When Kawhi Leonard had a huge NBA Finals last year before emerging as a top-10 player in the league this season, it was a sign of things to come. But don’t always trust huge postseason surges — sometimes it’s just a blip, like when Jerome James parlayed a big first-round series into a huge contract from the New York Knicks, and literally nothing more.
That’s why today we’re going to play Buy or Sell with some first round outliers. What can we expect to continue as the playoffs move forward, and what should we expect to come to a grinding halt?
The Wizards are shooting — and making — more threes
Washington basically morphed into an entirely different team in the first round of the playoffs. After playing Paul Pierce at power forward very sparingly during the regular season, that alignment became almost a default in the series against the Toronto Raptors.
Using Pierce as a “big” helped space the floor, which in turn created opportunities to let it fly from deep. Pierce and Otto Porter shot extremely well from deep, and one reason this trend seems more likely to continue than not, is that sharpshooter Bradley Beal didn’t even connect at a great clip in the opening round, making just 33.0 percent of his deep attempts.
John Wall creates three-point shots more than nearly any player in basketball, and if the Wizards continue to down shift their lineups, that should carry over to Washington’s second round series against the Atlanta Hawks.
Al Horford‘s jumper is ice cold
Horford shot 47.0 percent on attempts outside the paint during the regular season. In Atlanta’s first round series against the Brooklyn Nets, that number dropped all the way down to 31.7 percent.
Why? Quite simply, he’s missing open jumpers. As the chart above shows, Horford made 45.0 percent of jump shots (10-plus feet from the basket) described by NBA.com as “open” during the regular season, meaning those shots where the closest defender to his shot was no closer than four feet away. In the playoffs, that number has plummeted to 32.8 percent.
The Wiz allowed more than 32 open jumpers per game in the regular season, and that number rose above 34 in their first round series. If they leave Horford open in the next round, expect him to bounce back very quickly.
The Grizzlies are smoking-hot on offense
The Grizzlies, especially in Games 1 through 3, torched the Portland Trail Blazers defense. Mike Conley got wherever he wanted on the floor, Marc Gasol was a beast, and both Beno Udrih and Nick Calathes dominated off the bench.
In those three contests, Memphis actually had an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 109.1, a full 6.0 points better than their regular season mark and the equivalent of a top-three season-long unit. That offense dropped off in the two games Conley sat out with a broken face, but that’s not the only reason we shouldn’t expect it to continue into the next round.
Portland’s defense is not Golden State’s. The Blazers collapsed defensively down the stretch after Wesley Matthews got hurt. In March and April, they allowed points at a bottom-10 rate after playing top-five(ish) defense for most of the year.
The Warriors, meanwhile, have the best defense in the league. They use manic switching and timely rotations to smother opposing offenses. The Grizz, an average offense in the regular season, managed a Sixers-edge 97.7 offensive rating against Golden State in three regular season meetings.
When you add that to Conley’s absence, as well as Memphis’ unsustainably hot three-point shooting, you begin to get an idea of why their hot scoring won’t continue. But it’s the microscopic turnover rate that may be least sustainable of all. The Warriors were seventh in the NBA at turning opponent possessions into turnovers this season.
Draymond Green has massive rebound and assist numbers
No fancy chart is needed here. Green averaged 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in the regular season, and in the first-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans, those numbers shot up to an incredible 12.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists.
Reason No. 1: Green played an additional 10 minutes per game in that series compared to the regular season: his minute-load jumped from 31.5 all the way up to 41.5 in the first round. That could continue against Memphis, but it’s tough to ask someone Green’s size to play that many minutes against Zach Randolph.
Randolph’s rebounding prowess, and Marc Gasol’s, are a reason Green’s boarding may take a downturn. He’ll have to put a body on Randolph at all times on the defensive glass, and he may be even more perimeter-based offensively in order to pull ZBO away from the hoop, which could drive down his offensive rebounding numbers.
Getting into open space on the offensive end, though, should draw additional help defenders toward Green, which will allow him to pick out shooters dotted around the arc for assists.
In three regular season games against Memphis, Green averaged 7.0 rebounds, about 1.2 per game less than his season average, but also 4.0 assists, slightly more than his averages. Going forward, we like the assists to continue being high, but the rebounds to come back down to earth.
Verdict: Sell the rebounding, Buy the assists
Cleveland’s sporting an enormous free throw rate and Tristan Thompson’s monster offensive rebounding jumped even higher
We’re lumping these together because ultimately intertwined. The Cavs started a parade to the free-throw line against the Boston Celtics in the first round, taking trips at a near-Hardenian rate.
In the regular season, the Cavs’ free throw rate was 0.13 higher with Kevin Love on the floor, and he obviously won’t be out there against the Bulls, and without his shooting to space the floor, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving may find it more difficult to drive to the basket, thus lowering the team’s free throw rate. Fouls are most often draw near the rim, after all.
When you remember that Chicago’s defense so often encourages mid-range jumpers, and that both Irving and James, as well as J.R. Smith when he returns from suspension, can be coaxed into them on occasion, it seems likely the Cavs won’t be making nearly as many trips to the line.
As for Thompson, his offensive rebound rate in the first round shot up from sixth-best in the league to a rate that would be topped only by Andre Drummond. While they have a reputation as bruisers, Chicago was actually a below-average defensive rebounding team during the regular season, and Thompson is frankly just significantly more athletic than any member of the Bulls’ frontcourt. He should continue to feast on the boards.
Verdict: Sell the free throw rate, Buy the offensive rebounding