Eee-ficiency, Three–ficiency, and Hack-a-Wilt?

Lost in all this week’s “posse”-turing was the release of an internal communique to Commissioner Adam Silver from Stat Guru Horatio N. Proportion advising that four franchises immediately be granted permission to begin peddling 2017 playoff ticket packages.

In recent times, you see, the surest path to the NBA post-season has been statistical control of the three-point stripe – knock down your fair share of your own treys, keep the other guys from doing the same, play to that standard consistently. That alone will earn you a ticket to the playoffs in today’s NBA, regardless to your style of play or level of proficiency in any other statistical area.

Not inclined to buy that just cuz I say so? Well, allow me to elaborate.

Over the past ten seasons, there have been 38 occasions where a team has ended its season among the league’s Top Ten in 3FG% and in opponents’ 3FG% … only five times has that team not advanced to the playoffs. That collection of teams can boast four champions – including our Banner 17 boys – and three other finalists, and is comprised of 20 different teams.

[Historical footnote: Banner 14 (with Bill Fitch) and Banner 16 (with KC Jones) were each earned by such Masters of the Arc. Among the myriad accomplishments of the ’86 King Pins was leading the Association in 3FG%.]

If we go back five more seasons, the pool of teams to have demonstrated such “Three-fficiency” swells to 60 (representing 27 franchises), of whom 52 participated in the championship tournament – a stout 87 percent.

By contrast, in the NBA’s first decade of Three-Ball, only 32 of the 50 teams who posted this version of a Triple Double were able to extend their season beyond mid-April. (The 1981-82 Indiana Pacers topped both charts, yet were on the outside looking in come playoff time.)

Through 21 days and 152 games of the NBA’s 71st season, the preponderance of three-point shooting has picked up momentum. Slightly better than three out of every ten FG attempts league-wide has been from distance – a 3PAr of .301, up from last season’s .285. Three different teams – the Nets (really!), Cavs and Rockets (Morey + D’Antoni = .437, Wow!!) – are taking 40+ percent of their shots from beyond the arc.

What’s most ironic about all this mad bombing is how little impact it really has on why games get won and lost. Sure, a buzzer-beating “heave” can turn a two-point lead into a gut-wrenching loss.

But over the course of time – yes, even just three weeks – the effect of all these “threes” on a team’s point differential with its opponent is negligible. No more than two points per game for no less than 20 teams, to this point in the season – the difference is less than a single point per game for 14 squads.

Take the Celtics as an example – their 108 successful three-point shots are mitigated by 58 missed free throws, a net gain of 50 points. The other guys have gained 36 points (59 misses to 95 treys). That’s a 14-point edge over 10 games, 1.4 measly points per game … one disadvantageous bounce turns victory into defeat. (That said, the C’s “measly” score is exceeded by that of only six other teams.)

And this is the situation with fully two-thirds of the league.

The top six teams by this “simple-metric” are Portland (+4.28 points per game), Golden State (4.10), the post-Kobe Lakers (3.72), Houston (3.50), Cleveland (2.88) and Brooklyn (+1.50).

At the other end of the spectrum, we find New Orleans (-5.28 ppg), Phoenix (-3.54), Atlanta (-3.12), Detroit (-2.46), Washington (-2.34) and Miami (-1.66).

Now, when the specialty shooting (threes and foul shots) of the opposing teams pretty much balances out, then the outcome of the game is decided by the flow of play. Whichever team “stops” the other guys more often wins, just like in a pick-up game.

Currently, the cream of that crop would be Doc Rivers’s LA Clippers, who register 7.64 more stops per game than their opponents – it helps to be No. 1 in FG defense and No. 2 in forcing turnovers.

The remainder of the Elite: Atlanta (+7.33 stops per game), Toronto (+3.89), Charlotte (+3.67), San Antonio (+3.27) and Golden State (+2.50).

The Dregs? Philly (-7.80 stops per game), Orlando (-4.64), Denver (-4.20), Memphis (-3.80), Portland (-3.00) and Sacramento (-2.55).

So who, then, are these four teams that have wrapped themselves up a playoff spot as an early Christmas gift – at least according to some Stat Guru?

In 2015-16, the Warriors and Spurs owned the top two spots in 3FG% and opp. 3FG% pretty much from box-to-wire, so it’s no surprise they qualify.

The identity of the other two may raise an eyebrow or two since each appears in one of the “bottom” rankings right above. One has been an over-achieving playoff pest in recent years using this very methodology – the very under-appreciated Terry Stotts’s Portland Trail Blazers; and the other is led by a Pop-clone – Coach Bud’s Atlanta Hawks.

Here are those Top Tens through three weeks:

3-Point Accuracy / 3-Point Defense

1. Minnesota (.418) [No. 19] / Milwaukee (.308) [No. 21]
2. San Antonio (.396) [No. 3] / Denver (.315) [No. 11]
3. LA Clippers (.375) [No. 12] / San Antonio (.317) [No. 2]
4. Golden State (.375) [No. 10] / Charlotte (.319) [No. 15]
5. Houston (.372) [No. 22] / Portland (.320) [No. 7]
6. Cleveland (.371) [No. 13] / LA Lakers (.322) [No. 16]
7. Portland (.366) [No. 5] / Oklahoma City (.325) [No. 19]
8. Atlanta (.363) [No. 8] / Atlanta (.329) No. 8]
9. Boston (.361) [No. 23] / Orlando (.332) [No. 24]
10. Indiana (.356) [No. 14] / Golden State (.332) [No. 4]

Casual Observation: If there’s any validity to this pattern, maybe we should keep an eye on the Nuggets.

Abacus Revelation for the Road

I guess Commissioner Silver was a little to pre-occupied to notice – but shame on his staff—what with labor negotiations, Horatio’s interruptions and what not …

… but an interesting NBA 50th anniversary occurred last Sunday, Nov. 13.

On that Sunday evening in Chicago, the expansion Bulls, a team comprised of other teams’ castoffs, were playing the mighty Philadelphia 76ers for the second game in a row. The champions-to-be had dispatched the upstarts in Philly two nights earlier in a game more lop-sided than its 126-113 final score. Wilt led the way with 37 points.

The 76ers had a stop-over Saturday evening in Cincinnati, a nondescript 112-98 win over the Royals, Chamberlain again topping the scoring charts with 26 points.

Here are two brief accounts of Sunday’s game (both attributed to the Associated Press).

Is this, perchance, the birth of the defensive strategy later to be dubbed Hack-a-Shaq?

The Bulls – coach Red Kerr, certainly floor leader and Wilt’s long-time teammate Guy Rodgers – certainly were aware that the Big Guy had missed 19 of 24 free throws the previous two games, a miserable 1-for-10 Friday night right in their faces.

Wilt didn’t sit out many minutes that season, played 45.5 a game. But his Hall of Fame coach sat him down that night.

D.Jordan image: Dallas Morning News
B. Bogdanovic image:
Stotts/Ramsey image: NBA Coaches Assoc.
newspaper clip (left): Reading (PA) Eagle, 11/14/66
newspaper clip (right): Gettysburg (PA) Times, 11/14/66