Earlier in the season, I undertook to review data on Carmelo Anthony's passing in an effort to, if not determine his true value as a passer, at the very least add to the discussion. That post can be viewed here. I would suggest skimming that post if you haven't read it before, as I'll be relying on my methods and findings from that post throughout this one. I'll try to explain everything in this post in detail, but I may skim over a few things that I clarified better last time if they're not as important here.
So, just to reiterate, my goal is to use data on Melo's passing to make some conclusions with respect to his ability as a passer. The data I'll be using comes from the NBA's PlayerTracking system. For the uninitiated, PlayerTracking is basically a system of cameras (called SportVU) that the NBA installed in every arena. It tracks every movement made by every player on the floor and uses that information to output a ton of data on players.1 The NBA installed it in 15 arenas, including MSG, before the 2012-13 season and then the rest before this season. The NBA has only released data for this season, though it did give a few people access to last season's data.2
When I wrote my original post in December, I made sure to note that the conclusions I'd arrived at were not necessarily reliable because, a quarter of the way into the season, the sample was not nearly large enough. The good news this time is that a full season's worth of data allows me to say that my conclusions are probably valid. Ideally, I'd be looking at a 3-season sample; that would remove pretty much any doubt from my mind regarding my findings.3 However, I only have access to data from this season, so it will have to suffice.
In my attempt to learn more about Melo's passing, I'll be answering the same three questions as I did last time:
1. Does Melo pass the ball more or less often than other players of his ilk?
2. Do Melo's passes lead to shots more or less often than other players of his ilk?
3. Who is more to blame for Melo's assist totals: Melo or his teammates?
I'll also be using basically the same data as in the previous post, so I'll just quickly rehash my method for finding a dataset. If you'd like to see a more detailed breakdown, there's one in the post from December. I started with every player in the NBA that played at least 58 games4 and passed the ball at least 30 times per game on average, as a way to eliminate spot-up shooters and end-of-bench players. I removed any players that averaged less than 30 front court touches to rid the dataset of big men that get a large percentage of their touches on inbounds passes. As I mentioned last time, this isn't a perfect way to control for players who do a lot of passing in the back court (as in, outside the flow of the offense), but there isn't an easy way to fix that problem. It won't change my findings too much either way. Finally, I removed players that primarily run the point as they would significantly affect the results. I was left with 57 players; previously, I came up with 62. I didn't check, but you'll see proof that not all 57 players that made the list this time were part of the 62 from last time. However, the usual suspects showed up both times. The relevant data is listed below.
