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Holiday Season in the NBA: Omicron Oddities & Statistical Strangeness

COVID-19 flare-ups have turned a lot of holiday plans upside down. But around the NBA, don’t let it distract you from some sneakily remarkable things happening on the stat sheet.

So much of the recent focus in the NBA has been on the rash of positive COVID-19 tests along with a rash of injuries, negative stories that are taking away from the positive accomplishments of a number of players who are playing lights out now that the lights are back on, at least temporarily. (Although they will be out Thursday night in Portland, where the shorthanded Nets were supposed to play the Blazers.)

But it’s not just the MVP-level stars and up-and-coming phenoms that have curiously drawn our attentions this week. Perhaps it’s the holiday season. Perhaps it’s the quickening COVID moment. Maybe it’s the tremors of the multiverse. But whatever the truth ultimately is, there are some current statistical happenings during this festive period of the NBA season that run the gamut from strange to sensational.

Let’s begin at the soon-to-be-renamed Staples Center, where Russell Westbrook committed seven turnovers Tuesday night as the Los Angeles Lakers lost another game at home, increasing his league-leading total to 148. That’s 18 more than second-place James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets, who will be sidelined roughly another week while in COVID-19 protocols.

It’s safe to say that Harden and the No. 3 guy on the list, Trae Young (118), are not going to catch him any time soon.

Elsewhere on Dec. 21, Max Struss of the Miami Heat went 4-12 from 3-point range, lowering his 3-point percentage just a bit but leaving him at .404 and one of 37 players making more than 40 percent of their 3-point shots. Currently No. 1? Cody Martin of the Charlotte Hornets at .507, which is theoretically within reach of Kyle Korver’s NBA accuracy record of .536 from downtown in 2009-10.

DeAndre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns shot 9-11 against the Lakers to increase his field goal percentage to .625, a nifty number good enough for sixth-best in the league but still nowhere near Rudy Gobert’s NBA-leading percentage of .723, which puts him within reach of Mitchell Robinson’s all-time record of .742 set with the New York Knicks two years ago.

How is Gobert doing it? Well, 101 of his 162 buckets have been dunks.

It’s all of a piece: Absences and postponements haven’t stopped the NBA from being the NBA.

That changes in a split-second, however, if the traditional slate of big-time Christmas Day games ends up disrupted.

For what it’s worth, Commissioner Adam Silver said he did not anticipate any postponements for the five nationally televised games on Dec. 25, but nobody is making plans that have any staying power with the coronavirus’ Omicron variant turning holiday plans upside down all over the world. And the simple fact of the matter is that any of the 10 teams competing on Christmas may end up short of the minimum number of healthy, active players needed to take the court at all.

If Christmas can’t proceed as planned, expect uncomfortable questions about

“No plans right now to pause the season,” Silver told ESPN in an interview on NBA Today on Tuesday afternoon. “We have of course looked at all the options, but frankly we are having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now.

“As we look through these cases literally ripping through the country, let alone the rest of the world, I think we’re finding ourselves where we sort of knew we were going to get to over the past several months, and that is this virus will not be eradicated, and we’re going to have to learn to live with it. I think that’s what we’re experiencing in the league right now,” Silver said.

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Just yesterday, Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa of the Toronto Raptors entered the NBA’s COVID protocols, as did Clint Capela, Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot, Lou Williams, and Danilo Gallinari of the Atlanta Hawks, Nerlens Noel of the Knicks, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Washington Wizards. More than 80 players are currently in COVID protocols, forcing a run on G League guys to meet the NBA’s required minimum of eight uniformed players.

This is having an impact on the product, as predictability has all but gone out the window with teams having to make daily adjustments to the run of positive COVID tests, even among vaccinated players.

What this has done for those who are testing negative however, is provide some unexpected opportunities.


Josh Giddey, for example, is the only rookie among the league’s top 20 in total assists (168), the top 50 in rebounds per game (7.1) and the top 115 in scoring (10.9) points per game. That is not getting him a ton of support in Rookie of the Year wagering — FanDuel Sportsbook currently lists him as the fifth choice at +2300 — but he has become the most promising first-round pick to be worked into Oklahoma City’s rotation since Steven Adams in 2013.

Speaking of Adams, he leads the NBA with 127 offensive rebounds, 13 more than the player he was traded from New Orleans to Memphis for, Jonas Valanciunas.

Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers has not been on a lot of folks’ radars for quite some time, but he has quietly made 59 of 61 free throws for a percentage of .967 that is within reach of the NBA record of .981 by Jose Calderon of the Toronto Raptors a dozen years ago (Calderon went 151 for 154 that season).

Karl-Anthony Towns of Minnesota leads the NBA in personal fouls with 111, one more than Jae’Sean Tate of Houston. Dillon Brooks of Memphis and Joel Embiid of Philadelphia share the league lead in technical fouls with 7 apiece, while there are eight players with two flagrant fouls to their names.

When you get into some of the more abstract stats that quantitative analysts love so much, you see that the top-rated player in terms of VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) is Nikola Jokic of Denver, who also led the league in that category a year ago when he won the MVP award.

But toward the opposite end of the VORP spectrum, there’s no time like the holidays to commend an unheralded young gun who stands alone at the top of the leaderboard in one incredibly exclusive statistic:

It’s none other than Delano Banton of the Raptors, who’s a perfect 1-1 on heaves from beyond halfcourt.

Now, before we throw another log on the fire and guess which uncle spiked the eggnog, a look at some of the less-publicized advanced stats before we throw another log on the fire and guess which uncle spiked the eggnog:

  • Blake Griffin of the Brooklyn Nets and Kyle Lowry of the Miami Heat are tied for the league lead in charges drawn with 18
  • The Pelicans’ Valanciunas leads the league in box-outs with 138
  • Anthony Edwards of Minnesota leads the league in loose balls recovered per game with 1.4
  • Gobert leads in screen assists with 205

And a final note: Notice who was not anywhere in this article? That would be Stephen Curry, who is the runaway betting favorite for MVP (he is +135 at FanDuel, compared to +240 for Kevin Durant). Giannis Antetokounmko of Milwaukee far, far back in third at +950.

Strange times indeed.

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