Point guards have been a topic of keen interest for Piston’s fans all season, from Chauncey Billups early season MVP quest to the recent trade of Carlos Arroyo. Chauncey shows up on everyone’s short list of mid-season MVP candidates, at the top of many. And more than anyone else on the roster other than Darko, Arroyo has been a flashpoint for dissent. He was either a competent point who could start for a number of teams (Orlando for example), an o.k. backup for short stints, a ballhog too much in love with bouncing the ball on the floor and making blind passes to the opposition, or the devil incarnate. Maybe it was the eyebrows. Maybe it was playing behind an MVP candidate. Maybe with 40+ wins already in the books we didn’t have enough to complain about. Regardless, there should be something in the numbers that can help us evaluate these things… - Billups proper place in the world of point guards – arguably the sport’s hardest position, - Where Arroyo’s performance fell on the continuum from competent to spawn of the devil, - And with Arroyo gone, how Lindsey Hunter will compare. I’ll lay out the arguments below, but for those with short attention spans here are the high hard ones. 1. Billups is not the MVP of the league and in fact, is not the best point guard in the league. Nash is better and so is Jason Kidd. And if you discount scoring (call it the Larry Brown point guard ranking), add Chris Paul, Brevin Knight, and Andre Miller to the list of players who rank above Billups. 2. Billups is not playing too many minutes. Ten of the top twenty five points in the league play more minutes than CB. Only six play more than three minutes per game less than CB. 3. Arroyo wasn’t half bad. In fact, from a numbers point of view he is a damn fine point guard. If we put man to man defense to the side and measure defense purely by blocks, steals, and boards, and even up the minutes, Arroyo is at very worst an even match for Lindsey Hunter using Arroyo’s numbers from this year and Hunter’s from 2004/2005. Add in the age difference and the injury, and Hunter is a clear step down. 4. Assuming a second half of the season like the first, Chris Paul is hands down rookie of the year. His numbers place him in very elite company. Measuring Performance The details of the scoring I’ve used to measure performance are included at the end of this article. The total points values you’ll see below is a weighted composite of… Two and three point shots made and missed Free throws made and missed Offensive and defensive rebounds Assists and turnovers Steals and blocks Fouls and technical fouls Weighting and aggregating these values produces a measure of overall statistical worth measured in points. Worth points can be divided by minutes to normalize across players who play widely varying numbers of minutes per game. Points can be divided by total team points to determine the relative importance of players to their teams. [break=Ranking by Points] Ranking League Point Guards by Points Ranked by total output, Steve Nash is still the best point guard in the league. (And probably still the MVP). He is not only at the top of the ranking, he is there by a good margin, out pointing Iverson by 163 and the next true point guard, Kidd, by 195. Following Nash is a bit of a logjam with Iverson, Kidd, Billups, and Chris Paul in a pack. It is interesting to note that three teams, Chicago (ranks 15 and 21), New Orleans (ranks 5 and 20), and Charlotte (ranks 10 and 24) each have two guards in the top twenty five. Note that at 36.5 minutes per game Billups is not at the top of the minutes scale for the better point guards. Iverson, Arenas, Marbury, Bibby, Francis, Davis, Kidd, Ford, Nash, and Miller all log more minutes per night than Billups. In fact, of the twenty five top guards in terms of total points, only six play more than three minutes fewer per night than Chauncey. [break=Ranking by Contribution] Ranking League Point Guards by Team Contribution While ranking by total points is a good way of comparing players, it may not be the best measure of how valuable a player is to his team. Different teams play different styles, some scoring more, some less, some more reliant on key scorers, some push the tempo providing more possessions for both themselves and the opposition, etc. We can aggregate the points across all the players on a team and then examine the relationship between the point guards and their total team’s production. New Jersey with it’s deliberate pace has a team total of only 5,604, over 1,700 points lower than Phoenix, and nearly 1,200 points lower than Detroit. However, of that total Kidd accounts for over 25% of the total team’s statistical productivity. I think you can argue that is an unhealthy reliance on one player, especially a 33 year old point guard with a fair number of miles. The backup, Jacque Vaughn, averages under fifteen minutes a night and is ranked 61st among all point