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Statistical beacons of hope for Nuggets fans

Our resident statisticians Matt and Chris explain why there's plenty of hope yet for the Nuggets in this series against the Oklahoma City Thunder...

Everyone knows about Dennis Green’s famous rant after his Arizona Cardinals blew a big lead in an October 2006 game.

"THEY. ARE. WHO. WE. THOUGHT. THEY. WERE!!!"

Well, the same basic principles hold true in NBA basketball.  Players are generally who we think they are, in that they typically perform at the level they have in the past.  For example, when DeShawn Stevenson was leading the league in three-point shooting percentage after about twenty games (he was shooting 53.6%), we knew that it would not hold up.  And sure enough, he shot 33.2% for the rest of the season.  You know what his career rate was before this year?  33.4%.  So he "struggled" over the last 60 games of the season, not because of some slump, but because he is DeShawn Stevenson. 

This analysis is also relevant to team performance.  And this is where Nuggets fans can find some hope from last night’s game. 

The Thunder shot incredibly well on jump shots last night.  Here are the numbers:

Distance            Percentage

3-9 Feet            41.7%

10-15 Feet            55.6%

16-23 Feet            41%

3 Pointers            47.4%

Here are the Thunder’s numbers from the whole season:

Distance            Percentage

3-9 Feet            34.7%

10-15 Feet            39.3%

16-23 Feet            39.1%

3 Pointers            34.7%

In other words, the Thunder outperformed expectations in every single distance of jump shooting last night.  In particular, Durant and Westbrook far outshot their expectation for shots greater than 16 feet from the basket.  And most of these shots were not wide open, which is one reason why a team might be outperforming expectations. As the series continues, the Thunder cannot expect to get such good production from long jump shots, even from great players like Durant and Westbrook.   

Additionally, there is another performance from last night that will revert to more normal levels: the Nuggets’ free throw shooting.  The Nuggets shot 63.7% on free throws last night on 33 shots.  Based on the players who took those shots, we would expect that the Nuggets would have made three more free throws throughout the course of the game.  In a close game, that can make a huge difference.  

Kevin Pelton said something very interesting last night.  He tweeted: "Worst playoff analysis IMO: X happened in Game 1 but won't in Game 2, so the other team will win. Each game is its own ecosystem."  He's exactly right.  None of this means that the Nuggets will win; it just means that moving forward, we can expect that the Thunder will not score as easily on jump shots as they did last night and that the Nuggets will shoot better from the free throw line. 

Both things bode well for Nuggets fans for Game 2 and the rest of the series.  

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