Strangest Stats from the Young 2016-17 NBA Season

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 24, 2016

Strangest Stats from the Young 2016-17 NBA Season

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Some NBA statistics make sense. 

    Are we really surprised the Golden State Warriors are dominating on offense, or that LeBron James is throwing up more big numbers? Is it outlandish that Hassan Whiteside is leading the league in rebounds per game, or that Russell Westbrook is the scoring leader?

    Please don't be surprised DeMarcus Cousins is near the top of the leaderboard for technical fouls. 

    But other stats are...strange. 

    Those are the ones we're interested in here as we play around with small samples. You couldn't possibly have seen these 10 coming. 

Kawhi Leonard's Lackluster Individual Defense

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    The two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year is such a smart player that he's making a positive impact on the San Antonio Spurs' team defense by jumping passing lanes and rotating perfectly. Typically, Kawhi Leonard is such a disciplined and aggressive player that it's impossible to shoot against him. His long arms and gigantic hands have a way of disrupting any action that occurs within his vicinity. 

    According to NBA.com, that hasn't been the case so far this season. He's having individual trouble for the first time

    SeasonTypical FG% of Defensive AssignmentsDefended FG%Difference
    2013-1445.139.9Minus-5.2
    2014-1544.644.2Minus-0.4
    2015-1644.839.2Minus-5.6
    2016-1744.247.02.8

    It's not that Leonard is suddenly taking on tougher individual assignments. If anything, he's facing the worst opposition of his career, based on the typical field-goal percentages of his matchups. But for the first time in the last four years, he's not having any success slowing them down. 

    Maybe this is just an early-season fluke. Perhaps it's a sign Leonard's offensive role has grown unwieldy and is holding him back elsewhere. 

    Either way, it's strange. And based on his reputation and skill set, it shouldn't last too much longer. 

        

    Will This Change?

    Yes, we should still expect Leonard to finish the year with a difference in the negatives (a good thing here). 

Level of Success for Los Angeles Clippers

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    Before the season began, The Crossover ran a roundtable asking five Sports Illustrated NBA experts for their Finals prognostications. Three predicted the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers would meet for their third consecutive battle. Andrew Sharp had the Warriors beating the Boston Celtics, and Lee Jenkins was the odd man out. 

    He predicted the Los Angeles Clippers would knock off the Cavaliers, opening his justification with the following: 

    Before my editors haul me off to an asylum, this pick assumes that something goes wrong in Golden State, and not just a lack of rim protection or an iffy bench. Recent history suggests that superteams take a year to win the championship, and even though the Warriors employ four megastars instead of the usual three, that also means there’s a higher chance one of them gets hurt along the way.

    Thus, betting on the Clippers was, in part, a bet against the Warriors. After all, both Golden State and Cleveland entered the year as such overwhelming favorites that it bordered on insane to think the Clippers would look like the NBA's best team. 

    But then there's this: Led by a crazily accurate, Lasik-inspired Chris Paul and a fully healthy Blake Griffin, the Clippers have played so well that NBA Math's Team Rating has them on pace to be the best team in NBA history. It shows them stacking up against historical giants as such, based on how their offensive and defensive ratings compare to the league average:

    1. 2016-17 Los Angeles Clippers, 106.67 Team Rating
    2. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, 106.38
    3. 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, 105.71
    4. 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, 105.65
    5. 2007-08 Boston Celtics, 105.61

    The Warriors (104.84) and Cavaliers (103.4) have been the next best this year, but the Clippers are running away with the top mark. 

        

    Will This Change? 

    Yes, both because the Warriors defense should improve and the Clippers should eventually run into bench inconsistencies. 

Staples Center vs. AT&T Center

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    The Los Angeles Lakers struggled for the last few years, trying desperately to overcome a lack of talent and their commitment to a lesser version of Kobe Bryant. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs continued performing like a juggernaut, seamlessly blending in new stars to account for the declines of long-time stalwarts.

    But 2016-17 hasn't allowed that narrative to continue.

    Sure, the Spurs remain the better team. With an 11-3 record, they're right up near the top of the Western Conference. 

    But the Lakers continue to surprise the world with their success under new head coach Luke Walton, and they've been particularly deadly at home. Whereas San Antonio has been outscored by 0.5 points per 100 possessions within the friendly confines of the AT&T Center, Los Angeles has protected the Staples Center with a 2.1 net rating, per NBA.com.  

    The last time the Lakers had the superior home net rating was 2008-09, and they would go on to win the first of their back-to-back titles. 

    Are we saying the Lakers are due for a championship? Of course not.

    But they're finally clawing their way back to respectability and doing so in impressive fashion while performing for their own fans. 

        

    Will This Change? 

