King of the Point Guard Hill: Part 1 – Methodology & Passing

magic-johnson-statue

You don’t get a statue by being average.

Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Steve Nash (RIP), Jason Kidd, Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury, Peewee Kirkland, Pistol Pete, and I really could keep going. Point guard is probably the deepest and most decorated position in the NBA. Whether you enjoy the complete game control of a Magic or the ball dominating scoring machine of a Starbury, point guard has never been a position that was ever lacking talent in the NBA. Bonus points for point guards giving all of us short guys a position to play on the court!

mugsy_bogues

When I first started to compile the data on these guards, I realized just how much talent there is right now in the NBA. Even guards who aren’t at the top of the list in passing could be at the top in scoring, and vice versa. The point guard position is more versatile than it has ever been. Guards are also having to learn to play with the ever increasing number of shooters they have at their disposal, which is truly an amazing thing to watch.

Before we get into the first part, passing, I would like to go over the methodology of how I ranked and compiled this list of point guards. Keep in mind, not all of them will have overwhelmingly great passing stats, but that is because some are scorers.

Pete Maravich

Pistol Pete Maravich. The original playground point guard.

Methodology

When looking at a point guard and passing skills, we cannot simply look at assists and call it a day. This is not 1970, we have advanced data tracking now. The key is knowing how to interpret this data and make it easy to sort out players. Knowing this, I compiled a formula that helps us see who the best floor generals are. I won’t give away my exact formula, but I will give you some bullets explaining myself a little bit.

  • I use both points created per game and points created per 48 minutes. I weighted points created per game a little more heavily, since these points are actually being scored, instead of hypothetically. Although, I tried to give credit to those who may not play heavy minutes, a la Kendall Marshall (weird to see him on here, I know).
  • I counted free throw assists according to the percentage of free throws made.
  • I counted secondary assists according to what an average made shot would be worth, according to points per weighted shot stats.
  • I used all of this to give us a nice number. There is no real average, as these numbers will fluctuate from season to season and I have not evaluated all seasons. Anything approaching a 30 score can be seen as truly elite. 20 would seem to indicate about an average passer for the position, and anything below that is falling into below average range. Again, there is no real average as I have not evaluated all seasons, but these are the trends for this season.
  • It is easier to make it to average (20) than it is to 30 and below 20. So, you either have to be very good or very below average to score further away from this middle point.
  • I will affectionately call this stats….. Actual Passing Score! APS!

Erasing Variable Factors

I wanted to look at this as objectively as possible. Ricky Rubio is surrounded by wildly inefficient shooters (save for my homeboy, Kevin Love. If you missed my article on that, well scroll back a few days!) yet still puts up great passing numbers. Chris Paul puts up great numbers surrounded by 2 elite finishers and 3 elite shooters. I am neither rewarding Rubio for his numbers with less, nor am I punishing Paul for putting up his numbers with great talent surrounding him. The numbers are what the numbers are.

Ricky Rubio

Ricky has almost no one to throw the beauties to…

I did not take into account each teams 3 point or 2 point ability. All shots are weighted equally. Same with the Rubio and Paul situation. No one gets rewarded or punished. The numbers never lie. (Well, maybe sometimes)

I also did not take into account assist opportunities or missed shots that would have been assists. It is great that these players found them, but the shot was not made. This was mainly due to a few reasons: 1) A bad pass could lead to a missed shot, yet they would still get credit for assist opportunity, 2) passing at the last second to a poor shooter is a bad pass that still counts towards an opportunity. I do not have access to all of this data, so I simply left it out in all fairness to everyone.

One last thing. I included some injured players for the sake of including them. Rondo, Bledsoe, and Deron Williams all missed time, but still averaged 5 assists a game and at least 30 games played. Which was my qualifying cut off.

Rajon Rondo rocks iRenew Sports bracelet against the NY Knicks

Rajon was still a bad ass, despite recovering from injury.

So, now that you have an idea what the formula is about and my methodology, lets look at the rankings.

Rankings

Now that I am done rambling and boring everyone to death, lets look at the big board!

