Quick Thoughts

The primary story of this NBA season is how Covid has crippled so many rosters and cancelled games.  The lack of available players has made it tough to figure out how reliable team stats are (particularly SRS).  Nevertheless, let’s go through some of the interesting stats so far and see what we can learn:

James Harden:  The common thought going into the season was that the NBA rule changes were designed to limit Harden’s ability to draw fouls, particularly on three-point attempts.  Harden did struggle early in the year, though it wasn’t clear if that struggle related to the new rules or the fact that he didn’t appear to be in game shape.

Harden has actually gotten to the line at a slightly higher rate than last year but he has shot much worse from the field.  Harden is shooting .404% from the field and his true shooting has dropped from .618% last season to .580%.  His turnover rate has spiked to a career high 21.2% (from 16.8 last season).  In all, Harden is still an effective player (4.0 BPM) but he’s not near his Houston peak, or even his time with the Nets last year.  So, what’s up?

A few things:

-Harden isn’t hitting threes at his usual percentage.  He’s never been a great three-point shooter (.363% for his career) but .338% is the worst of his career.  This may be flukey.  Harden is missing corner threes at a prolific rate (.182% this season versus .365% for his career).  It’s hard to think that this dip is permanent and Harden should progress upward over the season.

-The turnover data is more troubling.  Harden has had a bunch of ugly turnovers this season that appear due to careless play and/or a nonchalant attitude.  The worry is that the TOs are not necessarily careless but because Harden just isn’t as quick or can’t get quite as low as he used to be able to.  Turnovers are always a part of his high usage game but this must improve or giving him a monster extension could be problematic.

-Harden’s Basketball-Reference shot chart shows mixed results.  The bad news is that he is getting to rim a bit less than before (career low .209% shots versus about .24% the last few years) and he is finishing at a lower rate than the last few years (.588% this year versus .640% the last three seasons).  The hopeful news is that Harden is shooting weirdly low from 10-16 feet (.292% versus .421% for his career).  Like the three-point shooting, that seems a bit low and should tick upward just by random chance as well.

In summary, there are some data points that show that Harden is losing his fastball and it’s not clear that this decline has much to do with the rule changes.  In this crazy Covid season, there is enough in the charts (and in watching him play) that indicate that Harden should continue to improve, even if MVP Harden may be gone.

Tony Snell:  Did you know that last season Snell had the best three-point shooting season of any player who took at least 100 attempts in a season?  Snell was 62-109 for an incredible .569% for the Hawks.  The volume wasn’t high but it was still pretty impressive.  Well, so far this season, Snell is shooting an execrable .306% from three for Portland.  The volume is really low (11-36 from three) but it is crazy that Snell isn’t anywhere near his career average (.395%).  This is yet another piece of bad luck for the Blazers this season.

Rookies So Far:  Advanced stats are particularly hard on rookies.  I’ve been impressed with some of the things that Franz Wagner, Cade Cunningham, and Josh Giddey have done so far but the advanced stats are less enthused.  Here’s a rundown of the advanced stats for the rooks who have played over 500 minutes:

-Cade Cunningham: -0.24 WS48, -2.1 BPM

-Jalen Green: -.045 WS48, -4.2 BPM

-Evan Mobley: .136 WS48, 1.9 BPM

-Scottie Barnes: .133 WS48, 1.3 BPM

-Jalen Suggs: -.090 WS48, -6.1 BPM

-Josh Giddey: .010 WS48, -1.6 BPM

-Franz Wagner: .069 WS48, -1.1 BPM

-Davion Mitchell: .026 WS48, -3.2 BPM

-Chris Duarte: .045 WS48, -2.2 BPM

-Alperen Sengun: .121 WS48, 1.4 BPM

-Jeremiah Robinson-Earl: .061 WS48, -3.0 BPM

-Herbert Jones:  .064 WS48, -2.2 BPM

The advanced stats confirm the raw stats and strongly favor Mobley, followed by Barnes and Sengun.  The negative stats on most of these other players aren’t too troubling except for the two Jalens, whose numbers are ugly enough to scare you a little bit.  Green has been bad but Suggs has been bad at another level.  No other rookie has ever had a lower BPM in 2,000 minutes.  The low five on that front are:

1 Kevin Knox 2018-19, -5.7

2 Anthony Avent 1992-93, -5.5

3 Junior Harrington 2002-03, -5.1

  Adam Morrison 2006-07, -5.1

5 Isaac Okoro 2020-21, -5.0

Not a great company. Okoro is playing better but the rest of this group never really did play well.   On the bright side, a few players with BPMs under -4.0 have turned out fine.  De’Andre Hunter (-4.7) and Collin Sexton (-4.7) bounced back, as did Brandon Ingram (-4.4) and De’Aaron Fox (-4.4).  The vast majority of this list, however, washed out of the NBA quickly.