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On The Importance Of Point Guards In Shot Creation

Point guards created more than a third of all shots in the NBA last season. That's why you'd better have a good one. Also in The Hook, is the Dominican Republic's bronze at FIBA Americas a further indictment of John Calipari's coaching skills?

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Last week, we dug into the concept of shot creation in order to look at Kevin Durant's lack thereof. What we ended up with is a realization that last year no one in the NBA created more shots than KD's partner in crime, Russell Westbrook. Shot creation is an important thing: it determines whether offenses are closely to optimally efficient, woefully inefficient or somewhere in between. Consider that Westbrook is neither an efficient scorer or precise passer. What would have happened if a portion of Westbrook's created shots were instead discovered by KD, James Harden or Eric Maynor?

These are the questions you confront with shot creation, a concept already controversial. Shot creation's most public battle has been the one focused around Dave Berri's Wage of Wins, a book that lays out a sabermetric system for basketball that focuses much heavier credit on those who convert shots efficiently (whether they created them or not) and penalizes less-efficient shot creators. More accurately, Berri doesn't credit players for shot creation. In his system, it's not necessarily a valuable basketball skill.

Most other basketball sabermetricians disagree. John Hollinger (PER), Kevin Pelton (WARP) and others credit shot creation. Dean Oliver (now ESPN's top numbers guy) spent a good deal of his book Basketball on Paper (the bible of basketball metrics) implicitly explaining why shot creation is valuable: because players forced to create more shots than is comfortable become less efficient. Therefore, players who can create a high volume of shots while remaining efficient are worth having. (Note that Westbrook, being fairly inefficient, isn't an argument either way.)

But even if you declare shot creation to be overconsidered as a concept in evaluating individual players, there's no question that it's important as a concept in understanding the state of the game and how offenses (good and bad) work. That's the aim here, with the specific question being "who is creating all of these shots?"

By and large, the point guards are.

Of the top 20 players in terms of total shots created for the season last year, 16 are point guards. The four who aren't happen to be the game's most famous wings and also Monta Ellis: LeBron James (No. 3), Kobe Bryant (No. 8), Monta Ellis (No. 9) and Dwyane Wade (No. 10). The point guards in the top 20 range in quality from Derrick Rose (No. 2) to Ramon Sessions (No. 18). To be one of the game's top creators, you either need to be a singular, once-in-a-lifetime wing, Monta Ellis or any ol' point guard.

That's how vital the position is to NBA offenses. Consider that more than a third of all shots taken in the NBA last year were created by point guards. We herald Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard, but by our estimates it's more frequently Mike Conley, Tony Parker and John Wall who determine where shots are coming on the floor. This is implicitly understand, of course: there's a reason Rose went No. 1 in 2008 and Wall went No. 1 in 2010. There's a reason the Nets bet the farm on Deron Williams, and why teams will be lining up for Chris Paul.

What's interesting is that even those teams with wings-as-creators have point guards largely in charge of secondary shot creation. Derek Fisher created more shots than Kevin Garnett last year. Stephen Curry was in the top 20 despite Ellis' proclivity for gunning. Goran Dragic, a back-up point for 48 games in Phoenix, created as many shots as Shawn Marion (Mavericks' No. 4 scorer) did all year in Dallas. Dwight Howard created almost 900 shots over the full season. Jameer Nelson created more than 1,100.

Last week, we looked at Creation Ratio to compare the rate at which players create shots in excess of the shots they use that were created by teammates. The average Creation Ratio for point guards who played at least 800 minutes last year was 3.6, which means that the average point guard created 3.6 shots for every one created by a teammate he used. The average Creation Ratios for the other positions are as follows:


  • Shooting guards: 1.2
  • Small forwards: 0.9
  • Power forwards: 0.8
  • Centers: 0.9
If you aren't a point guard, you are in all likelihood using more shots than you create. And most of those shots you're using? They were created by a point guard.


It's a point guard league, at least on offense, and unless your team has one of those famous wings, your point guard is likely to be taking control of huge chunks of your offense. That means that you'd better have a good one.

(Later this week we look at a few teams to see how their shot creation duties are distributed. All data via HoopData.)



The Dominican Republic finished third in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship, doing well enough to make the last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament but just missing out on the automatic Olympic berth. In other news, the Dominican had the second most talented roster in the tournament (behind eventual champion Argentina). Brazil left three of its four NBA players at home, and the fourth -- Tiago Splitter -- had an uneven tournament. The Dominicasn should have been good to make the finals and get into the Olympics.

But that old refrain that questions John Calipari's coaching acumen reared its head. Cal took control of the team this year, replacing Eric Musselman (who moved on to Venezuela). Cal fared little better than Muss had. The Dominican offense was predictable, Al Horford (an all-tournament selection) was never involved enough and Calipari never quite figured out how best to use Francisco Garcia or Charlie Villanueva. In fairness, it's Francisco Garcia and Charlie Villanueva. But there's a reason those guys are in the NBA and most of the players from the other nations aren't.

The bread will be baked next July, when Cal will have to lead his squad -- one I can't imagine will include Villanueva, who DNPed the bronze game Sunday and averaged 15 minutes per game -- against some great European teams in the Olympic qualifiers. If Cal can get the Dominican team to its first Olympiad ever, the questions can be removed from consideration. That's what he was hired to do.

But he could have done it this month, and now he's in danger of missing the Games altogether, and you have to imagine someone like Cal took the job in order to get a piece of that Olympic glory. It'd be only fitting that he come up short despite having some of the best players available.


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