Restart Reviews: Clippers/Mavericks; Celtics/Raptors

Welcome to a new series on Stats By Will titled Restart Reviews, where I’ll be discussing games from the previous day or two and going in-depth on its result. The goal is to post these three times a week, with this week’s edition(s) likely featuring multiple games in each. There will be GIFs, stats, and all of the general moods and feelings you likely expect by clicking on this site. I hope you enjoy.

August 6: Los Angeles Clippers 126, Dallas Mavericks 111

If you like exciting, offense-first basketball, this would’ve been a good game for you. Neither team budged for a while, and when the Mavs came rushing back in the fourth quarter to briefly tie the game, it looked like we were headed for an exciting finish. Unfortunately, only one of these teams possesses the ability to turn their defensive switch on when a game gets tight, and it sure ain’t Dallas. The Clippers went on a 25-10 not-quite-a-run to close this one out, as Dallas simply didn’t have any hope of slowing down the Clippers offense over the final seven minutes of this game. Part of this was due to faulty rebounding:

And part of it was due to the Clippers simply making the right shots at the right time.

All in all, this result is more meaningful to a team with its seeding still somewhat up in the air rather than the Mavericks, who have been locked into the 7 seed for some time now. The Clippers seem to want to fend off Denver for the 2 seed, which makes sense if they’re going to be able to decimate the Dallas defense in this fashion. The Clippers scored 1.313 points per possession, one of their ten best efforts of the season, and they did it without having some sort of crazy Lou Williams bench explosion or any one standout offensive performance. It was a team effort, and pretty much everyone had success against this Mavs D. Okay, well, one guy in particular should be singled out: Ivica Zubac, who completely roasted these Mavs on the boards:

Zubac had six of the Clippers’ nine offensive rebounds and 15 overall, and there wasn’t a soul on the Mavericks who could consistently keep him off of the boards. For a while now, I’ve been driving the “Zubac is Actually Good” train, but this was easily his best offensive performance of the year and one that I didn’t really see coming. Zubac went a perfect 10-for-10 from the field, scoring 21 points with relative ease. Any time an opponent goes 9-for-9 against you at the rim, it’s a bad sign, but it was especially bad that Zubac made it look as easy as it did. He didn’t even have a good defensive game! He just owned the Dallas frontcourt from start to finish on the offensive side, especially in rebounding, and it was more than enough to make up for any defensive misgivings.

It came in the midst of a night where the Clippers couldn’t miss from much of anywhere on the floor. Not that they were severely pressured by Dallas to do so, but the Clippers took a lot of shots you wouldn’t consider analytics-friendly – lots of 10-19 footers off the dribble, shots that you would wisely ask most players not to take. The benefit for the Clippers here is having two great players that can hit a lot of said shots, and others that step up when they’re needed. Ultimately, if you have Kawhi Leonard on the roster, you will never be truly upset with him for taking shots like this one:

Plus, the team was hitting everything else in sight – 19-for-27 at the rim, 14-for-31 from three. Why not take the shots your players like taking?

Once Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley return, the Clippers will finally be at full strength in Orlando, and then there is only one question to resolve: how long can Doc Rivers keep Paul George and Kawhi Leonard on the floor together in games that matter? They got 34 minutes together in this one and outscored the Mavericks by 21 points. In the 14 minutes where one or both were on the bench, the Clippers were outscored by six and gave up 1.258 points per possession. It’s simply a different team when they aren’t sharing the court, and they’ll have to limit that time starting in a few days.

The Mavericks are mostly using these eight games for target practice, as they offer a terrific offense and what is frequently a mortifying defense. If they have any hope at all of seeing the second round, they simply cannot be as awful as they were in this game on defense. That said, they’re a really fun watch regardless of defensive success, and watching Kristaps Porzingis blossom in the bubble has been a true joy:

Porzingis led all scorers with 30 points on 19 shots (3-for-7 from three), tossed in nine rebounds for good measure, and drove the Mavericks’ offense. When Porzingis was in the game, the Mavs scored 96 points on 77 possessions; in the rare time he was able to rest on the bench, Dallas got 15 points from 18 possessions. I figured that if anyone would have these splits for Dallas, it would be Luka Doncic, who was solid as usual in this one, but it’s been Porzingis that’s the pleasant surprise in Orlando. It’s hard not to take serious joy from watching the two play off of each other:

Another key in this one, aside from defense, was actually an offensive problem: Dallas didn’t get nearly enough looks at the rim, whether through cuts or drives, and didn’t hit enough threes to make up for it. The Mavericks got just 18 attempts at the rim, tied for their eighth-lowest number this season, and took 48 threes. That Dallas takes a lot of threes is nothing new, but it’s alarming that three of their 15 worst games in terms of attempts at the rim this season have come against Los Angeles. The Clippers are really, really good at shutting off the paint for the Mavs and forcing Dallas to shoot over the top of them. Sometimes this works out for Dallas:

And sometimes it doesn’t, as evidenced by Trey Burke going 0-for-7 from downtown:

Had the Mavs shot a little better from downtown, the final margin may have been closer, but until Dallas can break the Clippers open at the rim, they’re either going to have to find more stops or hit more threes, neither of which is exactly easy to do.

August 7: Boston Celtics 122, Toronto Raptors 100

This game was mostly over by halftime and 100% over late in the third quarter, so I have no real notes on the final 10 minutes or so of this game. The Raptors didn’t lead once, trailed by as many as 40, and generally had such a hilariously bad night that I think Nick Nurse should simply forget this game ever happened. In all seriousness, what are the chances of the Raptors playing this bad again? The Celtics got better shots, Toronto’s starters couldn’t hit anything at all, and it was a pretty mortifying night for any Toronto fan hoping for a statement win. It wasn’t even like the Celtics had a dominant outing by any one starter – they were simply dominant as a team and every starter minus Gordon Hayward looked pretty great.

The Celts didn’t necessarily have some sort of wild shooting night from downtown – 13-for-35 from three pre-garbage time – but they were hyper-efficient on twos and shot well enough on threes that it didn’t matter. If forced to name a starter, Jaylen Brown probably had the most impressive night:

But it wasn’t about the starters on this night as much as it was about three important, impressive bench outings from Brad Wanamaker, Semi Ojeleye, and Robert Williams III. All three have proved frustrating offensively throughout the season, and the first two in particular seem to be consistent sources of annoyance for the more online faction of Celtics fans. (They have an odd fascination with Williams III that I really appreciate, though.) Wanamaker has altered his shot selection in the bubble, driving to the rim more. It hadn’t worked out for him very well, but in this game, he couldn’t be stopped:

Ojeleye was probably the worst member of the Celtics rotation this year, and a lot of fans appear to want him gone. This is entirely fair, as, yes, he was awful for most of the season. However, some amount of bench potential does seem to be there:

Lastly, the Timelord. Robert Williams III is most known for his defense, where he picked up blocks and steals at a ridiculous rate in limited minutes this season. It continues to be a little weird to me that Brad Stevens doesn’t give him more time on the court, but that may simply be the price he pays for being unlucky enough to back up Daniel Theis, one of the most underrated players in basketball. (For what it’s worth, Enes Kanter is better than Boston fans give him credit for.) When Williams gets on the floor, it’s becoming must-watch television:

The guy got ten points and four rebounds in barely 11 minutes of action and held his opponents to 2-for-7 from the field against him. I badly wish he played more, because he’s a small-sample superstar. He’s with the team for at least two more seasons; hopefully, he’ll break into the lineup more often.

There were only a couple truly useful points from this game, and one of them was the defensive strategies for both teams being so similar. Both Boston and Toronto aimed to lock up the rim, forcing their opponent to shoot over the top of them. For Boston, this meant being fine with a lot of 6-10 foot attempts from the Raptors as well as non-corner threes; for Toronto, this was more about forcing Boston out to the three-point line, a place where they’re above-average but not necessarily elite. Boston’s plan worked out perfectly, while Toronto’s…did not. Prior to garbage time, the Raptors had just 15 attempts at the rim, significantly below what they’d normally have through three quarters. Now, to be fair, Toronto hit 10 of their 21 short mid-range attempts, per Cleaning the Glass:

In this sense, they survived. But in another, they failed miserably. Toronto took 21 of their 26 threes from the wing or the top of the key, and they hit…well, buddy, they hit two of ’em. Two whole threes. Two.

Seeing as Toronto has been one of the five best three-point shooting teams for most of this season, you can write this off easily as an aberration on the offensive end. It was simply a brutal, brutal night where they couldn’t hit open shots at all. However, the other end of this is probably something worth keeping an eye on: per, two of Toronto’s nine lowest outputs at the rim this season came against the Celtics, as well as two of their four highest short mid-range frequencies. The December 28th Celtics/Raptors game, which seems like it was 15 years ago at this point, seems particularly instructive for how this game can swing both ways. Toronto won that game easily, 113-97, but Boston had one of its worst shooting nights of the season because Toronto did a much better job of forcing tougher threes.

About those threes: remember when I discussed in the restart preview Toronto’s odd proclivity for allowing opponents to take as many corner threes as they’d like? You saw last night how much of an area of exploitation this can be for the right opponent. Boston did hit just 13 of 35 threes pre-garbage time, but only five of those came above the break. The Celtics shot 8-for-12 on corner threes because Toronto is prone to conceding a lot of these looks:

The Celts weren’t good at all on above-the-break threes – 5-for-23 – so it makes no sense as to why Toronto allows these shots. They’re still the most efficient three-point shot in basketball, and it’s an odd dare by Nick Nurse. I completely understand any “you’ll have to shoot over us” philosophy, but it’s why I prefer the Bucks’ style on this front. Milwaukee ranks below the league average in percentage of corner threes to above-the-break threes despite allowing the third-highest opponent three-point attempt rate in basketball. Budenholzer forces his opponents to take less-efficient threes on the whole, and I’m afraid it could be the source of Toronto’s exit whenever it does happen.

Restart Reviews: Thunder/Lakers; Pacers/Suns

Welcome to a new series on Stats By Will titled Restart Reviews, where I’ll be discussing games from the previous day or two and going in-depth on its result. The goal is to post these three times a week, with this week’s edition(s) likely featuring multiple games in each. There will be GIFs, stats, and all of the general moods and feelings you likely expect by clicking on this site. I hope you enjoy.

August 5: Oklahoma City Thunder 105, Los Angeles Lakers 86

In some fashion, both of the games I’m writing about meant way more to one team than the other. In this game, it was far more pronounced. The Lakers have nothing left to play for pre-playoffs; they’ve locked up the 1 seed in the Western Conference, and given that there’s no real home-court advantage in the bubble in terms of having a better record than the Bucks, their regular season is essentially over. It’s a great position to be in for Los Angeles, especially now that they’ve got just three games to play. The Thunder, however, had a lot more on the line – namely, trying to work to find their best possible first-round matchup (the Rockets) and their best possible second-round matchup (the Nuggets, but more likely the Clippers). They needed to show more than the Lakers did, and the incredible work of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on defense did it for them:

SGA posted three steals, a block, and held his opponents to just 4-of-12 from the field, only allowing nine points. It still stuns me to look back at the 2018 NBA Draft and remember that Kevin Knox, his Kentucky teammate, went two picks ahead of him. As you all know, I preview and watch every single University of Tennessee basketball game and have only missed watching a few games over the last three seasons. I wouldn’t dare miss a Kentucky/Tennessee game, and, as someone hoping to show some amount of basketball expertise, I watch a lot of Kentucky’s games, too. You would have had to show some serious willful ignorance to believe anything other than the facts, which happily spelled out for you that SGA was a much better defender, a more efficient offensive player, and a more versatile prospect than Kevin Knox. When was the last time you saw Knox do this against any opponent of decency?

This is why the Knicks will never be good. SGA’s the real deal, and we get to lock in and watch him play basketball for the next 15 years. What a life.

The weird thing about this one: OKC had a pretty awful shooting night. They made just 5 of 24 threes, one of their worst shooting nights from downtown this season…but it didn’t matter, because they converted 18 of 27 attempts at the rim:

And 11 of 28 from the midrange:

The threes aren’t as big of a deal when you’re posting those numbers. As we’ll go over shortly, the Lakers shot even worse, so OKC sort of got away with this one.

An area of potential downfall for the Thunder continues to be their very poor rebounding. They rank dead last in the NBA in OREB% and 20th in DREB%, which is not a great sign for a team that’s hoping to go beyond the first round. Generally, you can avoid this with the right matchups, which is why I think a lot of people are rooting for a Thunder/Rockets first-round battle. The Rockets are similarly weak rebounders; it’s just not their game, especially with their main Pocket Rockets lineup. The issue here is that the best team in the conference – the one they just played! – is also an elite rebounding squad, which limits how far they can go. I’m just saying that when Alex Caruso, not at all known as an offensive board crasher, gets multiple OREBs on you…

It’s a problem.

For the Lakers, there’s nothing all that important to take away here. As noted up top, they were on autopilot for most of this game, and neither LeBron nor Anthony Davis exerted serious effort on defense. It looked like any random Cavs late regular season loss from 2014 to 2018, where LeBron is conserving his body for what’s coming next. He did have a few nice offensive plays, but on the whole, this was clearly a night off for him mentally, which is fine.