|Player||GP||Touches per game||Front Court Touches per game||Close Touches per game||Elbow Touches per game||AST per game||Passes per game||FT Assists per game||Secondary Assists per game||Assist opportunities per game||Points created by assist per game||Mass AST opp. per game||Passes per Front Court Touch||Mass Assist opportunities per Pass||AST per Assist opportunity||Player|
|Al Jefferson (CHA)||72||55||37.1||8.9||5.4||2.1||31.6||0.2||0.4||4.3||5.1||4.9||0.85||0.16||0.49||Al Jefferson (CHA)|
|Alec Burks (UTA)||78||52.8||45.3||0.5||2.1||2.7||36.7||0.3||0.7||6||6.3||7||0.81||0.19||0.45||Alec Burks (UTA)|
|Andre Iguodala (GSW)||63||42.1||33.4||1.6||0.9||4.2||31.5||0.4||1.1||7.1||10.2||8.6||0.94||0.27||0.59||Andre Iguodala (GSW)|
|Anthony Davis (NOP)||67||53.7||31.8||3.5||7.6||1.6||33||0.1||0.4||3||3.6||3.5||1.04||0.11||0.53||Anthony Davis (NOP)|
|Arron Afflalo (ORL)||73||58.1||47.9||1.3||1.8||3.4||39.5||0.2||0.7||7.3||8||8.2||0.82||0.21||0.47||Arron Afflalo (ORL)|
|Blake Griffin (LAC)||80||79.4||52.8||6.4||10.2||3.9||54.1||0.4||1.1||7.5||9.1||9||1.02||0.17||0.52||Blake Griffin (LAC)|
|Bradley Beal (WAS)||72||57.6||50.1||0.6||3.1||3.4||37.6||0.2||0.7||6.1||7.6||7||0.75||0.19||0.56||Bradley Beal (WAS)|
|Carmelo Anthony (NYK)||77||69.2||52.8||1.8||5.5||3.1||40.7||0.3||0.7||6.3||7.8||7.3||0.77||0.18||0.49||Carmelo Anthony (NYK)|
|Chandler Parsons (HOU)||74||59.4||49.5||1.2||1.4||4||41.6||0.4||0.8||7.1||9.5||8.3||0.84||0.20||0.56||Chandler Parsons (HOU)|
|Chris Bosh (MIA)||79||50.1||31.2||3.2||5.1||1.1||34.1||0.1||0.7||2.5||2.7||3.3||1.09||0.10||0.44||Chris Bosh (MIA)|
|David Lee (GSW)||68||53.1||31.1||4.3||4.5||2.1||33.7||0.2||0.7||3.9||5.2||4.8||1.08||0.14||0.54||David Lee (GSW)|
|David West (IND)||80||61.7||38.1||3.7||7.3||2.8||45.6||0.5||0.7||5.8||6.8||7||1.20||0.15||0.48||David West (IND)|
|DeMar DeRozan (TOR)||78||60.8||54.7||0.9||3.5||3.9||34.9||0.3||0.8||8.3||10.1||9.4||0.64||0.27||0.47||DeMar DeRozan (TOR)|
|DeMarcus Cousins (SAC)||70||64.9||41.5||6||4.6||2.9||39.7||0.2||0.4||5.8||6.8||6.4||0.96||0.16||0.50||DeMarcus Cousins (SAC)|
|DeMarre Carroll (ATL)||73||45.9||34.2||1.6||0.7||1.8||34.4||0.2||0.7||3.5||4.5||4.4||1.01||0.13||0.51||DeMarre Carroll (ATL)|
|Dirk Nowitzki (DAL)||80||62.9||40.5||2.1||4.1||2.7||41.9||0.3||0.6||5.3||6.4||6.2||1.03||0.15||0.51||Dirk Nowitzki (DAL)|
|Dwight Howard (HOU)||71||59.3||31.8||7.7||2.9||1.8||40.3||0.2||0.5||3.5||4.4||4.2||1.27||0.10||0.51||Dwight Howard (HOU)|
|Evan Turner (TOTAL)||81||53.5||43.9||1.5||1.8||3.2||35.8||0.5||0.7||6.7||7.7||7.9||0.82||0.22||0.48||Evan Turner (TOTAL)|
|Gerald Henderson (CHA)||76||54.1||47.1||1.8||2.4||2.6||38||0.2||0.9||5.3||6||6.4||0.81||0.17||0.49||Gerald Henderson (CHA)|
|Gordon Hayward (UTA)||77||69.6||61||1.2||3.6||5.2||49.4||0.6||1.3||11.2||12.4||13.1||0.81||0.27||0.46||Gordon Hayward (UTA)|
|Greg Monroe (DET)||82||51||30.1||4.5||6.9||2.1||33.6||0.3||0.5||4.5||4.9||5.3||1.12||0.16||0.47||Greg Monroe (DET)|
|J.R. Smith (NYK)||74||53.3||40.6||0.5||1.3||3||36.5||0.4||0.5||6.1||7.3||7||0.90||0.19||0.49||J.R. Smith (NYK)|
