Charting Assists for Chris Paul and Tony Parker in New Orleans' 90-83 Victory Over San AntonioI had it all planned out: Wednesday's Hornets-Spurs game featured a showdown of premier point guards Chris Paul and Tony Parker, so I decided to chart the assist totals of both players and see if the scorekeeper followed rule book procedures in general or if he favored the home town player (Paul in this case).
Of course, when charting assists it helps if the teams actually score some points; San Antonio led 15-14 after the first quarter and 42-37 at halftime. Chris Paul was credited with two first half assists, while Tony Parker was credited with no first half assists and suddenly my research project was turning into Geraldo Rivera's tour of "Al Capone's vault." That is not to say that the point guards were not playing well--Parker scored 14 first half points on 6-8 field goal shooting, while Paul had 10 points on 5-9 shooting--but the first half hardly provided much evidence regarding how well or how poorly assists are being tracked.
Fortunately, things picked up quite a bit in the second half, as Paul was credited with seven assists in the third quarter alone, while Parker was credited with three third quarter assists. Paul had three fourth quarter assists as the Hornets rallied from a nine point deficit to defeat the team that eliminated them in last year's playoffs. Parker had one fourth quarter assist.
According to the boxscore, Paul finished with 12 assists, while Parker finished with four assists. Here is how I would have scored those 16 plays:
Chris Paul's 12 Assists
1: Antonio Daniels layup, :49 1st q: Incorrect; Daniels received Paul's pass at the three point line, took two dribbles and scored a contested layup. An assist is supposed to be a pass that leads "directly" to a score (see below). The issue is not how many dribbles Daniels took but the fact that he had to use his individual skills to create the shot, as opposed to Paul creating the shot with his pass.
2: Rasual Butler three pointer, 2:59 2nd q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.
3: Tyson Chandler dunk, 10:56 3rd q: Correct; Paul's pass created the scoring opportunity.
4: David West jumper, 9:25 3rd q: Correct; another straightforward catch and shoot play.
5: West jumper, 8:15 3rd q: Correct; again, this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.
6: Chandler dunk, 6:20 3rd q: Correct; Paul made a sweet alley-oop lob.
7: Butler three pointer, 4:58 3rd q: Correct; catch and shoot.
8: Hilton Armstrong dunk, 2:08 3rd q: Correct; Paul made a slick bounce pass through traffic after a screen/roll play with Armstrong.
9: James Posey three pointer, 1:04 3rd q: Correct; Paul drove into the lane and then made the kick out pass to Posey.
10: West jumper, 6:25 4th q: Correct; Paul made a bounce pass to West for the catch and shoot jumper.
11: West three pointer, 4:36 4th q: Correct; Paul made a cross court baseball pass to set up West for the open shot.
12: Posey three pointer, 1:06 4th q: Correct; Paul drove into the lane and kicked the ball out to Posey for a dagger three that put New Orleans up 85-79.
Tony Parker's Four Assists
1: Roger Mason jumper, 11:08 3rd q: Incorrect; Parker passed to Mason, who took two dribbles before making a contested shot.
2: Matt Bonner three pointer, 7:54 3rd q: Correct; catch and shoot play.
3: Manu Ginobili three pointer, 3:36 third q: Correct; catch and shoot play.
4: Bonner jumper, 5:04 4th q: Correct; catch and shoot play.
Overall, of the 16 credited assists for Paul and Parker, 14 of them were by the book and two of them were incorrect. That is a better ratio than what I previously observed (see below). It is interesting that Paul and Parker each received one generous ruling (i.e., there was no detectable hometown bias in the scorekeeping of their assists). One caveat that I would offer before saying that all is well is that in this game there were not a lot of catch, multiple dribble and/or fake and shoot plays that resulted in made baskets; those are the kinds of plays that I have observed being scored incorrectly in previous games (and two such plays were scored incorrectly in this game).
What I would like to see is a strict, universally applied definition of an assist that justly awards playmakers who are truly creating scoring opportunities but does not pad the statistics of players in situations where they were simply the last person to pass the ball to a scorer who created his own shot by virtue of his skill set.
Here are some of my previous posts in which I charted how assists were recorded:
David West Dominates as Hornets Throttle Spurs, 101-82 (David West scores 30 points while making 13 field goals; Paul is credited with assists on seven of those 13 field goals--three were correct, one was marginal and three were clearly wrong, including one in which West received the ball from Bonzi Wells, not Paul!).
Manu is the Man as Spurs Eliminate Hornets (Paul is credited with 14 assists but should only have been credited with nine).
Smooth All-Around Performance by Paul Lifts Hornets Over Heat (Paul is credited with 13 assists but should only have been credited with 11).
To summarize, prior to this post I charted Paul's assists in two playoff games and one regular season game, all three of which were played in New Orleans. Of the 34 plays that I observed when Paul was credited with assists only 23 of them fit the rule book definition of an assist. For those who don't know what that definition is, here is a passage that was originally posted on NBA.com in 2002:
An assist is a pass that directly leads to a basket. This can be a pass to the low post that leads to a direct score, a long pass for a layup, a fast break pass to a teammate for a layup, and/or a pass that results in an open perimeter shot for a teammate. In basketball, an assist is awarded only if, in the judgement of the statistician, the last player's pass contributed directly to a made basket. An assist can be awarded for a basket scored after the ball has been dribbled if the player's pass led to the field goal being made.
The rule of thumb to keep in mind is that the pass is supposed to "directly" lead to a basket. Every fake, dribble and move that the recipient makes after getting the ball makes that "direct" connection more and more tenuous. If the recipient is running down court uncontested and his teammate passes him the ball, then the number of dribbles he takes is irrelevant: he is meeting no defensive resistance and he clearly would not have scored without receiving that pass--but if a player is running down court, receives a pass, does a crossover dribble to shake one defender and then twists and turns to lay the ball up over another defender, then the pass did not really "directly" lead to the score because the scorer did most of the work. If the scorer does most of the work then the passer should not receive credit for an assist.
posted by David Friedman @ 9:11 AM