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January 17, 2011
Trend Watch
Bucks Surviving Jennings Injury, Marion Scoring More, Offensive Rebounding Down

by Kevin Pelton

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Trending Team: Milwaukee Bucks surviving Brandon Jennings' absence

As John Hollinger has been reminding us, the Bucks might have the NBA's most misleading record. Though Milwaukee is just 14-23 this season, the Bucks have an excellent chance of making the playoffs because they've already played the toughest section of their schedule. Hollinger's Power Rankings would not be so enamored of Milwaukee, however, were it not for the way the team has overcome the absence of starting point guard Brandon Jennings. The broken left foot that has sidelined Jennings since Dec. 18 could have been devastating to a Bucks team that was off to a slow start, but Milwaukee has done an excellent job of weathering the storm.

Because the competition has been so challenging, the Bucks' 4-8 record without Jennings fails to tell the whole story. Accounting for both opposition (10 out of 12 games have come against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today) and location (eight of 12 on the road), Milwaukee's schedule in that span has averaged 3.6 points more difficult than the typical game. As a result, the Bucks' minus-2.6 point differential without Jennings really means the team has been a point per game better than average. By contrast, Milwaukee was 0.8 points per game worse than average prior to Jennings' injury.

That's not to say Jennings was holding the Bucks back. Milwaukee simply could not score early in the season, a trend that had already started to improve in the seven games before Jennings went down. Over that period, he led a team solidly better than average.

Stretch            AdjOff   AdjDef   AdjPD
------------------------------------------
First 17 games      -7.1     +3.7     -2.1
Next 7 games        -2.7     +6.2     +2.5
W/o Jennings        -2.9     +3.1     +1.0

From this perspective, the numbers suggest that the Bucks might miss Jennings more at the defensive end than on offense. That could be another indication that Jennings is an underrated defensive force, but it also surely has to do with Earl Boykins playing more minutes as Milwaukee's backup point guard. At 5-foot-5, Boykins can be potent as a scorer but is badly limited defensively.

Trending Player: Shawn Marion, SF/PF, Dallas Mavericks

While the Mavericks struggled to score points with Caron Butler and Dirk Nowitzki out of the lineup, don't blame Marion. Stepping into the starting lineup to replace Nowitzki at power forward, Marion picked up his offense. Previously a secondary option in the Dallas attack, Marion used 23 percent of the team's plays when Nowitzki was out, similar to his usage rate during his heyday with the Phoenix Suns.

Ordinarily, we'd expect that kind of increase in the amount a player is creating to be accompanied by lower efficiency, but Marion also improved his True Shooting Percentage from 53.2 percent prior to Nowitzki's injury to 61.3 percent without him. That's a better mark than Marion has posted in any season of his career.

At this point, Marion might be more effective at power forward, because he has become such a complete non-shooter. Despite his unorthodox form, Marion made nearly 40 percent of his three-point attempts in 2001-02 and 2002-03. Gradually, he became a below-average shooter beyond the arc before ultimately losing any ability to make triples. He has hit just four three-pointers all season long and cut down on his attempts as a starter, attempting four three-pointers in the 10 games Nowitzki missed.

Instead of hanging around the perimeter, Marion has been playing in the paint, where he remains very dangerous. According to Hoopdata.com, Marion ranks 10th in the league in shooting at the rim (73.9 percent) among players with at least 100 such attempts. The percentage of his attempts that have been taken at the rim increased from 31.9 percent to 35.5 percent in Nowitzki's absence, accounting for much of his improved shooting. It will be important for Dallas to make sure that Marion still gets those kinds of looks, now that he has shifted back to small forward with Nowitzki's return to the lineup on Saturday night.

League Trend: Offensive rebounding reaches new lows

Earlier this season, we found that the NBA-wide trend toward increased three-point attempts may finally have leveled off. The same cannot be said of the other league-wide evolution that has been ongoing for decades. Since the early 1980s, the percentage of all available rebounds secured by the offense has steadily been going downhill. This year's offensive rebound percentage (26.2 percent) would be the lowest in recorded league history, just eclipsing last year's 26.3 percent mark.

While the NBA's offensive rebound percentage has fluctuated a bit, the overall trend is consistent and negative. In the early 1980s, about one in every three rebounds was grabbed by an offensive player. Now, that figure is barely better than one in four.

Why? The biggest reason is the emphasis coaches now place on transition defense. Where they once might have sent everyone but the point guard to the offensive glass, most coaches now want multiple players to get back on defense to prevent against early scores. That explains why there is little connection between offensive rebounding and team success. For example, the Boston Celtics are on pace to tie last year's Golden State Warriors for the lowest team offensive rebound percentage in NBA history, collecting just 20.9 percent of available boards. But that hasn't stopped the Celtics from winning at the league's second-best clip thus far.

The other factor is the rise of the three-point shot. While three attempts tend to be rebounded by the offense more often than long twos, the most likely shots to produce offensive rebounds are those taken in the paint. Meanwhile, the move toward big men spacing the floor on the perimeter keeps them from contributing on the offensive glass.

At some point, the league is bound to hit a point where offensive rebounding is in fact undervalued and percentages either plateau or rebound slightly. We've yet to reach that equilibrium, however, and all indications are that offensive rebounding will continue to trend downward.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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