The 5 Unknowns: Important NBA Stats You Must Remember

  • Derrick Rose
    Games played by Derrick Rose

    We’ll start with an obvious one–the Bulls need their former MVP to stay healthy. Chicago is deeper than ever, with more firepower than has ever been at Tom Thibodeau’s disposal. However, they need their pacemaker, both for his individual brilliance and to keep up with the league’s ever-growing stable of point guards.

    An infusion of offensive talent in the form of Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott, and Nikola Mirotic provides options in the post and perimeter, making Rose’s table-setting easier than it’s ever been. That’s crucial with Rose coming off a couple lost seasons in a row, his health now something of a permanent question mark. Leaning on his compatriots more will take some stress off Rose’s body, but there’s no guarantee he can stay injury-free.

    Prediction: If Rose can play 70 games–we’ll give him approximately 12 games off to rest and deal with minor bumps–the Bulls have the talent to be the best team in the East. Having the requisite playing time to develop chemistry is crucial to their ascent.

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  • Minutes the Davis-Anderson-Evans-Gordon-Holiday lineup plays together

    The debut season for the Pelicans moniker didn’t exactly go as planned. Lead guard Jrue Holiday and forward Ryan Anderson missed a large stretch of the season due to injuries, the team finishing well outside of the playoff race as a result.

    When the full squad was healthy, the Pelicans featured a devastating quintet on par with any offensive unit in the league. Core members Holiday, Anderson, Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, and Eric Gordon scored 125 points per 100 possessions in just 91 minutes together, blowing the doors off of other teams on that end. Defensively, they merely tread water, but this is a group that already proved capable at filling it up.

    Prediction:  Due to the presence of Omer Asik, it’s unlikely that this unit will exceed that 91 minute total by much. But if they can crack the century mark, it should be enough to tack on firepower for what should be an improved defense. They’ll push for a playoff spot, even in a tough Western Conference.

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  • Ricky Rubio
    Record in close games

    The T-Wolves are a completely different team this season, having traded away Kevin Love for an assortment of young talent. They will be without their franchise star, hoping instead to build around the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio.

    Even without a talent like Love, the Wolves should be able to do better in close games this time around. During the 2013-14 season, they stormed out of the gates to an 0-11 record in games decided by four points or less, eventually rallying to finish 6-13 in such games. That 0-11 number largely buried Minnesota, ending their push for relevancy before it even began.

    Without Love, improvement in this area might seem like an exercise in futility. Not so fast–a team’s record in close games often swings wildly from year to year. Though it’s possible that the Wolves are just as bad in close contests this season, a few lucky bounces could totally change their trajectory.

    Prediction: Minnesota doesn’t have enough to compete out West–yet–but an average showing in close games will lend hope to the idea that they’ll be back in contention sooner rather than later. That will help coax several players (like Thaddeus Young) into sticking around after this season, and potentially draw the interest of a few helpful free agents.

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  • Keeping Vucevic healthy and winning the battle on the glass

    To put it nicely, Orlando will struggle to score points this season. They have intriguing parts for a long-term plan–Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo, and Elfrid Payton chief among them–but their strengths are more suited for the defensive end at this point. You’ll see plenty of bricks thrown up by the home team at Amway Center.

    That’s okay, as this is a team with both eyes staring down the road. But Channing Frye’s floor-spacing from the pivot can only do so much to alleviate the problems caused by below-average shooters. To overcome this, the Magic will need to win the other battles, primarily on defense and the glass. The latter goal will be more easily achieved with the help of their young big man.

    In 30 games sans Nikola Vucevic over the last two seasons, the Magic have been thoroughly outclassed on the glass, losing the rebounding battle 23 times. That has coincided with a 5-25 record, establishing that Vucevic and the fight for boards is especially pivotal to this Orlando team. As they continue to build through youth, that maxim remains true.

    Prediction: The Magic will win 30 games–a seven-game jump from last season–if they focus on the areas they can control. While the shooting is lacking for the time being, they have the size and athleticism to pound teams on the glass. They must use it to their advantage.

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  • Points scored by Kobe

    Individual goals and milestones are usually nice window dressing for the bigger picture. Although it’s encouraging to see your name creep up the record books, team success is what the general public will judge you by.

    Kobe is draped from head-to-toe in individual and team success, but the former is what he should be focused on this season. The Lakers are on the road to nowhere this season, with Bryant’s viability a mystery after several major injuries late in his career. It may sound strange, but the best possible result for the Lakers might be for the Black Mamba to have a stellar campaign even if it means the team suffers a few extra losses.

    Prediction: This is a proving year for Bryant, who can silence his critics one last time and possibly usurp a few greats at the top of the all-time scoring list. If he manages to look close to his former self, don’t be surprised if the Lakers somehow lure another big fish to Los Angeles to accompany Bryant next summer. They’re only on the books for around $46 million after this season, and the draw of Hollywood’s lights will never fade.

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  • Derrick Rose
  • Tyreke Evans
  • Ricky Rubio
  • Nikola Vucevic

Sports are a binary activity, typically decided by who ends up with more points on the scoreboard. That formula is appealing to the masses because it is accessible, explainable even to novices of the game. Details can be filled in later as long as you can read the score–and count! A simplistic view on the NBA is often cited: that the game has always been, and will always be about getting buckets.

That’s all well and good, but there’s something to be said for nuances and minute details that create those leads, shaping the course of seasons. Studying individual games and deciding “the better team won” works on some nights in the NBA, but it’s an oversimplification of how professional sports work. Each game is a microcosm of larger trends, which apply to individual teams and the league as a whole.

It’s the stats that you see pop up from time to time on your local broadcast. They go beyond the simple things–winning more when you score 100-plus points isn’t exactly rocket science–but they’re ideas that mesh with common sense. If a defensive juggernaut scores efficiently, they’re more likely to win than not. When teams keep their best lineups and players healthy, they’ll be more successful than when stars get hurt.

Still, none of these things are guarantees, and that’s why we’ll refer to them as the unknowns. Depending on which way these trends break, the NBA landscape could alter significantly in 2014-15. We’ll sort through a few of these and predict how they might impact the standings. Here are The 5 Unknowns: Important NBA Stats You Must Remember.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck