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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Manu is the Man as Spurs Eliminate Hornets

Manu Ginobili scored a game-high 26 points as the San Antonio Spurs beat the New Orleans Hornets 91-82 to earn a rare seventh game victory on the road. Though a nine point differential may not seem like much it is actually tied for the third biggest margin in a seventh game road win since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. Ginobili missed five of his first six field goal attempts and shot just 6-19 for the game but he scored 11 points in the final 3:09 of the first half as the Spurs turned a 37-36 deficit into a 51-42 halftime lead. The Spurs never trailed after that, withstanding a furious rally by the Hornets late in the game. Ginobili also had five rebounds and he tied for the team lead with five assists. Tim Duncan finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds. He shot just 5-17 from the field but he had a huge impact on the game at both ends of the court: offensively he drew double-teams that enabled his wide open teammates to shoot 12-28 (.429) from three point range and defensively he helped the Spurs win the rebounding battle (51-42) and he sealed off the paint from dribble penetration, resulting in the Hornets missing a lot of contested jumpers, including a 4-17 (.235) tally from three point range. Tony Parker contributed 17 points and five assists. David West had 20 points and nine rebounds but he did most of his damage in the first quarter (10 points on 5-8 shooting, four rebounds) and shot just 3-11 from the field in the final 36 minutes. Chris Paul filled up the boxscore (18 points, 14 assists, eight rebounds, five steals) but he never really controlled the flow of the game. Jannero Pargo came off the bench to score 18 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter as he single-handedly tried to bring New Orleans back from a double digit deficit.

Before delving into what happened in this game, I have to mention a scorekeeping issue that really bothers me--and a problem that Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Rick Barry have talked about for years. Robertson, at one time the career leader in assists (he currently ranks fourth), has repeatedly said that assists are doled out much more generously by scorekeepers than they were when he played. Barry told me that the only statistic he trusts is free throw percentage because every other number can be manipulated in some way either by the player (for instance, missing a shot to pad one's offensive rebounding totals) or by the subjective judgment of the scorekeeper, who has the final word in deciding whether or not a tap is an offensive rebound, who should get credit for a steal--and what constitutes an assist. In my post about game one of this series, I pointed out that even though Paul was officially credited with seven assists on passes to David West (and 13 total assists) three of those assists were clearly scored incorrectly (Paul did not even pass to West on one of the plays in question!) and one of them was marginal at best. For game seven, I tracked every one of Paul's 14 official assists and it turns out that he actually should only have been credited with nine assists (see the notes at the end of this post for a breakdown of what happened on each of these plays).

Why does this matter? If you look at the boxscore and see that Paul had 14 assists then you might think that he had a great game. That is how David Berri and a lot of other stats gurus "analyze" basketball: by crunching unreliable numbers without ever watching a game. I love stats and numbers as much as anyone but, frankly, I am disgusted by this new wave of so-called "analysts" who think that a spreadsheet tells them all they need to know about basketball; they not only fail to realize the folly of this conception on a general level but they are oblivious to how subjective some of the "official" statistics are. Anyone who watched this game seven with understanding realizes that Paul played reasonably well, but not great. Paul got into the lane on a few occasions and made some passes that resulted in dunks but overall the Spurs did a good job of containing him--and that is one of the reasons that the Spurs won the deciding game in this series. Paul certainly did not dominate the flow of this game the way that Kobe Bryant does on a nightly basis or the way that LeBron James does even in defeat by forcing the opposing team to shadow him all over the court with multiple defenders.

Also, taking a broader view than just this game, Paul's assist totals are one of the major factors being cited by people who claim that Paul should have won the MVP and that he already ranks among the all-time great point guards. I think that Paul is the best point guard in the NBA today and that he was the third best player in the NBA this season behind Bryant and James but I also think that it is clear that assists are awarded much more liberally now than they should be or than they were in the past and that Paul is a big beneficiary of this largesse. I don't doubt that Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and other point guards also receive such help and I think that this kind of faulty scorekeeping is a major reason that Nash owns two MVP awards. If Nash had been credited with 8 or 9 apg instead of 11.5 apg and 10.5 apg in 2005 and 2006 respectively then the voters would have had a more difficult time justifying giving the award to a player who averaged less than 19 ppg each season and is a major liability defensively.

