The All-Anomaly Team: NBA outliers pulling off strange statistical feats
"The Point Forward All-Stars" centers on a single shared trait that brings its team members together. This week: five statistical goofballs from the opening month of the 2015-16 season.
The NBA statistics community gives the government a run for its money when it comes to acronyms: PER, WARP, RAPM, USG, VA, EFG, FBI, CIA, TSA, NSA, EPA. While some fans still find the clunky lingo and numbers-based evaluation off-putting, the opening month of the regular season is always full of enticing statistical production. Small sample sizes = good times.
With that in mind, here’s SI.com’s second annual All-Anomaly Team, highlighting players whose unique statistical work just might be worthy of a chuckle or two. These five players have stuck out from box scores like a handful of sore thumbs, in good ways and bad. Last year’s list is right here.
All stats through Tuesday’s games and via NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
1. The Chucking Giant: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks
There are a million things to love about Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis. His name. His smile. His confidence. His childhood cornrows. His all-optimism, aww-shucks approach to the draft night boos. His professed love of New York City and the limelight. His signature putback dunks. His insane upside.
Here’s one more thing to love about Porzingis: the versatile Latvian big man doesn’t lie about his list height. He’s not quote-unquote “6-foot-11” like so many players who were too shy or stubborn or self-conscious or whatever to be listed as 7-footers, or who were too wary of the various stigmas associated with being listed at a center’s height while enjoying time on the perimeter.
Gone are the days of Kevin Garnett “famously being referred to as “6-foot-13”. The Knicks’ website puts Porzingis down at 7’3”—which makes him one of just 25 NBA players in Basketball-Reference.com’s database (which goes back to 1946) to be listed at that height or taller.
Why does this even matter? Because, as Porzingis’s career unfolds, the height listing will help put his unique skillset into context. Consider this: through 12 games, Porzingis has already attempted 34 three-pointers. That’s already the sixth-most, ever, for a player standing 7-foot-3 or taller in a season.
Players with most 3-point attempts in a season (7'3" or taller)
• Arvydas Sabonis (7'3"): 132 in 1997
• Arvydas Sabonis (7'3"): 115 in 1998
• Arvydas Sabonis (7'3"): 104 in 1996
• Manute Bol (7'7"): 91 in 1989
• Zydrunas Ilgauskas (7'3"): 39 in 2009
• Kristaps Porzingis (7'3"): 34 in 2016 (through 12 games)
At his current rate, Porzingis should smash Sabonis’s all-time record this season, thereby becoming the most prolific three-point chucking giant of all time. It’s also worth noting that none of the other players listed at 7'3" or taller this season—San Antonio’s Boban Marjanovic, Utah’s Tibor Pleiss, and Atlanta’s Walter Tavares—has attempted even one three-pointer.
Although Porzingis’s 26.5% outside shooting leaves something to be desired, it’s important to remember that he’s still just 20 years old and he’s still a rookie. Point guards D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, both selected in the lottery, aren’t shooting much better from deep so far this season.
Open Floor guests: Paul Millsap dishes on Hawks; Frank Isola on Knicks
Even if Porzingis hadn’t hit two three-pointers on Tuesday night—on his way to a career-high 29 points and 11 rebounds—there would be every reason to believe that the long ball will remain in his arsenal for the balance of his career. This isn’t a gimmick or an experiment. Porzingis is fluid enough to get to his spots, he’s functional as a pick-and-pop target, his stroke is smooth enough, and he possesses a scorer’s mentality. All told, he’s a nightmare cover if the NBA continues forward along the pace-and-space track as expected. If Porzingis proves capable of handling a center’s responsibilities on defense and functioning as a stretch-four on offense, it’s scary to think how potent an offense built around him, one skilled backcourt play-maker and three capable shooters could be.
For an early taste of the possibilities, savor Porzingis’s best three-point attempt of the season—a game-winning trey that was waved off after the buzzer.
Before you get too angry that the pass was at his knees, just remember that his knees are basically waist-height for an average human. The whole world—including his team—is still adjusting to Porzingis, a mold-breaker if there ever was one.
2. The Gunk-It-Upper: Kyle Singler, Thunder
Trivia time. Name the Thunder player who leads the NBA in minutes played without registering an assist to date. Dion Waiters? Incorrect. Anthony Morrow? Nope. Enes Kanter? Wrong again. Dion Waiters? Still wrong. Andre Roberson? No. Dion Waiters? Seriously, it’s not Dion Waiters. I would definitely, gleefully, tell you if it was him.
The answer? Kyle Singler. And he’s blowing away the competition.
Most minutes played without an assist
• Kyle Singler, Thunder: 0 assists in 138 minutes
• Omer Asik, Pelicans: 0 assists in 84 minutes
• Rashad Vaughn, Bucks: 0 assists in 62 minutes
• Anthony Bennett, Raptors: 0 assists in 44 minutes
• Jeff Withey, Jazz: 0 assists in 33 minutes
What’s crazy about this list is that Singler isn’t a defensive-minded center like Asik and Withey and he isn’t an unproven youngster like Vaughn (a shoot-first rookie) and Bennett (a bust). This is a guy who was named Most Outstanding Player for guiding Duke to the 2010 NCAA title and who pulled in a five-year, $25 million contract last July. Five years! And it seemed like a defensible move at the time.
