Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful day with your family and lots of great food.
However, in my humble opinion, the real Thanksgiving was celebrated six weeks ago.
Jokes aside, there are plenty of things to be thankful for in the NBA, such as the 10-7... Kings?!?
Let’s save the best for last, though (just like pumpkin pie!), and start out in Boston.
The Celtics’ historic offense
Scoring has increased exponentially over the past decade, and that trend isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The average offensive rating is currently 112.6, but the Celtics are on another planet: they’re scoring an absurd 120 points per 100 possessions, which would be the highest number in league history.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are averaging a combined 51.2 points, 14.6 rebounds, and 8.1 assists on 49/35/85 shooting, and the entire team is hitting threes at a 39.7% clip. More impressive is the fact that they’re making all those attempts while taking 44.6% of their shots from beyond the arc, which is tied for first in the league alongside Golden State (Daryl Morey just felt a surge of Dopamine somewhere in Philly).
The scariest part is that this team can still have the best offense even if their hot shooting drops off, as the gap between Boston’s 120 offensive rating and second-place Phoenix (117.2) is larger than the gap between Phoenix and ninth-place Dallas (114.5).
Sure, their location-effective field goal percentage (54.8%, 8th in the league), is higher than their actual rate (58.3%, 1st), but that doesn’t take into account the quality of shooters Boston has. Among their top seven players by minutes played, only Derrick White and Marcus Smart have historically shot below average from deep, and they’re getting quality looks too: according to NBA tracking data, the Celtics are taking 19.3 wide-open threes per game (6th most league-wide), which they categorize as a shot with defenders being 6+ feet away.
So even if Al Horford, Grant Williams, and White don’t continue to make 45% of shots from deep, Boston can remain an elite offense just from the looks that they’re generating.
More importantly, the Celtics also lead the league in half-court offensive rating to an absurd degree. They’re currently scoring 107.2 points per 100 possessions against set defenses, and the difference between them and second-place Sacramento (102.7) is larger than the difference between Sacramento and ninth-place Utah (98.5).
The sample size isn’t small, either: 81.3% of Boston’s possessions are of the half-court variety, which is the 6th highest rate in the league. Remember, the Celtics’ half-court offense was their Achilles heel during last year’s finals, so this might be the most encouraging stat of their season so far.
Come playoff time, a rematch between them and Milwaukee could be even better than their series last season. We’ve previously discussed how the Bucks have switched their defensive scheme to prevent threes, so having these juggernauts meet would be like witnessing an unstoppable force vs an immovable object.
And hey, as long as Luke Kornet keeps doing this on defense, Boston will have as good of a chance as any team to win the title this year.
The Trae / Dejounte partnership
Atlanta made a huge bet in the offseason by trading three future first-round picks to acquire Dejounte Murray, and the returns so far have been interesting, to say the least.
Take a look at their on/off splits:
Both on: +7.4 net rating, 117.2 offensive rating, 109.7 defensive rating
Trae on, Dejounte off: -8.9 net rating, 110.7 offensive rating, 119.6 defensive rating
Dejounte on, Trae off: -9.5 net rating, 99.8 offensive rating, 109.3 defensive rating
It’s concerning to see that Atlanta’s still struggling to generate offense whenever Trae sits, even with Dejounte running the show. The most surprising stat, though, is the Trae minutes alone.
Last year, the Hawks had a +3.2 net rating and a 119.3 offensive rating with Trae playing, and that was without the presence of Dejounte. A lot of those minutes were spent alongside Kevin Huerter (who’s currently lighting it up in Sac-town), so it seems like Atlanta might have underestimated just how impactful Red Velvet was as a secondary creator.
It’s important to note that Bogdan Bogdanovic also played a crucial role in those lineups, and his ongoing injury has left a gaping hole on a roster that’s still anemic offensively without Trae.
Atlanta’s playbook hasn’t changed, either. They were second league-wide in pick and roll frequency last year (22%) and are first this season (22.8%). The number of P&Rs that Trae runs has actually increased from 14 last year (most in the league) to 14.2 this year (second most behind Luka), so any hope of him playing more off-ball hasn’t exactly gone to plan.
Meanwhile, Dejounte is also running 8.6 P&Rs, and while that’s down from last year (10.5), it’s still 13th most league-wide on a per-game basis.
