Bouncing puck: Passing, not shooting, is the key to scoring on the ice and the hardcourt

At 37-8, the once-middling Atlanta Hawks have the second-best record in the NBA. If they beat Brooklyn tonight, they’ll match last season’s win total with more than two months to go in the regular season. Did anyone see this coming? Yes, last year’s Hawks snuck into the playoffs and nearly knocked off the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. And observers should have noted the significant number of games the Hawks’ top players missed due to injuries last season; a healthy team couldn’t help but be better. But this much better? The most important difference seems to be a new coach, former Greg Popovich understudy Mike Budenholzer, who knows how to utilize the players he has, and a group of players that is on board with and executing their brand of team-oriented basketball.

Indeed, as numerous writers have observed,* Atlanta is scoring more by passing more. They have the fourth-best field-goal percentage, and of those field goals they make, more than sixty percent of the two-pointers and nearly ninety-three percent of the threes are assisted. Both of those rates lead the NBA. Behind them: the equally high-flying Warriors, the only team with a better record (36-7).

The principle that passing, rather than isolation play, is the best way to generate good shooting in the NBA also seems to apply in the NHL, where new research indicates that teams generally score at a higher rate on assisted shots as compared to unassisted shots. When further breaking down the assisted shooting percentage into shots generated by one pass and shots generated by two passes, the difference between assisted and unassisted shooting percentage can be extreme. One example is the Florida Panthers, with an unassisted shooting percentage of about 5.5% and a two-pass assisted shooting percentage of nearly thirteen percent.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that similar strategies would be similarly effective in generally similar sports (five active players per team engaged in free-flowing gameplay). With camera-driven player-tracking technology recently implemented in the NBA and on its way to the NHL, perhaps the rudimentary analogy set forth above can serve as a call for inter-sport collaboration between basketball and hockey analysts.

* Blogger code for, “I can’t find the article I previously read that made my precise point, so get ready for me to wave my hands over the raw data and hope you’ll buy the general premise.”

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No Place Like Home: Hawks drop game six, 95-88

pacers-hawks game 6

AD and Commodawg were at Phillips Arena– a/k/a The Highlight Factory a/k/a The Hawk’s Nest– last night with the hopes of seeing eight seed Atlanta clinch a first-round series over one seed Indiana. Instead, we saw a suddenly tentative Hawks team repeatedly surrender leads, including a four-point lead with about two minutes to go in the game, while the Pacers played as steady of a game as they have all series. I don’t know enough about the NBA to offer any real insight or analysis about what happened last night, but on the offensive side, it seemed to me that Atlanta kept finding the wrong shots for the wrong people. In particular, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, and Paul Milsap seemed to fail to fully embrace their roles on the team last night. Korver is a starter who also is a three-point specialist. He needs to make more than three treys, and he probably needs to attempt more than eight for the Hawks to win. Atlanta was good from the free-throw line as a team (87.5%, Teague was 9-9), but it would have been great to see Teague take over in this game, which neither team really seemed to want to win. In general, the Hawks need to improve their shot selection in game seven: 35.8% from the field isn’t going to cut it.

The atmosphere at the arena last night was a fun one. All the seats were filled, and everyone was dressed in red and engaged in the game from start to finish. For one night anyway, the Hawks had captured their home town’s attention. Here’s hoping they close out the Pacers on Saturday evening in Indiana and give those fans another reason to come out and support them in the postseason.

How bad are the Detroit Pistons?

Nevermind the score or the number of empty seats at The Palace, it’s the occupied seats that were of note in last night’s Mavericks-Pistons game; specifically, two seats on the Dallas bench. I have yet to read any explanation of who these guys are, but apparently professional basketball in Southeast Michigan has become such a joke that two guys who look like Jersey Shore hobos can sit in the middle of the visitors’ bench without a second look from former Detroit coach/current Dallas coach/current Jim Carey lookalike Rick Carlisle. On the other hand, maybe it’s part of some sort of fan-player reintegration following the 2004 brawl with the Pacers. The Pistons should be demoted to the And1 Mixtape Tour and exchanged for a starting five of Half Man Half Amazing, Skip 2 My Lou, The Professor, Escalade, and Sik Wit It, with player-coach Main Event coming off the bench.

(HT: Deadspin)

(UPDATE: Deadspin has identified the jabronies as a suburban Detroit “fashion entrepreneur” and his friend.)