With the Western Conference Playoffs beginning today, we wanted to break down each first-round matchup using our proprietary data. Each tile chart below outlines how teams faired in their head-to-head matchups this season including all possessions played, and all metrics given are Per 100 Possession and do not include garbage time unless otherwise stated.
Denver Nuggets (1) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (8)
The Denver Nuggets enter the playoffs with a powerhouse offense, ranking 2nd in Offensive Rating (119.5), 1st in eFG% (57.3%), and 3rd in Expected Points Per Chance (1.081). That potent unit is led by two-time MVP and current MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, who ranks 10th in Advantage Creation (28.1) and 3rd in eFG% Above Expected (+12.7%).
Despite placing 3rd in the league in Advantages Prevented (33), the Minnesota Timberwolves will have their hands full with the efficient Denver attack, especially absent defensive stalwart Jaden McDaniels, out due to a hand injury, who placed in the 78th percentile in Advantages Prevented (7.7) and 81st percentile in positive Defensive Playmaking (3.2).
Offensively, Minnesota has struggled with overall efficiency (111.1, 25th in the league), but the team’s offensive process has been better than the results, evidenced by the 16th-best Expected Offensive Rating (102.2) and 11th-most Advantages Created (72.9).
While Minnesota has also maintained advantages relatively well (28.9, good for 11th in the league), Naz Reid, the team’s most prolific maintainer of advantages (8.4, good for 100th percentile), is sidelined for this series following wrist surgery. Making good on the team’s advantage creation absent its best connector/play finisher will be a crucial inflection point in this series.
However, Denver’s defense could present an opportunity for Minnesota as Denver sits just 22nd in Expected Defensive Rating (103.3). While Jokic buoys one of the league’s premier offenses, he bears some blame for Denver’s porous defense, as his 15.6 advantages allowed place in the 0th percentile among qualified players.
To make matters worse, Denver struggles to cover for its defensive lapses due to lacking off-ball defensive talent, ranking 25th in Off-Ball Advantages Prevented (10.4). If the Nuggets cannot tighten up their defense, they could leave a small window open for Minnesota.
Memphis Grizzlies (2) vs Los Angeles Lakers (7)
With major roster turnover since the All-Star Break and LeBron missing time, the full-strength Lakers are still a bit of an unknown, but looking at their data since the All-Star Break will paint a better picture of what we can expect from this squad in the Playoffs.
Dangerous and efficient when they push the pace, both the Lakers and the Grizzlies rank in the Top 5 in Points Per Chance in Transition at 1.552 and 1.515 respectively, and they average more than 10 Transition Possessions per 100 at 10.8 and 10.1 respectively. We can expect both teams to get out in transition; however, LA has been much better at defending in Transition ranking 1st in Opponent Points Per Chance (1.124) so it will be interesting to see if the Grizzlies can still take advantage in Transition.
Moving into the halfcourt, both teams are effective at actively deterring shots at the rim with Memphis ranking 3rd overall (0.56) and LA ranking 3rd since the trade deadline (0.74), but this could have an outsized impact on Memphis’s offense as they are 2nd in the NBA in FGA at the Rim (40.3) and even though are the 24th most efficient team on these shots (62.7% TS%), these attempts still contribute to efficient offense overall.
To keep the Grizzlies away from the rim, the Lakers will need to contain Ja Morant who is 5th in the NBA in Advantage Creation (32.9). They have the personnel to help prevent advantages with Anthony Davis (95th Percentile) and Jarred Vanderbilt (78th Percentile), but containing Ja will be a team effort.
On the flip side, LeBron is also one of the NBA’s most prolific advantage creators ranking 8th (28.9), but Memphis is well positioned to defend anchored by Jaren Jackson Jr. who is in the 99th percentile for Advantages Prevented (13.1).
