Which New York Knicks Player Will Make Biggest Leap in 2014-15?

The New York Knicks expect to make a significant improvement in 2014-15 on their poor showing last season, but to do so they’ll require a number of individual players to raise their performances big-time.

Fortunately for the Knicks, they have a handful of young players we can realistically expect to improve this year, especially with the likes of Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis and Jim Cleamons on the coaching staff and Phil Jackson in the front office.

Let’s go through a few of New York’s top prospects and predict who will make the biggest leap in 2014-15.

 

Iman Shumpert

For the last few years, Iman Shumpert has been the Knicks’ marquee prospect, but after multiple injuries and a huge blow to his confidence under Mike Woodson, things have not been easy for him.

Ideally with a new head coach, new offensive system and a generally less tumultuous environment, Shumpert will be able to flourish moving forward, but there are no guarantees. He needs to assert himself and make good on his obvious talent and athletic ability, as there’s only so much difference outside changes can make if he doesn’t get involved.

According to Hollinger’s stats on ESPN.com, Iman Shumpert‘s usage rate of 13.5 last season ranked him 63rd out of 70 qualifying shooting guards, so it’s no surprise he was only able to average a career-low 6.7 points per game.

With that said, it was only 18 months ago that Shumpert made a very impressive return from his first knee surgery, improving his stroke to the tune of 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 2012-13. That kind of development is still very possible, especially with the chance for a fresh start in the Knicks’ new era.

The triangle will bring ball movement, so while Shumpert tends to struggle creating for himself, he should have plenty more opportunities as a spot-up shooter on the wing.

Defensively is where New York should really want to see Shump step up. It already has enough offense at the 2 spot with Tim Hardaway Jr. and J.R. Smith, but a defensive stopper on the wing could make a huge difference on that end of the floor.

Shumpert has certainly shown flashes of great defense. Even through his struggles last season, he was arguably the team’s best wing defender. His defensive win share of 1.6 according to Basketball-Reference.com ranked him behind only Tyson Chandler and (believe it or not) Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks’ roster.

If he learns the new system quickly and gets the support he needs from Fisher and Company, there’s no reason Shumpert shouldn’t at least improve his efficiency on offense and make some serious strides toward his All-Defensive potential in 2014-15.

 

Tim Hardaway Jr.

While Shumpert is looking to bounce back from a tough campaign, Hardaway is looking to build on a very strong start to his NBA career after earning a spot on the All-Rookie team.

Drafted at No. 24 overall, Hardaway has quickly earned a “virtually untouchable” label in the eyes of the Knicks’ organization, according to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com, which isn’t really surprising considering the offensive potential he displayed in his rookie season.

Hardaway struggled to get minutes behind Shumpert and Smith early on but finished the season averaging 15.8 points per 36 minutes, fantastic numbers for an inexperienced player.

Plenty of work still needs to be done, namely increasing his efficiency and diversifying his game outside of the three-point shot, which will almost certainly be his focus this season.

In summer league, we saw Hardaway take a leadership role as one of the “veterans” of the Knicks roster, occasionally running the offense and taking it upon himself to get to the rim as opposed to simply waiting outside for a shot opportunity to present itself.

It’s clear that Hardaway has bulked up over the summer, which will no doubt help him continue to attack the basket, but he plans to use that to his advantage on the defensive end too, which is great news for New York.

Depending on how minutes are distributed, it’s very possible that we could see Hardaway increase his scoring to around 15 points per game, ideally coupled with a raise in field-goal percentage.

Hardaway appears to be one of the most confident and motivated players on the roster, which will surely work in his favor. Time will tell, but it appears that the Knicks have unearthed a gem in Hardaway, which should show during his 2014-15 performances.

 

Shane Larkin

While Shane Larkin wasn’t a member of the Knicks in his rookie season, it’s still very possible that he could improve on his season with the Dallas Mavericks.

Larkin broke his ankle before he could even play a game for the Mavericks, eventually playing only 48 games that season. He never really had a chance to build momentum for himself and with a solid guard rotation ahead of him managed just 2.8 points and 1.5 assists per game.

