Flawed Box Score Numbers Can Lead to Faulty ConclusionsIt has been a while since I charted a player's assists for an entire NBA game but a play from Boston's 105-89 victory over Denver on Wednesday night caught my eye: Rajon Rondo passed the ball to Ray Allen in the right corner, Allen took two dribbles, drove from behind the three point line to the hoop, made a contested left handed layup--and Rondo received an assist! While it is true that technically an assist can be awarded even if the shooter dribbles after receiving the pass, an assist is supposed to be a pass that leads "directly" to a score. There is nothing special about making a routine pass to the corner and watching a future Hall of Famer execute an excellent move. An assist is supposed to reward the passer for helping to create a shot, not for simply being the last player to handle the ball before someone else shoots.
Some people may dismiss my concerns about the authenticity of NBA assists by looking at players' home/road splits, arguing that this all evens out, but I reject that contention for two reasons:
1) I have never suggested--and do not believe--that the primary problem is "home cooking"; I think that the assist standards have been lowered across the board (even though the official definition of an assist has not been changed) and I also strongly suspect that scorekeepers are more apt to give borderline (or even bogus) assists to players who are perceived as elite playmakers than they are to players who are not perceived that way. In other words, if Glen Davis had made the pass that Rondo made to Allen I doubt that Davis would have received an assist, even in Boston. The reason I say this is that if assists were handed out on every such play then almost every field goal in the league would be classified as an assisted field goal and that is not the case, though the number of assisted field goals has trended upward in recent years--a strange phenomenon considering how much of the NBA game consists of post up plays and isolations.
2) If, as I suspect, elite playmakers receive a certain benefit of the doubt across the board then things do not really even out over the course of the season--and this should be a great concern to both "old school" journalists/historians as well as to the "stat gurus."
This type of thing is one reason that I do not trust "advanced basketball statistics"; the "stat gurus" create formulas that not only contain various flaws/biases but they are also using basic numbers (i.e., box score statistics) that are not completely reliable. As I have said many times, it is much more valuable to have a player who draws a double team and makes the correct initial pass that ultimately leads to an open shot on the weak side than to have a player who racks up high assist totals because he handles the ball all of the time and/or he benefits from lax scorekeeping standards.
I thought that Chris Paul was the best point guard in the NBA a couple years ago even though my research strongly indicated that his assist totals were heavily inflated and I think that Rajon Rondo is one of the best point guards in the NBA now even though I don't believe that he is legitimately averaging over 14 apg--but until the NBA vastly improves its scorekeeping standards I will look with a jaundiced eye at the most subjective box score numbers (assists, steals, blocked shots, turnovers) and I will also be most suspicious of "advanced basketball statistics" that are based on those faulty numbers.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:37 AM