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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Charting Assists for Chris Paul and Jason Kidd

The last time that I charted assists, 13 of the 16 assists that were officially credited to Chris Paul and Tony Parker fit the rulebook definition* of an assist. Chris Paul and Jason Kidd were officially credited with 23 assists in New Orleans' 102-92 home victory over Dallas on Sunday. Here is how I would have scored those 23 plays:

Chris Paul's 17 Assists

1: Peja Stojakovic jump shot, 11:11 1st q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

2: Peja Stojakovic jump shot, 6:37 1st q: Correct; Stojakovic took one rhythm dribble before going straight into his shooting motion (by "rhythm dribble" I mean that the player dribbled the ball without actually significantly changing his position on the court, almost like a free throw shooter taking a dribble before shooting).

3: Melvin Ely dunk, 4:09 1st q: Correct; Paul's feed created the play.

4: David West jump shot, 3:26 1st q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

5: James Posey layup, 2:31 1st q: Incorrect; Posey caught the ball on the right block, took two dribbles, made a spin move and did an up fake before making a short shot (and drawing a foul). Posey's one on one moves created the score, not Paul's simple entry pass.

6: David West jump shot, :40 1st q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

7: Antonio Daniels jump shot, 7:50 2nd q: Correct; Daniels took one rhythm dribble but then went straight into his shooting motion.

8: Peja Stojakovic three pointer, 4:45 2nd q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

9: Rasual Butler three pointer, 3:23 2nd q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

10: Rasual Butler three pointer, 6:54 3rd q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

11: David West layup, 6:22 3rd q: Correct; Paul's feed created the play.

12: David West jump shot, 5:50 3rd q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

13: David West dunk, 2:16 3rd q: Correct; Paul's feed created the play.

14: David West jump shot, 1:42 3rd q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

15: David West jump shot, 9:30 4th q: Correct; West took one rhythm dribble and then immediately shot the ball.

16: David West turnaround jump shot, 3:48 4th q: Incorrect; West caught the ball on the left block, backed down Brandon Bass with two dribbles and then shot a turnaround fadeaway jumper. What is the difference between this play and Kidd's sixth assist (see below)? I think that Kidd's sixth assist was borderline but I gave him the benefit of the doubt because Howard took one dribble that did not improve his position on the court and he went straight into his shooting motion; on this play, West not only took an extra dribble but on each of his dribbles he noticeably improved his post position, thus setting up his defender for the turnaround, fadeaway shot. It cannot be said that Paul's pass created this play.

17: Rasual Butler layup, 3:25 4th q: Correct; Paul's slick feed in traffic created the play. Butler also got fouled and made the free throw to put New Orleans up 91-86.

Jason Kidd's Six Assists

1: Dirk Nowitzki jump shot, 8:06 1st q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

2: Jason Terry three pointer, 2:05 1st q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

3: Dirk Nowitzki jump shot, 7:31 3rd q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

4: Josh Howard jump shot, 6:33 3rd q: Incorrect; Howard received the ball in the midpost area, faced up Rasual Butler, jab stepped and then made the shot. Kidd had drifted away and was already spotting up on the other side of the court by the time that Howard made the shot.

5: Jason Terry jump shot, 1:54 3rd q: Correct; this was a straightforward catch and shoot play.

6: Josh Howard jump shot, :40 3rd q: Correct; Howard caught the ball on the right block with his back to the basket, took one quick rhythm dribble and shot a turnaround jumper over Paul. This was somewhat of a borderline play in the sense that Howard still had to make a move to score but I think that Kidd deserves the assist because Howard made an immediate reaction to shoot after catching the ball and did not change his position on the court with the one quick dribble.

Other Noteworthy Plays:

* At the 9:08 mark of the second quarter, Nowitzki passed to Howard, who took one dribble and made a tough floater in the lane; in previous games that I charted, Paul was incorrectly awarded an assist on similar plays but this time the correct ruling (no assist) was made.

* At the 8:52 mark of the third quarter, Nowitzki took two dribbles, spun, faked and then made a jumper after receiving a pass from Kidd; in previous games that I charted, Paul was incorrectly awarded an assist on similar plays but this time the correct ruling (no assist) was made.

* At the :33 mark of the third quarter, Paul passed to West, who took three dribbles and scored over Kidd with a nice one on one move; in previous games that I charted, Paul was incorrectly awarded an assist on similar plays but this time the correct ruling (no assist) was made.

Although it was not perfect, this was perhaps the "cleanest" game that I have charted not only in terms of the officially awarded assists matching the rulebook definition of an assist but also because the three plays listed above were scored correctly by not awarding assists. Hopefully, this is a sign of progress and not simply an aberration. Of course, getting things (mostly) right in this game does not address the fact that Paul's season and career totals still include the incorrect assists that I highlighted in previous posts in addition to his two gift assists today. Another cautionary note is that most of the passes that resulted in made baskets in this game were simple catch and shoot plays, while some passes that were followed by missed shots were on plays where assists would not have been merited had those shots connected; would the latter plays have been scored correctly had the shots been made? Hopefully, the three above examples indicate that perhaps the NBA is cleaning up some of the scorekeeping sloppiness that I have been documenting for nearly a year.

