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December 26, 2011
The NBA is Back
Notes from Christmas Day

by Kevin Pelton

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The NBA is officially back. If your Christmas Day was anything like mine, you caught NBA action when you could between family obligations. That made for an unusual opening day, but also affords the opportunity to catch up with a few key notes.

1. The Quality of Play Wasn't So Bad
Since training camps opened just 16 days ago and most teams did not finalize their rosters until much later, it was reasonable to worry about some ugly basketball all season long, let alone in the openers. Fortunately, that didn't really materialize. Check out how yesterday's statistics compared with how teams fared during the three games on the first day of the 2010-11 season:

Year    2P%    3P%   eFG%    OR%  FTM/FGA  TO%
----------------------------------------------
2010   .430   .448   .487   .289   .209   .156
2011   .463   .363   .482   .296   .252   .155

The biggest difference was that we saw far more free throws in yesterday's games--a change that cannot entirely be explained by Golden State intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan (more on that in a second). Beyond that, the numbers are relatively similar. Turnovers were actually down ever so slightly, while the overall shooting was not far off last year's pace. (Last year's three-point shooting was basically a fluke, and this year's numbers are more sustainable.)

We will need several weeks' worth of games to draw even tenuous conclusions, but so far the returns are good when it comes to the quality of play this season.

2. The Clippers Cut Their Turnovers
Give credit to SI.com's Zach Lowe for noting this in the wake of the Chris Paul trade: the turnover-prone Los Angeles Clippers are a thing of the past. The Clippers ranked 29th in the league in turnover rate each of the last two years, wasting entirely too many possessions. With Paul and Chauncey Billups now controlling the basketball, the Clippers boast two of the NBA's most sure-handed players. The results were immediate, as they turned the ball over just 10 times in about 90 possessions. That's a rate that would have easily led the league last year. (The Philadelphia 76ers were best in the league, turning the ball over 12.3 percent of the time.) In the decisive fourth quarter, the Clippers had a single turnover.

How big of a change is this for the Clippers? They turned the ball over 10 times or fewer in just seven of their 82 games a year ago, including one of their first 24.

3. Hack-a-Jordan
Thanks in large part to their sure-handed play, the Clippers scored at a rate of 116.7 points per 100 possessions. Still, Golden State coach Mark Jackson found one way to shut the Clippers' offense down: intentionally fouling center DeAndre Jordan. After the Clippers reached the bonus at the 4:20 mark of the third quarter, Jackson had his players start hacking to send the poor-shooting Jordan to the free throw line. Before Vinny Del Negro was able to make a substitution a minute and a half later, Jordan shot 10 free throws, making four of them--the equivalent of 80 points per 100 possessions.

Usually, I'm skeptical of the intentional foul because it's difficult for the math to pencil out. In this case, we might have an ideal combination of a horrendous foul shooter (Jordan made 45.2 percent of his free throws last year, which was a career high) and an efficient offense that provides an opportunity for opposing coaches. The strategy also works because Jordan is the Clippers' only capable interior defender, so when Del Negro has to pull him that's a major loss for the team.

4. No Timeout Needed for Bulls
When the Chicago Bulls came up with a steal while trailing the Los Angeles Lakers by one point in the final 20 seconds, I started screaming at the TV for a timeout. My fear was the sort of confusion that came to pass, as the Bulls nearly turned the ball over before getting it in the hands of reliable star Derrick Rose. Thereafter, the chaos played to Chicago's favor. Not only was Mike Brown unable to set his defense, he couldn't change personnel, leaving the Lakers stuck with their foul shooters on the floor. That put Derek Fisher on Rose, allowing the reigning MVP to get into the lane and eventually knock down the game-winning shot.

I'm generally agnostic when it comes to using a free throw in late-game situations. The right move, to me, depends on the situation and the personnel. What happened at the ended of the Bulls-Lakers game demonstrates why it's often wise to play on with the game on the line.

Get your copy of the most comprehensive guide to the new NBA season. Pro Basketball Prospectus 2011-12 is now available in .PDF format.

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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