OK, back to the game: in my preview article about this series I wrote, "Manu Ginobili may be the X factor in this series. Assuming that Parker will not score as much as he did last round, Ginobili may become the focal point of the Spurs' offensive attack for significant stretches of time." Sure enough, after averaging 29.6 ppg in the first round versus Nash's Suns, Parker averaged 19.4 ppg versus Paul's Hornets. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich used Ginobili as his sixth man for most of this season and for the first seven games of the playoffs but after the Spurs dropped the first two games to New Orleans he not only inserted Ginobili into the starting lineup but he increased his minutes: Ginobili played 32 and 27 minutes in games one and two but in the Spurs' game three victory he scored 31 points in 39 minutes. He played 32 minutes in the Spurs' game four win and would surely have played more minutes if the score had been closer in the fourth quarter. Ginobili played 42 minutes in game seven.

Ginobili is not an MVP-level player like Bryant or James nor is he even the best player on the Spurs; without Duncan, it would be much easier for teams to defend Ginobili (and Parker) and the Spurs' defense would not be nearly as good--having Duncan lurking in the paint is like having your big brother nearby when you are in a schoolyard fight: you never have to worry about things getting out of hand because he will have your back and it is that sense of security that is the basis for how Ginobili, Parker and Bruce Bowen are able to guard their men. Ginobili is exactly what I called him in my preview: an X factor, a matchup problem for which the Hornets (and many other teams) have no good answer.

The teams traded baskets in the early going before the Hornets hit a couple hoops in a row to take a 14-11 lead. The Spurs closed the first quarter with a 12-6 run. Duncan scored eight points in the first quarter and the Spurs took advantage of the double team coverage against him to make three three pointers. Duncan only received an assist for one of the three pointers but a player who commands a double team forces the opponent to have to scramble defensively and that results in open shots; this is one of the reasons that guys like Bryant, James and Duncan are perennial MVP candidates: their very presence impacts the game, even in situations in which there are no statistics to quantify their impact.

The Spurs pushed their lead to 36-25 in the second quarter but the Hornets calmly answered with a 12-0 run to take their last lead of the game. This is when Ginobili made his presence felt by drilling three three pointers and a runner in the lane as the Spurs surged to a 51-42 halftime advantage. Ginobili scored one of the three pointers in transition but Duncan had a role in the other two, earning an assist on one of them and drawing the defense into the paint on the other (the defense was further collapsed on that possession by a penetrating drive by Parker).

San Antonio played horribly in the third quarters of each of the previous games in New Orleans but the Spurs cured that problem in game seven, outscoring the Hornets 20-14 while holding them to 5-17 field goal shooting. The Spurs led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter and carried a 71-56 advantage into the final 12 minutes. Then, the Hornets made seven straight field goals to open the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 78-70. Pargo did most of the damage, hitting runners, three pointers and making his free throws after drawing fouls. Meanwhile, the Spurs went cold, shooting just 3-17 from the field in the first 11:10 of the quarter. By that point, a Pargo three pointer had made the score 83-80 San Antonio and all the Hornets needed was one stop and one score. Instead, the Spurs ran a screen/roll play with Duncan and Parker that resulted in Parker making a jumper to put the Spurs up by five. After that, Ginobili sealed the deal by making six straight free throws and West scored the Hornets' final points of the season on an uncontested dunk.

The Spurs are built around Duncan's impact as a low post scoring threat, a rebounder, a defender and even as a screener. Duncan's 16 points in this game are not like a regular player scoring 16 points because Duncan drew double team coverage for most of the game, opening up scoring opportunities for his teammates; regardless of how some people may interpret what the boxscore says, not all identical point totals are in fact created equal. Parker is an All-Star level point guard with a scorer's mentality but he has mastered the delicate balance of knowing when to shoot (and which shots to take) and when to pass. Ginobili is an All-Star level shooting guard whose grit, guile, clutch play and ability to score in a variety of ways make him a perfect complement to Duncan and Parker. Coach Popovich is one of the best coaches in the NBA and he may be the best at manipulating individual matchups to his team's advantage.