Now that he’s had time to fully heal and work with Fisher in the triangle offense, we should see more of Larkin‘s raw ability in 2014-15. We’ve already seen his lightning speed in preseason; there’s no doubt he’s one of the fastest players in the entire league.

Running the triangle in what is essentially his second rookie season is not an easy task, but according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, New York actually likes the way his speed occasionally pulls the team out of the offenseto the point where they’re favoring him over Pablo Prigioni as Jose Calderon’s backup.

Once he gets into his rhythm, Larkin can make a huge difference for the Knicks. They’ve been one of the slowest teams in the league for a while now in large part due to their makeup at point guard. Paired with the rest of the team’s young players, he has the potential to transform the second unit into a high-energy machine.

It may be cheating considering how little Larkin got to play in his rookie season, but if he earns a role in the rotation, Larkin‘s production should shoot up rather significantly in New York.

 

Quincy Acy

Like Larkin, Quincy Acy wasn’t on the Knicks last year, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s turning heads this preseason.

When he was acquired along with Travis Outlaw, it seemed the Knicks just wanted to get rid of Wayne Ellington’s contract, but as it turns out they may have actually received a solid forward for very little in return to the Sacramento Kings.

According to Berman, Acy has a good chance of starting for New York at power forward with Carmelo Anthony moving back to small forward to accommodate the triangle offense.

Grit is the name of the game for Acy, a former second-round pick who’s undersized for the 4 spot. The Knicks could really use a player like that in the frontcourt to pull down rebounds and play physically on the defensive end.

Acy isn’t the most talented young player on the roster, but his energy alone will make a huge difference for the Knicks, and the opportunity to start should lead to a significant improvement on his career numbers of 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

 

The Verdict

The good thing for the Knicks is that they suddenly have a nice collection of young talent, which will help significantly in their rebuildingor rather retoolingprocess.

It’s possible that New York could see improvements across the board from its young players, but the primary player to focus on is Shumpert, who’s at a crossroads in his young career.

The Knicks have a huge decision to make in 2015 regarding Shumpert, while the pressure is on him to prove himself worthy of a new contract when the focus will be on adding talent in free agency.

As far as all-around talent is concerned, Shumpert has displayed more than any other player on this list. The issue for him is turning that talent into consistent production on both ends of the floor.

With no surgeries this offseason and a system more suited to his style of play, we should see Shumpert bounce back in 2014-15 and remind everyone just how important a player he is to the franchise’s future before he hits restricted free agency.

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Portland Trail Blazers season preview: Player projections

This is the third and final installment of our Portland Trail Blazers season preview. In the first two articles we took a look at the Blazers’ general roster and their potential standing in the Western Conference. Now I will give an overview of each player that will potentially be in the starting five and some key reserve players that will have a big affect off the bench.
The potential starters
Damian Lillard: While many players struggle during their second season, Lillard found a way to thrive. He averaged 20. 7 points and 5.6 assists per game last season. He hit the game winning shot to put the Blazers past the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs last year. Even if  Lillard’s numbers stayed the same this year, he would still be looking at having another great season. However I do expect Lillard’s 2.4 turnovers per game to decrease to 1-1.5 turnovers per game. If he is maintaining more procession and getting the ball to teammates more often, then scorers like LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews

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The Most Intriguing Player on Each CBB Team in the 2014 Preseason Coaches Poll

The only things more intriguing than college basketball’s 2014-15 preseason coaches poll are the most intriguing players on those 25 teams.

We’re not necessarily talking about the best players, but rather the ones upon which a team’s entire season might hinge.

Take Louisville, for example. Montrezl Harrell is clearly the best player for the Cardinals. They’ll rely on him more heavily than anyone. But he’s just plain and simple a monster in the post. The most intriguing thing about him might be his utter inability to make a free throw.

When it comes to the intrigue factor at Louisville, Wayne Blackshear takes the cake.

