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Saturday, December 24, 2011
What 2 Watch 4: NBA Season Preview

By Micah Adams and Jason Starrett, ESPN Stats & Information

With the season set to tip-off on Christmas Day, here are four major statistical storylines to keep a close eye on:

Can the Mavericks repeat?
With the departure of Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, the Dallas Mavericks will be the first defending champion since the 1998-99 Bulls to lose three of its top seven in minutes played from the previous season’s NBA Finals.

Added to the mix are Lamar Odom and Vince Carter. In Odom, the Mavericks added an incredibly efficient half-court scorer according to our video-tracking friends at Synergy Sports. Among all qualified forwards, he ranked third in the NBA in points per play in the half court, trailing only Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki.

Carter is also a good fit. Last season, only five teams scored more points on spot-up shots. In 2010-11 Carter ranked in the Top 25 in the NBA in field goal attempts per game, field goal percentage and points per game on spot-up shots.


How does Chris Paul improve the Clippers?
As a pick-and-roll ball handler last season, Chris Paul ranked sixth in the NBA in points per play among the 103 players with at least 100 pick-and-roll plays. As a team the Los Angeles Clippers ranked 17th in pick-and-roll efficiency while Paul’s old team in New Orleans ranked seventh.
Chris Paul
Paul
Look for Paul to help improve the Clippers jump-shooting woes as well. Last season the Clippers shot just 35.1 pct on jump shots which ranked dead last in the NBA. Paul ranked 20th in jump shot FG attempts, but did so with great efficiency, connecting on 44 percent. Of the 19 players which took more jumpers, only Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry and Ray Allen shot a better percentage.

While the loss of Eric Gordon hurts, consider this: accounting for three-pointers, Gordon had a 48.5 adjusted FG pct on jump shots... worse than both Paul (49.8) and Chauncey Billups (52.7).


Will youth be served in Oklahoma City?
While James Harden and Serge Ibaka continue to improve, the main focus is on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Durant is looking to become the first player since Michael Jordan in 1997-98 to lead the league in scoring three straight seasons. Westbrook meanwhile is coming off a 2010-11 season in which he emerged as one of the league’s best finishers at the rim, ranking sixth in points scored within three feet.

Perhaps the biggest concern with the Thunder is the potential for an alpha-dog dispute. Durant was the unquestioned go-to guy down the stretch during the regular season, an assumption which was then challenged by Westbrook during the postseason (see chart).

Regardless of who takes the big shots, an improvement on their combined 3-26 effort would surely bring OKC closer to a title.

Bigger impact on the East: Richard Hamilton or Tyson Chandler?
While many presume we won’t know anything new about the Miami Heat until the playoffs, the same can’t be said for the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks who added major pieces in Richard Hamilton and Tyson Chandler.

The Bulls brought in Hamilton to take the place of Keith Bogans, who despite starting all 82 games, averaged just 4.4 PPG which was the fewest among all players with at least 50 starts. With Derrick Rose having the second-highest usage rate in the NBA last season, scoring without the ball is an essential skill for all other Bulls players. Among guards, Hamilton has the fifth-most assisted FG on shots beyond 15 feet over the last three seasons.

Chandler’s most significant responsibility will be to improve a Knicks interior defense which allowed opponents to shoot 45.3 percent on post ups last season (21st in the NBA). On post up plays in which he played single coverage, Chandler held opponents to 41.4 pct shooting. That is at least 5 points better than any of the players who saw minutes at center for the Knicks last season.