This young New Orleans team did a great job of pushing the defending champions to the brink of elimination. Paul has emerged this season as the best point guard in the NBA and West looks like he will be an All-Star for years to come. The ingredient in New Orleans' success that many people overlook is that the Hornets are a very good defensive team.

A Breakdown of Chris Paul's 14 Game Seven Assists

1: Stojakovic jumper, 9:22 1st q--Correct; Stojakovic caught the pass and went straight into his shooting motion.
2: Chandler dunk, 7:01 1st q--Correct; Chandler caught the pass and dunked it.
3: West jumper, 6:21 1st q--Incorrect; West caught the ball with his back to the basket at the 6:26 mark. Paul moved from the left wing to the top of the key as West turned and faced up Fabricio Oberto. West then dribbled, did a spin move and shot a tough fadeaway jumper. There is no conceivable way that this can correctly be scored as an assist. An assist is only supposed to be awarded if the pass significantly contributed to the score and if the player who received the pass made an immediate reaction to shoot. West executed multiple moves and fakes before he scored.
4: West jumper, 4:33 1st q--Incorrect; this one is so bad it is ridiculous: West received the ball from Paul at the right free throw line extended at the 4:40 mark. West pump faked Oberto off of his feet, took four dribbles, made a spin move into the paint, came to a jump stop, did an up and under move and then shot a jump hook. Seven seconds, four dribbles and multiple fakes happened between Paul's pass and West's shot! If Paul deserves an assist, then I think that West's point guard at Xavier should get one, too--he had about as much to do with West making this shot as Paul did.
5: Chandler dunk, 7:09 2nd q--Correct; Chandler caught the pass and dunked it.
6: Stojakovic three pointer, 5:22 2nd q--Correct; Stojakovic caught the pass and went straight into his shooting motion.
7: Peterson three pointer, 4:43 2nd q--Correct; Peterson caught the pass and went straight into his shooting motion.
8: Stojakovic jumper, 3:31 2nd q--Incorrect; Stojakovic caught the pass, pump faked, used an escape dribble and then shot. If the shooter does more than half of the work the passer is not supposed to receive credit and this basket would never have been scored without the fake and the dribble move.
9: Peterson driving layup, :24 2nd q--Incorrect; Peterson received the ball at the three point line at the :27 mark. If he had shot it at that point then Paul would deserve an assist, but Peterson took two dribbles, drove past Tony Parker, eluded Tim Duncan and made a layup. That is a one on one (or one on two) move, not an assisted field goal.
10: West dunk, :07 3rd q--Correct; West caught the pass and dunked it.
11: Chandler dunk, 10:15 4th q--Correct; Chandler caught the pass and dunked it.
12: Pargo driving layup, 8:34 4th q--Incorrect; Pargo caught the pass at the three point line at the 8:38 mark, faked a shot, drove past Tony Parker and shot a tough runner. If assists are going to be awarded on this play and on play number nine above then every single time someone passes the ball and the recipient eventually scores an assist should be awarded. Obviously, that is not within the letter or the spirit of what an assist is supposed to be, namely a pass that creates a scoring opportunity that otherwise would not have existed. If Pargo had caught the ball and shot, then Paul would deserve an assist but once Pargo created a shot then the pass lost any claim of being worthy of being designated as an assist.
13: Chandler dunk, 7:59 4th q--Correct; Chandler caught the pass and dunked it.
14: Pargo three pointer, 1:35 4th q--Correct; Paul back tapped an offensive rebound to Pargo, who caught the pass and shot it. Paul was rightly credited with both an offensive rebound and an assist on this play.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:47 AM



At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 8:02:00 AM, Blogger khandor said...


That's a terrific post and first-rate analysis of what actually happened on the floor during last night's Game 7.

