Am I the only one out there who’s wondering what the heck is going on in Seattle? How in the world can a 37-win team have the 2nd-best record in the league? Have they sold their souls?
Let’s look at the numbers.
From last season to this, the Sonics are amazingly consistent in almost all statistical categories. Much has been made about the improved rebounding, but in actual fact the Sonics are only averaging one more board this season than they did last year. Passing? Nope, Seattle’s getting three fewer assists in 04-05. Steals? Blocks? No to both of those. How about fouls, surely the Sonics are being smarter with the refs? Um, no, the Supes are hacking the other team an extra five times a game.
Ah, shooting, that must be it, right? Well, the Sonics are shooting 46.5% this year as opposed to 44.6% last year, which is a significant improvement, but since they’re attempting three fewer shots a game, it’s pretty much a wash. The same goes for treys, where Seattle is averaging .5 fewer threes made per game.
Despite all that, the Sonics are averaging 6 ppg more this season.
Well, jeez, man, what are the Sonics doing better? Believe it or not, only three areas.
Free throws made, opposition rebounds, and opposition FT percentage.
The Sonics are making an extra six FTs every game over last season. There are four main benefactors: Fortson (+4.8 from last season’s 0), Lewis (+1.8), Daniels (+1.5), and Frodo (+1.5). The remainder of the team is only slightly off their results from last year, meaning these four guys have made the difference.
The second area, rebounds, is even more extreme. Last year, Sonic opponents averaged 42 boards a game. This year? 32, a difference of 10 rebounds every game. It means the Sonics are averaging eight more rebounds than their opponents each night.
Thirdly is opposition FT percentage. Last year, opponents shot 77% at the line, making 19.1 per game. This year, it’s at 70%, making 18.4 per game. That’s costing opponents almost two points per game, a significant number.
Can the Sonics keep it up? Well, the FTs are something the Sonics should continue to do well. The rebounds, though, are doubtful. Being that the Pistons, certainly one of the top rebounders in the league, only averaged two more boards than their foes last season, it is unlikely the Supes could keep up a pace of four times that for the rest of the season. And, of course, it is very unlikely that Sonic opponents will continue their Reggie Evans impersonations at the foul line, unless Coach McMillan has telekinetic powers that he has – up till now – decided to keep under wraps.
To paraphrase Robert Plant, “Sonics, your time is gonna come.”
Look at rebounding percentage instead of rebounds. Also look at offensive and defensive efficiency. How do you measure that? Simple, off. and def. efficiency is points made or allowed per possesion and you can estimate the number of possesions with the formula 0.4*FTA+FGA+TO-OFF.REB. It's better to adjust all the other numbers (turnovers, free throws, etc.) to possesions to compensate for games played at a different pace. It's still early, but the Sonics seem to be doing a better job on the boards (especially on the defensive end)
Using rebounding percentage might have helped -- rebound differential is usually affected by the distribution of missed shots between you and your opponent, because it's easier to get defensive boards than offensive boards.
If you look at rebound %, the Sonics are at 55.5% (per ESPN.com). Last year, the Utah Jazz led the league at 52.9%. So the conclusion is the same, if not so dramatic. (Detroit was actually a relatively mediocre rebounding team last year, pulling down 51.2%.)
Offensive and Defensive Efficiency are useful, but not really appropriate for this kind of macro-level analysis. Instead, my suggestion would be Dean Oliver's Four Factors:
They tell a similar story, although they wouldn't have picked up on the crappy opponent free-throw shooting.
The counter-point here is the Sonics are currently on pace to win 70 games. So there's a long way to come down and still have a successful season, y'know?
Nicely put, Anonymous!
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