Ranking the Most Dynamic Point Guards in the NBA Today
How elite is Kyrie Irving? What about Jrue Holiday?
Is Stephen Curry's shooting more useful than Greivis Vasquez's passing?
These are just some of the many questions that total offense created (TOC) will help answer. This stat, developed by fellow Featured Columnist Kelly Scaletta and myself, measures how offensively dynamic each of these players has been during the 2012-13 season.
There are plenty of other offensive metrics, but they all have various biases and fail to account for at least some aspect of a player's' performance. This one doesn't.
When you're reading this article—which begins with a two-slide explanation of total offense created that I would highly encourage you to go over carefully—keep in mind what the intention is here. We're measuring how dynamic a player is on offense.
This is not an overall ranking of point guards. Defense is not accounted for in any way.
Instead, we're essentially looking at how effective players are at creating offense. This is about how offense is initiated, not finished. Here's where I get to turn to Kelly's cannonball metaphor:
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.
So, looking at passing, scoring and a number of other factors, which point guards produce the biggest explosions?
A total of 47 floor generals have both played in at least 20 games this season and averaged at least 20 minutes per game.
Of those, 46 are ranked here. I couldn't include Jose Calderon because he's spent time on two teams, and I have no way to properly mesh his performances together. Unfortunately, he'll remain shrouded in mystery.
An Overview of TOC (Part 1)
The theory behind TOC is to include anything and everything that an individual player does to affect the offense. That results in four components: scoring, teammate boost, assists and other factors.
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.
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 two points evenly between the distributor and the finisher.
The field goals that a player made were split 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 they received only half-credit for assisted ones. This applies to both two-pointers and shots from behind the three-point arc.
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 number of field goals that teammates attempted while the player was on the court also influenced this part of the metric. A equal change in effective field-goal percentage is more valuable when more shots are taken than when less shots are taken.
An Overview of TOC (Part 2)
Now for the remaining two components of TOC.
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.
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 point 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.
Once the four components were all calculated, they were summed to create a measurement of total points created.
Essentially, we added together unassisted points scored, assisted points scored, points created by assists, the teammate boost, free throws made and offensive rebounds, then subtracted free throws missed and the weighted forms of missed field goals and turnovers.
One difference between this version and the one used in the last set of rankings is that offensive rebounding percentage and offensive rating were derived solely from the possessions during which the player in question was on the court.
For the actual formula, click here.
20. Darren Collison: 12.63 TOC
Team: Dallas Mavericks
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.5 points, 5.4 assists
Darren Collison has labored in obscurity for the Dallas Mavericks this season, rarely getting credit for his solid play. The problem is that there's always been a bigger story surrounding Mark Cuban's squad.
At the beginning of the year, O.J. Mayo was drawing the hype, overshadowing the team's other new backcourt acquisition. When Mayo's play tailed off a bit, the focus shifted to the frontcourt, centering on the return—first to action, then to superstar form—of Dirk Nowitzki.
Collison has been lost in the shuffle, but that's not due to poor play on his part.
The Mavs have shot better when he's on the court than when he's off it. While the five players on the court have generated an effective field goal percentage of 48.9 percent when he's resting on the bench, his four teammates have upped that to 50 percent when he's joining them in action.
Collison may not be much of a scorer, and he generally relies on the passes of his teammates to earn his points rather than creating off the dribble, but he plays within himself from tip-off until the final buzzer.
19. Raymond Felton: 13.34
Team: New York Knicks
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 6.0 assists
When Raymond Felton returned from injury a while back, the New York Knicks suddenly broke out of a mini-slump and started winning again. That was no coincidence, as the once-gone-and-now-returned floor general simply made his teammates better when he played.
The three-ball in particular likes to fall when Felton is on the court.
Even though the North Carolina product contributes only a couple three-pointers per 48 minutes by himself, the Knicks drain an insane 10.7 shots per 48 minutes from downtown when he's on the court. No point guard in the league has a higher number in that category.
