2017 NBA Draft: FG vs Assists (Warning: Graphic Material)
The point guard arguably has the most affect on a team’s ball movement, especially seen in assists. I say arguably, as with some teams another player might have a larger share of the team’s usage (or loosely, possessions) and therefore dictates the ball movement of the team. Basically, it might be safest to say that the team creation abilities of the highest usage player dictates whether that team would be classified as having good basketball movement. There are no doubt subtractors to having a good ball movement team. The 1980’s Celtics would often joke that they’d avoid passing the ball to Kevin McHale because he was a “black hole”, in effect, they’d never get the ball back. Luckily for those Celtics teammates, McHale was very efficient at converting the opportunities he got. And as a whole the Celtics were very successful with McHale as they won 69.4% (674 of 971) of the games McHale played in. Basketball-Reference doesn’t have the exact +-/ for McHale, likely due to incomplete play-by-play logs, but would probably assume Celtics were better with him than not.
But the reason I bring up the point guard and this ‘black hole’ theory is because in watching a number of NCAA games this year I noticed some teams had players who were “open” a lot, but had teammates who did not get them the ball. The reasons can vary obviously, possibly from 1) simply lacking the court awareness, 2) having their own prerogatives (*cough* ball hog! *cough*) or 3) perhaps a more strict adherence to a play for a given play. I tend to believe in the former two especially when the shots would be high percentage shots — often backdoor opportunities for layups and dunks or open corner 3s. While I do enjoy the “new” NBA with it’s more wide open basketball, there is some collateral damage from “opening it up” as depicted by the graphic below:
The danger in the “analytics” or more so the application of the analytics is we lose sight of the forest for the trees. You, might not fit the minimum ability needed to make a 3pt shot a “good shot” for the team. Especially in regards to forgetting that the best shot value is still the layup.
In watching parts of about 150 NCAA games this year I can’t recollect a team was as awful as the Florida State Seminoles at moving the ball as well as missing the open man. A look the graphic to the side would tell you my eye test wasn’t that far off. Among the top 50 teams according to Basketball-Reference’s SRS rating Florida State ranks 8th from the bottom. And what’s especially starting is you’re watching a team that is 10 deep while putting out three very fast wings and 2–3 frontline players measuring 6'11 to 7'4 at all times. Michael Ojo is 7'1 315 lbs and looks he could play NFL tight end or bodyslam The Big Show on WWE with ease. But the player who was most open without teammates getting him the ball was Jonathan Isaac, a consensus top 10 prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft. The one major knock on him is he isn’t a creator or that smart offensively. And sure, if you look at the box score stats or even more advanced stats like Synergy stats you’re going still believe he’s not much of a creator. But the stat’s can’t tell missed opportunities. The stats can generalize it though and they’re less subjective. I would also note that very few people would say Isaac has poor awareness on defense, a form of basketball IQ. So looking into the offensive awareness again might be worth the time. Preferring to not distract you with posting 100 video clips of Florida State plays where FSU players missed open teammates, especially Isaac, lets just look at some stats.
The graphic clearly shows that Florida State was bad, although, not quite as bad as Duke. Maybe Jayson Tatum also has more court awareness than we give him credit for? In both cases the guards for either team were far from “past first” players. Looking at the top assist guard in the nation, Lonzo Ball, we can see that UCLA is head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in 2017 in rate, but also in quantity. Only UNC, just below them in rate, just ahead in field goals made (lower right blue dot to them) is close.
For fun I decided to show UCLA in three ways: 1) with Lonzo Ball, 2) without Lonzo Ball, and 3) with a replacement of Bryce Alford (the 2016 UCLA PG) in his place. Note, with Alford, they’re about average. Without Ball, UCLA is almost identical to Florida State and Duke.
Obviously this still doesn’t take into account more factors and more “event level” data (as apposed to yearly aggregates), but nonetheless it might beg the question about player awareness and how we might figure out [if there are] ways to better tell offensive awareness from NCAA boxscore data. Another question might be, who were players who were NOT major usage players, had low assists and labeled “low offensive awareness”