Tag Archives: Boston Celtics

Non-conference standings and point differential since 1951

During the middle of last season, I started a weekly series devoted to non-conference games. Way back then, the 2014 West was on track for the highest winning percentage against the East over the last 18 years. They eventually fell just short of that mark, but recorded the highest point-differential against the East and vice versa. Those stats since 1997 are according to NBA.com, but there were still 46 years of non-conference matchups to uncover. Which conference in which year really had the highest winning percentage against the other? What about point differential? That’s what this post takes care of.

Below is a table allowing for sorting and filtering over the last 60+ years. 1951 to 1996 were from Basketball-Reference. After that I’ll look at the best years in winning percentage and point differential.

From 1951 to 1970, the conferences were called divisions and for good reason: There were as few as eight teams. The East was often the best over those 20 years of non-conference battles, and their peak was 1960. The Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia Warriors improved by 10+ wins, the latter team with a rookie Wilt Chamberlain, but there was also the 59-16 Boston Celtics with Bill Russell. Out West, the St. Louis Hawks were the only team to finish over .500, 46-29, while the other three were a combined 74-151. The 1960 East still have the highest winning percentage ever in non-conference play at 70.83, 7.5 percent better than the 2004 West’s mark of 63.33, but they also own the highest point differential of +5.87, about a full point higher than the second-highest that came from the 1972 West.

More on those runner-ups in a bit. From 1951 to 1970, though, it seems fair to put an asterisk next to that era’s non-conference stats because of how small the NBA was. For that reason and visual purposes, I left them out of some charts.

As for 2004, the East was mostly a two-team race between the eventual champion Detroit Pistons and the conference finalist Indiana Pacers. In the West, the Lakers may have been the favorite, but there were arguably four other teams that, with a little luck, could’ve made the Finals instead. For the highest point differential, the 1972 West outdoes 2014 by a decent amount. Among other reasons for the West’s success 42 years ago, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks were in their second season placed in the conference. Six of their nine teams recorded over 47 wins that year while the East had just two of their eight do the same in Boston and New York.

Below is a chart of point differential since 1971 with some notes:

west pd since 1971

(click to enlarge)

Back to the table, though: I included ‘PD%’, which stands for point differential percentage. This was an attempt to adjust for pace over the years since the average in 1972 was 112.0 and last season it was 93.9. Maybe winning 125-115 looks less impressive than 105-95, maybe it doesn’t. When it comes to the top point differential, though, we can see if dividing West points by East points changes anything:

west pd and percentage since 1971 pdeahaiohaso;dhf

‘PD%’ doesn’t change too much of the top 10. It does lower the separation between the 1972 and 2014 West while some recent, slow-paced years with a dominant conference move up the ranks, but the charts over the last 40 years look pretty identical. They both indicate East was better during the ’80s and, when some guy named Michael Jordan wasn’t in retirement, the ’90s also. Since then, the East has struggled for a variety of reasons, one being sloppy roster management.

That looks to have changed somewhat, and sooner or later some of the West’s powerhouses will rebuild while the East will crank out more consistent winners. We’ll see how much LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh all staying in the East helped the conference in both the short and long run.

Next Monday I’ll bounce off this post and take a look at non-conference records of the past using not just point differential, but some stats I’ve yet to use in this series. (Edit: Maybe not next Monday…but the next Monday after that, and also the Friday that week…!)

Career shot and point distribution charts: Ray Allen

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Lately I’ve been getting back to looking at shot and point distribution charts, ones of players still in the Finals and a few other greats over their entire careers. The charts are the ones I’ve used for players and teams in previous posts, tracking shots on NBA.com from the restricted area, in the paint non-restricted area, mid-range, corner 3, above the break 3, and free throws, but I’ve recently added a few more charts to the mix. This post is basically a trial version of them with Ray Allen’s being the ones tested, and if it turns out all right I might turn it into a blog series over the off-season.

There will probably be some tweaking to do, but for now I plucked Allen’s yearly numbers from NBA.com which somehow has shooting stats and charts starting not at 2001 but 1997, though I don’t consider the ones from ’97 to be all that accurate thanks to the shortened three-point line back then. We get to work with every other season of Allen’s career, though, and maybe other notable players from the late-90s to today.

