Stats & Info: Next Level

Star-studded showdown: Trout vs. Kershaw

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
ESPN Stats & InformationThe Trout-Kershaw matchup will test the strengths of both players.
Hollywood loves a good blockbuster, and Tuesday night's battle in Chavez Ravine between the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers will be no exception.

It will be the first ever regular-season meeting between Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw.

Here are a few of the top stats to know for Tuesday night's marquee matchup.

Best of the best
Trout debuted for the Angels in 2011 (the season Kershaw won his first Cy Young award), but made a name for himself in 2012.

Since then, Trout has been arguably the best hitter in baseball, while Kershaw could be considered the game's best pitcher.

Trout leads all position players in WAR since the start of 2012 and Kershaw leads all pitchers in WAR over the same stretch.

Not only are they both at the top of their games in 2014, but each has started his career in historically impressive fashion.

Trout has produced more WAR through age 22 than any position player in MLB since 1900. His 26.1 WAR from 2011 on is ahead of Ty Cobb's 25.5 and Ted Williams' 23.6 through their seasons at age 22.

Meanwhile, Kershaw has produced more WAR through his age 26 season (this season) than any pitcher to debut in the last 40 years. His 37.4 WAR since 2008 is ahead of Dwight Gooden's 36.5 and Bret Saberhagen's and Roger Clemens' third-place tie at 35.7 through their seasons at age 26.

Strength vs. strength
One thing to keep an eye on will be how Trout handles Kershaw’s pitches in the lower third of the strike zone and below.

Kershaw ranks at or near the top in baseball in effectiveness with pitches down in the zone.

It's also worth noting that Kershaw has thrown an increasingly high percentage (46.0) of his pitches down, a jump from 37.3 percent a season ago and 36.5 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, Trout has crushed pitches down in the zone, leading MLB with a .382 batting average, .763 slugging percentage and 17 home runs this season on pitches in that location.

Fastballs early, curveballs late
When thinking about how Kershaw might pitch to Trout, consider how Trout has fared against each of the types of pitches Kershaw throws.

Eighty-five percent of Kershaw's first pitches this season have been fastballs, while Trout ranks in the bottom third of the league in batting average against fastballs. Against first-pitch fastballs, Trout is hitting .250 this season, which ranks in the 13th percentile across MLB.

Trout has also struggled to hit pitches thrown up in the zone.

If Kershaw can survive deep in the count, he has thrown the curveball on 36 percent of his two-strike pitches up in the zone this season, the highest rate of any starter in MLB. Trout has seen 131 curveballs up in the zone in his career and has produced zero hits on just seven swings.

Winston trying to one-up historic 2013

August, 3, 2014
Aug 3
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJameis Winston won the BCS National Championship as a freshman.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented group of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL Draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their places in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season, and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Jameis Winston.

A Look Back at 2013
The case could be made that Jameis Winston had one of the most prolific single seasons in college football history. He became the third starting quarterback since 1950 to go undefeated, win a national championship and the Heisman Trophy all in the same season.

As a redshirt freshman, Winston set the national freshman records for touchdown passes (40) and passing yards (4,057) despite barely playing in the fourth quarter. His team not only won the BCS National Championship, but finished one of the most dominant campaigns in college football history, averaging the best point differential (39.5 PPG) for any FBS team since Houston in 1989.

Winston burst onto the scene in style by completing 25 of 27 passes (92.6 percent) in his debut against Pittsburgh. He continued this accuracy and efficiency, twice completing more than 90 percent of his passes in a game and averaging 10.6 yards per attempt (second most by a QB in last 10 seasons behind Robert Griffin III in 2011).

His poise and composure in pressure situations and on plays in which he was pressured was unmatched last season. Winston gained a first down on 59 percent of his third-down pass attempts, the best rate for any quarterback in at least the last 10 seasons.

In the few instances Florida State trailed, Winston completed more than 71 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions. That includes a game-winning 80-yard touchdown drive to win the BCS Championship (Winston: 6 of 7, 77 yards, TD on that drive).

With pressure in his face, Winston was unmatched. He completed an AQ-high 60 percent of his passes and averaged 9.8 yards per attempt in such situations. To put that in perspective, the AQ average for completion percentage when pressured is 35 percent.

All of these factors resulted in Winston posting the top Total QBR in the nation last season while leading Florida State to one of the most dominant seasons in recent history.

A Look Ahead to 2014
The question remains whether Winston and Florida State can repeat their successes from a season ago.

Repeating as a Heisman Trophy winner is not easy. Thirteen players have returned to school after winning the Heisman, and only one – Archie Griffin – pulled off the repeat.

As noted above, Winston was nearly flawless in his first season starting for the Seminoles; however, there are areas in which he can improve.