As a result, it shouldn’t be surprising that Atlanta’s offense is mostly just a my turn, your turn, back and forth between the two guards without a ton of movement.
Any hope of Trae incorporating more off-ball movement is now gone... whenever Dejounte has the ball, he usually just stands around and sometimes looks for a spot-up pic.twitter.com/qJ9yF0QtBD— Bill Huan (@bill_huan) November 25, 2022
Shockingly, the Hawks are actually 9th in defense, but that comes with huge red flags. Opponents currently have an effective field goal percentage of 52.5% against Atlanta, which is the 6th lowest rate in the league, but the Hawks are actually 24th in location effective field goal percentage, as opponents are expected to be shooting 54.9% instead.
Given that Atlanta has been in the bottom five in defense in two of the last three seasons, it’s likely that the poor opponent shooting has more to do with luck rather than scheme, and a dropoff will be coming soon.
Offensively, the Hawks are also surprisingly 20th in the league, and they should improve once Bogdanovic returns and they have more time to acclimate Dejounte into their system. Even so, Atlanta ranks 25th in effective field goal percentage (51.2%) and 29th in location effective field goal percentage (53%) since they have the lowest three-point frequency (27.6%) and are bottom 10 in shot frequency around the rim too (32.3%).
Taking everything into consideration, it’s hard to see how Atlanta can be a true East contender. Even if their offense improves, the Hawks still have the shot profile of a team from the 80s, and the numbers also suggest that their current defense is a fluke.
The hottest team in the league is... the Kings?!?!
LIGHT THE BEAM, BABY, LIGHT THE BEAM!! THE
KANGZ KINGS ARE 10-7 AND JUST WENT ON A SEVEN GAME WIN STREAK.
50 years from now, I’m going to talk about this like it was the second coming of the moon landing.
In all seriousness, Sacramento actually looks... competent?
The Kings currently have a +2.4 net rating (7th) with a 117.1 offensive rating (4th), and a lot of their improvement can be attributed to the elite play of De’Aaron Fox.
After being one of the worst clutch players in the league last year, Fox has completely flipped that script. He currently leads the league with 50 points in the clutch this season, which is even more impressive considering he’s done that in only 38 minutes played.
Fox has also made 20 of his 31 field goal attempts during that time, and while he won’t continue shooting over 64% during crunch time, his decision-making improvements suggest that Sacramento can now lean on him to be a reliable lead ball-handler and continue spearheading an elite offense.
Take a look at the first possession in the following clip to get a sense of what I mean.
De'Aaron Fox tonight in the Kings' 7th straight win:— NBA (@NBA) November 23, 2022
Sacramento's longest winning streak since 2004 pic.twitter.com/hLADoKIHhm
In the past, Fox would likely have forced up that shot instead of finding the big for an easy dunk, but he now routinely takes an extra moment to scan the court to ensure that he’s making the right play.
There are some stats, though, which indicate that Fox and the Kings likely won’t sustain their current level of play. For starters, Fox is shooting 53% from the mid-range and 38% from deep, which are both career highs and substantial improvements from last year (46% and 30%, respectively).
Sacramento is also overperforming their expected shooting percentage as a whole, as they are second in effective field goal percentage (57.6%) but 15th in location field goal percentage (54.3%).
With that said, Fox is also taking a career-low 24% of his shots around the rim, and if that increases to his usual average of ~35%, then it could offset any potential decrease in pull-up efficiency.
More importantly, Sacramento’s defense is due for major improvement. Unlike Atlanta, the Kings are 6th in opponent location effective field goal percentage (53.7%) but an unlucky 29th in actual percentage (56.2%). They allow the fewest wide-open threes per game (11.8) but opponents are still shooting an unsustainable 43.8% on such attempts. Overall, the opposition is making 38.8% on threes against Sacramento, the second-highest rate league-wide, but history shows us that conceding lower-quality shots should result in defensive improvements.
In short, the numbers suggest that the Kings’ defense will improve more than their offense might decline, so there is plenty of reason to believe that their recent surge is a sign of things to come rather than a flash in the pan.
This week, please check out Dr. Pittsley’s article on interesting Spurs numbers from the first quarter of the season. The Professor’s Corner is one of the best series on SBNation so don’t miss out!
Thanks for reading and see you all next week!