Felton could stand to score more efficiently by raising that 40.4 percentage from the field, but he does have a knack for creating his own looks, which adds another scoring threat for defenders to worry about when he's on the court.
18. Goran Dragic: 13.96
Team: Phoenix Suns
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 6.9 assists
Goran Dragic must be able to score for himself before he can take the next step and join the truly elite offensive point guards in this league. While the 26-year-old does score 14.2 points per game, only 6.6 of them are of the unassisted variety.
This is particularly true at the rim. Dragic has knocked down 122 shots in that innermost portion of the half-court set this season, and 32.8 percent of them were assisted. Only two of the 17 floor generals ahead of him in these rankings relied on teammates more in that area.
Dragic does make his teammates better, and he's a quality pick-and-roll point guard—please don't compare him to Steve Nash, because that's just not fair. As much as he brings to the table, though, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
That's precisely the reason Dragic can be a long-term solution in the desert, no matter how poorly this season might have unfolded.
17. Brandon Jennings: 14.09
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 6.4 assists
Brandon Jennings is another one of those guys who needs the help of teammates to finish around the rim. That's part of the reason that his 18.4 points per game aren't quite as valuable as you might think.
As you learn from breaking down his performances from each section of the court, Jennings scores 3.13 assisted points per game and 9.04 unassisted points per contest. Both those numbers are impressive, but his unassisted-to-assisted ratio is worse than all but three of the players ranked above him.
Jennings is developing as a passer, which is quite problematic for opposing defenses. Between the lefty's distributing skills and the threat of his shooting stroke, the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks get a lot of open looks when he is playing.
Milwaukee's effective field goal percentage when Jennings is on the court is 48 percent, a pretty solid improvement from the off-court mark of 46.6 percent.
16. Kemba Walker: 14.59
Team: Charlotte Bobcats
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 5.5 assists
Kemba Walker is one of only two players on this list whose teammates shoot less effectively when he's on the court than when he's off it. Trust me when I say that you'll be surprised by the other.
In a lot of ways, this is a pretty big black mark on Walker's résumé. As bad as the Charlotte Bobcats' bench is, one would think that Walker—who primarily plays with the starters—wouldn't fall into this unfortunate category.
That said, there's a reason Walker earns playing time over Ramon Sessions. He still brings a lot to the table, and he's yet to develop into the player he could become.
Just as he's done throughout his career, especially during his time with the Connecticut Huskies, Walker creates his own shots quite well. Especially from mid-range, this 22-year-old floor general has no problem going off the dribble rather than spotting up.
15. Ty Lawson: 14.60
Team: Denver Nuggets
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 7.1 assists
When a player is as fast as Ty Lawson, it would be understandable if he based his game solely on his blinding speed. However, Lawson has become more than just a speed demon on the basketball court.
The 25-year-old plays within himself now, controlling the game even when he's moving at a blur. For evidence, look no further than his turnover numbers, which have only risen to 2.7 per game despite an increase in both role and minutes per game. For the third season in a row, his turnover percentage has been just less than 15 percent.
Based on his recent string of performances, the diminutive floor general is on the rise. He's recovering from a poor start and truly starting to lead the Nuggets, as shown by his last-second shot to down the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 105-103 victory.
Don't expect Lawson to fall short of the top 10 in the future.
14. George Hill: 14.83
Team: Indiana Pacers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 4.9 assists
George Hill is another one of those players who should be receiving quite a bit of consideration for the coveted Most Underrated Player Award. You know, if the MUP actually existed, of course.
Lost in the defensive machine that is the Indiana Pacers' starting five, George Hill has been able to go to work in the shadows. And that work has been quite valuable to a suddenly surging offense in blue and yellow.
The biggest thing working in Hill's favor has been his ability to make his teammates better. His lack of turnovers—only 1.7 per game—is impressive, but not nearly as beneficial as the 4.14-point boost he received in the teammate boost portion of TOC.