|James Harden (HOU)||73||71.3||60.8||1.1||1.4||6.1||45.1||0.6||1||11.7||14.5||13.3||0.74||0.29||0.52||James Harden (HOU)|
|Jared Sullinger (BOS)||74||48.3||31.1||3.8||2.8||1.6||32.6||0.2||0.4||3.5||3.8||4.1||1.05||0.13||0.46||Jared Sullinger (BOS)|
|Jeff Green (BOS)||82||50.1||39.8||1.7||1.4||1.7||31.1||0.2||0.5||3.8||4||4.5||0.78||0.14||0.45||Jeff Green (BOS)|
|Jimmy Butler (CHI)||67||50.5||41.6||2.6||0.8||2.6||35.1||0.3||0.9||5.3||6.1||6.5||0.84||0.19||0.49||Jimmy Butler (CHI)|
|Joakim Noah (CHI)||80||82.4||44.4||4.4||9.3||5.4||66.8||0.7||0.6||10.3||12.4||11.6||1.50||0.17||0.52||Joakim Noah (CHI)|
|Jordan Crawford (TOTAL)||81||48.2||41.6||0.4||1.1||3.5||34.2||0.3||0.6||7||8.2||7.9||0.82||0.23||0.50||Jordan Crawford (TOTAL)|
|Josh McRoberts (CHA)||77||76.4||41.2||1.1||5.1||4.3||66.8||0.5||0.7||7.9||9.6||9.1||1.62||0.14||0.54||Josh McRoberts (CHA)|
|Josh Smith (DET)||77||55.2||39.2||2.3||3||3.3||34.1||0.4||0.6||6.1||7.6||7.1||0.87||0.21||0.54||Josh Smith (DET)|
|Kevin Durant (OKC)||81||69||56||1.7||3.5||5.5||38.9||0.6||0.7||10.2||12.8||11.5||0.69||0.30||0.54||Kevin Durant (OKC)|
|Kevin Love (MIN)||77||86.2||49.2||6.7||11.2||4.4||60.3||0.8||0.7||8.5||10.3||10||1.23||0.17||0.52||Kevin Love (MIN)|
|Khris Middleton (MIL)||81||45.2||34.5||0.9||2.8||2.1||31.8||0.3||0.5||4.1||4.8||4.9||0.92||0.15||0.51||Khris Middleton (MIL)|
|Kyle Korver (ATL)||70||44.6||33.8||0.8||1.5||2.9||33.6||0.3||0.7||5.2||6.7||6.2||0.99||0.18||0.56||Kyle Korver (ATL)|
|LaMarcus Aldridge (POR)||69||67.6||41.9||3.4||7.6||2.6||41.5||0.2||0.8||5.3||6.5||6.3||0.99||0.15||0.49||LaMarcus Aldridge (POR)|
|Lance Stephenson (IND)||78||55||45.8||1.8||0.8||4.6||38.9||0.5||0.9||8.7||10.6||10.1||0.85||0.26||0.53||Lance Stephenson (IND)|
|LeBron James (MIA)||77||75.6||62.7||3.2||3.6||6.4||49||0.5||1.3||12||15.3||13.8||0.78||0.28||0.53||LeBron James (MIA)|
|Louis Williams (ATL)||59||42.6||37.4||0.4||0.6||3.5||30.5||0.4||0.7||6.2||8.1||7.3||0.82||0.24||0.56||Louis Williams (ATL)|
|Luol Deng (TOTAL)||63||51.2||42.3||2.5||1.3||2.9||33.1||0.4||0.6||5.4||6.7||6.4||0.78||0.19||0.54||Luol Deng (TOTAL)|
|Marc Gasol (MEM)||59||64.5||43.1||7.7||14.4||3.6||47||0.3||0.8||7.5||8.3||8.6||1.09||0.18||0.48||Marc Gasol (MEM)|
|Mike Dunleavy (CHI)||82||43.1||35.2||1.1||1.9||2.3||31||0.3||0.5||4.5||5.2||5.3||0.88||0.17||0.51||Mike Dunleavy (CHI)|
|Monta Ellis (DAL)||82||70.2||59.1||0.5||1.6||5.7||46.1||0.5||1.2||11.1||13.7||12.8||0.78||0.28||0.51||Monta Ellis (DAL)|
|Nicolas Batum (POR)||82||68.6||47.3||1.1||2.8||5.1||53.8||0.7||0.9||9.4||12||11||1.14||0.20||0.54||Nicolas Batum (POR)|
|Pau Gasol (LAL)||60||70.3||42.1||5||8.8||3.4||49.7||0.2||0.6||7.1||8.1||7.9||1.18||0.16||0.48||Pau Gasol (LAL)|
|Paul George (IND)||80||69.5||54.7||2||3.2||3.5||45.5||0.4||0.8||7.4||8.1||8.6||0.83||0.19||0.47||Paul George (IND)|
|Paul Millsap (ATL)||73||64.4||43.9||4.6||4.8||3.2||43.7||0.3||0.8||6.1||7.7||7.2||1.00||0.16||0.52||Paul Millsap (ATL)|
|Paul Pierce (BKN)||74||46.7||33.2||1||1.7||2.3||32.5||0.3||0.6||4.9||5.7||5.8||0.98||0.18||0.47||Paul Pierce (BKN)|
|Rudy Gay (TOTAL)||72||55.3||43.6||2.3||2.2||2.9||32.4||0.4||0.6||5.9||6.8||6.9||0.74||0.21||0.49||Rudy Gay (TOTAL)|
|Shawn Marion (DAL)||76||48||30.8||3.2||2||1.6||35.9||0.2||0.5||3.4||4||4.1||1.17||0.11||0.47||Shawn Marion (DAL)|
