The Greatest Penetrators in the NBA

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Published: March 19, 2009

There’s been a lot of discussion about which players in the league you’d want dominating the ball for you if your team had to score on their final posession.  The typical candidates in most discussions are premier scorers like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwayne Wade, and there are some nice crunch-time stats you can find at sites like 82games.com.  Recently, Henry Abbott over at Truehoop made a nice post discussing it.

Well, after seeing that game-winning play last night, I began researching a post about about how Chris Paul – and David West – do in the fourth quarter.  I’ll have that post up for you in a few days, but while I was going over numbers, I found something else that fascinated me so much I wanted to talk about it more.  There are lots of players who can create their own shot, but who is asked to do it more than anyone else?  And how good are they at converting those shots?  I set about making a list.

To see what stats I used and where I got them, you can see my notes at the end of this post, but what I ended up with was 43 players.  I then put together a rough ranking system based on how often those players are assisted when making shots,(the fewer times they are assisted, the more times they are creating the shot themselves) and then adjusted that rank based on whether they were a better or worse than average shooter, since a guy who generates shots on his own but sucks at hitting those shots should be penalized.

Example: Baron Davis has been assisted by his teammates only 24% of the time this season, good for 5th best on the list.  His FG%, however, is an awful 36.5% this year, good for dead last, and fully 7.3% worse than the average FG% the players on this list post.  His average ranking, therefore, puts him as the 33rd best creator out of the list of 43 heavy creators – or really, the 11th worst.

What results is a list I call The Greatest Penetrators in the League.

Overall Rank  Player % of Shots Assisted %of Shots Assisted Rank FG% FG% Rank
1 C. Paul 14% 1 50.3% 1
2 S. Nash 18% 2 49.2% 6
3 J. Nelson 27% 8 50.3% 1
4 D. Wade 25% 7 49.3% 5
5 T. Parker 27% 8 49.0% 7
6 R. Rondo 33% 20 50.3% 1
7 A. Miller 31% 15 48.7% 8
8 J. Calderon 35% 24 49.9% 4
9 B. Roy 32% 17 48.3% 10
10 L. James 33% 20 48.7% 8
11 D. Williams 29% 11 46.8% 13
12 D. Harris 23% 3 44.3% 17
13 TJ Ford 23% 3 44.1% 19
14 R. Stuckey 29% 11 45.6% 15
15 K. Bryant 37% 28 47.5% 11
16 D. Rose 35% 24 46.2% 14
17 J. Salmons 38% 34 47.2% 12
18 C. Billups 30% 13 42.1% 26
19 M. Conley 34% 23 43.6% 22
20 R. Westbrook 28% 10 40.9% 32
21 E. Watson 24% 5 39.7% 39
22 C. Duhon 32% 17 42.1% 26
23 A. Iverson 32% 17 41.7% 29
24 N. Young 37% 28 43.8% 20
25 K. Lowry 31% 15 41.2% 30
26 R. Sessions 38% 34 44.5% 16
27 R. Gay 40% 37 44.2% 18
28 L. Williams 37% 28 42.4% 25
29 S. Jackson 36% 27 41.8% 28
30 A. Johnson 40% 37 43.7% 21
31 OJ Mayo 40% 37 43.4% 23
32 V. Carter 40% 37 43.4% 23
33 B. Davis 24% 5 36.5% 43
34 L. Ridnour 35% 24 39.9% 38
35 J. Crawford 37% 28 40.6% 34
36 A. Johnson 37% 28 40.5% 35
37 S. Rodriguez 30% 13 37.3% 40
38 A. Brooks 37% 28 40.0% 37
39 R. Foye 38% 34 41.1% 31
40 H. Turkoglu 40% 37 40.8% 33
41 R. Felton 40% 37 40.4% 36
42 S. Telfair 33% 20 36.6% 42
43 R. Alston 40% 37 37.0% 41

A bit unsurprisingly, this list is headed by a bunch of sweet-shooting guards with great ballhandling skills.  Chris Paul ranks first(mostly due to the fact only 14% of his shots are assisted.  Sheesh.), followed by fellow efficient-shooting point guards Steve Nash and Jameer Nelson.  Then comes Super Pinball Dwayne Wade, Tony Parker, and Rajon Rondo(!).  Brandon Roy ranks 9th, LeBron James 10th, and Kobe Bryant 15th.

It seems fitting that the Hornets good friend, Rafer Alston, ranks dead last. 

Oh – and by no means am I saying Rodney Stuckey is a more effective scorer than Kobe Bryant.  What I’m saying is that when he’s on the floor, he creates his own shot more consistently, and converts it at a very nice rate, making him more of a solo-show penetrator than Bryant is.  So cool yourself down, Kobe fans.

Notes

To make this chart, I went to 82games.com and collected the players who were assisted on their baskets the least, feeling it was a good indicator of how often a player generates their own shot.  I then cut off the list at anyone who was assisted on more than 40% of their made field goals.  Then I cut that list further to players who actually contribute significantly by having played at least 30% of their teams minutes.  Last, I collected FG% to tell me how effective those players are when they shoot.

I considered using eFG%, but that just adds 3-Point effectiveness to a players numbers, and since almost all players get their 3-point shots off of assists, it’s pretty silly to put into a number that ranks players that carry a heavy load and how well they do.  Oh – and another side note, Dwayne Wade and Steve Nash get assisted on only 35% of their three’s, as opposed to almost every other player on this list who averages 55-75% of their threes.  Those two guys may be slightly underrated as a result.

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