Beyond Assists: Which Point Guard Has Emerged as NBA's Passing Maestro?
There hasn't been a single metric that truly encapsulates all aspects of passing for an NBA player.
Assists are great, but they're also entirely dependent on whether the player who received a pass makes the ensuing shot. Assist percentage can capably show you a player's involvement when he's on the floor, but there's still so much missing context.
And what about turnovers? Looking solely at turnovers doesn't allow you to differentiate between passing turnovers, dribbling turnovers, offensive fouls and everything else that can lead to a change of possession.
These are pieces of the puzzle, but none of them can singlehandedly show you the whole picture.
It's time for a new metric. Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta and I have worked to come up with a brand spanking new one called passer rating.
In a separate piece (available Friday, Sep. 5), Kelly will expand on the primary takeaways of this new metric—the outliers, the non-point guards, the shortcomings (and there certainly are some), etc. But for now, let's allow these rankings of floor generals to serve as the introduction. Remember, though, that these aren't rankings of the guards' overall play—merely their effectiveness as passers during the 2013-14 season.
What Is Passer Rating?
Essentially, there are two components—passing impact on teammates and points generated.
The impact is found by comparing how a team shoots normally and how it shoots after the player in question generates an assist opportunity. That's the easier part to find, as it only involves looking at a team's statistics with that player on the court and then subtracting out the player's numbers.
By dividing assists by assist opportunities (defined as passes that would have been recorded as assists had the ensuing shot been made), we essentially have field-goal percentage on assist-generating passes. After all, that's simply dividing the successes by the opportunities, which is exactly the same format as traditional field-goal percentage.
Looking at the difference between those two numbers—teammates' shooting percentages with the player on the court and the percentage off the player's passes—we can see how much of an impact the player had. If the latter is higher than the former, he had a positive impact. Similarly, the bigger the number, the greater the impact.
As for the second part (points generated), we wanted to look at more than just assists.
Points generated on passes is determined by adding together the points that result from traditional assists, points from passes leading to free throws and secondary assists (also known as hockey assists, as they involve passing to a player who then records an assist). Then, the number of bad-pass turnovers was subtracted.
That distinction is important, because there are plenty of different types of turnovers. Since we're only interested in passing, we're not concerned with ones that don't stem from bad passes.
Once the points generated off passes was determined—and adjusted to neutralize the effects of fast and slow paces, essentially leveling the playing field—it was either boosted or forced into a decline by the first component (passing impact). If a player increased his teammates' percentages by a certain amount, he increased his score correspondingly. Conversely, if he negatively impacted the percentages, that was reflected in his score as well.
Then, you have passer rating.
To see the exact formula, you can click here.
Though this article only ranks point guards, Kelly and I ran the metric for all 135 players in the NBA who played in at least 20 games last year and generated four or more assist opportunities per game. If you're in the mood for spoilers and would like to see how all 135 stacked up and correlated with their more traditional assists per game, you can do so here.
Do note that the strong correlation is a positive, as we're not trying to reinvent the wheel; just provide some nice finishing touches to it.
30-26: Calderon, Bledsoe, Knight, Augustin, Chalmers
30. Jose Calderon: 13.06 passer rating
Jose Calderon should fit in nicely with the triangle offense, but his opportunities to generate assists were a bit more limited on the Dallas Mavericks. Despite the high-scoring nature of the offense, the ball constantly spent time in the hands of ball-dominant players.
An elite shooter, Calderon struggled to positively impact his teammates. They shot only 2.6 percent better when working with one of his passes, and though he did a fantastic job of limiting bad-pass turnovers, he didn't have enough dime opportunities to move up the rankings.
29. Eric Bledsoe: 13.31
The biggest problem for Eric Bledsoe is turnovers. One key ratio used to analyze these players—even if it doesn't factor directly into the formula—is the one between points generated on passes and bad-pass turnovers. Bledsoe generated 564 points on assists and recorded 81 bad-pass turnovers, giving him a ratio of 6.96.
Among all players analyzed by this formula, Bledsoe ranked No. 98 in that ratio. Obviously, that's not going to get the job done, even if the dynamic scorer does tend to produce plenty of assist opportunities.