The only real takeaway to me was how solid and reliable Dion Waiters was, and it’s not as if anyone would associate either of those terms with Dion normally. Waiters may have been the second-best Laker in this one. He had a mediocre shooting night, but he didn’t turn it over once and held up fairly well on defense. Amazingly, as silly as I thought the signing looked when it happened, he looks like a proper 7th/8th man for a championship favorite.

Lastly, you could pretty easily boil this game down to the Lakers having a once-in-a-season horror show from downtown. The Lakers shot 5-of-37 from three, their second-worst three-point outing of the season, and posted an eFG% 3.4% lower than any other they’ve put up this season. (I will note that it’s somewhat alarming three of their five/four of their seven worst shooting performances this season have come in the bubble. Worth keeping an eye on in the first round, certainly.)

Oklahoma City contested a fair chunk of these, but the Lakers simply couldn’t make an open shot. pegs them as 3 of 15 on three-point attempts where no defender was within six feet, which is about 2.5-3 makes below what you’d normally expect. Likewise, they were just 2 of 14 on threes where there was a defender within 4-6 feet – about 3 below their standards. That’s not likely to happen again, you’d imagine.

August 6: Phoenix Suns 114, Indiana Pacers 99

Similarly to our game above, this game was more meaningful for one team than it was for the other. However, the split wasn’t that wide, and both had real things to be playing for. The Pacers, with a win, would’ve been in a tie for the 4 seed with the Heat and would’ve critically distanced themselves by 1.5 games over the 6 seed 76ers. (I maintain that it’s probably better to fall to the 6 and draw the Celtics/Raptors than it would be to be the 4/5 and play the Bucks in the second round.) The Suns, meanwhile, have been the stunner of the bubble: they entered this game 3-0 in Orlando after being pegged with a bubble win total of 2.5 by Vegas. A win here would make them a serious playoff contender for the first time in ages.

In one of the most satisfying outcomes in recent NBA history, the Suns pulled off the biggest win the franchise has had since 2010, and it happened in genuinely shocking fashion. The Suns trailed 75-72 late in the third quarter, and Devin Booker had to go to the bench with four fouls. If the Suns were going to stay in this game, it would be behind a bench lineup with all of three minutes of experience playing together this season: Frank Kaminsky, Jevon Carter, Cameron Johnson (the lone starter), Dario Saric, and Cameron Payne. Out of nowhere, like a magical lightning bolt from Phoenix’s 115-degree heaven, came a 21-0 run that will be talked about for years if the Suns can grab the 9 seed:

When it was all over, the Suns led 93-75 in the fourth quarter and never looked back. Sure, they got good outings from Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, as one would’ve hoped, but you never would’ve guessed that all of this would come because of Cameron Payne. Payne is on his fourth NBA team in five seasons, never able to latch on with any team for long at all. He bombed out of two awful squads in 2018-19 – the Bulls and the Cavaliers – and he only signed with the Suns as a mid-summer bench player because the Suns needed active bodies for what was thought to be a mostly pointless Orlando appearance. Barely eight months ago, Payne was playing for the Shanxi Loongs in China. On Thursday, with millions watching, he saved the Suns’ season in spectacular fashion:

Payne simply couldn’t be stopped. He had 15 points on 6-9 shooting (3-5 threes) and led the Suns’ backups to this victory. In a bubble filled with surprising performances thus far, this was the least rational and most purely enjoyable. With TJ Warren, Fred VanVleet, and Michael Porter, Jr.’s monstrous games, you could at least show that they’ve got histories of varying sorts of scoring plenty of points. Payne doesn’t have that. He’s never been a particularly good shooter or a good driver of the offense. And yet: on Thursday, there he was, dragging a Phoenix roster he wasn’t a part of pre-pandemic to a massive, massive win.

Aside from Payne, the big key here was how badly the Suns outworked the Pacers on the boards. The Suns won the offensive rebounding battle 12-5, and Dario Saric was demolishing the Pacers off of the bench to the tune of four OREBs:

It’s not a massive surprise, as the Pacers are one of the weakest rebounding teams in the league, but it’s not as if the Suns are particularly great at it. In fact, they ranked as a below-average offensive rebounding team this season. Didn’t matter: they dominated the boards in this one. Phoenix only got nine points off of their 12 OREBs, but five huge points came in the fourth quarter, including this Booker three that came from an Ayton OREB:

Two other keys: shot selection and play in transition. Phoenix took better shots on the whole, as they had 12 corner threes to the Pacers’ six, four more attempts at the rim, and four fewer long twos. That doesn’t look like much, but when you do that and get second opportunities, it adds up fast. The Pacers essentially would’ve had to heavily outshoot Phoenix on these tougher shots, and they didn’t. They scored well at the rim and made 10 of their 27 threes, but it didn’t make up for the poor shot selection.

There wasn’t much work in transition at all in this game; Cleaning the Glass estimates that the Pacers had just nine transition possessions and the Suns ten. However, you have to look at what each team did with said possessions: the Pacers scored just eight points on theirs. The Suns: seventeen.

These aren’t the Seven Seconds or Less Suns by any means, but when they play fast and loose, they’re a really, really fun watch. It’s not necessarily Devin Booker’s game to work that way – he’d rather do his stuff in half-court – but it does make them even more enjoyable as a viewing experience. It would be fair to call these Suns the surprise of the bubble, and the fact they’re the last undefeated team in the bubble when they entered with the lowest expectations of anyone not named the Wizards is simply wonderful. I sincerely hope they make the playoffs.

For the Pacers, this isn’t a terrible loss, but it’s a frustrating one that both showed their limitations and now places them in a battle for the 5 seed that they might prefer to lose. As mentioned above, they got demolished on the boards, and their shot selection simply wasn’t very good. 10 of 27 from three is solid, of course, but you’ve got to do better than 15 of 27 (55.6%) at the rim against a league-average rim defense. Also, I know it’s the Pacers’ game, but shooting 9 of 26 on mid-range attempts is just an offensive killer:

This, too, was against a middling defense. The Pacers simply seemed to resort to old, bad habits on several possessions, and you could make the case that it’s why they lost this game. It just wasn’t an impressive offensive showing in any fashion. However, this game was key for showing how important Malcolm Brogdon is to the Pacers’ offensive puzzle. 25 points on 16 shots and 4 of 7 from downtown is a great showing for a guy who’s had a rough year on shots that weren’t mid-range looks:

He took the best shots of any starter and, for long stretches, kept the Pacers in the game offensively. On the other side of the ball, it was Myles Turner who kept this game running for Indiana. He had a fine all-around performance: 17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and a steal, along with allowing opponents to go just 8 for 18 against him. The Suns had success at the rim no matter what, but it was notable that they went 7 of 9 at the rim when Turner was on the bench.

Two last things: this game was useful for seeing how badly the Pacers need TJ Warren to be an every-night presence. It took him forever to get his first points in this game and he never really got going, putting up 16 points on 20 shots + two free throws. He had a heck of a time figuring out how to finish at the rim:

And couldn’t hit anything from downtown. It wasn’t his night, and a Pacers team missing their best player in Sabonis really needs Warren to limit these nights as much as possible. The margin for error for a playoff run is very thin, and nights like this one push it over the edge. It helped that Warren was solid enough on defense, but it wasn’t nearly enough to make up for his bad offensive outing.

Likewise, this game showed how badly the Pacers need Doug McDermott, of all people. McDermott was a late scratch for this game. As the Pacers’ second-best bench player, he does provide a lot of good offensive minutes that help limit how much his porous defense affects his value. Without McDermott, there was no real offensive firepower to speak of from the bench, and as such, the bench had an atrocious game. The Pacers simply cannot play Goga Bitadze any serious minutes in a playoff game; he is a disaster on offense, and he had an unusually bad night on defense. The Pacers do have about nine playable guys in their rotation, but if they encounter serious foul trouble or more injuries, they’ll have to extend that rotation to play a Bitadze or Edmond Sumner or T.J. Leaf, none of which are any good. Without Sabonis and Jeremy Lamb, the ceiling on this Pacers team is already limited; now, all they can do is hope to see the second round.

Restart Reviews: Raptors/Heat; Nuggets/Thunder; Rockets/Blazers

Welcome to a new series on Stats By Will titled Restart Reviews, where I’ll be discussing games from the previous day or two and going in-depth on its result. The goal is to post these three times a week, with this week’s edition(s) likely featuring multiple games in each. There will be GIFs, stats, and all of the general moods and feelings you likely expect by clicking on this site. I hope you enjoy.

To skip ahead to a different game, click below:

August 3: Toronto Raptors 107, Miami Heat 103

The Eastern Conference has been considered a one-team race for most of the last…seven? months, and it’s not difficult to see why. The Milwaukee Bucks crushed competition for most of the season, had easily the best margin of victory in the league, and will be the East’s #1 seed when the playoffs start. (An embarrassing loss to a putrid Brooklyn team yesterday will not change this.) However, there seems to be growing momentum to declare this a two-team race for the Finals, and I’d like to sign on to the Toronto Raptors having a serious chance to pull off the repeat.

Off the back of a hilarious and insane 36-point Fred VanVleet performance, the Raptors survived a game where they didn’t get many shots up and allowed several wide-open threes in the fourth quarter to the Heat. It wasn’t easy, but it’s just the latest statement by this incredibly fun Toronto team: they’re a legitimate title contender, and not just a dark-horse one. For this particular statement, they had a great day from downtown and owned the game defensively.

The story of this one will be VanVleet’s wild 36-point performance, though this was aided by 13 free throws. VanVleet has essentially always been a good value and a pretty consistent player, but he’s never had quite this level of a scoring performance. He did good work on defense, making it a memorable and great two-way performance for the beloved Wichita State product.

On the whole, this was kind of a strange offensive game for the Raptors. They did several things they don’t usually do, like commit a bunch of silly turnovers:

They had an awful game inside the perimeter, making just 10 of 23 attempts at the rim:

But: they took advantage of their few transition opportunities, and the non-VanVleet players shot 9-for-20 from three. It was a great day from downtown, and any time you can push the pace in an effective manner like the Raptors did, it’s a good day. This was also a quietly very good Pascal Siakam outing. Siakam scored 10 of his 22 in the first and wasn’t the driver of the offense in the second half, but he hit four of his seven threes:

And he also did a great job defensively when called upon. notes that he held his Miami opponents to just 2-for-9 from the field on two-pointers, a very good rate.

For the Heat, this is a tough loss to take for a myriad of reasons. They took a lot of threes they’d normally love to take, but simply didn’t hit them. They had the advantage of a really good rim protection game, holding Toronto to just 10-of-23, but gave up 32 threes – many of them unguarded – in return. Lastly, and most damaging, they are no longer a likely contender for the 3 seed. This probably locks Miami into the 4-6 range, and at this point, it would be hard to blame them for hoping to fall to 6 simply so they can go two rounds without having to play the Bucks.

However, if Miami even wants to get to a second or third round, they’ve simply got to get much more from Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn on a nightly basis. Robinson may sit as the best value in basketball at just $1.4 million and is a phenomenal shooter, but when he’s off like he was in this game, he doesn’t offer much more to keep him on the court:

Likewise, pretty good rookie Kendrick Nunn went 0-for-7 from the field and committed four fouls, which kept him glued to the bench. If Nunn, a 35.8% three-point shooter on the season (the league average is 35.7%), can’t hit these, teams like the Bucks and Raptors will rightfully take their chances in sagging off from him on the perimeter.

Nunn even posted a steal and two blocks in his 16 minutes, but it still wasn’t enough to get him on the court for more than a minute in the final quarter. (Robinson didn’t play at all, giving up his time entirely to Tyler Herro.) Those two performances didn’t single-handedly lose it for the Heat, but they helped sink the boat. It’s a shame, because the Heat may have wasted one of the few vintage Goran Dragic performances the guy has left in him.

Dragic scratched and clawed his way to an amazing 25-point outing, going 5-for-5 at the rim and being a supercharger for the Miami offense that felt so moribund for the first 30 minutes of this game. With Dragic on the court, the Heat outscored the Raptors by 13 points in his 15 second-half minutes; without him, they were outscored by 13 in his 9 minutes on the bench. Every single second he played mattered, and he flashed some of his old defensive skills, too. It was like watching 2013-15 Dragic again, remembering all of the joy he’s still able to provide when on fire.

Likewise, it was an even more rare Great Outing for Kelly Olynyk:

Olynyk made four of his 11 three-point attempts and helped keep the offense moving, especially in the otherwise-ugly first half where he was the Heat’s leading scorer. Olynyk won’t get more than 18-20 minutes a night in most playoff games, but it’s nights like these why he gets that many minutes to begin with.

Two final notes:

1. On the individual front, Jimmy Butler had a phenomenal defensive game. He wasn’t much for the other side of the ball, but any time you force opponents to shoot 0-for-8 against you and pick up two steals and two blocks, you’re doing something right. It’s not in this GIF, but he was also the only player to slow VanVleet down for any meaningful amount of time.

2. Miami had an alright defensive game, but they’ve got to be much more consistent in terms of contesting outside shots. When they contested hard, the Raptors’ offense struggled mightily, converting just 5-of-22 attempts. When they left the Raps more open, it was kind of ugly: 24-for-45 from the field, including 7-for-11 for Siakam and 7-for-12 for VanVleet, mostly on threes. Their playoff ceiling depends on being a tad bit better on this end of the floor.

