Combatting Trends

It’s no accident that the two teams in the Finals last year were led by two versatile forwards. LeBron is the prototypical smallball power forward, and Miami’s success came when Coach Erik Spoelstra was forced by injury to turn to a lineup featuring only one prototypical big man. In fact, 4 out of Miami’s 5 most productive units in the playoffs last year according to basketballvalue.com featured James playing power forward and either Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony, or Udonis Haslem as the lone big.  We saw how great LeBron was in the playoffs, and his phenomenal play in the post combined with more shooters to space the floor resulted in one of the most frighteningly dynamic offenses we’ve ever seen. Erik Spoelstra deserved a large share of the credit for implementing a huge philosophical shift in the offense, but in the end, this move was made possible because LeBron James is the best player in the world, and possibly the most versatile player ever.

Scott Brooks was more stubborn when it came to implementing a smaller lineup. Despite the lineup data contradicting him, OKC’s two most utilized lineups featured both Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Ibaka is a fine young player, but he’s limited on offense and his defense isn’t spectacular yet. Perkins, on the other hand, has no utility at all. He’s terrible on offense, can’t rebound, and can’t really defend all that well anymore. Playing two bigs at the same time mucked up the Thunder’s offense while only marginally improving their defense. They were at their best offensively when they could play their best players together, surprisingly enough, because they were able to spread out the offense for Westbrook, Harden, and Durant, and because Durant improved his play in the post.

The most famous example of smallball this year has been Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks, as you might have heard. Melo is working hard playing alongside Tyson Chandler, and he’s a lot more efficient when he gets to work out of the post. He’s also defending well, and he’s always been an above average rebounder for his size. The Knicks have been the best team in the league this season, and when Amar’e comes back, Mike Woodson will have some tough questions to answer.

The thing all three teams have in common is a large, strong, quick forward capable of playing in the post and defending power forwards. It may be a stretch to say smallball is overtaking the league, because the Grizzlies, Spurs, and Lakers still rely on large anchors, but there’s no denying the importance of players that can move from the 3 to the 4. That’s where the importance of players like Dominic McGuire comes in on defense.

One of the main reasons smallball teams have been so successful on offense is the mismatches created by moving a wing to the 4, where he has to be guarded by a power forward. Versatile defenders like Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, and, for Toronto’s purposes, Dominic McGuire, are worth a lot because they can defend all over the court. Of course, players like Deng and Iggy also have purpose on the offensive side of the ball. McGuire’s offense, the reason why he isn’t payed 8 digits a year, is nearly nonexistent. Outside of a mediocre jumper that doesn’t quite extend to long range and open dunks, McGuire can’t – and shouldn’t – do anything on offense except pass the ball.

McGuire’s defense makes me salivate, however. Watching Dominic man up on a hapless offensive player one-on-one is a rare treat, because he gets so few minutes. He displays solid defensive principles, and he moves extremely quickly side-to-side. If his defender manages to get to the rim against him, McGuire is long and athletic enough to contest the shot. It’s no surprise that McGuire was the 17th ranked isolation defender according to Synergy last year. His length is put to good use in the post, where McGuire was ranked 47th overall. And he’s persistent going around screens, which helped make him the 59th ranked defender of the P&R ballhandler.

These attributes make him an almost perfect smallball defender. He’s good enough in the post to make Melo have to work for his points, and with 4 games against the Knicks looming, he figures to play an important part for the Raptors if they hope to have success within their own division. He’s also quick enough and long enough to (theoretically) bother Durant, although in the Raptors’ lone visit to OKC so far this year, he couldn’t get much playing time across from KD. And although the Raptors are a long, LOOOOONG way off from having to worry about LeBron James in the playoffs, McGuire is a good enough defender that he can bother James about as much as it’s possible to bother LeBron.

McGuire’s value to the Raptors will forever be limited by his offense, although if he could make his jumper more consistent, he might stand a chance of receiving extended floor time. However, in a league where smallball is the newest trend, and one that’s practiced by the league’s defending champion, it’s nice to know that Toronto has a player almost tailor made to defend the centerpieces of these smallball offenses.

