Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, NBA Playoff Preview, NBA Playoffs, Nylon Calculus

Nylon Calculus: Celtics-Pacers win probabilities, assist maps, style charts and more

Previewing the first-round series between the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers with shot charts, assist maps, offensive style charts and expected win probabilities.

Shot charts

In the chart below, Jayson Tatum’s shots (as of April 4) are displayed in terms of relative density by distance. The shot areas are broken up as less than eight feet, from eight feet to 16 feet, 16 feet to 3-point distance, and then all 3s less than 32 feet. These distances are one of the ways NBA.com breaks up shot locations. Tatum has taken 373 shots in the eight-foot area, 163 shots from eight to 16 feet, 173 shots from 16 feet to the 3-point line, and 306 3s. In terms of relative density, both the mid-range and long-2 sections are slightly less than 50 percent as likely to occur than a shot at the rim. If you combine mid-range and long-2 into one area, he takes slightly less than one-third of his shots from 3, almost exactly one third in the mid-range, and slightly more than one-third of his shots at the rim.

Given that the Celtics have struggled to draw fouls this year (26th in the league at 19.7 per game), and rank highly in most shots in the midrange (fifth), long two (eighth) and percent of total points in the mid-range (fifth) it may serve them better to attack the paint to get shots at the rim and trips to the line.

The Pacers currently rank 29th in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted per game, at 25.3, and 28th in 3-pointers attempted per 100 possessions at 25.7 — either way you look at it, they certainly shoot less than might be recommended in this era of Moreyball and Steph Curry. The chart below compares the Pacers’ field goal attempt density to those of all the other combined Eastern Conference playoff teams. Red indicates areas on the floor where the Pacers are more likely to take a shot from compared to the other teams, and blue indicates where they are less likely.

You can see that the Pacers are about 1.25x more likely to shoot from the mid-range around the top of the key, and about 1.25x less likely (0.75 more likely) to take 3s, except from the left corner. Given that Bojan Bogdanovic is shooting 43 percent at approximately five attempts per game and Myles Turner is shooting 38 percent on slightly less than three per game, it might suit the Pacers to have those two players increase their usage from behind the arc.

— Andrew Patton (@anpatt7)

Offensive style chart

These charts are not meant to evaluate whether an offense is good or bad. They are designed to help illustrate how teams go about the goal of trying to put the ball in the basket. Each team’s offense is evaluated on four stylistic spectrums.

Ball movement is measured with the average touch time for each team, from the NBA’s player tracking statistics. A lower average touch time means the ball is moving from player to player more quickly.

Player movement is measured with a combination of different NBA.com tracking statistics and works out to average distance traveled per 24 seconds of offensive possession.

Pace is measured with the average length of an offensive possession from Inpredictable, a more accurate representation for how quickly a team is working than traditional pace.

Shot selection is measured with MoreyBall percentage — in this case the percentage of a team’s true shooting opportunities that came at the rim, from the free throw line, or on a 3-pointer. It’s a generalized measure but captures something about how much each team hews to the shots that are, on average, the most efficient.

The styles of both teams are fairly similar, albeit with the Pacers being slightly more constrained in their implementation of each element. The Pacers will have to make tough shots, as they have all season. The Celtics will have to hope their 3-pointers are falling.

— Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh)

Assist maps: Darren Collison

He doesn’t get national attention like his All-Star teammate Victor Oladipo, but Darren Collison is the quiet engine that keeps the Pacer offense humming. Last season, it was Collison (and not Oladipo) who led the Pacers in assists (5.3) and time of possession (4.8 minutes) per game. And following Oladipo’s season-ending quad injury, Collison’s role has expanded even more this year — with averages of 6.6 assists and 6.4 minutes of ball possession per game since Jan 23. Collison has kept the offense on track in Oladipo’s absence and helped the Pacers to secure a playoff berth.

But Collison is not Oladipo. He’s not as dynamic. In fact, Collison attacks the basket less frequently than nearly any other primary creator in the league. Among the Top 50 most-frequent ball handlers (4.2 minutes of possession per game or more), Collison’s average of 7.5 drives per game ranks as the third lowest. You can see the evidence of Collison’s playing style in his passing charts — very few of his assists are initiated near the basket, whereas a large proportion come from beyond the 3-point line, above the break. The benefit of Collison’s low-risk approach is that he rarely loses possession of the ball. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.7 is second-best among the 50 most-frequent ball handlers in the league.

However, the downside of Collison’s style is that — compared to other, more aggressive, primary ball handlers — he is less likely to generate really easy opportunities for his teammates to score. Collison gets many of his assists by deftly slipping passes to teammates on pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll actions around the top of the key. The Pacers rely more on these types of scoring opportunities than any other team; unfortunately, they also convert them less efficiently than pretty much any other team. Against the Celtics, the key for Collison offensively will be to continue to strike a balance between risk and creativity by setting up his teammates for makeable shots without turning the ball over.

— Todd Whitehead (@CrumpledJumper)

Win probabilities

To project the series, I am using my in-season game projection model. The model is trained off historical game data and accounts for rest, travel, team strength, and matchup. Since I began using the model to predict outcomes, I have been able to correctly identify the winner in about 70 percent of games.

The Celtics come into the series as pretty heavy favorites, winning in 79 percent of the 10,000 simulations. The average length of the series was 5.6 games, with the Celtics given over a 16.1 percent chance to sweep the series. As unfortunate as Oladipo’s injury has been for the Pacers, they have still put together a very strong season and stand with a not-impossible chance of upsetting the Celtics in the first round.

The most likely outcome is the Celtics winning in five games, occurring in 26.1 percent of simulations. Even with news of Marcus Smart being expected to miss the first two rounds of the playoffs with an injury, the Celtics should have enough depth and star talent to overcome the feisty Pacers. Expect the Celtics to win, but the Pacers will put up a good fight first.

Jacob Goldstein (@JacobEGoldstein)

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