When Hill is on the bench, the Pacers have only mustered an effective field goal percentage of 44.5 percent. However, with him on the court, that number skyrockets to 48.4. Couple that with the 81.3 shot attempts they take per 48 minutes and the 35 minutes per game he spends in action.
That's when you know you have a player who makes those around him better.
13. Jameer Nelson: 14.97
Team: Orlando Magic
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 7.4 assists
Maybe Rob Hennigan knew what he was doing after all.
The Orlando Magic's decision to re-sign Jameer Nelson for a few more years despite the fact that a 30-year-old rarely factors into a rebuilding process' long-term plans was met with a bit of head-scratching, but it seems to be one grounded in numbers.
Nelson might not blow you away on the court. He's hardly a glamorous player, but he's undeniably effective. In virtually every category you look, Nelson makes a positive contribution.
What stands out to me, though, is his three-point shooting. It's not the number of shots he makes from downtown, as 2.1 is hardly the most impressive number out there. Nor is it his 34.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.
It's that Nelson knocks down triples at those volumes and rates, and does so without the help of his teammates. Only 57.1 percent of his three-pointers have been assisted, a number topped by only one other point guard who's drained at least 75 triples: Kyle Lowry.
12. Greivis Vasquez: 15.77
Team: New Orleans Hornets
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 9.4 assists
Grevis Vasquez has quickly developed from an afterthought into one of the league's most "pure" point guards. I mean that strictly in the sense that it's come to take on: a player who passes first and shoots second exclusively.
It's neither a compliment nor an insult.
In the case of this former Maryland Terrapin, though, passing first is a good idea because he's damn good at it. Vasquez has become one of the Association's best assist men, allowing the Hornets to give him gaudy minute totals in spite of his porous defense play.
The point guard has also honed in on shots in the 3- to 10-foot range. He's knocked down 121 of them—nearly 40 more than from any other area of the court—and only been assisted on 9.1 percent of them.
His ability to drive into the teeth of the defense and either float up a shot or kick out to a shooter is part of what makes the Hornets' offensive system work.
11. Deron Williams: 15.83
Team: Brooklyn Nets
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 7.5 assists
Even though Deron Williams has started to regain his status as an elite point guard under P.J. Carlesimo, he's still experienced a rather significant drop-off from his form with the Utah Jazz.
Once an efficient shooter, D-Will is shooting 41.7 percent from the field, although his 36.3 percent shooting from downtown on 5.3 attempts per game helps to make up for that number.
Williams also falls lower in the rankings because of his tendency to rely on spot-up shooting and the passes of his teammates to score his points. Checking in at 3.34 unassisted points and 6.76 assisted ones per game, he falls well short of the ratio you'd expect from a supposedly elite scorer.
10. Kyrie Irving: 15.94
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 5.6 assists
If you just add up unassisted and assisted points per game, Kyrie Irving would be on top of the point guard rankings. No other player at his position scores more of the unassisted variety, and only two leave him behind in the assisted ones.
That's a pretty deadly combination, and it's part of the reason that Irving has ascended up the ranks so quickly. Even at just 20 years old, the former Duke Blue Devil is undeniably one of the hottest commodities on the point guard market.
However, Irving has to figure out how to parlay his knack for putting the ball in the basket into creating opportunities for teammates. At this early stage in his career, he hasn't quite figured out how to make those around him better.
This season, Irving's teammates have an effective field goal percentage of 46.5 percent when he is on the bench. And that number only goes up 0.3 percent when he walks onto the court.
That is why Irving checks in a bit lower than you might expect.
9. Jrue Holiday: 16.29
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 8.6 assists
Jrue Holiday doesn't need anybody but Jrue Holiday to do his thing on offense.
This year's biggest breakout player at point guard has run the offense spectacularly for the 76ers, despite a shocking lack of help around him. Fortunately for the Sixers, Holiday's ability to create for himself has at least kept the team partially afloat while Andrew Bynum does crazy things with his hair.
