What kind of point guard is he?

The Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose shoots a free throw while playing the San Antonio Spurs during the fourth quarter of their NBA game in Chicago February 17, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

We hear it all the time. NBA analysts call one point guard “pass-first” and another “shoot-first.” Or they say one guy is “turnover-prone” while another “takes care of the ball.” But really, what makes a player a “pass-first” point guard? How carefree must he be with the ball to be considered “turnover-prone”?

I first tackled this subject two years ago, and settled on the shot-to-assist ratio to determine whether a player is “pass-first” or “shoot-first.” The higher the number, the more of a “shoot-first” player he is. To determine whether or not a player is “turnover-prone,” I calculated each player’s assist-to-turnover ratio. The higher the number, the better the player is at taking care of the ball.

I narrowed the list of players to 33, one for each team plus a few extra for teams like Cleveland, Sacramento and Denver, who have a couple of players manning the position. I also added eight prospects (indicated in green) just to see where a few of the younger guys land. Here’s the graph — it’s small, but if you click it, you’ll get to a bigger version:

So the pass-first/shoot-first aspect goes left to right, and the turnover-prone players will be towards the bottom, while the guys that take really good care of the ball will be up top. Players indicated with a blue diamond are in the Top 10 in this group in Efficiency Per Minute. I set the axis for each category at the average of the 33 players in question, so 1.97 for FGA-to-assist and 2.70 assist-to-turnover.

Two years ago when I conducted this study, seven of the top 10 EPM performers were in the top left quadrant (pass-first, takes care of the ball). This year, only five of the top 11 (I included both Rondo and Calderon, since they tied for #11) are in that quadrant. This is due to the emergence of three shoot-first, (fairly) turnover-prone guards who are emerging as stars: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry.

A few takeaways:

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What kind of point guard is he?

We hear it all the time. NBA analysts call one point guard “pass-first” and another “shoot-first.” Or they say one guy is “turnover-prone” while another “takes care of the ball.” But really, what makes a player a “pass-first” point guard? How carefree must he be with the ball to be considered “turnover-prone”?

Taking an analytical approach to these questions, I decided to bust out an Excel spreadsheet and try to come up with some answers. Below you’ll see a graph that attempts to classify the top point guards in the league. But first, a little background…

I chose to categorize each player based on two stats. First, to determine if he’s “shoot-first” or “pass-first,” I calculated the shot-to-assist ratio for each player. The bigger the number, the more of a “shoot-first” mentality the player has. Second, to determine whether or not a player is “turnover-prone,” I calculated each player’s assist-to-turnover ratio. I thought about using turnovers per 48 minutes, but I like the idea of including assists so that playmakers are rewarded for the positive as well as the negative. Next, I calculated each player’s Efficiency Per Minute (EPM) to see if there is any correlation between these other statistics and the overall efficiency of the player in question.

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No Love?

The rosters for the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge have been announced and there are a few surprises.

The rookie roster consists of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, Rudy Fernandez, Michael Beasley, Brook Lopez, Greg Oden and Marc Gasol.

The sophomore roster includes Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Durant, Wilson Chandler, Jeff Green, Al Thornton, Luis Scola, Al Horford and Thaddeus Young.

Kevin Love isn’t on the nine-man roster for the Rookie Challenge, and it’s a big, glaring snub. ESPN’s John Hollinger agrees.

For starters, the decision to select Eric Gordon ahead of Kevin Love for the rookies was completely inexcusable.

Don’t get me wrong; Gordon is going to have a fine career, it seems, and in almost any other year he’d be a shoo-in for the team. But he made this squad mainly because the forlorn Clippers have no choice but to play him extensive minutes.

As good as he’s looked, Gordon is the only rookie team member with a Player Efficiency Rating below the league average, while Love has a better PER than every player on the rookie team except Greg Oden. Love leads the league in offensive rebound rate, as I mentioned the other day, but his prodigious work on the boards has gone largely unnoticed because he plays only 23.2 minutes a game, far less than Gordon’s 32.2.

Love’s absence is especially surprising considering how the rookie roster is loaded with four guards (Rose, Westbrook, Mayo, Gordon), one G/F (Fernandez) and only one true forward (Beasley). You’d think that if it were a tossup between Gordon and Love (which it isn’t) that they’d at least want to get another true forward on the roster to balance things out.

Hollinger goes on to rail against the sophomore roster snubs, which included Wilson Chandler over Jamario Moon, Al Thornton over Carl Landry and the worst of all (he says) — Aaron Brooks over Ramon Sessions.

Interestingly, seven of the top 11 picks of the 2007 draft — Mike Conley, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, Brandan Wright, Joakim Noah, Spencer Hawes and Acie Law — did NOT make the sophomore roster. (I counted Greg Oden amongst the four since he made the rookie roster.) Conversely, six of the top 11 picks in the 2008 draft did make the rookie team.

The Top 10 NBA Rookies by PER

John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating is a nice way to compare players without having to account for the number of minutes each guy gets. It’s an efficiency statistic, so just about everything is included. A PER of 15.00 is average for the position.

Let’s take a look at the top rookies. I’m only going to list guys that are getting more than 20 minutes per game…

1. Kevin Love, T-Wolves
PER: 16.39
Surprised? I am…a little. I really liked Love coming out of college, but he got off to a slow start and the trade Minnesota made (sending O.J. Mayo) to Memphis wasn’t looking too good early on. He’s not shooting the ball well (41%), but he’s rebounding like a champ (8.4 rpg in 22.7 mpg).