Kudos galore!

PS. FWIW ... I would choose Deron Williams over Chris Paul to be the Point Guard on my team, in the NBA; although, like you, I, too, think that both are outstanding young players. :-)

At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 2:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I checked all of these are you are totally correct.

The play by play on ESPN shows all of those as assists, while replaying those posessions again clearly shows none of those passes to be assists, none of them are even reasonably close to being assists.

So the real question is, how often does this happen?

At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 3:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is why players in the Euroleague never come up with those high assists numbers like in the NBA. In Europe - I believe - it is only assist if the recipient doesn't dribble the ball before he scores. I might be wrong when you think about situations where one player steals the ball and feeds a teammate for an easy brake-away dunk. This might as well be an assist when the player hast to take a dribble to get to the hoop.
best regads Jörn

At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 4:35:00 PM, Blogger Five Hundred Films said...

I don't think there's a question that assists are going to be questionable since they're judgment calls, but I think this post is ultimately frivolous without the "assist" definition and examples from the statistician's manual.

I mean, it doesn't make a lot of sense to simply assert the scorers got the assists wrong when it seems that you aren't sure about the definition of an "assist."

If you do know, then you should post it and make your commentary relevant to that definition. But as far as I know that information is generally not made widely available to the public, so I'm guessing you don't have it.

At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 6:26:00 PM, Blogger Insurance Agent said...

This is absurd. So Paul 'ONLY' got 9 assists by YOUR calculations. I wish every point guard would be so bad. The amazing thing about Paul is not so much his assists, but his lack of turnovers anyway. He had a bad game because he had 4 turnovers in game 7. He usually has 0 or 1. . . THAT is what makes him great, not the high number of assists.

But I'll tell you what. If you want to break down all of Paul's assists like this, I will EXPECT you to break down EVERY ONE OF KOBE BRYANT'S (20 per game) FREE THROW GIFTS in the Western Conference Finals. If it weren't for Bryant's favorable treatment by the referees and the League's love of everything Laker he wouldn't score nearly as much. His percentage is not good and Chris Paul's 3 point shooting percentage is higher than Kobe's - even though it is an area where Paul needs to improve.

OK, so YOU keep the stats next time. YOU call the fouls next time too. I doubt Kobe would get more than 10 free throws a game if it were called right. . . but it isn't.

9 assists by your count. That sucks - Chris Paul is terrible. If Chris hadn't passed to the person who scored the ball, he wouldn't have gotten an assist. How many other times did he pass a wide open person the ball when they missed? Peja scored 7 points. Paul had a sub par game 7. But to point to his assist numbers as some sort of ruse by the league sorely misunderstands what Chris Paul brings to the game.

I only watch the NBA because of Chris Paul. He makes it a TEAM game for the first time in at least 25 years. Hate all you want.

At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 7:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you.

D Will is great, no question; my reason for preferring CP3 is that CP3 is more explosively quick. Also, CP3 plays the passing lanes better, so he is more disruptive defensively. I don't say that there is a huge difference between them, but I would choose CP3 (prior to this season I preferred D Will). It will be fun to watch the two of them battle for the next decade or so.

At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 7:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I indicated in the post, I think that this happens a lot. I charted Paul's assists to West after game one of this series because when I watched the game I really liked the way that West created his own shot--and then I noticed in the play by play sheet that Paul got credited with assists on several of those plays, so I went back over the game tape. I did the same thing with game seven, only this time I looked at all of the assists, not just the ones to West.

I suspect that an analysis of most of the 10-plus apg guys of the past decade would yield similar results. The guys who are considered premier playmakers are getting the benefit of the doubt. As I made clear in the post, I am not knocking Paul, who I think was the third best player in the NBA this season--but I think that the NBA really needs to strive for more consistency in its scorekeeping. Like I said in the post, Robertson and Barry have talked about this for years, so I don't think that it is limited to just Paul's assists in the two games that I charted.

