Hidden deep in ESPN’s Weekend Dime, on a sidebar story about Jeremy Lin, is a chart of the league leaders in fourth-quarter PER (minimum 100 fourth quarter minutes). It’s got the usual suspects — Chris Paul naturally leads the league, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James make appearances at fourth and fifth, and of course, good ol’ Jeremy Lin ranks third, right behind Sundiata Gaines.
Yup, as it turns out, New Jersey’s third-string point guard is putting up a dominating 33.49 fourth-quarter PER this season, good for 2nd in the NBA. Here’s how he’s doing it.
Gaines this season is shooting just 43.8% from the floor, barely above his career average. But in 13 fourth quarters this season, Gaines has seen his field goal percentage jump to 53%. He’s both made more shots and shoots a higher percentage in the fourth quarter than in any other quarter. Gaines, a career 29.6% three-point shooter, has hit 4 of 9 fourth-quarter three-pointers.
Gaines is a bit of a frenetic player — he’s constantly diving, driving, breaking, slashing, hitting the floor, trying to make something happen. But in the fourth quarter, he’s seemingly found his rhythm. Of his 54 assists on the season, over 30% have come in the final frame. Not only is he creating for others, but he’s not wasting possessions: Gaines has turned the ball over just four times in the 4th, fewer than in any other quarter. That adds up to a 4.3:1 assist to turnover ratio in the fourth quarter, more than double his ratio in the first three.
While his offensive play gets more decisive and intentional in the fourth, defensively Gaines is the same do-it-all sparkrocket that we’ve come to expect — just moreso. Of Gaines’ 24 steals through Valentine’s day, 9 of them have come in the fourth, more than in any other quarter.
Gaines’s advanced metrics are already surprisingly above average this season — he’s currently posting a PER above 20, tied with Deron Williams for the best on the team. But those numbers get even better in the final 12 minutes: 53% shooting from the field, 44% from deep, an assist-to-turnover ratio above 4:1, and more than twice as many steals as turnovers. Put that together, and you’ve got a point guard that’s dominating the fourth quarter. It’s just not the New Jersey point guard you expected.