|Spencer Hawes (TOTAL)||80||66||37.1||3.4||3.9||3||50.7||0.3||0.6||5.9||6.7||6.8||1.37||0.13||0.51||Spencer Hawes (TOTAL)|
|Thaddeus Young (PHI)||79||67.3||41.3||4.6||3.5||2.3||46.2||0.3||0.6||4.6||5.3||5.5||1.12||0.12||0.50||Thaddeus Young (PHI)|
|Tim Duncan (SAS)||74||59.9||38.4||6.5||7.7||3||42.3||0.2||0.5||4.9||6.7||5.6||1.10||0.13||0.61||Tim Duncan (SAS)|
|Tony Wroten (PHI)||72||48.9||42.2||1||0.6||3||31.4||0.4||0.5||6||7||6.9||0.74||0.22||0.50||Tony Wroten (PHI)|
|Trevor Ariza (WAS)||76||51.3||39||1.1||1||2.5||36.3||0.3||0.8||4.6||5.6||5.7||0.93||0.16||0.54||Trevor Ariza (WAS)|
|Tyreke Evans (NOP)||72||52.5||44.3||1.6||1.8||5||33.9||0.5||0.6||9.2||11.8||10.3||0.77||0.30||0.54||Tyreke Evans (NOP)|
|Victor Oladipo (ORL)||80||66.4||54.6||0.6||0.9||4.1||46.4||0.4||1||9.1||9.4||10.5||0.85||0.23||0.45||Victor Oladipo (ORL)|
|Zach Randolph (MEM)||79||56.8||37.3||7.5||5||2.5||36.2||0.2||0.7||5.2||5.7||6.1||0.97||0.17||0.48||Zach Randolph (MEM)|
|Std Dev||6.03||10.58||8.43||2.20||2.98||1.22||8.60||0.15||0.21||2.29||2.87||2.56||0.20||0.05||0.04||Std Dev|
|Player||GP||Touches per game||Front Court Touches per game||Close Touches per game||Elbow Touches per game||AST per game||Passes per game||FT Assists per game||Secondary Assists per game||Assist opportunities per game||Points created by assist per game||Mass AST per game||Passes per Front Court Touch||Assist opportunities per Pass||AST per Assist opportunity||Player|
The last three columns on the right are basically the same proprietary stats5 as I used in the first post. However, you might notice that the fourth column from the left end, "Mass assist opportunities per game" is a new one. It is, quite simply, the total of a given player's AST opportunities,6 FT AST,7 and Secondary AST8 per game. I called it "Mass" for no reason except that I thought it sounded cool. I also included the mean and standard deviation for each statistic among my 57-player sample.
Question #1: Is Melo really as reluctant to pass as his reputation suggests?
The best way to find out if Melo passes more or less often than similar players, in my opinion, is to look at how often he passes the ball for every time he gets it in the front court (or his passes per front court touch) as compared to the other players in the sample. On average, players in the sample passed the ball 0.96 times for every front court touch, with a standard deviation of 0.20 passes. What this means is that, assuming a normal distribution,9 68.2% of the players (about 39) will average between 0.76 and 1.16 passes per front court touch. Melo averages 0.77 passes per front court touch, so he barely makes it into that 68.2%. It's also worth noting that, in December, Melo was averaging 0.76 passes per front court touch, so not much has changed.
To see how Melo stacks up specifically against some players he's often compared to that aren't named LeBron James, I plotted each player's passes per front court touch and highlighted four other players. The light blue triangle represents Kevin Durant,10 the red one James Harden, the yellow one Paul George, and the purple one Rudy Gay. The orange triangle represents Melo.
