Around the NBA: Boston’s Unstoppable Attack, Atlanta’s Backcourt and the Streaking…Kings?!

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all had a wonderful day with your family and lots of delicious food.

However, in my humble opinion, the real Thanksgiving was celebrated six weeks ago.

Jokes aside, there are many things to be thankful for in the NBA such as the 10-7…Kings?!?

Let’s save the best for last (just like pumpkin pie!) and start in Boston.

The Celtics’ historic offense

The score has grown exponentially over the past decade, and that trend isn’t slowing down anytime soon. The average offensive rating currently sits at 112.6, but the Celtics are on a different planet: They’re scoring an absurd 120 points per 100 possessions, which would be the highest number in league history.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown average 51.2 points, 14.6 rebounds and 8.1 assists in 49/35/85 shooting, and the entire team hits threes with a 39.7% clip. Even more impressive is the fact that they’re making all of these attempts while making 44.6% of their shots from beyond the arc, which ranks first in the league next to Golden State (Daryl Morey just felt a surge of dopamine somewhere in Philly ).

The scariest part is that this team can still have the best offense even if their hot shooting wanes, since the gap between Boston’s 120 offensive stat and second-place Phoenix (117.2) is larger than the gap between Phoenix and ninth-place Dallas (114.5).

Sure, their location-effective field goal percentage (54.8%, 8th in the league) is higher than their actual rate (58.3%, 1st), but that doesn’t take into account the quality of shooters Boston has. Among their top seven players by minutes played, only Derrick White and Marcus Smart have a history of undershooting from deep, and they’re looking good too: According to NBA tracking data, the Celtics are taking 19.3 wide-open threes per game (league-wide at #6), which they categorize as a shot when defenders are more than 6 feet away.

Even if Al Horford, Grant Williams and White don’t continue to make 45% of their shots from deep, Boston can remain an offensive elite simply because of the looks they generate.

More importantly, the Celtics also lead the league to an absurd degree in the half-court offensive rating. They currently score 107.2 points per 100 possessions against seeded defenses, and the difference between them and second-place Sacramento (102.7) is larger than the difference between Sacramento and ninth-place Utah (98.5).

The sample size isn’t small either: 81.3% of Boston’s holdings are semi-judicial, which is the sixth-highest rate in the league. Remember that the Celtics’ half-court offense was their Achilles’ heel during last season’s finals, so this could be the most encouraging statistic of their season so far.

In playoff time, a rematch between them and Milwaukee could be even better than their streak last season. We previously talked about how the Bucks changed their defense system to prevent three-pointers. So when these juggernauts meet, it would be like witnessing an unstoppable force against an immovable object.

And hey, as long as Luke Kornet does this on defense, Boston has as good a chance as any team to win the title this year.

The Trae / Dejounte partnership

Atlanta made a big bet in the offseason, trading three future first-round picks to acquire Dejounte Murray, and the returns so far have been interesting to say the least.

Take a look at their on/off splits:

Both at: +7.4 net rating, 117.2 offensive rating, 109.7 defensive rating

Trae on, dejounte off: -8.9 net rating, 110.7 offensive rating, 119.6 defensive rating

Dejounte on, trae off: -9.5 net rating, 99.8 offensive rating, 109.3 defensive rating

It’s worrying to see Atlanta still struggle to cause offense when Trae sits, even with Dejounte running the show. The most surprising statistic, however, is the trae minutes alone.

Last year, the Hawks had a +3.2 net rating and a 119.3 offensive rating when Trae was playing, and that was without the presence of Dejounte. We spent a lot of those minutes alongside Kevin Huerter (who is currently lighting it in Sac-town), so it seems Atlanta underestimated how impactful Red Velvet was as a secondary creator.

It’s important to note that Bogdan Bogdanovic also played a crucial role in these lineups and his ongoing injury has left a gaping hole in a squad that is still anemic offensively without Trae.

