Living in the technological and information age that we do, there is more data about intricate details and technicalities of basketball than ever before. Math and statistics are taking over sports. The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is just one example of the explosion that has taken place in regards to the intersection of sports and numbers. Numbers and statistical categories that were once ignored and hardly paid attention to, have now come to the forefront of analyzing players and how a team can reach it’s optimal levels on offense and defense.
For example, Kyle Korver may have a good 3-point shooting percentage overall, but his three-point shots from the top of the key are much lower than his 3-point shots from the corner. Danny Green has a 3-point average of .415, but his percentage is much lower when he puts the ball on the floor and takes a bounce as opposed to spotting up and shooting. Tyson Chandler averages only 1.2 blocks per game, but he alters far more than 1.2 shots per game, which is just as valuable from a defensive point of view. And Manu Ginobili averages 1 steal per game, but he draws at least one charge/flop per game, which makes him just as valuable as a defensive perimeter player.
Sports fans know the traditional statistical categories, consisting of field goal percentage, free throw percentage, points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers. But there are far more statistical categories in basketball than just these. It wasn't too long ago that players were solely analyzed for their strengths in these traditional categories, but today’s modern players are being analyzed for far more categories than just these.
In today’s game of basketball, statistics that were once neglected or were not even undiscovered until recently, play a vital role in the outcome of a game and the value of a player. So, what are the top five most influential and untraditional categories that should become official categories today? These are the top 5 categories that never show up on a box score, but are crucial in the statistical world of advanced analytics.
5 Hockey Assist
An assist is a pass that leads to a shot, but a hockey assist is a pass that leads to an assist. The hockey assist may not be as important as an assist itself, but it is almost as valuable for what it is in and of itself. In fact, you could argue that a hockey assist is a strong indication that the ball is moving from side to side and the players that make the hockey assist are able to see the play unfolding one or two steps ahead.
Often times, modern players suffer from tunnel vision and black hole tendencies. Today’s game of basketball is filled with isolation plays, one-on-one basketball, and dribbling the basketball for ten seconds before making a desperation pass or poor shot attempt. It is then that the hockey assist becomes a valuable category for data purposes, since it reveals the level of flow in an offense.
This year, Ricky Rubio and Chris Paul led the league in hockey assists with 2.1 per game, which is hardly surprising given their full court vision and their ability to see a play unfold before it even begins. It is also no coincidence, that these are the types of players that usually total a high amount of assists as well.
Rounding out the top five in hockey assist are:
1) Chris Paul – 2.2 per game
T2) Ricky Rubio – 2.0 per game
T2) Mike Conley – 2.0 per game
T4) Tony Parker – 1.8 per game
T4) Stephen Curry – 1.8 per game
The amount of charges drawn in the NBA has dropped dramatically, since the NBA started cracking down on flopping. Additionally, charges remain the hardest call to make for a referee. However, when a charge is drawn by a defender, it is play that can easily change the momentum of a game.
Charges are not fun to take. Take Kobe Bryant for example. Kobe Bryant's philosophy is that he will never take a charge because of the injury risks that could result from it, and if you watch Kobe play, it is no coincidence that you will rarely see him do it. However, some players are gluttons for punishment and should be rewarded for their willingness to sacrifice their bodies by getting pummeled and run over.
The top five players who have taken charges this year are:
1) Kyle Lowry – 31
2) DeMarcus Cousins – 28
3) Shane Battier – 26
T4) Blake Griffin – 18
T4) Donatas Motiejunas - 18
3 Altering Shots
Shot blockers are increasingly becoming a rare commodity in the NBA. A part of it is because some of the best shot blockers in the NBA were all crippled with injuries this year. Another reason is because of the increasing amount of small ball that we see in the NBA. But the biggest reason we do not see as many blocked shots is because of verticality. Centers are no longer trying to swipe at the ball anymore, instead players are frequently trying to use their length and size to jump straight up into the air without their arms bending forward, but remaining totally vertical. This allows players to defend the rim without fouling an offensive player.
An altered shot might not be as emotionally charged as a blocked shot, but it is just as effective, and often times more so, since it keeps the ball in play. If the defense is able to corral the rebound, it allows a team to push the ball quickly into transition as opposed to a blocked shot, which often lands out of bounds with the opposing team just inbounding the ball.
An altered shot protects the rim just as much as a blocked shot, but in many ways is just as effective, even though it might not be as intimidating or cool.
The top five players at altering shots at the rim were:
1) Roy Hibbert – 39.7% field goal percentage at the rim
2) Brook Lopez – 40.2% field goal percentage at the rim
3) Tyson Chandler – 40.5% field goal percentage at the rim
4) John Henson – 41.8% field goal percentage at the rim
5) Joakim Noah – 42.3% field goal percentage at the rim
Picks or screens are more difficult to set than meets the eye. You set a screen too late and you will be called for a moving screen. You set a screen too softly, without making any solid contact on an opposing player, and they can go through the loose screen, making it totally ineffective. Setting a screen is a difficult and underrated art. However, setting a pick and roll and setting a screen in general, remain the most indefensible way of gaining mismatches and starting any type of motion in a half court set.
Furthermore, screens are a good indicator that players are moving on offense without the ball. Screens can either be set on defenders who are not guarding the ball or on defenders who are guarding the ball. Either way, if screens are not being set, chances are, players are not moving around without the ball and remaining idle.
These are some of the best screen setters in the NBA over the past 2.5 years who are paid at a reasonable price.
1) Amir Johnson – 63.4 picks per 100 chances
2) Omer Asik – 61.7 picks per 100 chances
3) Marcin Gortat – 59.7 picks per 100 chances
4) Ekpe Udoh – 57.4 picks per 100 chances
5) Spencer Hawes – 56.6 picks per 100 chances
A deflection may not be the equivalent of a steal, but it is valuable in and of its own self. Deflections, like steals, can lead to a turnover, but often times the ball may just change trajectory and go out of bounds. Even though it may not necessarily lead to a fast break on the other end, a deflection is highly disruptive and annoying for offensive players. It gets offensive players paranoid about passing the ball because it means that they are telegraphing their passes and that their defender is reading them.
Deflections reveal hustle and awareness on the defensive end, particularly on the perimeter. Anyone that has played basketball before knows that on the defensive end, they are supposed to keep one eye on the defender and one eye on the ball, no matter where the ball is. The best deflectors know how to keep their eyes on man and ball the whole time, without even blinking. It is the unofficial statistic that measures the defensive tenacity of a team.
Some of the best players at deflecting the ball are:
1) Chris Paul
2) Ricky Rubio
3) Thaddeus Young
4) Jimmy Butler
5) Michael Carter-Williams