The black line across the plot points is the regression line and the equation in the bottom right corner is the equation for that line. The r-squared value of 0.2 suggests that the regression line isn't too useful (and thus that passes don't necessarily depend on front court touches), but the good news is that the correlation coefficient is almost 1.5x what it was in the first post, which is not surprising based on this data being based on a full season of basketball rather than 20 games. It's interesting to note, however, that of the players I highlighted, only Paul George is averaging as many passes per front court touch as the regression line suggests he should be. Each of the other four players falls below the line, which means they're not passing as often as they would be expected to. Given the fact that Melo, KD, Harden, and Gay are score-first players, this is not much of a shock. Other than Gay, who didn't actually make the cut in December, the results are basically the same for each player, and therefore my conclusion should remain as well: Melo isn't too out of the ordinary with respect to how often he passes the ball.
Question #2: How well is Melo setting up his teammates?
The relevant stat here is mass assist opportunities per pass, since I'm only interested in how often the other Knicks shoot when Melo passes, not how often they score. In December, I only looked at assist opportunities per pass, but adding FT assists and secondary assists to the equation is useful. This way, I can better encapsulate more of the "good" passes a player makes. Assist opportunities only includes passes that lead directly to shots, but passes that lead directly to free throws and passes that lead to passes that lead to assists are just as helpful.11 An average player tallies a total of just over 1 FT and secondary assist12 per game, so this does change the results.
Melo averages 0.18 mass assist opportunities per pass. The mean is 0.19 with a standard deviation of 0.05. Melo quite obviously fits within the 68.2% as he's just below the mean. Below is the scatterplot containing the data for all 57 players.
The correlation coefficient for this regression line is 0.32, so the line isn't that predictive, though it's a better fit than the line was in December.13 In any case, Melo, Gay, and George all are generating mass assist opportunities at around the rate that would be expected by the regression line. On the other hand, Durant and Harden are seriously outperforming expectations. It would seem that Durant and Harden are putting their teammates in better position to score than Melo is, but this may say more about Durant and Harden than it does about Melo. It's hard to know without context; unfortunately, stats do not provide context.14 As such, all I can say is that Melo's passes lead to shots, free throws, and assists at a pretty normal rate.
Question #3: Are Melo's below average assist totals his fault or his teammates'?
This season, Melo averaged 3.1 AST per game. The average among the 57 players in this sample was 3.26 with a standard deviation of 1.22, which means that Melo's assist totals aren't terrible even though the media narrative would suggest otherwise. On the other hand, Melo is clearly a skilled passer and it's not unreasonable for fans to expect higher totals. In this case, the relevant stat is assists per assist opportunity, which is basically FG%. Melo sits at 0.49 AST per assist opportunity; the mean is 0.51 with a standard deviation of 0.04, so Melo's not alone. The graph is below.
In what might be termed the shocker of the century, assist totals depend heavily on assist opportunities, with an almost perfect correlation coefficient of 0.96. All five players I've highlighted are right on or very close to the regression line. However, due to the fact that no matter how wide open a player is, he still needs to be able to make the shot for the passer to register an assist, it's probably better to look within the Knicks to answer this question. Unfortunately, I had to remove Chris DA GAWD Smith from this dataset because he neither took a shot nor registered an assist.