Overall, this is the sixth game during which I have charted Chris Paul's assists (including two games from last year's playoffs); in three of those games I also charted the assist totals for the starting point guard on the other team (Tony Parker twice, Jason Kidd today). Paul was officially credited with 72 assists in those games but only 57 of those assists fit the rulebook definition (and that includes some borderline plays). Parker officially had 11 assists but should only have been credited with eight, while five of Kidd's six assists were correct.


*For those of you who have not read my previous posts on this subject and/or do not know what the rulebook definition of an assist is, here is a passage that was posted on NBA.com in 2002 (yes, that was seven years ago but the NBA has not announced any official changes in its scorekeeping procedures regarding assists 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 concluding words of my December 18, 2008 post on this subject are well worth repeating here:

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 @ 4:37 PM



At Monday, April 13, 2009 11:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, I think you will find much analysis of the assists issue at Apbrmetrics that offers a little more perspective.

And I think it was probably worth mentioning somewhere that Chris Paul played one of the best games in the NBA this year in this game against the Mavericks. Win Score of 29, nearly a triple double, 15 correctly awarded assists, just one turnover, and a ts% of 85%. You could call it Kobe-esque, but Kobe hasn't had a game like this all year. You would have to search long and hard for any performance by Kobe as good as this actually.

In other topics, inquiring minds want to know whether your predictions about the Pistons and the Nuggets turned out correct.


At Monday, April 13, 2009 4:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have not visited APBR or APBRMetrics for quite some time because the overall level of basketball information/writing skill is not very high at either locale, with a few notable exceptions.

You are correct that Chris Paul played a marvelous game versus the Mavericks. You are incorrect that Kobe has not had many performances that equal/surpass what Paul did.

As for two teams that have nothing to do with the subject of this post, it would be more accurate to say that I refuted a post by Berri titled "Really the Answer is Iverson" in which he asserted--very early in the season, before Antonio McDyess had even returned to the Pistons (a critical factor, as noted by intelligent basketball observers like Jeff Van Gundy)--that Iverson is the "answer" for why Detroit got off to a slow start and (by his absence) why Denver performed so well early in the season. After detailing exactly what was wrong with Berri's approach from both a journalistic and analytical standpoint, I concluded by suggesting that the Pistons could yet turn around their season while the Nuggets could very well miss the playoffs in the competitive West.

What has actually happened with those teams is of course quite different from what I suggested. Does that prove that my reasoning was faulty and that Berri's was correct? No. The Pistons have not performed the way that they have solely or even primarily as a result of Iverson's play. The Pistons were without McDyess--their leading rebounder--for nearly a fourth of the season. Beyond that, they have had to deal with numerous injuries and the growing pains of a first year coach. Those two factors prevented the Pistons from ever settling on a set rotation. In 2007-08, the Pistons had the same starting lineup (featuring McDyess, by the way) for 63 games, during which they went 46-17. This season, they have not had the same starting lineup for more than 13 games. This kind of instability, caused by mostly by injuries and Coach Curry's curious rotation choices (i.e., benching Rip Hamilton, then benching Iverson, two players who should have always been starting), is the primary cause for Detroit's fall. Berri tried to "explain" Detroit's season before it even got underway and he based his "explanation" on his bias against Iverson because Iverson does not score well in the mixed up formula that Berri invented, the same formula that says that Rodman was better than Jordan and that Bynum (last season) was more valuable than Kobe. Serious "stat gurus," knowledgeable commentators and intelligent casual fans alike understand that such conclusions are silly.

Dumars took a calculated risk that the Pistons could be competitive this year with a new coach even after the trade but in his back pocket he still holds the trump card of being able to get rid of Iverson and Sheed after this season and thus use their salary cap space to rebuild the team. In contrast, the Nuggets have saddled themselves with Billups for at least two more years, meaning that their team has basically topped out this year; they won't win the title and they won't be able to substantially improve in the next two years as Billups gradually declines.

The one mystifying thing about what Detroit did is that Dumars said that the Pistons would take advantage of Iverson's ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and others by breaking down defenses off of the dribble, but the Pistons never consistently used Iverson that way. The few times that the Pistons used Iverson and Sheed in screen/roll sets they were very effective, including a win against the Lakers. Of course, injuries prevented those two from being on the court together as much as Detroit would have liked but the reality is that the Pistons never played to Iverson's strengths. ESPN's Avery Johnson has mentioned this repeatedly: it does not make sense to bring in a player and not let him do what he does well.

It is important to mention that the 2008 Nuggets--with Iverson--went 50-32. They enjoyed the roster stability that the Pistons have not had this year, with their most used starting lineup going 32-19. Their second most used starting lineup went 9-3. Both of those units featured Iverson. Berri's suggestion that Iverson is the "answer" for Detroit's struggles this year or Denver's success this season is obviously wrong; Iverson has been on successful teams in the past, including a run to the Finals with the 76ers when Iverson was voted the MVP of the entire league.