Read on for our explanation of that selection, as well as our pick for the most intriguing player on each of the other 24 teams in the first coaches poll of the season.

 

All advanced stats via KenPom.com (subscription required), NCAA.com and Sports-Reference.com.

Begin Slideshow

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Villanova Basketball: Jalen Brunson Is Make-or-Break Player in Class of 2015

With the new basketball season on the horizon, the Villanova Wildcats are in a good position in regards to recruiting for the class of 2015. 

Tim Delaney, Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson will all become Wildcats starting with the 2015-16 season. 

Many top players are still available, but the Wildcats have not been seriously linked with any of them in quite some time.

Since the Brunson commitment, the Wildcats have not been very active on the class of 2015 front, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. 

The one name that was associated with Villanova during the summer was Isaiah Briscoe, but it looks like he has his sights set on joining another program. 

Briscoe will cut his list of prospective schools down to three, per USA Today’s Jason Jordan, and Villanova is expected to be nowhere near the list, with St. John’s being one of the front-runners. 

He was the main guard the Wildcats were having a look at before the Brunson commitment, but he was not considered a main target after Villanova earned the signature of the guard from Illinois. 

After Briscoe, the other potential members of the class of 2015 are players who are not consistently looking at Villanova. 

According to 247Sports, only two other players are listed as interested in offers from the Wildcats, which makes things look bleak for the rest of the recruiting window. 

Despite the lack of interest from other potential players, Villanova is in great hands with Brunson joining the program.

In many ways, Brunson is the make-or-break stud in the class of 2015 for the Wildcats, as he is a player who can make an impact from the first day he steps on campus. 

Brunson has the potential to elevate the program to a higher level during his time there, whether it be for three or four years. 

With all due respect to Ryan Arcidiacono, the Wildcats haven’t had a player like that since Scottie Reynolds, who was the heart and soul of the team from 2006 to 2010. 

Before Reynolds, Villanova had athletes like Randy Foye and Allen Ray lead the way from the guard position. 

As we saw last season with Villanova, the team played fine during the regular season, but once it faced tougher opposition in the postseason, it crumbled under pressure and was eliminated in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Brunson will take the guard position to the next level at Villanova, which means he should make every player around him better as well.

If a Brunson-led Villanova team can go far in March each year, he will mean more to the program, as more high-quality recruits will be attracted to the program even though the Wildcats play in the lowly Big East. 

There will always be players who overlook Villanova for higher-profile teams in bigger conferences, but if Brunson proves that he can take the Wildcats far in the postseason, it will allow a few of those players to take a serious look at the program. 

With on- and off-court success in front of them when Brunson arrives, the Wildcats have no need to find another make-or-break recruit for the class of 2015 because they have already found him. 

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Devon Still surprises college basketball player

Lauren Hill is battling an inoperable brain cancer.

      
 

 

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Memphis Grizzlies season preview: Player projections

So far in this Memphis Grizzlies three-part season preview, we’ve taken a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Grizzlies’ roster [Memphis Grizzlies season preview: Roster analysis] and how the team could fare in the Southeast Division and the Western Conference this season [Memphis Grizzlies season preview: Team projections]. In this article, we’ll take a look at key individual players on the team and project what kind of numbers they might put up this season.
Starting Five
PG: Mike Conley, Jr.
2013-14: 17.2 PPG (career-high), 6.0 APG & 1.5 SPG
2014-15 projections: 16.5 PPG, 8.0 APG, 2.0 SPG
Conley saw his role on the offense increase last season, having to shoulder some of the scoring load due to the lack of a solid perimeter scorer on the roster. As a result, he averaged career highs in points per game and field goal percentage (45%) last season. Expect Conley to continue to be a leading scorer on the team, although his points per game average will be reduced slightly due to the additio

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Milwaukee Bucks: Point guard depth changes player rotation