28. D.J. Augustin: 13.65
Talk about a turnaround for D.J. Augustin, who was awful in 10 games for the Toronto Raptors but managed to thrive during the rest of the season with the Chicago Bulls. In his first location, the point guard generated a passer rating of 2.9, which would have left him ranked dead last among the players analyzed. But in the latter, his passer rating of 15.41 would have moved him up another three spots.
This is a healthy medium for a player who looked at home in the Chicago offense. Then again, that was largely due to sheer involvement, as he turned the ball over quite often and didn't elevate his teammates' shooting percentages by a significant amount.
27. Brandon Knight: 13.73
Brandon Knight is another player with a lackluster ratio, and he—much like Bledsoe—is often unable to generate free-throw assists. However, he's more involved in the passing game for the Milwaukee Bucks, and his 1.3 secondary dimes per game are pretty impressive for a player in this section of the rankings.
Additionally, Knight's passes made his teammates better by a solid margin. When he was on the court, they shot 44.64 percent, but on his passes, that number rose to 49.49 percent.
26. Mario Chalmers: 13.91
Mario Chalmers was a nationwide punching bag with the Miami Heat last season, especially when he completely failed to show up in the 2014 NBA Finals. However, that doesn't mean he was an awful distributor, despite the Heat seldom giving him opportunities to run the offense.
With only 8.9 pace-adjusted assist opportunities per game, Chalmers pales in comparison to the rest of the players around him. But when it comes to having a positive impact on his teammates and minimizing his bad-pass turnovers, he stands out in a much better way.
25-21. Blake, Lillard, Burke, Felton, Thomas
25. Steve Blake: 14.89
Fifteen players who were traded in 2013-14 made the cutoff for these rankings, but only two actually worked their way into the top 30—D.J. Augustin and Steve Blake. Yes, that means the man who was dealt from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Golden State Warriors is the top-ranked traded player.
Unfortunately, Blake was not a good fit with the Dubs, as he struggled his way to a single-digit passer rating in a system that didn't work too well for him. That said, he flat-out thrived with the Lakers, earning a 20.0 passer rating that would have left him ranked No. 10 overall had he maintained that pace and stayed in one location throughout the year.
24. Damian Lillard: 15.1
Are we saying that Damian Lillard is not a top-20 point guard in the NBA? Absolutely not. He's just a score-first floor general who excels in that aspect of the game, even if he's failed to thrive as a distributor during his young career.
Lillard recorded only 11.8 pace-adjusted assist opportunities per game this past season, which is far fewer than you'd expect from a 1-guard who spends this much time with the ball in his hands. He also didn't record many secondary assists, and he often turned the ball over on bad passes, giving him a pretty uninspiring ratio between points generated and those crucial bad-pass turnovers.
23. Trey Burke: 15.5
While he was playing at Michigan, Trey Burke often reminded me of a poor man's version of Chris Paul. Well, that wasn't so readily apparent during his 2013-14 campaign with the Utah Jazz, though his knack for limiting bad-pass turnovers did aid the comparison rather significantly.
For a point guard, scoring prowess and passing ability can often go hand in hand, as the former demands so much attention from defenses, drawing them away from the teammates who help the player in question earn dimes. Such was the case for Burke, who struggled with his shot throughout the year and never found too many open teammates around him, even if he got them the ball in situations that led to contested shots.
22. Raymond Felton: 15.56
Make fun of him all you want, but don't look the other way when it comes to Raymond Felton's passing. Sure, the 2013-14 season was largely disastrous for the man who has since been traded from the New York Knicks to the Dallas Mavericks, but he still fared well in many passing categories.
For example, the Knicks—other than him, of course—shot 46.7 percent from the field when he was on the floor. But when receiving one of his passes in a situation that would lead to an assist if the shot were made, that percentage rose all the way up to 52.8, which is a huge jump for anyone, much less such an oft-criticized player on a dysfunctional team.
21. Isaiah Thomas: 15.59
If the Phoenix Suns get this past year's version of Isaiah Thomas, even if he doesn't develop any further, they'll have landed a remarkable steal, at least contractually speaking. While topping 20 points most nights, Thomas still managed to generate 13.1 pace-adjusted assists opportunities per game, which is the highest number we'll get until the No. 15 player is revealed.
