Explaining Advanced Stats: Forget Assists — Here’s a Better Metric for Playmaking

Kiefer Ravena NLEX Road Warriors PBA
Kiefer Ravena is leading the PBA in Box Creation (Photo via PBA Images)

Point guards aren’t the only guys running the show nowadays. One quick look at the biggest basketball leagues today and you’ll see that even bigger frontcourt players are racking up tons of assists each game. But raw totals may not be enough to measure a player’s playmaking ability.

So what’s a good alternative? How can we effectively see a single player create shot opportunities for his teammates? 

Here’s where Ben Taylor (@ElGee35; Backpicks.com and Thinking Basketball) comes in with his Box Creation (BoxCr).

What’s Box Creation? Why should I use it?

The first question that comes to mind is: “Why shouldn’t I look at assists instead as the sole indicator of playmaking ability?” As per Stats by Ryan, an advanced stats platform for Philippine basketball, box creation “tries to eliminate the effect of idle passes that lead to assists.”

What are these idle passes? These are instances in which a player gets an assist just by feeding the ball to an open teammate rather than him breaking down the defense as a primary creator or acting as a decoy to create a scoring opportunity for his team. Some situational examples of these idle passes include passing the ball to a teammate coming off multiple screens, making an outlet pass to a teammate leaking out for a quick transition bucket, or feeding the ball to your team’s best isolation scorer who then hits a turnaround jumper.  

While it’s true that these count as legitimate assists, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the player who made the pass is already a good playmaker. That’s where box creation enters the picture. Box creation also factors in a player’s scoring and shooting skills in coming up with an estimate of how many scoring opportunities he creates for his teammates; better scoring and shooting requires more defensive attention, which then opens up other players for shots, and this stat captures the balance between the two.

Let’s take a look at the numbers of the top three players in the ongoing 2021 PBA Philippine Cup in terms of assists per game. TNT Tropang Giga’s Jayson Castro leads the league with 6.67 assists, with NLEX Road Warriors’ Kiefer Ravena has 6.5. NorthPort Batang Pier’s Robert Bolick is close behind at 6.0 dimes per contest.

But this doesn’t mean that Castro is far and away the best playmaker among the three. If you factor in box creation, you would see that Ravena is way ahead of the pack.

Jayson Castro6.675.40
Kiefer Ravena6.5012.55
Robert Bolick6.006.54
*Numbers as of 08/23/2021

Since box creation also takes into consideration the value of scoring and shooting, Ravena separated himself from Castro and Bolick because of the high level of efficiency in his shot-making. With his efficient scoring this conference, Ravena (15.75 points on 39.6/42.3/76.9 shooting splits for a TS% of 53.64%) is able to draw the attention of opposing defenses, and he breaks them down effectively to create tons of scoring opportunities for his teammates. This makes Ravena better at creating for others than Castro and Bolick, at least in the first four games.

But of course, every basketball advanced stat has its own limitations. According to Stats by Ryan, it’s important to remember that box creation is “only an estimate of opportunities created and not the actual count.”

Advanced Stats are now available for Philippine basketball! Through Ryan Alba’s Stats by Ryan, you can now look at team and player advanced stats for the current 2021 PBA Philippine Cup via the Dribble Media website.

Also, check out this glossary for a list of the basketball advanced stats terminologies.

You can also contact Ryan via his Twitter handle (@_alba__).

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2 thoughts on “Explaining Advanced Stats: Forget Assists — Here’s a Better Metric for Playmaking”

  1. Pingback: Robert Bolick Continues to Chart His Path Towards Superstardom — Dribble Media

  2. Pingback: Explaining Advanced Stats: Contextualizing a Player’s Role on Offense Through Offensive Load — Dribble Media

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