NEXT PAGE: Nuggets/Thunder

Restart Reviews: Magic/Nets; 76ers/Pacers; Spurs/Grizzlies

Welcome to a new series on Stats By Will titled Restart Reviews, where I’ll be discussing a game from the previous day or two and going in-depth on its result. The goal is to post these three times a week, with next week’s edition(s) likely featuring multiple games in each. There will be GIFs, stats, and all of the general moods and feelings you likely expect by clicking on this site. I hope you enjoy.

July 31: Orlando Magic 128, Brooklyn Nets 118

Friday’s fixture is the least exciting of these three games. The Orlando Magictook control of this game midway through the second quarter, pushed their lead to as many as 30, and coasted as the Nets (read: Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot) hit a bunch of shots after the outcome was decided. However, the first half of this game – in particular, the wildly fun first quarter – was pretty great stuff! For about 15 minutes, this game was an offensive show between the surprisingly white-hot Magic:

And the Brooklyn Nets:

In the first quarter, the Nets posted an astounding 1.5 points per possession; the Magic, 1.39. The Nets were hitting everything in sight, and the combo of Caris LeVert (17 pts, 7 assists) and Jarrett Allen (14 points) had things rolling. The Nets’ main lineup stayed fairly strong, posting a 1.217 PPP on 23 possessions in the game and coming out at just -4 in about 11 minutes of action.

Nothing perfect, obviously, but when the rest of your team is very much a work in progress, you take what you can get. The Nets’ offense looked better than I think anyone would’ve anticipated, getting a lot of good looks and hitting a decent amount of them. On a normal defensive night, their offensive outing may have been enough to deliver a win. The issue: every single defensive lineup Brooklyn tried got smoked by an out-of-nowhere white-hot Orlando offense.

The Nets let the Magic convert 16 of 19 attempts at the rim, and very few of them felt seriously challenged. With no DeAndre Jordan or Taurean Waller-Prince and Jarrett Allen only getting 26 minutes, the Nets spent a large portion of this game without any serious rim protection solutions on the court. Allen is a solid defensive player, but he’s the only true center the Nets have on the active roster. When he hits the bench, it’s very, very easy to score on this team in the paint.

Along with that, they had pretty much no answer for the Magic’s ball-screen game. The Magic run various sets with Nikola Vucevic as the roll man and any of Evan Fournier/Markelle Fultz/D.J. Augustin running off of his picks. They’re typically moderately successful when running them – nothing spectacular – but the Nets couldn’t stop any of it at all in this one, no matter whether it was Fournier stepping back for a wide-open three:

Or Vucevic rolling off of the action for an easy two:

The Nets’ only fix for this, at least temporarily, is either to hope that Jarrett Allen can play 35+ minutes in important games or that there’s some sort of small-ball lineup that could work for long enough to give Allen some form of rest. Allen is not the most nimble player, but he’s pretty good at forcing opponents to pull up before the rim and offers a good amount of skills on both sides of the ball.

The Nets could do this with a couple weird lineups: LeVert and Joe Harris both have to be out there, as does Garrett Temple. If he’s hitting shots, you can play Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Then, pick whoever you dislike least among Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa. A lineup with four of those plus Tyler Johnson went for 21 points in 16 possessions in this game! Either way, the Nets are likely to get dismissed from the first round of the playoffs very quickly, and any scenario where they draw the Bucks makes it very hard to envision them winning even one game.

On the other hand, the Magic have looked oddly excellent through two wins against the Nets and the Kings. I don’t think anyone thinks this team can win a playoff series, but this small sample size aids me in remembering why I thought they’d be a potential 5-6 seed in preseason. When the Magic hit shots the way they did in this one, the offense makes more sense. Any Steve Clifford-coached team is a fairly reliable choice to play above their means defensively and make life a little harder on opponents, but the Magic offense had been a brutal watch this season. It’s possible they’ve blown two amazing performances in games that aren’t the playoffs, but hey, better late than never. I don’t think the shooting here is sustainable, but getting to the paint as often as they did, along with their low turnovers, are. If they find a way to sustain this offensive run, this is a team capable of pushing a 2 seed to a six-game series.

August 1: Indiana Pacers 127, Philadelphia 76ers 121

A game that probably ranked third on my personal radar ended up being the best on Saturday. For all 48 minutes, Sixers/Pacers was close and furious, a battle between a known star and a wildly hot role player en route to a game far higher scoring than anyone had the right to anticipate. Like, think about it this way: if someone told you Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo would only play 50 minutes and combine for 30 points, would you have expected the Pacers to have any chance at all in this game?

Enter T.J. Warren.

Warren had the game of a lifetime, scoring 53 points on 29 shots and hitting shots from everywhere on the court. It was one of the most shocking, unreal performances I’ve seen in years. Warren scored on every single defender the 76ers tried, and God forgive them for probably having him third on the list of potential Pacer threats. No Sabonis, no Brogdon, no problem; Warren was roasting Ben Freaking Simmons every single time the two were matched up to the tune of a 9-for-10 shooting performance against him. (Versus everyone else: a still-fantastic 11-for-19.)

No other Indiana player really stood out, though Aaron Holiday had some really good plays, including this nice pass to Warren (who else?) for a layup:

There’s not as much that you can take from this game for the Pacers, other than the phenomenal Warren outing. Victor Oladipo was mostly a decoy in this one, though he did get 14 shots up; Myles Turner only played 20 minutes; Sabonis and Brogdon were unavailable. JaKarr Sampson and T.J. Leaf combined for 28 minutes of playing time, which should not happen in any non-blowout playoff game. You can’t take much from the shooting outing, really; it was mostly Warren-driven, and the non-Warren three-point attempts had a 5-for-22 success rate.

There was simply much more at risk and at stake for the 76ers. This Philadelphia team, from July 2019 to now, has always had the level of talent necessary to make a deep run in the playoffs. They have one of the five best rosters in the league, the second-best roster in the Eastern Conference, and, had they figured things out from October to March, be in a fairly comfortable position right now. Nothing at all is comfortable for this team. Joel Embiid had an amazing performance, with 41 points and 21 rebounds:

But it didn’t matter, because the team around him is a chemistry experiment gone wrong. Embiid roasted Shake Milton in-game during Milton’s first-ever start for a defensive lapse and it predictably went very well:

The 76ers gave up 127 points in 103 possessions and gave up 53 points to a player who’d never scored more than 40 in a game before. T.J. Warren is a good player, but he’s no star, and any time you give up 50+ to a non-star, you’ve got a real problem. This team has never looked together at any point, and now, they’re staring down being the 6 seed in a conference they hoped to be co-favorites in at the start of the season. The disparity between the On-Paper Philadelphia 76ers and the In-Game Philadelphia 76ers is as stark as any I can personally recall.

In this game in particular, the Sixers owned the boards, got an amazing 90 combined points from Embiid, Simmons, and Tobias Harris, and it was all meaningless because they lost the turnover battle by 11:

When you do stuff like this, it’s not gonna be a fun time.

That said, there were some small positives to take away. The Embiid performance was fantastic, and it’s always great to get offensive outings like the Sixers got from Harris and Simmons. (Simmons may seem like a strange inclusion here, given that he scored 19 on 14 shots, but he also picked up four offensive boards and had four assists. It was a good night for him on one end of the floor.) The main two lineups the Sixers ran out featuring Josh Richardson/Embiid/Harris/Simmons went for 53 points in 44 possessions (1.204 PPP) and got a ton of good looks.

Shake Milton’s much-hyped inclusion into the starting lineup went…okay. Milton didn’t do anything in terms of scoring, but he did create more offensive space for the Sixers, and it showed:

That said, he’s probably the worst defender on Philadelphia’s roster, and any time he was in, Indiana looked to target him with various options. Milton’s opponents shot 7-for-10 against him to the tune of 18 points, which is why he only played 19 minutes and didn’t see the court a ton in the fourth quarter. Until he picks up his defensive game to match what he can provide offensively, there’s not going to be an ideal solution available for this team.

Unless the new Big Three of Embiid/Harris/Simmons can consistently Be There every night, there is no possible deep run for this team. They have somehow aged Al Horford five years in one, have no serious bench depth to be proud of, and seem to be running the same offensive sets they’ve ran the entire Brett Brown era. (I finally understand Philadelphia fans’ frustration with him.) When Embiid was on the court in this one, the Sixers were +21 in his 34 minutes; you’d think this would be an easy win. They were -27 in 14 minutes when Embiid was benched. That sort of disparity should never happen to a serious contender. This isn’t a serious contender, unless we’re talking “serious contender to win one playoff series.”

August 2: San Antonio Spurs 108, Memphis Grizzlies 106

Most of the way through, the Spurs controlled this one, and it felt like they were consistently on their way to a 5-8 point win. Then, the Grizzlies got hot at the right time, and suddenly, after this amazing Jaren Jackson Jr. heave of a three, it was 106-106.

Regrettably for the Grizzlies, though, they couldn’t push this to overtime. DeMar DeRozan drew a foul from Dillon Brooks, hit both free throws, and Jackson missed a three at the buzzer to end this one. San Antonio is somehow 2-0 and Memphis 0-2 in the bubble, and now, it’s San Antonio that’s in the seat for the 9 seed. A team that most had written off pre-Orlando may yet extend its eternity-long postseason streak another year; in the strangest year of all, continuity reigns supreme.

For Memphis, this is the loss that isn’t a big deal but probably should feel like it. It’s pretty likely, barring a Pelicans run, that Memphis will end up playing one of San Antonio or Portland in the Western Conference play-in tournament. For them to have lost to both teams in the first two games of their bubble experience is fairly troubling. In both games, the opponent mostly controlled the run of play, though Memphis did hold multiple-possession leads in the third and fourth quarter of the Portland game. The Portland game was a better offensive outing; the San Antonio game better for defense. Neither was enough to get them over the hump, and now, the Grizzlies have to find a few wins against a really tough schedule: the Pellies, Jazz, Thunder, Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks all remain. A 2-4 run among those six is the most likely outcome, and a 2-6 start in the bubble could possibly lose them the 8 seed.

Anyway, Ja Morant was positively fantastic in this game.

Morant was the best player on the court, nearly nabbing a triple-double with 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists. The only person who slowed Ja down in this one were the players missing shots from his passes. A top-level Morant performance will be absolutely necessary in any Grizz play-in game, as will be high-end outings from Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke (who was kind of bad in this one).

Memphis shot just 7-of-30 from three in this one; even one additional make would’ve won it for them. I wouldn’t be as worried at the percentage here as I would be worried that they didn’t take a high percentage of them in the first place. JJJ, who had 15 attempts against Portland, only had three deep shots in this game prior to the final 15 seconds. The team’s leading presence from three was Grayson Allen of all people, who had a rare good performance:

They can’t rely on that to happen often. JJJ needs to be more aggressive from downtown, as he’s probably the team’s best three-point shooter. Another area where he, and the Grizzlies as a whole, have got to be better: the boards.

I mean, it’s brutal. The Grizzlies got worked on the boards in this one, allowing 12 OREBs to barely picking up three themselves. Jackson, Jr. is not a good rebounder, and it’s not his game, but the team as a whole badly needs to find a solution here before their season ends earlier than they’d like it to. It’s not as if the Spurs are even a great rebounding team, but they had possessions like this one today that had to be infuriating for Memphis lovers:

Far from ideal, certainly.

For the Spurs, this is a weird win they’ll take. They didn’t shoot well and they lost the turnover battle, but as detailed above, they got far more second-chance opportunities and got 15 more free throws despite significantly fewer close-range attempts. (Grizzlies fans could have an issue here, but I’d have to run a rewatch to make sure.) However, they simply can’t take as many long-range twos as they took in this one. San Antonio took an astounding 23 long two-point attempts, hitting only nine of them. They hit 12 of 29 three-point attempts. Why not take a few more threes instead? It’ll help them overcome nights where they aren’t doing quite as well on the boards or in free throw disparity.

Also, I was pretty intrigued by how well San Antonio stuffed a lot of what Memphis wanted to do in this game. Memphis had to take 26 short-range twos, AKA shots that aren’t layups or dunks but also aren’t 15+ footers. These aren’t terrible shots, but I was impressed that the Spurs forced Memphis to take far more of these than they probably wanted. They hit 15, so that’s tough for the Spurs…but then again, San Antonio contested a lot of Memphis three-point attempts and held them to a 7-of-30 outing. It worked out fine in the end.

Restart Reviews: Jazz/Pelicans, July 30

Welcome to a new series on Stats By Will titled Restart Reviews, where I’ll be discussing a game from the previous day or two and going in-depth on its result. The goal is to post these three times a week, with next week’s edition(s) likely featuring multiple games in each. There will be GIFs, stats, and all of the general moods and feelings you likely expect by clicking on this site. I hope you enjoy.

With six seconds left in last night’s game between the Jazz and the Pelicans, there was only one question on everyone’s mind watching: where is Zion Williamson? The young, special forward from Duke played 15 minutes, scoring 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and any time he was on the court, the New Orleans offense looked significantly better than when he was off. In Zion’s game time, he scored 13 of the Pelicans’ 30 points, and it was difficult to slow him down at any point.

