Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What's the Point?

     Yep, you’re getting another NBA write-up this soon.  It’s a compulsory need with me.  The item distracting me from work today: evaluating NBA point guards.  I don’t think there’s a more misunderstood role in sports, or a position that has declined as strikingly in recent years (debatably, baseball pitchers and basketball centers are there with it).  The ‘1’ position in the NBA has a crucial place in the team concept: to run the offense.  Too often, fans glance at the stat sheets and judge players strictly by their scoring average, with assists and rebounds also a consideration.  Therein lies the rub: point guards should be primarily looking to pass and direct, not score.  A good point guard creates for teammates, sets them up with easy scoring opportunities, calls out the plays, protects the ball while bringing it up and penetrating, and generally maximizes the potential of the other players on the court.  As a secondary priority, points should be ready to chip in dagger jumpers efficiently when defenses take away the primary scoring options.  Defense is important but not paramount, since the heart of any team defense lies with the frontline.  
     So I’ve set out to try and figure out a way to evaluate who’s best (and worst) fulfilling a role as a playmaker among the point guards, separating out the guys that can run a team from the undersized shooting guards that freeze out their teammates.  Here’s what I came up with:
[(Assists per game) + (Assist/Turnover ratio)] * Points per shot average
I take these three stats to best indicate whether a PG is generating shots for others (APG), able to take care of the ball (A/T), and is efficient with his shooting (PPS).  Assists alone don’t tell the whole story: you can’t have a PG who’s a turn-over machine or who’s a liability from the perimeter.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a scoring PG, but you can’t have a machine gunner that’s chucking up bad shots.   Testing this theory, I ran the formula on the career numbers of some well-known guys to see how it came out.  Judge for yourself:
Magic Johnson: 21.2
John Stockton: 19.9
Isiah Thomas: 14.2
Jason Kidd: 13.2
Michael Jordan: 9.4
Kobe Bryant: 7.8
Kevin Garnett: 7.7
Shaquille O’Neal: 5.7
While I would have liked to examine others like Cousy, Big O, Wilkens, and West, turnovers weren’t recorded until the 80s.  With the above to serve as a benchmark, I run the stats on the PGs that are averaging at least 30 mins/game (weeding out flukes) to see who’s doing what so far this season.  Keep in mind, these are not career numbers, so someone could potentially be running a hot streak or a dry spell that makes them look like Magic or Shaq.   What I found:
Top 5
  1. Chauncey Billups: 20.5
Steve Nash: 16.5
Brevin Freaking Knight: 14.0
Allen Iverson: 13.7
(t)Baron Davis, Sam Cassell: 12.6

Bottom 5
Tony Parker: 9.9
Gilbert Arenas: 9.6
Jamal Tinsley: 8.5
Mike Bibby: 7.6
(20) Smush Parker: 4.6
The other nine (Nash, Francis, Kidd, Wade, Starbury, etc) fall somewhere in between.  Knight and Iverson may seem strange up there, but they’re having a terrific season so far (number 4 and 5, respectively in assists).  On the flipside, Tony Parker, Arenas, Tinsley, and Bibby have shockingly low assist numbers, all of them dishing out fewer than 6 a game.  As for Smush…well…are you surprised?  Chauncey, on the other hand, is playing out of his mind.  He’s on a current pace for career highs in points and assists, as well as a mind-boggling 4.3 A/TO.  No coincidence that the Pistons have been so much better offensively than ever before.  
One additional spin on this might be to include net +/- differential to the equation. provides this neat statistic to gauge whether there is a relationship between a player being on the court (or not) and how the team fares.  It’s cool to look at, but I personally don’t trust it absolutely.   If I were to include it, I’d weight by dividing it by ten before adding it to the numbers I got above:
[(A+A/TO)* PPS] + (+/- diff)/10
So USA Basketball, as you’re trying to decide what pure point guard might best run a team, don’t be too quick to write off all scoring point guards as selfish…


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