At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 7:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In the breakaway situation that you described it would be appropriate to award an assist. For instance, if a player gets a defensive rebound and throws an outlet to a guard who scores an uncontested layup then the passer should get an assist; likewise, if someone gets a steal and throws ahead to his teammate for an uncontested score then the passer should get an assist. The issue is not how many dribbles the shooter takes but whether or not the shot is contested. If the recipient takes multiple dribbles all by himself then it is fine to award an assist--but if the recipient has to dribble around people (like Peterson and Pargo did in some of the plays in game seven) then an assist is not supposed to be awarded.

At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 7:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Here is the definition of an NBA assist as posted at 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."


That is the standard that I applied in my analysis of Paul's assists in game one and game seven. On one of Paul's game one assists he did not even pass directly to West; Paul passed to Bonzi Wells, who then passed to West. On the other plays that I deemed to be incorrectly scored the recipient of the pass made multiple fakes and/or dribbles and therefore Paul's pass did not "contribute directly to a made basket." In addition to three incorrect game one assists there was a game one assist that was borderline--as I stated in that post--but the incorrect assists in game seven are not even open to reasonable dispute.

Also, another good definition of a basketball assist is provided in the NCAA Basketball Statistician's Manual:

"A player is credited with an assist when the player makes, in the judgment of the statistician, the principal pass contributing directly to a field goal...An assist should be more than a routine pass that just happens to be followed by a field goal. It should be a conscious effort to find the open player or to help a player work free..."

Check out this link to a great Ken Pomeroy article that talks about inconsistent scorekeeping regarding assists at the NCAA level:


At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 8:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Insurance Agent:

I am not surprised at the vehemence of your response considering that you are a Wake Forest graduate and you probably feel like you must stick up for fellow alum CP3, even though I never attacked him in the first place.

I have mentioned before on several occasions that CP3's turnover rate is remarkably low. I rank him as the third best player in the NBA this season and have said that he is better now than Nash was when he won two MVPs (because Paul is not a defensive liability). I do not "hate" CP3 by any stretch of the imagination and to even suggest that is to grossly misread what I wrote.

What do Kobe's free throw attempts have to do with CP3's assists? I have never understood the idea that a person should not write or talk about one kind of mistake unless he writes about every other alleged mistake. Are you saying that even though I can clearly demonstrate that Paul was wrongly credited with five assists that I should not write about this unless I also analyze every foul called against someone who is guarding Kobe Bryant? That makes no sense.

Since you brought this up, though, it is worth mentioning that one reason that Kobe gets a lot of free throw attempts is that he handles the ball at the end of the game when the Lakers are ahead and the other team has to foul; he has gotten a lot of free throws in this year's playoffs in such situations. If you closely watch Kobe and LeBron then you will notice that even though they attempt a lot of free throws they are hit on many plays in which no foul is called. Obviously, anyone who has a rooting interest thinks that his guy is getting the shaft and the other team's guy is getting favorable treatment. It is hilarious to look at some message boards after playoff games and see both teams' fans complaining.

The faulty scorekeeping regarding assists is not a new issue; HoFers Robertson and Barry have mentioned it for years. As I noted in a comment above, I went back and charted CP3's game one assists because the play by play sheet account did not correspond with what I saw with my own eyes. The same thing happened in game seven.

CP3 had a good game in game seven but not a great one. The Spurs contained him and that is one of the reasons that they won. The artificially inflated total of 14 assists gives a false impression of what happened in this game by inflating Paul's assist total by over 55% (adding five assists to his correct total of nine).

I never said that CP3 is "terrible." Please take the time to read what I wrote with an open mind and try to understand that I am simply analyzing what happened in the game, not "hating" a certain player or team.

At Tuesday, May 20, 2008 10:57:00 PM, Blogger ñ said...


I agree with you 100%. I for one don't like Hollinger's PER.

At Wednesday, May 21, 2008 4:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


that was the first time i have read an article pertaining to the NBA that has made sense.

Logic. I'm shocked someone has used it to reasonably explain/argue a point. Most of the things I read involve Mr. "Insurance Agent" logic, which is so flawed, that one might think that the person did not read the article, or is 8 years old.