DeMar DeRozan’s Improvement

DeMar DeRozan received easily the worst contract extension out of all players slated to become restricted free agents at the end of the 2012-2013 season. Bryan Colangelo gave him a 4 year extension worth nearly $40 million, an obscene sum for a player who to that point had shown himself to be a slightly above average scorer, an average rebounder and defender, and an anemic passer. Colangelo’s critics (rightfully) had a field day. It seemed as though BC had forgotten the whole point of restricted free agency – it was there to help teams avoid overpaying young players who had shown flashes of growth. Now here was Colangelo giving a perfect RFA case a huge contract before he’d proven himself worthy. The only way this contract made sense was if DeRozan was on the verge of a huge leap and Toronto’s front office believed he’d command more than $10 million a year in a (semi-)open market, and that didn’t seem likely. Raptors fans resigned themselves to another few years of a capped out, mediocre team.

The thing is, in an admittedly tiny sample size, DeMar has been proving the doubters, including myself, wrong. He’s scoring more efficiently, and he’s diversified his offensive game. He’s rebounding better, which is important for a player who plays next to a player like Andrea Bargnani. And although his Assist% hasn’t really changed much from last year, yours truly has seen a tangible improvement in his passing ability, both on the move and out of the post. He’s also been more comfortable with the ball, turning the ball over on the lowest percentage of possessions in his career. I hate to use cliches, but DeMar finally looks like a legitimate NBA player. He knows when to let his teammates create for him, and when to press his advantage. Of special note is his newfound proficiency in the post. DeMar is big for a shooting guard, and his athleticism lets him get a decent jump shot off over just about any defender. He’s also started using a spin move to get to the rim against bigger, slower opponents. This post prowess is a large reason why he’s shooting better than he has since his rookie year from 9 feet in, and being assisted on a career low percentage of those shots, via Hoopdata.

DeMar’s Synergy numbers are similarly sparkling. Right now, he’s the 6th most efficient post player in the league, and he’s averaging 1.03 PPP. Compare that to Kobe Bryant’s 1.04 PPP, on slightly fewer post plays. DeMar’s spot up and pick and roll shot making has improved too. He’s the 23rd most efficient spot up scorer, and the 13 most efficient scorer as the ballhandler in pick and rolls. His jump shot appears more confident, and I don’t cringe when he takes 3 pointers anymore, at least not when he’s open. In the pick and roll DeMar has been able to get to the rim more often, and even though he’s still blatantly and mystifyingly disrespected by officials (seriously, I think he may be one of the 10 most disrespected players in the league) he’s recording a career high Free Throw Rate, which is a big reason for his increased efficiency from last year.

All of this information comes with the requisite warning that we’re just 8 games into the season. Although it’s not likely, it’s possible that DeMar’s improvement is a mirage, and he’s really not as good as he’s been so far. However, to these eyes, it seems as though DeMar has added legit basketball skills, and now understands slightly better how to play winning basketball. It pains me to do this, but if DeMar DeRozan really has improved, Bryan Colangelo may have made a really smart move extending him when he did.

Reloaded: A Review

When you watch Chris Paul run a pick and roll, you’re struck by a few things. The economy of motion. The fluidity. The precision with which he moves. Above all, the preternatural control of the court he always has. Paul is the best point guard in the league by a significant margin, but for all his spectacular crossovers and dribble moves, his mastery of basketball’s most basic play relies upon calm, efficient play. That’s the first thing Roc Marciano’s Reloaded reminded me of. Roc never rushes his rhymes, and yet avoids appearing plodding. His inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to change his pace means he’s probably not the best rapper alive – Freddie Gibbs and Kendrick Lamar have him in versatility. But his mastery of rhyme schemes and internal rhyming is unparalleled. He never wastes a syllable, and even after a half-dozen listens, I’m only just beginning to parse the lyrical acrobatics he’s laid down on (digital) wax.

