Film Study: 6 impact actors returning from a gap year in 2022-23

In 2020-21, Zion Williamson averaged 18 points in the restricted area per game with New Orleans.

You could set up a pretty good rotation with NBA veterans who didn’t play a single game last season. You’d have Jamal Murray, Ben Simmons, Kendrick Nunn and John Wall in the backcourt, with Kawhi Leonard, Zion Williamson, TJ Warren, Dario Saric, Jonathan Isaac and James Wiseman up front. This group is a bit short on shooting, but good luck scoring against a lineup that includes Simmons, Leonard and Isaac.

Of course, these 10 guys play for eight different teams. Simmons was featured in this space a few weeks ago, but here are some notes, figures and footage from six players who are set to return to the pitch in October after more than a year away.


1. Kawhi Leonard – LA Clippers

The statistics :
Leonard had a 67.9% true shooting percentage in the 2021 playoffs, the highest mark in NBA history for a player who averaged at least 30 points in 10 or more playoff games.

Highest true shooting percentage in playoffs, 30 PPG, 10 GP

Player Season Crew generalist GPP TS%
Kawhi Leonard 2021 LAKE 11 30.4 67.9%
Kevin Durant 2019 GSW 12 32.3 66.1%
james lebron 2017 KEY 18 32.8 64.9%
Kareem Abdul Jabbar 1977 ALL 11 34.6 64.6%
Kevin Durant 2021 BKN 12 34.3 63.0%

TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

The context:
There are only 60 instances (including 10 from Michael Jordan) of a player averaging at least 30 points in 10 or more playoff games. But it’s a elite sample size if small. In short, Leonard was playing incredible basketball before suffering a partial ACL tear in his right knee in Game 4 of the conference semifinals. And that came after recording a career-high true shooting percentage (62.2%) in the regular season.

His free throw rate and 3-point rate were actually down from his first season with the Clippers (2019-20). But, counting the regular season and the playoffs, Leonard saw big jumps in both field goal percentage in the paint (from 57.1% to 62.0%) and field goal percentage on effective field on shots from outside the paint (from 49.1% to a career-best 54.2%).

Leonard ranked third in pick-and-roll ball-handling efficiency (1.11 points per possession) among 73 players with at least 200 ball-handling possessions and third in post-up ball-handling efficiency (1 ,12) among 30 players with at least 100 regular season post-up possessions.

The film:
In the playoffs, Leonard increased both his frequency and efficiency in isolation, scoring 1.16 points per possession on 51 isolation possessions, according to Synergy tracking. The Clippers liked to put the ball in his elbow and let him go to work…

Isolation of Kawhi Leonard against Utah

One of his last buckets in this historically effective playoff series was a similar isolation game with an emphatic result…


2. Zion Williamson – New Orleans Pelicans

The statistics :
Zion Williamson averaged 18.0 points per game in the restricted area in 2020-21.

The context:
It was the highest restricted area average in the 26 seasons for which we have shooting location data, and it surpassed Williamson’s own mark of 15.8 restricted area points per game in his rookie season.

Restricted area data can be a bit problematic as there is plan mapping inconsistency from arena to arena. But even if you only consider road games, Williamson has the two highest restricted area averages in the 26 years of shooting location data: 16.8 in 20-21 and 15.8 in 19- 20.

Most restricted area points per game since 1996-97

Player Season generalist AR FGM AR PPG Road
Sion Williamson 2020-21 61 548 18.0 16.8
Sion Williamson 2019-20 24 190 15.8 15.8
Giannis Antetokounmpo 2018-19 72 567 15.8 14.5
Giannis Antetokounmpo 2019-20 63 483 15.3 13.9
Shaquille O’Neal 1997-98 60 458 15.3 14.8

While Williamson is a beast, his numbers in the restricted area are a bit more about volume than skill. His 69.5% in the restricted area on the road ranked just 25th among 96 players with at least 100 restricted area attempts on the road. And (including home games) his shot has been blocked 131 times, the most in 18 seasons and 34 more times than any other player blocked in 20-21.

Williamson took 95% of his shots in the paint, the eighth highest rate among 250 players with at least 300 field goal attempts in 20-21. He had 25 shots from outside the paint in 85 career games, and four of those 25 marks came on his rookie debut.

