Nylon Calculus: Which NBA offenses have changed the most this season?

Every NBA team’s offensive style is in a constant state of evolution. Which teams have undergone the biggest changes this season?

Last week, I took a first look at the offensive style for every team in the league this season, using offensive style charts. I’ve used these charts for the past few seasons as a way of visualizing those different approaches each team uses in trying to score. These charts are not meant to evaluate whether an offense is good or bad. They are designed to help illustrate how teams go about the goal of trying to put the ball in the basket. Each team’s offense is evaluated on four stylistic spectrums:

Ball movement is measured with the average touch time for each team, from the NBA’s player tracking statistics. A lower average touch time means the ball is moving from player to player more quickly.

Player movement is measured with a combination of different NBA.com tracking statistics and works out to average distance traveled per 24 seconds of offensive possession.

Pace is measured with the average length of an offensive possession from Inpredictable, a more accurate representation of how quickly a team is working than traditional pace.

Shot selection is measured with MoreyBall percentage — in this case the percentage of a team’s true shooting opportunities that came at the rim, from the free-throw line, or on a 3-pointer. It’s a generalized measure but captures something about how much each team hews to the shots that are, on average, the most efficient.

On the charts, you’ll see a line for each team’s offense. As the line moves away from the center of the chart on each axis you’re seeing more of that stylistic trait. For example, shot selection shows a (hypothetically) more efficient shot selection the further you are from the center.

The charts below cover every team in the league and show their offensive style for this season compared to the 2019-20 season. They’re separated into groups not based on similarities in the resulting style but in the kinds of changes they have undergone this season.

NBA offenses that were transformed: Pacers, Clippers, Hornets, Jazz, Knicks, Thunder, 76ers, Kings, Hawks

These teams all saw enormous changes in their aggregate rankings across all four categories and in general, this came from changes across all four traits as opposed to massive changes in just one or two. Numerically, no team’s offense has undergone a bigger stylistic change than the Indiana Pacers, which shouldn’t be a big surprise given their offseason coaching change. Five of the nine teams in this group hired a new coach during the offseason and another, the Hawks, made a coaching change during the season. At least some of the Hornets’ adaptation could be attributed to the additions of Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball. That leaves the Jazz and Kings as the real outliers, teams that reinvented themselves without big changes on the roster or on the coaching staff.

NBA offenses that stayed the course: Nuggets, Magic, Pistons, Celtics, Nets

No team has seen less style change than the Nuggets this year, which makes sense considering they’re among the league leaders in roster continuity and are continuing to build around an ascendant young star in Nikola Jokic. It’s a bit surprising to see the Nets playing so similarly considering all the changes to their roster.

NBA offenses that took a lot more mid-range jumpers: Bulls, Wizards, Celtics

All three of these teams saw a reasonable degree of change but it came primarily with regards to shot selection. A decrease in shot selection rank here is generally indicative of an increase in mid-range shot attempts and can often be attributed to the tendencies of a single player. The addition of Russell Westbrook definitely had a big effect on the Wizards and the emergence of Jaylen Brown afforded him a lot more opportunities to create with an accompanying surge in pull-up jumpers.

NBA offenses who added a lot more movement: Raptors, Heat

The Heat and the Raptors were fairly stable in the use of every stylistic trait except player movement, which saw big jumps. Both teams have been working through a slew of injuries and changes to their supporting cast which may have changed how their offensive role-players are functioning in the halfcourt.

NBA offenses who slowed the pace way down: Rockets, Lakers, Pelicans

These three teams all have slowed the pace of their offense significantly, while keeping their other stylistic elements fairly stable. Injuries and roster moves may have played a big role in this change for the Lakers and Rockets, while the Pelicans have been working with a new coach and their first season without Jrue Holiday.

NBA offenses who slowed it down and took more 3s: Warriors, Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers have remained one of the most extreme offenses, stylistically but adapted this season by slowing the pace slightly and having Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum excise some pull-up mid-range shots from their games. The Warriors are playing their first season without Kevin Durant but with a healthy Stephen Curry and we can see their style shifting back towards what it was in their earlier championship seasons.

NBA offenses who passed less and took more mid-range shots: Bucks, Grizzlies

The Grizzlies and Bucks have both ended up with a lot more mid-range shots in their offenses this season but have also done it with a lot more ball movement. For the Bucks, the addition of Jrue Holiday may be the culprit as they look to spread the ball around more on offense with another creator and scorer on the floor.

Everyone else: Cavaliers, Mavericks, Timberwolves, Suns, Spurs

This final group of teams all saw fairly unique adaptations to their offensive style, changes that didn’t line up cleanly with any other team. In some cases they can be connected to specific players — no more Chris Paul in Phoenix, even more primacy for Luka Doncic in Dallas. In others, the drives of change, intentional or not, aren’t quite as obvious.

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