You can't read too much into NBA statistics until about 20 games into the season. There's too much variance from game to game until you can get big enough of a sample size to matter. A quarter of the way through the season is when some of the statistical anomalies from early in the season either normalize -- or they show us that they weren't anomalies at all, and that's there's actually something behind a certain surprising team.
For our example, we have two teams. Team A is a team without a traditional superstar, a team many expected to miss the playoffs, yet a team that currently sits at 13-6, good for the best record in the Western Conference. Team B is a team many expected to contend for the top seed in the West but currently sits at .500. If the playoffs started tomorrow, this superstar-filled team would be on the outside looking in.
You could crunch millions of numbers, look at hours of game tape, but there's one statistic that feels like it best distills one of the starkest differences between Team A and Team B. It is this: Team A may be the deepest team in the NBA, with a bench that averages 55.9 points per game, tops in the league. Team B may be the most shallow team in the NBA, with a bench that averages 26.7 points per game, dead-last in the NBA and nearly five points per game behind the next-to-last-place team.
Team A is the Los Angeles Clippers. Team B is the Houston Rockets.
That's the theme of this week's Power Rankings: One statistic from each team that proves telling in this team's standing a quarter of the way through the regular season.
|The Warriors' worries are real. They'll also be cured the moment a healthy Steph Curry steps back on the court. Even with the stumbles and the drama, the Warriors still lead the NBA in the things they do best: sharing the ball (tops in the NBA in assists per game) and making shots (tops in the NBA in field-goal percentage).||--||44-38|
|And the current NBA leader in both net rating and offensive rating is ... Danny Green? Getting a complementary player like Green in the Kawhi Leonard trade was a coup for the Raptors. Green is doing what he does, shooting 44 percent from three and playing elite defense.||--||41-41|
|The Bucks' shot selection is a things of dreams. It's basically shots around the rim and three-pointers, eschewing mid-range shots as much as possible. (Get this: The Bucks lead the NBA in made threes -- and rank second in points in the paint.) All this has added up to the Bucks having the best true shooting percentage in the NBA.||--||58-24|
|Backup point guard Monte Morris, who was on a two-way deal last season before agreeing to a three-year contract with the Nuggets, sports a sparkling 7.36 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is tops in the NBA among players averaging more than 18 minutes per game. Morris set the all-time NCAA assist-to-turnover ratio record while at Iowa State. As a point of comparison, the best assist-to-turnover ratio Chris Paul has had in one season of his career was 4.65.||4||53-29|
|The 76ers have won five of six games; three of those wins have been by three points or less, with Jimmy Butler's clutch shots being the difference makers. (NBA.com has the Sixers leading the league in "clutch wins," with 10.) But the big difference-maker has been Joel Embiid. Embiid has been playing MVP-caliber basketball so far this season, averaging 27.9 points and 13.3 rebounds. The most telling stat is that Embiid is leading the NBA in free throws attempted; he's been incredibly aggressive at getting to the rim.||--||54-28|
|CJ McCollum is a top-notch three-point shooter. But you already knew that. Did you know that it's his mid-range shooting that has McCollum posting a career-high effective field-goal percentage this season? McCollum is leading the NBA in mid-range shooting percentage.||2||33-49|
|The Thunder's defense has been elite, ranking first in the NBA despite being without Andre Roberson. Why? Led by league-leading thief Paul George, no team steals the ball more often than the Thunder do.||--||40-42|
|As I wrote last week, the Grizzlies have zigged (toward a defense-focused, slow-paced team) while the rest of the NBA has zagged (toward faster pace and more threes). The Grizzlies rank last in pace in the NBA and sport the NBA's third-rated defense. Marc Gasol deserves early consideration for Defensive Player of the Year.||7||51-31|
|The Clippers are the deepest team in the NBA. The Clippers bench is averaging 55.9 points per game. You'd expect some of that from all-time great sixth man Lou Williams, but it's been the contribution from Montrezl Harrell that's been the most surprising. The energetic Harrell is averaging 15.9 points and 7.2 rebounds in 25.3 minutes per game and ranks fifth in the NBA in true shooting percentage.||3||44-38|
|The Lakers might be taking a while to adjust to playing with LeBron James, but this team is actually exactly as Luke Walton advertised going into the season: One of the fastest-paced teams in the NBA. The Lakers rank fifth in the NBA in pace, and second in fast-break points per game. I'm not sure this team is a championship contender. But I am sure that they are really fun.||1||43-39|
|The Rockets' bench is barely existent. Its 26.7 points per game ranks dead-last in the NBA. While championships are rarely won with deep benches, the Rockets clearly have a problem here, one that's only magnified when one of their stars is injured. Gerald Green provided a big bench scoring punch last season; the Rockets could use more from him.||1||22-60|
