Small Sample Sizes Make the Best NBA Stats (2022-23 Edition!)

(Ed. note: yeah, I know this is a day late. Illness on the weekend is no fun.)

Through games of October 23, 28 teams in the NBA have played three games. Milwaukee and Dallas have each played two.

And with such a small sample size, we see some strange stats. The Law of Averages hasn’t taken over yet.

So let’s take a look at unlikely and unsustainable and downright absurd stats. We’ll compare them to the NBA record book while we’re at it.

That’s right. It’s the Fourth Annual Small Sample Sizes Make the Best NBA Stats.

The Unbeatens

Boston, Utah, and Portland are all 3-0. Milwaukee is 2-0.

But not all undefeated teams are created equal.

Milwaukee leads the pack with an 11.4 Net Rating. That lags the 67-15 2017 Golden State Warriors, who posted plus-11.6. It also trails the Chicago Bulls’ two best seasons, the 72-10 1996 campaign (plus-13.4) and the 69-13 ’97 edition of the team (plus-12.0.)

Portland, meanwhile, has just a plus-3.6 Net Rating, having won their three games by a combined 11 points. Over the course of a full season, a plus-3.6 Net Rating is worth about 50 or 51 wins depending on pace. That’s good, of course, but two of those wins were against the Kings and Lakers. More wins against teams on the caliber of the Phoenix Suns would be more convincing.

Speaking of Net Rating…

Dallas is 1-1 but has a plus-19.9 Net Rating. The win was a 137-96 humiliation of the Memphis Grizzlies. The loss was a 107-105 affair at the hands of the same Suns who lost to Portland by two points.

So much for plus-19.9 predicting that a team should go undefeated.

Phoenix is 2-1. They have a two-point win and a two-point loss. But they’ve also got a 112-95 smackdown of the Clippers to their credit. Their 5.6 Net Rating is better than the Blazers team who beat them.

And at the other end, that Memphis team that Dallas beat to a bloody mess? Their minus-10.0 Net Rating is second-worst in the league (ahead of only the woeful 0-3 Rockets) but they’re 2-1.

This will even out over 82 games, but it’s weird.

The Impossibility of 3,000 Points

Only two men in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, have ever scored 3,000 points in a season.

You’d need to play in all 82 games and average at least 36.58 points per game to get there.

Boston’s Jayson Tatum has 104 points through three games. That’s good for just 34.7 points per game, putting him on pace for 2,843 points over the whole season.

Today’s NBA is higher-scoring than it’s ever been. Trouble is, it lacks the pace of Wilt’s day and the “star on bad team gets big minutes and the ball” madness of Jordan’s rookie contract.

In 1987, Jordan played 40.0 minutes per game to get his 3,041 points. He scored 61 points in the penultimate game of the season to get to 3,000.

Speaking of big minutes, Wilt played 48.5 minutes per game when he scored 4,029 points in 1962.

Tatum has played 37.7 minutes per game this season. Between minutes limitations and load management, nobody in the 21st century will ever get the kind of volume you need to get 3,000 points in a season as an individual.

Ten Cents at a Time

Trae Young has 35 assists (11.7 per game) through three games so far, leading the league. If he keeps up that pace, he’ll be 21st in NBA history in that stat. Of the top 18 seasons in the league’s annals, 15 belong to John Stockton (8) and Magic Johnson (7). The other three are Isiah Thomas, Kevin Porter, and Kevin Johnson.

All except Porter played in the golden age of the pass-first point guard between 1983 and 1993.

Ball movement just doesn’t work that way anymore. Draymond Green averaged 8.9 assists per game from the power forward position in 2021. Stephen Curry, the nominal point guard, averaged just 5.8.

Rebounds? Not Anymore.

Rudy Gobert leads the league in rebounds with 54 through three games. Wilt Chamberlain grabbed 55 boards in a single game on November 24, 1960.

Wilt averaged 27.2 boards a game in the 1960-61 season. Since 2012-13, only seven players have broken that season average in a single game, and only Dwight Howard and Enes Freedom have pulled down 30 boards in one contest.

Wilt used to do that all the time, because the game was played at a ridiculous pace and nobody could shoot.

Pick a random box score from an NBA game and you’ll often find that teams don’t miss 55 shots total.

All Win, No Sharing

Three players so far this season have doubled up the Superstar Line and posted at least .400 Win Shares per 48 minutes.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has .4221 WS/48; Luka Doncic has .4057.

But their teams have only played two games.

Likewise, Christian Wood, who leads the league at .4357 WS/48, is on the 1-1 Mavericks, which makes it all the wilder that they are at just .500 win-loss wise.

Of players with three games to their name, Nick Richards is on .3546 WS/48…in just 68 minutes.

But all four guys lead Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his magical 1971-72 season. His .3399 WS/48 remains the single-season NBA record.

LeBron’s Record Watch

LeBron James has 82 points through three games this season. This puts his career total at 37,144, with just 1,244 points left to get to 38,388 and claim the all-time scoring record.

At 27.3 points per game, he’ll get there in 46 contests. If he steps it up to last year’s level of 30.3 points per game, he’ll get there in 41 games. LeBron played 56 games last season. Barring a career-ending injury, he’ll get there this season at any rate.

While we’re on the subject, LeBron turns 38 in December…and is outpacing his career scoring average. Un-freaking-believable.


Brook Lopez leads the league in Block Percentage so far this season at 9.7.

Taken to two decimal places, his 9.74 is fifth in league history, right behind Serge Ibaka‘s 9.78 in 2012.

The only three players to go over 10 for a whole season? Their names are Manute Bol, Manute Bol, and Manute Bol.

Mitchell Robinson hit 10.0 in his rookie year, and he’s done it in 36 minutes this year, but in neither case did he qualify for the leaderboard.

Deadeye Shooters

But speaking of Robinson, he does hold the single-season record for FG%, putting up .7419 in 2019-20 in 61 games.

This year, Grant Williams (.8571 on 12-of-14) and Nic Claxton (.7778, 14-of-18) have beaten Robinson’s numbers. But both guys shoot from more than three feet away. That’s going to level off their accuracy as the season goes on.

Of course, small sample sizes eventually level off. But it’s always fun to look at the weird and wonderful just a couple of games into the season.

And who knows? Maybe we’ll see records fall in 2023, and with them we’ll have whole new standards to look at in the fifth edition next year.

Meanwhile, stay tuned and thanks for reading!