Nickel & Diming: What Are Facilitators Really Worth?

All season long, will be looking at its top prospects and teams through the lens of advanced stats. Today, we break down the difference between providing and just putting up numbers.

There's a reason why former Fort Wayne point guard (and assist-man extraordinaire) Walker Russell's now in the NBA. Find out more below.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

By now, the force is strong in you.

After more than two months of advanced stats training, you’re fast on your way to becoming a stats sensei. A numbers ninja. To being able to chant, from memory, the mantras of metrics.

And now, since we have covered the basics, it is time now to venture onwards to some more nuanced (yet vital) statistics. We’ll start, literally, at the top, as we explore the relative value of point guards and other game facilitators and the impact that they have on their respective teams.

When examining the value of a point guard or a “facilitator” at another position, people typically focus on a player’s assists per game. After all, if a player’s job is to create offense and distribute the basketball, this can be a telling statistic. With that in mind, let’s get an idea of who’s leading the NBA D-League’s in assists per game, among those who have played in at least 10 games this season:

NBA D-League Assist-Per-Game Leaders
Russell, Walker9.9
Ewing, Brandon6.8
Wise, Jeremy6.3
Curry, JamesOn6.3
Bozeman, Cedric6.2
Coleman, Dominique6.1
Baker, Maurice6.0
Bailey, David5.9
Ahearn, Blake5.6
Fortson, Courtney5.6
Cooksey, Vance5.5
Dentmon, Justin5.1
Stinson, Curtis5.0
McLeod, Keith5.0
Collins, Mardy4.6

But by now, you’ve learned to question raw statistical data.

While it is certainly possible that these 10 players are the top 10 facilitators in the NBA D-League, there could a number of factors that account for their assist per game numbers. For instance, if they play on a high-paced offense that takes (and, don’t forget, makes) a lot of shots, their assist numbers would be elevated. On the other hand, if they played for a slower-paced team that hoisted up bricks, those numbers would fall. So, in short, assists per game can be a little misleading. But if we can’t trust assists per game, where does that leave us?

No need to fret…we have a solution: a nifty little stat called assist percentage (AST%).

Assist percentage estimates the percentage of field goals that came from a certain player’s assist.. For those aspiring mathematicians who want to play along at home, the formula is as follows:

    Assist Percentage (AST%)
    The percentage of team field goals assisted by one player when he's on the floor.
    AST% = 100 * AST / (((MP / (Tm MP/ 5)) * Tm FG) - FG)
    Tm MP = Team minutes played
    Tm FG = Team field goals

By measuring this statistic as a percentage of baskets made by teammates, we negate differences in pace and therefore are able to take a more accurate look at the players who are truly the most impactful offensive facilitators for their team.

Of course, this isn’t the only factor on which to judge point guards, but is quite telling nonetheless. Here are the top 15 NBA D-League players according to AST%:

Assist Percentage Leaders
Russell, Walker39.7%9.9
Wise, Jeremy35.6%6.3
Galloway, Kevin35.0%4.1
Ewing, Brandon32.1%6.8
Bailey, David31.7%5.9
Cooksey, Vance31.6%5.5
Mitchell, Ashton29.9%4.5
Randle, Jerome28.6%4.2
Gerrity, Mike28.6%4.4
Farrakhan, Mustapha28.5%3.4
Curry, JamesOn27.9%6.3
McLeod, Keith27.4%5.0
Williams, Derek26.7%2.5
Jefferson, Dontell26.5%2.9
Bozeman, Cedric26.3%6.2

As you can see, this list is markedly different than the assist per game ranking. While several players such as Walker Russell and Brandon Ewing rank high on both lists, other players only appear on one list or the other. (As a side note, you can now appreciate why the Pistons were wise to sign Russell, who ranks first in both charts.)

A good illustration of the power of this statistic is the case of Ashton Mitchell, who plays as the backup PG for the high-octane RGV Vipers. Because he averages only 4.5 assists per game in his nearly 21 minutes of play, he does not crack our top 15 in the assists per game ranking. However, when he is only the floor, he assists on a staggering 30 percent of his teammates’ made baskets, which is good enough to place him seventh in the entire league in AST%.

Moving forward, when evaluating point guard talent in the NBA D-League, I hope you use this statistical tool to take a more holistic approach to examining assist-related statistics to determine who are the truly most effective offensive facilitators. Until then, get your stats on at the AP Hoops Archive.