But: New Orleans left him off the floor for the most important play of the game, Brandon Ingram (23 points) missed a step-back three, and New Orleans lost a badly-needed game, 106-104. This one felt especially painful, because New Orleans led by as many as 16 and controlled the flow of the game for most of the first 3.5 quarters. Considering how efficient Zion was, and how New Orleans is at their best when he plays, it didn’t make a ton of sense to leave him out for the finish, minutes restriction or not. After the game, Alvin Gentry said they played him as much as the medical staff allowed, which is a fine and acceptable answer. At the same time, I would imagine Alvin Gentry wants a job in 2021. Zion could’ve played six more seconds.

The Jazz struggled to slow down Zion, obviously, but the two-headed monster of Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday both scored plenty, too:

The issue here is that neither was particular efficient. Holiday was a tad better, getting to 20 points on 9-of-18 shooting, but he also committed six turnovers against a Jazz defense that isn’t exactly aggressive on the perimeter. Ingram, meanwhile, got to 23 points on the back of seven free throws and a middling 7-of-20 outing. Ingram never seemed to find his consistent stroke either from the perimeter (2-of-8) of from mid-range (3-of-9); the Jazz tried to force him away from the rim, and it mostly worked. The most surprising outing in this game Pelicans-wise was a fantastic offensive outing by J.J. Redick (21 points):

Redick flashed his typical deep-shooting skills in this one, especially in transition, but he was solid in mid-range, too. With three guys scoring 20+ points and Zion performing excellently in limited time, it did feel like the Pelicans were going to steal this one. Enter Lonzo Ball, who had one of his worst games since his rookie season:

It was kind of a strange night: Lonzo got several good shots, including a couple of wide-open threes, that just didn’t go down. If it had just been that, you could shrug it off and move on…but Lonzo was also atrocious at the rim. Ball missed four layup attempts in this one, clearly influenced by Utah’s stout rim protection with Rudy Gobert, who we’ll talk about shortly. Shooters shoot, obviously, but considering Ball missed both of his free throw attempts in this one, it might have been a night for him to lay back.

For the Jazz, it was their own sort of strange night, too. When I wrote my NBA Restart preview last week, I mentioned that the Jazz had serious issues with outshooting other teams, but failing to win because they lose the shot volume game frequently. Utah doesn’t force many turnovers, has turnover issues themselves, and has quietly not been a great rebounding team offensively. They’ve been very reliant this year on hitting threes to get them over the top on bad shot volume nights, and when they go 8-of-34 from deep as they did in this one, you’re probably right to expect a loss. Add on that Utah actually did lose the shot volume game (-5.5 shot equivalents) and it’s a miracle they won.

Well, they did! The reason is fairly simple, and also not, but let’s start with the most obvious factor: free throws. The Jazz got ten more attempts than New Orleans despite having roughly the same amount of rim/short-range attempts. You could argue that New Orleans got a couple fewer calls than they should have, and I’d hear it out, but it felt as if Utah was simply more aggressive for large stretches of the game:

That, along with some fantastic half-court defense, earned Utah the victory. New Orleans demolished Utah’s weak transition defense in this one, outscoring the Jazz 27-10 in transition. On a normal night, that probably would’ve been enough to get them over the hump, even if they’d just been below-average on offense. The issue: the Jazz crushed their half-court offense, and won the half-court battle 96-77. That’s a big deal, and it helped Utah pull this one off, in large part thanks to a fantastic fourth-quarter effort by Donovan Mitchell:

Mitchell was electric down the stretch, and it’s the most in-control he’s felt of an important game in some time. Everything ran through him, and with Bojan Bogdanovic being out the rest of the way, this seems like the obvious way most late-game Jazz possessions will go. It’ll be Mitchell taking the shot or attempting to create a wide-open one for someone else that he trusts. It’s more than a little funny we’re treating a third-year player as the wise old leader that knows best, but, well, here we are.

Mitchell wasn’t very good in the first three quarters of this game, though, and someone needed to pick up the scoring slack. Surprisingly, it was Jordan Clarkson catching fire off the bench, especially in the third quarter:

Clarkson got 23 points on 17 shots and may have been Utah’s third-best player in this one. Joe Ingles had a pretty middling game, committing five turnovers; Royce O’Neale rebounded well but had a rough night from three; Mike Conley scored 20 but struggled frequently on defense. It was up to Clarkson to deliver, and he did. Notably, Clarkson played as many minutes as the starters with 32; for a large portion of this game, the Jazz ran with a six-man rotation, and the only guys to get serious second-half playing time were Tony Bradley and Georges Niang, both out of necessity. We’ll have to monitor that going forward.

The last reason the Jazz won this game, and a very key one: Rudy Gobert.

Some of this won’t show up in the stats, and some will, but it was Gobert who consistently saved Utah’s bacon throughout this game. Not only did he have a 10-point effort in the fourth quarter, he was Utah’s best rebounder defensively (unsurprisingly!) and came up with three blocks and a whole bunch of altered shots. If you’d like his impact spelled out, think of it this way: Utah, playing against a team without a true rim protector (Jaxson Hayes comes closest, but is too young and raw), converted 21 of 28 attempts at the rim. New Orleans, playing against Rudy Gobert for 34 minutes, converted 15 of 30. Breaking it down further, New Orleans converted 6 of 8 attempts at the rim during Gobert’s absence; they were just 9 of 22 when he played.

Other various pieces of discussion:

  • Neither team had fantastic shot selection, but it did feel as if Utah got the upper hand. 62 of their 84 field goal attempts were at the rim or from three; 61 of New Orleans’ 94 were. That said, New Orleans did hit 6 of their 15 long-range twos. If I were the Pelicans, I’d try to get a bit closer on those, and to be honest, there’s no reason J.J. Redick should be taking them when he could just take threes instead. (Brandon Ingram takes a lot of these, but he’s been pretty good at nailing them.)
  • Of real interest to me was that New Orleans did a bit better than anticipated on the boards, especially when Jaxson Hayes was in the game. Hayes picked up a crazy 5 OREBs in just 19 minutes of action and crushed the Utah frontcourt during his time out there. If Hayes can develop more of an offensive game to go with this particular skillset, he’ll have a long career, as he’s already become an above-average defender.

  • There’s something interesting to how badly New Orleans demolished Utah by in transition. The Jazz had one of the worst transition defenses in the NBA before the pandemic hit, ranking 27th in PPP allowed. The Pelicans aren’t a particularly efficient offense, but they got a lot of open looks against a Jazz D that struggled to properly get back. (Note the Redick three posted above.) I don’t know that the Pellies can do this against the Clippers in their next game, but they’ll have similar opportunities to push the pace to great success against Washington, San Antonio, and maybe Memphis.
  • Per, the Pelicans’ pace when Zion was in the game was barely 90 possessions per 48 minutes…which is extremely slow for an offense that should be speeding things up whenever Zion is playing.
  • The Baby Death Lineup the Pelicans had struggled in this one, getting outscored 24-13 in 16 possessions due to missing some easy short-range looks and the Jazz targeting this lineup at the rim. The Jazz also hit 4 of 6 threes against it, which is difficult to repeat, but does highlight that this lineup isn’t infallible. That said, still easily the best thing the Pelicans have going.

The NBA is back. What’s the most interesting thing about each team?

After what feels like years in the wilderness, basketball is returning. It is coming up from the ground…belting out of every speaker…on every television, basketball is coming back. Okay, that’s a bit far, I’ll admit, but as a writer that mostly writes about basketball and its statistics, these last four months without it have been a bit tiring. I’ve missed my good friend, and I’m glad they’re back in town.

Below, there’s a ton of words about the NBA restart. The headline sums it up: what’s the most interesting thing about each team? This is not what’s the best player on each team, but rather: what’s the most interesting, unique, weird thing about each team? It helps if it’s statistically-based, which just about everything here is. I’ve included GIFs for each entry, all 22 of them, and I plan on writing deeper about all 22 teams at various points of the restart. For now, consider this a primer to a whole lot of content coming forward soon. Thanks for hanging with me, friends.

On this page are the 1-4 seeds as they stand in the Eastern Conference. To skip ahead, you can click below:

Eastern Conference

1. Milwaukee Bucks (53-12): Khris Middleton’s midrange game

While most of the attention deservedly goes to the best player in the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the second-best player on the Bucks has been one of the league’s 15 best players for a couple of years now. Khris Middleton plays a distinct second banana to the star Giannis, but the Bucks wouldn’t be the Bucks without him. This is maybe Middleton’s finest outing yet: a 21.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG season where he’s shooting 54.7% from two and 41.8% from three. Add that onto his well-deserved reputation as a stout defender, and you can understand the hype for a player who’d be the best player on over half the teams in the league.

What helps Middleton stand out? The fact that, at age 28, he’s quietly become a premier mid-range shooter in a league that’s moved away from the mid-range as a whole. Middleton is shooting an astounding 52.3% on mid-range attempts this season, second only to Chris Paul among players with at least three mid-range attempts per game. (The top five: Paul, Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, C.J. McCollum, and D’Angelo Russell.) Like Paul, what stands out about Middleton is his capability of making them in nearly any situation. He’s made 31 of 52 fadeaway two-point attempts:

20 of 42 step-backs:

And 59 of 99 pull-up twos, many of them coming out of pick-and-roll sets like this one:

While Giannis is likely a guarantee to post 30 and 10 most nights in the bubble, the Bucks’ fortunes will swing based on how well Middleton can provide a reliable second option to Giannis. In losses this season, Middleton has made just 34.7% of his mid-range attempts and has posted 47.1% 2PT/37.1% 3PT shooting splits, versus 56.5% 2PT/43.7% 3PT in wins. For the Bucks to fulfill their work over the first five months of this season, it’s on Middleton to be the same top 15 player he’s been for two years now.

2. Toronto Raptors (46-18): How many corner threes can a team allow?

The Toronto Raptors have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. After Kawhi Leonard’s departure in free agency for Los Angeles, they had to try and make their roster still work in a somewhat-diminished Eastern Conference. At the beginning of the season, the East was largely thought to be a two-team race between Milwaukee and Philadelphia, with Boston and Toronto fighting it out for third/fourth. Milwaukee, Boston, and Toronto have held up their end of the bargain; Philadelphia hasn’t. It’s been because of Toronto’s great defense, ranking second-best by Defensive Rating because they force lots of turnovers and have done a great job making life difficult for opponents at the rim.

That said, they’ve got a really baffling thing going on with their three-point defense. No team has forced a lower opposing three-point percentage than Toronto, but no team has allowed a higher percentage of corner three-point attempts. At least with Milwaukee’s large amount of threes allowed, 80.3% of them have been from the wings or the point – less statistically advantageous shots on the whole. No team has come close to the Raps in terms of corner threes allowed; the distance from Toronto’s 30.9% of all three-point attempts to second-place Houston (25.6%) is nearly the same as the distance from Houston to 16th-place Orlando (20.2%).

This hasn’t borne itself out in terms of a win/loss split as much; opponents make 33.3% of their threes in Toronto’s wins versus 34.9% in losses. Still, there’s a huge opportunity available for good-shooting opponents. In particular, the Raps are 0-2 against current 4 seed Miami, who got tons of open looks in both games against Toronto:

I don’t see this affecting Toronto much in the first round, but the second – where the Raps could draw any of Boston (12th in 3PT%), Miami (1st), Indiana (13th), or Philadelphia (14th) – could be the first time a problem presents itself.

3. Boston Celtics (43-21): Robert Williams and his stocks

As a loose Weird Celtics Twitter follower – shoutout to the Riffs Man – I have become quite familiar with one Robert Williams, AKA Time Lord. Williams has been a bit player for the Celtics for a couple of years now, a guy who probably would’ve had a better career had he been born in 1987 and not 1997. (6’8″, 237 pound centers that can’t shoot past ten feet…well, they simply don’t fit the 2020 model.) Williams is fairly efficient the 10-15 minutes a game he sees the floor, but he commits six fouls per 100 possessions, makes a ton of avoidable mistakes, and can never stay on for very long.

It is with all those qualifiers that I have to note he’s the single most fascinating swing player on this roster to me. When Williams gets in the game, he’s been a defensive dynamo: 3 steals and 4.2 blocks per 100 possessions, a +4.4 Defensive Box-Plus Minus, the best steal rate for any frontcourt player in the league, and the third-best block rate among players getting 10+ minutes per game. It is really, really hard to find big guys that can do this:

And this:

Before the pandemic hit, Williams was getting anywhere from 10 to 16 minutes a game, and in his final four games, he committed six fouls in 54 minutes played. Far from ideal. BUT: he also blocked seven shots, got three steals, and frequently made plays that made you wonder why he doesn’t play more often.

Of all the players I could pick to be interested in, the Celtics’ 10th/11th man is certainly an odd choice. But he’s a really bizarre odd choice, isn’t he?