***

Chris Paul isn’t the only NBA player Roc Marciano is analogous to. This is where we get into the flaws of Reloaded. This is not a perfect record, by any means. Albums like R.A.P. Music and good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and even Skelethon owe part of their greatness to their thematic depth. Simply put, they are albums with a message, whether it be political or personal. The greatest flaw of Reloaded is that thematically, it’s a simple album. Just about every song on the record explores familiar gangsta rap territory. This flaw is why I chose to compare him to Pistol Pete. You see, Pete was an extremely talented player for some extremely bad teams. His shooting skills weren’t properly utilized because he played most of his career before the 3 point shot, and his passing skills were limited by his teammates. Over a 12 year career, Maravich made the playoffs just 4 times, and only once while he was still a great player. Because of his limited postseason resume, he’s become a forgotten star of the 70’s. However, ardent NBA supporters know how special his game was. Perusing Pistol Pete’s highlights shows a player possessing dazzling creativity fearlessness. He did not attain the ultimate level of success we require of our athletes, it is true. But basketball is such a special sport because it is possible to succeed in more than just one way. With his style of play, Maravich broke ground for players like Magic Johnson and Steve Nash that were to come afterwards. He succeeded in a way that stretched our orthodox beliefs of what success entailed. In a way, Reloaded has done the same. The modern rap landscape demands a certain level of “consciousness” from it’s success stories nowadays, it seems. There’s a reason Freddie Gibbs still gets disrespected by so many music critics after all. In this landscape, Marciano has managed to succeed with a dazzling display of wordplay and dope beats. So what if there’s no uplifting message? This is the most quotable album since XXX. Fuck a message.

Synergy Breakdown: Toronto Raptors

Synergy Sports recently logged the video of the first week of the season onto their service. I’ve been looking through the numbers and tape, and I noticed a few interesting tidbits about the Raptors. This is where I’ll collect these tidbits, hopefully throughout the year.
Andrea Bargnani Bargnani’s season has been disappointing thus far. He hasn’t meshed with Kyle Lowry yet and his rebounding has taken a noticeable step down from the beginning of last year. His defense has also been less impressive. I went to Synergy to see what the quantifiable effect of his defense has been. The stats aren’t particularly heartening. Bargnani’s defense, particularly in the pick and roll and on post ups, has not been good, or even average, at least according to the numbers (this is where I give the “small sample size” disclaimer). The silver lining to these numbers is that the tape shows Bargnani continuing to be aggressive blitzing the ballhandler in pick and rolls. The majority of the points scored on Bargnani so far in pick and rolls have come on midrange jumpers from the roll man. In the grand scheme of things, long twos by a big man are shots a defense is willing to give up. It’s been unfortunate for the Raptors that they’ve faced players like David West and Serge Ibaka, guys capable of hitting 19 footers with regularity. The Raptors do need to tighten up their rotations after the initial hedging action, but thus far, the points scored on Bargnani on pick and rolls aren’t a result of a persistent flaw in his technique. The story on post ups is a tad different. Almost all of the points Andrea has given up in the post have come from David West’s explosion in the season opener. Although you never like to see a starting big man get lit up like Bargnani was, it’s hard to defend a guy like West when he’s feeling it. I’m not trying to absolve Bargnani of blame on defense – he’s showing his usual lapses in help defense and his rebounding is atrocious. But I do believe that if he maintains the effort he has so far, and the Raptors improve their defensive rotations, the numbers in the pick and roll and in the post will reflect improvement on defense. A sidenote: Bargnani is currently the second most efficient offensive player in spot up opportunities, and thus far, his 3 point shot appears to have returned. As he gains chemistry with Lowry through real game action, I believe the offensive troubles extant in a dramatic role change will work themselves out.
Jonas Valanciunas The Synergy numbers for Valanciunas bear out what we’ve seen and what was expected of him. Jonas is having trouble finishing so far in this young season, both in the pick and roll and in post ups. He’s still young, and extremely raw. As he gets more familiar with his teammates, his ability to finish on the pick and roll should improve. His play in the post will require more practice time to improve, although his jumper looks smooth and he’s shown the skills to develop a decent faceup game. On defense, the numbers are also unsurprising. Jonas has only faced 2 pick and rolls this year, according to Synergy, so a review of his defense there will have to wait. However, we can look at his play defending post ups. He hasn’t been good there, giving up over a point per possession and allowing >50% shooting. This is expected because, again, Jonas is still raw, and he still needs to learn how to play against the low post behemoths the NBA offers. It hasn’t helped that he’s faced a bevy of talented post scorers, like Nikola Pekovic, Roy Hibbert, and Chris Kaman. Casey is allowing Jonas to learn through experience, and for a while, at least, there will be growing pains.
Amir Johnson Amir is the Raptors big man I’ve been most impressed with. He’s bounced back admirably so far from a mini-slump last year and he’s hustling again on both ends of the court. His rebounding has been phenomenal and his effort on defense is back. The real story, however, is his efficient offense. Amir’s chemistry with Jose Calderon in the pick and roll is well known, and in fact, I’d say they rank as one of the ten best pick and roll duos in the league. This year, at least through the first five games, the Jose-Amir pick and roll has been deadly, especially because it’s come against bench players a lot of the time. After Lowry, Amir’s probably been the best player on the Raptors, and if Jose ever does leave, Amir will probably be the one to suffer most.

