Notable stats from NBA's in-season tournament group stage

ByAnthony Gharib ESPN logo
Thursday, November 30, 2023

The group stage of the NBA's inaugural in-season tournament concluded Tuesday with eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals. The semifinals and finals will be held in Las Vegas, with the winner receiving the NBA Cup and $500,000 in prize money.

Point differential became a key part of games as group play wound down.

While up 32 points with just over seven minutes remaining in their final game, the Boston Celtics intentionally fouled Chicago Bulls center Andre Drummond, who shoots 55.9% from the free throw line.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan expressed confusion to Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, who explained to him at midcourt that Boston needed to win by 22 points or more to advance to the knockout stage.

The tournament games brought out the best in the NBA's biggest stars. Teams weren't shy about expressing their increased intensity during group play, emphasizing their desire for the prize money.

Here are some numbers that stood out from the group play of the NBA's in-season tournament.

Los Angeles Lakers took care of business

After their first in-season tournament win over the Phoenix Suns, LeBron James said that players are going for the prize money. Anthony Davis went further, mentioning that money brings extra juice and that one of his teammates said: "That's one step closer to this $500 [thousand]," after beating the Suns.

The Lakers lived up to those words -- they had a plus-74 point differential during in-season tournament games and minus-107 in all other games. Three of Los Angeles' four wins came in double digits.

James averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and 7 assists on 60% shooting from the field, while Davis had 19.8 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. D'Angelo Russellincreased his scoring output from other games by 3.3 points, scoring 19.3 per game.

Stars showed up

There was no shortage of big scoring outputs during group play. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell averaged 39 points per game in two in-season tournament matchups.

Mitchell averaged 13 more points during the tournament compared to other regular-season games -- the highest difference among players who appeared in 10-plus games and at least one in-season tournament game. He scored 40 points, his season-high, on Tuesday plus 11 rebounds and five assists.

Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox averaged 36 points -- 8.5 higher than his regular season average -- eight rebounds and eight assists during three wins. The ultra-efficient Kevin Durant averaged 35.7 points on 58.6% shooting from the field and a whopping 75% from the 3-point line.

Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets went 2-2, but the two-time MVP still managed to average 32.3 points, 16.3 rebounds and 11 assists.

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (9.2) and Golden State Warriors forward Dario Saric (9.0) were behind Mitchell for the largest points differential in the in-season tournament compared to other regular season games.

Clarkson had his season-high 37 points in Utah's third game. Oddly enough, the only times Saric has scored at least 20 points this season were in three of four in-season tournament nights.

Minutes increased around the league (min. three games played)

Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon had thebiggest jump, playing 5.8 more minutes compared to other regular season games for an average of 38.2 per game. Cavaliers guard Darius Garland averaged 5.2 more minutes for an average of 36.6.

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey and Houston Rockets guard Fred VanVleet were in the top two for most minutes averaged during the in-season tournament.

Maxey played a league-leading 41.2 minutes per game, while VanVleet came in second with 40.3, four more than each of their respective regular season averages: Maxey averages 37.6 and VanVleet averages 36.6.

Jokic, Rockets center Alperen Sengun and Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball each had minutes increases of 4.8. Three players on the defending champion Nuggets (Gordon, Jokic and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope)played at least 37 minutes per game.

Indiana Pacers stayed true to their word

After clinching their spot in the knockout stage, the Pacers made their serious tournament intentions clear.

Tyrese Haliburton told ESPN it's the first time he's competing to win a championship on the NBA level and pointed to the fact that he's never made it to the playoffs, therefore, the tournament "gives me the chance to be able to do that, and that's exciting for me."

Haliburton played his part in the Pacers' undefeated group stage record -- he averaged 28.5 points and 13.5 assists per game, including a 37-point, 16-assist performance in a 157-152 win against the Atlanta Hawks.

His teammate Obi Toppin raised his point total, too, scoring 7.3 more points during tournament games than the regular season ones. Toppin averaged 17.3 points on 66.7% shooting. He had a season-high 27 points against the 76ers.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.