This is it, this Sunday – the final game of the season is
HERE, as we head back to The O2, London, for the British Basketball Play-off Finals!
The Leicester Riders defend their Play-off title against the London Lions and
we’ve teamed up with BBL Maths to take a deep-dive into the analytics behind
both finalists! Read on for some incredible insights from BBL Maths’ Ali
The Four Factors of Success
The first thing I look at before a game is Dean Oliver’s
Four Factors of Success. What this shows is that the Lions have the best
offense and defence in the league, with Riders close behind in second and third
place respectively. Both shoot the ball exceptionally well with effective field
goal percentages of 56% and 55%. They’re also first and second in the effective
field goal percentages allowed, with Lions’ length and Riders’ discipline
forcing tough shots for their opponents.
The big contrast is in free-throw rate. Riders led the league in this category on both ends of the floor, meaning they draw lots of fouls, and don’t give many up. If the Riders offense stalls, expect them to feed their bigs in the post and attack the rim with their multiple drive and cut threats to earn fouls and free throws.
The Battle for the Paint
Locking down the paint will be crucial to deciding the game.
This will be Darien Nelson-Henry’s last professional game, and he’ll be facing
up to Josh Sharma, who is signed up for two more seasons in the league.
One of the Lions’ marquee signings this past summer was NBA veteran Kosta Koufos, whose experience was invaluable in Europe. Whilst the former Greek international’s recent departure was a blow for the team, Josh Sharma has seen his production jump in Koufos’ absence, with the graph below showing how the GB international’s impact on the time with Koufos on the team and without.
The Riders have three big men they’ll deploy at centre,
sometimes using Jubril Adekoya as a small-ball five, sometimes pairing him with
Aaron Menzies or Nelson-Henry and pushing Marc Loving to the small forward
position. Looking at the Net Ratings differentials (points per 100 possessions
better/worse the Riders are with the players on/off the court) of these big
rotations reveals an interesting pattern.
As the lone big man, Menzies is the most effective, with his size, power and touch an issue on both sides of the ball. When pairing two bigs, Adekoya and Nelson-Henry are by far the superior option, as Menzies and Adekoya’s lack of shot creation and range allow teams to aggressively sag off them and pack the paint to deny drives and allow double teams in the post.
The wings, so many wings
To my mind, the main stars of both teams are the wing
players. Whilst Sam Dekker is out for the Final, the Lions boast a roster with
so many high-quality options that losing his league-leading contribution per
True Points Added seems to have minimal impact. Up against the likes of Vojtech
Hruban, Aaron Best and Miye Oni are the Riders triumvirate of Patrick Whelan, Marc
Loving and Zach Jackson.
Last season Whelan was a unanimous entry in the Team of the
Year and in the conversation for MVP, but this it is Jackson who’s impressed me
as the player stepping up to deliver.
Comparing his shot charts last season to this season shows the jump he’s made. Whilst last season his three-point shooting was markedly stronger from the left side, this season he’s been lethal all around the arc. His midrange game has also seen drastic improvement which, paired with an improvement at the rim, sees his two-point shooting % rise from 49% to 58%.
Underrated point guards
It seems crazy to say it, but Riders and Lions plethora of
quality wing players means their point guards get less of the limelight.
Arguably the most important position in any team has been a challenge for both
sides this season, with multiple players filling the starting PG role for both
Whilst the coaches will be scheming the best game plan and
this could be way off, I expect to see Jordan Taylor face off against
Carrington Love in the starting line-ups. Both were mid-season additions, and
whilst Taylor has perhaps slotted in the most quickly, Love ranks as the fourth
most creative player in the league. Surprisingly, neither post exceptional
Passer Ratings (a stat which rewards, amongst other things, the % of assists
that are layups). This is likely due to the ability of their teammates to knock
down open jumpers and self-create on attacks to the basket.
Expect Taylor to take better care of the ball and offer more of a three-point threat than Love in what is lining up to be a great match up on the ball.
This showdown is set to be a fitting end to an exciting season. Whilst we can dig into numbers and get a feel for what to expect, one player stepping up in a one-off game could throw all of this analysis out of the window. One thing is clear: heroes will be made this weekend, and both teams have multiple players capable of putting their team on their back and carrying them to the 2023 Play-off title!