Positional Ranking Revolution: Slashers

The stretch run of the offseason is upon us. In an effort to make it to the start of the regular season with my sanity intact, I’m gonna be ranking the players at each position. However, in the spirit of the positional revolution, I won’t be ranking by orthodox positions. Today, we’ll look at the best slashers in the league. By that I mean the players who rely on drives into the paint for their offense.

1. LeBron James James is easily the best “slasher” in the league, but what’s amazing about his finishing ability is that he’s improved. His conversion rate of 75.4% at the rim last year was his best since 2007, which is as far back as Hoopdata’s shot location data goes. Among players to play more than 20 games and average more than 20 minutes per game, that ranks 9th. However, what separates LeBron from the rest of the pack is the fact that he shoots this exorbitant percentage despite shooting more per minute at the rim than anyone ranked higher than him. Another statistic indicative of LeBron’s expertise at the rim is the combination of his ability to draw fouls and his ability to avoid being blocked. LeBron recorded the highest Free Throw Rate among the nearly 100 qualified players who were blocked on less than 5.4% of their shot attempts. The biggest point in LeBron’s favor, however, is that statistics aren’t really necessary to understand that LeBron is a great slasher. You just have to watch him. He’s a freight train with quick feet, a creative handle, and a soft touch around the basket. Even though he doesn’t put his head down and bull his way to the basket as much as he did in Cleveland, he’s still perfectly capable of getting to the rim and scoring or drawing a foul when his team really needs it. It’s a testament to his ability that he’s one of the best playmakers and the best slasher in the league.

2. Dwyane Wade James’ All-Star teammate in Miami makes it here because of the volume of shots he takes. His conversion rate of 66% at the rim isn’t exactly elite. However, when that conversion rate is combined with the second-most at-rim attempts by a guard per-minute, well, then we’re cooking. Only Tyreke Evans shoots at the rim more than Wade, and Wade shoots better from there. The end result is that Wade makes about as many shots on the rim on fewer attempts. The main statistical problem with Wade as a slasher is his ability to draw free throws. Last year, Wade’s FTR was about the same as Arron Afflalo’s. Although it’s still above average compared to all players, this stat is a tad troubling. As Wade gets older and his athleticism continues to fade, it will become more and more important that he draw fouls for easy points at the line.

3. Tyreke Evans As stated earlier, Tyreke Evans shoots at the rim A LOT. In fact, not only does he lead all guards in attempts at the rim per-minute, he leads all small forwards too, and he’s only 5th among ALL qualifying players. This is a good thing, because even though his 64.6% from that range isn’t much better than average among guards, it’s MILES ahead of his percentages from every other area on the court. Simply put, Reke can’t score from anywhere other than right at the rim. In fact, he’s so bad at it that he shouldn’t even be trying. If anything, he should be going to the rim even more than he is. He should also be trying to get to the line more. The biggest difference between his celebrated rookie year and his last year in terms of his scoring distribution has been his drop in FTR, from a rookie number of .4 to his current .29. It’s becoming evident that Evans isn’t a good shooter, and he may never be anything more than average. But if his FTR were to approach his rookie levels again, his efficiency would notably increase.

4. James Harden Harden makes it here because of his combination of well above average efficiency at the rim and his (quite frankly, ridiculous) FTR. He doesn’t really record that many attempts at the rim, but he makes so many of the shots he does take, and he gets to the foul line for easy points so much, that I really have no choice but to put him ahead of his more illustrious (former) teammates. To illustrate just how many free throws he draws, let me present this stat: the only players who played more than 20 games and averaged 20+ mpg to record a higher FTR were Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard. It’s this ability to draw fouls that makes me think he’ll be able to carry over his otherworldly efficiency even in an increased role.