|Player||GP||AST per game||Assist opportunities per game||AST per Assist opportunity||Shots Made||Shots Taken||FG% without player|
|Carmelo Anthony (NYK)||77||3.1||6.3||0.49||743||1643||0.448|
|J.R. Smith (NYK)||74||3||6.1||0.49||396||955||0.455|
|Tim Hardaway Jr. (NYK)||81||0.8||1.6||0.50||294||687||0.452|
|Raymond Felton (NYK)||65||5.6||10.6||0.53||240||608||0.455|
|Amar'e Stoudemire (NYK)||65||0.5||1.4||0.36||311||558||0.439|
|Andrea Bargnani (NYK)||42||1.1||2.5||0.44||222||502||0.450|
|Iman Shumpert (NYK)||74||1.7||3.9||0.44||183||484||0.455|
|Tyson Chandler (NYK)||55||1.1||2.6||0.42||191||322||0.442|
|Pablo Prigioni (NYK)||66||3.5||7.4||0.47||88||191||0.449|
|Beno Udrih (NYK)||31||3.5||7.7||0.45||68||160||0.450|
|Metta World Peace (NYK)||29||0.6||1.4||0.43||56||141||0.450|
|Toure Murry (NYK)||51||1||2||0.50||56||129||0.449|
|Kenyon Martin (NYK)||32||1.6||2.9||0.55||63||123||0.448|
|Jeremy Tyler (NYK)||41||0.2||0.4||0.50||60||116||0.448|
|Cole Aldrich (NYK)||46||0.3||0.6||0.50||33||61||0.448|
|Shannon Brown (NYK)||19||0.2||0.8||0.25||16||38||0.449|
|Earl Clark (NYK)||9||0.2||0.3||0.67||7||21||0.450|
Melo took the most shots on the team as an individual,15 but the rest of the team still took more than 3 times as many shots as he did, so it's to be expected that the team's FG% without any single player is always basically 45% since the team as a whole shot 44.9% for the season. What's important here, though, is a comparison between how well the team shoots on passes made by that player and how well the team as whole shot for the season (the player in question's shots not included). This should approximate whether a player is putting his teammates in a good position to score. The other Knicks are shooting 49% on Melo's passes, yet the Knicks as whole minus Melo are shooting 44.8%. Among Knicks who average at least an assist per game, that 49% is tied for fourth-best behind Kenyon Martin, Raymond Felton, and Toure' Murry. Two of those guys are point guards and the other made a ton of excellent passes this year before he got hurt, so it's safe to say Melo is doing a fine job setting up his teammates. More importantly, when I first did this exercise, the Knicks were shooting 43% as a team without Melo but only 41% on Melo's passes. Melo has shown a huge improvement in this area since December. However, since the other Knicks are shooting so well on Melo's passes, it stands to reason that Melo could easily have higher assist totals and is to blame for the current level. A caveat here would be that Melo may not trust his teammates enough to set them up more, so his teammates deserve some of the blame as well.
Melo is average across the board, though his passes per front court touch are dangerously close to being out of the ordinary in a bad way. It's possible that with better teammates (hopefully as soon as next season), Melo would pass more. The media narrative, however, centers on the idea that Melo is an unwilling passer, and the numbers certainly don't dispel that notion. While Melo is within one standard deviation of the mean with respect to passes per front court touch, his numbers in the other two categories I considered are much closer to the average. Still, Carmelo Anthony is probably a bit underrated as a passer.
1. The data is really cool and the interface is quite intuitive. Just FYI, the default setting shows the playoff stats at the moment, so you need to switch that to "Regular Season" if you plan on taking a look.↩
2. Zach Lowe was, not surprisingly, one of those people. He wrote a great article on the cameras last season and another one when the NBA announced that it would be expanding the cameras to every arena back in September.↩
3. Though expanding the data over multiple seasons would introduce other issues in that there is a fair amount of turnover both with respect to coaching staffs and player personnel from season to season.↩
4. That's the minimum number of games required for a player to qualify for full-season stat categories.↩
5. If you can call stats I made up just for this study and that no one else will ever use "proprietary."↩
6. Passes that lead directly to shots, regardless of success.↩
7. Free Throw Assists, or passes that lead directly to free throws.↩
8. Passes that lead to the player who received the pass registering an assist.↩
9. This is not a normal distribution, but it's not terribly far off from one. 25 of the values are greater than the mean, and 32 are less. Of those 25, 20 average more than 1 pass per front court touch. Those 20 are players that escaped my attempt to remove players who make a lot of passes in the back court. I don't want to remove those players though, because I don't know what percentage of those passes actually come from the back court.↩
10. I realize that he's entered the LeBron "DO NOT COMPARE" echelon of players, but since I used him as a comparison last time, I did it again.↩
11. I know that secondary assist opportunities, rather than secondary assists, would be better here; unfortunately, SportVU doesn't track that. I figured that including at least some of Melo's secondary assist opportunities in my conclusions would be better than including none.↩
12. 0.35 FT assists and 0.71 secondary assists.↩
13. However, it's important to remember that I changed the variables a bit this time around, so a comparison of results isn't too useful and I won't do it with respect to the player-by-player results.↩
14. Which is why it's important to combine statistical analysis with observational analysis, even though that's not what I'm doing here. I'm giving myself a pass on that since my stated goal was to use stats.↩
15. I know. I didn't see that one coming either.↩