How Point Guards Influence the Game – Part 3

I corrected a few mistakes and made some changes to the process, but the quest for the WNBA’s top point guard continues…

(To see the first part of these rankings, click here.)

So this post will cover the final four elements of a point guard. Those include:

Each point guard’s decision making (percent of touches she gets an assist or makes a turnover) and;
Each point guard’s efficiency on the floor (the percentage of team plays used while she is on the floor and how often she is responsible for ending possessions without a score).

Then we can figure out the big "winner", right? Well, maybe it’s not so easy…

Anyway, I’ll come back to those after I get through the rest of the stats.

Decision Making:

A large part of being a great point guard is making great decisions. However, that means more than just creating assists. TNT commentator and former NBA’er Kenny Smith summed up the point nicely:

When point guards play the point, they're great passers. To be a great passer is different than being an assist guy. A point guard gives up the ball early enough for guys to be creative.

This is where things like anticipation, awareness, and court vision come into play for a point guard.

What it comes down to is a point guard knowing when and to use certain skills given a particular situation…and it has to be done in a split second…as a play continues to evolve. Unfortunately, these things are called "intangible" for a reason…

But what we can determine is a player’s success or failure rate given the opportunity to make a play. So I’m going with assist and turnover rates to get a better sense of how often a player creates an assist or turnover per possession.

Hollinger Assist Ratio
Hollinger’s assist ratio measures the percentage of touches on which a player gets an assist. In other words, how often a player creates an assist when the ball is in their hands.
(For more on this and other ways of looking at assists, check out this nice write-up from Count the Basket). Whereas Hollinger’s pure point rating measures the quality of a player as a distributor, this looks at the player’s tendency to create assists in comparison to shots or turnovers. Here it is:

Hollinger Assist Rate

Leilani Mitchell 37.66%
Nikki Blue 36.01%
Kiesha brown 34.67%
Loree moore 33.92%
Temeka Johnson 32.89%
Dominique Canty 30.01%
Noelle Quinn 29.82%
Kelly Miller 28.19%
Lindsay Whalen 27.77%
Sue Bird 27.60%
Ticha Penicheiro 26.79%
Deanna Nolan 25.82%
Shannon Johnson 25.20%
Ivory Latta 25.07%
Tully Bevilaqua 24.25%
Becky Hammon 19.48%
Candice Wiggins 18.57%
Candace Parker 19.20%
Helen Darling 17.37%
Alana Beard 16.00%
Diana Taurasi 11.74%

What you see here is pretty much expected for a statistic like this one: the big scorers at the bottom, those who shoot less at the top. Of course, there are multiple explanations for this.

Lindsay Whalen for example leads her team in assists and rebounding while being the second leading scorer. So she can only do so much at once. Yet still, she ends up ahead of Sue Bird and Ticha Penicheiro, considered the best pass-first points in the game. In other words, the fact that Becky Hammon or Diana Taurasi are low here isn’t necessarily "bad".

Turnover Percentage

Turnovers are bad. There’s little doubt about that.

In fact, some consider turnover percentage to be one of the most important factors in the game. Since point guards have the ball in their hands most often, it only makes sense that we’d consider this as part of being a great point guard.

You may be asking, wasn’t the whole point of using Pure Point Ratio to get away from looking a turnovers and assists alone? Don’t point guards get more turnovers as a result of handling the ball more? Yes…and yes.

But again, now we’re looking at how likely it is for a player to make a turnover when they touch it…and since we’re comparing point guards to other point guards, it’s interesting to see who does the least overt harm. This stat (sort of) answers the question: who is going to keep the ball most secure?

Turnover %

Diana Taurasi 7.51%
Ivory Latta 8.95%
Lindsay Whalen 10.05%
Deanna Nolan 10.08%
Candice Wiggins 10.48%
Candace Parker 10.56%
Sue Bird 12.14%
Dominique Canty 12.31%
Nikki Blue 14.83%
Shannon Johnson 14.93%
Alana Beard 15.60%
Helen Darling 15.63%
Becky Hammon 16.23%
Kiesha Brown 16.25%
Noelle Quinn 16.57%
Kelly Miller 18.18%
Ticha Penicheiro 18.33%
Tully Bevilaqua 19.15%
Loree Moore 19.57%
Leilani Mitchell 20.00%
Temeka Johnson 20.77%

So it’s pretty remarkable that Whalen is not only leading her team in assists, rebounds, steals, and second in scoring, but she’s also among the least likely starting point guards to commit a turnover.

Leilani Mitchell and Diana Taurasi essentially flip-flopped here, which is also interesting. Taurasi playing off the ball next to Kelly Miller and Cappie Pondexter could partially explain that…or could it be that she just makes better choices with the ball?

Point Guard Efficiency

Great point guards also know how to manage the tempo of the game and play within rhythm – when they’re on the court, things should go more smoothly. They have a superior command of what’s happening moment to moment and are able to create opportunities for themselves and others. So one way to measure that is making sure that they don’t do things that would interrupt the rhythm of the game.

Points Per Zero Point Possession

This stat is one I found from Bob Chaiken, who created a cool site for NBA statistical simulations, though it's now out of date.

The whole premise of this exercise is that poor shooting shouldn’t prevent a good point guard from influencing the game. A great point guard doesn’t need to be a great scorer but chucking the ball without regard for the team’s success is not helpful.

