The Art of Shot Creation: How The Modern NBA Big Man Carries A Bigger Offensive Burden Than You Think
Suppose you want to figure out how much a player contributes to an offense. You don’t know if this player is a playmaker, a play finisher, or something else entirely.
One stat you might look at, as a means of starting your investigation, is percentage of field goals assisted (%FGAd for short). This stat tells you what percentage of a player’s made field goals came from assists.
So, you might think: A player who boasts a high %FGAd gets a lot of shots created for them, while a player with a low %FGAd creates shots for others?
The more assists you receive, the easier your buckets are. The more you benefit off easy looks, the less you are contributing to the offense. Essentially, the higher your %FGAd, the more likely it is that you are a freeloader on offense!
While this line of thought may seem tempting, the tape on two high %FGAd players – Deandre Ayton and Bam Adebayo – represents a significant challenge to it.
DeAndre Ayton posted a whopping 80.9% %FGAd. Hence, you may think that the vast majority of his buckets were created for him. We’ve caught our first freeloader!
The tape on him tells a different story, though.
This is just one of 139 assists Chris Paul delivered to Ayton last season. Notice how much work Ayton is putting in to create this scoring opportunity. He begins with a quick slip into a well-paced roll, and when CP3 finds himself in no man’s land, Ayton flash cuts to the rescue. Easy 2 over Beef Stew.
In addition to the work CP3 and Ayton put in together to create that bucket, you may notice that they both have plenty of room to operate. Both Paul and Ayton seem to have a keen sense of where all the spacers on the floor are, as well. When you consider all of this, it may feel shallow to say that Paul himself created this bucket, and Ayton was the passive beneficiary of Paul’s creation chops.
A more modest, but still significant, 60.8% of Bam Adebayo’s field goals came off assists last season. Here’s a reel of just some of Bam’s buckets assisted by Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler.
The first question you may ask is: How the hell do most of these count as assists? This is a fair question. Because as you may notice, Bam is doing a lot of the work. In many instances, Adebayo is reading the weakside help, putting the ball on the deck, lowering a shoulder to dislodge a defender, using a jab step to get his defender off balance, setting a hard screen and rolling to initiate defensive rotations, and so on.
Though they are playing an important role on a number of these possessions, it feels off to say either Butler or Lowry created all of these buckets. Rather, Adebayo seems to be creating before and in the midst of receiving a dime.
And, so there are a few morals we might take away from this. For one, %FGAd – like any stat – is not a basis for drawing firm conclusions, but the starting point of an inquiry. In the cases of Bam Adebayo and Deandre Ayton, we find that there is a weak, if at all existent, correlation between the amount of assists a player receives and their creation burden on offense.
This is partially because statisticians are very promiscuous when it comes to handing out assists, but also because recipients of assists do a ton of work to create that look.
Beyond that, this shallow dive into Adebayo and Ayton’s scoring should serve as an invitation to reflect on what “creation” is. We typically think of players like Luka Doncic and Lebron James as paradigm creators. They bring the ball up and coordinate the offense. Sometimes they pull up from deep or drive to the hoop to create a bucket for themselves. On other possessions, they leverage the attention on them to put their teammates in position to score.
But, I want to suggest that this only one kind of creation. In reality, on any given play, the court contains a panoply of creators making different, but equally important, contributions to the task of creating a bucket.
A perfectly lobbed entry pass is a form of creation; a well-timed cut is a form of creation; a solid screen is a form of creation; awareness of where you are on the court and where your teammates are is a form of creation!
Carefully observing players like Bam Adebayo and Deandre Ayton should lead us to the conclusion that the court is a space of creativity.