Atlanta’s playbook hasn’t changed either. They were second in the league last year in pick and roll frequency (22%) and are first this season (22.8%). The number of P&Rs that Trae operates has actually elevated from 14 last year (league-most) to 14.2 this year (second-most behind Luka), so any hope of him playing more off-ball hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.

Meanwhile, Dejounte also has 8.6 P&Rs, and while that’s down from last year’s 10.5, it’s still 13th league-wide per game.

As a result, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Atlanta’s offense is mostly just my turn, your turn, back and forth between the two guards without much movement.

Shockingly, the Hawks are actually 9th on defense, but that comes with huge red flags. Opponents currently have an effective field goal percentage of 52.5% against Atlanta, which is the sixth-lowest ratio in the league, but the Hawks are actually 24th in terms of position effective field goal percentage as it is expected that opponents shoot 54.9% instead.

Given that Atlanta has been in the last five on defense in two of the last three seasons, it’s likely that the opponent’s poor shooting has more to do with luck than plan, and a dropoff is coming soon.

Offensively, the Hawks are also surprisingly 20th in the league and they should improve once Bogdanovic returns and they have more time to incorporate Dejounte into their system. Despite this, Atlanta ranks 25th in effective field goal percentage (51.2%) and 29th in effective field goal percentage (53%) for having the lowest three-pointer frequency (27.6%) and the bottom 10 in the shot frequency on the edge also have (32.3%).

All things considered, it’s hard to see how Atlanta can be a genuine contender for the East. Even as their offense improves, the Hawks still have the shooting profile of a team from the ’80s, and the numbers also suggest their current defense is a godsend.

The hottest team in the league are… the Kings?!?!


In 50 years I’ll be talking about it like it’s the second coming of the moon landing.

Seriously, does Sacramento actually look… competent?

The Kings currently have a +2.4 (7th) net rating with a 117.1 offensive rating (4th), and much of their improvement can be attributed to De’Aaron Fox’s elite play.

After being one of the worst clutch players in the league last year, Fox completely flipped that script. He currently leads the league with 50 points this season, which is even more impressive considering he did it in just 38 minutes of play.

Fox also made 20 of his 31 field goal attempts during this time, and while he won’t shoot more than 64% during crunch time, his improvements in decision-making suggest Sacramento are now looking to him as a reliable lead ball can leave. Handler and continue to lead an elite offensive.

Take a look at the first possession in the clip below to see what I mean.

In the past, Fox would likely have forced that shot instead of finding the big one for an easy dunk, but he now routinely takes an extra moment to scan the court to make sure he’s making the right play.

However, there are some stats that suggest Fox and the Kings are unlikely to maintain their current level of play. For starters, Fox is shooting 53% from the middle and 38% from the deep, which are both career highs and significant improvements over last year (46% and 30%, respectively).

Sacramento also exceeds its expected shooting percentage as a whole, ranking second in effective field goal percentage (57.6%) but 15th in local field goal percentage (54.3%).

Aside from that, Fox is also taking a career-low 24% of his shots around the rim, and if that climbs to his usual ~35% average it could offset a potential decrease in pull-up efficiency.

More importantly, Sacramento’s defense needs a major upgrade. Unlike Atlanta, the Kings rank 6th for opponent effective field goal percentage (53.7%), but an unfortunate 29th for actual percentage (56.2%). They allow the fewest wide-open threes per game (11.8), but opponents still shoot an untenable 43.8% on such attempts. Overall, against Sacramento, opponents make 38.8% on threes, the second-highest ratio in the entire league, but history tells us that conceding less-than-good shots should lead to defensive improvements.

In short, the numbers suggest the Kings’ defense will improve more than their offense could decrease, so there’s plenty of reason to think their recent surge is more of a portent for the future than a flash in the pan.

This week please read Dr. Pittsley’s article on interesting Spurs numbers from the first quarter of the season. The Professor’s Corner is one of the best series on SBNation, so don’t miss it!

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

All stats courtesy of cleaning the glass and NBA Stats.

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