A good backup point guard is under-valued in the NBA. When the most reliable starters need a rest, a good point guard can take control of a game. They can keep or change the game tempo and even help settle down a rattled team. Good bench production is the kind of thing that helps win championships.
While Brandon Knight is the obvious starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, it will be interesting to see how head coach Jason Kidd distributes playing time to the rest of the backcourt.
Second-year player Nate Wolters will hope to build upon a solid rookie year. Wolters was put into the starting lineup at the beginning of the year last season due to a Brandon Knight injury. He played well as a rookie, and should greatly benefit from a full season in the NBA. Wolters didn’t do anything extremely impressive his rookie year, but he proved he can be a reliable backup point guard with the talent to grow into a consistent starter later in his career. Wolters can score, pass well and is even a decent rebounder. W

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Los Angeles Clippers season preview: Player projections

We have hit the middle of our three part preview of the 2014-2015 Los Angeles Clippers, check out the Part 1 if you have not already. The question we are faced with now is how much better can this year’s Clippers team be in this incredibly deep Western Conference. The answer to that question is going to be the function of two things. How much better did this Clippers team get over the offseason? And how much better, if any, did the top tier of the Western Conference get this offseason?
DeAndre jordan and Blake Griffin during the national anthem previous to the Clippers preseason opener vs the Warriors.(photi credit Getty Images)
Okay, so part 1 of our preview handled the personal changes the Clippers made, but from a logistical and tactical standpoint the Clippers have to do a few things differently this season if they hope to crack the top two in the West and truly contend for a championship.
Offensive projections:
Nothing is changing, expect a lot of dunks, a lot of Blake Griffin and DeAndre in the post,

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Who Is Cleveland Cavaliers’ Most Important Player Outside of the Big 3?

The revamped Cleveland Cavaliers may simultaneously employ the NBA‘s best No. 1 option, second fiddle and third wheel this season. That is one of the many luxuries stemming from a summer that witnessed LeBron James’ return, Kevin Love’s arrival and Kyrie Irving‘s max-contract commitment.

But three players does not an NBA champion make—not even if those three have All-World credentials.

The strength of Cleveland’s championship stock may hinge on the diversification of this team’s production. James, Love and Irving can (and have) put the Cavs in title talks, per Odds Shark, but it’s going to take more to close that conversation.

Specifically, it’s going to take consistent and efficient production from a supporting cast featuring a mix of aging vets and still-developing prospects. And those prospects in particularTristan Thompson and Dion Waiters—will be critical to putting an end to The Forest City’s decades-long championship drought.

Sure, the Cavs will need Mike Miller’s three-point cannon and the spacing it creates, but they could lean on James Jones, Matthew Dellavedova and rookie Joe Harris for the long ball if they have to. Plus, Cleveland may yet add Ray Allen’s historically prolific perimeter touch to the mix.

The Cavs will also undoubtedly benefit from the energy and intelligence of veterans Anderson Varejao and Shawn Marion. But it’s hard to peg Varejao for an important role after seeing him miss 166 games over the past four seasons to injury. As for the 36-year-old Marion, he figures to be a part-time player at best as Father Time’s grip tightens around him.

Those guys are Cleveland’s helpers. Waiters and Thompson, though, could be Cleveland’s real difference-makers.

From a statistical standpoint, Waiters has the chance to show as well as any non-Big-Three Cavalier.

The explosive scoring guard erupted for 14.7 points and 3.0 assists as a rookie in 2012-13. For an encore, he bumped his scoring average (15.9), effective field-goal percentage (47.9, up from 45.1) and player efficiency rating (14.0 from 13.7) during his sophomore campaign, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

He can create his own scoring chances66.4 percent of his career two-point field goals have been unassisted—and his ability to wreak havoc off the bounce can keep pressure on opposing defenses even when Cleveland’s talented trio catch a breather. Waiters is also a capable setup man when he’s willing to share the basketball.

All of those are good traits to have, and seeing that he won’t turn 23 until December, the future looks incredibly bright if he can build around them.

As for the present, well, that’s a lot murkier. With Irving, Love and James on board, the Cavs don’t need a lot of what Waiters has to offer. As soon as James signed on the dotted line, Waiters knew this season would be one of adaptation.

