Pure Athleticism

Monta Ellis barrels into the lane, draws the foul, and still manages to convert the layup.

Drive-and-kick. Drive-and-kick. Drive-and-kick.

That’s what the NBA is all about nowadays. A combination of the hand-check rule change 10 years ago and teams’ increased interest in analytics has completely shifted the way basketball is played. No longer is it about isolations, mid-range jumpers, and gritty, beat-down defense. The NBA is now a pick-and-roll league. It’s about driving to the rim, and it’s about sharing the ball once you get there.

As it turns out, no team in the NBA set more ball-screens last season than the Mavs. The biggest beneficiary of them all, then? Monta Ellis. The Mavs two-guard drove toward the rim 38 more times than any other player in basketball in 2013-14 and scored 85 more points on drives than the closest player, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. The Dirk/Monta pick-and-pop was one of the most unstoppable plays in the league last season and was the driving force (no pun intended) behind the Mavs’ 111.2 team offensive rating, good for third-best in the NBA.

A general rule of thumb of the Dallas offense last season: If Monta got in the lane, Dallas was going to score. Below is a list of the top-10 players ranked by team points off of drives per game. As you’ll see, Ellis and the Mavs will head into 2014-15 as the reigning driving champions of the league. (All numbers courtesy of SportsVU.)

Points Per Drive

Player Drives/Gm. Team PPG on Drives
M. Ellis 10.2 12.4
T. Lawson 10.7 12.3
T. Parker 10.3 11.8
T. Evans 10.3 11.8
G. Dragic 9.6 11.1
R. Rondo 9.5 11.1
J. Teague 10.2 10.9
M. Carter-Williams 9.9 10.5
R. Sessions (MIL) 8.2 10.3
I. Thomas 8.4 9.9

Breaking down who scored those points is pretty simple. Ellis scored 7.2 of those himself per game, tops in the NBA by half a point. Nowitzki, his running mate, scored 8.5 catch-and-shoot points per game, second-best in the league among players who appeared in at least 40 games last season. A majority of Dirk’s catch-and-shoot points came from penetration by either Ellis or Devin Harris, whose drives generated a team second-best 5.6 points per game. As great as Nowitzki has been and remains, a huge chunk of his production last season came courtesy of Ellis’s knack for getting in the lane. That symbiotic relationship elevated both players to All-Star levels of production.

But remember — this is the NBA of the future we’re talking about. Simple stats like points per game aren’t going to cut it anymore. What matters is efficiency. For example, Denver scored more points off Ty Lawson drives than any other team in basketball except for the Mavs, but Lawson also drove to the rim far more per game than any other player. Better numbers would show the Nuggets scored off of Lawson more than other players just by sheer volume — the Mavs scored more points off of Ellis’s penetration on fewer opportunities per game.

With that in mind, the chart below ranks the top 10 players from last season based on team points per drive. Ellis doesn’t find himself in first place in this chart, but he’s not too far off. Also, check out the name at the bottom of the list.

Team Points Per Drive

Player Drives/Gm. Team PPG on Drives Team Pts/Drive
K. Durant 6.0 8.5 1.42
L. James 7.4 9.7 1.31
R. Sessions (MIL) 8.2 10.3 1.26
J. Harden 6.7 8.4 1.25
A. Burks 5.5 6.8 1.24
K. Lowry 6.5 8.0 1.23
M. Ellis 10.2 12.4 1.22
Jo. Crawford (BOS) 5.2 6.3 1.21
D. DeRozan 7.2 8.7 1.21
R. Jackson 6.3 7.6 1.21
C. Parsons 6.3 7.6 1.21

Chandler Parsons had a huge season driving the lane for the Houston Rockets, slashing to the rim off of Dwight Howard screens. Houston scored 9.5 points per game off of Parsons assists, the third-best mark on the team. The ’14-’15 Mavs will have two elite drivers on the team in terms of efficiency, and because Parsons’s role in the offense will likely expand to a degree, he might be getting in the lane more often this season. That’s huge for Dallas for so many reasons — not only can Parsons generate points, but his presence will also take attention away from Ellis on the other side of the floor, from Nowitzki floating around the perimeter, and from the rolling Tyson Chandler and Brandan Wright. Teams had a challenging time defending Ellis and Harris alone last season, and now Dallas will add Parsons to the mix. Have fun with that.

Even better news for Dallas is that Parsons is just as productive a player off the ball. He led the Rockets in catch-and-shoot points per game last season at 5.3, with a torrid 59.6 eFG% on such opportunities. That mark would have finished second on the Mavericks in 2013-14 behind only Jose Calderon. Simply put, he’s an effective player both on and off the ball. The driving tag-team of Parsons and Ellis — and don’t forget about Dirk, Harris, Wright, and Chandler — could potentially take Dallas’ offense up another level.

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