4. Miami Heat (41-24): Can Duncan Robinson’s threes make up for Duncan Robinson’s defense?

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you probably know that I lend my fan support to a pair of college basketball programs: Tennessee and Michigan. I graduated from Tennessee so that’s an obvious pick, but I also like Michigan because my dad went there and, to be honest, they were more interesting for most of my youth. Anyway, that’s a long way of saying that I watched probably 80% of Duncan Robinson’s games during his time at Michigan. He was a fantastic shooter, especially in spot-up situations, and was a very good bench player for the Wolverines. At no point during Duncan Robinson’s time at Michigan did I think he’d have any future in the NBA, much less a future as an NBA starter on one of the league’s best teams.

Well, here we are! Robinson started in 60 of Miami’s first 65 games, gets more minutes per game than everyone not named Bam Adebayo or Jimmy Butler, and has somehow became the most lethal spot-up shooter in the entire freaking league.

Robinson hits 44.8% of his threes on 8.4 attempts per game, which is crazy high. Only James Harden and Buddy Hield have made more threes this season, and Robinson’s attempted considerably fewer threes than both players. It’s unreal how great of a shooter he is, especially when every opponent knows he’s Miami’s main threat from downtown:

Robinson really does have a future in the NBA, regardless of if he can play on both sides of the ball. A slight issue with his immediate future: he isn’t a positive force yet on defense. Robinson’s -0.9 Defensive EPM ranks in the 30th percentile of the league, and Heat opponents have worked to get him in negative situations. Evan Fournier blows by Robinson pretty easily for a reverse layup here:

Robinson isn’t outrageously bad on defense, but opponents shoot 6.1% better than their normal average against him from two. He’s done a solid enough job sticking with guys on the perimeter, but it’ll be on Erik Spoelstra and the Heat to keep him out of matchups where he’s at an athletic disadvantage.

Let’s talk about “tiers” in college basketball

Recently, this graphic came to my attention:

I don’t really know the source of the image, but I assume it originated from a message board. Most of these things do. Anyway, I have some thoughts about it:

  1. Graphic design is clearly not this person’s passion. This thing looks like garbage – “All-Time” and “College Basketball Tiers” are not centered appropriately, black-on-gray almost always looks sad, and the team logos remind me of going to in 2005 to look at old logos.
  2. While some tiers are pretty good, others are…questionable. If you know much about college basketball history, it’s hard to question Tier 1 at all. Those five programs are the winningest in college basketball history, and no one else really comes all that close. As crazy as it sounds, the weakest selection is UCLA, a team that’s won more national titles than everyone else but has a lower WP% than anyone else in this group of five. But Tier 2, which features a Georgetown program with one appearance past the Sweet Sixteen since 1996, and UConn, a team with four titles but almost no pre-1990 success…that’s problematic.
  3. I think it’s probably accurate on the whole but could be tweaked to be better. Also, I’m bored and still in the house.

So, with that in mind and with little else to do after my day job ends at home, I set off to form a more perfect list, with tiers still in the mix. There’s a few different ways to fix this image, but on the whole, it’s a good start; this is more about tweaks than wholesale change. Here’s my theoretical fixes to this theoretical image.

  1. More thoroughly define the “tiers” of teams. We won’t change the “blue bloods” tier, because it’s basically flawless. However, “great” needs a better definition. Do “great” programs get there on the strength of continuous success? Do they get there because of title runs that mask periods of inadequacy? The same goes for “good” and “solid”, which are very close to being the same thing. Here’s my proposal: Tier 2 turns into Mostly Great, Tier 3 is Occasionally Great, Mostly Good, Tier 4 Solid and Reliable, and so on.
  2. Make separate lists for high-major and mid-major programs. The original image starts to hit a bit of a mess when it ranks these two separate classes with vastly different resources beside each other. For instance, Iowa and Penn rank alongside each other as Tier 4 programs all-time. At a very specific brand of face value, it makes sense; Iowa’s been to 26 NCAA Tournaments in its history, Penn 24. Here’s the issue: one of these teams plays a much harder schedule. Iowa ranks 13th all-time in Sports Reference’s Simple Rating System; Penn ranks 134th. We can’t realistically mash these two teams against each other unless it actually makes sense to do so. An important qualifier: Gonzaga will rank as a high-major in the last five and last ten years lists, as will every AAC team. While the AAC isn’t quite on the level of the Big Six typically, it’s close enough that they’re above being a mid-major conference. Gonzaga, meanwhile, is a new-era blue-blood.
  3. Make an additional list for the last five years. That way, we have an all-time list, Ken Pomeroy’s 23-year list, and a reading of how programs look to recruits in 2020-21. While UConn may rate out as the 19th-best program on Pomeroy’s list, it’s much harder to make that argument when narrowed to the last five years, when recruits have actually paid attention to college basketball. The average recruit for the 2021-22 season would’ve been about 13 years old in 2015, and it’s hard to expect a then-seventh grader to be following college basketball all that closely beyond a loose understanding of who’s been good in March.

Without further ado, here’s our All-Time, Last Five Years, and Last Ten Years lists.

All-Time College Basketball Tiers (Big Six + select MMs)

  • Tier 1: Blue Bloods. Same as the original – Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and UCLA.
  • Tier 2: Mostly Great. These are teams that, for most of their history, have been yearly NCAA Tournament fixtures, finish in the AP Poll Top 25, and occasionally win a title. This tier contains ten teams: Indiana, Louisville, Michigan State, Villanova, Illinois, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Michigan, Syracuse, and Arizona. For the most part, these teams have routinely been March fixtures, making deep runs and winning a good amount of conference titles. Historically, Indiana has been closer to Tier 1 than Michigan State, but five years from now, that probably won’t be the case anymore. Cincinnati, of course, looks like a questionable pick. But think about it: in 24 of the last 29 years, they’ve made the NCAA Tournament. They’ve finished ranked in the AP Poll 15 times. They do own a pair of national titles in the early 1960s, and other than the 1980s, they’ve consistently won their conference or contended for it every year post-World War II. They’ve yet to go beyond the Elite Eight since 1992, but I’m not sure it really matters; they are basically always a threat.
  • Tier 3: Occasionally Great, Mostly Good. Teams that make the NCAA Tournament a good amount of the time and every now and then make deep runs, sometimes winning a title. However, their success is not as sustained as Tier 2, and there may be lengthy periods in their history where they were mediocre-to-bad. Along with this, their identity lies in consistently being good, not great. This is the largest tier, with 29 teams included: Purdue, Iowa, NC State, Notre Dame, Maryland, Oklahoma, Marquette, Wisconsin, Memphis, St. John’s, Tennessee, Kansas State, UNLV, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Utah, Florida, BYU, Arkansas, Providence, Alabama, West Virginia, Dayton, Gonzaga, Virginia, Georgetown, Temple, Connecticut, and Texas. (A reminder that these aren’t really in any specific order.) Collectively, these 28 teams own 12 of the national titles in the 35-year period of the 64/68-team field, which is a good chunk of the pie. However: those top five teams own the other 15. (Tier 2 has eight titles among its ten teams, or just under one per program.) The most controversial inclusion here will obviously be Connecticut, a team with four national championships since 1999. However: the program had two NCAA Tournament appearances between 1967 and 1990, didn’t make a Final Four until 1999, and has had lengthy periods in its history – one of which they’re currently in – where the program was irrelevant on a national scale.
  • Tier 4: Solid and Reliable. Rare is it that these programs are outright bad, but even rarer is it that they’re truly attention-grabbing. These programs largely have lived for being an 8 or 9 seed with the occasional Sweet Sixteen run. Seventeen teams are in this tier: Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Stanford, Florida State, USC, Washington, California, Iowa State, UAB, DePaul, Houston, Xavier, LSU, VCU, Pittsburgh, Western Kentucky, Saint Joseph’s, and Texas Tech. Remember that these are all-time, not recent; from 1976 to 1992, DePaul made 14 of 17 NCAA Tournaments and finished in the AP top 10 seven different times. If you’re 55 or older, you likely remember a time when DePaul was legitimately one of the six or so best college basketball programs. The flipside goes for VCU: they have a higher WP% than most of the teams in Tier 3 and some in Tier 2…but they’ve finished ranked in the AP Poll three times ever and the 2011 Final Four run is the only time they’ve advanced past the Round of 32. Likewise, Texas Tech had never advanced past the Sweet Sixteen until they hired Chris Beard. At one point in time, Western Kentucky was a yearly top 15 program or so…but the last time they were ranked period was 2001-02. They’re never bad, but they haven’t gotten anything above a 16 seed since 2009. We’re still giving them the honorary nod.
  • Tier 5: The Murky Middle. Odds are that these teams suffer from one of the following: a mediocre all-time record; not a ton of NCAA Tournament appearances; few deep March runs; few conference titles. They exist in a weird middle range where they’re not openly bad and not very good. Chances are that these teams have some good stretches in their past, and they’ve had flashes of greatness, but they aren’t often a consistent March fixture. Fourteen teams are in this tier: Oregon State, Oregon, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Clemson, Colorado, Tulsa, Arizona State, South Carolina, Mississippi State, New Mexico, Seton Hall, Georgia, and Virginia Tech. Some of these teams have made a Final Four recently, and Oregon and South Carolina even made it in the same year. That’s nice! It also doesn’t excuse the fact that South Carolina has just two NCAA Tournament appearances since 1998 or that Oregon went from 1961 to 1995 without a single March appearance. (Phil Knight cures all, it seems.) Oregon State has made just one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990, but for serious stretches of time (1975-1990, mostly), they hung around the top of the Pac-8 (and then Pac-10) yearly. In true Oregon State fashion, their 1980-81 and 1981-82 teams went a combined 51-7 but failed to make the Final Four both times. They haven’t won a Tournament game since, and odds are their brief 2016 Tournament appearance is the first time anyone under 30 has ever thought about Oregon State basketball. Seton Hall barely got in here, because despite being thoroughly mediocre from roughly 1957 to 1987, they do own a national title game appearance and have made several March appearances over the last three decades. The last truly great team they had was in 1992-93, though.
  • Tier 6: Baylor. They don’t really fit anywhere else, to be honest. It’s really hard to neatly find a spot for a team with seven 20+ loss seasons, multiple 20+ year NCAA Tournament droughts, and also two Elite Eight runs and a team that likely would’ve gotten a third this year. Historically, their lows have been lower than just about anyone in Tier 5…but so have the highs. We’ll punt.
  • Tier 7: Don’t Buy or Sell, It’s Crap. For the most part, these programs have a mediocre history and have won little of serious substance. Sometimes, one of these teams will pop up out of nowhere en route to a 3 seed and a self-immolation in the Sweet Sixteen. Seven teams go here: Miami, Boston College, Washington State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Penn State, and TCU.
  • Tier 8: Despair. This is the lowest of the low. These teams, for the most part, have never experienced serious success, and just making the Tournament feels like a heroic feat. Never mind actually winning a game! I get sad thinking about these programs. Five teams stand out here: Rutgers, Northwestern, South Florida, Southern Mississippi, and Tulane. Northwestern did make the NCAA Tournament in 2017, and Rutgers was well on track to do it in 2020. That being said…both schools would’ve been rapturously excited to be an 8 or 9 seed, because it would’ve been Rutgers’ first visit in nearly 30 years and it was Northwestern’s first visit ever. South Florida, Southern Miss, and Tulane are three mid-major programs with three post-1984 NCAA Tournament runs each, and it really feels like all three programs should be better…but they just aren’t. South Florida has lost fewer than 10 games in a season once in 47 seasons, Southern Miss’ only sustained success in my lifetime was immediately undone by Donnie Tyndall’s NCAA troubles, and Tulane hasn’t touched double-digit conference wins since 1997.

Okay! That was fun. Let’s now move on to the Last Five Years lists. Below are the same tiers, but simplified to the last five years only. The first list is high-majors + AAC + Gonzaga; the second list is mid-majors only.