“I have to make adjustments,” Waiters told reporters in July. “I have to find ways to impact the game without having the ball. I’m planning to go watch tape to see what [Dwyane Wade] did when he played with LeBron. I need to learn how to be effective out there with him.”

Waiters is on the right track, but the Cavs don’t need him to recreate the role Wade played alongside James with the Miami Heat. The spot set aside for Waiters is much further removed from the spotlight and far more limited in terms of touches. Bleacher Report’s Jared Dubin provided insight on how Waiters needs to improve: 

Whether Cavs coach David Blatt decides to start Waiters or not, the former Syracuse star should see major minutes with the second team. Cleveland’s reserves need his offensive creativity, whereas that gift would feel redundant given the Big Three are better scorers and passers than Waiters.

He’ll still see time with Cleveland’s big boppers, but his responsibilities will change dramatically from what they have been.

“The Cavaliers don’t necessarily need Waiters to drop 15-20 points a game,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman. “They need him to be timely, efficient and consistently threatening.”

Waiters has the tools to succeed in such a role. Last season, he converted 41.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, per SportVU player tracking data, which put him ahead of long-range snipers Danny Green (41.5), Vince Carter (40.1), Dirk Nowitzki (39.9) and the aforementioned Allen (39.9), among others.

But taking full advantage of that talent means leaving behind the ball-dominant skills responsible for getting him to the league. His NBA reality changed this summer as much as anyone on the roster, and it could take him all season (or longer) to catch up.

He has held or shared the lead in field-goal attempts during each of Cleveland’s first four preseason games. While he has made the most of these shots (47.2 percent shooting), the volume is still surprising with all of the weapons now around him.

Eventually, these personnel changes and the adjustments they bring out of Waiters will be a good thing. But for now they could put too many bumps in his road to comfortably consider him Cleveland’s fourth-most important player.

“This should result in a more efficient and less volatile player, but who knows,” SportsOnEarth’s Michael Pina wrote. ”Context is everything here, and a scorer who’s used to having the ball in his hands all the time must adapt when better players are brought into the fold.”

On the surface, Cleveland’s moves seem to negatively impact Thompson as much as anyone. After all, his natural power forward position can now be filled by the greatest player on the planet (James), a perennial All-Star (Love) or a former world champ (Marion).

Yet, this influx of talent actually puts Thompson in position to simplify his task list and focus on areas in which he has excelled in the past. And if he can pull this off, he should easily emerge as the fourth-most important piece of the puzzle.

“James, Love and Irving will grab the headlines, but it’ll be how Thompson controls the paint on defense that could really tell the story of most games,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz. “Cleveland needs Thompson to transform into the elite defender and shot-blocker many believed he’d become in the league.”

The Cavs badly need a rim protector. They have leaks on the defensive perimeter, and Love and Varejao don’t offer much insurance behind them. Brendan Haywood missed all of last season with a broken foot, and he hasn’t posted even an average PER since 2009-10, according to Basketball-Reference.com, so he won’t be much help, either.

To date, Thompson has hardly been a rim deterrent at this level. He averaged 0.4 blocks per game last season. Opponents shot 58.0 percent against him at the rim, per SportVU, which was the second-worst rate of the 75 defenders to face at least five such attempts per game.

This was never supposed to be an issue. In fact, he entered the league overflowing with potential as an interior defender.

Thanks to a massive 7’2″ wingspan, per ESPN Insider (subscription required), Thompson averaged 2.4 blocks during his lone season at Texas and posted a 7.2 block percentage there, according to Sports-Reference.com. To put that second number into perspective, Anthony Davis and Serge Ibaka led the league with a 6.7 block percentage last season (minimum 20 minutes per game).

“Tristan is a high-energy guy that gets his hands on the ball at both ends of the court,” Blatt told reporters earlier this month. “He has a very, very high motor. He’s active.”

