Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 at 9:00 AM
For years we’ve covered the NBA Playoffs for you in-depth here at this website. Between our HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK and “Hurley Sez” columns, you’ve always been ahead of the analytical curve when it comes to understanding what it takes to pick winners.
Through those many years, the sport of pro basketball has evolved significantly. Right now, we’re seeing more of an emphasis than ever on three-pointers. That means you longtime handicappers need to adjust how you evaluate games. What used to be as important isn’t as important any more.
Here’s how JIM HURLEY currently ranks the box score stats in order of importance.
THREE-POINTERS: You saw this right away on opening day this past weekend. Philadelphia made 18 of 28 three-pointers for a blistering 64% on treys. That’s almost the same as shooting 100% on two-pointers. Nobody can compete with a team making that many bombs. It was true in the NCAA Tournament when Villanova ran away and hid from opponents (what’s in the driniing water in the City of Brotherly Love?). It was true when Golden State turned into a dominant NBA force a few years ago. You can’t necessarily win EVERY game from long range. But, you can have performances that make you impossible to beat on any given day.
Let’s also note that Toronto was 16 of 30 in its opener against Washington. This is something relatively new to the NBA…teams able to make 15 or more treys in a game at better than 50% accuracy. Golden State would occasionally pull that off. Now several teams are capable of what was once an unthinkable achievement.
The FIRST thing you should do when you study any NBA Playoff boxscore is to see what happened from the three-point line. Handicapping future games will involve evaluating who’s most likely to win that battle.
TWO-POINTERS: Protecting the rim is still important. Finding ways to get cheap dunks and layups is as well. We’ll still a lot of games where three-point shooting cancels out (both offenses were hot, or both were cold), meaning the game has to be one inside. Golden State’s opener vs. San Antonio is a good example of that. The Warriors only won “made treys” by a count of 10-9. It was a 113-92 blowout because of a 34-23 edge in two-pointers. Even if it’s not as important as it used to be…posting strong two-point defensive numbers is still going to matter as a champion is crowned. At the very least, soft inside defense is going to eliminate pretenders.
REBOUNDS: We’ve been typing the phrase “defense and rebounding wins championships” since our first day online a couple of decades ago. Nobody wins with offense alone in this sport. Golden State’s defense has been better than reported during this mini-dynasty because playing at a fast pace inflates their scores. Championship teams force stops…and the best way to force a stop is to grab a rebound after a miss. Those are a lot more common than takeaways. Be sure you know which teams shine in this area. Bet against teams who don’t.
FREE THROW ATTEMPTS: We’re most concerned here with ATTEMPTS rather than makes. Offenses who create easy scoring opportunities by drawing fouls are most likely to succeed through the brackets. That was always a big key for LeBron James as he crushed the East. Nobody could stop him in a half court game. He’d either score from in close or draw a foul and march to the free throw line. In prior eras, this stat was more about big men getting the ball inside. Now, it’s about ballhandlers penetrating to attack the rim. Same principal though…create more easy points for yourself than your opponent and you’re likely to advance.
TURNOVERS: We have to admit that this stat is losing its importance, and may ultimately become an inverse indicator. Sure, the sloppiest teams are still in trouble. If you have other weaknesses, AND you commit turnovers, good luck advancing. But, the most aggressive teams are rewarded in this sport. Turnovers are the cost of doing business if you’re trying to draw fouls…or if you’re penetrating then dishing the ball to shooters. Those extra free throws and three pointers make up for the giveaways. You saw during the college tournament that many “safe” teams just passed the ball around the arc before missing a guarded shot. Avoiding turnovers didn’t help them that much. Aggression was rewarded.
We know a lot of you prefer using systems, trends, or just betting the team with the best player because it’s his job to win the game. JIM HURLEY uses a comprehensive approach that covers a matchup from every angle. Our STATHEADS have evolved with the times, and strongly encourage you to do so as well.
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Back with you next week to talk more handicapping here in the NOTEBOOK. Be sure you visit the website daily for additional material and big play bulletins. It was true 30 years ago…and it’s just as true now. You’re always going to GET THE MONEY with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!