This year, the Nuggets will finish with between three to five more wins than they had last year. Does that "prove" that Billups is better than Iverson? No. This year the Nuggets have benefited from having a healthy Nene and they were fortunate to replace Camby with a very productive Chris Andersen. J.R. Smith has easily had the best season of his career.

The reason that the Nuggets have moved up from the eighth seed last year to possibly finishing as high as second this year despite only slightly increasing their win total is that several other West teams have been beset with injuries: Utah, Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, New Orleans. The Suns have also chronically underachieved but that is another issue. I still am not convinced that this Denver team, at full strength, is either better than last year's Denver team or is better than Utah, Dallas, San Antonio or New Orleans. Of course, with Manu out of the lineup, Chandler a question mark and Boozer still trying to regain his form, it is possible that we may not get to test my theory in the playoffs.

I think that there is still a high "knucklehead" factor with the Nuggets (Melo, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin) and that they will lose to the first reasonably healthy West team that they encounter in the playoffs.

I stand by my critique of the analytical errors in Berri's original article; he cast a verdict against Iverson before the Pistons even had a chance to put their projected lineup on the court. The fact that the Pistons ended up having a disappointing season does not in any way "vindicate" what Berri wrote. Look at it this way: if Berri had written that the Cavs are vastly overrated and after he said that LeBron blew out his knee and the Cavs finished with a worse than expected record would that prove Berri to be right? What has happened with the Pistons is essentially the same thing: Berri called Iverson overrated, a bunch of other things went wrong with the Pistons and now people like you want to trumpet this as some kind of "proof" of Berri's brilliance.

As always, I can turn around your question on you: I am still waiting for Berri to explain why the Lakers had a virtually identical winning percentage this season with Bynum and without him; that does not conform with Berri's assertions about Bynum's value.

At Tuesday, April 14, 2009 12:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I stand by my critique of the analytical errors in Berri's original article; he cast a verdict against Iverson before the Pistons even had a chance to put their projected lineup on the court."

If you don't make a prediction ahead of time, what is the point? And if you can't come to a verdict about Iverson 9 years after he entered the league, when can you? When he retires?

We can at least agree that your predictions didn't turn out to be correct, for whatever reason.

As for Bynum, the Lakers have just the third best pythagorean in the league this year, even after all of the injuries suffered by the Celtics. When Bynum was healthy, 1/3 of the way through the season, they had a +10 efficiency differential. They are down to +8. Does this really suggest to you that they don't miss Bynum?

They do clearly miss Bynum. They are fortunate to have Odom and Gasol on the team also, which has allowed them to survive his loss quite comfortably. But their efficiency differential suggests that without Bynum they would be the clear underdogs to the Cavaliers. With him, they have are probably even money.


At Tuesday, April 14, 2009 4:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not quibbling with Berri's right to make a prediction. I am vigorously disagreeing with the methodology that he used. McDyess had not even returned to the Pistons yet by the time that Berri issued his verdict. McDyess was Detroit's leading rebounder in 2008 and is the team's leading rebounder again this season; writing an article about the Pistons' prospects in 2009 without even mentioning his absence is simply absurd.

I reject Berri's belief that simply swapping Iverson and Billups would result in substantial changes in the win totals of two teams. In fact, we can see that Denver's win total has only increased slightly ths season and that has more to do with the play of Nene, Andersen and Smith--and the injuries suffered by other Western contenders, most of whom are still right behind Denver in the standings anyway despite all of the adversity that they suffered--than it does with replacing Iverson with Billups. The Nuggets were a 50 win team with Iverson and now they are a 54 or 55 win team this season.

As for the Pistons, their collapse goes a lot deeper than just swapping Billups for Iverson. You numbers guys like to think that you can mathematically isolate and analyze everything but the real world does not work like your supposedly finely tuned models, as we can see with the economy collapsing around us.

The Lakers had an .804 winning percentage with Bynum prior to his injury and they had a .781 winning percentage during the time he was out (those totals do not include his brief comeback). The Lakers averaged 44.0 rpg with Bynum and 44.1 rpg without him. I don't need to look at "efficiency"; all I have to do is look at the standings and at certain key stats (like rebounding) to see that the Lakers performed roughly the same with Bynum and without him. We could go deeper and look at the schedule strengths of both "seasons" but that is not going to help your argument too much; the Lakers beat Cleveland in Cleveland and Boston in Boston without Bynum.

Bynum is a good, young big man. As Phil Jackson counseled him during his first game back, he should concentrate on defense and rebounding and let his offense come to him. He is not even close to being the best player on the Lakers, nor is he even indispensable. The only indispensable Laker is Kobe; Gasol is very valuable, but if the Lakers lost Gasol but still had a healthy Bynum they would be an elite team, as they showed in the first half of last season prior to Bynum getting hurt (and before acquiring Gasol). If Kobe went down for a significant period of time, this Lakers team would struggle to make the playoffs in the competitive West even if Gasol and Bynum were both healthy; the eighth place team in the West this year will win 48 or 49 games, while I'd put the Lakers down for about 45 without Kobe. That may sound radical to you but the reality is that an MVP level player is historically worth about 20 wins.


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