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LeBron James and the 20 Most Dynamic Offensive Players in the NBA

Kelly ScalettaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2017

LeBron James and the 20 Most Dynamic Offensive Players in the NBA

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    Who are the most dynamic players in the NBA? How does LeBron James compare to Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant or Dirk Nowkitzki? It’s not an easy question to answer.

    These aren't the "best" individual offensive players in The Association, but rather the ones who make the biggest overall impact on their team's offensive success. 

    There are many metrics which have come into use lately—Player Efficiency Rating, win shares, win score and offensive rating to name a few—but for various reasons, each has its own flaw or flaws.

    The biggest missing piece among them is that while they all have a certain degree of ability to measure a player’s production, they don’t show his impact on his teammates and contain varying degrees of positional bias.

    That’s why I, along with fellow featured columnist Adam Fromal, have been working together to design a new metric which does just that.

    Let's see what total offense created says about the most dynamic players in the NBA. 

    You can also check out Adam's overall rankings of the top dynamic point guards here.  

An Overview of Total Offense Created

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    If you would like to see the full formula click here. Beware. Clicking on that link can cause brain injury. Being that the formula is a tad complicated, we thought an explanation was in order.  

    The main theory behind total offense created is to include anything and everything that an individual player can affect on the offensive side of the ball. That results in four main components: scoring, teammate boost, assists and other factors.

     

    Scoring

    Essentially, you can argue that there are two components to every shot: the creation of the shot and the execution of the shot itself. Sometimes a player controls both of these components, but in some situations, multiple players are involved.  

    For example, consider this scenario: Chris Paul penetrates and brings Blake Griffin’s defender over to stop him. Paul dishes the ball to Griffin, who throws down the dunk for two points.

    In that situation, Paul created the shot, and Griffin made it. Most metrics will give two points to both of them, essentially double-counting the basket. Only two points were scored though, not four. Therefore, we're splitting the credit evenly between the distributor and the finisher.

    The field goals that a player made were split up into two categories: unassisted and assisted. Players received full credit for unassisted field goals as they served as both shot-creater and shot-maker, but only half credit for assisted ones. This applies to both two-pointers and shots from behind the three-point arc. 

     

    Teammate Boost

    One of our major objectives was to account for the impact a player has on his teammates. Players who are asked to generate offense are often faulted for being “high-volume” scorers, but the impact such players have on the game can be immense.

    We looked at how a team's effective field-goal percentage—a weighted metric that gives more value to three-pointers—changed when the player in question was on and off the court. If the four teammates joining the player shot more effectively while he was on the court than the average five teammates did while he was on the bench, then the player received a positive "teammate boost." 

    The amount of field goals that teammates shot while the player was on the court also influenced this part of the metric. An equal change in effective field-goal percentage is more valuable when more shots are taken than when fewer shots are lofted up at the basket. 

     

    Assists

    Just like in the scoring component, all credit for assists was split between the person who made the pass and the person who finished the play. After all, every assist results in an assisted field goal; it's impossible for an unassisted bucket to use an assist. 

    Players also received more credit when assists led to three-pointers, as those shots are worth an extra point on the scoreboard. 

     

    Other Factors

    Players received positive boosts for free throws made and offensive rebounds. However, not every offensive rebound is equal. 

    Those boards were weighted according to how successfully teams used possessions. An offensive rebound is more valuable on a team that averages 1.1 points per possession than it is on a team that averages 1.0 points per possession. 

    The same theory applies to missed shots from the field and turnovers, both of which counted against players in this formula. 

    However, all missed field goals aren’t lost possessions. Many times, teams score on missed field goals. In fact, the tip-in is one of the most efficient shots in the game, and literally none of those happen without a missed shot.

    As a result, missed shots were more detrimental to the cause on teams that were less effective on the offensive glass. 

    The last factor was free throws missed, which obviously count against a player. 

    Some of the content for this description was provided by Adam.

     



An Overview of Total Offense Created (Part 2 of 2)

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    Now for the remaining two components of total offense created:

     

    Assists

    Just like in the scoring component, all credit for assists was split between the person who made the pass and the person who finished the play. After all, every assist results in an assisted field goal; it's impossible for an unassisted bucket to use an assist. 

    Players also received more credit when assists led to three-pointers, as those shots are worth an extra point on the scoreboard. 

     

    Other Factors

    Players received positive boosts for free throws made and offensive rebounds. However, not every offensive rebound is equal. 