Congrats sir, I will surely read future posts.

At Wednesday, May 21, 2008 7:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thanks for the compliment and welcome aboard.

At Wednesday, May 21, 2008 8:16:00 AM, Blogger Blogger said...

That was a fantastic catch of so many obvious assist forgeries. Thanks for that watchdog effort - somebody needs to call the scorekeepers/Hornets/NBA or whoever is behind the stat padding. It needs to go.

At Wednesday, May 21, 2008 9:12:00 AM, Blogger The Original MSG said...

As an NBA fan first, and a Spurs fan second, I love this analysis. Seriously one of the best-written, objective, analytical pieces I have ever seen.

Also - great job on handling the response. I too have never understood when people have such vitriolic responses to things they read...you handled it with equanimity and class.

Keep up the great work.


At Wednesday, May 21, 2008 10:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David: Nice analysis on the assists. I've done a similar mini-study over a longer period of games (looking at ALL assists, not just those for a single player, and found similar results. I've estimated on the boards at APBRmetrics that assists are over-credited by around 20%.

And, those that are awarded, are done so with bias. For example, in one game I tracked, an All Star PG made a pass to a teammate on the wing at the 3pt line. That player did a dribble drive into the lane for a dunk. The All Star PG was awarded an assist.

Later in the game, the scrub center for that same team made a nearly identical pass to a teammate on the wing. That teammate drove into the lane for a dunk. Same pass the All Star PG made, same result. But the scrub center didn't get an assist.

What I didn't like here was your strawman attacks on statistical analysts. I don't know many (if any) who think statistical analysis REPLACES watching games. I don't know many (if any) who think that everything they need about a player can be found by looking at box score stats.

And, at least some of us are acutely aware of the limitations of the stats because of the flaws in how they're collected and awarded. Some of us, in fact, are privately petitioning the league to come up with ways to correct this stuff so that the numbers can be more useful.

At Wednesday, May 21, 2008 11:32:00 AM, Blogger morjerry1969 said...

Outstanding post, David. You took each instance and explained clearly what happened. Chris Paul did not, as far as we know, ASK the scorekeepers to boost his assists, so he is certainly not to blame, and you did not blame him or hate on him as others have claimed.

One question though... As far as the free throw statistic being the only accurate statistic - what about when the player intentionally misses in order to keep the other team from being able to set up an out-of-bounds play, to start the clock immediately, or to give his own team the opportunity to get a rebound and score when they're down by more than one? Probably doesn't happen enough to drastically change the player's percentage, but there are opportunities for this in almost every game, sometimes several of them at the ends of the quarters and halves...

At Wednesday, May 21, 2008 5:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That first play you described sounds exactly like Paul's pass to Peterson, who then drove past Parker and Duncan to score a layup.

As I said, Robertson and Barry (and others) have talked about this for a while but what drew my attention specifically to Paul is what happened in game one with his assists to West. When I saw the boxscore/play by play for game seven I knew that something was wrong and that is why I went to the tape for that game as well.

Unless he has had a complete change of heart that I don't know about, David Berri and his cohorts at WoW believe that the viewing eye is inherently biased and that the best way to analyze sports (not just basketball) is purely by crunching the right numbers (i.e., the ones that he uses). That is why Berri is the one person I mentioned by name when I brought up this issue. I know that he has a devoted following that firmly believes in his methods and that is why I alluded to other people thinking about this issue the same way that he does but in light of your comment (and a similar comment that Henry Abbott made via email) I think that perhaps I should have just mentioned Berri's name and not referred to unnamed others, because doing so may be interpreted to include some "stats gurus" who do in fact realize the importance of watching games--mind you, I did not intend to implicate those others but I can see how my post could be interpreted to do so.

So, let me make it clear that I appreciate the work that you have done on this particular stats issue and with stats in general and that my comment about Berri certainly was not meant to include you or other sensibly minded "stats gurus" like Dan Rosenbaum, Dean Oliver, Roland Beech and others.

