Small Sample Sizes Make the Best NBA Statistics

Is there anything better than gross overreaction to a hot start in any sport?

Two or three games into a season, when the Law of Averages Police have not yet been called in to restore order, a guy who had a big game or two still has gaudy counting stats, a team that smashed their opening-night opponent has the kind of net rating that you’d expect from a team that wins 250 games in an 82-game season, and fans start dreaming of horrifically unsustainable statistical runs that nonetheless pop off the page.

Don’t believe me? Consider the following!

If Trae Young keeps up his 38.5 points per game over the season, he will become the only player in NBA history not named Wilt Chamberlain or Michael Jordan to score 3,000 points in a season.

James Harden has made 25 free throws so far in two Houston Rockets games. If he keeps it up, he will break Jerry West‘s record of 840 made free throws in a season.

Speaking of Harden, he’s shooting 23.8 percent (10-of-42) this season. If he keeps it up, he will finish the year 410-of-1722.

The worst FG% in BAA/NBA history from a player who took at least 1,000 shots belongs to Joe Fulks of the 1947-48 Philadelphia Warriors, who shot 25.8 percent in the league’s second year in existence.

Only one player since 1960 has shot worse than even 36 percent over a full season—Kobe Bryant‘s 35.8 percent mark in 2015-16 is the worst FG% since John F. Kennedy got elected president.

Along the same lines, Harden has hit just 11.5 percent of his shots from 3-point land, going 3-of-26.

Of players to take at least 400 3-pointers (roughly 5 a game) in a season since the creation of the arc, the worst percentage is 28.5, belonging to…you guessed it, Kobe Bryant in his Yellow and Purple Brick Road tour in 2015-16. Russell Westbrook‘s 29.0 percent last year was third-worst all-time (Jason Williams is in second-worst place) and worst among active players.

Have fun with that sky-high 3PAR, Rockets fans.

Donovan Mitchell currently leads the league in Win Shares with 0.9. That is nearly half of his team’s actual win total through three games (the Jazz are 2-1.)

If Mitchell keeps this pace up, he’ll finish the year with approximately 27 WS. That’s more wins than four whole teams managed last year and would break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s record of 25.37 WS set in 1971-72 with the Milwaukee Bucks.

All of the top 25 players for WS in a single season (including LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who are still active but mortal locks for inclusion) are in the Hall of Fame. If you exclude Bob Feerick and Alex Groza (who played in the NBA’s dinosaur days), everyone in the top 100 is either in the Hall or active/recently retired and likely to get in. Only Chauncey Billups (No. 94) is in any real doubt, and he probably belongs.

Speaking of the Spida, his WS/48 this season is .431. A team full of nothing but Donovan Mitchells would be expected to win 177 games in an 82-game season. Step it up, rest of the Jazz!

Jonathan Isaac is off to a solid start in the Magic’s first two games as he makes his case for Most Improved Player, and he has blocked six shots in 49 minutes.

His block percentage, 10.8, is right up there with Manute Bol‘s NBA record 10.81, which Bol achieved twice in the 1980s.

In fact, Bol is the only man in NBA history to post a 10.0 or higher BLK% in a season in which he played enough minutes to be eligible for the record (Mitchell Robinson hit 10.0 as a rookie but only played about 1,300 minutes.)

Speaking of Harden and futility, he’s turned the ball over 15 times so far this season, on pace to annihilate his own NBA record of 464 set in the 2016-17 season.

In fact, Harden has led the NBA in turnovers five times, including four of the last five years, so he’s going to have to get a trophy commissioned by Nestle full of Butterfingers to hoist after the season is done.

Do you like 3-pointers? Of course you do if you read this site regularly.

Well, Devonte’ Graham of the Hornets has made 12 of them in Charlotte’s first two games this year.

That puts him on pace to make 492 for the season, shattering the record held by Stephen Curry.

He’s also making 75 percent of them; that’s tops among players with at least one miss, and the most attempts without a miss so far is just three (Ryan Arcidiacono is 3-of-3 from long range with the Bulls.)

Graham is just 24. Move over, Steve Kerr, you’ve got a guy who’s going to push your career accuracy record (45.4 percent; Kerr was so good that he had an eFG% of .681 on 3-pointers in his career, the kind of eFG% you usually expect from a center who plays his whole career at the rim.)

Speaking of 2-point specialists, Montrezl Harrell is 24-of-30 from the field this season, all of them 2-point shots. That 80 percent seeks to shatter Wilt Chamberlain’s single-reason record of 72.7 percent, just in case you thought Trezz couldn’t get any better.

You get the idea. With a small enough sample size, even the loftiest, most unbreakable records in all of sports can be shattered in an instant.

Except for Wilt Chamberlain’s rebounding records. Those are so unbreakable that when Andre Drummond posted 23 rebounds in one game against the Pacers to open the season, that 23.0 season average would’ve been only the eighth-best season of Wilt’s 15-year career.

Ain’t basketball fun?

One Comment on “Small Sample Sizes Make the Best NBA Statistics”

Comments are closed.