There’s the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” With sports statistics, this does not always apply-if you see an opportunity to improve the statistic, you improve it. Like the old pitching statistics in baseball, basketball passing statistics are an area where the current procedure works but can definitely be improved. I have no mathematical data that would assert these beliefs, but I do believe that we should look into it as basketball fans.
To measure passing, there is only one widely-used, well-known statistic. This is the assist. However, the assist tends to have a foggy definition. I think that assists should cover plays where the pass leads directly to a successful catch-and-shoot or penetration attempt where the shot or drive begins before or directly because of the shot. In other words, if a player is cutting to the basket, receives a pass, and scores, then the passer should be credited with an assist even no matter how many times the ball is dribbled during the course of the drive. If a player is cutting away from the basket, drives, and scores, I believe that an assist should be awarded if the drive started immediately after the second player received the pass. I believe that this would more accurately rate the ability of the passer.
I also believe that catch-and-shoot assists should be separated from penetration assists. With a catch-and-shoot assist, the passer often has more direct influence on the result of the shot than on the penetration. This is because catch-and-shoots are solely determinant on the pass and the shot, while penetrations also account for the player’s driving ability, his opponent’s defensive ability, and the player’s ability to make a contested lay-up.
To remove the variable of shooting the ball, I also believe that players should be credited with assists even if the shot was missed, albeit in a separate category. This way, players’ court vision can be evaluated with a tool other than the naked eye. You could then divide total assists by “shot assits” in order to determine how fluent the players’ passes are.
Finally, individual players’ shots should be credited as being assisted. Adding the assisted shots statistics may finally be able to determine the players who are truly good at shot creation and if shot creation is even a valuable skill using unassisted shots and unassisted shots percentage. I believe that assisted shots should also be broken down the same way as the assists themselves are. This would also help determine how good a player is in catch-and-shoot situations, and how well he penetrates into the lane.
I do not know if these are valid statistics. However, I firmly believe that the NBA or a basketball sabermetrician should look into analyzing this data. I do not have the time or resources necessary to investigate this on my own, but I beleive that this is worthy of consideration. Please comment with your opinions and come back soon.
P.S. At the time of this writing, I had not received a single view in five days and only one in the last six days. Droughts like these are why I really push the “please comment with your opinions and come back soon” tagline.
Revision (5/17) Originally, this post was titled “How I Think Basketball Passing Statistics Can Be Bettered.”