Winston could do a better job of avoiding negative plays by throwing the ball away; he was the fourth-most sacked quarterback in the ACC last season (27 sacks), but threw the ball away on only two of his 445 dropbacks.

He also has room to improve his efficiency when teams drop seven or more in coverage. Winston proved that he was among the best in the nation at exploiting blitzes; however, he was more “human” against standard pressure and often forced the ball downfield.

The Seminoles return a lot of talent on offense, but Winston will be without his top two deep threats, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, who have both moved on to the NFL. Benjamin and Shaw accounted for 43 of Winston’s 73 completions of 20 yards or longer.

Even without these receivers, Florida State should again be one of the top teams in the nation; according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Seminoles have by far the best chance of any FBS team (40 percent) to finish the regular season undefeated.

However, as Jimbo Fisher noted at ACC media days, it is complacency that could hurt his team.

If Winston and the Seminoles maintain their drive to win, they may go down as one of the top teams in college football history and Winston may again be standing atop the college football world holding the Heisman Trophy.

Top stats to know: Rangers beat Yankees

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsYu Darvish was able to hold the Yankees offense to 2 solo homers by Brett Gardner in a win Monday.
The Texas Rangers were able to overcome a two-run deficit by scoring four runs in the fifth inning to beat the New York Yankees. Here are the top stats you need to know about Monday’s game.

Gardner owns Darvish
Rangers’ starter Yu Darvish was able to withstand a big game from Brett Gardner, who launched two home runs off of him. After picking up three hits in four plate appearances Monday, Gardner is now 5-11 in his career against Darvish in 12 plate appearances. Four of those five hits are home runs.

Gardner’s four home runs are tied for the most that Darvish has given up to any player in his career. The others to take the Rangers ace deep that many times are Mike Trout and Brandon Moss.

Darvish limits the damage
Darvish improved to 3-1 in his career against the Bronx Bombers. In 31 1/3 innings against Darvish, the Yankees have lived up to that nickname by hitting six home runs. Unfortunately for New York, all six of those home runs have been solo shots.

Monday, Darvish threw a strike on 74 percent of his pitches, the highest strike rate of his career. He also locked in when there were men on. With the bases empty, the Yankees were 7-17 (.412 BA) against him. With men on, Darvish held the Yankees to two singles in 12 plate appearances.

Jeter passes Yaz
Derek Jeter also had a big game, going 3-4 to give himself 3,420 career hits. That allowed him to pass Boston Red Sox Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski for seventh-most all-time in MLB history. Next up, and likely the only other player Jeter will pass on the list, is Honus Wagner who currently has 10 more hits than Jeter.

Did you know?
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Dennis Martinez and Mike Morgan are the only two pitchers to allow a hit to both Derek Jeter and Carl Yastrzemski in their careers.

Martinez is the only one to allow a homer to both.

What to expect from top-10 in NBA Draft

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
Lofty expectations from ownership make the NBA Draft a high-stakes affair for general managers and coaches. The perceived wrong move can doom the job of the guy who makes the final decision.

What can teams rightly expect to get with the top pick in the NBA Draft? What about the rest of the top 10?

To come up with an expectation for each pick, we developed a profile for each pick in the top 10 using average win shares per season and career games played. Looking at all players drafted from the NBA-ABA merger in 1976 to 2010, we identified a player who best matches that statistical profile.

Profiles were built using Basketball-Reference’s win shares, which measure a player’s contributions to a team in the wins his performance is expected to add. Average wins per season, listed with each pick below, are defined as the average win shares a player produced in each season he played in the NBA.

No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers – 5.6 wins per season, 745 games

Comparable players: James Worthy (5.4 wins/season), Yao Ming (5.5 wins/season)

James Worthy was a steady scorer in the NBA, as he averaged between 17.7 and 22.0 points per game in all 12 of his NBA seasons. He put up 14.8 career win shares in the playoffs.

Best-case scenario: LeBron James (CLE), 15.3 wins/season
Worst-case scenario: Michael Olowokandi (LAC), 0.2 wins/season

No. 2 Milwaukee Bucks – 3.8 wins per season, 696 games

Comparable players: Marvin Williams (4.1 wins/season), Steve Francis (3.6 wins/season)

Steve Francis averaged 19.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game over the first six years of his career. He ranks 55th all-time with 6.0 assists per game in his career.

Best-case scenario: Kevin Durant (SEA), 12.7 wins/season
Worst-case scenario: Darko Milicic (DET), 0.6 wins/season

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers – 4.5 wins per season, 692 games

Comparable players: Shareef Abdur-Rahim (4.7 wins/season), Baron Davis (4.2 wins/season)

Before his career ended at the age of 31,Shareef Abdur-Rahim averaged 34.8 minutes per game, which is in the top 100 all-time.

