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A deeper look into the statistics before the NBA Finals

Since a couple of years, NBA.com provides SportVU Player Tracking statistics data on their website. SportVU is a system of six cameras and software that measures the movements of all players and the ball on the court. This results in a huge amount of data. For example, for every shot taken in every NBA game, the information of who took the shot on which exact location out of which exact situation or pass, with which defender closest to the shooter and how many seconds on the shot clock is stored.

Most of this incredible amount of information is noise, but with the right knowledge and ability to analyse, it offers a whole new understanding of the game of basketball. Before an important match-up, finding one of the keys for the winning gameplan can sound like looking for a needle in this haystack of data. Of course, this cannot be the job of Steve Kerr of David Blatt, but it is known that composing the best staff around you, is a key factor in being succesfull as a headcoach at the highest level. I am absolutely convinced that the best teams in Europe still can progress if one of their assistant coaches is a statistical wizard who can translate the right conclusions to the head-coach.

It is interesting to see which insights one gets from a quick look to the statistics of Golden State and Cleveland, just before their match-up in the NBA Finals.

Source: NBA.com

Source: NBA.com

To me, the match-up between the Cavs and the Warriors is the match-up between probably the most impressive all-round athlete in the world (Lebron) and one of the most unselfish teams in the NBA who play all year long on a wave of confidence.

The Warriors are ranked as #1 team in the NBA (during these play-offs) with 25.1 assists per game, while the Cavs are #15 (out of 16 teams) with 18.9 assists per game. By a neutral sports fan, the game of the Warriors will appear more attractive, supported by their #1 ranking in Fast Break points a game (21.6 / game, while the Cavs are ranked again #15 with 7.4 / game). Golden State plays a much higher pace of 96.63 possessions in 48 mins on average, while Cleveland has 92.95.

On the other hand, Cleveland has the most complete player in the world, who can handle every aspect of the game on every position, offensively and defensively. Mostly in the beginning of these play-offs, Cleveland tried to exploit this advantage too radically. In 32.6% of their possessions, they went for an isolation play for Lebron (with a doubtfully efficienty of 0.68 point per possession). To compare, the Warriors look in 13.5% of their possessions to isolate their franchise player, Curry, with an efficiency of 0.92 PPP.

Player Tracking (SportVU) in action

Player Tracking (SportVU) in action

There is no other team in the NBA that takes more shots after more than 7 (!) dribbles by the shooter, than Cleveland in 17,8% (!) of all possessions. This reflects of course the well known (and disgusted by many) isolation play for Lebron where he dribbles at halfcourt with his four teammates waiting at the baseline. In these situations, Lebron has an effective FG% of 42.6%, but itis known that he took some bad shots on decisive moments. Allthough one has to say, that during the last three games in their series against Chicago, we have seen another Cleveland. Less isolation plays and a key role for Lebron in assisting his teammates in offense, while he attracts himself of course a lot of defensive attention of the Warriors. A lot more credit for this should go to David Blatt, who finally shows more ingredients of his successfull offensive strategies in Europe.

 

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Recently I did a podcast with Chris Oliver of Basketball Immersion.