Trending player: Greg Monroe, C, Detroit Pistons
This year's crop of rookies has been a bust thus far. Aside from Blake Griffin and John Wall, and second-round surprise Landry Fields, first-year players have provided relatively little production for their teams. It may be time to add Greg Monroe to that list of exceptions. The Detroit center has stepped up as a starter in the month of January, moving up to fourth among rookies in EWA, John Hollinger's measure of player value. He's fifth in Basketball Prospectus' Wins Above Replacement Player, trailing the aforementioned three players and Al-Farouq Aminu of the Los Angeles Clippers.
During the month, Monroe has averaged 10.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. His performance was highlighted by four consecutive double-doubles from Jan. 4 through 12. Monroe benefited from additional playing time with Ben Wallace sidelined by an ankle injury, averaging 33.9 minutes per game after playing just 19.3 minutes a night during November and December. Even accounting for the playing time, however, Monroe has been more effective as he adjusts to the NBA game.
Monroe has been strong on the glass all season. He's grabbed 16.0 percent of all available rebounds, good for fourth among rookies, and that figure has not changed appreciably in the month of January. What has improved has been Monroe's accuracy. He shot 44 percent from the field in November and December, but has made 58.5 percent of his attempts this month.
Instead of operating in the high post as he often did at Georgetown, Monroe has been able to hang around the basket to finish feeds from teammates or convert second chances. According to Hoopdata.com, two-thirds of Monroe's field-goal attempts this season have come at the rim. In the month of January, he's been hitting 76.9 percent of those shots. While he surely will not continue to shoot such a high percentage--Wilson Chandler and Tayshaun Prince are the lone two players so accurate at the rim in at least 100 shot attempts this season--Monroe's judicious shot selection should enable him to keep his shooting percentage safely above 50 percent. In combination with his rebounding, that will make him valuable to the Pistons, who have gone 5-6 this month as they try to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Trending team: Charlotte Bobcats
Detroit is chasing the Bobcats, who currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. A listless 9-19 a month ago when new coach Paul Silas replaced Larry Brown on the sidelines, Charlotte has since gone 8-6. While Silas has benefited from a friendly schedule--the Bobcats have played 10 of his 14 games at home--there is no question they have been a different team under his leadership. Adjusted for schedule, Charlotte's point differential with Brown was 5.0 points per game worse than average. With Silas, the Bobcats have improved to 0.8 points per game worse than average.
Charlotte has gotten better at both ends of the floor, but especially on offense. There was plenty of room for improvement, too, since the Bobcats had been scoring just 102.2 points per 100 possessions, which was 28th in the NBA. Under Silas, their offensive rating has jumped up to 106.7, which is good enough to lift Charlotte out of the league's bottom 10 offenses.
The improved efficiency has nothing to do with shooting. In fact, the Bobcats' effective field-goal percentage has actually dropped slightly. Instead, Charlotte has benefited from getting more looks at the hoop. The percentage of the team's plays that have ended in turnovers has dropped from 16.7 percent under Brown to 12.8 percent under Silas. The Bobcats were so prone to turnovers during the season's first month and a half that they are still last in the league in the category despite being better than league average since the coaching change. At the individual level, the comparison is striking. Seven of Charlotte's nine rotation players have improved their turnover rates. In some cases, the drop is a dramatic one.
Player Brown Silas
Augustin .124 .093
Brown .134 .156
Diaw .209 .149
Henderson .181 .065
Jackson .169 .142
Livingston .193 .133
Mohammed .136 .096
Thomas .143 .148
Wallace .146 .093
Rick Bonnell, the Bobcats beat writer for the Charlotte Observer, has theorized that the team is turning the ball over less because players have the freedom to take the first shot available rather than worrying about the execution of every play as they did under the notoriously strict Brown. The new philosophy has clearly paid off.
League trend: Stats at the half
Last Wednesday, the NBA passed the midpoint of the 2010-11 regular-season schedule, which makes for an ideal time to take stock of the league's overall stats as compared to this time a year ago. For the most part, they remain consistent.
Stat 09-10 10-11
Pace 91.7 91.0
ORtg 108.4 108.3
eFG% .497 .497
OR% .265 .262
TO% .130 .131
FTA/FGA .304 .307
Offensive efficiency is down ever so slightly, but the difference is small enough that a couple of hot-shooting nights could make it up. Elsewhere, there have been fluctuations in offensive rebounding and the rate of trips to the free throw line, but the only significant change in the way the NBA is playing basketball appears to be a decline in the pace of games. That means a move back toward the pace at which the league played in 2008-09 before things sped up a year ago, when the league finished the season at 91.3 possessions per regulation game.
Behind those overall numbers lie some intriguing trends. For example, three-point shooting is up from 35.1 percent during the first half of 2009-10 to 36.0 percent thus far. Since shooting tends to improve over the course of the season, that means the all-time high-water mark of 36.7 percent (set in 1995-96, when the three-point line was moved in, and matched in 2008-09) is in some danger. Overall, shooting from the field has been no better because the league-wide two-point percentage is down from 48.8 percent this time a year ago to 48.4 percent. Since there are more two-point attempts than threes, a smaller change has had an identical impact on the NBA's effective field-goal percentage.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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