The film:
The Pelicans have set up 12.0 ball screens per game for Williamson in his last 37 games at 20-21, down from 3.3 per game in his first 24 games and 0.4 per game in his rookie season. . Its defenders, for obvious reasons, tried to get under those screens. The Pels therefore placed these screens as low as possible to prevent the defender from going around them and allowing Williamson to find a lead to the hoop:

Screen by Steven Adams for Williamson

We’ll see if Williamson comes back with a jump shot. Maybe he doesn’t need it.


3. Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets

The statistics :
Nikola Jokic had 94 assists for Jamal Murray, and Murray had 92 assists for Jokic in 2020-21.

The context:
There was no other pair of teammates where each had more than 73 assists for the other. In fact, the next pair on the list were Jokic and Will Barton (86 and 73, respectively). And sure enough, Murray tore his ACL with 14 games left in the 21 regular season. The 1,363 minutes Murray and Jokic played together ranked 103rd among all two-team combinations at 20-21.

The previous season, Jokic (129 v Murray) and Murray (116 v Jokic) combined for 245 assists. Jokic obviously isn’t a big normal, but the assist totals speak to the chemistry between the pair.

The film:
A common action the Nuggets would perform (and perform) was Murray tossing the ball to Jokic at the top of the key and then following for a dribble pass (DHO). If the defender tries to deny that DHO, both guys know what to do…

Nikola Jokic assists Jamal Murray

Then you can play pick-and-roll the standard way…

Jamal Murray assists Nikola Jokic

Or go 5/1 instead of 1/5…

Nikola Jokic assists Jamal Murray


4. Kendrick Nunn – Los Angeles Lakers

The statistics :
Nunn shot 47.5% on 2-point pull-ups, but only 26.5% on 3-point pull-ups in 2020-21.

The context:
It was the biggest gap among 74 players who attempted at least 75 pull-up 2s and at least 75 pull-up 3s.

Nunn recorded an effective field goal percentage of 57.8% in 20-21, up from 51.4% in his rookie season. It was the 10th biggest jump among 110 players with at least 500 field goal attempts each year. The improvement mainly came from painting (from 52.4% to 62.1%) and catch-and-shoot 3 (from 34.7% to 42.1%). But Nunn only shot 26.5% on pull-up 3s, compared to 36.8% as a rookie.

That 42% on 3 catch-and-shoots would look pretty good alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And if Nunn can go back to shooting 3 pull-ups like he did as a rookie, it can open up more for the Lakers offense.

The film:
But even if he just got the same smooth, medium pull-up he had in Miami, Nunn will be more of a perimeter threat than the guy who only shot 37.0% on pull-up 2 and 30.3% on pull- up 3s for the Lakers last season.

Kendrick Nunn Pullover Sweater


5. John Wall – Los Angeles Clippers

The statistics :
Wall has an effective field goal percentage of just 34.6% on pull-up jumpers over the past five seasons, according to Second Spectrum tracking.

The context:
Surprisingly, Russell Westbrook has taken the seventh most jumpers (2,693) over the past five seasons. But at 39.0 percent, Westbrook doesn’t have the worst efficiency among 316 players with at least 500 pull-up jumpers on that stretch. That mark would belong to Wall, who has been a pretty brutal shooter off the dribble.

The film:
The wall can do great things while dribbling. As reported earlier this summer, only LeBron James (3.22) has averaged more 3-point assists per game than Wall (3.18) over the past 10 years (minimum 300 games total).

But he’s probably a little too eager to shoot the rebound. Despite only playing 40 of 72 games two seasons ago, Wall attempted more than twice as many midrange jumpers (145) as anyone else on the Rockets, and he only shot 31.7% on those shots.

Opponents will give him space, but that doesn’t mean he should be doing mid-range pull-ups with 19 seconds on the shot clock:

John Wall Pullover Sweater

Wall hasn’t played in a game since April 23, 2021, when he took 12 pull-ups against the Clippers. Although he made six, that kind of volume is probably best reserved for Leonard on this team.


6. TJ Warren – Brooklyn Nets

The statistics : In 2019-20, Warren was the only player to shoot 55% or better on at least 500 2-point attempts and 40% or better on at least 200 3-point attempts.

The context:
Warren, who has played just four games the past two seasons, shot 22-for-42 (52%) from 3-point range in the Orlando bubble. But for a wing, he was a particularly strong finisher in the paint. His 64.7% in the paint ranked second (behind only Derrick Jones Jr.) among non-greats with at least 200 paint strokes in 19-20.

The film:
If he’s healthy and on pace, he can be (another) serious bucket-getter for the Nets…

Reader TJ Warren

Count that among the many “ifs” about Brooklyn this season.

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John Schuhmann is a senior statistics analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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