Where Darren McFadden, Joe Johnson are the Best in the NFL, NBA

Now, yet another reason to love him.

They share more than Little Rock as a birthplace and Fayetteville as a college destination. They share more than playing for pro teams that use primarily black uniforms. Darren McFadden and Joe Johnson have both staked out turf on top of their respective leagues, not yet in the way they want to – with champagne, commemorative T-shirts and glittering gold – but by leading their leagues in key statistical categories.

To wit, ya’ll:

1) Over the NFL’s last three years, no running back churns out more butter per pass route than D-Mac. That is, McFadden has averaged the league’s most receiving yards per route he runs – whether the ball is thrown to him or not. Here’s the breakdown, per Pro Football Focus:

Rank Player Current Team Rec. Routes YPRR
1 Darren McFadden OAK 906 436 2.08
2 Darren Sproles NO 1924 931 2.07
3 Pierre Thomas NO 1093 537 2.04
4 Arian Foster HOU 1371 724 1.89
5 Ryan Mathews SD 594 314 1.89

This surprising stat is partially explained by Levi Damien, writer for the Raiders blog Silver and Black Pride:

McFadden’s numbers depended on “having a quarterback who is more likely to throw to a running back running a route. The Raiders had Jason Campbell behind center for a season and a half and he was well known for his penchant for check downs. That is a strong reason why both McFadden and Bush were on the list for best YPRR. Over 500 of McFadden’s 906 receiving yards came in 2010 alone when Campbell was the starter.” The blog’s author, however, believes while new Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer is more of a drop-back threat the Raiders will still employ plenty of running back routes to keep these players’ YPRR high.

If D-Mac can just stay healthy one season, his projected numbers in this category, along with his projected yards on the rush attempts, point toward a probability of achieving one of the best seasons in franchise history.

2)We already knew Joe Johnson’s familiar with money. Hard to avoid it when making nearly $20 million a year. What far fewer of us realized, however, was Joe is money. That is, no baller scored better at the end of games last regular season than the 31-year-old shooting guard who was recently traded from Atlanta to Brooklyn. Nobody scores more points per possession during the last five minutes when the lead is five points or fewer, according to Synergy Sports’ number crunchers.

AP Photo

Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins revealed this in a June article about the league’s best closers. Johnson stood atop the heap with 1.034 points per possession. Kevin Durant, with 1.012, was second with LeBron James was third with 1.008. Kobe Bryant ranked fifth, with .847 points per possession, while shooting 34.9%.

How could this change now that Joe plays in Brooklyn? For starters, look for him to share crunch-time shot selection with All-Star teammate Deron Williams, the first premier point guard beside Joe since Steve Nash.

For fun, let’s compare crunch-time numbers of the Nets’ new backcourt:

a) In the regular season, Johnson’s crunch-time averages showed increases of 10% or more in 10 basic stat categories. He shot 52% on three-pointers, for instance, a 13% increase from his non-crunch time (soft time?) average. Other impressive up-ticks: FT% from 85% to 91% and Pts (per 36 minutes) from 19.1 to 27.6.

The rub on Joe the last few years, however, has been his subpar playoff performances. And his crunch-time numbers in a first-round loss to Boston only add fuel to critics’ fire on this front.

b) Deron Williams didn’t have the chance to shine or slump in last season’s playoffs, but if his regular season numbers are any indication, he will more than welcome Joe lifting some of his closer burdens.

Deron improved by more than 10% in five of 11 crunch-time categories. His three point shot improved to 43%, and he appeared to become a more effective passer and defender. At the same time, Deron shot worse from the field and free throw (that dropped from 84% to 71%). Most damning, though, is that his team’s crunch-time performance as a whole plummeted with Deron at the helm. (a plus-minus of -8.6, dropping from 3.2)

Unfortunately, NBA.com’s advanced stats don’t track these kind of fancy-pants numbers before  2010-11. Deron’s new Nets will more resemble his previous playoffs-bound Jazz in terms of overall talent. My guess is he will be a better closer with better players around him, and stats from his Utah days would show that.

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