At Wednesday, May 21, 2008 6:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Intentionally missing a free throw is an exceedingly rare play. I disagree that such things happen in almost every game. So, you are right that this could theoretically alter a player's free throw percentage but this would only involve--at most--a handful of free throws a season and thus not be statistically significant. In an admittedly small sample size, I found eight incorrectly scored assists out of 21 for Chris Paul (five out of 14 in game seven, three of Paul's seven assists to West in game one, with a fourth assist to West being marginal at best), who is being touted as a player who is setting all-time assists marks for someone who is making his first playoff appearance. If I were the players who held the previous records I'd be upset by this. Frankly, as a basketball historian I am upset by this. As you said, I am not blaming Paul but something should be done to tighten up the scorekeeping.

Also, the NBA went back and took away a triple double from LeBron James a year or two ago when it realized that his final assist in that game was incorrectly scored. I'd like to see the NBA go back and at the very least correct the boxscores from game one and game seven--and perhaps take a broader look at how assists are kept in general. As I said, the James situation sets a precedent for taking such action. I sent my post about game one to the NBA office but have yet to receive a response.

At Wednesday, May 21, 2008 6:46:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

As a Warriors fan, I'm curious what you all think about this situation. Baron Davis probably got three dozen or more assists this season, and Stephen Jackson many more, that went like this: Pass the ball to Monte Ellis around the three point line. Using his extraordinary quickness, Ellis makes make a move three steps left and three steps in that leaves a defender basically standing still. Then Ellis knocks down the wide open jumper. This seems like a really tough one. On one hand, Ellis's move is what got him open for the shot, which suggests no assist. On the other hand, Ellis's "move" is really nothing more than taking two or three dribbles to the forward-left, which suggests assist. But only Monta Ellis (and about 5 other guys in the league) could possibly do this, which suggests Ellis, not Baron, creates the shot. I don't really know where these fall. In my book, it's Ellis's shot, so no assist. But a close one...

At Thursday, May 22, 2008 8:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If Ellis takes those three dribbles with no defender around him then an assist could conceivably be correctly awarded--but if he is taking those dribbles to evade a defender then no assist should be awarded. An assist is supposed to be a pass that helps create a score, not just the last pass that was made before a shot was taken. Bottom line: the number of dribbles the recipient takes after getting the pass is not as significant as how much defensive opposition he faces. There can be an assist even when a player dribbles five times if the pass went to someone who had a clear path to the hoop and he encountered no resistance on his way there.

At Saturday, May 24, 2008 2:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judging by the descriptions provided for each sequence, assists 3, 8, 9 and 12 were scored correctly according to guidelines set forth in the NBA Statisticians' Manual. Would have to review video of assist 4 to make a final determination on that play.

At Saturday, May 24, 2008 3:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Please cite (or provide a link to) the relevant passages in the NBA Statistician's Manual that you believe support your contention. I have never read or heard anything at any level of the game that would support awarding assists on the plays that I cited. The NCAA Stat Manual specifically says that assists should not be awarded on such plays and the NBA.com page that I cited above gives the same indication: an assist is supposed to create a shot opportunity, not merely be the last pass before a shot is taken.

There is obviously a certain amount of subjective judgment required to make that determination but other than play eight these plays are clear cut--and even on play eight there would be no shot without the escape dribble and therefore it is not right to award an assist. I understand that taking a dribble does not automatically nullify an assist but eluding a defender does and that is what happened on this play. On the Mo Pete drive (# 9), he eluded Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. That is a one on one move, not an assisted field goal.

At Saturday, May 31, 2008 5:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think perception of a player might also play a significant factor in how officials tally assists. for chris paul, people automatically assume because he's "chris paul", that any time he passes to someone, it "must" be an assist, which, consciously or not, influences these people to count it as an assist more often than not.

At Saturday, May 31, 2008 12:28:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that you are probably right about that.

At Monday, January 19, 2009 10:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

CP3 isnt that great. His basic assists doesnt necessarily create for his teammates does he? All in all, Nash is the best point guard :]

At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 2:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that CP3 is great but I also think that his assist totals are inflated.


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