In past posts, I included GIFs and/or screenshots to show changes in charts from each season, player or team, and while I’ll use each of those for this post I’ll also use galleries so readers can cycle through charts at their own pace. The galleries also provide a little animation between each season to help show shifts in shooting and scoring.

Hopefully all of that isn’t confusing, but I can be pretty lazy with explaining things. For those who haven’t looked at these kinds of charts before, maybe just looking at them is easier to understand anyway.

Allen’s attempts over his career from both the field and the free throw line were what I looked at first, and below is an example of the four different charts I made for that section. This one is from 1998’s available stats:

1998 rayface

My apologies if screenshots look a bit blurry. They look much sharper when clicking to enlarge.

The first 3 charts are mostly similar with FGA distribution missing free throws, of course, but that one and attempts per 36 minutes compliment Allen’s first chart (attempts per game) best in his later years when his minutes and total attempts decline.

The last chart, attempts per 36 minutes compared to the player average, is something I’ve recently been playing with, though it doesn’t adjust for pace. In 1998, Allen took nearly six mid-range shots per 36 minutes, but compared to every other player’s numbers it was more standard than his attempts from the corner three, where he took twice as many attempts/36 minutes as the average player. This is a pretty common theme over Allen’s career.

Below are the rest of Allen’s attempts in a photo gallery. It should be on auto play, so I guess in way it’s still a slow-moving GIF, but it can be paused any time:

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Where Allen shoots from each location has obviously changed over the years, once heavy on mid-range shots and almost always making a ton of either above the break threes or corner threes compared to the player average.

Below are the differences between his second and 18th season of his career (1998 and 2014):

1998-2014 rayface

Allen still takes a similar amount of above the break threes per 36 minutes as he did in 1998, but now he attempts about 3.5 times as many corner threes, half the free throws and shots in the paint (outside the restricted area), a third from mid-range, and about three-fifths as many around the rim. It also shows how three-happy the league has become with Allen’s above the break 3s/36 minutes more standard now than compared to the late-90s.

Some of Allen’s changes are consistent with how his FGA distribution has changed with each team. Below is a GIF putting his combined point distributions for each team together (click to enlarge):

Allen on Make A Gif

Along with the roster around him, age most likely contributes to Allen’s shift in FGA and FGM distribution. With the Heat, it also changes a bit when he’s in lineups with or without LeBron James:

ray w-o lebron

 

I also looked at Allen’s biggest changes in FGA distribution from season to season, basically by a simple subtraction of percentages. I took 1998’s percentages and subtracting them from 1999’s, for example, then made every change in percentage positive and adding each location’s numbers up.

This is what each season looks like, sorted by biggest total changes to smallest:

ray fga change overall

Visually, that looks correct when looking how the largest and smallest changes stack up (as usual, click to enlarge if you’d like):

ray fga change large 2010-11

Allen took more of his attempts from mid-range in 2011 despite having a fourth straight decline in usage rate, but he also took a higher percentage of his attempts from the corner three and, as shown much further down in this post, he was way more accurate there than in 2010.

Mid-range and non-restricted area paint attempts are the biggest differences in 2004 and 2005, but everything else looks the same otherwise. When comparing changes in Allen’s FGA distribution in 2003 before and after the trade that sent him from Milwaukee to Seattle, his chart hardly moves and would be the lowest compared to season-by-season changes, totaling to a 6.53% change. (Threes were a different story. More on that later.)

Simply subtracting doesn’t take into account the shots Allen takes least (depending on the season, either corner threes or in the paint non-RA shots) and most (either shots around the rim or above the break threes). It’s often a bigger deal if a player or team takes five percent more of field goal attempts from the corners than around the rim, and I tried a couple ways to balance for that but hit snags since they’d be hopeless if Allen (or any other player, or team) took zero percent of their shots from one of the five locations. Also, I’m terrible at math and maybe over-thought the whole process, so if there’s an easy way to calculate that stuff I’d love to hear it since I’m looking into shooting and scoring by teams over each season, among other post ideas.

To go back to mid-range and other two-point shots, though, it may or may not be surprising that Allen took as many as he once did, though that can be said about the league as a whole. Mid-range shots made up a great chunk of Allen’s shots for a long time, and about 20 percent of his attempts as a member of the Heat still come from that area of the floor, but that’s down from what was anywhere from 25 to over 40 percent as a Buck, Sonic, or Celtic.

