The Whiteboard: Categorizing NBA offensive style for 2021-22, part 4

Denver Nuggets, Nylon Calculus, The Whiteboard

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Last week on The Whiteboard, I began the annual exercise of examining the offensive style of each team using the same NBA offensive style charts I’ve been building for the past years — check out part 1 (Timberwolves, Hornets, Warriors, Pacers, Pistons, Thunder), part 2 (Lakers, Rockets, Spurs, Jazz, Cavs, Knicks, Blazers) and part 3 (Grizzlies, Suns, Bulls, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks, Magic).

Today, we’re going to look at all the remaining teams but first, a brief recap of what these charts are and how to read them.

These charts are not meant to evaluate whether an offense is good or bad. They are designed to help illustrate how teams go about the goal of trying to put the ball in the basket. Each team’s offense is evaluated on four stylistic spectrums.

Ball movement is measured with the average touch time for each team, from the NBA’s player tracking statistics. A lower average touch time means the ball is moving from player to player more quickly.

Player movement is measured with a combination of different NBA.com tracking statistics and works out to average distance traveled per 24 seconds of offensive possession.

Pace is measured with the average length of an offensive possession from Inpredictable, a more accurate representation of how quickly a team is working than traditional pace.

Shot selection is measured with MoreyBall percentage — in this case the percentage of a team’s true shooting opportunities that came at the rim, from the free-throw line, or on a 3-pointer. It’s a generalized measure but captures something about how much each team hews to the shots that are, on average, the most efficient.

On the graphs below you’ll see a line for each team’s offense. As the line moves away from the center of the graph on each axis you’re seeing more of that stylistic trait. For example, shot selection shows a (hypothetically) more efficient shot selection the further you are from the center.

This last grouping (ordered by offensive efficiency) were all unique enough that they didn’t really form a coherent group or fit into any other group.

NBA offensive style: Miscellaneous

The defining element of the Hawks offense is obviously the low level of ball movement and how much time the ball spends in the hands of Trae Young — 8.7 minutes per game, third-most in the NBA during the regular season. However, the team seemed to do a good job leveraging other stylistic elements around him to maximize efficiency.

The Nuggets have one of the most bizarre offensive style charts and it’s incredibly warped by Nikola Jokic, albeit in an unusual way. Most high-usage offensive creators tend to lower their team’s ball movement but Jokic, for all he does as a scorer and passer, doesn’t hold the ball very much. His average touch only lasted 2.60 seconds during the regular season, about the same as players like Buddy Hield and Patty Mills. Because he can do what he does, while keeping the ball pinging around the floor, the Nuggets don’t have to sacrifice shot selection or player movement in the ways some other teams do with a high-usage offensive star.

The Celtics’ offense doesn’t really stand out in any particular way but where they ended up at the end of the season is vastly different from the iso-heavy, static offense they were really struggling with at the beginning of the season.

The Nets’ offensive style was limited by the ball dominance of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Although it was interesting to see their pace number ranking fairly high, perhaps the influence of Steve Nash?

This is what an offense looks like when built around a back-to-the-basket post scorer. It’s an outlier in the modern NBA but this may have been what the average offense looked like 15 or 20 years ago.

It’s interesting to see the Heat ranking so high in shot selection and player movement, with the influence of Kyle Lowry perhaps balancing out a bit of the effect of Jimmy Butler.

This is what an offense looks like when everything is built around static spot-ups around a single perimeter creator.

Average in every category, which in and to itself is the only real noteworthy about their offensive style. It will be interesting to see how the (still hypothetical) return of Zion Williamson changes things next season.

Safe to say things would have looked dramatically different if Paul George and Kawhi Leonard has been healthy all season long.

Other NBA stories:

Even though the recently eliminated Brooklyn Nets rarely looked like contenders, many still thought of them as one. Why was that idea so hard to let go of?

If the Mavs can keep their frontcourt out of foul trouble in Game 6 there’s every reason to think they can finish the Utah Jazz … maybe for good?

T.J. Warren was a complete ghost this entire season. But he’s an unrestricted free agent who had established himself as a dynamic scorer before injury took hold.

With Khris Middleton out, the Milwaukee Bucks are going to need a lot more from Jrue Holiday in the second round against the Boston Celtics.

Jalen Brunson to the Knicks seems like a foregone conclusion.

Jimmy Butler has arguably never been better. Will it be enough for the Miami Heat?

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