Best-case scenario: Michael Jordan (CHI), 14.3 wins/season
Worst-case scenario: Adam Morrison (CHA), -0.2 wins/season

No. 4 Orlando Magic – 3.8 wins per season, 695 games

Comparable players: Donyell Marshall (3.9 wins/season), Byron Scott (5.0 wins/season)

In his best seasons, between 1998 and 2004, Donyell Marshall averaged 14.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He also reached a career-high 5.5 defensive win shares in 2003-04.

Best-case scenario: Chris Paul (NOH), 12.8 wins/season
Worst-case scenario: Marcus Fizer (CHI), 0.2 wins/season

No. 5 Utah Jazz – 4.1 wins per season, 728 games

Comparable players: Devin Harris (4.2 wins/season), Juwan Howard (4.0 wins/season)

Juwan Howard ranks 33rd all-time with 1,208 career games played. He is in the top 100 all-time in field goals, rebounds, and points.

Best-case scenario: Kevin Garnett (MIN), 12.6 wins/season
Worst-case scenario: Nikoloz Tskitishvili (DEN), -0.1 wins/season

No. 6 Boston Celtics – 2.3 wins per season, 535 games

Comparable players: Trent Tucker (2.3 wins/season), Martell Webster (2.7 wins/season)

Trent Tucker made a living as a bench player for most of his career, averaging 14.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per 36 minutes. He ranks 20th all-time with a 9.1 percent career turnover percentage.

Best-case scenario: Larry Bird (BOS), 9.7 wins/season
Worst-case scenario: Jonny Flynn (MIN), -0.2 wins/season

No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers – 2.9 wins per season, 640 games

Comparable players: Eric Gordon (2.9 wins/season), Randy Foye (2.7 wins/season)

Eric Gordon has averaged 17.5 points per game in his career, including two seasons of 20 or more. Gordon made the All-NBA rookie team in 2008-09.

Best-case scenario: Stephen Curry (GSW), 7.6 wins/season
Worst-case scenario: Quintin Dailey (CHI), 0.8 wins/season

No. 8 Sacramento Kings - 2.7 wins per season, 610 games

Comparable players: Chris Wilcox (2.2 wins/season), Brandan Wright (2.4 wins/season)

Although Chris Wilcox had an 11.9 usage percentage with the Celtics in the 2012-13 season, he was extremely efficient in the half-court on offense, averaging 1.17 points per such play, which led all players with at least 100 plays.

Best-case scenario: Robert Parish (BOS), 9.8 wins/season
Worst-case scenario: Lancaster Gordon (LAC), -0.2 wins/season

No. 9 Charlotte Hornets - 3.4 wins per season, 650 Games

Comparable players: Gordon Hayward (3.8 wins/season), Rodney Rogers (2.6 wins/season)

Gordon Hayward has averaged 15.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game over the last two years. Last year, Hayward finished in the top 10 in the league with 36.4 minutes played per game.

Best-case scenario: Dirk Nowitzki (DAL), 12.3 wins/season
Worst-case scenario: Patrick O’Bryant (GSW), 0.1 wins/season

No. 10 Philadelphia 76ers – 2.8 wins per season, 574 games

Comparable players: Spencer Hawes (2.5 wins/season), Andrew Bynum (4.2 wins/season)

Hawes finished tenth in the NBA by shooting 41.6 percent from behind the 3-point line last season. Hawes is averaging 14.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per 36 minutes in his career.

Best-case scenario: Paul Pierce (BOS), 9.6 wins/season
Worst-case scenario: Roy Hamilton (DET), 0.0 wins/season

NBA Draft: Specialists can be found late

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
The 2014 NBA Draft has been touted as one of the best in years. However, just like every year, there are prospects who are projected to go late first round or second round as specialists. We highlight a few players who may fit this category.

Glenn Robinson III
According to Dean Oliver’s advanced projection model, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III ranks favorably. Robinson excelled on defense this past season, holding opponents to 32 percent shooting in man-to-man defense. That ranked in the 84th percentile of the 434 players with at least 200 plays. With a recent emergence in players who play defense and make 3-pointers, Robinson could follow the footsteps of players like Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard.

K.J. McDaniels
Clemson's K.J. McDaniels has received praise from scouts for his athletic prowess, which helps make him a force in transition. According to Synergy Sports Tech, he averaged 1.47 points per transition play last season, the second-best rate (min. 50 plays) among players from the Big-7 conferences (AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC).

Like Robinson, McDaniels was also a defensive stalwart, holding opponents to 32 percent shooting (84th percentile).

Perhaps a similar comparison can be made to Corey Brewer of the Timberwolves. Brewer trailed only James Harden and LeBron James with total transition points during the regular season, while holding opponents to 40.4 percent shooting.

