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Friday, November 01, 2013

Charting Chris Paul's Assists Versus the Golden State Warriors

On several occasions, I have charted the assists that have officially been credited to various players in order to determine how accurate the NBA's "official" assist totals are. Last night, Chris Paul authored a spectacular performance as his L.A. Clippers defeated the Golden State Warriors 126-115: Paul scored 42 points, dished off 15 assists and swiped six steals, becoming the first player to post 40-15-5 in those categories since the NBA began officially recording steals in the 1973-74 season--but did all of Paul's assists fit the strict rulebook requirements for an assist? It is no secret that NBA scorekeepers often employ a very liberal definition of an assist; here is the official description of an assist, as posted at NBA.com in 2002 (the rule has not changed since that time):

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 last sentence brings some subjectivity into the matter but old school scorekeepers would not award an assist on a play in which the recipient of the pass clearly did the bulk of the work to get open.

Here is my take on Chris Paul's 15 assists versus the Warriors:

1: Blake Griffin dribble drive, 11:02 1st Q: Correct, but borderline; Paul passed to Griffin, who received the ball at the free throw line, made a slight fake, took one dribble and scored. Griffin made an immediate attempt to score after catching the ball--so the assist has some validity--but the play could also be interpreted as a one on one move, not an assisted basket.

2: J.J. Redick fastbreak layup, 7:40 1st Q: Correct; Paul passed to Redick, who scored an uncontested fastbreak layup.

3: Blake Griffin drive, 6:07 1st Q: Incorrect; Paul passed to Griffin on the right wing and Griffin made a fake, took four dribbles and made another fake before scoring a layup. Giving Paul an assist on this kind of play is such ridiculously bad scorekeeping that it makes one question the validity of the assist statistic, because Paul had nothing whatsoever to do with Griffin scoring on the play. Griffin created the shot entirely for himself.

4: DeAndre Jordan dunk, 5:48 1st Q: Correct; Paul lobbed the ball to Jordan for the dunk.

5: Jared Dudley jumper, 5:13 1st Q: Correct; Paul fed Dudley for a catch and shoot jumper.

6: Blake Griffin jumper, 4:28 1st Q: Correct; Paul inbounded to Griffin, who held the ball briefly before nailing a jumper. A very strict scorekeeper might not award an assist because Griffin did not make an immediate attempt to score after receiving the pass.

7: Jared Dudley three pointer, 4:19 2nd Q: Correct; Paul passed to Dudley, who immediately fired away from long distance.

8: Jared Dudley fastbreak layup, 3:19 2nd Q: Correct; Paul fed Dudley, whose layup attempt was goaltended by Andre Iguodala.

9: J.J. Redick jumper, 1:44 2nd Q: Incorrect; Paul swung the ball to Redick, who used a pick and took two escape dribbles before nailing a tough, contested shot. Redick created the shot opportunity for himself, as opposed to the shot being created by Paul's pass.

10: Blake Griffin fastbreak dunk, 5:03 3rd Q: Correct; Paul lobbed the ball to Griffin for the dunk.

11: Blake Griffin fastbreak dunk, 4:47 3rd Q: Correct; Paul lobbed the ball to Griffin for the dunk.

12: Blake Griffin fastbreak dunk, 4:31 3rd Q: Correct; Paul lobbed the ball to Griffin for the dunk.

13: Jamal Crawford three pointer, 9:44 4th Q: Correct; Paul passed to Crawford for a catch and shoot jumper.

14: Jamal Crawford layup, 8:10 4th Q: Correct; Paul inbounded to Crawford for an uncontested layup.

15: J.J. Redick three pointer, 3:11 4th Q: Correct; Paul dished to Redick for a catch and shoot jumper.

Two of Paul's assists were incorrectly scored, one was a borderline case and the remaining 12 were clearly legitimate. This is the seventh time that I have charted Chris Paul's assists; in those games, he has been officially credited with 87 assists but only 70 of those assists comply with the rulebook definition--and that includes several borderline plays. Why does this matter? Assist totals are used by some commentators as a way to evaluate who are the league's best passers--and "stat gurus" use raw assist totals as part of their "advanced basketball statistics." Thus, if the raw assist totals are inflated/inaccurate, it is not appropriate to rank passers based on assist numbers and the "advanced basketball statistics" have to be taken with a grain of salt because the basic, raw statistics used to create the "advanced" numbers may not be correct.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:38 PM


Thursday, October 31, 2013

First Impressions of the 2013-14 Season

The NBA season is a long grind and it would be foolish to draw definitive conclusions just two days into the process but every team has played at least one game and we have seen some interesting things so far:
  1. Mike Brown will once again transform the Cavaliers into a top notch defensive team; in their home debut, they held the Brooklyn Nets to .402 field goal shooting while also winning the rebounding battle 48-37. Cleveland's 98-94 victory over a team that most people expect to be an Eastern Conference contender is surprising only to those who do not understand that Brown is one of the league's best coaches. 
  2. The L.A. Lakers added some three point shooters and they will have a chance to win on the nights when their long range bombs hit their targets--but they are terrible defensively, they are soft mentally and physically and they will only make the playoffs if Kobe Bryant not only returns to action but if he is able to score 28-30 ppg.
  3. Derrick Rose looked OK physically in his regular season debut but he is very rusty; he scored just 12 points on 4-15 field goal shooting as his Chicago Bulls fell 107-95 to the Miami Heat. He also had four assists and five turnovers. If the Bulls are going to beat the Heat in a playoff series Rose must produce at least 23-25 ppg while shooting at least .450 from the field. 
  4. There is no question that LeBron James is an excellent passer, rebounder and defender--but, despite what anyone (including James himself) says, his greatest skill is scoring: he ranks third in NBA/ABA regular season history with a 27.5 ppg scoring average (trailing only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain) and he ranks fifth in NBA/ABA playoff history with a 28.1 ppg scoring average (trailing only Jordan, Allen Iverson, Jerry West and Kevin Durant). James led the NBA in playoff scoring in 2009 (35.3 ppg) and 2012 (30.3 ppg) and he has averaged at least 25.1 ppg in seven of his eight postseason campaigns. James' signature playoff performances during his two championship seasons have all included outstanding scoring numbers, including 37 points on 12-23 field goal shooting in game seven of the 2013 NBA Finals, 32 points on 8-17 field goal shooting in game seven of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, 26 points on 9-19 field goal shooting in the clinching game five of the 2012 NBA Finals, 31 points on 9-21 field goal shooting in game seven of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals and 45 points on 19-26 field goal shooting in game six of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. With Dwyane Wade declining and Chris Bosh relegated to a glorified Horace Grant-jump shooting role, the Miami Heat need for James to continue to score prolifically and efficiently.
  5. The Memphis Grizzlies miss Rudy Gay's scoring and Lionel Hollins' coaching; they shot just .419 from the field in their 101-94 season-opening loss to the San Antonio Spurs, failing to capitalize on an injury that limited Tim Duncan to three points in just 17 minutes.
  6. Gay scored a team-high 19 points on 8-18 field goal shooting as his Toronto Raptors beat the Boston Celtics 93-87 in the first game of the season for both teams.
  7. The Oklahoma City Thunder will need for Kevin Durant to be in Kobe Bryant 2006 mode just to tread water until Russell Westbrook returns from his knee injury; Durant scored 42 points on 9-24 field goal shooting as the Thunder barely held off the rebuilding Utah Jazz, 101-98.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:26 PM