guards in statistical productivity. If Kidd goes down, so does New Jersey. Likewise Philadelphia with it’s strong reliance on Iverson both to score and to make plays for others. Billups is very respectable ranked at number seven, accounting for nearly 20% of total Pistons productivity. [break=Larry Brown Ranking] Ranking League Point Guards by Larry Brown Criteria But, who says that point guards are supposed to score anyway? Let’s take the Larry Brown approach to evaluating point guards. In this scoring system, you get no pats on the butt from the coach for making a basket, so points scored don’t count for anything. But, you get chewed out in practice if you miss shots, so the penalties are still in place for missing. And of course, missing a three is worse than missing a two. Missed shots, assists, blocks, steals, boards, fouls, and turnovers make up the bulk of this method of scoring. First thing you see is big drops in the rankings for score first guards like Iverson, Arenas, and Francis who drop out of the top twenty five entirely. Second you see some new faces, Knight, Calderon, Snow, Alston, Blake, and our old buddy Carlos Arroyo who edges out Tony Parker for 20th spot in the list. In fact, on a minute for minute basis, Arroyo at 0.285 LB points per minute is the fifth best point guard in the league. Larry would be so proud. [break=Ranking by PTS per minute] Ranking League Point Guards by Points Per Minute So, trying to equalize for minutes can be a tricky thing. It’s almost always wrong to assume that if a player’s minutes double then his productivity will double. But, if you just say you’re measuring how productive a player is while he is on the court and that more minutes bring more responsibility to produce then it’s not a completely bad method of evaluating players. Below are the top twenty five point guards in the league ranking by production per minute played. Note that these are total points, including scoring (and not the Larry Brown Memorial Scoring Methodology). Again, some new faces, and another strong showing by Carlos Arroyo at number 15. Billups moves up to number 4, but Nash and Kidd are still the men. And what about Chris Paul? [break=Arroyo vs. Hunter] Comparing Arroyo and Hunter Arroyo’s presence on many of these rankings forces us to ask where would Lindsey Hunter be if he had played this season with the same numbers as he had last year. By any measure available here, Arroyo is the guy you want on your team. He’s just more productive. The missing element though is defensive intensity and maybe that makes up for the gap. But given the difference in age, it’s hard to put Hunter over Arroyo. [break=Methodology and Acknowledgements] Measures and Scoring Following is the scoring method I ended up with. It draws heavily on research work reported on the 82games website and comments made by forum members about the other statistical analyses I’ve done. The latest version is… Two point field goals ~ [+2.0] Missed two point field goals ~ [-0.920] The expected value of a two point shot for the league based on average shooting percentages Three point field goals ~ [+3.0] Missed three point field goals ~ [-1.082] The expected value of a three point shot for the league based on average shooting percentages Made free throws ~ [+1.0] Missed free throws ~ [-1.0] After all, they call them “free”. Offensive rebounds ~ [+1.350] FG percentage after an offensive board is 50.48% (higher than league average since more of the shots are close in). The average potential value of a shot is 2.265 (weighting the difference between two and three point attempts), so… .5048 * 2.265 = 1.14. I add 0.2 for general morale benefit and round up to 1.350. Defensive rebounds ~ [+1.350] You stop the opponent from getting an offensive rebound, same logic as above. Assists ~ [+2.0] An assist creates a hoop that would not have occurred otherwise. Blocks ~ [+2.0] Since more blocked shots are close in than not, they have a higher potential likelihood of going in. According to 82games the field goal percent is 62%. 57% of the time a blocked shot stops the other team’s possession (many are blocked out of bounds or the loose ball is secured by the offense, so… 0.62 * 2 = 1.24 points stopped (no bonus for blocking threes) + .57 * .96 (average value of the shot you get by picking up the blocked ball and heading down court = 1.79. I add in .2 for intimidation the next time down and round up to 2.0 Steals ~ [+2.0] Same logic as blocked shot Turnover ~ [-2.0] Same logic as blocked shot Fouls ~ [-1.0] Sometimes stops an easy hoop, but provides easy opportunities for the opponent to score. Technicals ~ [-1.0] Gives the opponents best shooter a free look. Sources and Acknowledgements I got lots of information publicly available from www.82games.com, particularly their articles on the value of rebounds and of blocked shots. I got some raw stats from www.dougstats.com and from www.nba.com.