Sacramento Kings (3) vs Golden State Warriors (6)
The Sacramento Kings have reached the playoffs for the first time in 16 years, and they will face one of the most successful playoff teams of the last decade in the Golden State Warriors, but make no mistake, the Kings have been the better team this year. However, questions remain about which version of the Warriors we will see as the team reintegrates All-Star Andrew Wiggins, who missed the final 25 games of the season due to personal reasons, into the rotation.
The Kings were the most potent offense in the NBA this season with an Offensive Rating of 119.9, but they ranked as only the 7th best in Expected Offensive Rating (103.4). They made up the difference by shooting the 4th best eFG% above expected (+2.9%). Led by De’Aaron Fox, who ranks 16th in Advantage Creation (25.3), the Kings were the 4th best team at creating advantages this season, averaging 76.4 per 100 possessions.
The Warriors will need to slow down the Kings’ offense, and they have shown that capability defensively, ranking 4th in Expected Defensive Rating (99.6), 4th in Least Advantages Allowed, and 2nd in Above Average Contest % (35.1%). That last element could prove pivotal, as the Kings have the best eFG% in the league against Above Average Contests (41.3%).
On the other side of the ball, the Warriors boast a prolific offense with the following rankings:
6th in Points Per Chance (1.103)
3rd in eFG% Above Expected (+3.1%)
2nd in Advantage Creation (77.6)
They’re led by Stephen Curry, who is 15th in Advantage Creation (25.7) and 4th in eFG% Above Expected (+10.8%). As has been the case throughout Golden State’s dynasty, the team struggles with turnovers, ranking 29th in Adjusted Turnover % (17.1%), where players get penalized for unforced turnovers.
While the Kings do not force a lot of turnovers, they have been solid on the defensive end, ranking 4th in Least Defensive Miscues (7.8) and 4th in Above Average Contest % (33.4%). Though Sacramento’s quality contests may be mitigated as the Warriors have the 6th best eFG% against Above Average Contests (38.4%). Ultimately, this matchup may come down to which team can hit more tough shots.
Phoenix Suns (4) vs Los Angeles Clippers (5)
Very little data exists on the current version of the Phoenix Suns, who are undefeated in 8 games with Kevin Durant in the lineup, but for this analysis, we will look at what both teams have done since February’s trade deadline.
Given the talent on these teams, it is no surprise that they both rank in the Top 10 in Advantage Creation (Phoenix 10th at 75.4 and Los Angeles 4th at 78.4); however, losing Paul George to a knee sprain, who averages 21.8 Advantages Created Per 100 (12th in the among all players), leaves a big hole for the Clippers to fill.
Both teams subsist off a similar shot diet, ranking in the top 10 in Pull-up Jumpers per 100 (Phoenix 1st at 17.7 and Los Angeles 8th at 14.7), but Phoenix has an edge as it leads the league shooting 45.2% on these shots. The Clippers, on the other hand, are one of the most efficient shooting teams in the NBA across all shot types, ranking 2nd in eFG% (58.3%) and 2nd in True Shooting (61.6%), but they struggle to take care of the ball (26th in Adj Turnover %), which hurts their overall offensive efficiency.
Outside of scoring, Phoenix has the upper hand, leading in both Adjusted TOV% (2nd vs 26th), and Offensive Rebound % (8th vs 23rd). On the other end of the floor, the Clippers have struggled to stay solid on defense, ranking 27th in Least Advantages Allowed (54.8) and 26th in Least Defensive Miscues (10.76) compared to the Suns, who rank 17th (49.5) and 9th (8.58) respectively.
Lastly, if games get close down the stretch, a factor that could come into play is that the Suns and Clippers rank 5th and 6th respectively in Points Per Chance on Baseline/Sideline Out of Bounds Plays (Phoenix at 1.168 and Los Angeles at 1.165).
Huge thanks to Matt Bolaños, Noah Thro, Connor Ayubi, Blake Benjamin, Rebecca MaWhinney, and Stewart Zahn for helping pull together research for these previews!