2. Greg Oden, Blazers
PER: 16.35
Technically, Oden is still a rookie since he missed all of last season due to injury. After Love, he has the second best rebound rate of all first-year players.

3. Brook Lopez, Nets
PER: 16.26
Rebounding is the stat that most easily translates from college to the pros, so it’s no surprise that three good rebounders top this list. In 29.5 minutes, Lopez is averaging 11.4 points and 8.2 rebounds, and he has more blocks per minute than Oden.

4. Rudy Fernandez, Blazers
PER: 16.25
Rudy has had no problem adjusting to the NBA game. His three-point shooting 39% is outstanding and he’s averaging 11.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 26.5 minutes per game. Plus, he was even voted into the Slam Dunk Contest as well.

5. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
PER: 15.40
The other Gasol is getting starters minutes (30.6) in Memphis and is averaging 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

6. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
PER: 15.74
In January, Westbrook is averaging 15.7 points, 6.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 34.9 minutes of action. He got off to a slow start, but seems to be figuring things out now.

7. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
PER: 15.66
Of all the guys on this list, Mayo might be the guy that asked to do the most. He got off to a blistering start, but defenses are adjusting and his numbers are falling.

8. Derrick Rose, Bulls
PER: 15.45
He and Mayo play more than 37 minutes per game, which is by far tops on this list. It’s hard to argue with the 16.9 points and 6.4 assists that Rose produces every night. Point guard is arguably the toughest position in the NBA to learn as a rookie, and this guy sure looks like a keeper.

9. Michael Beasley, Heat
PER: 15.23
Beasley is getting better as the season wears on. He’s averaging 14.9 points (on 50% shooting) and 6.0 rebounds in January. He’s also as good as expected from long range (39%).

10. D.J. Augustin, Bobcats
PER: 13.75
It’s not easy being a point guard under Larry Brown, but Augustin is getting big minutes (28.4) and is producing 12.1 points and 4.1 assists per contest. His shooting (40%) is pretty suspect, though he’s very solid from long range (39%).


– Marreese Speights leads all rookies in PER (20.44) but only plays 15.9 minutes per game.

– Anthony Morrow and George Hill just missed the minutes per game cutoff. Otherwise, they would have been on the list.

– Given how tough it is to play point guard in the NBA, Derrick Rose still gets my vote for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls are asking him to play huge minutes, which is going to take its toll over the course of the season.

NBA’s early season PER surprises

John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a nifty way to compare players with vastly different minutes played. For an explanation, check out this article. A score of 15.0 is average.

Here are a few surprise players that are filling the box score early in the season. All players are seeing at least 20 minutes of playing time per game.


#8 Nate Robinson (21.33)

15.0 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.9 apg, 2.8 spg
Thus far, Robinson is flourishing off the bench in Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offense. He’s knocking down shots and is sharing the ball well.

#11 Ramon Sessions (19.36)
17.2 ppg, 6.2 apg, 3.6 rpg, 1.4 spg
The 22 year-old Sessions is proving that his late-season run last year was no fluke. His fine play is making the Bucks’ decision to trade Mo Williams a lot clearer. It looks like he’s the point guard of the future in Milwaukee.


#4 Nick Young (23.33)
16.6 ppg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 rpg, 55.4% FG%
Yes, his line is thin (i.e. he doesn’t do much but score), but boy can he put the ball in the hoop. The Wizards are struggling, but Young is providing points off the bench.

#7 Rudy Fernandez (21.31)
13.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 42.4% 3PT%
Usually, it takes rookies a little while to adjust to the NBA three-point distance, but Fernandez isn’t having a problem. He’s in the running for Rookie of the Year.

#8 Roger Mason (20.96)
16.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, 52.7% FG%, 56.0% 3PT
Mason is doing his best Manu Ginobili impersonation. It looks like the fifth-year player is starting to break out, and once Ginobili returns, he’ll give the Spurs a much-needed fourth scoring option.


#2 Trevor Ariza (24.09)
9.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 spg, 60.0% 3PT
Ariza has been remarkably productive in limited minutes. He should be starting, but he needs to show that he has a consistent jump shot before Phil Jackson can use him to space the court for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. For now, he’s bringing great energy off the bench.

#9 Thaddeus Young (18.12)
16.5 ppg, 4.3 apg, 51.9% FG%, 47.8% 3PT
After a stellar yet underrated rookie season, Young is making the most of the extra 10 minutes of playing time. He has shown great improvement from long range and from the free throw line (74% last season, 89% this season).


#7 Luis Scola (21.87)
13.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 56.7 FG%
He did much of his damage last season with Yao Ming sidelined, so it’s impressive that he’s been able to increase his rebound rate.

#13 Jason Thompson (19.71)
11.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 59.6 FG%
He’s not starting, but if he keeps this up, the Kings won’t bring the rookie off the bench for long.


#7 Nene (21.29)
16.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 66.7% FG%
What is it with Brazilians and their one-word names? Nene is doing his best to make up for the loss of Marcus Camby. We all know that Nene is talented, but he just hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Maybe this is his year.

#8 Josh Boone (18.60)
9.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 55.3% FG%
It’s Boone – not lottery pick Brook Lopez – that’s starting at center for the Nets. The team needs to rebound and he’s getting it done.

#10 Spencer Hawes (17.67)
12.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.0 bpg
Hawes filled in admirably for Brad Miller, and it looks like he’s going to be a solid NBA center.

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