Thomas' passes weren't always crisp, and he had a tough time raising the performance level of his teammates. He also struggled with passing turnovers, and the all-important ratio was pretty low throughout the season. However, his involvement just managed to trump everything else...for the most part, at least.
20. Tony Parker: 15.75 Passer Rating
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 11.87
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: Minus-1.27
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 15.95
I know this seems bizarre. Bear with me, because there's a simple explanation.
The San Antonio Spurs are greater than math.
Gregg Popovich's system is so good that virtually any player can serve as a primary distributor. The ball moves freely, depressing opportunities but also ensuring that the percentages remain just about as constant as humanly possible. When players are always taking the best shots that are available to them over the course of a possession, even the best distributors in the world are going to have a minimal impact on the percentages.
With Parker on the floor, the rest of San Antonio's roster shot 48.77 percent. But on his passes, that number actually dipped to 47.5 percent, making Parker, Deron Williams, Patrick Beverley, C.J. Watson and Kevin Martin the only five players of the 135 studied to have negative impacts on shooting.
Again, the San Antonio Spurs are greater than math.
Here's the crazy thing: Parker had an elite ratio between points generated on assists and bad-pass turnovers (No. 6 overall) and produced more pace-adjusted assist opportunities per game than all but 19 players in the Association.
He's clearly a great passer; he's just playing in a system that minimizes his individual impact while maximizing the success of the team.
Something tells me no one in the organization—Parker included—would have it any other way.
19. Goran Dragic: 15.98
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 11.96
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 2.16
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 15.64
What didn't Goran Dragic do well during the 2013-14 season?
He was an incredible scorer for the Phoenix Suns, submitting a truly remarkable combination of efficiency and shot-creating skills that made his season a historically excellent one. That hasn't received nearly as much attention as it should, which is a major part of the reason this particular guard has become the NBA's most underrated superstar.
Now, Dragic's passing wasn't as impressive as his scoring, but it was still quite solid.
Jeff Hornacek's system almost always involves letting a point guard run the show, and such was the case whenever Dragic was on the court. He might not have had too much impact on his teammates' field-goal percentage, but he sure generated a lot of points.
Thanks to the breakout star's ability to record secondary assists, send his teammates to the foul stripe by virtue of his passing and kick the rock out to an open shooter beyond the arc, he was a constant source of offense in the desert. Plus, only having 101 bad-pass turnovers is impressive when considering how many games he played and how involved he was in the offensive flow.
18. Kyrie Irving: 16.06
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 11.81
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 8.0
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 14.87
Something tells me that Kyrie Irving is going to look even better during the 2014-15 season.
In addition to age- and experience-related improvement, he'll be joined by LeBron James and Kevin Love, two players who are more capable of turning his passes into assists than any incumbent player on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster. He might not control the ball as often, but he'll be able to do more with it when he does have possession.
Irving gets a lot of credit for his scoring and his fantastic ball-handling skills, but perhaps it's time to praise him a bit more for the quality of his passes. They may not be as flashy as Ricky Rubio's or as consistent as Chris Paul's, and he certainly has his fair share of bad-pass turnovers, but he does tend to hit his teammates in the right spots.
When this particular No. 1 pick was on the court (if there's any team with which you have to be specific about No. 1 selections, it's this one), Irving's teammates shot 44.14 percent from the field. But after receiving a pass from him, they shot an incredible 52.14 percent.
That's impact right there.
In fact, we also looked at passing impact as a branch-off statistic, multiplying field-goal percentage impact by pace-adjusted assist opportunities in order to derive it and show how much impact a player made on his teammates with his passing. Irving's score of 94.44 trailed only Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Kendall Marshall, Kyle Lowry, Joakim Noah (yes, that Joakim Noah) and Rajon Rondo among all qualified players.
17. Michael Carter-Williams: 16.12
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 11.74
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 5.91
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 15.22
Congratulations, Michael Carter-Williams.
In addition to winning Rookie of the Year for his work with the Philadelphia 76ers, the first-year player out of Syracuse also managed to beat out plenty of notable names in these rankings, including Kyrie Irving, Goran Dragic and Tony Parker. While he wasn't a particularly valuable scorer and often struggled with his efficiency, Carter-Williams thrived as a distributor in this uptempo system.
