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NBA 2004-05 Player to Player Passing Stats

One of the problems we encounter as we break new ground on certain NBA statistical matters is having to invent terminologies on the fly that are both catchy and descriptive. Alas, sometimes we fail at this, and such is the case we examine today -- how to succinctly describe the player to player passing numbers, when all we have on a league wide basis at this point is the number of assisted field goals for each combo?

The header used above seems a little overstated to say the least, given that we don't know the number of passes thrown and all of the ensuing events, just those instances where a pass was credited as an assist on a made field goal. Never fear though, we are tracking every touch for certain teams this season, and would hope to be doing it for every team in 2005-06. So being a little grandiose at present could perhaps be forgiven if we deliver the real deal next year!

1) Top Passer-Scorer Combos
An easy place to begin when looking at these numbers is to ask simply which players have combined for the most assisted Field Goals this season? (All Data includes 2004-05 regular season games).
Total Assisted Field Goals
Ast'd FG
PHO  Nash  Stoudemire 246
PHO  Nash  Marion 245
NJN  Kidd  Carter 198
NYK  Marbury  K.Thomas 165
SEA  Ridnour  Lewis 150
SEA  Ridnour  Allen 146
PHO  Nash  Johnson 141
WAS  Arenas  Jamison 135
CLE  James  Gooden 134
MIL  Williams  Redd 130
DAL  Terry  Nowitzki 128
DEN  Miller  Anthony 125
CHA  Knight  Okafor 125
PHO  Nash  Richardson 123
TOR  Alston  Bosh 123
CLE  James  Ilgauskas 122
NYK  Marbury  Crawford 121
DET  Billups  Prince 117
SAC  Bibby  Webber 117
DET  Billups  Hamilton 116

The wonderful season of Steve Nash is well represented here, with the #1, #2, #7 and #14 most assisted FG combo spots belonging to him on the passing end. As is immediately clear, he is well ahead of anyone else for top assister to a single player.

...the only question was would it be with Marion or Stoudemire for top honors, and Amare edged it out by one extra basket.

The drawback to this simple look is that we can't tell true efficiencies of the player-player efforts. If we had the missed FGA that would have been assists, the 'assisted free throws' and perhaps the turnovers trying to make the pass in, then we could scale matters to a true points per possession view.

2) Leading Combined Assisted FG Combos
Why only focus on one way passing though? What about the players who can truly make offense a two man game when on the floor together? Here are the leaders when we count both directions of assisted field goals...
2-1 FGM
1-2 FGM
Total FGM
PHO  Nash  Marion 25 245 270
PHO  Nash  Stoudemire 15 246 261
NJN  Kidd  Carter 58 198 256
CLE  McInnis  James 103 111 214
NYK  Marbury  K.Thomas 36 165 201
SAC  Bibby  Webber 72 117 189
SEA  Ridnour  Allen 42 146 188
NYK  Marbury  Crawford 64 121 185
CLE  James  Gooden 49 134 183
WAS  Arenas  Jamison 48 135 183
MIN  Szczerbiak  Garnett 107 67 174
SEA  Ridnour  Lewis 22 150 172
DET  Billups  Prince 53 117 170
PHO  Nash  Johnson 26 141 167
MIN  Cassell  Garnett 52 114 166
DAL  Terry  Nowitzki 37 128 165
WAS  Arenas  Hughes 81 84 165
DET  Billups  Hamilton 45 116 161
MIA  D.Jones  Wade 105 53 158
DEN  Miller  Anthony 30 125 155

At a glance it appears as if most of the leading duos have fairly one-sided relationships (eg one player is the passer the other is the scorer). Indeed there are only sixteen combos in the entire league where each player has assisted the other one on at least fifty made buckets, and only two with 80+ or about one per game going each way!

Nash is still ahead, although a full season of Kidd-Carter would probably have been enough to supplant Nash-Marion as the best duo in this area.

The most "diversified" duo is arguably McInnis-James where each has fed the other for 100+ assists. Ironically of course, McInnis has not been in favor lately in Cleveland...but this stat is clearly somewhat removed from measures of being an effective team player -- perhaps McInnis is too focused on playing off of LeBron.

Finally while we think the Webber trade was a smart move for Sacramento, there's no doubt they lost a special tandem in Bibby-Webber who would be in the running for the top spot if still together.

