Ranking the Most Dynamic Power Forwards in the NBA Today
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Has Blake Griffin already become the cream of the crop at power forward during a season in which Kevin Love has played only 18 games?
Does David Lee's offense allow him to rise to the top? What about LaMarcus Aldridge and his devastating mid-range game?
Will it be someone else entirely?
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.
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 power forwards. 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 power forwards produce the biggest explosions?
A total of 56 have both played in at least 20 games this season and averaged at least 20 minutes per game.
Of those, 49 are ranked here. I couldn't include Hakim Warrick, Marreese Speights, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Josh McRoberts, Thomas Robinson or Ed Davis because they've spent time on two teams, and I have no way to properly mesh their performances together. Unfortunately, they'll remain shrouded in mystery.
Note: All stats are current through Friday, March 29, and come from the various pages of Hoopdata.com, NBA.com's stat resources and Basketball-Reference.com. You can find the point guard rankings, as well as the original version of this introduction, here. The shooting guard rankings can be found through this link, and you can click here for the small forward rankings and here for the center rankings.
An Overview of TOC (Part 1)
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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-creator 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. An 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)
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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 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.
Total Offense Created
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. Jason Thompson: 6.25
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Team: Sacramento Kings
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 1.0 assists
Jason Thompson has labored away in obscurity for the Sacramento Kings, but that doesn't mean that he's created less offense than his positional counterparts.
It's quite difficult for power forwards to score more unassisted points than assisted ones, mostly because they usually require point guards feeding them the ball in the post or spot-up situations. Unless a power forward is a primary option on the team, the ball isn't in his hands often enough to make up for this league-wide trend.
Thompson has proven to be one of the exceptions, particularly when he goes to work near the basket. With his creativity and knack for offensive-rebound putbacks, the 26-year-old has scored, on average, 3.07 unassisted and 2.99 assisted points per game.
19. Carlos Boozer: 6.85
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Team: Chicago Bulls
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 2.1 assists
Carlos Boozer is only present in the top 20 because of his opportunity with the Chicago Bulls. He's still the best offensive power forward on the roster, and with Derrick Rose out, he's counted on for scoring more than he should be.
The 31-year-old has clearly declined on the more glamorous end of the court, but his 15.9 points per game allow him to jump up into the rankings.
Boozer's points usually result from the pass of a teammate before he finishes the play with his high-arcing jumper. He just scores a bunch of them.
The power forward also manages to minimize his turnovers, which is quite beneficial to his cause. It needs to be, otherwise his negative teammate boost would allow our 21st-ranked power forward to boost up into a featured spot.
18. Amar'e Stoudmire: 7.07
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Team: New York Knicks
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 0.4 assists
In between Amar'e Stoudemire's knee injuries, he proved to be a solid individual offensive player for the New York Knicks. He just wasn't much of a team player, as you can partially tell from his 0.4 assists per game.
When STAT was on the court, his four teammates produced an effective field-goal percentage of 49.1 percent. However, when the be-goggled big man took a seat—whether due to the rotation or one of his injuries—the Knicks jumped up to a 50.9 effective field-goal percentage.
Still a good shooter and a devastating finisher in pick-and-roll situations, even with his declining athleticism, Stoudemire has created his own shot quite often in a number of ways. That's the primary reason he was able to stay afloat during his injury-shortened campaign.
17. Luis Scola: 7.13
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Team: Phoenix Suns
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 2.2 assists
Luis Scola thrives when he gets a bit further away from the basket. He's a good finisher around the hoop, but he truly excels from 16-to-23 feet, where he's made more shots than all but one power forward around the league.
Amazingly enough, each and every one of the 136 shots he's splashed from that distance has been assisted. That's a ridiculous percentage. It's hard enough to find a zone that's 100 percent assisted for any player, no matter how few shots they've taken.
His 136-of-136 in a zone is mind-boggling.
Basically, Scola isn't making a shot from distance unless he's spotting up. Don't expect him to do much if the ball is put into his hands too soon.
16. Ryan Anderson: 7.35
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Team: New Orleans Hornets
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 1.2 assists
Ryan Anderson is known as a three-point specialist for good reason.
