NBA Playoff Preview, NBA Playoffs, Nylon Calculus, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers

Nylon Calculus: Trail Blazers-Thunder win probabilities, assist maps, style charts and more

Previewing the first-round series between the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder with shot charts, assist maps, offensive style charts and expected win probabilities.

Shot charts

Aside from the stellar play of Damian Lillard, the story for the Blazers heading into the playoffs is the injury status of CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. According to Joe Freeman of The Oregonian, CJ is rehabbing a with an eye on returning during the postseason, while Nurkic is certainly out. Losing their second- and third-best players (order them how you please) is an enormous blow to their chances to advance past the first round. The chart below shows the combined approximate area field goal percentage for McCollum and Nurkic to show exactly what the Blazers have lost. McCollum brings his usual midrange excellent and solid shooting from 3, while Nurkic was finishing well at the rim. Even if McCollum does return, it seems doubtful he picks up where he left off given the time he’s missed and the increased intensity of playoff basketball.

The Thunder have been led offensively all season by the combination of Russell Westbrook and Paul George. However, Westbrook has been shooting historically poorly from both behind the arc (28.6 percent on 5.6 attempts per game) and on 2-pointers (47.8 percent on 14.7 attempts per game), resulting in a true shooting of 49.8 percent with a fairly monstrous 30.2 percent usage. In contrast, George is 39 percent from 3, with a true shooting of 58.5 percent and a 28.4 percent usage. Despite Westbrook’s offensive inefficiency, the Thunder have the 16th-best offense by offensive rating. The chart below breaks out Westbrook’s and George’s shooting attempt density and approximate area field goal percentage.

— 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.

— Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh)

Assist maps: Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook led the league in assists this season; he had 784 of them. For some context, that’s more assists than Damian Lillard (551) and CJ McCollum (207) had put together. And we know — you’re smart — you’re not impressed by gaudy counting stats like these, but it’s just a good reminder that this assist chart is only a sample of his larger portfolio (only 50 plays logged). Still, we can spot some interesting passing tendencies, here.

First, we notice the well-worn path of assists from around the left elbow to the right side of the rim — these were mostly lobs to Steven Adams. In fact, according to the NBA’s play-by-play data, Westbrook lofted 71 alley-oops this season, with more than half of them going to Adams.

Second, we notice several kick-outs from the lane to the corners for 3-pointers. Interestingly — at least in our sample of plays — Westbrook tended to dish more assists to the right side than to the left. Despite his right-handedness, Westbrook’s passing lanes are reminiscent of James Harden’s charts — the two players seem to have a similar preference for left-to-right lobs and corner kick-outs.

Here’s one more silly tidbit about Westbrook’s assists: he likes to jump up in the air a lot when he is passing. Well, he likes to kick, turn his head in the wrong direction, and skip when he is passing, too — he can really do it all! But he LOVES to jump up in the air.  More than a third of the Westbrook assists we logged were made in midair. These passes are fun and cool-looking, but they are also practical because they increase Westbrook’s functional height.

Think about it: When was the last time you heard somebody refer to Westbrook as “small”? Never, right? Even though he is the same height (6-foot-3) as the “diminutive” Lillard. Westbrook’s frequent jump passing may help explain why people overlook his stature. He uses his jump passes to get better angles on lobs and kick-outs, helping him to see the court like a bigger player and thereby avoiding turnovers. Matched up against the like-sized Lillard in the first round, Westbrook should be able to utilize his jump passes effectively to open up opportunities for Adams and the Oklahoma City 3-point shooters.

— 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 Thunder come into the series as slight favorites, winning in 59 percent of the 10,000 simulations. The average length of the series was 5.8 games, with the Thunder given nearly a nine percent chance to sweep the series. The lone likely upset of the first round, the Thunder will need to continue their strong defense to hold off the Blazer’s backcourt. As unfortunate as Nurkic’s injury is for the Blazers, this matchup may be the best shot they have to advance out of the first round. This will be a very fun, back and forth series. The Thunder will probably win, but not after surviving a fight from the Blazers.

Jacob Goldstein (@JacobEGoldstein)

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