With SportsVU data, basketball-reference.com, Synergy, and nba.com/stats, there is more publicly available information for basketball fans than ever before. Sometimes it can be hard to know what matters and what doesn't. Advanced statistics are interesting, but often require a base level of knowledge that can be daunting. Oftentimes they are misrepresented, either by people who are trying to bend numbers in ways that benefit agendas or by people who simply don't know any better.
I'm sure I've been guilty of both.
Of course, no stat is designed to take the place of watching the actual games. They can help us identify traits that we want to nurture, or things that we want to see improved. Here are five advanced statistics I'll have my eye on this season, and why they're interesting.
LeBron James' true shooting rate ... with Kyrie Irving off the floor
Per basketball-reference.com, LeBron James had an insane true shooting rate of 64.9 in his last season in Miami. For a high usage wing, that's an insanely good rate. True shooting attempts to measure a scorer's efficiency by factoring three pointers and free throws into the equation. In James' first season in Cleveland, his true shooting rate dipped to a merely very good 57.7.
If you dig a bit further at nba.com/stats, you'll notice that the amount of possessions James used as well as his true shooting rate fluctuated dramatically depending on whether or not he shared the court with Kyrie Irving. When Irving was on the court, James used under 30% of the Cavs possessions and had a great true shooting rate of 59.9. When Irving was off the court, James' usage spiked to over 40% and his true shooting rate was a pedestrian 53.3. That number is pretty good given the sky-high usage rate, but a team with Kevin Love on it shouldn't need James to carry that type of load.
Hopefully in year two the Cavs can find ways to keep James from having to keep the second team afloat offensively. If his usage rate can tick down, his efficiency should go up and that should mean good things for the Cavs offense.
The Cleveland Cavaliers defensive rating
This one is pretty simple. How many points will the Cavs surrender per 100 possessions? How will it rank relative to the rest of the league? For all the talk about the January trades reinvigorating the team, reinventing the team's defense and unleashing hell on the league, it was a team that still ranked just 14th in team defense post-January 15th (in fairness, they were 25th before January 15th, per nba.com/stats). With a full season to mix in schemes, another year in Tyronn Lue's system, and hopefully some growth from Tristan Thompson, can they be a top 10 defense? History says it would be helpful in terms of pulling off a title.
With Iman Shumpert hurt, it might be tough. If the Cavs spend a portion of the year coasting or resting guys, it might be nearly impossible.
Tristan Thompson's Estimated Rim Protection Value
The assumption here is still that Tristan Thompson is going to get paid a lot of money. If it's under or around $85 million over five years, I'd make that bet. I think he's versatile enough to earn the money. But it's also betting on a bit of defensive improvement, particularly when it comes to rim protection. Sam Garriock did a nice job breaking down Thompson's deficiencies as a rim protector if you consider him a center, which we all probably should. He can do other stuff, which adds to his value, but you look for rim protection from that position.
Seth Partnow's Estimated Rim Protection Value data isn't perfect, but it's probably the best metric we have to try and measure this area of defense. Thompson doesn't have to be elite here, but you'd like to see real steps forward. He hasn't had a consistent position or consistent coaching or consistent front court teammates, and this is just his age 24 season. We will see.
Kevin Love's usage rate
Before coming to Cleveland, basketball-reference.com indicates that Kevin Love had three straight seasons of using more than 28% of his team's offensive possessions while on the court. In his first season in Cleveland, that dropped all the way down to 21.7. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving obviously use a lot of offensive possessions, but it was also Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters early on, and J.R. Smith later on.
Frankly, the Cavs offense was good enough for most of the year that I'm not that worried about this metric. But in terms of people around the league wondering if the Cavs are using him correctly, it'll depend largely on his opportunities.
J.R. Smith's true shooting rate
With Iman Shumpert out for the first couple months of the season, J.R. Smith is likely to get a lot of minutes. Will he revert to his New York Knick days and fall in love with midrange jumpers? Or will he pick where he left off the with the Cavs Big 3 and make a hailstorm of threes that break opponents' will to live?
Smith's true shooting rate was a horrific 48.7% in New York, but a very solid 56.5% in Cleveland. If he stays within his role and lets others create offense for him, he'll be in great shape. And so will the Cavs.