Singler is simply in an early-season funk so funky that it rivals the Grizzlies’ “Memphis Sounds” throwback jerseys. He’s averaging 2.6 points per game on 22.2% shooting, he’s committed 10 turnovers in addition to his zero assists, and he’s the only minutes-qualified player with a negative Player Efficiency Rating. If you had to boil down his season to a single play, this would definitely be it.
Sure, he’s playing a complementary role alongside Kevin Durant (when healthy) and Russell Westbrook so touches and play-making opportunities are harder than usual to come by. But, still, this is a former McDonald’s All-American known for playing a heady, low-usage, team-first style who is in his prime at age 27. What the heck is going on here?
Eventually, one would assume that Singler will pull out of this and get his overall numbers closer to his still-modest career levels. Oklahoma City will need to hope so as its rotation is lacking in proven, consistent parts. If Singler pulls himself together, he could see real minutes in the postseason when teams go small and try to force the Thunder’s big men off the court. If not, it’s gulp city.
3. The Pass-Firster: T.J. McConnell, Sixers
Lost in the justified hubbub over the 12-0 Warriors’ march to greatness has been the Sixers’ counter-march to despair (again). Philadelphia is indeed up to its old tricks again, making the wrong kinds of history. The Sixers are not only the NBA’s lone winless team at 0-11, but they’re also riding a 21-game losing streak that dates back to March 25.
How bad is it? Legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich openly marveled at Sixers coach Brett Brown’s ability to keep showing up for work after three years of perpetual defeats. Rookie Jahlil Okafor’s alma mater, Duke, has already won two more games than Philadelphia, even though the Blue Devils opened their season last Friday.
Philadelphia has a chance to set new records for most consecutive losses (26, they tied this mark in 2013-14) and the worst start to a season (0-18, set by the 2008-09 Nets). Over the last 10 seasons, the only two teams with a worse point differential through 11 games than these Sixers (-12.8) are last year’s Sixers (-16.4) and the 2009-10 Timberwolves (-13.8). Even more remarkably, the Sixers’ 91.2 offensive rating is more than five points worse than any other team in the league. The difference between Philadelphia and No. 29 Brooklyn (96.4) is the same as Brooklyn and the league’s No. 12 offense. Just look at these runts.
The impotence is hardly surprising, given that GM Sam Hinkie traded away Michael Carter-Williams at last year’s deadline, chose Okafor instead of a point guard in the 2015 draft, and failed to sign an impact guard in free agency. Toss in injuries of various severity to Joel Embiid, Tony Wroten, Kendall Marshall, Carl Landry and Robert Covington and this was only going to be a mess.
On the bright side, this intentional short-term roster mismanagement and string of injuries has introduced the world to T.J. McConnell, who just might be the NBA’s weirdest player statistically right now. The 23-year-old point guard, who went undrafted out of Arizona this year, simply defies comparison, so much so that he tops the charts in two “All-Anomaly” categories.
First up, he’s killing Rajon Rondo at his own game. At this time last year, SI.com noted that Rondo—notorious for thinking pass first, second and third—was one of a small handful of players who had registered more assists than shot attempts. This year, McConnell has taken over that mantle by dishing 76 assists while shooting just 68 times in 11 games. Remember, Brown is asking McConnell to play big minutes: he’s started eight times and he’s played more total time than anyone except Okafor. That +8 assist/shot differential is the highest in the NBA (out of 400+ players who have logged time) and he’s one of only two regular rotation players in the entire NBA to have a positive differential.
Players with more assists than field goal attempts
• T.J. McConnell, Sixers: +8 in 327 minutes
• Joakim Noah, Bulls: +3 in 190 minutes
• Nate Robinson, Pelicans: +3 in 23 minutes
• Jonathon Simmons, Spurs: +2 in 9 minutes
• Sasha Kaun, Cavaliers: +1 in 7 minutes
• James Ennis, Grizzlies: +1 in 7 minutes
• Cristiano Felicio, Bulls: +1 in 1 minute
4. The Contact-Avoider: T.J. McConnell, Sixers
McConnell fully deserves two spots on this year’s All-Anomaly Team, as his assists/shots differential isn’t even his weirdest statistical attribute.
Because McConnell’s individual scoring game is so limited, and because he fully understands that, he’s done his absolute best to stay in his lane. Like, he’s driving 40 miles per hour in a Prius with both hands on the wheel. A school bus and an 18-wheeler are passing him in the left lane. His cell phone is turned off and stored in his glove box. The car radio is tuned to the AM station that gives out road conditions and set to an appropriate decibel level.
Even though he’s played 327 minutes, which ranks No. 66 in the league, McConnell has yet to take a single free throw. Not one! He’s by far and away the league leader when it comes to minutes played without a single free throw attempt. Look at this list.