|I've been pretty consistent in these pages in praising Domantas Sabonis, so here's one statistic that continues that trend. Here are the NBA's top five in player impact estimate, an advanced statistic that attempts to measure a player's total contribution to a game in which he plays. The list: 1. LeBron James. 2. Giannis Antetokounmpo. 3. Joel Embiid. 4. Domantas Sabonis. 5. Kevin Durant. This is a real thing.||1||35-47|
|The Celtics have an elite defense, and they've been shooting as many threes as all but a few teams in the NBA. But their struggles may have something to do with their utter lack of production in the paint. The Celtics rank last in the NBA in points in the paint per game.||7||57-25|
|The Jazz defense is slowly improving after a miserable start. Some good signs that this defense will continue to climb from its current spot as the 13th-rated defense in the NBA: The Jazz rank fifth in the NBA in deflections per game, led by Ricky Rubio, whose defense has been excellent.||5||37-45|
|The Pelicans lead the NBA in points in the paint on the backs of big men Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle.||1||42-40|
|The Spurs are just ... weird. Gregg Popovich, one of the best coaches of all time, has never had a defense this awful. The Spurs rank 21st in the NBA in defense rating. They lead the NBA in three-point percentage -- yet take fewer threes than all but one team.||--||22-60|
|The Hornets led the NBA in screen assists, a screen that leads directly to a made field goal. Much of the credit there goes to supreme screener Cody Zeller, who ranks third in the league in screen assists.||--||27-55|
|Reggie Jackson has the fifth-lowest field-goal percentage among NBA starting backcourt players. The only four starting guards shooting lower than Jackson's 37.6 percent: Frank Ntilikina, Patrick Beverley, Terrance Ferguson and Ricky Rubio.||1||17-65|
|The surprising Kings have built off of second-year point guard De'Aaron Fox's speed, and that's reflected in the way they play. One of the fastest-paced teams in the NBA, the Kings lead the league in fast-break points per game.||1||48-34|
|The key to the Magic sitting at .500 after Thanksgiving is that Nikola Vucevic is having a career year. Vucevic ranks sixth in the NBA in player efficiency rating, averaging nearly 20 points (and 11.1 rebounds) per game.||--||34-48|
|Derrick Rose's one-year $2.4 million contract stands as one of the best one-year contracts in the NBA this season. He might be the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. Rose is averaging 19.3 points per game, and doing it with sizzling three-point shooting. He's shooting 47.8 percent from three, fifth in the NBA. Rose has never shot above 34 percent from three in his career.||--||42-40|
|J.J. Barea is a big reason for the Mavericks outpacing expectations so far. The point guard has averaged 10.5 assists per 36 minutes, behind only Kyle Lowry in the NBA; he's also leading the league in assist percentage.||--||38-44|
|One of the worst things about the Wizards' nightmarish season has been the lack of three-point shooting. The Wizards rank next-to-last in the NBA in three-point percentage. The only rotation player shooting above 35 percent from three is Otto Porter.||2||35-47|
|With Caris LeVert's injury, even more of the scoring burden falls to D'Angelo Russell, who ranks 22nd in the NBA (and first on the Nets) in usage percentage. He's also shooting a career-high from three-point land, averaging nearly 17 points per game and coming off a 38-point, eight-assist game on Sunday night. As much as Russell catches criticism, he's only 22 years old.||1||45-37|
|This has so far been a mighty disappointing season for the Heat, but in one hustle stat, nobody is better. The Heat rank first in the NBA in the number of loose balls recovered per game.||1||44-38|
|Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson ranks tops in the NBA in block percentage. He's averaging 4.1 blocks per 36 minutes, better than Hassan Whiteside and JaVale McGee.||1||47-35|
|The Bulls' injuries have put an undue amount of pressure on Zach LaVine to produce, and he's tried his best, ranking fifth in the NBA in usage rate. Perhaps he needs a bit of a breather, since over the past seven games, LaVine has shot only 13.8 percent from three.||1||40-42|
|A quarter of the way through the regular season, Luka Doncic is the leading Rookie of the Year contender -- but Deandre Ayton is hot on his tail. Ayton leads all rookies in the player impact estimate metric, as he's averaging 16.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.||--||45-37|
|It's tough to find many good things to say about the Cavaliers. But here's one: Tristan Thompson ranks second in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage. When he's on the floor, Thompson grabs nearly one in five available offensive rebounds. Yay?||1||51-31|
|Trae Young's shooting has been atrocious. He's only making 22.6 percent of his threes this season, and had shot 12 percent from three over the previous 10 games (!) before making four threes on Sunday. But Travis Schlenk drafted Young more for his passing anyway, and Young has been spot on there. Young ranks second in the NBA in assist percentage. The next three names? James Harden, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul.||1||41-41|