Anyway, this statistic measures how many points a player scores for every possession they end. Edit: The formula: (Pts)/(FGA + FTA/2) * (opp. def reb%) + TOs.

For example, it’s nice if your point guard gets hot, but if she starts going one on one and shooting too much, that means she’s not running the offense and worse, possibly shooting your team out of the game. In contrast, an efficient scorer knows how to find opportunities for points – preferably within the flow of the offense -- without just wasting a team’s possessions.

So here’s that breakdown:

Pts/ZeroPtPos

Lindsay Whalen 2.76
Diana Taurasi 2.41
Candice Wiggins 2.40
Alana Beard 2.04
Candace Parker 2.02
Deanna Nolan 1.70
Ticha Penicheiro 1.67
Dominique Canty 1.62
Noelle Quinn 1.52
Shannon Johnson 1.44
Becky Hammon 1.41
Ivory Latta 1.41
Sue Bird 1.38
Kiesha Brown 1.35
Tully Bevilaqua 1.23
Leilani Mitchell 1.19
Helen Darling 1.19
Kelly Miller 1.17
Loree Moore 0.90
Nikki Blue 0.62
Temeka Johnson 0.45

If you think you’re seeing a pattern, you are – Lindsay Whalen is also the most efficient scorer among point guards in terms of balancing scoring with bad possessions. In fact, in any scoring efficiency statistic I looked at, Whalen came out on top.

In case you’re curious, the ranking for this statistic is not too different from how the players rank using the more popular "Efficiency" rating. This statistic just more clearly compares the good to the bad.

Usage Percentage

Taking a short break from stats, it seems intuitive that the more plays a player attempts to make, the less they’ll produce. Also, a team might depend a lot more on a "do everything" player like Whalen than a backup player like Keisha Brown.

So usage rate gives us a sense of the percentage of her team’s plays she "uses" while in the game. In other words, how (statistically) involved the player is in a team’s offense.

Usage

Diana Taurasi 29.68%
Alana Beard 27.67%
Candice Wiggins 27.31%
Becky Hammon 24.17%
Candace Parker 24.02%
Deanna Nolan 22.77%
Lindsay Whalen 22.28%
Ivory Latta 21.48%
Sue Bird 21.46%
Ticha Penicheiro 20.21%
Dominique Canty 19.98%
Nikki Blue 18.25%
Helen Darling 16.96%
Loree Moore 15.44%
Shannon Johnson 15.21%
Kiesha Brown 14.72%
Noelle Quinn 14.67%
Leilani Mitchell 14.60%
Kelly Miller 14.57%
Temeka Johnson 14.51%
Tully Bevilaqua 10.07%

This puts some of the other things in perspective. Mitchell is turning the ball over 20% of the time while being used considerably less than Taurasi who turns the ball over far less. Meanwhile Taurasi is able to score rather efficiently while using a considerable amount of the team’s plays.

And that’s all…so the final results (though it might be obvious who’s #1)…

TOTAL

Lindsay Whalen 115
Deanna Nolan 107
Candice Wiggins 104
Dominique Canty 95
Diana Taurasi 91
Sue Bird 88
Candace Parker 87
Ivory Latta 87
Alana Beard 85
Ticha Penicheiro 80
Kiesha Brown 76
Shannon Johnson 67
Noelle Quinn 67
Nikki Blue 66
Leilani Mitchell 65
Loree Moore 63
Becky Hammon 51
Kelly Miller 51
Temeka Johnson 42
Helen Darling 37
Tully Bevilaqua 33

How good is Sue Bird?

Well, my favorite, Sue Bird, comes in 6th (so you definitely can't accuse me of messing with the numbers)... but Hammon, my second favorite point guard, is by far having the most efficient season of anyone.

So what is the verdict on whether Bird can influence games without scoring?

I will save face as follows: If we buy this framework (or Hollinger’s pure point rating), Sue Bird is still one the top point guards in the league on a team full of scorers. She doesn’t need to be firing up a whole lot of shots and she isn’t going to be the focal point of the offense.

The key stats for Bird are the plus/minus (she has a very positive impact on the game when she’s on the floor), pure point rating (she’s efficient at distributing the ball), and she’s not going to turn the ball over too much considering how often she handles the ball.

So now the question becomes how many point guards would you choose over Bird for the star-laden Storm…or the Olympics?

Whalen is clearly worthy of discussion as the best point guard in the game right now.

Nolan is clearly a possibility as the more efficient player and an all-WNBA player last year.

So I would have to consider taking either of them over Bird. But other than that…

Taurasi is clearly more of a scoring guard than a distributor (and she already endorsed Bird)…

Guards like Wiggins and Latta are impressive statistically, but aren’t quite as effective distributing the ball in addition to being considerably less experienced.

An argument could be made for choosing another point guard over Bird, but there aren’t really that many options if you want to win now. And imagine how much more efficient she’ll be if she finds her shot again (as she did against the Sun)…

But this still leaves five questions that can’t be answered statistically:

1) Is Ivory Latta really a better point guard than Becky Hammon?
2) Should Domique Canty really be considered an elite point guard?
3) Is Ticha Penicheiro really nothing more than an average point guard at this point in her career?
4) Shouldn’t Candice Wiggins be starting at point guard for the Lynx?
5) Is Candace Parker the next Magic Johnson, as some claim?

I’ll give my answers to the questions later...

I’ll come back to these stats later in the season once we have a larger sample...

And by then, Bird better be more efficient… ;)


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