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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Charting Assists for Chris Paul and Tony Parker in New Orleans' 90-83 Victory Over San Antonio

I 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.

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posted by David Friedman @ 9:11 AM



At Thursday, December 18, 2008 11:23:00 AM, Blogger SamiA said...

I wonder if David West's two 3's were a sign of range, or an admiration..

At Thursday, December 18, 2008 5:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


In his fantastic book called "Drive" written in collaboration with Bob Ryan, Larry Bird said on page 259 (I own paperback edition of the book):

"Assists are a questionable stat anyway. I believe it's generally easier to get one on the West Coast. It's just the way they interpret it. To me, an assist should be given when a player gets the ball and scores - period. He can make a fake, BUT HE CAN'T PUT THE BALL ON THE FLOOR. You also can't pump it three or four times and then put it in. There's a limit to what should be allowed to be called an assist.
You hear the Celtics complaining at home that they are stingy with assists at the Boston Garden. I think they're closer to being on the money at the Boston Garden than anywhere else. It's all subjective. You can get them on three-pointers or in-bounds passes now. It doesn't mean what it did when Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson were playing, that's for sure. You've got to be playing with good people - guys who can score - to get a lot of assists."

I absolutely agree with Bird on this one. You can make a fake, BUT YOU CAN'T PUT THE BALL ON THE FLOOR. And period.

A few years ago, Big O told SI:

"The triple double came about because when Magic [Johnson] and [Larry] Bird came in, [observers] tried to say, 'Oh, my God, these guys invented this, they did all these wonderful things.' But then they go back into the archives ... and I don't think they got all of mine anyway. I'll tell you why: If I threw [you] the ball and you dribbled it, it wasn't an assist. But now everything is an assist. No matter if you dribble eight or nine times, it's an assist. When I played, it was not like that."

David, here's Steve Nash assisting 21 times. How many assists did you count because there's no way he had 21 in that game:


At Thursday, December 18, 2008 6:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've found very interesting your careful analyses of boxscores in previous Chris Paul games, and kudos to you for publishing this post even though the results here went against the trend you had noticed before.

Another possible interesting "test" would be systematically looking at home/away splits for players. Yahoo has such stats, as I imagine do other outlets:


That is the link for Chris Paul, and in 11 home and 11 away games, he is averaging 13.2 assists/game at home compared to 10.6 on the road. It'd be interesting to put together a chart like that for other top PGs, and maybe do it over the past few years and see if there's a clear, recurring % by which home Assist totals tends to be inflated.

At Thursday, December 18, 2008 7:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice work, David. I noticed that they credited CP with an assist to Daniels on that play right after it happened, when it was obvious that Daniels had created the scoring opportunity himself. He caught the ball above the three-point line, and had to dribble hard left around a defender before getting to the basket.

At Thursday, December 18, 2008 7:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I assume that you mean "aberration."

West's threes are an aberration because he does not shoot that often from behind the arc but after the game, CP3 said that he encourages West to shoot threes because West has that kind of range.

At Friday, December 19, 2008 9:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Those quotes are very relevant and important to any discussion of this issue.

As for the video, most of those assists looked good to me but I had trouble getting a total count because it was hard to tell which ones were repeated a couple times from different angles. However, if we apply the standard that there should be no dribbling (except for a completely uncontested fast break shot) then a few of those assists would be wiped out. I think that defensive resistance matters more than number of dribbles per se, though the two go hand in hand on some plays. Technically, even by the rulebook definition one or two dribbles is OK provided that the pass led directly to the score (such as a pass ahead to a player for an uncontested layup).

At Friday, December 19, 2008 9:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Exactly. On the catch and shoot plays, Paul really created the scoring opportunity by feeding an open shooter, sometimes with a very crisp pass through traffic or after he had collapsed the defense; he really played a very nice game.

With the Daniels play, though, Paul just passed him the ball and then watched Daniels dribble through San Antonio's defense, which has more to do with Daniels' skill set than Paul's pass.

At Friday, December 19, 2008 9:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If I chart a game's assist totals or take notes on a game with the intention of writing a recap then I am going to publish that material whether or not it goes against a trend that I had previously mentioned or observations/commentary in my earlier posts. My goal with this assist charting is to really try to figure out what is going on with the scorekeeping in general; I don't have any agenda for or against any player or team and, as I've repeatedly made clear, I consider Paul to be the best pg in the league even though I believe that his assist totals (and most likely the assist totals of other players) are inflated by the inclusion of some assists that do not meet rule book standards.

Home/road splits are interesting but a lot of factors can affect a player's stats in those situations. Plus, I'm not sure if Paul benefits from homecourt help or just a general loosening of assist standards. Since he handles the ball a lot and makes a lot of passes, if the standards have loosened then he obviously would benefit more than a player who does not pass that often and thus does not get many assist opportunities even by liberal definitions of the stat.

At Monday, December 29, 2008 7:23:00 PM, Blogger Joel said...

This has nothing to do with Paul but I did see another ridiculous 'assist' awarded in the Nuggets-Hawks game tonight.

Billups gave the ball to Martin at the top of the arc. Martin held the ball for a couple seconds, drove towards the basket going right, made a spin move, and scored a floater in the lane.

Somehow, someway, Billups was credited with the assist.

At Tuesday, December 30, 2008 7:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That sounds like some of the assists that Paul received in various games that I charted.

I have nothing against Paul; I have been charting his assists because he is the league leader (which means that on average there will be more assists to chart than if I track someone else) and because I noticed that Paul gets a lot of credit--in the boxscore and from the media--for shots that David West creates with his own one on one skills.

At Monday, June 22, 2009 2:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anyone question Nash's assists when he led the league in assists. According to head official Bernie Fryer, as long as the player with the ball makes an immediate move to the basket to score, which includes dribbling, not just catch and shoot, the passer is awarded the assist.

At Monday, June 22, 2009 6:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I question the way that assists in general have been charted for the past few decades. Paul is just one example. Fryer is in charge of officiating, not scorekeeping, so he has nothing to do with defining the standards for assists.

While it is true that an assist can be awarded if the recipient makes an immediate move to score--even if that move involves dribbling--the assist is supposed to have contributed significantly to creating the scoring opportunity. So, if Paul passes to West, who takes one dribble and dunks then certainly Paul should get an assist--but if Paul passes to West and West goes through the Kevin McHale low post handbook of moves before scoring then Paul should not get an assist. I tried to make such distinctions quite clear in all of my posts about this issue.


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