Looking at his shot charts at NBA.com that split into several locations, less of his twos come from the wings now than they did as a Sonic or Celtic, but there’s still a similar amount from the baseline where, for most of his career, Allen took the most of his jump shooting twos.

Below is a breakdown of Allen’s 2PA distribution according to spots on NBA.com’s shot charts. I gave locations names that are hopefully self-explanatory, but can be found here just in case:

2pa dist

As usual, click to enlarge. Very helpful!

Allen’s baseline shots are the standard ones from being run off the three-point line and getting separation off screens, but quite a few come from trying to get space off the dribble when the shot clock is winding down. He doesn’t get all that far, painful to watch when he was once so good at attacking off the dribble (one example here), but he doesn’t need much space to get his beautiful shot off anyway.

Even if Allen seems to struggle a bit more in getting to the rim off the dribble, he’s still having career-lows or near career-lows in attempts/36 minutes from all the 2PA locations on NBA.com’s shot charts all while having a career-high in corner three-point attempts/36 minutes and percent of his FGA being corner threes. His mid-range shots/36 minutes have gone from around or above league-average in his first 15 charted seasons to two-thirds and nearly half the average in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and he shot nearly three times as many corner threes per 36 minutes as the average player this season. The leaders from the corners each season often take four to five times as many as the average player, though, sometimes even more when looking 10+ seasons back. James Jones led all players this year by taking 5.8x corner threes/36 minutes, but in 2005 Donyell Marshall took 7.1 times as many, then followed it up with 6.0x and 5.8x as many while Cleveland in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Fun times.

To touch on free throws, Allen’s charts almost always show him above the player average in free throw attempts/36 minutes during his prime which, like his attack off the dribble, feels underrated considering his status as a killer shooter.

I found his free throw and three point rates to be pretty interesting, even though they seem common in both his age and that when the free throws lower the threes often rise:

ft and 3p rates

I’ll touch more on threes later when chiming in on some thoughts on Allen’s scoring distribution, which I looked at in a similar way to shot attempts but with some tweaks. Below is a gallery visualizing four scoring stats from 1998 to 2014, but with some changes in charts from attempt distribution:

  • Points per game from the six spots on the floor.
  • Effective field goal percentage from all but free throws.
  • Point distribution but this time including free throws, unlike in the first gallery of graphs.
  • How Allen’s points/36 minutes from each spot measure up with the league average (per player).

Anyway, flip through the charts if you’d like:

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There are some hopefully cool things to look at. Going back to mid-range shots, below is a similar graph like before but covering 2PM distribution:

2pm dist

And a gallery comparing 2PA and 2PM distribution. Flip flop if you’d like:

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Season by season, Allen’s changes in point distribution from largest to smallest are a bit different from changes in FGA distribution, where the largest for that was from 2010 to 2011 and the smallest from 2004 to 2005:

ray point dist change overall

Understandably, the smallest change in point distribution was in Allen’s second season with the Heat. The largest change was not after a trade in 2003 or 2007 or going from the Celtics to the Heat in the summer of 2012, but from his seasons as a Buck in 2001 and 2002. 

Again, with simple subtraction, that all looks correct visually:

ray pt dist big and small

From 2001 to 2002, Allen scored less from the free throw line but upped his three point rate from .357 to .460. He took 3.67 times the average player’s corner 3s/36 minutes, ranking tenth minimum 1,000 minutes. For above the break threes (he attempted 3.32x the player average), he was only behind Antoine Walker (3.64), Jason Williams (3.70), and Tim Hardaway (4.22).

No shame in falling just behind those three players in anything related to threes, and Allen’s got pretty nuts when flipping through the 1998-2003 section of the scoring gallery shown above. Maybe suspected from the 2002 charts: Allen placed in the top 10 that season in both threes attempted and made for both the corner and above the break three. It started a string of top 10 finishes in the latter location:

ray 3pa-36 min leg avg

I thought Allen’s threes deserved a gallery of multiple charts, featuring both three-point attempt and made distribution from the five spots available on NBA.com’s shooting charts, another with accuracy from those locations, and a line chart tracking the shooting swings each season.

