Three in the Key: Analyzing Luka Doncic, Dejounte Murray, Garrison Mathews

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Three in the Key: Analyzing Luka Doncic, Dejounte Murray, Garrison Mathews

Analytics

Three in the Key: Analyzing Luka Doncic, Dejounte Murray, Garrison Mathews

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As part of an ongoing series at HoopsHype, we’re breaking down three interesting topics we have seen around the NBA throughout the season.

Of course, the name of this column is derived from basketball’s three-second violation rule. With that in mind, the goal of this exercise is to observe three subjects about the game. We want to explain the key to why it is happening while also providing context on what makes it interesting.

Here are three more of our highlights from the NBA’s 2021-22 season:

Luka Doncic

(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

The Dallas Mavericks have a new coach, switching from Rick Carlisle to Jason Kidd during the offseason. One of the changes I’ve noticed is with the way Kidd is using Doncic thus far.

Let’s go through the names of the league’s top players in the post. Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic lead the pack, which isn’t surprising at all. The next tier includes Jonas Valanciunas, Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant. These players are all among the league’s largest individuals, so their advantage is clear.

Right below that tier, however, is currently where Doncic ranks. He is averaging 2.9 points per game when posting up, per Synergy, which ranks fifth-best among all players in the Western Conference. That is obviously fairly surprising considering most fans associate him with his ball-handling, playmaking and stellar sharpshooting.

The numbers tell us Doncic averaged 0.01 post touches per possession last year but this season, that rate is as high as 0.06 post touches per possession. According to my research, The year-over-year increase in percentage points ranks as the third-most in the league and trails only low-volume contributors like Robin Lopez and Boban Marjonovic.

Considering that his three-point shooting is down, the post-up possessions have been a good alternative for Doncic to get some quick and easy buckets. Per 100 possessions, Donic is now averaging 17.9 points on unassisted two-point field goals. That trails just DeMar DeRozan for the most in the league. He leads the league with 5.3 field goals per 100 possession from the short midrange.

It’s possible that Doncic is hunting these mismatches a bit too often as he has become one of the most predominant shooters from the short midrange. But among guards, per Cleaning the Glass, Doncic ranks in the 98th percentile on shots between 4 and 14 feet of the basket.

Doncic is now finding himself in post-up situations on 11.1 percent of offensive possessions, which is a lot more than where he was last year (6.6 percent) or the season prior (3.4 percent) with coach Carlisle. But that’s not surprising considering Carlisle famously said that a post-up is “not a good play” and he made his point known with several emphatic rants.

The reality is that while it might not be great for Porzingis to post up because it clogs up the driving lanes for Doncic, it’s totally fine for Doncic to post up because he’s efficient.

He has been most productive when operating on the right block in the low post. He is 11-for-16 (95.0 percent) and he looks particularly unstoppable when turning his left shoulder for a shot or a drop step right after posting up his opponent.

Dejounte Murray

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

When you look at his stats for the year, you’d probably wonder why more people aren’t talking about San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray.

Always considered a defense-first type of player, Murray has increased his scoring average from a modest 15.7 points per game to a slightly less modest 18.0 ppg. However, he is also among the league’s most dynamic players and one of the league’s most feated triple-double threats.

He already has four triple-doubles so far this season, which is behind only reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook for the most in the NBA.

The 6-foot-4 guard, who has a 6-foot-10 wingspan, is adding 8.4 rebounds per game (up from 7.1 rpg) as well as 2.0 steals per game – which is tied with Chris Paul for the best mark in the Western Conference. But the most notable improvement for Murray is his ability as a playmaker.

Murray is averaging a career-best 8.3 assists per game, which ranks fourth-best in the West. But when you look at how he is getting this done, the numbers start to jump off the page.

If you ranked the league’s most effective passers, some of the first names who will come to mind likely include Chris Paul, Luka Doncic, James Harden, Trae Young, Ricky Rubio, Draymond Green and Kyle Lowry. Those are also the only players who are averaging more potential assists per possession than Murray so far this season, according to PBPStats.

To be specific, Murray is averaging 0.22 potential assists per possession for the Spurs in 2021-22. That is an improvement over last season (0.15) and it’s significant. In fact, tracking data tells us that trails just Patrick Beverley for the largest year-over-year improvement among all players who have recorded at least 100 passes in both this season and last.

That’s because when including passes, only three players (Trae, Luka and CP3) have recorded more total pick-and-roll possessions (411) than Murray has this year. He is handling 18.5 ball screens per game, which is higher than his rate either last season (11.6) or the season prior (6.8) by an incredibly large sum.

Murray is recording 1.8 assists per game in a transition offense, per Synergy, which trails just Russell Westbrook and CP3 for the most in the West. His assist-to-turnover ratio in transition (6.7) currently ranks as the best in the league among the 36 players who have the most finishes (combined possessions and assists) in a non-set offense.

He clearly does a good job of protecting the rock considering that his turnover percentage ranks in the 88th percentile among point guards, per Cleaning the Glass. He trails only CP3 and Tyus Jones in pure point rating, which is an advanced metric that measures ball handling. His passer rating ranks among the top 5 in the league as well, via Backpicks.

Murray struggles with efficiency as a scorer but otherwise, he is as valuable as he is versatile.

Garrison Mathews

Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets wing Garrison Mathews moved into the starting lineup on Nov. 27 and around the same time, his team started winning. He won’t likely be on a two-way deal for long.

Correlation may not equal causation but in games that Mathews has played at least 27 minutes and 30 seconds, Houston has 7 wins and just 1 loss. The Rockets have managed to win just 1 game and 17 losses in all other games.

Houston actually has a positive point differential (38 points) against opponents with Mathews on the floor. It’s the second-highest plus-minus of any member on the roster so far this season. The Rockets are scoring 117.0 points per 100 possession on offense with Mathews on the court but just 100.3 points per 100 when he is off, per PBPStats.

Mathews is averaging an insane 1.32 points per possession, according to Synergy. That ranks as the most efficient player in the NBA among those who have finished at least 20 possessions.

Mathews, who had the fewest touches per possession of all high-volume players this past season, doesn’t have long to make his move. He is predominantly spotting up on the perimeter – that is how he has finished half of his offensive possessions – before eventually firing off a no-dribble jumper.

But the good news is that defenders still aren’t accounting for the fact that Mathews can shoot the lights out. More than 40.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts have been unguarded, per Synergy.

One of the ways he has found some of those uncontested shots off the catch is through chemistry with Houston’s Jae’Sean Tate.

They have found a good rhythm on dribble handoffs, which lets Tate play on the perimeter even though he isn’t a great shooter. Tate has already managed to assist on a dozen three-pointers to Mathews despite playing just 11 games together so far.

To put that in perspective, Tate has averaged 3.1 assists per 100 possessions in the 478 minutes that he has played without Mathews. But in the 255 minutes that Mathews has played, Tate is averaging 9.5 assists per 100.

Overall, the Rockets have outscored opponents by 6.6 points per 100 when Tate and Mathews are both on the floor. That’s the best two-man net rating of all combinations Houston has rolled out for at least 200 shared minutes.

Maybe a contender will try to pry away Mathews, who can eventually play a role similar to what Joe Harris has for Brooklyn or Duncan Robinson has for the Heat. Both those guys are making around $18 million per season, which speaks well for Mathews’ long-term contract potential.

All stats are accurate through Dec. 13, 2021.

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