Deonte Burton
Deonte Burton, a point guard from Nevada, was a masterful pick-and-roll ball handler, a quintessential play in the pro ranks. According to Synergy Sports Tech, he scored 1.07 points per play as the pick-and-roll ball handler, second best in the NCAA last season of 68 players with at least 150 plays.

Perhaps more impressive is that Burton committed a turnover on five percent of his plays as the pick-and-roll ball handler, trailing only San Diego State’s Xavier Thames.

Patty Mills is a player who had similar success as the pick-and-roll ball handler in the NBA this season. Not only was he taken late in the second round, he ranked behind only LeBron James and Kevin Durant in points per play among the 74 players with at least 200 such plays and had the lowest turnover percentage.

Jarnell Stokes
Rebounding has translated well from college to the professional ranks and Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes is one of the best offensive rebounders in this year’s draft. He grabbed 4.2 offensive rebounds per game last season, most in the SEC and third in the nation. He rebounded 15 percent of his team’s missed shots when on the court and averaged an SEC-leading 3.2 second-chance points per game.

Jordan Hill and Reggie Evans are a couple of NBA players who are having long careers as offensive rebounders. Among 90 players who had at least 100 offensive rebounds last season, only Andre Drummond had a higher offensive rebounding percentage than Stokes did in college.

Aaron Craft
Aaron Craft from Ohio State has a reputation for being a menace on the defensive end, and his numbers support that claim. He forced a turnover on 20 percent of his opponents’ possessions, the best rate among Big-7 conference players (minimum 200 plays). He generated a turnover percentage of at least 18 percent every season of his four-year career.

Ray McCallum, who was drafted in the second round by the Kings in 2013, also forced a turnover on 20.1% of opponents’ possessions in a man defense in the 2012-13 season. Craft will look to have a similar defensive impact as McCallum did toward the end of the season for the Kings. McCallum wasn’t as disruptive in his rookie season as he was in college, but he still held the opponents to 39 percent shooting, which ranked in the 81st percentile among 276 players who faced at least 300 plays.

NBA Draft: Who do analytics rate best?

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
There has been a huge analytics movement lately in the NBA – 23 of the 30 teams have analytics departments.

Some, but not all, advanced stats translate well from college to the NBA. Which ones translate the best?

Rebound percentage is the percentage of available rebounds a player grabs while he’s on the floor.

Among big men in the last five NBA Drafts, the top three in rebound percentage in their final college season have an NBA career rebound percentage better than 15 percent – Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson.

The five worst players are nowhere near a 15 percent rebound percentage. Four of those five players have never even started a game in the NBA.

None of the 10 worst big men on this list have an NBA rebound percentage higher than 15 percent.

Rebound percentage is even telling for guards. The bottom 10 guards include Tyshawn Taylor, Peyton Siva, Marquis Teague, Jon Diebler, Doron Lamb, John Jenkins and Jimmer Fredette.

Which 2014 draft prospect had the best rebound percentage this season among Chad Ford’s top 50? Michigan’s Mitch McGary, who played in just eight games this season. Not far behind were Joel Embiid, Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle and Jarnell Stokes.

The prospects that don’t measure well in rebound percentage are Semaj Christon, Nik Stauskas, Tyler Ennis and Spencer Dinwiddie, all of which grabbed fewer than six percent of available rebounds. The big man in Chad Ford’s top 50 who ranks the lowest is Patric Young.

Assist percentage is the percentage of teammates’ field goals a player assists on while he’s on the floor.

Among guards and wings in the last 5 NBA Drafts, eight of the top 10 in assist percentage in their final college season have started in the NBA.

The 10 non-post players picked in the lottery over the last five years with the worst assist percentage in their final college season could all be considered busts. They include Shabazz Muhammad, Derrick Williams, Anthony Bennett, Al-Farouq Aminu and Xavier Henry.

Some of the top wings include Klay Thompson, Paul George, Chandler Parsons, Lance Stephenson and Kawhi Leonard.

Which 2014 draft prospect had the best assist percentage this season among Chad Ford’s top 50? UCLA’s Kyle Anderson. Elfrid Payton and Tyler Ennis were close behind.

DeAndre Daniels and Noah Vonleh had the worst assist percentage among the top 50. The worst guards in this category were Andrew Wiggins and James Young.

Steal percentage is the percentage of opponents’ possessions while a player is on the court that result in that player getting a steal.

Among guards in the last five NBA Drafts, the top four in steal percentage in their final college season have started the majority of their NBA games -- Iman Shumpert, Michael Carter-Williams, Dion Waiters and Victor Oladipo. Not far below them are Paul George, Norris Cole and Kenneth Faried.

Among all players in the last five NBA Drafts, the worst five players in steal percentage combined for just 20 NBA starts this season.

Which 2014 draft prospect had the best steal percentage this season among Chad Ford’s top 50? UCLA’s Jordan Adams, just ahead of Marcus Smart.

Doug McDermott had the lowest steal percentage, with just eight steals all season. The worst among guards was Nik Stauskas.

Player Efficiency Rating or “PER” is an overall rating of a player’s per-minute statistical production. The NBA average is 15 every season.

In the last five NBA Drafts, six of the top nine players in PER in their final college season have an NBA career PER greater than 15. Of the bottom 10 on that list, nine of the 10 players have an NBA career PER less than 15.

The top 10 includes Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving.

The bottom 10 includes Josh Selby, Marquis Teague, Malcolm Lee and Daniel Orton.

Which 2014 draft prospect had the best PER this season among Chad Ford’s top 50? Doug McDermott, followed by NC State’s T.J. Warren.

The lowest PER among the top 50? Zach LaVine, followed by James Young.

Bowyer projected to win at Sonoma

June, 21, 2014
Jun 21
Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Sonoma. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1.99-mile road course) and time of year.

The first road course race of the year could be an opportunity for a non-familiar name to put themselves in the Chase. In seven of the past nine years, the Sonoma winner was a driver who had not yet won on the season. Our projected winner, Clint Bowyer, has not yet won this season. Bowyer qualified 25th but finished first and second in race trim during practices.

Jimmie Johnson won at Michigan for the first time last week, giving him 69 career victories. With his next win he would become the fourth-youngest to 70 wins, trailing only the top three drivers in wins in series history: Richard Petty, David Pearson and Jeff Gordon.

Speaking of Gordon, he’s finished second at Sonoma in two of the past three years and has eight straight top 10s at the track. Gordon is the series’ all-time leader with nine career road course wins, and his five wins at Sonoma is one shy of Bobby Allison’s record for the most at a single road course.

A driver to keep an eye on is Marcos Ambrose, a two-time road-course winner who’s still looking to break through at Sonoma. Ambrose is 23rd in points, but a win would make him a favorite to make the Chase. Since the start of 2009 Ambrose has been fastest driver on 172 laps in road course races, 106 laps more than anyone else.

Is Joel Embiid the next Olajuwon or Yao?

June, 21, 2014
Jun 21
Getty ImagesJoel Embiid’s freshman numbers compare favorably to Hakeem Olajuwon’s freshman numbers.
All of the talk right now is about Joel Embiid’s injury, a stress fracture to the navicular bone in his right foot.

The injury has drawn some attention away from the talk about Embiid’s incredible potential.

Back in October, Kansas coach Bill Self called Embiid, then a freshman who hadn’t yet played a college game, “a young Hakeem Olajuwon.”

How realistic was that?

Comparing their per-minute numbers as freshmen, Embiid is actually further ahead than Olajuwon was in most categories at the same age.

Embiid averaged more points, rebounds and assists per 40 minutes than Olajuwon as a freshman while posting a better field goal percentage and comparable blocked shots (4.5 per 40 minutes for Embiid; 5.1 for Olajuwon).

Embiid was the only player in the country to average at least 19 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks per 40 minutes this season.

Or is Embiid the next Yao/Ilgauskas/Walton?
A stress fracture in the foot is no joke for 7-footers in the NBA. There have been plenty of examples of that injury for big men, and it usually keeps them off the court for a long time.

In 1987-88, Bill Walton missed the entire season and never played again in the NBA. He attempted a comeback two years later but had to retire.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed 202 games in his career due to this injury. Foot injuries made him miss nearly four full seasons.

In 2002-03, Eric Montross missed the entire season and was forced to retire after the season.

Yao Ming had multiple occurrences of a stress fracture in his left foot and missed 159 games from 2009 to 2011. He retired after the 2010-11 season.

Brendan Haywood missed the end of the 2012-13 season and the entire 2013-14 season with a stress fracture in his left foot.

For some of these guys, the injury also led to further foot injuries.

So the question is: Could Embiid still be the next Olajuwon, or is his foot injury a sign of the troubles Ming and Ilgauskas went through in the NBA? Only time will tell.

Double teams hurting the Heat defense

June, 14, 2014
Jun 14

Robert Duyos/Sun Sentinel/Getty ImagesThe Heat defense has really struggled against the Spurs in the Finals.

The Miami Heat defense has been out of sorts in the 2014 NBA Finals – so much out of sorts that the San Antonio Spurs are on pace for the highest effective field-goal percentage in an NBA Finals series since the 3-point line was implemented.

Why are the Heat struggling so much defensively?

Drives to the basket

In the 2013 NBA Finals, the Heat stayed home on shooters when the Spurs drove to the basket.

The Heat aren't allowing any more drives than they did last year. The Spurs averaged 33.7 drives per game in last year's Finals and 33 per game this year.