    Those boards were weighted according to how successfully teams used possessions. An offensive rebound is more valuable on a team that averages 1.1 points per possession than it is on a team that averages 1.0 points per possession. 

    The same theory applies to missed shots from the field and turnovers, both of which counted against players in this formula. 

    However, all missed field goals aren’t lost possessions. Many times teams score on missed field goals. In fact the tip-in is one of the most efficient shots in the game, and literally none of those happen without a missed shot.

    As a result, missed shots were more detrimental to the cause on teams that were less effective on the offensive glass. 

    The last factor was free throws missed, which obviously count against a player. 

    Some of the content for this description was provided by Adam.

     


Where's Kevin Durant? Why Some Players Aren't Here

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    There are some players who aren't on this list. If you scan through you won't see names like Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden or Dwight Howard

    That's a list of some of the best offensive players in the game, so it might lead some to think that this is a shortcoming in the formula. 

    It isn't, and it isn't because the formula is doing exactly what it's designed to do. It's looking at players who initiate the offense. Those are all players who finish the offense. 

    That's not to say that players who initiate offense are more important, or that there's not value in what players like Durant and Anthony do. Of course there is. You could argue they are the two most dangerous offensive players in the game right now. 

    The metaphor of a cannonball may help.

    To launch a cannonball you need to light the gunpowder, which creates an explosion and propels the cannonball forward. The cannonball then hits whatever you're aiming for and does damage. 

    On the one hand, the cannonball does the damage, but on the other hand, the force of it is generated by the explosion which propelled it. That's the "dynamic." 

    We're not denying the importance of the cannonball here by any stretch. Without the cannonball, the explosion is useless. 

    Some players are more "explosion" and some are more "cannonball." We're measuring the explosions here. We'll measure the "cannonballs" later. Durant and Anthony will be paid their due respect at that time. 

20. Greg Monroe, 14.17

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    For the most part, the list is composed of ball handlers, but there are a few big men littered in, and our list starts with one of them in Greg Monroe. 

    There are a few reasons that a big man can work his way onto the list. First, while defensive rebounding didn't count in our formula, offensive rebounding did. This can be especially helpful if a player is adept at scoring off his offensive rebounds. In essence, that's the offense he creates. 

    Second, a high field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage is also helpful. 

    Third, the big men who are on the list had better-than-average ball-handling skills for their position. 

    Monroe was such a player. He averaged 3.6 offensive rebounds per game, and more than half his field goals this year were unassisted. Based on data from Synergy, 85 of his 403 rebounds were put-backs, which would account for nearly half of his unassisted field goals. 

    That's not the kind offense you typically consider when you think of of created offense, but it does create offense. 

19. Jameer Nelson, 14.66

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    When deriving a new metric, there's always going to be a surprise or two, and seeing Jameer Nelson's name appear in the top 20 once it was all done and sorted came as big a surprise as any. 

    The easy thing to do is just dismiss such a surprise as being an anomaly or dismiss the metric based on the results not passing the "eyeball test." 

    However, the only major surprise in the list is Nelson, which makes dismissing the metric a bit premature. 

    So this raises the question, is he there because he actually belongs there? Is Nelson actually a bit underrated?

    The biggest difference for Nelson was his teammate boost, which is based on the difference in effective field-goal percentage while a player is on the court. 

    For the most part this didn't raise issues, but with Nelson, it seems clear that this is more lucky coincidence than cause/effect. He spent most of his time on the court along with Dwight Howard, and the team's effective field-goal percentage was much higher with Howard on the court. 

    So that raises the question, was it higher because Nelson was setting up the dominoes or because Howard was making the shots? When viewing Nelson's comparatively lower assist and usage percentages, it seems it's more likely the latter. 

18. Kevin Love, 14.76

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    Kevin Love makes the list largely on the strength of his scoring, which is efficient due to his ability to hit the long-ball and an unheralded ability to get to the line, and his 4.1 offensive rebounds per game. 

    It's also worth mentioning that Love has better ball-handling skills than most big men. He averaged a remarkable 1.03 points per play as the ball-handler on pick-and-roll plays, as well as a .91 points per play on isolation plays. 

    Both of those rates are better than a good number of point guards in the league. Of course, he's not  running the plays as often, so that helps boost his rates, but it does indicate that he handles the ball well for a power forward. 

17. Kobe Bryant, 15.12

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    There will be two kinds of response to Kobe Bryant's placement here. There will be those mad that he's not higher and those who are mad that he's on the list at all. 