Just take a look at the percentage of shots that Holiday has assisted from each range on the court compared to the average of the 47 point guards I looked at:
|% Assisted||At rim||3-10 feet||10-16 feet||16-23 feet||Three-pointers|
|Qualified PG Average||32.3||21.8||21.9||33.1||74.6|
When Holiday takes jumpers, he tends to be well below the average percent assisted. He still needs to work on getting his teammates better shots—yes, I know he averages 8.6 dimes per contest—but that will come along with an established post presence.
For now, let's just be impressed by the player this 22-year-old has become.
8. Rajon Rondo: 16.31
Team: Boston Celtics
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 11.1 assists
Boston Celtics fans, I completely understand if you now feel the need to cringe and click through to the next slide. The pain from Rondo's ACL tear might still be a little bit too fresh, even if your body wasn't actually physically harmed.
If you've made it this far, though, you might discover part of the reason that the Celtics have remained in the thick of things despite the injury to their star point guard.
Rondo ranks in the top 10 despite a teammate boost that is barely positive. His greatness is derived from his own play on the court, not how much better he makes those around him.
When Rondo played this season, the Celtics had an effective field goal percentage of 50.1 percent. That's only slightly better than the 49.6 percent mark accumulated when Rondo's passing skills were gathering dust on the bench.
An assist machine, Rondo might have the passing part of the equation down, but even with a palpable improvement in his midrange jump shooting, defenders didn't have to respect his scoring abilities enough for his teammates to shoot more efficiently.
7. Jeff Teague: 16.73
Team: Atlanta Hawks
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.4 points, 7.1 assists
Even though Jeff Teague has struggled in recent games, he's truly blossomed as an offensive leader of the Atlanta Hawks since Lou Williams was lost for the season. Someone had to replace Williams' offense, and Teague was more than up for the challenge.
The Wake Forest product's traditional per-game stats might not blow you away, but this point guard gets more and more impressive as you dig deeper. Let's hit some of the highlights.
First, Teague's passes lead to more points than normal. Some people might think of an assist as a two-point play, but that's only true if you generate an assist on a shot worth two points. Three-pointers matter, too.
That's fortunate for Teague, as 2.1 of his assists per game lead to triples. That's a higher number than all but four point guards in the league: Jrue Holiday, Greivis Vasquez and the No. 5 and No. 1 players in these rankings, whose names I can't yet reveal.
Second, Teague's teammate boost of 4.77 is just ridiculous. Only two point guards in the NBA have higher marks in that category. Teague benefits from a 5.3 percent jump in effective field goal percentage by his teammates when he enters the game.
6. John Wall: 17.02
Team: Washington Wizards
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 7.3 assists
No point guard in the Association makes his teammates better than John Wall does with the Washington Wizards.
You may think of that as a subjective statement, one that can easily be refuted by another claim that is in no way steeped in factual support.
Wall receives the highest teammate boost of all the players eligible for these rankings despite having played only 29.5 minutes per game in his return from injury. Since minutes per game is a multiplier in that portion of TOC, Wall's ascent to the top is all the more impressive.
When the former No. 1 pick was out (either injured or catching his breath during a game), the Wizards only put together an effective field goal percentage of 45.9 percent. But when he's played, well, the number doesn't just skyrocket.
It spacerockets to 53.5 percent.
5. Tony Parker: 17.72
Team: San Antonio Spurs
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 7.6 assists
When I saw that Tony Parker received a negative teammate boost thus far this season, I scratched my head and double-checked to make sure I'd entered the numbers into my spreadsheet correctly.
Parker's an MVP candidate. There's no way that his teammates can actually shoot worse on the court when he's on it than they do when he sits.
Well, they do. Numbers don't lie. They're not capable of such falsities.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that Parker's teammate boost is more a testament to the greatness of Gregg Popovich's system than it is an indictment of Parker's point-guard skills. Even if the Frenchman runs the offense to perfection, it doesn't skip a beat when he catches his breath on the sidelines.