The difference is how often they’re passing the ball: The Spurs passed the ball on 24 percent of their drives in last year's Finals. This year, the Spurs are passing the ball on 36 percent of their drives.

Too many double-teams

The Spurs are passing the ball more often on drives because the Heat are double-teaming the Spurs so often and leaving guys open.

With how adept the Spurs are at moving the ball, the Heat double-teams have been ineffective.

The Heat are switching defenders on virtually every screen in this series. Because of that, they find themselves often doubling the ball, whether it’s a hard double or a hedge.

When the Heat double-team the Spurs, just over half of the Spurs half-court field-goal attempts are uncontested. But when the Heat don't double the ball at all, only 18 percent of the Spurs half-court field-goal attempts are uncontested.

The Spurs effective field-goal percentage is 79 when the Heat double-team the ball in the half-court this series (including 55 percent on 3-pointers), compared to a 52 effective field-goal percentage when they don’t double.

Imagine if the Heat could play straight up defense without doubling the ball and without giving up any open shots. It sounds like a pipe dream, but the Heat are holding the Spurs to a 49 effective field-goal percentage on those shots. By comparison, the Spurs have been nearly twice as prolific (89 effective field-goal percentage) when the Heat double and leave a shooter open.

Based on these numbers, perhaps the Heat should rethink their strategy of switching on every screen and getting caught doubling the ball.

What has gone wrong for the Heat

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
The Heat are down 3-1 in the 2014 NBA Finals after losing to the Spurs by 40 combined points in Games 3 and 4.

What has gone wrong for the Heat?

Leonard continues to make LeBron work
LeBron James finished Game 4 shooting 6-of-9 against Kawhi Leonard, but most of that production came in the third quarter when the Heat were already down big.

James attempted only two shots (0-of-2) against Leonard in the first half despite recording 17 touches against him on 24 plays. James attempted five shots against all others on 13 touches and 11 plays.

Only 19 percent of James’ touches against Leonard in the Finals have resulted in a James field goal attempt. Against all other defenders, that rate jumps to 34 percent.

James has been held without a touch on 35 percent of the Heat’s possessions when he’s guarded by Leonard. Against all other defenders, he’s been held without a touch 26 percent of the time.

Heat not taking advantage of LeBron’s passing
The Heat have generated 33 assist opportunities per game this NBA Finals (passes that lead to field goal attempts), compared to 42 per game for the Spurs.

James has created the most opportunities for the Heat (35), but only a few members of the Heat have been able to take advantage of his passing.

Ray Allen, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have combined to shoot 12-of-20 off James’ passes this Finals. All other members of the Heat have shot 3-of-15 off James’ passes, including 2-of-11 from 3-point range.

Heat Big 3 can’t get on same page
The Heat’s Big 3 has struggled to put together complete games all at the same time this NBA Finals.

In Game 1, James had issues with cramps and missed most of the fourth quarter with cramps. In that game, James cut down his aggressive play, driving nine times in the first half but only twice in the second half.

In Game 3, the Heat failed to get Chris Bosh involved on offense. Bosh registered 12 offensive touches after averaging 39.5 the first two games (26 in Game 4).

In Game 4, Wade was able to get the basket but was unable to finish. Wade went 2-of-10 in the paint on the game after shooting 69.2 percent in the paint the first three games of the series.

Turnovers have been costly
The Heat have turned the ball over on 19.1 percent of their possessions this series, the highest in an NBA Finals since the 1997-98 Utah Jazz (19.9 percent). James and Wade have 34 turnovers in four games this Finals. Miami turned the ball over on 13.4 percent of its possessions in last season’s Finals, with James and Wade combining for 35 turnovers in seven games.

This has resulted in the Spurs averaging 21.8 points off turnovers this NBA Finals. In last year’s Finals, the Spurs averaged 12.0 points off turnovers.

Heat can’t match Spurs shooting off dribble penetration
Both the Heat and Spurs have been able to get into the lane on drives this NBA Finals, as the Spurs have only three more than the Heat. However, the Heat have not been able to drive-and-dish as effectively as the Spurs have.

Even the more dependable Heat shooters have struggled in these situations. Ray Allen is 1-of-5 and Rashard Lewis is 3-of-8.

The Heat have not made a shot off a James drive-and-kick in the series (0-of-6).

Kawhi Leonard wreaking havoc on LeBron

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsKawhi Leonard has been the primary defender against LeBron James in the NBA Finals.
On the surface, it appears that LeBron James has not struggled against Kawhi Leonard. Video tracking shows that James shot 12-of-18 (66.7 percent) with Leonard as his primary defender in the first three games of the 2014 NBA Finals.

But those numbers don’t show the full impact of Leonard’s defense.

In Game 3, James had a series-high 73 offensive touches but attempted only 14 shots. James was guarded by Leonard on 65 percent of the Heat’s possessions with James on the court in Game 3, the most Leonard has defended James in any game this series.