Of his 430 makes on the season, 194 have been from behind the arc. That's far more than any other area, as the zone around the rim comes in a distant second at 109.
Anderson finds so much success from downtown because he doesn't have just one or two hot spots. Generally, players are far more successful from a few spots around the perimeter, but this 24-year-old treats them all about the same.
If you look around the outside of his heat map, you'll notice that Anderson drains shots from everywhere. He doesn't differentiate, and that makes it tougher to anticipate his movements around the court. Given his relatively limited mobility, this is an invaluable asset for the former Orlando Magic sharpshooter.
15. Amir Johnson: 7.50
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Team: Toronto Raptors
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 1.5 assists
If I'd asked you to guess which Toronto Raptors power forward would have made it into the top 20, you'd probably have gone with Andrea Bargnani. However, Amir Johnson is the one finishing at No. 15, 14 whole spots ahead of his teammate.
Johnson doesn't generally stray too far from the hoop, but he's quite effective around it.
When he's not finishing shots, Johnson thrives on the offensive glass. The big man pulls down three rebounds per game on offense, which leaves him trailing only five other qualified power forwards throughout the Association.
The Raptors are actually surprisingly effective offensively when Johnson plays, scoring 1.064 points per possession, and that increases the value of each offensive rebound that the power forward grabs.
14. Glen Davis: 7.58
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Team: Orlando Magic
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 2.1 assists
Glen Davis hasn't played for a while because of his broken foot, but he was pretty effective on offense when he did take the court for the Orlando Magic.
Big Baby isn't a particularly efficient shooter of the basketball, calling his own number with far more frequency than he should, but he's pretty solid in every other area. "Solid" is pretty much the perfect word to describe Davis, isn't it?
He's a pretty solid shot-creator, even if he misses a number of the attempts he generates for himself. That allows Davis to score 4.8 unassisted and 3.9 assisted points per game.
The Magic also shoot better when Davis plays, resulting in a teammate boost of 1.10.
13. Kenneth Faried: 7.66
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Team: Denver Nuggets
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 1.0 assists
If I could give Kenneth Faried a subjective boost for being so much fun to watch, I certainly would. However, I have to keep my complete objectivity here, so I'll just write about the Manimal in a favorable light.
Faried is a ridiculous talent on the offensive glass. With his never-ending source of energy, he crashes the boards frequently and hard enough to generate 3.3 offensive rebounds per game, which leaves him trailing only two power forwards.
And because the high-powered Denver Nuggets offense scores 1.074 points per possession when Faried plays, those offensive rebounds help out a great deal.
Between that and his efficient scoring, the second-year power forward out of Morehead State is already in a good spot. As his game continues to develop, he'll only move up in future rankings.
12. Dirk Nowitzki: 8.23
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Team: Dallas Mavericks
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 2.4 assists
If this stat was based solely on the results of the past 10 or so games, Dirk Nowitzki might have a chance to finish at No. 1 in the rankings. However, we have to discuss what happened in each and every game of the season, so Dirk's post-injury struggles still matter.
Although he's playing like a superstar now, it did take a while for the owner of the league's second-best beard to get back into playing shape.
Really, it's a testament to the German 7-footer's greatness that he even managed to finish at No. 12 in this set of rankings. Given the number of games he's played and the amount of time to work back to his optimal level, he was at a serious disadvantage.
11. Tristan Thompson: 8.39
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Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.4 points, 1.3 assists
Tristan Thompson's development from outside the paint has been a primary reason for his massive sophomore-year jump to excellence.
Take a look at these two heat maps: first from the 2011-12 season, then from the current 2012-13 one. It's amazing how much the Texas product's range has expended along the baseline. Thompson isn't just taking more shots from outside the paint—he's making them as well.
Even without his increased scoring capabilities, Thompson has developed into a big man who's no longer universally viewed as a bust. And that's because of his offensive rebounding.
The power forward has pulled down the third-most offensive rebounds in the NBA during the 2012-13 campaign, and he's averaging 3.7 per contest.
10. Ersan Ilyasova: 8.64
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Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 1.6 assists
Ersan Ilyasova is the first player in the top 20 to receive a pretty stellar teammate boost, and that helps compensate for the rest of his relatively lackluster statistics.