If Thompson can rediscover his old shot-blocking form, he could go a long way toward addressing arguably the team’s biggest weakness. And if guys such as James, Love and Marion force him to find most of his minutes at the center spot, he says that it’s even better for him, per Cavs.com’s Joe Gabriele:

I think playing the 5 is an advantage for me. I’m much quicker than a lot of the other centers in our league. So, I’ll give them havoc and at the same time, I’ve got stronger over the summer where I can guard the 5’s and body up against them.

And if you look at it, our league is changing. You don’t really have the prototypical centers anymore—like the Shaqs, the Ewings, the Mutombos. Everyone’s more mobile and athletic, so a 4 or 5 in this league isn’t as big a difference.

Whether at the 4 or 5, Thompson simply needs to stay in his lane. And, unlike Waiters, Thompson should feel extremely comfortable with his role.

The Cavs aren’t looking for more than interior activity out of him. Judging by his production through three preseason games—12.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks in 23.7 minutes—that is precisely what he is prepared to give.

Thompson doesn’t need the ball to be effective. And his work as an off-ball cutter, above-the-rim finisher and offensive rebounder should all mesh well with the Big Three.

Not only can he coexist with that trio, his length, athleticism and defensive effort should also make it even better.

The Cavs, like any other championship hopefuls, will need everyone to make a successful title run. But Thompson will play the biggest role of Cleveland’s support staff due to the uniqueness of his talents and the way they will complement the rest of this roster.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Breaking Down What Makes James Harden an Elite Offensive Player

James Harden of the Houston Rockets may be the most intriguing case study in the NBA. He’s easily one of the five most gifted offensive players in the league, yet all anyone talks about anymore is his defense. So, for this article, we’re not going to talk about those flaws. We’re going to discuss what makes Harden such a special player.

He’s able to score, he’s able do so efficiently and he involves his teammates while doing so. Those three things make him an elite offensive player. And by elite, I don’t just mean among his contemporaries. Harden is not just good—he’s historically good.

In his two years with Houston, he has averaged 25.7 points on a .609 true shooting percentage, adding 6.0 assists while doing so. Per Basketball-Reference.com, only three other players have had a season where they met those standards: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and LeBron James.

If advanced stats are more your thing, during both of his years in Houston, Harden had a usage percentage over 27, an assist percentage above 25 and a true shooting percentage over 60, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Only three other players have accomplished that feat twice: Jordan, Bird and James.

I don’t mean to overstate things here, but Jordan, Bird and James make up a pretty elite trio. He is not on their historical level yet, but what he’s accomplished suggests he could be.

So what makes Harden so special? The answer might surprise you: It’s his brain. Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland writes:

James Harden is one of the smartest on-court players in the NBA. Perhaps more than anyone else, he understands the rules of the game and has engineered an approach to scoring that takes full advantage of these rules.

It may not always be pretty (although sometimes it is), but it is almost always productive. Between his Eurostep and his incredible ability to get fouled, Harden might be a referee’s nightmare, but he’s also one of the best scorers in the league.

Based on his understanding of the game, there are three things in particular Harden does to build his impressive offensive resume: shoot from the right spots on the floor, draws fouls and find open teammates when he’s double-teamed.

 

Shooting From the Right Spots

Probably the most important factor in scoring efficiently isn’t whether you make the shots; it’s where you take them from. If you shoot closer to the rim, you are more likely to make them. If you take them from three, they are going to count for more. Ergo, the restricted area and behind the three-point line are the target areas.

Harden’s shot chart, available at NBA.com/STATS, shows how his shots are distributed.

Notice how the concentration is in those two critical high-efficiency areas.

Last year, there were 22 players who attempted at least 400 threes and 47 who took at least 300 shots inside the restricted area. There were only five players who did both. Here they are with a glossary [1] to explain the headers:

You might notice that these are some of the most effective scorers in the league. That’s not a coincidence. 

 

Drawing Fouls

Another area of the court where players can boost their efficiency is from the free-throw stripe. If Harden were a sketch artist, he could make a living just drawing fouls.

