Threes And Assists

by Blake Murphy 30. October 2012 22:18

One of my biggest complaints with basketball box score statistics is that I find assists to be an unfair measure of someone’s passing performance.

Growing up as a hockey player, nothing infuriated me more than making a great play and a nifty pass only to have a teammate whiff or hit the goalie in the chest, robbing me of an assist.

In basketball, it’s much the same, where a player can draw a double team and kick out to an open three-point shooter and have them throw up a brick. Or worse, they can feed a dive-man off a well-crafted pick-and-roll, only to have that player fouled, giving the player and team two points but the passer nothing in the box score.

Of course, stats shouldn’t mean much to a “team player” and many NBA teams certainly use analytics beyond just assists to evaluate passing. Even still, one tool I’ve found to be valuable here at Hoopdata is the break-down of assists based on where they set up a shooter. That is, breaking assists down by scoring range can give us some more information about how someone is helping their teammates, where assists leading to threes and shots at the rim are probably of greater value than assists leading to mid-range shots.

So I wanted to look at some players who may benefit from changes in their point guard, or for a point guard, the players around him. The following analysis is subject to some bidirectional correlation, since a point guard’s assist totals are subject to the shooting efficiency of the players he’s passing to, while the shooting efficiency of players is subject to the quality of point guard play as well.

Regardless, I wanted to look specifically at point guards who assisted on a lot of three-point field goals and players who had a lot or few of their three-point field goals assisted on. This first table shows the leaders in assists per game leading to three-point field goals, and the percentage of their total assists that the number represents.

Here we see a lot of the usual suspects in terms of assists, but a few stick out as notable. For one, Turkoglu sets up a ton of three-pointers relative to his overall assist rate, as does Jameer Nelson. This obviously has something to do with Orlando’s three-heavy offense around Dwight Howard, as they were first in the league in three-point attempts. I’d suggest you’ll see both of these players take a serious step back in their assist numbers with the loss of Dwight, three-point field goal leader Ryan Anderson, and Stan Van Gundy’s relatively unique offensive system.

This second table shows the league’s leaders in terms of the percentage of their three-point field goals that were assisted on. Surprisingly, Steve Novak just missed the cut with 97.7%, though I expected him to be at 100% since all he does is spot up.

Here we see that, even with more help than just about anyone, Gordon Hayward still struggled a bit from deep. We also see that Ryan Anderson, the league’s three-point field goal leader, may have been a by-product of a three-friendly system, something he may not benefit from on a Hornets team with Greivis Vasquez and Austin Rivers at the helm. Additionally, we see that Jared Dudley may suffer from the loss of Steve Nash, but Antawn Jamison is moving to a nice situation where he’ll be a spot-up option for the Lakers with an insane Nash and Dwight pick-and-roll combo and another great passer in Pau Gasol. He may be past his prime, but I could shoot 40% on threes on that roster this year.

This third table shows the league’s leaders in total three-point field goals, as well as the proportion assisted on.

It’s interesting to see both Deron Williams and Joe Johnson on the list, especially since Deron led the league in assists leading to threes while Johnson had a large portion of his threes assisted. Pairing them together could make both even deadlier, lending credence to projections of Brooklyn as an offensive juggernaut (defense not included). We also see that Brandon Jennings is the king of calling his own numbers for threes, showing the highest proportion of unassisted threes among the leaders.

Once again we see a Magic impact, as J.J. Reddick could lose much of his value in the new-look offense in Orlando. We also see that James Harden had a fair proportion of his threes assisted on, though it’s not extreme either way – and while Jeremy Lin wasn’t among the leaders in helping on threes, he sure found a way to get Steve Novak involved. It’s been said a lot the past few days, but the most interesting part of Harden in Houston may be how he responds to increased focus from top-tier wing defenders.

These were just a few of the leaders, with somewhat random cut-offs and analysis. Are there any other players you could see having large gains in their three-point efficiency or volume due to roster changes?

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10/31/2012 1:42:27 AM #

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