just might bring home a third straight NBA Championship.

It’s Raining 3’s

In the last ten years (between the 2008-09 and 2017-18 seasons) the average number of three-pointers attempted by teams per game has increased 59.9 percent. That’s over ten more three-point shot attempts a game per team. The rapid growth in the popularity of the three-point shot has taken the game by storm and shows no signs of slowing down with a team average of 31.7 three-point shot attempts taken per game (as of the morning of October 25).

3 Point Attempts

Along with the increase in three-point attempts, we have seen an increase in points scored per game and a decrease in two-point shot attempts. This shows us that the way basketball is played has drastically changed. The traditional big man who thrived off of minimal movement and exclusively scoring in the paint is starting to disappear or be forced to adjust to a faster more versatile playing style. Andre Drummond for example, the player to record the worst free throw shooting percentage in NBA history (35.5 percent in 2015-16), has taken more three-point shots in the Pistons first three games this season than he did in his first three years in the NBA.

How did this happen? There used to be a time when players like Ray Allen and Kyle Korver were few and far between. How did three-point shooting go from being a specialty to being a necessity? Well, there are a few main stages that have contributed to the shooting change in the NBA, and surprise, it starts with the Golden State Warriors.

Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely teams shooting high volumes of three-pointers before the Curry and Thompson stole the show. The Orlando Magic, for example, put up 27.3 three-pointers per game in the 2008-09 season where they ultimately fell to Kobe’s Lakers in game five of the NBA finals. But the 2012-13 NBA season is where the splash brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, began to build a brand of excellence and success based wonderous three-point shooting.

splash brothers
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson; Splash Brothers – Photo Credit to thebiglead.com

Curry and Thompson went on to have five consecutive 50 plus win seasons as well as breaking the regular season win record with 73 in the 2015-16 season. In this time span, the two original splash brothers averaged no less than fourteen three-point attempts per game between the two of them. Now, Curry and Thompson hold the top five spots on the leaderboard for three-point field goals scored in a season (Curry has the record at 402 in 2015-2016).

The Warriors continued to brand success with the three-pointer every year. As if two accurate, high volume shooters weren’t enough, they added another All-Star to the roster in 2016, Kevin Durant, who fit right in shooting five or more three-pointers per game in his first two season with the Warriors. Golden State has now won three NBA Championships in the last four years with this playing style and other teams around the league took notice.

Houston, another team that has spurred the three-point revolution, moved to a high volume three-point offense around the same time as the Warriors in 2012-13 and have recently become one of the strongest offenses in the West. Last year, the Rockets became the first team in NBA history to average more three-pointers per game than two-point field goals and they nearly eliminated the Golden State Warriors from the playoffs in the Western Conference Finals.

As more teams find success with the three-ball, more teams try to replicate the playing style. As of the morning of October 25th, there are no NBA teams averaging less than twenty-one three-pointers attempted per game, and there are twenty-one teams averaging thirty or more attempts per game. Three-point shooting is on the rise and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. One question this leaves us with is how likely are we to see four-point shots in NBA basketball?