Let’s take a look at how Leonard has made LeBron’s life more difficult in the NBA Finals.

Fewer shots
Only 17 percent of LeBron’s touches against Leonard in the Finals have resulted in a field goal attempt. That’s half the rate James has against all other defenders. That means Leonard has been successful forcing him to pass the ball or turn it over.

Fewer touches
Leonard has been successful keeping the ball out of LeBron’s hands. James has been held without a touch on 35 percent of the Heat’s possessions when he’s guarded by Leonard. Against all other defenders he’s held without a touch 25 percent of the time.

Fewer drives
James has driven to the basket on 13 percent of his touches against Leonard. That rate jumps to 22 percent against all other defenders. Leonard has been able to keep James in front of him and force tough angles to keep him away from the basket.

It all equals more Leonard vs James
Leonard finished a Heat possession on James 65 percent of the time when James was on the court in Game 3. James attempted only 14 field goal attempts in the game despite a series-high 73 touches.

The percentage of possessions with Leonard defending James has increased every game this series.

The Heat recognized the work James put in to score with Leonard on him in Game 3 and tried to adjust by setting screens. On 14 different possessions in Game 3, Leonard started a possession on James but switched off due to screens. That happened nine times total in Games 1 and 2.

James was 3-of-4 with six points and an assist in those situations in Game 3.

Whether or not the Heat overcome the 2-1 series deficit could depend on how successful James is against Leonard’s defense going forward.

Kaepernick's success leads to big payday

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4

Harry How/Getty ImagesColin Kaepernick has a reported $61 million guaranteed to celebrate.

Colin Kaepernick signed a six-year extension with the 49ers Wednesday reportedly worth more than $110 million, including a $61 million guaranteed. That would be the most guaranteed money among current NFL contracts, besting Matt Ryan’s $59 million.

The deal is an extension of Kaepernick’s cap-friendly rookie deal. Last season, the 49ers committed only $2.85 million of cap space on quarterbacks, fifth-lowest in the NFL. That figure will now be among the highest in 2014 and beyond.

Is Kaepernick worth the money, though?

Postseason success
Since making his first start in Week 11 of 2012, Kaepernick is tied for the fourth-most wins among quarterbacks (17) and has the third-best Total QBR (69.6), trailing only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.

Kaepernick has been even better in the postseason, posting the best QBR (82.7) since 2006 among quarterbacks with at least three postseason starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kaepernick is also the sixth-youngest quarterback to start multiple conference championship games.

Kaepernick has been successful in the playoffs despite playing most of those games on the road. He is already 3-1 in road playoff games in his career. All other 49ers quarterbacks have combined to go 2-9 on the road, which includes Joe Montana (1-3) and Steve Young (0-3).

Areas of strength
Kaepernick’s rushing ability might be the most well-known aspect of his game. Last season, he ranked in the top four among quarterbacks in rush yards, yards per rush, rush touchdowns and rush first downs.

In the postseason, Kaepernick’s 507 rush yards are 87 shy of the most in NFL history by a quarterback, a mark currently held by former 49er Steve Young.

Kaepernick isn’t all legs, though, as he ranks sixth in yards per pass attempt since making his first NFL start.

Kaepernick has been at his best passing when facing the blitz. Opponents have sent five or more pass rushers against him on 38 percent of his dropbacks the past two seasons, highest in the NFL. His 75.2 QBR in those situations is third in the NFL, throwing 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Only Tom Brady (31 TD, 2 Int) has a better ratio of touchdowns to interceptions in that time.

Areas of improvement
Despite all this early success, Kaepernick still has areas of his game to improve, most notably passing from the pocket.

Kaepernick completed 61 percent of his passes in the pocket last season, a regression from his first year as a starter in 2012. His struggles inside the pocket were more pronounced this postseason, as he completed 54 percent of his passes, while throwing one touchdown and three interceptions.

The other big area for concern for Kaepernick is his performance against the 49ers top rival, the Seattle Seahawks. He's just 1-3 in his career against the Seahawks, including the loss in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. Kaepernick has just five losses against all other opponents.

With the Seahawks locking up Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas this offseason, as well, beating Seattle will continue to be a tough task for Kaepernick and the 49ers.

Why LeBron shouldn't have passed to Bosh

May, 30, 2014
May 30
In the closing seconds of Game 5 on Wednesday, LeBron James drove into the lane and elected to pass the ball to Chris Bosh for a corner 3-point attempt.

LeBron James
Over the last two days, there has been a debate about whether or not LeBron should've taken that shot himself or if his pass to Bosh was a wise decision.

Should LeBron have taken that shot or passed?

Because of new analytical data that the NBA is now collecting, we have an answer to that question. The answer is that he should take that shot.