The Last Five Years of College Basketball Tiers (Big Six, AAC, and Gonzaga)

  • Tier 1: The New-Age Blue Bloods. Hey, remember when the first list had an easy, widely-agreed-upon definition of Blue Bloods? That doesn’t exist right now. New powerhouses have risen up to become the best programs in college basketball. There’s a new top five program list in college basketball: Virginia, Kansas, Duke, Villanova, and Gonzaga. Four of the last five national titles belong to this group, and the teams without a recent title (Kansas and Gonzaga) have made at least three Elite Eights from 2015 onward. The most controversial exclusion(s?) from this list are covered in Tier Two.
  • Tier 2: Mostly Great. Same criteria: for the most part, these squads have been yearly NCAA Tournament fixtures, with half of them making a Final Four run and seven of the ten owning at least one Elite Eight visit. These ten programs are Michigan State, Kentucky, Purdue, North Carolina, Michigan, Louisville, West Virginia, Baylor, Cincinnati, and Texas Tech. A quick rebuttal to those who would like MSU and Kentucky in Tier 1: while the argument could exist, it’s hard to back it up statistically. Michigan State did make the Final Four in 2015 and 2019, but their 2016-2018 performances – Round of 64, Round of 32, Round of 32 – don’t measure up with those of the top five. Kentucky, meanwhile, hasn’t been to a Final Four since the 38-1 team and has slowly started to lose the edge they’d built in recruiting for years. They’re the class of the SEC, but the SEC hasn’t been one of the three best Big Six conferences since 2006-07, per KenPom. The Big East, a non-football conference with a significantly smaller budget than the SEC, is a clearly superior conference. Then again, those schools generally don’t make coaching hires as bad as the SEC’s.
  • Tier 3: Occasionally Great, Mostly Good. Teams that make the NCAA Tournament a good amount of the time and every now and then make deep runs, sometimes winning a title. Along with this, their identity lies in consistently being good, not great – the average team in this group has had one, maybe two top-4 seeds, but on the whole, they’ve not typically been one of the 16 best teams in the field. In a couple of cases, a team has made a deep run in the Tournament but has had a few down years otherwise. Tough selections were made in this one. Included in this group: Florida State, Oregon, Florida, Maryland, Xavier, Wisconsin, Houston, Wichita State, Creighton, Butler, Arizona, Seton Hall, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kansas State, Ohio State, and Auburn. The toughest selections were on both ends here: Florida State would have made it four straight NCAA Tournament bids this year, with three of those being top-4 seeds. They had a solid case for the Mostly Great tier. However: they haven’t topped 14th in KenPom in any of these seasons, and they started this parameter of time by missing the Tournament. They’re more good than great. Auburn, meanwhile, went 12-24 in SEC play over the first two years of our search. Objectively, they were bad, and it would’ve taken something heroic to even get them to touch this tier. The Final Four run in 2019 is just enough to push them into Tier 3; their 25-6 record this season belied them being the seventh-luckiest team in all of CBB. (Their “real” record would’ve translated to something like 22-9 and about 10-8…meaning with a less-unusual run of wins in coin-flip games, they could’ve been the sixth-best team in their own conference.)
  • Tier 4: Solid and Reliable. Rare is it that these programs are outright bad, but even rarer is it that they’re truly attention-grabbing. These programs largely have lived for being an 8 or 9 seed with the occasional Sweet Sixteen run. This tied for the largest group at 20 teams deep: Kansas State, Marquette, Miami (FL), Virginia Tech, Indiana, Clemson, Texas, Notre Dame, Iowa, Syracuse, Providence, TCU, Arkansas, SMU, UCLA, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, USC, and LSU. None of the top-end teams were serious threats to enter Tier 3, but LSU was a real threat to fall to Tier 5. They would’ve made the NCAA Tournament this year as an 8 or 9 seed, which would be fine…but their first three years of this run resulted in zero NCAAT runs and a 21-33 SEC record. Will Wade is a fantastic coach that will almost certainly get fired for something other than coaching, so I think they’ve done enough to rise into Tier 4. The team that statistically should be here but isn’t is South Carolina. The Gamecocks are a strange case: in the five years of this search, they never went worse than 7-11 in conference and did make the famous Final Four run in 2017. However: that’s their only NCAA Tournament run under Frank Martin, and it’s the only time they’ve ranked higher than 58th in KenPom under him. LSU has two seasons that are better, and even though their lows were much lower than South Carolina’s, they got the nod. South Carolina is solid and reliable, but not in terms of actually being a good Big Six program. One last note: SMU is the only mid-major in this tier, and it sounds ridiculous when you see their last three KenPom finishes: 84th, 107th, 88th. The first two years are what got them here: 16th in their tournament-banned 2015-16 (likely would’ve been a 5 or 6 seed) and 11th in 2016-17.
  • Tier 5: The Murky Middle. Odds are that these teams suffer from one of the following: a mediocre record; few NCAA Tournament appearances; fewer deep March runs; no conference titles. They exist in a weird middle range where they’re not openly bad and not very good. Like Tier 4, this group is 20 teams strong: South Carolina, NC State, Penn State, Alabama, Utah, Mississippi State, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona State, Georgia, Northwestern, Ole Miss, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Temple, Memphis, UConn, UCF, and Tulsa. A lot of AAC teams slid in at the end. They haven’t ranked as well on KenPom/Torvik, but their overall records were enough to get them in here as opposed to Tier 6. In particular, Tulsa and UConn were problematic cases: both have only been to one NCAA Tournament in the last six years, and neither would’ve made this year’s field. That said, Tulsa did post three 12+ win seasons in the AAC in our search and UConn had four Top 100 finishes. Outside of Tulsa’s 2016-17 and UConn’s 2017-18, neither has really had a truly forgettable season. I’ll allow it.
  • Tier 6: Don’t Buy or Sell, It’s Crap. Generally, this group has few wins of substance and has made no real noise in March. A few of these programs could reasonably be in Tier 5 but didn’t make it for various reasons: a season that tanked their overall stock, a lack of NCAA Tournament runs, or never doing particularly well in conference play. Eleven programs stand in Tier 6: Washington, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, St. John’s (NY), Missouri, Oregon State, Rutgers, and California. Quick: do you remember that Cal actually started this five-year search by being a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament? Also, do you remember that it ended with a double-digit loss to a 13 seed? That’s the kind of stuff we’re looking at. Washington, in particular, had a good case for Tier 5: they’re objectively better at basketball than probably five of the teams up there. However, their awful 2016-17 season tanked their stock, and the fact they haven’t topped 48th in KenPom since 2010-11 really puts a limiting ceiling on how high they can go. They should break into Tier 5 with another top 60ish season in 2020-21; Torvik projects them 42nd. Among this tier, only Stanford (23rd!) and Rutgers (31st) project higher.
  • Tier 7: Despair. Making the Tournament would be a heroic feat for these programs. “Success” is not sustained at all, and is best represented by the occasional .500 record in conference play. Only six teams fell to Tier 7: DePaul, Boston College, Washington State, South Florida, Tulane, and East Carolina. None were serious contenders for Tier 6, and you could easily make the argument that the bottom three teams here are closer to a Tier 8 than a Tier 6. For now, they’re together. South Florida’s 2012 NCAA Tournament bid is the only NCAAT bid this decade among these six programs.

Lots of words! Now, the mid-majors.

The Last Five Years of College Basketball Tiers (Mid-Majors Only)

A quick reminder: Gonzaga cannot really be considered a mid-major anymore; they routinely post top 10 recruiting classes and have poured a ton of money into basketball. In fact, Gonzaga puts more money into their basketball program than half of the Big Six programs. They’re a high-major now. As such: this list includes everyone other than Gonzaga and the AAC.

  • Tier 1: The Mid-Major Blue Bloods. Every year, you can trust these teams to be right at the top of their conference. They’re a yearly NCAA Tournament fixture, and it’s expected for them to make some March noise. These are teams that have routinely graduated from the 13-16 seed treadmill. This group is five teams deep: Saint Mary’s, Dayton, San Diego State, Nevada, New Mexico State, and VCU. Every year, you expect to see these teams in March. While Dayton and San Diego State’s stars are inflated a bit by unusually great 2019-20 seasons, they’re still March regulars and have histories of legitimate success. New Mexico State is the toughest case. They have fewer losses than any other mid-major not named Gonzaga, and a 2019-20 bid would’ve represented their eight NCAA Tournament run in nine years. Despite them not winning a single game in any of those runs, they still get in by virtue of pure dominance of their conference. They’re 80-8 in the WAC since 2014-15. VCU got a real ‘benefit of the doubt’ nod here; they went 8-10 in the A-10 this year and ranked 144th in 2017-18, but all of their six NCAA Tournament bids from 2012-13 onward have been as a 10 seed or higher.
  • Tier 2: The 12-14 Seeds. Tough one to work on here. Some of these teams are more like 11 seeds when they make the Tournament, but they’re not consistent-enough fixtures to be in Tier 1. Generally, these teams are either consistently great in lower-tier conferences or consistently good in the upper echelon (A-10, MWC, WCC) of mid-major land. Not all of these teams make the Tournament every year, but out of this batch of names, you can expect to see several in your bracket yearly. Tough cuts were made here, but we still ended up with 23 teams: BYU, Rhode Island, Belmont, Vermont, Davidson, East Tennessee State, Buffalo, Yale, St. Bonaventure, Boise State, South Dakota State, Utah State, UNC Greensboro, Furman, UC Irvine, Loyola-Chicago, College of Charleston, Stephen F. Austin, Hofstra, Princeton, Akron, Murray State, and Old Dominion. This group was always going to be huge, simply because there’s a much bigger pool of teams to pick from. Belmont and Vermont had the best Tier 1 cases, as both are yearly March fixtures and routinely win their conference…but neither have the March wins to be a blue blood. It is what it is.
  • Tier 3: Good-Not-Greats. Wide swath here: maybe these are teams that are always the fourth-best team in the A-10. Maybe they’re pretty good in a weak conference. Maybe they’re just good in an average conference. Either way, there’s a lot of ’em. I think there’s 41 teams here: Fresno State, San Francisco, Winthrop, Northern Iowa, Harvard, Grand Canyon, Wright State, Montana, Louisiana Tech, Georgia State, UT-Arlington, Northern Kentucky, Wofford, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Valparaiso, UAB, Illinois State, Penn, Richmond, Southern Illinois, Toledo, Kent State, William & Mary, Liberty, Louisiana-Lafayette, Stony Brook, Northeastern, Marshall, Bucknell, North Dakota State, Hawaii, UC Santa Barbara, Monmouth, Eastern Washington, Lipscomb, Ball State, Oakland, Iona, Texas Southern, Texas State, and Merrimack. Exhaustingly long! Texas State barely slid in at the end – they’re 87-69, but have a pair of sub-.500 finishes in the Sun Belt. Still: three 20+ win seasons speak for themselves, and they should be pretty good again in 2020-21. Merrimack has all of one season of D-1 play to their name, but it was so good that I almost felt required to get them in at Tier 3.
  • Tier 4: “Fine.” Occasionally, one of these teams will have a great season and pop up in your bracket as a 13 seed, but for the most part, they operate outside of the NCAA Tournament. Nothing wrong with that! Generally, you can expect these teams to be consistently solid, and their range of outcomes are pretty easy to nail down. Lots of teams in this one, again: New Mexico, Saint Louis, UNLV, Georgia Southern, South Dakota, Radford, Ohio, Colorado State, George Mason, Cal State Bakersfield, North Florida, Chattanooga, Saint Joseph’s, Chattanooga, Duquesne, Sam Houston State, Weber State, Austin Peay, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Florida Gulf Coast, Green Bay, Rider, Northern Colorado, Colgate, Towson, Lehigh, Albany, St. Francis (PA), Jacksonville State, Boston University, North Carolina Central, Siena.
  • Tier 5: The Somewhat Murky Middle. These are more on the side of lower-tier A-10/WCC/MWC teams, mid-pack SoCon teams, and higher-end Southland squads. The list: Eastern Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha, Utah Valley, George Washington, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount, Indiana State, Missouri State, Tennessee State, UNC Wilmington, Gardner-Webb, Abilene Christian, Northern Illinois, IPFW, UNC Asheville, Long Beach State, Seattle, Brown, Drake, Mercer, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Coastal Carolina, UC Davis, Nicholls State, North Dakota, North Texas, Wagner, UMBC, Portland State, Wyoming, Norfolk State, Navy, Hampton, Saint Peter’s, and Canisius.
  • Tier 6: Below-Average-ish. Sometimes, these teams make the NCAA Tournament, but generally, they aren’t very good. A couple of the teams in this grouping actually have conference titles to their name, but play in a bottom-three conference. Teams like: San Diego, Pacific, Evansville, Little Rock, La Salle, UMass, Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, South Alabama, Louisiana Monroe, Lamar, NJIT, Arkansas State, Oral Roberts, New Orleans, High Point, Western Michigan, Morehead State, Prairie View A&M, Elon, UTEP, Delaware, Eastern Illinois, Fairfield, Tennessee-Martin, Campbell, Montana State, FIU, LIU Brooklyn, Fairleigh Dickinson, Army, Idaho, Robert Morris, Southern, Hartford, Illinois-Chicago, Mount St. Mary’s, and Sacred Heart.
  • Tier 7: Forgettable Squads. To be honest, I spend months, even years without remembering the existence of these squads. They’re not truly the lowest of the low, but seasons with serious success are very rare. UMKC, Columbia, Western Carolina, Air Force, Cornell, Miami (OH), UTSA, Eastern Kentucky, New Hampshire, Southern Miss, Rice, Troy, Tennessee Tech, Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, Fordham, UT Rio Grande Valley, Samford, Southeastern Louisiana, Denver, Charleston Southern, Jacksonville, Appalachian State, IUPUI, Alcorn State, Milwaukee, Grambling State, Sacramento State, Dartmouth, Jackson State, Bethune-Cookman, James Madison, UMass Lowell, North Carolina A&T, Quinnipiac, American, Manhattan, Morgan State, and Loyola (MD). 
  • Tier 8: Basement. I feel bad, because no one should be given this designation; any of these teams can make the NCAA Tournament with a bit of March luck. That said, luck doesn’t seem very realistic for many of them. Dartmouth, Houston Baptist, Northwestern State, North Alabama, Western Illinois, Central Arkansas, Youngstown State, Cal State Northridge, McNeese State, Detroit, Portland, Idaho State, Incarnate Word, Drexel, UC Riverside, Holy Cross, South Carolina State, Southern Utah, Lafayette, Niagara, Citadel, St. Francis (NY), San Jose State, Cleveland State, Stetson, Cal Poly, Southeast Missouri State, Presbyterian, VMI, Kennesaw State, Binghamton, Alabama State, Florida A&M, USC Upstate, Northern Arizona, Bryant, SIU Edwardsville, Longwood, Arkansas Pine Bluff, Coppin State, Maryland Eastern Shore, Howard, Marist, Central Connecticut, Maine, Chicago State, Alabama A&M, Mississippi Valley State, and Delaware State. Apologies to all programs involved.