Though the pace adjustments hurt his passer rating, the big point guard still made a significant impact on his teammates' shooting and was the impetus behind most scoring plays when he was on the court. His secondary assists (1.5 per game) are right near the top of the leaderboard, for example.
In order to improve as a sophomore, Carter-Williams has to cut back on the bad-pass turnovers.
He recorded 144 as a rookie 1-guard, and that's far too high a number for a player with only 70 games under his belt. Only seven players recorded more per game, and each of them generated more points off assists, making the biggest problem on this young floor general's resume quite obvious.
Before moving on to No. 16, it's also worth noting that the highest non-point guard in the rankings would place just ahead of Carter-Williams. Due to his position, LeBron James doesn't qualify for this article, but his passer rating of 17.34 is still impressive enough to warrant an offhand mention. No other non-guard finished higher than 14.38 (Joakim Noah).
16. Kemba Walker: 17.39
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 12.4
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 3.89
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 16.74
If the Charlotte Bobcats had scored just one more basket off an assist from Kemba Walker, he would have broken into one-comma land on the season. As it stands, he generated "only" 998 points off assists, preventing him from becoming the 19th player to join the four-digit club.
Walker was still quite good as a distributor, helping out his lackluster offensive teammates with properly timed passes when he wasn't focusing on his scoring game. Of course, his numbers would look even better if entry passes to Al Jefferson resulted in dimes, as the big man often took his time when operating with his back to the basket.
One of the most impressive facets to Walker's passing, even if it never gets discussed, was his innate ability to minimize turnovers off bad feeds. He coughed it up in that manner only 1.2 times per game, fewer than all but Tony Parker and Mike Conley among the players with top-20 passer ratings.
Now that the Hornets are upgrading their offense, Walker could reap the benefits rather significantly if he keeps up this style of play.
15. Jameer Nelson: 17.81
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 14.45
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 2.25
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 17.41
Should Jameer Nelson still be a starting point guard in the NBA? That's debatable, though he could easily earn that job for the Dallas Mavericks after signing with the offensive powerhouse during the offseason.
Nelson was simply the primary source of offense on a bad Orlando Magic team this past campaign, so a new team could mean big opportunity. He produced 14.5 assist opportunities per game, more than any player outside the top 10.
Why? Not necessarily because he was a great passer, but because someone had to create chances for the Magic, and Nelson was simply the best option. So take his rating with a grain of salt, as he likely won't come close to reproducing these numbers in Dallas.
Fortunately, Nelson does have a bit working in his favor all the same. Take his ratio between points generated by assists and bad-pass turnovers, which stands at a more-than-solid 11.09.
The veteran isn't much of a shot-creating stud anymore, but rather, a player who can make the most of the role he's given and avoid making too many mistakes. There's value in that, after all.
14. Jeff Teague: 18.08
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 13.61
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 2.74
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 17.6
"He understands that there is going to be a real emphasis on him [this season], on us playing with pace, us playing a lot of pick-and-roll with the ball in his hands," Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said about Jeff Teague early on in the season, per Grantland's Brett Koremenos. "To a certain degree, what he does and where he goes triggers a lot of the offense."
The Hawks were better than any team in the NBA at using assists to create buckets, and Teague was the driving force in that regard. He didn't make his teammates too much better—in many ways, that makes the case for him as Atlanta's Tony Parker even stronger, given the similarity of the systems—but he was always remarkably involved.
Not only did Teague produce a large number of pace-adjusted assist opportunities per game, but his secondary dimes were even more elite. In fact, only Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Parker, Chris Paul, Kemba Walker, John Wall, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams topped him in that category, putting him right in the mix with the elites.
Cutting back on the turnovers would be advantageous, but it's not as though Teague really struggled in that area either.
13. Mike Conley: 18.09
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 12.33
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 4.09
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 17.4
Remember how Mike Conley was part of the group who had more secondary assists per game than Jeff Teague? Well, he's actually one of the leaders in that club.
Conley generated two hockey assists during the average contest, leaving him behind only Chris Paul on that leaderboard. The Memphis Grizzlies constantly ran their offense through him, and he was quite adept at making a pass that led to another distribution and an easy shooting opportunity, though that often came from within the three-point arc.
