Challenge: Who was the best offensive player in the NBA during the 2011-2012 regular season?
Once you’ve identified your criteria for the “best offensive player” and used statistics to locate some candidates, there are a few other things to think about.
Points scored measures the amount of a player’s scoring, but it doesn’t take into account the number of shots a player used to score those points. For example, Dwight Howard and Monta Ellis scored an almost identical number of points per game last season, 20.6 for Howard, 20.4 for Ellis. However, Ellis needed 17.9 shots per game to score those points. Howard only needed 13.4.
In looking for a best offensive player, you may want to look at measures of scoring efficiency, or statistics that take into account a player’s made shots and missed shots. The simplest is field goal percentage (FG%), the percentage of their shots that a player made. You can also look at three-point percentage (3PT%) and free throw percentage (FT%). If you’d like to take things one step further, consider effective field goal percentage (eFG%) which looks at the percentage of shots a player made and also accounts for the extra point scored on three-pointers as compared to two pointers.
Let’s say one player has an average of 4 rebounds per game and another player has an average of 8 rebounds per game. Who is a the better rebounder? Easy right? What if the first player plays 20 minutes per game and the second player plays 10 minutes a game. Now who is a better rebounder?
Per game statistics can be misleading because not every player sees the same amount of minutes. More minutes means more opportunities to accumulate statistics like points and rebounds, but don’t necessarily mean a player is a better scorer or better rebounder. One way to even the playing field is to compare the statistics of different players by minute. Usually these stats are expressed as per 36 or per 40 minutes.
For example, Andrew Bynum outscored DeMarcus Cousins this season 18.7 to 18.1, when you look at their per game numbers. However, when you look at their points scored per 36 minutes, Cousins outscored Bynum 21.4 to 19.4. When he was on the floor Cousins scored more than Bynum, he just wasn’t on the floor as often.
In looking at per minute stats, always remember to refer back to the totals. Sometimes there is a reason that a player doesn’t play a whole lot of minutes. Giving a lot of weight to per 36 minute statistics can often cloud a player’s overall contributions. How many minutes did your candidates play this season? How many games did they miss to injury? If they didn’t play a lot of minutes, what were the reasons?
Contribution to the Team
Looking at your candidates, how good was their team’s offense, and how big a role did they play in making that happen? Can the best offensive player be on a team that had an average or worse offense as a group?
By many measures Jarrett Jack was one of the best offensive players on the Hornets last season. He averaged 15.6 points per game, second only to Eric Gordon, who was injured for almost the entire season. Jack did more than just score, he also averaged 6.3 assists per game. However, the Hornets offense was significantly worse when Jack played. The Hornets had an Offensive Rating of 96.95 points when Jack was playing, and 103.81 points when Jack was on the bench.
Looking at a player’s points or assists tells you what they accomplished, but it may not tell you how valuable that production was to their team. As an individual Jarrett Jack had a very good offensive season. In the context of his team that may not have been the case. Sites like BasketballValue and 82Games let you see how a teams offense performed when they were on the court and when they were off the court. These numbers are heavily influenced by teammates but they can give a lot of context to a player’s individual numbers.
As you move forward on this first challenge, experiment with the different statistical resources that are out there. At 82Games.com you can also look clutch statistics. HoopData.com tracks shot locations, letting you see how effective a player was shooting from, and passing to, different areas of the floor. At BasketballValue.com you can also find statistics for different five man units.
These variables don’t have to impact your final decision, but may be things to think about in constructing your argument.
- Data Resources - Links to statistical websites that may help in answering Challenge #1
- Unpacking the Challenge - Questions to help you begin thinking about Challenge #1
- Getting Started - A guide for beginning to locate statistics, helping you choose and support an answer for Challenge#1
Back to Challenge #1