Plus, Parker still checks in at No. 5, a ranking that is by no means an embarrassment. Remember, he's pretty brilliant as an individual.
4. Damian Lillard: 18.50
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 6.4 assists
This is where I have to remind you that these are not overall rankings of point guards. If you missed the cannonball explosion metaphor on the intro slide, go back and read it so that you understand exactly what we're ranking here.
Damian Lillard is not a top-five point guard yet. However, if we're only looking at the ability to create offense, it's hard to argue against him. His deficiencies lie on the other end of the court.
Even though Lillard is only a rookie—albeit a 22-year-old one with plenty of basketball experience—he's established himself as one of the better shot-creators in the league. Among point guards, only five players have scored more than the 10 unassisted points per game Lillard has produced.
That said, Lillard's TOC is a bit deceiving, as the Portland Trail Blazers' bench is just beyond awful. That's positively impacting his teammate boost, which checks in at 5.36 and trails only John Wall's mark, because he typically plays with the starters.
In fact, according to 82games.com, a little more than 56 percent of Lillard's time on the court has been spent playing with Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, J.J. Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge.
3. Stephen Curry: 18.60
Team: Golden State Warriors
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.1 points, 6.6 assists
Don't make the mistake of thinking that Stephen Curry is just a sharpshooter. He certainly is one, but there's so much more to his game than his ability to fire away from downtown.
Curry can also finish around the basket, displaying shades of George Gervin as he finger-rolls his way toward high point totals. Plus, his creativity allows him to create plenty of looks for his teammates as he launches shots and embarrasses people with his increasingly deadly crossover.
Of the three-pointers that Curry knocks down, 62.8 percent are assisted. But when you make as many as Curry does, it doesn't really matter. He's among the leaders in unassisted points per game (fifth among point guards) and assisted points per game (first).
2. Russell Westbrook: 20.40
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 7.8 assists
I don't think it will come as any surprise that Russell Westbrook leads all point guards in unassisted points per game, checking in at 12.68. The biggest knock on this talented point guard is his tendency to call his own number, but that also happens to be one of Westbrook's strengths.
The threat of his shot and his unpredictability also benefit the other four members of the Oklahoma City Thunder on the court with him. That was true as well during the 2011-12 season, but Westbrook didn't have the vision or passing skills necessary to find teammates after he drew their defenders just a bit too far from them.
This year, he does. Westbrook's assist numbers have jumped, and he's making better decisions on the court, resulting in a much better teammate boost than he received last season (3.5 versus 1.1).
Scrutinized as he may be, Westbrook is most assuredly a dynamic point guard who contributes far more positively than he does negatively.
1. Chris Paul: 21.87
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 9.6 assists
If you're looking for a perfect offensive point guard, Chris Paul is just about as good as it gets.
CP3 may not score as much as the other elite guards in these rankings, but the way he gets his points is just unbelievable. The 27-year-old checks in at 9.2 unassisted points and 1.62 assisted points per game, giving him an unassisted-to-assisted ratio of 5.67.
Rajon Rondo is the only player who boasts a better ratio (6.18), and the injured Boston Celtics floor general averages 2.5 fewer points per game. Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday are the only two players averaging more than five.
But Paul doesn't just score in impressive fashion. He does everything in the same manner.
No matter how you break it down, he's elite, which is why he's well clear of the rest of the field with his 21.87 TOC.
The following chart shows a few interesting components of TOC that I've referenced throughout this article for all eligible players. It also reveals the order of each player in TOC from No. 1 through No. 47, even though only the top 20 were featured.
Unassisted points per game, assisted points per game and teammate boost are all essential parts of TOC, but they aren't the only components. That's why you won't produce the final column of the chart if you add up the other numbers.
The leader in each component can be found in bold.
|Player Name||Unassisted PPG||Assisted PPG||Teammate Boost||Total Offense Created|