Really, the only area in which he needs significant improvement is when it comes to generating points off his passes. Some of that blame goes to the shooting-deficient Grizzlies, though Conley could also stand to become even more of an offense hub in David Joerger's Memphis machine.
He generated 17.4 pace-adjusted points per game off his passes, which trailed every other member of the top 15 in these rankings. The efficiency is there, as is the system play and the knack for making his teammates better.
But until Conley is more involved, he won't be able to break into the top 10.
12. Deron Williams: 18.2
- Jason Kidd's system was ridiculously good during his rookie year.
- Williams just isn't very good at passing.
- The Nets had a healthy mix of good passers and players who could create their own shots.
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 13.05
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: Minus-0.41
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 18.28
Here's another interesting situation.
Deron Williams' teammates on the Brooklyn Nets shot worse after receiving one of his passes than they did without finding themselves in such a spot. With the point guard on the court, the rest of the Nets hit at a 48.44 percent clip. But on his assist opportunities, that number dropped slightly to 48.03.
That might not seem like a big difference, and it's not. But when everyone around Williams in the rankings is helping out his teammates rather significantly, it carries a whole lot more weight.
So, why did this happen?
There are three possible answers:
Given Kidd's inexperience, I'm not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, like we do with Gregg Popovich for Tony Parker. And with Williams' history as an elite passer, I'm also not willing to view that second choice as a reasonable solution.
The third option actually makes sense. Guys like Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce thrive with the ball in their hands, while there are plenty of capable passers on the roster. Plus, Kidd's late-season adjustment had the team posting up their big guards, sending their bigs away from the basket and running a lot of isolation sets, including some for Shaun Livingston.
Perhaps Williams shouldn't send any Christmas cards to his teammates this year. Most of them have enough money to buy their own anyway.
11. Russell Westbrook: 18.24
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 12.61
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 3.73
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 17.59
This probably won't shock you, but Russell Westbrook's biggest weakness is his overaggressiveness and occasional carelessness with the ball in his hands.
When he wasn't injured during the 2013-14 campaign, the dynamic floor general averaged 2.2 turnovers per game off bad passes, more than everyone who qualified for these rankings except Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson. Additionally, his ratio between points generated off assists and bad-pass turnovers (7.19) was better than only Michael Carter-Williams' among players featured in this article.
There's clearly room for improvement there, but there's also plenty of good on the resume.
Aided by Kevin Durant's talent for getting to the free-throw line, plenty of Westbrook's passes led to trips to the charity stripe. He also made his teammates shoot better off his assist opportunities than they did without them, even though Durant takes plenty of looks and is remarkably good at creating for himself.
With Westbrook, you always have to take the bad with the good. And in this area, much like most others, the good outweighs the bad by a huge margin.
10. Brandon Jennings: 19.46
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 14.85
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 3.45
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 18.81
Was Brandon Jennings a valuable scorer during his first season with the Detroit Pistons? His 37.3 percent shooting from the field would like to dispute any positive answers from the peanut gallery.
However, his poor shooting and scoring numbers have managed to massively overshadow what was actually a campaign filled with great success as a passer. Basketball-Reference.com shows that Jennings was one of only nine players this past season who recorded at least 7.5 assists per game and had an assist percentage on the right side of 34.
Interestingly enough, the other eight have yet to appear in this countdown. Take from that what you will.
During the 2013-14 season, Jennings earned more pace-adjusted assist opportunities per game than all but six players in the Association, each of whom ranks above him. Simultaneously, he did a solid—but by no means elite—job of minimizing his bad-pass turnovers.
The southpaw turned over the rock 1.6 times per contest on ill-advised feeds, which isn't a huge negative but also leaves some room for improvement going forward.
9. Jrue Holiday: 20.28
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 14.57
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 8.26
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 18.74
Jrue Holiday played in only 34 games during the 2013-14 campaign, succumbing to injuries throughout the year rather than suiting up for the New Orleans Pelicans on a regular basis. He doesn't qualify for the rankings by a particularly wide margin, but he qualifies nonetheless.