    Yes, because it's impossible to bet against the Spurs while they're playing so well. Their struggles at home feel more like a schedule fluke than a consistent trend. 

Minnesota Timberwolves' Struggles in 3rd and 4th Quarters

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    Quarters should be largely irrelevant. Rotations change between periods, but the teams are playing the same sport against the same opponent during each of the four 12-minute segments. 

    That hasn't been the case for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have often looked like one of the league's best during the first half and then fallen apart as soon as they re-emerge from the locker room. Take a gander at their quarter-by-quarter net ratings, per NBA.com

    Quarter1234
    Net Rating16.625.3Minus-30.9Minus-6.4

    It defies logic. And now, it's bleeding over into the final period after the Wolves allowed the Boston Celtics to embark upon a 31-12 fourth quarter that included the game's last 17 points on Monday.

    The preponderance of youth on the roster is more susceptible to swings in confidence, and the team is now engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Minnesota has heard so much about the third-quarter woes that it believes they're real and plays as such. 

    To be fair, how could it not? No other team has had this big a discrepancy between its best and worst quarters: 

    TeamNet Rating, Best QuarterNet Rating, Worst QuarterDifference
    Minnesota Timberwolves25.3 (Second)Minus-30.9 (Third)56.2
    Charlotte Hornets30.4 (Third)Minus-8.2 (Second)38.6
    Indiana Pacers12 (First)Minus-20.9 (Second)32.9
    Brooklyn Nets6.3 (Fourth)Minus-25.1 (Third)31.4

        

    Will This Change? 

    Yes, because this dichotomy between quarters is entirely unsustainable. Just look at the above table to realize how much of an aberration Minnesota has been. 

Offensive Woes Under Rick Carlisle

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    "We could all be digging ditches," Rick Carlisle said about how to keep the Dallas Mavericks' morale up, per Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News.

    His team might actually shoot better if it thought about digging ditches during in-game action. That's how bad the offense has been in 2016-17, emerging from the season's opening salvo with a league-worst 96.9 offensive rating

    It flies in the face of everything we know about Carlisle. 

    For years, he's been the coach capable of taking a bunch of role players and washed-up veterans to the playoffs. A master of in-game adjustments and out-of-timeout plays, he squeezes every iota of talent from his troops and maximizes their effectiveness on both ends. 

    But that hasn't been the case this year. In fact, only three players on the roster have positive offensive box plus/minuses: A.J. Hammons (played just 15 minutes), J.J. Barea (out for weeks with a calf tear) and Jonathan Gibson (67 minutes over the course of three games). 

    Harrison Barnes has put up gaudy per-game numbers, but his inefficiency from beyond the arc and lack of passing chops have betrayed him. Dirk Nowitzki has been uncharacteristically inaccurate during the three games for which he's actually been healthy. Wesley Matthews can't shoot. The guards are incapable of creating much offense. 

    Dallas has been disastrous. 

        

    Will This Change? 

    Yes, and not just because of Carlisle's pedigree. When this team gets healthy and learns how to use all of its new pieces, it should at least become somewhat competent on offense. Finishing dead last in offensive rating would be a monumental surprise. 

Dwyane Wade's Sharpshooting

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Through his first 14 appearances, Dwyane Wade has taken 3.5 triples per game and connected at a 38.8 percent clip. That means he's hit more three-pointers during his average outing than during 2011-16...combined. 

    Wade is on pace to knock down 111 treys in 2016-17, which would shatter his previous high of 88—set all the way back in 2008-09, when he finished third in the MVP standings behind only LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. 

    As he told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, this is something he's always been able to do. He just hasn't needed to: 

    A lot of people have talked about me not shooting threes, but no one has been able to take away what I wanted to do. So why would I do something else? When you take it away, I have the ability to knock it down. I'm not Doug McDermott. I'm not Niko [Mirotic]. But I'm comfortable with the shot and I'm going to shoot it. I know it's going to be there, so I have a better chance of knocking it down.

    He needs to this year for a Chicago Bulls squad that requires more floor-spacers. 

    And it's worked. 

        

    Will This Change? 

    No. Wade is a supremely talented offensive player who's getting shots in rhythm. Given his abilities and the Bulls' needs, there's no reason to expect him to stop firing away or hitting at an above-average rate. 

Disparity Between Chicago Bulls Offensive Rating and Shooting Percentages

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    Let's stick with the Bulls for one more shocking statistic. 

    Only five teams have posted a better offensive rating than Chicago's 111.2, and they're all good bets to advance to the playoffs. But 18 teams have earned better true shooting percentages, and 23 have proved superior in effective field-goal percentage. 

    This isn't normal.

    Over the last five years, offensive rating has been extremely correlated with both measures of shooting ability, as you can see here and here. In fact, we can use a best-fit linear regression to predict offensive rating based on either effective field-goal percentage or true shooting percentage, and my calculations show just how much of an aberration Chicago has become. 

