The Whiteboard: Categorizing NBA offensive style for 2021-22, part 3

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images /

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Last week on The Whiteboard, I began the annual exercise of examining the offensive style of each team using the same NBA offensive style charts I’ve been building for the past years — check out part 1 (Timberwolves, Hornets, Warriors, Pacers, Pistons, Thunder) and part 2 (Lakers, Rockets, Spurs, Jazz, Cavs, Knicks, Blazers).

Today, we’re going to look at a few more teams with similar offensive styles but first, a brief recap of what these charts are and how to read them.

These charts are not meant to evaluate whether an offense is good or bad. They are designed to help illustrate how teams go about the goal of trying to put the ball in the basket. Each team’s offense is evaluated on four stylistic spectrums.

Ball movement is measured with the average touch time for each team, from the NBA’s player tracking statistics. A lower average touch time means the ball is moving from player to player more quickly.

Player movement is measured with a combination of different tracking statistics and works out to average distance traveled per 24 seconds of offensive possession.

Pace is measured with the average length of an offensive possession from Inpredictable, a more accurate representation of how quickly a team is working than traditional pace.

Shot selection is measured with MoreyBall percentage — in this case the percentage of a team’s true shooting opportunities that came at the rim, from the free-throw line, or on a 3-pointer. It’s a generalized measure but captures something about how much each team hews to the shots that are, on average, the most efficient.

On the graphs below you’ll see a line for each team’s offense. As the line moves away from the center of the graph on each axis you’re seeing more of that stylistic trait. For example, shot selection shows a (hypothetically) more efficient shot selection the further you are from the center.

Here are a few other groupings of similar offensive styles we saw this season.

NBA offensive style: Everybody runs around

These three teams all ranked above the 50th percentile in pace and player movement but well below the 50th percentile in both ball movement and shot selection. In each case, the style is heavily bent by specific ball-dominant creators who are very active in the mid-range. In the case of the Bulls, it was DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, Devin Booker and Chris Paul for the Suns and Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Interestingly, all three of these teams were above-average in efficiency, with the Grizzlies and Suns among the best in the NBA. When you have someone like Morant or Paul, who can squeeze efficiency from those zones, and surround them with the kind of mobile shooters who can leverage the pockets of space that move around them, it makes for a very abstractly efficient attack. Having LaVine and Ball healthy all season long, spotting up around DeRozan, very well could have made the Bulls a top-five offense as well this season.

NBA offensive style: Everybody runs around (but only in the halfcourt)

These two teams are an adaptation of the group of teams above, basically dropping an up-tempo pace from their attack. These teams also didn’t have the same level of primary initiators and creators as the Bulls, Grizzlies or Suns, which is one of the reasons their efficiency was much lower. Style and talent work hand-in-hand and this looks very much like two teams with average offensive talent who weren’t able to leverage any stylistic elements to offset those deficits.

NBA offensive style: Everybody runs around

The Magic and the Bucks were remarkably similar, using lots of pace, lots of off-ball movement and a generalized efficient shot selection. The ball movement is relatively low because of how much time the ball spent in the hands of a few primary creators — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton for the Bucks, Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs for the Magic. Obviously, the difference in outcome — third-best offense for the Bucks, 29th-best offense for the Magic — has everything to do with the quality of those creators.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the final group of teams, many of which don’t group together quite as cleanly. Make sure to subscribe to The Whiteboard so you don’t miss a thing.

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