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The Black Hole of Creativity

Paint Tray

No basketball term raises my hackles quite as much as “creating shots.” This term encompasses many things. When Steve Nash curls around a screen and fires a pinpoint pass to a rolling big man, he has manipulated space, utilized exceptional vision and incredible hand-eye coordination to create a shot for his teammate. When Carmelo Anthony faces up on the wing and forces his defender to retreat with a vicious jab step, he has created an open shot for himself. When LeBron James pushes into 6th gear on a fastbreak, covering in three steps what mortal men need ten steps to cover, he has created a shot for himself. When Gilbert Arenas pulls up for a contested three-pointer four steps behind the three-point line, he has also created a shot. Therein lies the rub. In these four precise scenarios we have seen the expression of four completely different skills, producing offensive opportunities of varying qualities, and yet we describe them all with the same term. How can we use the term shot-creation, or any of its derivations without identifying which skill we are talking about? How can we talk about creating shots, without also discussing the qualities of those shots?

Tom Ziller of SBNation is the man responsible for all the current hackle-raising here at Hickory-High. Over the last two weeks he has written two pieces discussing shot creation. The first piece, focusing on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, introduced us to a statistic Ziller put together, called Creation Ratio. This is the ratio of shots a player creates (assists+unassisted shot attempts), to the number of shots they take which were created by teammates (assisted attempts). His second piece focused on positions and separated out points guards as chief shot creators around the league. I’d like to state, flat-out, that I respect Ziller greatly, and actually don’t disagree with either of these pieces. I just feel that he has initiated a discussion, but has not yet brought all the pertinent information to the table.

In an effort to bring a clearer picture to the idea of shot creation, I’ve attempted to recreate Ziller’s Creation Ratio, while adding some additional statistics I feel should be included. Descriptions of each statistic are below:

Creation Ratio – This is my approximation of Ziller’s original effort. It is the ratio of shots created by a player, taken by themselves and those they assisted on, to the ratio of shots they take which were assisted on, and therefore created by a teammate. See his first piece on shot creation for an explanation of the inclusion of free throw attempts.

Individual Creation Percentage – In Creation Ratio, offense is created by a player taking a shot or assisting on a teammate’s shot. Individual Creation Percentage represents the portion of Creation Ratio coming from a player’s own unassisted shot attempts. Here we can see what part of a player’s Creation Ratio comes from creating for themselves and what part comes from creating for others.

TS% – From where I sit, True Shooting Percentage must be included in any discussion of shot creation. Once we see how much offense a player is creating, and how much of that offense they are creating for themselves, the logical next step is to ask about the quality of the shots they are creating. Although looking at TS% across all their attempts, assisted and unassisted, is not a perfect measure of this, it does give us an idea of which players are creating open shots for themselves and which players are just flinging the ball at the rim.

Creation/Deletion – Every offensive possession ends in either a shot attempt, free throw attempt or a turnover. Creation Ratio captures shot attempts and free throw attempts. The Creation/Deletion Ratio weighs the shots a player creates for himself or teammates against their turnovers. This gives us an idea of the net cost to the team of all that “creating.”

The table below shows the four above stats for the top forty point guards in minutes played last season.

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It seems to me that using these statistics in concert allows a more full discussion of shot creation. The numbers can begin to tell the story of offense created, by shading how and how well it has been assembled. For example, with a Creation Ratio of 3.85, Tyreke Evans ranks near the middle of the pack. However, last season the percentage of his offense which he created for himself was the highest in our sample, at 69.4%. Evans struggled with injuries and was certainly not the same player as we saw two years ago. Still the numbers show a player creating a lot of shots for himself but not doing it very efficiently. It’s not a stretch to say the Kings offense would have benefited from a refocusing of some Evans’ considerable creativity into finding shots for teammates.

On the other side of that coin we find Mike Bibby. With a Creation Ratio of 0.86, Bibby ranks last in our sample and, along with only Steve Blake, created fewer shots for himself and teammates than were created for him. Of those few shots he created, just 33.4% were his own shots. The numbers help flesh out the image of an aging point guard, who struggles to create off the dribble but has lengthened his career through re-invention as a spot-up shooter.

In looking at these numbers we can also see a more complete image of the balance with with each point guard creates offense. The elder statesman of the new point guard crop, Deron Williams and Chris Paul, each carry an Individual Creation Percentage right around 50%. Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are twice as likely to create a shot for themselves as for a teammate. Rajon Rondo is at the other end of the spectrum, twice as a likely to create a shot for a teammate as to create a shot for himself. Although these differences don’t have an inherent value, they are still important. When Ziller points out that Westbrook created more shots than anyone else in the league last season, I believe it’s also worth mentioning that roughly two-thirds of those shots were created for himself. To put that statement into context we also need to know that he had a 53.8% TS% last season, 21st of the 40 point guards we looked at.

I believe it’s evident that not all shot creation is created equal. In my mind the term has become too broad, as writers and fans, myself included, have rushed to cram many scenarios under a single umbrella. When talking about creating shots, let’s do our best to make our language as specific as possible. Player’s create shots in different ways. May we all find room in the discussion for acknowledging those differences and including them whenever possible into the discussion.

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