One of the better new analysis tools is “free-throw rate,” which shows how often a player draws a foul. This is devised from dividing the field-goal attempts by the free-throw attempts.

There’s a hitch to that, though, as some players are fouled intentionally because they are more efficient from the field than from the stripe. In those cases, the defense feels it has an advantage in fouling, so they do. [2]

However, if we add the free-throw percentage to the free-throw rate, it gives us “free-throw rating.” That gives us a good feel for who not only gets to the line but also who takes advantage of getting there.

Not surprisingly, Harden and Durant top this list. Kevin Love is seventh. Those are the only three on both lists.

When you combine these two things—shooting form the efficient places on the court and shooting well from the stripe—you get an efficient scorer. True shooting percentage adjusts for three-pointers and free throws.

Five players averaged 25 points: James, Harden, Durant, Love and Carmelo Anthony. Three of them had a true shooting percentage over .600: James, Durant and Harden. When you combine that degree of volume and efficiency, you get MVPs.

What’s more remarkable is that, according to 82games.com, he was just called for just 32 offensive fouls. His 665 free-throw attempts suggest he was fouled well over 320 times (which would incur 640-ish free throws). In other words, he draws about 10 fouls for every offensive foul.

Call it flopping. Call it star treatment. Call it words I can’t use on Bleacher Report. But Harden calls them points. And that’s a big part of why he’s such an effective scorer.

 

Passing the Ball

The last thing Harden does that makes him an elite offensive player is pass prudently. He’s not an elite passer on the level of Chris Paul. He’s not always looking to create points for his teammates. But he is smart enough to pass out of a double-team rather than force up a bad shot.

Taking efficient shots is one way to bolster your shooting percentages. Not taking stupid ones is another. This might seem obvious, but without getting critical of anyone in particular, let’s just say there are some noteworthy scorers in the NBA who haven’t learned this lesson.

Basketball is not diving or gymnastics; you don’t get extra points for degree of difficulty. It’s better to find the open teammate than to force a bad shot. Case in point:

And that’s not just an isolated case. When I worked with Adam Fromal to develop passer rating, one thing we looked at is which players raised their teammate’s field-goal percentage the most when they passed them the ball. We called that field-goal percentage impact.

Among non-point guards, Harden had the fifth-largest impact (behind Joakim Noah, Nicolas Batum, Durant and James), raising his teammates’ field-goal percentage 3.62 percentage points.

Only two of those players, Durant and James, were also their team’s leading scorer.

Statistically, Harden establishes over and over that he is in the same company as Durant and James on offense.

 

***

There are three players who are among the best at all three of these areas: Harden, James and Durant. Two of them have won five of the last six MVPs. It’s not entirely unreasonable that Harden could have one of those in his future.

He’s not perfect on offense. He has too many passing turnovers (135 last year). He pressed too hard in last year’s postseason when he should have been trusting his teammates. I’m not trying to hide from that.

But remember, he just turned 25. These things (and defense) are lessons that players normally don’t learn until they’re in the second half of their 20s.

People say Harden has an old-man’s game. In the deliberate way he moves with the ball, that’s true. But in terms of where he shoots from, he’s much more of a modern-age man. And in terms of actual age, he’s a very young man.

If Harden’s game matures, he could blend those things together and become one of the most special players in history. He’s already posting numbers that are historically rare. When you consider that he’s already playing at such a high level and how much room he has to grow, it’s a scary combination.

 

 

[1] RAFG = Restricted Area Field Goal; RAFGA = Restricted Area Field-Goal Attempt; %ATT = Percent of Total Field Goal Attempts from efficient areas or (RAFGA+3PA)/FGA; EFG%EA = Effective Field-Goal Percentage on Attempts from Efficient Areas

[2] This is usually a bad strategy. In order for it to be effective, a player would have to have a higher field-goal percentage than free-throw percentage, otherwise, on average, you’re giving away points. 

 

Stats for this article come from Basketball-Reference.com, 82games.com, and NBA.com/STATS.

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