  1. Chris Paul – 34.3 APS – LA Clippers
  2. Rajon Rondo – 32 APS – Boston Celtics
  3. Ricky Rubio – 30.4 APS – Minnesota Timberwolves
  4. Kendall Marshall – 29.2 APS – LA Lakers (Now with the Milwaukee Bucks)
  5. John Wall – 29.1 APS – Washington Wizards
  6. Ty Lawson – 28.6 APS – Denver Nuggets
  7. Stephen Curry – 25.9 APS -Golden City Warriors
  8. Russell Westbrook – 25.4 APS – Oklahoma City Thunder
  9. Brandon Jennings – 24.5 APS – Detroit Pistons
  10.  Jeff Teague – 23.9 APS – Atlanta Hawks
  11.  Kyle Lowry –  23.6 APS -Toronto Raptors
  12.  Jameer Nelson – 23.3 APS – Orlando Magic (Now with the Dallas Mavericks)
  13.  Deron Williams – 23.3 APS – Brooklyn Nets
  14.  Michael Carter-Williams – 21.4 APS – Philadelphia 76ers
  15.  Mike Conley – 20.5 APS – Memphis Grizzlies
  16.  Tony Parker – 20.4 APS – San Antonio Spurs
  17.  Isiah Thomas – 19.9 APS – Sacramento Kings (Now with the Phoenix Suns)
  18.  Trey Burke – 19.4 APS – Utah Jazz
  19.  Goran Dragic – 19.1 APS – Phoenix Suns
  20.  Kyrie Irving – 18.9 APS – Cleveland Cavaliers
  21.  Damian Lillard – 18.8 APS -Portland Trailblazers
  22.  Kemba Walker – 18.4 APS – Charlotte Hornets
  23.  Eric Bledsoe – 18.1 APS – Phoenix Suns
  24.  Jose Calderon – 17 APS – Dallas Mavericks (Now with New York Knicks)

chris paul

A young Chris Paul agrees with the rankings.

 

A couple of things to note with this list. The league is extremely deep with point guards. All of these point guards are still better passers than almost all of the league. So even if the 24th best APS is not average for point guards, it is still much higher than most players in the NBA.

Stats

Player Name
Assists Per Game
Passes Leading to Free Throws a Game
Hockey Assists Per Game
Points Created Per Game
Points Created Per 48 Minutes
Actual Passing Score (APS)
Chris Paul
10.7
1.0
2.2
24.5
33.3
34.3 APS
John Wall
8.9
1.0
1.7
21.3
28
29.1 APS
Rajon Rondo
9.8
1.0
1.5
23.0
32.9
32 APS
Ricky Rubio
8.6
1.3
2.0
20.2
30.0
30.4 APS
Kendall Marshall
8.8
0.8
1.3
20.0
33.0
29.2 APS
Ty Lawson
8.8
1.1
1.5
21.0
27.9
28.6 APS
Stephen Curry
8.5
0.5
1.7
19.2
25.1
25.9 APS
Russell Westbrook
6.9
1.0
1.7
16.4
25.4
25.4 APS
Brandon Jennings
7.6
0.9
1.6
17.0
23.7
24.5 APS
Jeff Teague
6.2
0.7
1.6
16.1
23.8
 23.9 APS
Kyle Lowry
7.5
0.7
1.5
17.2
22.6
23.6 APS
Jameer Nelson
7.0
0.9
1.1
16.2
24.1
23.3 APS
Deron Williams
6.1
0.9
1.8
15.1
22.4
23.3 APS
Michael Carter-Williams
6.3
0.6
1.5
14.9
20.7
21.4 APS
Mike Conley
5.9
0.7
1.1
14.9
20.2
20.5 APS
Tony Parker
5.7
0.6
1.7
13.2
19.5
20.4 APS
Isiah Thomas
6.3
0.9
0.9
14.5
19.9
19.9 APS
Trey Burke
5.7
0.6
1.2
13.2
19.5
19.4 APS
Goran Dragic
6.0
0.7
1.1
14.9
20.2
21.4 APS
Kyrie Irving
6.1
0.5
1.0
13.9
18.9
18.9 APS
Damian Lillard
5.6
0.6
1.2
13.5
18.1
18.8 APS
Kemba Walker
6.1
0.6
1.7
14.0
18.7
18.4 APS
Eric Bledsoe
5.5
0.5
0.7
13.2
19.2
18.1 APS
Jose Calderon
4.7
0.4
1.3
10.9
17.1
17 APS

 

Observations and Surprises

Lets just get this out of the way. KENDALL MARSHALL!? WHAT IN THE ABSOLUTE HELL???

Kendall Butter Marshall

Apparently, this was an appropriate nickname.

Alright. That is out of me. Seriously, if you asked me where I would rank Marshall as an eye test, he wouldn’t be anywhere on this list. However, this list is made without bias. So, now that the biggest surprise is out of the way lets look at some of the tiers and then some other general observations.

Top 5

Chris Paul obviously takes the cake here. He just creates more points than anyone else. The high rate of hockey assists shows his true vision. He sees plays before anyone else does, and displays this amply by making the right pass that leads to an assist.