When this Turkish power forward is on the court, the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks shoot with an effective field-goal percentage of 48.7 percent. However, when Ilyasova sits down, that number drops by 2.9 percent.
As a result, Ilyasova's teammate boost is 2.45, the sixth-highest mark among all the qualified power forwards. If you take that out of the equation, the versatile big man drops all the way behind Jason Thompson in the rankings.
While Ilyasova's shooting range and impressive work on the glass are valuable, it's this teammate boost that pushes him all the way up into the top 10.
9. Pau Gasol: 9.05
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Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 3.6 assists
Although Pau Gasol has struggled tremendously at times during the 2012-13 season—when he's actually been healthy—the big man possesses so much versatility that he still manages to rank within the top 10 power forwards.
That alone should speak volumes about what a truly healthy Gasol can do, even after hitting the dreaded three-oh.
The Spaniard makes his teammates better when he's on the court, both because of his fantastic high-low passing and his ability to spread out the floor due to the threat of his jumper. He also attacks the boards well and scores in high volume.
Even though Gasol's scoring is down rather significantly this year, he's still helped his case when shooting the ball. It's just the other facets of his game that push him up this high.
8. Zach Randolph: 9.31
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Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.5 points, 1.5 assists
You have to drop all the way to Ryan Anderson at No. 16 to find another player with a negative teammate boost, yet Zach Randolph still manages to work his way into the No. 8 position.
He's just that talented with the ball in his hands, even if he's not exactly a potent playmaker with his passing. Z-Bo is one of the few remaining back-to-the-basket studs in the game today.
No power forward has put together a better unassisted-to-assisted ratio than Randolph's 2.13. Tristan Thompson is the only other player to have twice as many unassisted points. Z-Bo's ability to finish shots at the rim, ones that are of his own creation, is just unsurpassed.
The big man has knocked down 210 shots, and only 45.2 percent of them were assisted. Only Ryan Anderson and Andrea Bargnani have a lower percentage, and neither of those guys enjoys spending much time around the basket.
7. Josh Smith: 10.18
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Team: Atlanta Hawks
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 4.2 assists
Can you imagine what Josh Smith's TOC would look like if he decided not to loft up long two-pointers? Just look at all of the ugly red Xs out on the perimeter of his shot chart.
Smoove has attempted 55 shots from 10-to-16 feet, 260 shots from 16-to-23 feet and 187 three-pointers during the 2012-13 season. He's made 20, 29.6 and 30.5 percent, respectively.
None of those numbers is any good, and it's quite clear that Smith would be better off if he eliminated the jumper from his game and instead focused on using his unbelievable athleticism.
Fortunately for the Atlanta Hawks, Smith brings so much to the table.
He's a great passer and ball-handler for a big man, enough so that he leads all power forwards in both assists per game and assists per game leading to three-pointers. Additionally, the 27-year-old's athleticism allows him to pull down a respectable number of offensive rebounds and attack the basket with a fury.
Even if he doesn't do so as often as he should, Smith is one of the league's best finishers around the rim.
6. Paul Millsap: 10.88
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Team: Utah Jazz
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.9 points, 2.6 assists
Paul Millsap is a fantastic all-around player, but he doesn't generally get credit for the great work he puts in on the court. The Utah Jazz are lucky to have him, even if relatively few people watch him, and he might be gone after the conclusion of the 2012-13 campaign.
Fortunately for the Jazz, he also fits in perfectly with Al Jefferson down low. While the center prefers to hang out on the left block, Millsap plays well from all areas of the court and thrives in particular on the right half.
He's also quite adept at creating his own shot, only relying on assists for 55.5 percent of his makes from three-to-nine feet and 65.4 percent of his connections from 10-to-16 feet.
Finally, Utah also benefits from Millsap's presence on the court. The effective field-goal percentage of his teammates rises by 1.7 percent when the power forward is playing.
5. Thaddeus Young: 11.21
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Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 1.7 assists
Among the top seven power forwards in these rankings, Thaddeus Young is easily the weakest passer. Yet his ability to drive to the rim and finish still demands so much attention from defenses that the Philadelphia 76ers frontcourt member has a sky-high teammate boost.
