Nylon Notebook: Kristaps, the clutch Thunder and the surging Timberwolves

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21: Kristaps Porzingis
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21: Kristaps Porzingis /

We’re back with another installment of Nylon Notebook, looking at a few different statistical storylines from around the NBA. All statistics are current through Dec. 20.

Another Kristaps quirk

Kristaps Porzingis has blossomed this season and his combination of size and skill is utterly unique. One of the most fun developments this season has been watching him figure out, at the most basic level, how unstoppable his height and shooting touch make him. At 7-foot-3 and with his clean mechanics, Porzingis can simply turn and shoot over the top of almost any defender.

So far this season, Porzingis has attempted 52 jumpshots where the defender was two feet or less away from him, by far the most in the league. The next highest total is DeMar DeRozan with 37. Porzingis has made 53.8 percent of these shots. Only two players, Dennis Schroder and Stephen Curry, have shot a better percentage on 15 or more attempts this season and they’ve combined for just 34 attempts to Porzingis’ 52. And to put all these marks in context, the league average on these tightly defended jumpers is 35.9 percent.

Kristaps over the top of the defense is well on its way to becoming an unstoppable weapon.

Thunder bouncing back in the clutch

One of the biggest stories early in the season was the Oklahoma City Thunder’s inability to win close games. Through the end of November they were 1-9 in games where they margin was five or less at any point in the final five minutes, and they were outscored by an average of 42.2 points per 100 possessions in those clutch minutes, the second-worst mark in the league. While that mark surely was indicative of at least some personnel and strategic issues of Oklahoma City, clutch minutes are such a small and inherently random sample that the issues were overstated by those numbers.

Since the beginning of December, Oklahoma City is 9-3 in close games, with a +8.9 points per 100 possession scoring differential, the ninth-best in the league. Their offense has been roughly league average in these scenarios but their defense has been very strong.

In addition to perhaps just benefiting from some late-game luck, the Thunder’s starting lineup began playing much better together (at least before Andre Roberson went out with injury).

The Thunder still have plenty of problems — Patrick Patterson has been a disaster, their halfcourt offense is among the worst in the league, the offensive chemistry between Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony looks incredibly disjointed. But things are nowhere near as dire as they looked in the early part of the season.

Everything has been coming up Timberwolves

Everything has been going right for the Minnesota Timberwolves lately. After their first 20 games, they sat at 12-8 but with a point differential of just +0.2 — essentially what you’d expect from a league average team. Since then, they are 17-9 with a +7.2 point differential, the second best in the league over that time span.

A look at the five-game rolling averages of their offensive and defensive ratings (thanks to Positive Residual’s rolling average charts) shows just how dramatic the change has been.

The Timberwolves are absolutely peaking right now. Although their improved defense has gotten plenty of attention their offense has been fantastic as well. Over this recent 26-game run they’ve had the 10th-best defense in the league and have been tied with the Houston Rockets for the second-most efficient offense.

Next: Nylon Calculus -- How have team offensive play types changed?

It remains to be seen if they can sustain this level of performance at both ends over the rest of the season but right now they’re playing as well as could be expected.