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1998, 2002, and 2010 look almost perfectly balanced in attempt distribution from each spot, while some weirdly (for a right-handed shooter, anyway) show a great deal of threes from the right wing. Also, to go back to the graph of his shots with and without LeBron on the floor, it’s no surprise to see Allen taking more of his threes from the corner as a member of the Heat. Last year he teed off from the left side, but this year it’s from the right. Attempts from straight away are just about gone and weren’t ever a big deal anyway.

Below is a GIF of Allen’s combined distributions during his Buck, Sonic, Celtic, and current Heat career. The differences in attempted and made threes are pretty minor (click to enlarge):

A4ZqD7 on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

Followed by that GIF are threes in 2003 before and after the trade that sent him from Milwaukee to Seattle. Quite a change midway through the season:

ray 3pa dist mil-sea 2003

Again, it’s kind of weird to see a right-handed shooter take a bunch of his attempts from the right wing, but Allen went through shifts from just about everywhere but from straight away. Shots from the corners and from straight on barely changed, at least in attempt distribution.

Lastly, Allen’s assist percentage on threes over the last two seasons are some of his highest ever. Among other notes, the right corner was a flat 100 percent for six straight seasons with 114 assisted threes during that stretch:

ray 3 ast%

Allen’s long been one of my favorites to watch from the times his NBA Live ’98 player torched me to how unfair he can make Miami’s offense just by standing in a corner. His charts were a test to see how they look in a blog post and if readers would be curious about ones for other players. A lot of other greats over the years have some cool charts, or maybe I’m biased because I was so curious about them to begin with. Probably the latter.

Some other thoughts:

  • I could’ve added playoff shooting and scoring, but was worried it would clutter this post even more.
  • Clutter…were there too many charts? A lot of them were player dependent, though. As much as I’d like to, I’d probably refrain from 3pt charts for someone like Tim Duncan. Maybe throw in a game of Solitaire instead.
  • The charts obviously don’t tell everything, like I can’t even put together SportVU-related shooting charts because the numbers don’t add up to Allen’s total points. I could try fooling around with them for other players, though, and see if something’s presentable.

Oh well. Curious what others think of this post and if any tweaks could’ve been made. This is definitely a trial version of posts I had in mind for other players and was also a post meant to shake off a ton of rust over the last few weeks.

A follow up on the Celtics, Lakers, and what only the 2007 Mavericks have done to them

celticslogo_history3

I think I made my new Twitter avatar?

The first related post can be found here.

Nearly four months ago (!!!), both the Celtics and Lakers came into the season with very average expectations, even the possibility each could contend for a top-3 pick in this summer’s draft. Only in 1994 had both teams come close to such an occasion, when Larry Bird was two seasons into retirement and one season before a brief comeback by Magic Johnson.

But even during that season, no team accomplished the near-impossible feat of winning more games than the Celtics and Lakers combined. It’s only happened once, back in 2007 when the Dallas Mavericks won 67 games to Los Angeles’ (41-41) and Boston’s (24-58) combined 65.

It’s difficult enough to say one team could win more than any random two combined, let alone two of the most storied franchises, but right now the current chances are as good as ever. Below is table with teams with either more wins than the Celtics and Lakers combined or within reach.

 

The Lakers (18-35) are on their last legs with a depleted roster missing Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and even Nick Young and others while Boston (19-35) has won four of their last six, but are 6-17 in 2014 overall. The trade deadline also looms with an outside chance each franchise parts with key players, either the Lakers with Pau Gasol or the Celtics with Rajon Rondo. They also have other tradable pieces and, of course, the chance to acquire more lottery balls.

Another similar, weird accomplishment came in 1997 when the Clippers won more than the Celtics and Spurs. Maybe one day we’ll look back at 2014 when a few teams won more than the Celtics and Lakers, which is incredible in itself as both are bound to reload through the draft and free agency, but we could also say the same about a team winning more than the collective total of two teams like the Pelicans and 76ers.

Revisiting Boston’s odds to win the Atlantic

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Paul Keleher | Flickr

About a month before the season, LVH SuperBook at Las Vegas released their 2013-14 NBA Division odds as well as over/under win totals for each team.

While the win totals provide for plenty of discussion five weeks into the season, betting the correct side of the over/unders yields only so much of a return on the initial investment (unless you can do a parlay). Going far against the odds when picking division winners, however, could mean loads of winnings if everything comes to place. Let’s take a look at the one division where that could most likely happen: the Atlantic.