Hopefully, this gives us a better picture of both a long-term and short-term view of college basketball. If you were to extend the range to ten years for your search, I think it could produce somewhat different results, but you’re also theorizing that a current 18-year-old recruit was intently watching college basketball at 8-12 years old. (As someone who has loved basketball for most of my life, I didn’t start watching college basketball beyond occasional March games until age 10, and even that felt advanced.) This should provide a better, more reasonable view of how things look to the current recruiting class.

Program Reviews: Byron Smith has Prairie View A&M operating at unseen levels

Located on the northwestern edge of the Houston area is Prairie View A&M, a historically black university and the second-oldest school in Texas. Chances are that if you’re a fan of a high-major basketball team, your team has probably played Prairie View A&M or another SWAC team in November or December of any given year. For years, these were fairly routine exhibitions that saw the home team win by double digits. Prairie View spends most non-conference schedules entirely on the road, almost never playing a home game before Christmas. 2019-20 was a rare exception, and even then, their home opponent was Jarvis Christian College from the NAIA.

For most of Prairie View’s history, they were seen as an also-ran of the SWAC. Prior to 2018-19, they held a 29.3% winning percentage at the Division I level. In their 41 seasons of D-1 basketball, they’d made the NCAA Tournament just once…and held the ignominious distinction of suffering the biggest blowout loss in NCAA Tournament history, losing 110-52 to Kansas. (Fun fact: 1 seed Kansas would go on to lose to 8 seed Rhode Island two days later. March!) Prairie View had never finished SWAC play with better than a 14-4 record, and their highest-ranked team in the KenPom era was 2002-03’s 249th-placed squad.

Then came 2018-19. Almost out of nowhere – though they did go 12-6 in the SWAC the year prior – Prairie View took the SWAC by storm. Gone were the days of being everyone’s favorite opponent to beat up on. They opened the year with a road win at Santa Clara, then went 17-1 in SWAC play and defeated rival Texas Southern to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. They’d go on to lose in the First Four, but it was undeniably the most successful season in Panthers history.

2019-20 looked to present more of the same. The Panthers pulled off a win at UTSA, went 14-4 in conference play to win the regular season title, and entered the SWAC Tournament as the favorite to repeat and earn a second straight NCAA Tournament bid. They had two of the three best players in the conference in Gerard Andrus and Devonte Patterson. Unfortunately, we all know how this ends. Before Prairie View were set to play in the SWAC semifinals, college basketball as we know it came to a screeching halt. The potential of more March memories were lost, and Prairie View will have to replace four members of their starting five.

That said, Byron Smith is already the most successful coach in Prairie View history (52.8% winning percentage; second-best at Prairie View is 37.5%!) and is solidifying his place as a Houston legend. Smith was a two-time member of the All-Southwest Conference team as a player at Houston, has spent nearly his entire professional career in Texas, and has turned the previously moribund Prairie View program into a legitimate force in basketball’s most interesting conference. Also, he’s hilarious, so that’s a bonus.

This interview was lightly edited and shortened for clarification.

Will Warren: Describe your program philosophy in a few sentences.

Byron Smith: “I would say we have a very intense program, especially on the court. We’re very, very, very tough in terms of how we play and how we prepare. To clarify, we want to be pitbulls on the court but collies off of it – very kind, good people away from basketball. Our goal is to be gentlemen and great students off the court. We want our kids to affect other people in a positive way. On the court, we want to be the grittiest, grimiest team. We’re going to be the underdog a lot of nights, and we want to be the hardest-playing team on the floor. It gives us an opportunity to win some games we shouldn’t.”

WW: Who are your main influences as a coach?

BS: “For me, obviously first and foremost is my mother. She’s given me the blueprint to be successful in life – being committed, being dedicated, and having strong faith in God. In terms of on the court, to be honest, it’s not anyone basketball-wise. I’ve always looked away from the game for influence. For instance, Herm Edwards (Arizona State football HC) is a huge influence. His philosophy and his process is a great influence on what I do as a coach. I’m old enough to remember him as a player, because his Eagles used to kick my Cowboys’ butt all the time.”

WW: Rarely do you play a home game before Christmas, though this past season was an exception. You typically spend the entirety of the first two months playing true road games, with occasional neutral-site fixtures. What are the positives of these long stretches without home games, if there are any?

BS: “I like to try to give our young people a chance to see the world. Believe it or not, a lot of the young kids that come through our program haven’t had a real chance to travel and see some of these places in America. They have AAU, but you get four and five guys to a room, sleeping on the bathroom sink, all that stuff. We get to go to some really neat places, especially to the West Coast. We fly a lot, but we take bus trips, too. This year, we played at Arizona State, so we got on the bus and drove there, along with then driving five more hours to Los Angeles to play Loyola Marymount. These long road trips give our players a chance to bond before conference play starts. It gives them a chance to learn who their teammates are away from the court. It allows you to know who you’re going to battle with and if you can trust them. If you’re in an alley fight, what guys do I want with me? There’s a lot of educational pieces that come from it. We have to generate revenue for our program, obviously, but it’s way more than going to pick up a check. When January rolls around, we’re probably going to play some of the best basketball we’ve played.”

WW: Thank you for answering that – I’ve long wondered about how teams handle the mental and physical effects of long travel, along with how you handle travel in the first place.

BS: “Let me add something really quick. What we’ve been able to incorporate on these trips is that sometimes, you can win and not have the most points on the board. That’s something that we look to. We set goals as a team, and we want to improve every game. How are we shooting? How have we established our defense? Sometimes, we’ve walked away from a tough road loss and have felt a certain way. Obviously, I don’t get paid to try, I get paid to win, but there are positives from some of these losses.”

WW: You’ve gone 31-5 in conference play the last two seasons, and these two teams are statistically the best in Prairie View’s D-1 history. What’s changed from the day you took the job to now to make this happen?

BS: “In the past, there’s been a bit of a mindset across the league where you’re super-focused on beating your rival. Prairie View and Texas Southern have a big rivalry, and even if Texas Southern is 0-30, if they beat Prairie View, they consider it a good season. That’s not anything I’ve ever subscribed to. I think we’ve raised the bar. We’re getting a lot more national recognition that I don’t think Prairie View really received before. We aren’t Butler or Wichita State, of course, but we’re striving to become that. The culture has changed, expectations have changed, and I do think that we’ve had a good three-year run. In the past, our program wanted to score lots of points but didn’t play defense. Now, we’re a defense-first program. Some nights, the ball’s just not going to go in the basket. How do you win games when that happens? Well, you get aggressive, you deflect passes, you force turnovers, you get rebounds. We’ve also started to attract kids that normally would’ve gone to UTEP or Texas State or Louisiana-Lafayette.”

WW: Your defense is pressure-packed and hyper-aggressive, and this marks the third-straight season Prairie View has finished in the top 10 nationally in turnovers forced. What are some of the advantages of this aggressive style of defense?

BS: “For one thing, it’s kind of like a mosquito on a hot day. We’re always in your face, and we like to piss you off. We’re like a bunch of gnats on a hot day on the lake that won’t go away. One of the things that’s caused us problems that’s documented is that we foul a lot. We are aggressive, and sometimes fouls happen, but that’s part of what we do. We like to take the fight to you. We’re that little kid coming to school that gets bullied a lot and is starting to fight back. It’s not ‘press’ for us, it’s pressure. We deny the wings, we trap the corners, and we swarm the posts. We want our defense to dictate our offense.”

WW: You’ve also been near the top nationally in three-point defense the last three seasons. How do you aim to make opposing three-point attempts difficult?

BS: “We focus a lot on our closeouts. Obviously, everyone focuses on closeouts, but for us, you can be yanked from the game if you have a poor closeout. You may have a hard time getting back in! Closeouts come at a premium, especially if you do them the right way. Even a 28% shooter, if he’s wide-open, that probably goes up to about 35% or 36%. We want to distract guys into taking contested three-point shots because we fly around non-stop.”

WW: Offensively, your teams are consistently great at getting to the line, and two of your players – Devonte Patterson and Darius Williams – drew nearly 7 fouls per 40 minutes. Why do you place this emphasis on going inside and drawing fouls?

BS: “Because we have to! We might be the worst shooting team in the country. (laughs) If you look at our three-point percentage on offense compared to defense, it might be the exact same. We do have good shooters, but if you’re constantly relying on 22-foot shots going in, for us, that means the potential of having a long season. The four seasons I’ve been here, the best three-point shooter on the team has been Byron Smith, the head coach. If you know anybody in the NBA looking for a 50-year-old spot-up shooter, give them my number.”

WW: This year’s team was one of the most experienced in all of college basketball, but you’re returning several key pieces for the 2020-21 squad. What are some steps forward you’re looking for the program to take in the near future?

BS: “We want to sustain our success. We don’t want to go from first to worst, or even from first to the middle of the pool. The name of the game in all facets of life is consistency. It’s difficult year-to-year to stay in the top one or two, but if they do pass the transfer rule, we’re hopeful we might be able to land a couple of high-impact guys that were previously playing in the Big 12 or Sun Belt or maybe even the SEC. Guys like that can walk into this conference and play 30 minutes a night.”

WW: What’s your go-to entertainment during the quarantine?

BS: “I had an Uber driver about seven months ago that ended up being my girlfriend. Congratulate me on that one! She introduced me to Netflix, but to be honest, if you find me at home, 90% of the time it’ll be with Sanford and Son on.”

Here’s a short video containing some of my favorite plays from the Prairie View A&M games I sampled.

Some scattered thoughts on The Last Dance

Like basically every other basketball fan in America, I’ve spent the last five Sundays watching ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary on Michael Jordan’s career and, specifically, the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. I think it’s a fairly good piece of work, and I’m certainly glad I watched it. In the sports wilderness created by COVID-19, it’s been nice to see so many people band together to watch a sports documentary about one of the greatest athletes in human history. Regardless of how you feel about Jordan’s status as the Greatest of All Time, it’s a useful artifact to show those younger than, say, 23 just how great MJ was.

That said, the documentary is far from perfect. As Spencer Hall noted on Twitter, MJ getting to sign off on basically every part of this documentary was inevitably going to create positives and negatives. Getting unfettered access to MJ as a source is inarguably a great thing, as Jordan is essentially given the role of a director’s commentary. You get his insight on everything – games in the mid-1980s, the Detroit Pistons, Dennis Rodman, etc. – and it provides great value. That said, giving Jordan such power to sign off on the documentary means we hit dead ends on certain subjects very quickly – the Jordan Rules book, controversy surrounding his retirement, his family today, etc. The director fails to inform you MJ even has a wife until the sixth episode, and you hear from his kids for about two minutes in the final episode. Along with that, the promised behind-the-scenes coverage, aside from a very important scene after winning the title, really falls flat. Very little that’s new is revealed, and to be honest, a lot of the most interesting reveals don’t even involve Michael Jordan.

In short, it’s a good documentary, not a great one. The best thing ESPN has done, and will likely ever do, is still O.J.: Made in America. Whether The Last Dance would have been better without Michael’s involvement is not really worth discussing, as it likely just wouldn’t have existed. (Plus, you don’t get the memes of Michael laughing at others’ interviews.) However, there’s some thoughts I had about the show that I felt like expanding on the day after.