    Both parties need to bear in mind one thing, this is not a subjective ranking. The reason Kobe Bryant is place here is that the number 15.12 is smaller than 15.19 (which is what the 16th-ranked player scored) and larger than 14.76 (which is what Kevin Love scored at No. 18). 

    So why is Kobe Bryant getting the score he has?

    The answer to both questions has to do with his missed field goals. He gets knocked for missing a lot of field goals, but not as much as some people would like him to. 

    Last season, Kobe Bryant missed the most field-goal attempts in the NBA, according basketball-reference. That's not hating; it's just a fact. He missed 762 shots. 

    However, that doesn't mean there were 762 lost possessions since 29.1 percent, or 222 of those were rebounded by his teammates.  That means it really only resulted in 540 lost possessions. That's still a lot of possessions, but not as many as 762. 

    Bryant also creates a lot of his own shots, with only 44 percent of his shots overall coming off of assists.

    The bottom line is that Bryant creates a lot of offense and he costs his team possessions. He's right where he should be. 

16. LaMarcus Aldridge, 15.19

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    LaMarcus Aldridge makes our list on offensive rebounding and a surprisingly low percentage of unassisted field goals for a power forward. 

    Included in our formula, we tracked unassisted points per game, which included field goals made per game, half of three pointers made, unassisted field goals made and assists. 

    Aldridge had the best unassisted points per game total of any big. In part, this looks like it may become of his ability to put back offensive rebounds. While he doesn't grab the most of them, he is very effective at putting them back, scoring at a rate of 1.29 points per play on put-backs, according to Synergy. 

    Aldridge was also an outstanding post-up player, averaging .96 points per play. He creates shots for himself, backing down opponents and laying it in or utilizing a nice turning hook shot that goes in with regularity. 

    A number of Aldridge's unassisted field goals don't come from breaking down the defense so much as backing down the defense. 

15. John Wall, 15.34

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    John Wall is helped by a very low assisted rate. He creates 78 percent of his own field goals for himself.

    He also tends to create shots for his teammates, dishing out 8.0 assists per game, which was no mean feat for a team as embarrassingly selfish as the Wizards were for the bulk of the season. 

    He would be higher up were it not for an awful jump shot. Wall had the second worst jumper of any player in the league last year, sinking a mere 28.8 percent of them. Too many missed field goals lowers Wall's overall numbers slightly. 

14. Tony Parker, 15.40

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    Tony Parker was the new linchpin of the San Antonio Spurs offense and had one of the best seasons of his career, as he averaged a career high 7.7 assists per game. 

    Much of the Spurs offense, which was the most potent in the NBA, was generated by Parker's breaking down defenses and kicking out to three-point shooters. Parker had 31 percent of his assists lead to three-point shots, the best of any point guard in the league. 

    That, combined with the fact that 77 percent of his shots were created by himself, are the reasons he finds himself on our list. 

13. Dirk Nowitzki, 15.41

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    Dirk Nowitzki is an enormously efficient shooter and so far and away the most efficient scorer on his team that he makes everyone around him better.

    In compiling our statistics, we included the stats for the top 100 players in the NBA. Nowitzki's teammates saw their field-goal percentage rise 5.56 percent while he was on the court. The only player who had a greater effect on his teammates' field-goal percentage was Steve Nash. 

    This is a good indication that the only way to impact offense is not dribbling. Merely commanding a huge amount of defensive attention and drawing double-teams can make a player very dangerous if he knows how to pass out of them well. 

    When Nowitzki can't get a good shot off, he will kick it out and the Mavericks will swing it around to find the open shooter. 

    The unheralded aspect of Nowitzki's game is the "hockey assist." He would probably be among the league-leaders in that stat if it were kept, and it's indicated by the impact he has on his teammates' shooting. 

12. Paul George, 15.49

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    Paul George is the most dynamic player on the Indiana Pacers, which could come as a bit of a surprise since he shares the court with Danny Granger, who was 29th on our list, and Roy Hibbert, who was 32nd. 

    George gets his placement here for a few reasons. He raises his teammates' field goal percentage by 1.3 percent. He doesn't make a lot of negative plays. He also takes advantage of transition points. Nearly a quarter of his field goals this year were in transition. 

    Some of this might be his benefiting from his teammates, though. The Pacers offense is not very efficient, so his negative plays don't hurt as much. 

    This brings up an interesting conundrum in evaluating the stat. On the one hand, that might seem "unfair" to players like Tony Parker who are on a more efficient team. 

    On the other hand, it's a bit of a neutralizer. Parker's overall stats are boosted by playing with so many shooters. 