Once again, odds are according to LVH SuperBook:

Brooklyn Nets: 4-7

New York Knicks: 3-2

Toronto Raptors: 10-1

Boston Celtics: 60-1

Philadelphia 76ers: 500-1

Boston currently holds a three-game lead over Brooklyn and New York. That’s nothing at this point, especially when Boston’s goals this season are likely different from the two favorites coming into the season, but it makes you wonder if anyone put a wager on the Celtics’ hopes in the Atlantic as a joke (ahem, Bill Simmons?) then recently started following it closer than expected because you never know.

Currently, John Hollinger’s odds of the Celtics winning the Atlantic are 62.4 percent, something I don’t agree with since it doesn’t seem to take into account recent transactions and how much of an impact the 2014 Draft has on certain teams. Toronto, for instance, has a 63.2 percent chance of making the playoffs (26.5 percent to win the division).

I’ll bet against that when they just traded Rudy Gay, which is addition by subtraction but still; Toronto will make another move soon. Kyle Lowry seems to be the latest Raptor on the block, but we could see more players shipped in the near future. The same could be said for Boston, but probably not until they get a feel for what the team is like with Rajon Rondo.

The odds are sure to change after this week. Boston plays at Brooklyn tonight and hosts New York on Friday, the latter in an eight-game stretch where seven are at home. We might even see Boston on top of the Atlantic for the rest of December, one of the bigger surprises this season probably to both fans and those who bet in their favor.

Also, if you were wondering, Portland was 10-1 to win the Northwest.

The Celtics, the Lakers, and what only the 2007 Mavericks have done to them

celticslogo_history

Mediocrity has been a rarity for two of the NBA’s most storied franchises: the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Their accomplishments have been discussed several times such as the 33 championships, 52 Finals appearances overall, and over 6,000 regular season victories between the two.

Only once in over 60 years have both teams either missed the playoffs or finished below .500 in the same season. That was in 1994, just the second season since Larry Bird’s retirement and two seasons before a brief comeback by Magic Johnson. It’s a rude awakening when I normally think of that decade ending only yesterday.

The 2006-07 season was the last time both teams came in with average expectations. The Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, Smush Parker, and Kwame Brown finished 41-41. Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson, a rookie named Rajon Rondo, and the Celtics limped to the finish line at 24-58, winning only 12 of their final 50 games. Their slump might’ve had something to do with Greg Oden and Kevin Durant being near-locks as 2007 NBA Draft participants. (For more 2007 nostalgia, check out a post I devoted to that entire year.)

2007 didn’t join 1994 where both teams missed the playoffs or finished below .500, but something else funky happened in the regular season and for the very first time in league history: A team won more games than the Celtics and Lakers combined.

That team was the Dallas Mavericks.

If not for the title run in 2011, mentioning the 2007 version of Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks might sting more than compliment. Even then, it’s worth noting there’s some degree of difficulty for a random team to win more than two other random ones, let alone the Celtics and Lakers. Last season, the two worst teams in the NBA last season, the Magic and Bobcats, combined for 41 wins. The 10th and 11th worst teams, Toronto and Portland, combined for 67. That 2007 Mavericks team is the last to match such an amount.

The likelihood of catching both the Celtics and the Lakers in underwhelming seasons and winning more than both of them combined speaks for itself. Dallas accomplished something nobody had done before despite opportunities for teams in the mid-90s, 2005, and 2006 to be the first to do so. Maybe Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of 1993 and 1994 would’ve been the first, but that’s just one of several coulda-shoulda-wouldas with Jordan’s first retirement.

The mid-2010s may bring another opportunity for a team to join the likes of the ’07 Mavericks for multiple reasons: injuries to the Celtics and Lakers’ franchise cornerstones in 2013, a haul of very average players for each team, both conferences being more beefed up at the top, and the tankapalooza that will lead up to 2014 NBA Draft. The window to win more than the Celtics and Lakers combined could close after this season if A) the Lakers make a huge splash in free agency like they intend and B) Boston rebuilds successfully through a loaded draft.

For now, the chance is there.

Hopefully joining the ’07 Mavericks in a rare regular season feat doesn’t come with their playoff disappointment as well. If anything crazy happens, however, teams that win more games than the Celtics and Lakers combined in a single season win a championship four years later. 100 percent of the time.

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