5. Kevin Durant Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the league from the perimeter. However, closer to the basket, he falls down the list somewhat. That isn’t to say he’s a bad slasher. He’s just not as good as guys ahead of him here. He still shoots a very high percentage at the rim, likely due to his crazy length and underrated athleticism. However, he doesn’t shoot quite as often as some of the players ahead of him here, and his FTR isn’t nearly as high as Harden’s is. However, he’s a well rounded player and although slashing isn’t the foremost weapon in his arsenal, it’s still a dangerous one.

6. Manu Ginobili Manu is an extremely efficient finisher at the rim. He doesn’t have the highest FG% near the basket, but none of the 5 qualifying players ahead of him take as many shots as Manu does, and most of their shots are assisted. Manu, on the other hand, is assisted on less than 30% of his shots at the rim. To drive home just how great Manu is at converting near the rim: he shot better there than Tyson Chandler, who only takes shots if they’re completely wide open and was assisted on about 80% of his makes. Manu wasn’t a terribly great foul drawer, but man, that efficiency was amazing. There is the disturbing possibility that last season was a fluke. In an attempt to keep him healthy in a compressed season, Popovich played Manu the fewest minutes of his career, and the least MPG since his rookie season. One wonders whether a longer season with more minutes played will adversely affect his legs and ability to convert in close.

7. Andre Iguodala The choice to put Iguodala here is made with an eye towards the upcoming season. He was an excellent finisher at the rim last year, and has been good-to-great in close for the last few years. However, in Doug Collins’ system built around midrange shooting, his attempts at the rim have dropped for the past two years. The trade to Denver should revitalize his game. The Nuggets were the best team in the league at getting shots at the rim, by a huge margin (and, not coincidentally, Philadelphia was the worst) last year. Iggy will fit perfectly into their fastbreak style, and he’ll get a lot more opportunities to slash into the paint at finish strong. Don’t be surprised to see a severe uptick in his scoring average and his efficiency this upcoming year.

8, 9, & 10. Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose I put these players together because although their aesthetics aren’t exactly similar, statistically and strategically, these players have very similar profiles. These three aren’t prototypical point guards (although considering how young Kyrie is, saying that might be a little premature) and even though they do it in different ways, they all rely on forays to the rim to get their points. Kyrie is the most skilled of the group. He’s already a master at using a spin move to get into the lane at will. Rose (at least before the injury) was an expert contortionist who exhibited preternatural body control to get off decent shots around defenders. And Westbrook may be the fastest player in the league. That speed and his newfound midrange jumper make it almost impossible to keep him away from the rim. Nasty hops for a guard don’t hurt either. These guys all average a similar number of attempts at the rim per minute, and that number is pretty high for a point guard. That volume is paired with merely average efficiency, which I usually frown on. However, these players are all above average at drawing fouls, and in the case of Rose and Irving, are often the only sources of offense on the team. Although in the macro sense, these players aren’t really amazing slashers, from possession to possession, there are few players more capable of scoring at the rim.

An Honorable Mention goes out to Jeremy Lin, John Wall, and Rodney Stuckey, all young, athletic guards who shoot well below average at the rim, but possess a freakish ability to draw fouls and finish through contact. Seriously, Stuckey is perennially at the top of the league in And1%. The other two aren’t far behind.

All stats courtesy of Hoopdata

The Harden Dilemma

As you’ve surely heard by now, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and a few first rounders. A trade of this magnitude has caused ripples that reach across the Western Conference, at least. Oklahoma City has dropped from the ring of real title contenders, which now consists solely of Miami and the Lakers. However, the Thunder still have a puncher’s chance at a title.

Replacing Harden with Lamb and Martin doesn’t really hurt the Thunder on the defensive side of the ball. Harden, although he was better than Martin, was never a stalwart defender, and in fact, if Jeremy Lamb’s length and athleticism pans out, the Thunder may have gained another dynamic wing defender. The real pain of Harden’s loss will be felt on the offensive side of the ball. What made Harden special was his combination of super efficient scoring and above average playmaking ability. On a team that starts Russell Westbrook at point guard, the ability to bring a calming offensive presence off the bench is a valuable asset. This year, the Thunder will attempt to replace Harden with Lamb, Martin, and Eric Maynor, their newly returned from injury backup point guard. Although Martin and Maynor can individually replicate Harden’s scoring and playmaking, respectively, neither combines the two. Losing Harden’s complete offensive game will put a much greater pressure on Durant and Westbrook, one which they may be unable to withstand with any great success.