When Young plays, his teammates have an effective field-goal percentage of 48.7 percent. That number plummets to 45.3 percent when he sits. Jrue Holiday might be the best facilitator on the team, but Young also helps create for his playing partners due to his dynamic playing style.
So, how about that ability to play at the rim?
Young has made 257 shots right at the basket, trailing only Josh Smith, Kenneth Faried and the next two players in the rankings. Moreover, he converts shots from that range at 66.5 percent and only requires assists on 68.5 percent of them.
Particularly in transition, Young acts like a homing missile when he sets his sights on the tin.
4. David Lee: 11.75
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Team: Golden State Warriors
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 3.7 assists
David Lee comes in at No. 4 in the rankings, but his TOC is significantly lower than any member of the top three. So, let's consider him the top member of the slightly sub-elite group of power forwards.
A fantastic scorer, Lee's range doesn't quite extend out to the three-point arc, but he's potent from everywhere inside it. Although he displays a slight preference for the left side of the half-court set, Lee can capably put the ball in the basket for two points from any spot inside the arc.
Lee displays a particularly impressive hook shot as well, one that helps compensate for his subpar athleticism. He's taken 131 hook shots during the 2012-13 season and knocked down 54.2 percent of those attempts.
Now if his jumper could reach that same level, he'd be truly unstoppable.
3. Blake Griffin: 14.82
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Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 3.7 assists
Let's start out by addressing the obvious: Blake Griffin does more than just dunk.
The power forward with springs for legs has thrown the ball down 183 times during the 2012-13 season, and he's made 525 shots. If all he did was dunk, those numbers would be equal, and the latter almost certainly wouldn't be more than double the former.
Griffin does dunk a lot, but he's also developing a great face-up game from the left side of the court. And his spin move is still absolutely brutal to defend. Even though defenders know it's coming, they still can't stop it.
The big man is also a phenomenal passer. His 3.7 assists per game leave him trailing only Josh Smith, and he's turned the ball over 0.7 times fewer per contest than Smoove.
Griffin's playmaking, and the constant threat of a highlight, keeps defenses honest and allows him to generate a 3.34 teammate boost.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge: 15.01
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Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 2.6 assists
LaMarcus Aldridge is an absolutely fantastic scorer. No player at power forward is better at putting the ball in the basket.
In terms of pure scoring (unassisted points plus assisted points minus weighted misses*), the Rip City big man comes in at No. 1 with a score of 8.15. He's nearly a full point ahead of Blake Griffin and Amar'e Stoudemire, the only other two power forwards to top seven.
Aldridge is so deadly with the ball because he can score from anywhere on the court. With the exception of his three-point shooting, Aldridge excels from every spot on the hardwood. Just take a look at how filled in his heat map has been during the 2012-13 season.
You'll rarely find so few gaps, particularly when looking at the map of a big man.
*Weighted misses incorporates offensive rebounding and team offensive rating, much in the same way that TOC does.
1. David West: 15.76
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Team: Indiana Pacers
Traditional 2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 3.0 assists
David West has a lot to offer on the offensive court, but I have to start out with a caveat. The Indiana Pacers are pretty bad at scoring points, particularly when the bench enters into the equation. That's allowed the 32-year-old power forward to earn an artificially high teammate boost.
West's 5.76 teammate boost is easily the top at the position, and it's near the overall league-lead. Only Joe Johnson and John Wall have earned higher scores, although it's important to remember that the stats for each position were calculated at different points throughout the year.
If we drop West's 5.76 teammate boost to a more reasonable number like 2.5, he'd drop down in between Blake Griffin and David Lee.
However, my intention isn't to discredit West, but rather to explain a potential shortcoming in the formula. Now let's focus on what the big man does well.
He's a fantastic scorer, particularly when knocking down jumpers from outside the paint. West has made 108 shots from 16-to-23 feet, shooting at a 48.2 percent clip from that range. Many of those have been in spot-up situations, but West is still converting at a remarkably high combination of volume and efficiency.
The 32-year-old is also a great passer, checking in at 3.0 assists and 2.1 turnovers per game.
It's pretty clear that West has a lot of offensive value.
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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. 49, 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 top three leaders in each component can be found in bold.
|Rank||Player Name||Unassisted PPG||Assisted PPG||Teammate Boost||Total Offense Created|