    If we use their true shooting percentage as the predictive factor, we should expect the Bulls' offensive rating to stand at 105.2, which would rank No. 19 in the current NBA. If we rely on true shooting percentage, the team's expected offensive rating would be 104.0 and rank No. 22. 

    Either way, it's shocking that the Bulls offense has verged on elite, especially in a modern NBA that leans so heavily on shooting prowess. 

        

    Will This Change? 

    Yes, because numbers don't lie. Over the last five seasons, no team has finished with a top-six offensive rating while ranking worse than No. 11 in true shooting percentage or No. 14 in effective field-goal percentage. The Bulls are well outside those bounds. 

James Harden's Assist Numbers

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    Heading into this season, just four different qualified players had recorded at least 10 assists per game while providing dimes on no fewer than 50 percent of the shots made by their teammates while they were on the floor:

    • Chris Paul (twice)
    • John Stockton (seven time)
    • Steve Nash (four times)
    • Rajon Rondo

    Russell Westbrook and James Harden are both on pace to join them while leading their respective one-man shows. But the bearded guard—note: he's no longer the bearded 2-guard—can actually join an even more exclusive club.

    He's set to match Stockton as one of only two men to average 12 dimes with an assist percentage north of 55. In fact, no qualified player has ever logged an percentage higher than Harden's current mark of 57.6, though it's worth noting Westbrook's score of 59 is even better. 

    Still, we're focusing on the Houston superstar here because it was so hard to see this coming. We knew he was going to throw up dominant individual numbers, but no one could have predicted he'd be this good while making the transition to point guard. 

    During his previous seven NBA seasons, he'd never spent more than 2 percent of his minutes at the 1. This year, 98 percent are coming at the position, and he hasn't even needed a transition period. 

    He's simply become the league's most important point guard, responsible for an insane amount of his team's offensive production. 

        

    Will This Change? 

    No, because Harden is in the perfect spot to thrive. The Houston Rockets depend on him for everything, and head coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive schemes fit his talents in ideal fashion. He's going to set more than a few records. 

Surprising Leader in True Shooting Percentage

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    Normally, the men leading the pack in true shooting percentage are either dominant interior presences who can hold their own at the free-throw line or tremendous all-around shooters in the mold of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. That's who fills up the majority of the top 20, but the contributor on top is different. 

    Nik Stauskas, who was on the verge of becoming irrelevant after a lackluster sophomore campaign, leads the field, knocking down 53.8 percent of his looks from the field, 46.0 percent from beyond the arc and 82.6 percent at the charity stripe. 

    He's shooting nothing like he has in previous seasons:

    SeasonFG%3P%FT%TS%
    2014-1536.532.285.949.2
    2015-1638.532.677.151.7
    2016-1753.846.082.669.2

    As Stauskas told the Philadelphia Daily News' Bob Cooney, he's finally playing with confidence: 

    A lot of times all it is, is that you need to see a couple of shots go in and the basket starts getting bigger and your confidence starts to grow. Once I was able to put together a few solid offensive games I kind of just try to build off of that and keep going with it.

    Now it's just one of those things where I'm enjoying myself again, I'm having fun out there, and I think that's when I'm most effective, when I'm having fun and, like coach [Brett] Brown says, being a little bit cocky and playing with swagger. That's when I feel like I'm at my best.

    He's been at his best, and then some. 

        

    Will This Change? 

    Yes, because Stauskas didn't even shoot this well in college. During his last year at Michigan, he slashed 47.0/44.2/82.4—worse numbers across the board than what he's currently posting. 

Unexpected Rim-Protecting Studs

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    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    Last season, not a single player faced at least four shots per game at the rim and suited up in half of his team's games, per NBA.com's SportVU data. Those closest were the names you might expect—Rudy Gobert, John Henson, Jeff Withey, Festus Ezeli, Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Andrew Bogut led the field. 

    That hasn't been the case in 2016-17, as four different players are in the sub-40 club. 

    Hassan Whiteside and Meyers Leonard aren't shocking, considering their size and skill set. But LaMarcus Aldridge and Mike Muscala's presences both defy logic when you look at their history in this metric, which dates back to 2013-14: 

    SeasonFG% At Rim Allowed by MuscalaFG% At Rim Allowed by Aldridge
    2013-1455.749.1
    2014-1543.345.2
    2015-1653.548.4
    2016-1739.536.1

    How is this happening?

    Honestly, we have no clue. Your guess is as good as ours.

        

    Will This Change? 

    Yes. Yes, it will. 

        

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from Basketball-Reference.comNBA.com or NBA Math and are current heading into games on Nov. 23.