11. Mike Conley, 15.77

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    Mike Conley's placement this high is unexpected, and makes an interesting study. Is he helped by the success of those around him, the reason those around him are successful, or a bit of both?

    His teammate boost of 4.66 percent (meaning his teammates shoot 4.66 percent better while he's on the court) suggests that Conley deserves more credit than he gets for setting up his teammates.  

    Is that incidental, meaning he is affecting the change, or coincidental, meaning he just happens to be on the court at the right time?

    Looking at how he does with some of the stars shows that Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay all have a better effective field-goal percentage while Conley is on the court. In fact, Rudy Gay shoots a whopping 9 percent better. 

    The initial reaction might be to just conclude that Conley is getting the benefit of playing with superior talent, but more prying reveals that in fact they are benefiting from playing with him. 

10. Al Jefferson, 16.77

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    Al Jefferson is the first player to break our top 10 and will unquestionably raise some eyebrows doing so. 

    He deserves his placement, though. There are a few reasons he gets into the top 10. First, he is an efficient shooter, making 49.2 percent of his attempts. 

    Second, he only turns the ball over one time per game. Those two things combined mean that his game is almost all positives. 

    He averages 2.2 offensive rebounds per game and the same number of assists. One out of every three of his assists are setting up teammates for three-point shots. One very impressive stat is that the Jazz shot 10 percent better from deep while he was on the court.

    In essence, Jefferson created offense by being such a focus for defenses that the perimeter game thrived. 

9. Blake Griffin, 16.84

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    In spite of the constant assertions that all Blake Griffin does is dunk, there's considerable evidence to the contrary. His placement of ninth here is solid evidence that he is a more complete player than many would like to credit him with being. 

    He led all big men in assists last season. A full 50 percent of his 3.2 assists per game led to scores from deep. He also grabbed 3.3 offensive rebounds per game. 

    On top of all that, there is this little benefit of dunking. The shots tend to go in. Griffin made 88.9 percent of his dunks. 

    On cut plays, he's extraordinary. He scores 1.43 points per play when he's cutting. He uses his body extremely well to lose his defender when he breaks for the rim. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he knows Chris Paul is going to find him, but that doesn't annul the fact he's there to be found, either. 

    His efficiency, offensive rebounding and passing skills, along with a healthy 2.67 percent teammate boost combine to make Griffin the ninth most dynamic player in the NBA. 

8. Dwyane Wade, 17.25

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    Is Dwyane Wade the most underrated player of all time? There is a good chance he is. 

    There are maybe 15-18 players who are in the conversation for top 10 of all time. Of course only 10 make up the top 10, but I just mean that if you asked 1000 experts to name their top 10, there would be around 15-18 names that would appear on a lot of lists. 

    My point here is that Wade's name probably wouldn't be among them, but you could easily make a case that he is. His career Player Efficiency Rating of 25.7 is sixth best in NBA history. He is one of only five players who have 25 points, five rebounds and five assists per game over the course of their careers. 

    The other four are LeBron James, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan. How many of them are in the conversation?

    Wade is still one of the most dynamic players in the game, too. In addition to his fantastic passing game, he creates over 60 percent of his own field goals while scoring at a highly efficient rate. 

7. Russell Westbrook, 17.25

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    Russell Westbrook led all players in unassisted points. The only reason he's not lightning in a bottle is that it's impossible to bottle him up. 

    He gets blamed for every woe the Thunder have ever had, but let's be realistic here. His team boost of 1.1 indicates that while he's on the court, he's helping his teammates to shoot better. 

    It would be easy, and lazy, to just conclude that Westbrook is only here because Durant is making him look better. 

    A fascinating look from NBA.com shows things are actually the other way around, though. Durant shoots 3 percent better while Westbrook is on the court, but Westbrook's shooting percentage goes up by four points while Durant is on the bench. 

    In particular, Durant's three-point percentage drops nine points while Westbrook sits. 

    This, of course, is not to take away anything from Durant. He's plenty destructive even when Westbrook is on the bench. He's just even more destructive when Westbrook is on the court 

6. Kyrie Irving, 17.39

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    When Kyrie Irving challenged Kobe Bryant to a game of one on one, some people got aggravated with the young man, thinking what he did was disrespectful. 

    Whatever you think, you have to appreciate he didn't just do something like tweet a boast or post it on his Facebook page and then deny he did it and blame it on a hack. 

    Nope. He told Kobe Bryant, to his face, eyeball to eyeball, that he could take him. He might be a kid, but he's got the courage of a man. 

