NBA Western Conference Finals: Suns Favorites over the Clippers, Key Performance Analysis

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Phoenix Facing the Kawhi-less Clippers for a Chance at a Championship Ring

The NBA Western Conference Finals start on Sunday with the Phoenix Suns having home court advantage over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Suns made it to the WCF after sweeping the Denver Nuggets. A series of great performances, led by Devin Booker and Chris Paul, place the Suns as the series favorites. The Clippers on the other hand will have to make it work without their star Kawhi Leonard.

Key players improved their performance in the playoffs

We had a look at the change in usage percentage and true shooting percentage for both Suns and Clippers players. Inspired by data visualization master Owen Phillips, we created the below view to see how players’ performance changed.

Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers player performance: Usage and Scoring Efficiency comparison of regular season and playoff performance.

What stands out for the Suns players

  • Devin Booker‘s usage dropped slightly and his efficiency improved.
  • Chris Paul saw his usage increase a little bit, with efficiency stable.
  • Deandre Ayton had fewer but better attempts under the basket. His TS% grew from 65% to 73%.
  • Mikal Bridges‘ usage was unchanged and his efficiency improved by around 10%.
  • Jae Crowder‘s usage remained at around 15% and his efficiency improver around 5%
  • Cameron Payne‘s usage increased from ~20% to 25%. It came with an almost 10% drop in true shooting percentage.

What stands out for the Clippers players

  • Kawhi Leonard‘s efficiency improved by over 5%. Combined with his consistent high usage rate of around 30%, he was a crucial part of the Clippers playoff series wins.
  • Paul George was as good as he was all year. Sharing the same usage as Kawhi, his efficiency only slightly dropped.
  • Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Terrance Mann, and Nicolas Batum all put up some good numbers. Their sharp increase in true shooting percentage makes those numbers even more valuable.
  • Marcus Morris Sr. failed to keep up his good true shooting percentage.
  • Rajon Rondo‘s true shooting percentage dropped significantly.
phoenix suns and los angeles clippers player performance regulars season vs playoffs
Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers player performance: Usage and Scoring Efficiency comparison of regular season and playoff performance.

Pace, Ratings, and Four Factors paint a better picture of the playoff challenges

Latest academic research in the field of basketball analytics stress the importance of metrics such as pace, ratings, and the four factors. Inspired by the great book Basketball Data Science with Applications in R, we had a look at how the Suns and the Clippers performed as a team. Anyone interested in basketball analytics should definitely get their hands on a copy. The BasketballAnalyzeR R package is simply amazing.

Some background and definitions

  • Pace is the number of possessions per minute. Both the pace of the team in question and their opponents are considered.
  • Offensive and defensive ratings refer to the number of points scored per 100 possessions.
  • The Four Factors were defined by Dean Oliver in 2002 in his book Basketball on Paper. They answer the question “what are the main strategies related to success?”. The Four Factors can be simply described as Score, Protect, Crash, and Attack:
    • Effective Field Goal Percentage
    • Turnover Ratio
    • Rebound Percentage
    • Free Throw Rate
Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers Pace, Ratings, and Four Factors. Comparison of regular season vs playoffs.

The Suns and the Clippers’ identical regular season pace slightly changed in the playoffs

The Suns pace is generally a bit slower than their opponents. They slowed down their tempo slightly in the playoffs against the Lakers and the Nuggets by around 2 fewer possessions per game. The Clippers on the other hand had around 5 fewer possessions per game in the playoffs compared to their regular season.

The Suns greatly improved defensively and the Clippers greatly improved offensively

Despite facing tougher opponents in the playoffs, Phoenix improved their defensive rating by around 5%. This is shown by both the Ratings graph as well as the Shooting Factor graph. The y-axis, which refers to the opponents, has a nice drop in both graphs. Their offensive rating was on par with the playoffs. They forced the Lakers and the Nuggets to below 50% eFG%, a great feat.

The Clippers had Kawhi leading them to great offensive performances. They had no other option since Luka Doncic was unstoppable in the first round. They scored an additional 7.5 points per 100 possessions. Also, their effective field goal percentage increased by over 2 percentage points. The Clippers were more focused with the ball and decreased their turnover ratio by almost 15%. They were taken to the free throw line more often.

An exciting series expected, even with Kawhi out and CP3 in COVID-19 protocols. Are you psyched too?

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