John Wall is a slight surprise. I knew he was great, but I did not know he was this great. If we are going by pure passing, Wall is the best young floor general in the game. His passing is almost on par with Chris Paul. He is a truly elite passer already and he is only getting better.

Ricky Rubio is another I would like to touch on. Rubio sets up his big men. This is shown by the high amount of assist leading to free throws. He makes the correct pass, leading to points in any way he can get them. This is also displayed by his hockey assist numbers. Him and Wall are the true visionaries of the young point guards.

Rounding it out we have Rondo and Lawson. Lawson is surrounded by shooters and has been a nicely kept secret in the league. He uses his drive and dish abilities to create for team mates, and the stats back it up. And what is there to say about Rondo? If you didn’t know he was amazing, you do now. A willing and gifted passer.

John Wall

Wall on the break. 

The Middle Class

Watching Tony Parker you would think he grades out better than this. Tony may not set up his men in position to score, but he does run a very efficient offense. Parker is also a scorer. Often dragging the defense in to initiate an offense that will swing it around until they find a soft spot in the defense.

Michael Carter-Williams graded out better than I would have expected. They run a super fast offense, so lets give him credit for often finding the open man for the score.

For Goran Dragic to be such a great and efficient scorer, his passing is also very nice. Not too amazing or high generating, but he shows a clear understanding of how to run an offense, even if his game is not on point.

Isiah Thomas has a reputation as a me-first gunner. These numbers say something different. Falling almost exactly where I would set the average line, Thomas clearly has more skills than what he gets credit for as a passer.

Tony Parker

Parker has slept with two women in this picture. After he sees my rankings of him, he may come after my woman.

The Bottom Rung

Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Eric Bledsoe. All young guys, all below average passers. The young crop is clearly score first dominated. They do have some ability, but this is not where they bread their butter. Overall, I am a little disappointed by the lack of play making skills by the young guys. Clear difference in play styles from the two studs in the top 5.

Jose Calderon. Oh, boy. I have been singing his praises for years. I even made a special exception for him, knowing he was an incredible floor general who was very undervalued. Judging by the numbers, this is no longer the case.

Kyrie Irving

Pretty much sums up every Kyrie Irving possession.

Extra Notes

  • Rubio and Wall are clearly different players from Lillard, Irving, Bledsoe, and Walker. It will be interesting to see how the scoring evens (or widens) the playing field.
  • The young guys are largely score first. Interesting to see if this trend continues going forward.
  • Vets, unless they are stars, tend to gravitate towards the average. I find this interesting. I look at it as the veterans know how to run an offense, and make the right plays. Average point guard play is very often a good sign. Anything below that 20 mark and things tend to look bad for those teams.
  • Paul, Rubio, Dragic, Deron Williams, and Parker clearly know how to run a break. The hockey assist numbers show a clear vision of when to pass to get a defender off of their target for the extra pass.
  • Westbrook is WAY better of a playmaker than he gets credit for. He is one to keep an eye on as the ranking go forth.
  • Rubio, Wall, Marshall, Westbrook, and Rondo all took hits due to low minutes played. It will be something to watch to see if they can get a larger role to see if those great stats extrapolate out.
  • Stephen Curry is a great passer, no doubt. But lets stop the Steve Nash comparison. He will never pass like that. Still, an incredible passer.

Russell Westbrook

Westbrook may dress like an idiot, but he is a wizard with the ball.

 

Conclusion

Paul, Rubio, Wall, Rondo. Those are the elite passers in the NBA right now. Other guys are good, some even great, but these 4 stand out way above the rest. You want to see more playmaking ability from other younger guys, but we will see if they can make up for it in the scoring analysis. Veteran guys give you exactly what you expect, a steady hand. It is a great time to love point guard play. So watch these guys drop dimes everywhere and I look forward to seeing you back for part 2!

 

4 Comments
  1. I sort of always assumed Rondo and CP3 were great point guards but Westbrook really surprised me– I wouldn’t have guessed he would have ranked so highly. Also, what is a “hockey assist” mean in the NBA??

    Also, according to this data, LeBron will have to continue helping in the point guard duties as Irving isn’t as great as people say he is.

    • Ben, A hockey assist is a pass that directly leads to the pass the actually counts for an assist. Shows a great ability to make the extra pass.

      And with my next article, we will be shown a little bit more about how Lebron and Kyrie will fit together. Kyrie is NOT an elite point guard right now. I would take 3 or 4 young guys over him and probably another few veterans.

  2. Pingback: Baxter and Friends | King of the Point Guard Hill: Part 2 – Scoring

Leave a Reply