    He's got some pretty serious game, too, as he proved during his rookie season. 

    Irving boosted his teammates field-goal percentage better than 3 percent a game, and nearly 70 percent of his own field goals were unassisted. 

    He is also a pretty special shooter for a driving point guard. His .566 true shooting percentage was the second best by a point guard with at least five assists a game in NBA history. 

5. LeBron James, 18.01

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    Why isn't LeBron James at the top of the rankings? It's a completely valid question. 

    There are a lot of reasons for him to be up this high. His huge production to the tune of 27.1 points per game, his brilliant passing resulting in 6.2 assists, the fact that creates that he creates 62.6 percent of his own shots are just a few of them. 

    With James the only question isn't about why he's this high or why he's here, but why isn't he higher?

    The surprising reason is that he takes a hit instead of getting a bump from teammate boost. His teammates actually shoot at a lower percentage while he's on the court.

    The team as a whole shoots much better when James is on the court if you count James' production, but if you discount his production, the other players on the court with him actually shoot better when he's on the bench. 

    This is more likely anomaly than indicative of anything meaningful. James has such a poor offensive bench to work with that the time he spends with second unit probably sabotages his numbers. 

4. Deron Williams, 18.76

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    Deron Williams gets to establish he's still one of the league's top point guards this season. Last year he maintained that he was still one of the most dynamic players in the league, even if the win/loss total didn't show it. 

    He has always been a player that makes those around him better. There's just only so much you can do with some teammates. Last year, he raised his fellow Nets' field-goal percentage 3.1 percent while he was on the court.

    Over 67 percent of his field goals were unassisted. The 2.7 three-point assists per game was tied for the most in the league. 

    Wanna bet that Joe Johnson is licking his proverbial chops right now?

3. Steve Nash, 22.00

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    Seriously, I don't care if they're a combined 70 years old, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are going to be making some beautiful music together.

    Wondering if they could work is like wondering if John Bonham and Jimi Hendrix would have sounded good together. There's no guarantees, but who wouldn't want to at least hear them give it a go?

    Nash, with his spectacular ability to break down defenses off the dribble and complete lack of selfishness, is actually a perfect blend for Kobe's utter lack of unselfishness, and that is not intended to be an insult. 

    Everyone's complaint about Bryant is that he forces bad shots and has a low field-goal percentage. Nash only raised the field-goal percentage of his teammates more than any player in the league last year. 

    It should be exciting to see this offense run. Kobe has the first great passer in his career, and Nash has his first great shooting guard. 

2. Derrick Rose, 22.43

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    Derrick Rose might have been hobbled for much of the season, but even a hobbled Derrick Rose is one of the most dynamic players in the league. 

    Rose explodes through the lane. When he starts to break for the rim, it's already too late. Wherever he wants to get to, he'll be there by the time defenders have a chance to process in their brains that he's moving. 

    He gets labeled a "score-first" point guard, but if he just didn't score, his passing alone would have him as a top 10 point guard in the league. 

    In his MVP season, he became the third player since the merger to record 2,000 points and 600 points in a season. That qualifies as dynamic. 

    Last year, Rose improved tremendously on his turnovers, coughing up the ball just 12.9 percent of the time, the 11th lowest rate in NBA history for a player with an assist percentage of at least 40 percent. 

    Rose has the scoring ability and passing ability to be the most dynamic player in the league. He just needs to learn to say no to one or two bad shots a game. Sometimes he'll force a bad shot when a teammate has a better one. 

    It doesn't happen as often as some would have you believe, but it does happen about once or twice a game. That one or two plays a game is the difference between Rose and the most dynamic player in the league. 

1. Chris Paul, 24.91

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    The most dynamic player in the league is Chris Paul, and if you look at the numbers, it's not even close. He's two full points ahead of the next best player. 

    Paul is a highly efficient scorer, boasting a true shooting percentage of .581. He creates a gargantuan 82.1 percent of his own points. He raises the field-goal percentage of his teammates by 4.5 percent. 

    In addition to all that Paul, takes remarkable care of the ball, commanding a meager 10.8 percent turnover percentage. That was the second lowest rate ever by a player who assisted on at least 40 percent of his teammates' field goals while he was on the court. 

    In short, Paul is at the top of the list because all he does right is everything and all he does wrong is nothing.

    He is the prototype player to initiate your offense, with an equal ability to both score himself, or set up those around him. And while doing all that, he doesn't take bad shots and he doesn't turn the ball over. That's why he's the most dynamic player in the league. 

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