During those 34 games, Holiday's teammates shot 46.99 percent when he was on the court. But on his assist opportunities, that percentage rose all the way to 55.25, which is an absolutely insane figure. He was masterful at putting the ball in the right spots and finding open teammates out of the corner off his eye.
Remember that passing impact statistic, as described on Kyrie Irving's slide?
Holiday's mark there was a scorching 120.3, leaving him trailing only Rajon Rondo throughout the entire NBA. Though it's unknown whether or not he could have maintained that figure throughout an entire season, he did over the course of 34 games, and that bodes well for NOLA's hopes in 2014-15.
If he can get more involved in the offense—ideally by recording more than 0.7 secondary assists per game, as that implies stagnant offense except for one-pass plays—he'll reassert himself as one of the league's elite floor generals, a status he earned during his final season with the Philadelphia 76ers.
8. Kyle Lowry: 20.69
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 14.53
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 6.94
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 19.34
Let's look at passing impact once more.
Of every player in the Association who qualified for the rankings, only five managed a passing impact in triple digits—Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry, Kendall Marshall, Joakim Noah and Rajon Rondo. Stephen Curry was a fraction of a point away (literally 0.051 shy), but the club stands firm with only five members.
That's a pretty powerful testament to Lowry's impact on the resurgent Toronto Raptors, who thrived after Rudy Gay was traded to the Sacramento Kings and the ball was put into the hands of this particular floor general with increasing frequency.
As Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote 10 games after the Gay trade, "At the time of the trade, Gay was poisoning Toronto with a toxic and nearly unprecedented combination of volume shooting and bricklaying. Almost any team would get better by excising a player hogging possessions at Iversonian levels and shooting 38 percent."
No one could have predicted just how valuable Lowry would become. After all, this is a guy who played better defense, averaged 17.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in fairly efficient fashion and still managed to emerge as a top-10 passer in the NBA.
He deserves his new contract (four years, $48 million) and then some.
7. Stephen Curry: 21.31
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 15.14
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 6.6
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 19.99
Stephen Curry rose to such prominence because he's the best shooter in the world, offering a remarkable—and historically unmatched—combination of volume, efficiency and shot-creating ability from beyond the arc. However, that's not the only impressive facet of his game.
The Golden State Warriors point guard is an aggressive passer from all areas of the court, and he does a fantastic job of setting up his teammates night in and night out. His one-handed hurls off the dribble are particularly potent, even if they're often risky endeavors.
And risk is the only big knock against Curry's offensive arsenal.
He's a remarkably turnover-prone player, and he'll have trouble continuing his assault on NBA player leaderboards if he's unable to display better care for the ball.
In 2013-14, Curry averaged 2.5 bad-pass turnovers per game, more than any other player in the NBA. And while he generated more points off assists than all but two players throughout the league, the turnovers still ensured he had one of the worst ratios between points generated and bad-pass cough-ups of any featured player in these rankings.
The aggressiveness is part of what makes him special, but it can also hold him back on occasion.
6. Kendall Marshall: 21.42
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 14.85
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 8.52
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 19.74
Kendall Marshall might not be talented enough as a scorer and defender to function as a high-upside starting point guard, but the former North Carolina standout is still one of the very best passers in the NBA. After failing to do much during his rookie season with the Phoenix Suns, the lefty proved his worth when the Los Angeles Lakers, largely due to a lack of options, finally gave him a chance to thrive.
Thrive he did.
Marshall wasn't exactly surrounded by talented teammates, as last year's Lakers squad was devoid of high-end offensive players, but he still managed to have a huge impact. On his passes, the Lake Show actually shot 56.41 percent, which is an absolutely ridiculous figure.
I mean, LAL as a whole knocked down 45 percent of its looks, and that number only rose to 46.8 percent when Marshall was on the floor, per NBA.com's statistical databases. How impressive does 56.41 percent seem now?
Marshall is by no means a top-10 point guard. But when it comes to passing, he qualifies as such with plenty of room to spare.
5. Ty Lawson: 21.63
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 17.33
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 2.21
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 21.17
Any fears about Ty Lawson taking on too many ball-handling responsibilities after Andre Iguodala departed the Mile High City were assuaged by his play throughout the 2013-14 season. Health was a problem for the speedy point guard, but passing most certainly wasn't.