  • The Jordan vs. LeBron debate will inevitably splinter into the documentary world. I fear it isn’t enough to take a look at the two best to ever do it and simply say “they were equally great in different eras.” We’ll have to drive this debate to its absolute extremes, and I am near-certain Skip Bayless will make a regrettable appearance in the LeBron documentary in 2025.
  • Will the LeBron doc have the same level of positive coverage towards him? The clear goal of The Last Dance, beyond giving you a bit of the promised access to the greatest dynasty in the last 40+ years of basketball, is to cement Michael Jordan as the Greatest to Ever Do It in the viewer’s eyes. No corners are cut in this process. Even in the episode where teammates are finally allowed to speak negatively about how he treated them, they immediately pivot to “it was worth it for team success.” Obviously, it worked out pretty well, but I found it odd that not even one guy still felt negatively towards Michael. (It’s probably worth reading about how thoroughly Jordan’s Wizards teammates from 2001-2003 hated him, as reported by Michael Leahy’s book When Nothing Else Matters.) Most hilariously, the 1993 series against the Knicks, in which the Bulls initially trailed 2-0, is presented as this major turnaround from Jordan after two “poor” outings in New York (63 points across two games!). In Game 3, Jordan is shown to have returned to his normal status and have carried the Bulls back into the series. In the actual Game 3, Jordan shot 3-for-18 (though he got 16 points at the free throw line alone) and it was Pippen’s 29 points on 12 shots that helped the Bulls demolish New York by 20 points.
  • To follow that up: this is indeed hagiography, but it’s entertaining hagiographyBy showing Michael Jordan to have nearly zero faults, the documentary crafts him as a Basketball God figure that only adds to his legend and makes it more shocking for younger viewers when he doesn’t hit every game-winning shot. As Jordan himself says, he missed 26 game-winning shots in his career. Obviously, you didn’t come to watch the misses; you came to watch the highlights we all know and a few you may not have.
  • The dichotomy of the 1992-93 Bulls and the 1993-94 Bulls was maybe the most interesting part of the series as a basketball nerd. When I interviewed several college coaches last year for the Building a Better Basketball Offense series, I got to talk to a few coaches whose teams had one dominant scorer and secondary/role players surrounding them. A question I’ve always wondered about teams like this was if it became easier or harder to design the offense around one player. Nearly every coach said “both,” and a couple outlined how it’s typically a little easier for players to buy in to an offense where they know they’ll be able to shoot a decent amount of shots. The 1992-93 Bulls were the second-best offense in the league, and Jordan was spectacular as usual, scoring nearly 33 per game in his first last dance. Once Jordan left, the 1993-94 Bulls fell to the 14th-best offense, though their assist rate did jump a bit. (While this is real basketball nerd stuff that no one cares about, the doc spent zero time exploring how the Bulls were an all-time elite Shot Volume offense, turning it over on just 12% of possessions in 1992-93 and rebounding 38% of their own misses. It’s one of the greatest feats in offensive basketball history.) In the documentary, these two teams are presented as nearly equal, even though the post-Jordan Bulls were clearly worse and got to 55 wins on the back of some lucky bounces in close games. That said: it seems like most coaches would probably deem the 1993-94 Bulls easier to coach, no?
  • I wish we’d gotten at least some coverage of the post-Jordan Bulls, and, heck, the Jordan Wizards. Maybe that would’ve been episodes 11 and 12 of this already-very-long miniseries, but if you’re spending an entire episode covering Dennis Rodman, I would imagine you could talk more about what happened after the Last Dance. The coda of this series gives you brief, one-line updates on the stars: Jordan retired. Scottie Pippen was traded. Steve Kerr was traded. Dennis Rodman was released. You’re telling me that with all of the time afforded to you, you couldn’t go more in-depth on Life After the Bulls for any of those final three players? Even MJ gets shorted in this regard. There’s nothing about how he became an NBA owner, an international ambassador for basketball, a constant national figure, etc. It’s simply that he rode off into the sunset and then came back for a couple years down the road. Maybe that’ll be in After the Last Dance in 2022: multiple episodes on just how entertainingly bad the Bulls were from 1999 to 2004. I get that they dunked on Jerry Krause enough already, but someone has gotta explore Tim Floyd going 49-190 as the Bulls’ head coach.
  • As anyone could and should admit, this had several great parts that made the entire experience worth it. I’d love to hear everyone else’s. For me, it’s getting to see Tex Winter drawing up the triangle offense, Jordan’s wails post-title in 1996, Jordan watching others’ interviews, his mom playing a large part in the first episode, and a bit of the baseball discussion.

Again: good, not great. I wouldn’t have it any other way, because we desperately needed something to attach ourselves to in the midst of the sports wilderness.

The best defenses in men’s college basketball, 2019-20

I promised this post nearly two months ago and got lost in some other projects, namely my beloved Program Reviews project that’s going to take a break for a little bit after this week. However, I couldn’t ignore the other, arguably more important half of basketball. Having an excellent defense is just about a requirement for any team to win a championship, and it especially goes that way in basketball. While offense has been more important by a hair, no defense ranked outside of the top 40 nationally has won the Division I national championship in the KenPom era. Similar numbers are likely true for D-2, D-3, and NAIA.

The below 25 defenses were ranked as the top 25 in America by Synergy Sports. If you go to their site, it won’t appear that way, as Canada has North America in a stranglehold in terms of high-quality defense. (The US wins out with ease on the offensive side, obviously.) Teams without enough games on the database were also eliminated, though those were rarer cases. In the end, these 25 defenses are all worthy of strong respect, and coaches would do well to study the teams of their choice. I wrote about Randolph-Macon’s defense earlier this season, but will likely write about other teams later this offseason.

Anyway, here’s the best men’s college basketball defenses of the 2019-20 season.

25. Liberty Flames (Lynchburg, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.792
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Post Up (97th), Spot-Up (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 35.1% Rim (4 feet or closer to the rim), 25.6% Non-Rim Twos (5-20ish feet), 39.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 55% Rim, 30.8% Non-Rim Twos, 29.3% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45.6%
  • OREB% allowed: 21.3%
  • TO%: 19.4%
  • Shot Volume: 101.9

24. Winston-Salem State Rams (Winston-Salem, NC)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.792
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (97th-percentile), Post-Up (97th), Spot-Up (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 38.9% Rim, 26.5% Non-Rim Twos, 34.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.4% Rim, 32.7% Non-Rim Twos, 30.3% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45.4%
  • OREB% allowed: 28.5%
  • TO%: 18.9%
  • Shot Volume: 109.6

23. Roanoke Maroons (Roanoke, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.791
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (98th), P&R Ball Handler (98th), Post-Up (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 34.6% Rim, 25.7% Non-Rim Twos, 39.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.7% Rim, 32.6% Non-Rim Twos, 30.5% 3PT
  • eFG%: 44.5%
  • OREB% allowed: 27.3%
  • TO%: 20%
  • Shot Volume: 107.3

22. Stanford Cardinal (Palo Alto, CA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.791
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Post-Up (99th), Spot-Up (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.6% Rim, 26% Non-Rim Twos, 37.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 52.6% Rim, 37.4% Non-Rim Twos, 29.5% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45.6%
  • OREB% allowed: 27.8%
  • TO%: 22.4%
  • Shot Volume: 105.4

21. Virginia Wesleyan Marlins (Norfolk, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.791
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 48.2% Rim, 22.9% Non-Rim Twos, 28.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.3% Rim, 32.3% Non-Rim Twos, 29.6% 3PT
  • eFG%: 44.7%
  • OREB% allowed: 26.7%
  • TO%: 21.1%
  • Shot Volume: 105.6

20. West Virginia Mountaineers (Morgantown, WV)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.791
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.3% Rim, 26.2% Non-Rim Twos, 37.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 54% Rim, 33% Non-Rim Twos, 28.8% 3PT
  • eFG%: 44.5%
  • OREB% allowed: 27.7%
  • TO%: 22.4%
  • Shot Volume: 105.3

19. Brockport Golden Eagles (Brockport, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.789
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), P&R Ball Handler (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 43.3% Rim, 22.4% Non-Rim Twos, 34.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 51.9% Rim, 36.5% Non-Rim Twos, 29.4% 3PT
  • eFG%: 46.4%
  • OREB% allowed: 29.1%
  • TO%: 23.9%
  • Shot Volume: 105.2

18. Hobart College Statesmen (Geneva, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.789
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), Cuts (98th), Spot-Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 34.7% Rim, 24.3% Non-Rim Twos, 41% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.7% Rim, 32.6% Non-Rim Twos, 27.4% 3PT
  • eFG%: 42.3%
  • OREB% allowed: 22.4%
  • TO%: 16%
  • Shot Volume: 106.4

17. San Diego State Aztecs (San Diego, CA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.789
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (97th), Spot-Up (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 25.6% Rim, 32.3% Non-Rim Twos, 42.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.1% Rim, 32.5% Non-Rim Twos, 29.7% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45.3%
  • OREB% allowed: 25.4%
  • TO%: 21.2%
  • Shot Volume: 104.2

16. Maine Farmington Beavers (Farmington, ME)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.786
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (100th), Cuts (100th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 31.1% Rim, 25.5% Non-Rim Twos, 43.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 54% Rim, 32.8% Non-Rim Twos, 33.8% 3PT
  • eFG%: 48.5%
  • OREB% allowed: 23.5%
  • TO%: 23.5%
  • Shot Volume: 100.0

15. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers (Troy, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.785
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 35.8% Rim, 23.4% Non-Rim Twos, 40.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 59.5% Rim, 34.3% Non-Rim Twos, 29.3% Threes
  • eFG%: 47.6%
  • OREB% allowed: 23%
  • TO%: 23.7%
  • Shot Volume: 99.3

14. Stevens Ducks (Hoboken, NJ)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.784
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th), Off Screen (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.3% Rim, 23.6% Non-Rim Twos, 40.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 51.8% Rim, 33.8% Non-Rim Twos, 29.8% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45%
  • OREB% allowed: 25.4%
  • TO%: 22%
  • Shot Volume: 103.4

13. Christopher Newport Captains (Newport News, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.783
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Post Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.9% Rim, 31.5% Non-Rim Twos, 31.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.6% Rim, 36% Non-Rim Twos, 28.1% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.1%
  • OREB% allowed: 26.4%
  • TO%: 18.3%
  • Shot Volume: 108.1

12. Park University Pirates (Parkville, MO)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.783
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th), Transition (95th), Cuts (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.4% Rim, 19.1% Non-Rim Twos, 38.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 53% Rim, 33.7% Non-Rim Twos, 28.6% 3PT
  • eFG%: 47.5%
  • OREB% allowed: 24.8%
  • TO%: 21.1%
  • Shot Volume: 103.7

11. UMass Boston Beacons (Boston, MA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.783
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (98th), Cuts (96th), Transition (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 41% Rim, 28.1% Non-Rim Twos, 30.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.1% Rim, 35.2% Non-Rim Twos, 30.1% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.8%
  • OREB% allowed: 30.1%
  • TO%: 18.9%
  • Shot Volume: 111.2

10. Lincoln Memorial Railsplitters (Harrogate, TN)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.781
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), P&R Ball Handler (95th), Post-Up (94th), Spot-Up (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 30.5% Rim, 29.4% Non-Rim Twos, 40.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 49.8% Rim, 37.6% Non-Rim Twos, 30.2% 3PT
  • eFG%: 42.7%
  • OREB% allowed: 23.3%
  • TO%: 18.7%
  • Shot Volume: 104.6

9. Indiana (PA) Crimson Hawks (Indiana, PA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.78
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (98th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), Spot-Up (95th), Transition (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39.4% Rim, 24.9% Non-Rim Twos, 35.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 52.3% Rim, 30% Non-Rim Twos, 30% 3PT
  • eFG%: 44.5%
  • OREB% allowed: 31.1%
  • TO%: 22.6%
  • Shot Volume: 108.5

8. Baylor Bears (Waco, TX)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.777
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Isolation (95th), Transition (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 26.8% Rim, 38.2% Non-Rim Twos, 35% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 60% Rim, 33.5% Non-Rim Twos, 31.1% 3PT
  • eFG%: 45.2%
  • OREB% allowed: 29.8%
  • TO%: 22.7%
  • Shot Volume: 107.1

7. Kansas Jayhawks (Lawrence, KS)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.775
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (96th), Post-Up (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 29.1% Rim, 29.5% Non-Rim Twos, 41.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 52% Rim, 33.6% Non-Rim Twos, 30.5% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.7%
  • OREB% allowed: 26.4%
  • TO%: 18.6%
  • Shot Volume: 107.8

6. Baruch Bearcats (New York, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.773
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Post Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 35.3% Rim, 25.1% Non-Rim Twos, 39.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 52.9% Rim, 27.4% Non-Rim Twos, 30.9% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.6%
  • OREB% allowed: 27.7%
  • TO%: 22.1%
  • Shot Volume: 105.6

5. Virginia Cavaliers (Charlottesville, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.763
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (98th), Post Up (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 30.5% Rim, 26.8% Non-Rim Twos, 42.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 48.7% Rim, 35.6% Non-Rim Twos, 29.2% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.1%
  • OREB% allowed: 23.3%
  • TO%: 19.3%
  • Shot Volume: 104.0

4. Miles Golden Bears (Fairfield, AL)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.754
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Transition (100th), Post-Up (93rd), P&R Ball Handler (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 32.2% Rim, 35.5% Non-Rim Twos, 32.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 52.6% Rim, 32.7% Non-Rim Twos, 26.6% 3PT
  • eFG%: 42.3%
  • OREB% allowed: 26.8%
  • TO%: 18.9%
  • Shot Volume: 107.9

3. Memphis Tigers (Memphis, TN)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.752
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (100th), Spot-Up (97th), Transition (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.3% Rim, 27.2% Non-Rim Twos, 36.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 45.3% Rim, 34.6% Non-Rim Twos, 28% 3PT
  • eFG%: 41.2%
  • OREB% allowed: 29.4%
  • TO%: 20.2%
  • Shot Volume: 109.2

2. Shawnee State Bears (Portsmouth, OH)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.749
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): They were 85th-percentile or higher in all but one category (Hand-Off); 90th-percentile or higher in everything but Spot-Ups and Hand-Offs.
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 32.9% Rim, 30.4% Non-Rim Twos, 36.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 40.4% Rim, 30.7% Non-Rim Twos, 33.5% 3PT
  • eFG%: 40.9%
  • OREB% allowed: 25.2%
  • TO%: 19.5%
  • Shot Volume: 105.7

1. Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets (Ashland, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.74
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Transition (96th), P&R Ball Handler (95th), Cuts (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 33.3% Rim, 27% Non-Rim Twos, 39.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 50.6% Rim, 31% Non-Rim Twos, 29.6% 3PT
  • eFG%: 43.7%
  • OREB% allowed: 26.3%
  • TO%: 23.7%
  • Shot Volume: 102.6