NBA Season Retrospective (2018-2019)

With the NBA regular season concluded and the playoffs now on deck, I thought it would be fun to peek back at the players and teams that defined this season. There’s a million things one could investigate, but I wanted to call out just a few of my findings that really resonated in combination with what I observed watching games this season!

MVP Candidates

MVP Candidates - NBA 2019

It’s commonly accepted that there is an inverse relationship between efficiency and utilization - as a player bears more offensive responsibility, their scoring typically becomes less effective on a marginal basis. Consider a player like Steven Adams, who is great in his role of taking 7 or 8 shots per game. Do you think Steven Adams would maintain his shooting percentages if forced to take 12, 15, or 18 shots per game? In almost all cases, players typically struggle to retain their shooting efficiency as their offensive workloads increase. This isn’t due in any part to their merits as players, but simply because of the toll that increased decision-making, ball handling, clutch shooting, and offensive creation requires of any player.

Indeed, a hallmark of a true star player is the ability to absorb a large offensive burden without showing much slippage in efficiency - flattening the fall-off curve of volume vs efficiency for as long as possible. In this vein, I think the chart above, more than any other, shows how special James Harden’s season was. By comparing his usage rate (along the horizontal axis - the percentage of team possessions finished by a given player) as a proxy for his offensive workload, with his true shooting percentage, we can see Harden standing far away from the rest of his peers and the entire league.

Similarly to Harden, but not in quite the same league, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid also rate out very highly across these two factors, which is a testament to how thoroughly both men dominated the Eastern Conference this winter. Durant and Curry rate out almost the exact same as well - damn Warriors!

Team Ratings

Team Ratings - NBA 2019

Speaking of those damn Warriors - they again led the NBA in Offensive Rating, a statistic which quantifies how good offenses are by assessing their points scored per 100 possessions. Well… they led the NBA in offense if you don’t count opponents of the Cleveland Cavaliers as one unit - if you did, that team would have scored nearly 117 points per 100 possessions to lead the league!

Some quick thoughts on the teams in this chart:

  • I didn’t realize that the Bucks had the best defense in the league this season to pair with their #4 ranked offense
  • The Nets, Pistons, Magic, and Heat all have really tight spreads between their Offensive and Defense Ratings - lots of close, scrappy games with these teams
  • As a Washington fan, it’s frustrating to see the Wizards' offense sneak into the top half of the league (better than the Thunder!) but for their defense to be amongst the worst in the league

Individual Net Rating

Best Net Rating - NBA 2019

No surprise to see lots of Bucks and Warriors players high on this list - many of these players play all of their minutes with extremely strong lineups on the court, and as such have very high individual Net Ratings (the difference between Offensive and Defensive rating with that player on the court). I was still surprised by the fact that the entire Bucks starting lineup made it on this list, which is a testament to how well Lopez, Brogdon, and Bledsoe have filled in their roles around Giannis and Khris Middleton.

Others with surprisingly strong showings here (showing how important they are to the success of their respective teams) are Pascal Siakam, perhaps the Most Improved Player in the NBA this season, and Joe Ingles, Australian folk hero.

Worst Net Rating - NBA 2019

On the flip side of the previous chart, the graphic above shows the players in the league good enough to play big minutes, but bad enough to record a seriously negative Net Rating. These are frequently young players that teams are looking to develop by giving them lots of opportunities and playing time to learn.

Lots of good young players down here while their teams are “Trying for Zion” - it’ll be fascinating to see if Williamson ends up pairing with any of these players and changing the direction of one of these franchises.