Most minutes played without a free throw attempt
• T.J. McConnell, Sixers: 0 FTA in 327 minutes
• Marcus Thornton, Rockets: 0 FTA in 261 minutes
• Trevor Booker, Jazz: 0 FTA in 188 minutes
• E’Twaun Moore, Bulls: 0 FTA in 183 minutes
• Anthony Morrow, Thunder: 0 FTA in 149 minutes
At this time last year, SI.com pointed out that Hornets forward Marvin Williams was leading the league in minutes played without a free throw attempt. That made sense: Williams was a stretch forward acting as a release valve, who opened the season playing alongside a high-usage point guard in Kemba Walker, a high-usage two guard in Lance Stephenson, and a high-usage center in Al Jefferson.
McConnell might be following in Williams’s footsteps, but his accomplishment is so much more impressive because he’s in the middle of the action constantly. According to the NBA’s SportVU tracking data, McConnell ranks ninth in the NBA in total touches. Ninth! The eight players above him are all lead guards (James Harden, Russell Westbrook, etc.) and they have averaged 67 free throws a piece this year. Then there’s McConnell: zero.
This isn’t really a Rondo situation, where he avoids the charity stripe at all costs because he’s liable to chuck up an airball at any moment. No, McConnell shot 74.9% on more than 200 free-throw attempts during his four-year college career and SportVU credits him with 8.5 drives per game (more than LeBron James!). This is really just next-level caution.
He’s like a game-manager quarterback who is suddenly asked to protect a glass vase instead of the pigskin, or like the basketball-playing version of by-the-book referee Ed Malloy. McConnell is staying far, far away from trouble, choosing instead to pick his spots as a jump shooter and to put up carefully-considered runners after slowly probing the paint. It also helps that his presence rarely draws help defenders, who prefer to stick tight to Okafor and others while letting him do whatever he wants.
Ultimately, McConnell goes down as Hinkie’s latest unsightly experiment. What happens if you put an undrafted and untested player who was pegged by Draft Express as a third-string point guard into a starting role and give him limited support on the wings and no experienced big men? What happens when that player isn’t a reliable three-point shooter and he never gets to the line? A terrible offense and a horrible record, of course.
Kudos to McConnell for stepping up when called upon. Shame on Hinkie for not having more legitimate supporting personnel to aid Okafor’s development.
5. The Rain-Maker: Stephen Curry, Warriors
Of course, everyone knows that the anomaly of all anomalies this season is Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who has been absolutely out of his mind in leading Golden State to a perfect 12-0 start. In case you’re curious, Curry has scored 404 points through 12 games, which is tied for the fifth-most in the three-point era (behind Michael Jordan twice, Kobe Bryant and Alex English). He’s so red-hot it often seems unfair: his current 35 Player Efficiency Rating is four points higher than No. 2 Blake Griffin, his .689 True Shooting % blows away the marks posted by other high-volume shooters, he’s averaging more made three-pointers per game (5.2) than the Timberwolves (5.1) and Nets (4.7), and he already passed his father, Dell, on the NBA’s all-time three-point makes list.
Curry has become even more ruthless in his three-point shooting this season. Let’s quickly take a look back at last year, when he led the league in threes made. Here’s a chart that shows the 10 players who made the most three-pointers last year, arranged from left to right, along with their three-point rate. Curry hit a three-pointer every 9.1 minutes last season, Klay Thompson hit one every 10.3 minutes last season, and so on. Note that Curry led the pack but marksmen like Thompson, Kyle Korver, and Wesley Matthews were in a similar ballpark.
Now, here’s this year’s list. Curry is essentially lapping the field—hitting one three-pointer every 6.9 minutes played—and he’s way ahead of his own pace from last season.
What’s most remarkable about this: the level of creativity and ingenuity that Curry needs to possess to even generate these looks. The book has been out on him for years. He’s an unreal shooter. He can pull from anywhere. He likes to chuck in transition. He will work hard off the ball if necessary. Teams double him, they trap him, they press him, they go over on his high screens. And yet Curry still finds ways to get clean looks and Golden State still consistently generates opportunities for its nuclear weapon.
Even when you compare Curry to other, lower-volume three-point specialists, he wins out with ease.
Players with highest three-point rate (minimum 20 attempts)
• Stephen Curry, Warriors: 1 every 6.9 minutes
• Doug McDermott, Bulls: 1 every 9.8 minutes
• Nick Young, Lakers: 1 every 9.8 minutes
• Channing Frye, Magic: 1 every 10.2 minutes
• Mirza Teletovic, Suns: 1 every 10.4 minutes
Curry’s love of the hunt—he is basketball’s purest sniper—is the single biggest driver of the Warriors’ excellent start. His desire to hit threes is unrelenting, and it leads to threes for Curry, layups for him when teams overplay him, runners for Draymond Green when teams double him, dunks for Festus Ezeli and Andrew Bogut when teams mess up their interior rotations after Curry sucks them out, and wide-open corner threes for Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes on the extra pass when teams try to take away Curry at the top of the key.
As long as Curry is prowling for his looks, defenses can’t relax, the high-percentage looks flow and Golden State chugs along near the top of the offensive efficiency leaderboard. Indeed, the Warriors rank No. 1 at 110.7 entering Wednesday’s action. Does anyone believe Curry will take his foot off the gas any time soon?