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Rondo’s Smart Passing

People who think advanced stats are stupid (people like this guy, who should be looking for a new line of work if he believes what he wrote) should read this post Hoopdata’s Tom Haberstroh wrote at Hardwood Paroxysm last week. Go read it.

No matter how complicated the math behind them might be, the best advanced stats are rooted in common sense. They represent attempts to test out hypotheses smart people already think about before the stat exists or before they are aware of a stat’s existence. In the pre-Internet mid-1990s, I had a sense (as did many of you, I suspect) that walks were a very good thing for a baseball player to get, and I wondered why more announcers didn’t seem to care about them. Then I went to college, logged onto the Internet and found a dude named Rob Neyer writing at ESPNnet.sportzone.com and realized a whole discussion had been going for years about walks, slugging percentage and other stats I’d never heard about.

The math can be complex, but the conclusions they try to get at are easy to grasp.

Case in point: Haberstroh’s piece on assists. There’s all sorts of nasty-looking math in there (though it’s actually not that hard), with parentheses and capital letters next to lowercase letters in symbols like wAPG.

But it’s a fairly simple concept: Assists aren’t all equally valuable, and if you want to know who the world’s best passer is, you should find the guy who racks up the most valuable assists, right?

And that’s what Haberstroh is trying to do. Steve Nash dribbling into the paint, drawing the defense and dishing to Amare Stoudemire for a dunk is a different thing than Paul Pierce handing the ball off to KG for an open 20-foot jumper. The first one is a tougher pass that leads to a shot with a much greater chance of going in.

So Haberstroh created a new version of assists that gives players extra statistical credit for passes that lead to a) lay-ups/dunks; and b) three-pointers. The reason is simple: Lay-ups and dunks usually go in, and three-pointers are worth three points. If your passes are leading to those sorts of baskets, you’re doing great work.

Under Haberstroh’s system, the following players get the biggest boost in their assist totals, with wAPG representing how they do with the extra credit for high-efficiency assists:

Notice who’s missing? Rajon Rondo. I wondered how Rondo would fare here. Based on passing stats already available at Hoopdata, I figured he would fare pretty well. Good news for us: In his post at HP, Tom links to a spreadsheet showing the weighted assist numbers for (basically) every player in the league.

And where does Rajon rank? That would be 4th, the same place he ranks in regular assists. Here are the top four:

Steve Nash: 11.2 assists/g, 11.7 weighted assists/g = difference of +4.4 percent

Chris Paul: 11.2 assists/g, 11.4 weighted assists/g = difference of +2.3 percent

Deron Williams: 10.3 assists/g, 10.7 weighted assists/g =  difference of + 4.2 percent

Rajon Rondo: 9.8 assists/g, 10.2 weighted assists/g = difference of +4.2 percent

Rajon does really well here. It’s obviously harder for a guy who already averages a ton of dimes to get a huge boost—percentage-wise—from Haberstroh’s method. And still: There’s Rondo, right with Nash and D-Will.

Some other tidbits: Of Rajon’s 599 assists at the time this piece appeared last week, 65.6 percent ¬†led to baskets at the rim or three-pointers. That’s not quite as high as LeBron’s percentage here (an off the charts 75 percent), but it edges out the marks of Nash, Williams and Paul.

Only two players (Nash and Williams) have assisted on more baskets at the rim. And only two (LeBron James and Nash again) have assisted on more three-pointers. (Note: Paul would almost certainly have more assists leading to threes than Rajon were it not for his knee injury, and that’s only sort of because the Hornets scorekeepers may be inflating assist stats).

Sure, this stuff is dependent (to a degree) on personnel. Any good point guard playing heavy minutes with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Eddie House and (yes, even him) Rasheed Wallace should assist on a decent number of threes. The at-the-rim numbers are more impressive, considering the C’s don’t have an interior finisher as talented as Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer.

The bottom line: Rondo has developed into the best kind of passer for this team. The next step will be adjusting to new personnel, but we don’t have to worry about that yet….right?

  • Sam

    Hopefully, yet, Anyway this was an interesting read.

  • Jay P

    The next step will be developing a jump shot to be a reliable mid range shooter.

    The day he can step around a screen at the top of the key and knock down 750-80% of those 17-20ft jump shots is the day Rondo becomes the best point guard in basketball.

    Then we have to worry less about him adapting to new personal, and more about surrounding a franchise player with enough talent.

  • @JayP: I don’t think anyone knocks down 75-80 percent of those jump shots. 50 percent would be gold.

  • Jason

    Good start, but it doesn’t take into account “counterfeited” assists. You get a guy a lay-up (or very near) and he misses (cough, Perk, cough). You get a guy a lay-up and he gets fouled (again Perk because his FT shooting is so poor). Or you get a guy an open 3 and he bricks it (cough, Ray, cough, Sheed, cough).

    I would love to see a “finishing” adjustment. Mo Williams passes to a cutting LeBron, he almost always finishes, Williams gets lots of assists. Rondo draws the D, dishes to Perk, he gathers/travels/gets stuffed/missed, no assist. LeBron draws 3 defenders, skips to a wide-open Parker shooting 50%, assist. Rondo finds a wide open Sheed (28%) or Ray (35%), no assist.

    In all those cases, the passer/creator did the same “work” but their assists will be skewed by the abilities of their teammates to finish the shots created. You adjust for “finishing” and you get even closer to the holy grail metric.

  • @Jason: I should make it clear, out of courtesy to Tom, that he considers this a very rough start of things. There is much work to be done on assists, especially when DArren Collison is getting 20 dimes and he clearly should only be getting credit for 16 of them.

  • Dumdum

    Wack. That is all. Well, actually ish is very wack. Now I’m done.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    thanks. love these advanced stats posts.

    i think the team will be totally blown up next year. it will be an ugly transition year, but the upside will be watching rondo as the undisputed alpha dog. interesting to watch how his game develops when the talent around him is lower and the expectations are higher….

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  • John R. S.

    The team won’t, and shouldn’t be, “blown up”. Just let ScalaSTIFFne (who’s only on the roster for salary cap reasons IMO), go and replace him with Marcus Landry or a prospect we get in the draft.

    Just how many passes, from Rondo or any other Celtic, have gone through Scal’s stone hands this season? Way too many, through no fault of the passer.

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