I want to take a sidebar here to address the people blasting Harden for choosing money over a chance to win multiple titles in Oklahoma. I’m not referring to the fans that are doing this; fans are passionate creatures who don’t know better. I’m referring to the basketball writers who, after the trade was announced, shamelessly bashed Harden’s character and questioned his so-called “will to win”. Unfortunately, this weekend provided a sobering example of the fleeting quality of athletic success. Star University of South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a gruesome injury which makes any hope of a professional football career an afterthought. Such injuries are thankfully less common in basketball. However, it seems ridiculously shortsighted of NBA scribes to attack a player simply trying to maximize his earning potential. Not only is it shortsighted, it shows a disturbing lack of impartiality on the part of the writers to suggest that the player should sacrifice money so that his billionaire owner can chase titles and save money in the process. Shame on you, sportswriters who did so.

The effect of the trade on the Rockets is even more amorphous. The result of Harden’s position as the third wheel on the Thunder is a sense of doubt about whether or not he can be a star capable of carrying a team on his back. I, for one, think he can. Sure, his efficiency is bound to drop. Thing is, it’s so high in the first place that even a significant drop still means he’ll be one of the more efficient volume scorers in the league. The part of Harden’s game that rely excites me, however, is his passing. If his per-minute numbers hold up in an increased role, Harden has the chance to become a Manu-like initiator on offense, capable of running a team for long stretches, as Manu did this past season. It remains to be seen how he’ll fit with Jeremy Lin, another guard who thrives with the ball in his hands, running the pick and roll, but the problem of having two young, potential laden guards forming your backcourt, to quote fictional drug dealer Marlo Stanfield, “sounds like one of them good problems.” In Harden, Morey finally has the culmination of his asset accumulation of gambit: a young star (or, in Harden’s case, a player who can become a star) surrounded by young pieces and cap flexibility. The Rockets may not light the world on fire this season (although I for one think the 8th seed is certainly in play for them), but the future looks brighter in Houston than it has for a while.

Positional Ranking Revolution: Primary Ballhandlers

The stretch run of the offseason is upon us. In an effort to make it to the start of the regular season with my sanity intact, I’m gonna be ranking the players at each position. However, in the spirit of the positional revolution, I won’t be ranking by orthodox positions. Today, we’ll look at the best primary ballhandlers in the league, by which I mean the players in charge of getting their teammates involved in the offense.

1. Chris Paul Paul is the consensus best point guard in the league for a reason. His skill with the ball is amazing, and his ability to control the offensive flow of the game is matched only by LeBron James and – for 30 minutes a game – Steve Nash. I put him above those 2 because of his ability at this point to play more minutes than Nash, and because he’s a much deadlier perimeter shooter (which gives him more room to operate), significantly better ball handler, and slightly better passer than LeBron, which makes him a bit more deadly with the ball in his hands. The biggest statistical point in Paul’s favor is his ridiculously low turnover rate. Despite handling the ball as much as he does, his A:TO ratio was second only to Jose Calderon’s. Chris Paul simply does not turn the ball over very often.

2. LeBron James James’ place here shouldn’t need any explanation. He’s the best player in the NBA, by a significant margin, and even in the area where he’s weakest, perimeter shooting, he’s at worse average. More importantly, his combination of stature, athleticism, and playmaking ability has never been seen before. LeBron does not possess the exquisite control Paul does. Where Paul is a tornado, directing his ability to a single point in order to wreak maximum damage, LeBron is a hurricane, spreading devastation across the entirety of a defense.

3. Steve Nash The argument can be made that Steve Nash is still the best passer in the league. His years of experience means his court vision is almost unparalleled. Nash is also still an elite shooter, although his ability to create shots for himself has diminished over the last few years, and he recorded his lowest USG% since his Dallas days last year. The main knock against him now is his durability, or lack thereof. Even with Phoenix’s magical training staff, Nash’s declined to just over 31 a game last year, his lowest since his first stretch with Phoenix as a backup. Playing with the talent he’ll have in LA will figure to lessen the load on his shoulders as far as creating goes, and he’ll have the opportunity to be just a spot up shooter a lot more. However, LA’s offensive success will still rely upon Nash’s ability to execute the pick and roll with Howard and Gasol and the opportunities that will present.

