Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Driving to the basket: Who's the best?

Here are the 25 NBA players (through Jan 20) who drive to the basket the most, mapped against their FG% on those drives. ( defines drives as "any touch that starts at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks.")

(Having trouble seeing this chart? Click here.)

Some takeaways:

  • In terms of sheer volume of drives, Tony Parker, Ty Lawson and Monta Ellis are in a class by themselves. They also produce quality along with that quantity, albeit each in different ways. Lawson is excellent at finishing, but even better at setting up teammates with drive-and-kicks; no one in the NBA produces more team points directly from drives than Ty's 13.1 ppg. Parker, with his array of floaters and either-hand layups and scoops, is the best pure finisher of the trio. And Monta is the best (this year, at least) at drawing fouls from drives. He's actually leading the league with 8.0 individual ppg from drives.
  • Jeremy Lin, everybody! This chart highlights Lin's biggest strength - the ability to drive and finish creatively. He may be a third guard at this point, but what a third guard. By the way, look at Lin, James Harden, and Chandler Parsons all bunched together on this chart. They're combining for 22 drives per game, shooting a combined 53% on those drives, and obviously hitting each other for open threes along the way. That's an incredibly efficient, dynamic foundation for an offense... especially with Dwight Howard waiting inside.
  • Maybe LeBron James should be driving to the basket more? Maybe we could say the same (to a lesser extent) about Kevin Durant? The truth is, of course, that even for the two best drive-finishers in the game, it's a bit more complicated than that. Driving takes energy, and it's hard to achieve when the entire defense is focused on you. I expect both of them will penetrating a lot more in the playoffs. They'll be playing more minutes, and playing those minutes with Dwayne Wade and Russell Westbrook, respectively, should open up the court.
  • Five of the six lowest on this chart in terms of FG% are quick guards who aren't necessarily known for their strength (except perhaps Dion Waiters, but he has the separate problem of not actually knowing how to play basketball). That's not to say guys like Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague and Kemba Walker aren't valuable on drives, but that they're a little easier to control from a team defense perspective than guards like Parker and Lawson.
  • Damian Lillard isn't far from being the perfect offensive point guard, and he's already at the helm of the best offense in the NBA right now. But his troubles finishing drives are probably his biggest limitation right now. If he can improve to just league-average at that, combined with Portland's other three-point shooters and LaMarcus Aldridge draining shots from the elbow and post... oof. Good luck stopping that.
UPDATE: A Tableau user named "RS" extended my data by looking at teammate points per drive and overall points generated. Check out his / her awesome work here.

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