What kind of point guard WAS he?

My post from a few days ago was relatively well-received at reddit, and one of the readers there said that he’d like to see the same graph for some of the all-time great point guards.

So with a little help from Basketball-Reference.com, I compiled a list of (all?) the Hall of Fame point guards: Oscar Robertson, Lenny Wilkens, Bob Cousy, Jerry West, John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Dennis Johnson, Tiny Archibald, Calvin Murphy, Pete Maravich and Walt Frazier. Unfortunately, the NBA didn’t start keeping track of turnovers until the 1977-78 season, so there’s no assist-to-turnover data for the first four (Robertson, Wilkens, Cousy, West) and the data for Archibald, Murphy, Maravich and Frazier is incomplete, so I could only use their post-1977 numbers.

I also compiled a list of the top non-HOF point guards who are both retired and still active: Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson, Steve Nash, Gary Payton, Rod Strickland, Maurice Cheeks, Terry Porter, Tim Hardaway, Andre Miller, Muggsy Bogues, Kevin Johnson, Derek Harper, Stephon Marbury (yes, Stephon Marbury), John Lucas, Norm Nixon, Mookie Blaylock, Sam Cassell, Avery Johnson, Baron Davis, Nick Van Exel, Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups and Mike Bibby. All of these players have at least 5,400 career assists, which seemed to be the cutoff for players I was interested in using for this study.

Lastly, I added seven of the top current point guards who have yet to break the 5,400-assist barrier: Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and of course, Chris Paul.

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, relative to what he’s asked to do as a playmaker for his team. The graph takes a gentle downward slope because assists are part of both calculations. (Note: While I do like FGA/A as the criteria for shoot-first/pass-first, I am not completely sold on A/TO as the criteria for turnover-prone. Perhaps (A+FGA)/TO would show shoot-first guards in a better light? Maybe I’ll try that next year.)

Here’s how the graph turned out. Click on it to see a bigger version.

Pass-first/shoot-first goes left to right, while takes care of the ball/turnover-prone sits on the vertical axis.

A few random thoughts:

— This is not typically an indictment of a player’s game. Most offenses call for a playmaking point guard, while others do not. For example, Sam Cassell was definitely a scoring point guard, but he was a great fit in the Houston offense alongside Hakeem Olajuwon, who was very adept at drawing the double-team and kicking the ball out to the open shooter. Cassell’s role on that team was to hit open shots, not run the pick-and-roll over and over in an attempt to set up other shooters (like John Stockton).

— Murphy, Frazier, Iverson and Maravich were so far to the right on the shoot-first scale that if had I shown their plot points, the rest of the graph would have been unreadable. Their shot-to-assist ratios ranged from 3.40 (Frazier) to 4.75 (Murphy). In the modern era, Iverson is probably the quintessential shoot-first point guard, even though he did average 6.2 assists per game.

— Speaking of quintessential, it’s no surprise that John Stockton and Chris Paul are in the top-left quadrant, but Muggsy Bogues’ presence is a little surprising. He couldn’t score very well (career 7.7 ppg), but his assist-to-turnover ratio (4.69) was easily the best of the players in the study.

— Other players in the top-left quadrant like Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson, Maurice Cheeks, Rajohn Rondo and Avery Johnson are your traditional pass-first point guards. Magic Johnson also qualifies, but he was special because he could drop 35 points on you if necessary.

— Just because a player is not a traditional pass-first point guard does not mean that he can’t have great success. Isiah Thomas, Sam Cassell, Tony Parker and Dennis Johnson all have multiple NBA titles on their resumes, while Chauncey Billups has one of his own. This is good news for Rose, Westbrook and Curry, who are not traditional pass-first point guards.

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