Here’s how we know that:

The SportVu data tracks where all players are, including the defense. With that information, we can look at how well James makes that shot with a couple players right on him. Over the course of the season, he makes that shot about 70 percent of the time. That’s true whether it’s one guy closely guarding him or two defenders on him with one being a big man. That 70 percent number is the best in the NBA and far above the NBA average, which is about 43 percent.

A normal basketball player should definitely pass out of that situation. However, LeBron is not a normal basketball player. If he’s in that specific game-winning or game-tying situation again, I, having worked with coaching staffs before doing analytics, would want to plant in his head that he should shoot that shot.

Fielder injury might explain power outage

May, 22, 2014
May 22
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiPrince Fielder was struggling to produce even before his recent injury.
If Prince Fielder’s herniated disk in his neck costs him the rest of the season, it would be a surprise turn for a player who had been among the most durable in baseball.

Since his first full season in 2006, Fielder has missed a total of 13 games over a span of eight seasons. His 1,283 games played during that stretch were more than any other player in baseball.

The slugging first baseman has already missed five games this season, matching the most he’s missed in a single season in 2006 with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Fielder’s absence is just the latest in a long line of maladies that have afflicted the Texas Rangers. They have used the disabled list 17 times already this season, four more than the next closest team, the Cincinnati Reds.

Signs of decline
Even before his injury, Fielder had been struggling to replicate the power numbers that he had in the past. After posting a .981 OPS in his last season with the Brewers in 2011, his OPS has decreased in each of the last 3 seasons, bottoming out at .720 so far this season.

Due to the fact that Fielder doesn’t contribute much on defense or the basepaths, his diminished hitting has resulted in -0.3 wins above replacement this season, making him one of the least productive first basemen in baseball.

Power outage
Back in 2011, 22 percent of Fielder’s fly balls ended up as home runs. That number dropped to 16 percent in 2012, then 13 percent last season. Through 42 games this season, only eight percent of his fly balls are turning into home runs. This season his average fly ball distance is just 272 feet – that ranks outside the top 100 in baseball.

Opposing teams have taken notice. Fielder is seeing more pitches in the strike zone and more fastballs than he had previously in his career. Although he seems to be seeing no shortage of hittable pitches, he’s no longer doing anywhere near the damage with pitches in the strike zone that he used to, slugging just .402 against pitches in the strike zone on the season.

Justin Havens and Lee Singer contributed to this post

How the Pacers can unseat the Heat

May, 17, 2014
May 17
Despite being the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers enter their conference finals matchup with the Miami Heat as the underdog.

This is a Pacers team that split four head-to-head meetings with the Heat this season and took the Heat to seven games in the conference finals in 2013, but can they it over the hump and end the Heat’s reign this season?

Which Hibbert will show up?

In order to compete with the Heat, the Pacers will likely need Roy Hibbert to perform well.

Hibbert averaged 22.5 points per game in the Pacers’ two wins over Miami this season compared to just 5.5 points per game in their two losses.

Last postseason, Hibbert really stepped up. He averaged a team-leading 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals against the Heat.

But this postseason, he’s been rather inconsistent. Hibbert averaged 17.5 points per game in the Pacers’ four wins against the Washington Wizards in the conference semifinals compared to just 2.0 points per game on 22.2 percent shooting in the Pacers’ two losses.

Paul George versus LeBron

A key matchup in this series will be LeBron James against Paul George. Each superstar is likely to guard the other on most plays.

James averaged 28.8 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting in four games against the Pacers in the regular season. George averaged 21.8 points per game on 42.9 percent shooting in those games.

George has not been able to slow down James over the past two seasons. James has shot 51.5 percent when defended by George, including 21-of-42 from 3-point range.

What makes James so effective against George?

Thirty-eight percent of James’ jumpers against George have been uncontested (23 percent against all other Pacers). James has made half of his uncontested attempts against George. James is also 9-of-10 from the field on cuts to the basket when guarded by George.

James is 14-of-26 (53.8 percent) when posting up against George. James is 4-of-14 (28.6 percent) on post-up plays against all other Pacers.

Lock down Bosh

In order to defeat the Heat, the Pacers will need to focus on stopping Chris Bosh.

Bosh leads the Heat with 17 3-pointers made this postseason. Nearly 36 percent of his shot attempts have been from 3-point range, a significant increase compared to the regular season (22.9 percent).

The Pacers did a solid job of containing Bosh in the regular season. He averaged just 11.3 points per game in four games against the Pacers this season, well below his season average of 16.2 points per game.

Both teams will look to get off to a good start in Game 1 on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC). The Pacers are 10-2 all time in best-of-seven series when leading 1-0. Meanwhile, the Heat are 10-2 in Game 1s at home in the James-Wade-Bosh era (since 2011 playoffs).