4. Rajon Rondo Rondo receives a lot of criticism, mainly due to his general lack of scoring ability. The three players ahead of him are all accomplished scorers when necessary. Rondo is the first player in the rankings with a truly busted shot. What puts him here is his ridiculous passing ability. Rondo is one of the five best pure passers in the league, and his ability to make passes literally all around the court make up for his inability to shoot with any consistency from the perimeter. Sagging off him and forcing him to shoot may seem like a viable option when he has the ball, but that strategy also creates passing lanes Rondo is more than capable of exploiting. All that said, Rondo is not without faults. He sometimes gets too caught up in racking up assists. It’s this overreliance on his teammates and his inability to consistently shoot that puts him down here.

5. Manu Ginobili Manu is a strange player, not least because of his playing style. Despite playing alongside an elite, ball dominant scoring point guard in Tony Parker, Manu is a good enough passer to lead all shooting guards in Assist Rate. The way he distributes these assists is also interesting. Those who read this blog know that I’m fascinated by Manu’s ability to take the most efficient shots in the game more than almost any other player. His passing is no different. Almost 80% of Manu’s assists resulted in baskets at the rim or behind the arc, also known as the most efficient shots in the game. The only real knock on Manu’s game is the aforementioned fact that he plays with another guy who has the ball in his hands a lot, and his own lack of durability.

6. Andre Miller Miller’s distribution of assists is even more extreme than Manu’s. Nearly 85% of Miller’s assists led to shots at the rim or from 3 point land. It’s no surprise that two guys playing under two of the smartest coaches in the league understand where to get shots from. Miller’s main flaws are that he’s not a particularly dynamic playmaker. You won’t often see him slash into the paint and make a dazzling pass for a bucket. Miller’s assists almost always come out of designed plays executed to perfection. This lack of dynamism extends to his inability to keep defenses honest from the perimeter. Although he’s not completely neutered as a scorer, his days of dropping 50 on the Mavericks are far behind him.

7. Jose Calderon Calderon meets the dictionary definition of pure point guard. He’s an impeccable ballhandler who almost never turns the ball over. In fact, last year he recorded a Turnover Rate lower than such luminaries as Steve Nash, Ricky Rubio, and Rajon Rondo. He also racks up assists at a prodigious rate. The combination of these attributes means his A:TO ratio is in legendary territory. And indeed, he led the league this year. Jose is also a competent shooter when healthy and rested, and he’s one of the best ballhandlers in the pick and roll in the league. Calderon’s statistical accolades are a tad misleading, however. Unlike the people ahead of him on this list, even more than Miller, Calderon isn’t a dynamic player. He almost never makes mistakes, but his risk averse play also means he’s not really capable of raising an inferior team to offensive greatness. Calderon is a player who’s greatest strength is his ability to get the ball to talented players in positions where they can make plays themselves.

8. Deron Williams Not two years ago, Deron Williams was competing for the title of “Best Point Guard In The NBA”. However, a trade to the moribund New Jersey Nets, and one and a half years of soul-sucking basketball ensued, and now Deron is at a crossroads in his career. There’s no question he’s talented, but after a season where he looked disinterested, he’s got to prove himself all over again. I don’t really believe he’s not as good as Calderon, but his play last season forced my hand.

9. Ricky Rubio Rubio is the most extreme version of Rondo. Whereas Rondo is merely lacking as a perimeter shooter, and can still score in other ways, Rubio is utterly unable to score. Rubio may be a game-changing passer, but there’s a reason his team performs marginally better on offense when he’s on the bench. Ricky’s main contribution to his team occurs on the defensive end, and until he becomes better at creating offense for himself, that’s where it will remain. Luckily for him, this was just his first year in the NBA. He can still improve.

10. Kyrie Irving I’m not quite sure what to make of Irving. His passing numbers don’t blow you away – his A:TO ratio in particular isn’t great. But then you realize something. Irving was a rookie. The fact that he was able to put up passing numbers that made me think he was a veteran star is a credit to his ability. It’s true that he’s a scorer first. However, now he has another year under his belt, and marginally more talented teammates to pass to. He could skyrocket up these rankings by next year. He’s certainly talented enough to do so.

All statistics courtesy of Hoopdata

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