3) Players most reliant on one teammate for assisted FGM's
Another query of interest might be to see which players are heavily dependent on one teammate for getting the ball in the right spots...
(Minimum 100 total Assisted FGM)
Ast'd FG
% of AFG's
NJN  Carter  Kidd 198 60.5%
PHO  Stoudemire  Nash 246 55.1%
PHO  Marion  Nash 245 54.4%
ORL  Cato  Francis 65 53.7%
NYK  Crawford  Marbury 121 53.5%
PHI  Webber  Iverson 53 53.0%
NYK  Ariza  Marbury 57 52.7%
PHO  Johnson  Nash 141 52.2%
CHI  Duhon  Hinrich 59 50.8%
SEA  Allen  Ridnour 146 48.3%

Vince Carter relies more on one passer (Jason Kidd) than anyone else in terms of the proportion of total assisted field goals coming from one guy. Indeed if we lower the threshold to a minimum of 10 total assisted FG's (absurdly low), then the only player in the league this season with a higher number is...Vince Carter! In Toronto, Vince got 63% of his assisted FG's from Alston.

Other than the usual Steve Nash domination of the top ten, this list really gets us thinking it would be best to tally assisted FG by one passer divided by total fields goal made, regardless of whether they were assisted or not.

4) Players most reliant on one teammate for feeds, part II
So this sort is by the percentage of a player's total field goals made coming from assists from one passer. This allows for players who create their own shots (eg a Vince Carter) to get a more fair shake perhaps in the measurement of dependency.
(Minimum 100 total FGM)
Ast'd FG
% of FG's
ORL  Cato  Francis 65 40.6%
SAS  Bowen  Parker 101 40.2%
PHO  Marion  Nash 245 39.9%
NYK  K.Thomas  Marbury 165 38.9%
PHI  Webber  Iverson 53 37.0%
CLE  Newble  James 67 36.8%
PHI  Dalembert  Iverson 88 35.2%
NJN  Carter  Kidd 198 34.6%
TOR  Carter  Alston 43 34.6%
CHI  Duhon  Hinrich 59 34.3%

One thing is for sure, in Philly it's all about Iverson. Five of the top thirty-one most dependent players are Sixers getting the ball from A.I. -- and new arrival Webber is already "fitting in" to the program by depending heavily on a feed from the main man.

You also see a lot of catch and shoot types on the expanded top twenty list -- Bowen, Newble, D.Jones (fed by Wade), Q-Rich (from you know who). There's no shame of course in relying on an exceptional Point Guard to deliver the ball to you, so long as you are making it count when it comes to your hands.

5) Passers most reliant on one scorer
Turning it around, this time we will look at which passers get the highest percentage of their assists from one shooter. Again we can't speak to the overall effectiveness of the passer-scorer relationship. In some cases no doubt there is good reason to keep looking in one direction!
(Minimum 100 total Assists)
Ast'd FG
Assist %
MIA  Haslem  O'Neal 45 41.6%
SAC  Christie  Stojakovic 60 39.2%
MIN  Sprewell  Garnett 69 38.5%
BOS  Blount  Pierce 49 37.9%
MIN  Cassell  Garnett 114 37.8%
CLE  Gooden  James 49 37.6%
NJN  Kidd  Carter 198 36.3%
MIN  Szczerbiak  Garnett 67 35.0%
DAL  Finley  Nowitzki 59 34.9%
CHI  Deng  Curry 46 34.0%

What jumps out is how dependent several Minnesota players are on Garnett to get their assists. Is this because they only have one play (give the ball to KG) or is something else at work? Why would Spree have 69 KG assists but only 11 Cassell feeds? Hmmm.

Also of note is the Deng-Curry connection. Curry's team influence (on/off plus minus) has been lousy this season, but one bright spot for the big man in that regard, as shown by the Player Pairs data, has been when Luol is also on the court.

6) Where to go from here?
For starters, the whole use of "assists" is pretty dubious, since the stat is pretty iffy in how it's credited, and there is such a vast range of degree of difficulty to the assist/shot (eg how to split credit between the passer and scorer). That's why in our extreme charting endeavors we are tracking touches so we can know how many times a guy threw the ball to each player, and all the resulting outcomes (including things like pass before the pass to a bucket...and yes Soccer and Hockey will award assists to more than one player on a goal).

Still, one of the avenues for further exploration with the current data set would be to look at positionally based relationships (eg a PG passing to a C) and team metrics along those lines.

Ball movement, Player movement, and detailed passing seem like three areas where breakthroughs may be found in the coming years for NBA teams looking to optimize in-game strategy. Until that day though, we can expect to hear the familiar refrain from players at all levels of the game -- "just give me the **** ball!"

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