Making Sense of Early Season NBA Stats
We are less than two weeks into the season and some trends are already starting to emerge. For instance, scoring is way up this season. Last year's games had an average 212.67 points per game. This year? 224.65. That’s around a 5.5% increase just for starters. I suspect we see it normalize some over the course of the season, but there’s no doubt teams are playing faster paces across the board just for starters.
Early in the season, especially from a DFS perspective, it can be instructive to look at some players who are over or underperforming certain numbers from the season before to see if we can make any meaningful conclusions about whether the numbers are sustainable.
I looked at some key stats from last season (on a per minute basis to remove some weirdness around game scripts, foul trouble, etc) to find out who we might be buying high or low on this early.
Scoring Per Minute Drop-off
2018 Points Per Minute - .76
2019 Points Per Minute - .49
After an excellent 2018 campaign, his first as a Celtic, Kyrie’s season was cut short due to injury. This sseason, he’s struggled to find the scoring touch early on. It stood to reason we’d see at least some decrease in usage from Kyrie considering the Celtics came into the season at full strength (Hayward back, etc) and with some of their role players gaining increased confidence because of a strong playoff run on the back of the young guys. So projecting Irving’s scoring a bit lower for this year seemed reasonable. But he’s also really struggling from three, shooting 21% on six attempts per game. The usage is mostly there, averaging 16.4 shots per game (18 shots per game last year) but the overall FG% is down as well (40%, 46% career). I think we see Kyrie tick back up the scoring as the season moves on and while others might be bearish on him because of the early season struggles, I think we are generally buying low on his scoring upside.
2018 Points Per Minute - .52
2019 Points Per Minute - .32
The Pelicans have scored roughly a bajillion points to start the season but it hasn’t been because Jrue’s been dropping buckets. For all of their scoring prowess, they haven’t needed Holiday one bit. His shot attempts per minute are down, which could be a season-long trend because of the additions of Elfrid Payton and a full season of Nikola Mirotic, but Holiday is also been running ice cold from the field. He’s yet to hit a three-pointer (0-11 going into Friday night’s game) and is shooting only 32% from the field. This will turn itself around, and if anything, the offensive firepower of the Pelicans should only serve to get him better looks as defenses can no longer just hone in on he and AD. Holiday also falls into another category on this list: Biggest upticks in Assists per minute (.16 to .26). For what he’s not hitting in shots, his teammates are and he’s providing some of the runway. I suspect we see those numbers normalize a little as well. All in all, I’m not worried in the slightest about Holiday’s numbers going forward.
Scoring Per Minute Upticks
2018 Points Per Minute - .62
2019 Points Per Minute - .91
Wowsers. Lavine only played in 24 games last season, so maybe we have some sample size issues around his per minute stats. And for all intents and purposes he’s playing with a completely different team this season compared to last (Only Justin Holiday returns to the starting lineup, the rest of the cast is all new). But Lavine is seeing a major increase in per minute scoring. The reason isn’t shot volume, he’s averaging roughly to same per minute shot attempts. Instead, he’s shooting much better from the field, (57%, 44% career average) AND he’s getting to the line more. Last year he averaged .16 FT attempts and is now up to .25. If he’s taking more advantage of the NBA’s freedom of movement rules, combined with the ball being in his hands more (the Bulls are very short on reliable ball handlers at this point) then we should still see Lavine attacking the rim. While I don’t think the shooting efficiency as sustainable, the trips to the stripe might be.
2018 Points Per Minute - .57
2019 Points Per Minute - .92
This one is pretty simple: The dude’s been white-hot from the field and from three. His per minute three-point attempts are basically the same, but he’s hit 48% of them (42% last year). There’s also been an increase in shot attempts per minute for Nikola padding the scoring as well. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect him to continue taking close to 20 shots per game on only 30 minutes and it’s safe to say the shooting efficiency will regress some over time. Maybe the quality of looks are better because he’s finally playing with a real team (withsuperstar-levell talent), but that doesn’t fully explain the gap.
The Pistons’ Two-Man team
2018 Points Per Minute - .63
2019 Points Per Minute - .91
2018 Shot Attempts Per Minute - .34
2019 Shot Attempts Per Minute - .56
If there was any doubt the Pistons were just a two-man team (and that’s about it) this early season is putting it to rest. These two, combined are taking 42% of the team’s combined shots, easily the most of the league between just two players. It makes sense the Pistons would hitch their wagon to these stars. They have no wing play to speak of and even the point guard talent is compromised. Reggie Jackson will never be the answer and Ish Smith is a probing point guard who finds himself in the lane without a prayer too often.
The good news is these numbers are likely to sustain for the two big guys. Neither seems demurred by the thought of playing with the other and they’ve even begun to establish something of a two-man game in the high post because Blake can take the right defender off the dribble. I think we continue to see big time usage out of both
- Blake Griffin: (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)