Ryan Knaus

The Numbers Game

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Small Sample Size Statistics

Thursday, October 26, 2017


We're too early in the 2017-18 season to draw many conclusions with confidence, whether about teams or specific players. The Wizards, Grizzlies, Spurs and Clippers are undefeated, but none have played more than three games. The Warriors have a 2-2 record, the Mavericks are winless, and the Suns' lone victory came immediately after firing their head coach and telling a sulking Eric Bledsoe to stay home (or wherever he might be...at the hair salon).

 

The small sample size also leads to chaotic individual stats, which form the core of today's column. We'll identify guys whose production looks fluky, for better or worse, with an emphasis on FG%/attempts and FT%/attempts. We'll also look at some of the most notable underperformers at this early point in the season-- even though the 2017-18 campaign has barely begun, you'll always find owners panicked about players on their roster (or covetous of guys on yours). Remember when Nikola Jokic wasn't taking (or making) many shots this year? Yeah, that lasted two games -- in the third game he dropped 29 points on 9-of-14 FGs and 8-of-8 FTs, while making all three of his attempts from downtown.

 

Let's begin with percentages and shot attempts, from both the field and the free throw line.

 

FG% and FG attempts

 

There are too many players shooting unsustainably well from the field to list them all, so I'll limit myself to the most eye-catching of them. Near the top we find Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has made 65.9% on 22.0 attempts per game. That mark will inevitably fall into the 50-55% range, but who cares? Ignoring my own advice in the intro paragraphs, I'm fully buying into Giannis' start through four games. He's simply incredible and if I could re-do my preseason rankings I'd peg him to the No. 1 spot (I had him No. 2 in 8-cat, 9-cat, and FanDuel scoring this year).

 

Nikola Vucevic was shooting 68.0% in his first three games, but he finally cooled off on Tuesday, going just 6-of-17 from the field despite facing the Nets' atrocious defense. Joe Ingles (61.5% prior to Tuesday) was also due for an off night and he went 1-of-5 from three field with all his attempts coming from deep. Utah's TV announcers said coach Quin Snyder wants Ingles to take "at least nine [3-pointers] per game" and that might not be a total exaggeration -- Utah doesn't have a lot of deep threats, and Ingles had the third-best mark from deep last year at 44.1%. Only seven of Ingles' 31 shot attempts this year have come inside the arc.

 

LeBron James (61.4%) will inevitably calm down, but maybe not by much -- he did shoot 54.8% from the field last year, after all. Kyle Kuzma (60.7%) and C.J. McCollum (54.9%) are also shooting lights-out in a handful of games, and it's hard to envision either Dejounte Murray (56.7%) or D.J. Augustin (60.9%) keeping up their current pace.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Tim Hardaway Jr. shooting an abysmal 24.3% through three season-opening losses for New York. Part of this might have to do with a tweaked ankle, but it's a matter of time before THJ heats up -- he shot 47.1% after the break last season with even more attempts per game (13.2 vs. 12.3). Foul trouble and frequent turnovers have thrown Jusuf Nurkic (36.4%) off his game early, but if he stays healthy he'll be fine. Other prime guys to warm up include:

 

Harrison Barnes (34.9%), Paul George (37.1%), Jimmy Butler (39.5%), Danilo Gallinari (31.6%), Damian Lillard (38.8%), Pau Gasol (27.3%), Marvin Williams (23.8%), Dirk Nowitzki (30.2%), J.J. Redick (37.2%), Terrence Ross (27.8%), Mike Conley (38.5%), and Khris Middleton (39.0%). Suffice to say, there's a lot of early-season rust being scraped off around the league.

 

FT% and FT attempts

 

We'll get to some bad starts from the FT line below, but let's start with an early overachiever -- Andre Drummond. Most people who drafted Drummond planned to punt FT%, or at least be mediocre in that category, but so far he's made 83.3% of his attempts. That's just 10 makes in 12 attempts, but it starts to look more legitimate when coupled with his 16-of-20 mark this preseason. Maybe it's for real, right? No. Drummond missed 23 free throws in a single game two seasons ago (13-of-36). His current 38.4% from the line would be the worst in NBA history, easily worse than guys like Shaquille O'Neal (52.7%), DeAndre Jordan (43.1%) and Ben Wallace (41.4%). I'm not buying this small sample size.

 

LeBron James is also at an unsustainable 88.2% from the stripe through four games. He should settle into his typical 72-76% range before long, although an upward correction was expected after last year's career-worst 67.4% mark. I'm a bit more optimistic about Blake Griffin, whose current 81.8% is well above last year's career-best 76.0%. Blake looks good this year, attacking the basket with a lot of explosion, and he'll be getting to the stripe a ton -- if he can keep his accuracy north of 75%, most owners should be content.

 

Draymond Green looks great at 85.7% from the line, until you realize that's a combined 6-of-7 through four games. Ditto for Clint Capela, whose 83.3% has come on 5-of-6 FTs through four games. Those meager attempts per game are the complete opposite of guys like John Wall and Delon Wright, who have been getting to the line with unrealistic frequency.

 

Let's start with Wright. The Raptors' backup PG has played well this season and his career mark of 78.8% at the FT line is solid, but he obviously won't maintain his current pace -- zero misses on 4.7 attempts per game. That pristine category has inflated his perceived 8-cat and 9-cat value, but the bubble will burst soon. Enjoy the production while you can, because he'll be back on the waiver wire before long.

 

Meanwhile, John Wall has gone 85.7% at the line this season on 11.7 attempts per game. The accuracy should dip a bit, but the real reason for skepticism is the volume of attempts -- last year's 6.8 per game was his previous career-high. Even if he could maintain such high volume, it's doubtful that fantasy owners want their No. 1 point guard taking that level of contact on a nightly basis (even if he has been very durable with just 12 DNPs in the past four seasons).

 

Dennis Smith Jr. has only appeared in two NBA games, so don't read too much into this, but he's just 7-of-14 at the free throw line. He wasn't a great shooter from the stripe with N.C. State last year, at 71.5%, but even that mark would be a huge improvement from his start with Dallas.

 

Russell Westbrook is at 55.6% on 6.0 attempts, but last year he made 86.5% and ranked second in total free throws made behind James Harden. Speaking of whom, we find Harden struggling from both the field (43.4%) and the FT line (70.8%) in Houston's first four games. Those would both be the worst marks of his career since his rookie season in 2010-11, and I personally expected him to have a career-best FG% with easier looks courtesy of Chris Paul. We'll have to wait a few weeks to see if that prediction holds weight.

 

Andrew Wiggins is shooting 51.7% on 7.3 attempts, after going 76.0% last season. Brutal. I'd talk about Markelle Fultz's struggles here, but they're related to his shoulder injury (how much, it's unclear)...I'm trying not to count injuries against guys.

 

Keep reading for more fluky stats and a selection of glaring underperformers!

 


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Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.
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