Even after adjusting to account for the Denver Nuggets' remarkably quick pace, Lawson still recorded as many assist opportunities per game as anyone but Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and John Wall. He figured out how to use his quickness in more than straight-line bursts, and that allowed him to keep his head up, his eyes peeled and his mind constantly searching for the best shot, whether it would be taken by him or a different member of the Nuggets.
Lawson's passes could still get crisper, as he sometimes hit his teammates outside their bodies and forced them to adjust before lofting up shots, which takes away precious time and allows defenders to close out and provide stronger contests. However, he's putting the ball into the right places, even if he's yet to become as precise as a few other point guards in the NBA.
If he can adjust in that sense, as well as take more care of the ball when he's distributing it around the Pepsi Center, he'll assert himself as one of the league's elite 1-guards. After all, he's already fairly close to earning such a status even without those improvements.
4. Ricky Rubio: 22.33
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 16.51
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 2.96
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 21.69
For Ricky Rubio, flashiness and production don't have to be mutually exclusive concepts.
The Spaniard has developed quite a knack for flair, between his through-the-leg passes, no-look dimes, one-handed bullets and distributions that utilize some serious English, but he's also one of the most effective passers the NBA has to offer. Even while turning the ball over a bit too often, he ranks as an elite player by passer rating.
After accounting for the quick pace the Minnesota Timberwolves employed last season, Rubio still comes in at 16.51 assist opportunities per game, a mark that leaves him just inside the top five in that category. But when you factor in his free-throw assists (1.3 per game, No. 1 among all players) and secondary dimes (2.0 per game, No. 2 among all players), he looks even better.
The flashiness does prevent him from always hitting his target between the numbers or perfectly in stride, and cutting back on some of that highlight-producing desire would serve him and his teammates well. So too would showing a little more care for the ball.
Rubio's development since coming across the pond has been slow. He struggles immensely as a scorer and is still more of a steal-generating gambler than a quality defender.
However, there's no denying that his passing is as good as advertised.
3. John Wall: 23.94
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 17.34
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 4.32
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 22.95
John Wall's ability to find open perimeter players is absolutely ridiculous.
Even when he's blazing by defenders and leaving them gasping for breath in his wake, he's able to keep his head up and scan the court to find players in advantageous spots. If he can score for himself, he'll do so, but Wall has also developed into a true master of finding corner-three opportunities for his teammates.
That said, the Washington Wizards 1-guard isn't quite in the top tier, which is occupied by only two players. And honestly, it would be perfectly fine if you wanted to put Wall in the third tier, allowing each of the top two players to occupy their own, as there's a rather large gap between each of the remaining point guards.
Why isn't Wall up in that group? Because he can be careless with the ball far too often.
The Kentucky product recorded 178 bad-pass turnovers throughout the 2013-14 season, three more than Ricky Rubio and the rest of the field, save one player. In fact, Wall, Rubio, Stephen Curry (193) and LeBron James (152) were the only players in the Association on the wrong side of 150 last season, which both reflects ball domination and a bit too much aggressiveness with the passing chops.
2. Rajon Rondo: 25.9
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 20.04
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 6.6
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 24.3
Rajon Rondo might need Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen on the court to help him win games, but he proved rather easily that he doesn't need a Big Three in order to assert himself as an elite passing point guard.
Despite the distinct lack of offensive talent around him and the fact that he was coming off an ACL tear that prevented him from gaining preseason chemistry, Rondo still racked up the dimes like a tollbooth as soon as he stepped onto the court for the Boston Celtics.
There's really no area in which he fails to excel, as he generates plenty of assists, records secondary assists, hits open players beyond the arc, increases his teammates' shooting percentages and does a nice job of minimizing passing turnovers. The only thing keeping him from earning that No. 1 spot is the uber-important ratio between points generated on passes and bad-pass turnovers.
Rondo's mark of 10.4 is good but not great. In fact, he ranks No. 30 in that category, which makes it rather difficult for him to close the large gap with last player in our rankings.
1. Chris Paul: 28.63
Pace-Adjusted Assist Opportunities Per Game: 19.4
Field-Goal Percentage Impact: 4.33
Pace-Adjusted Passing Points Generated Per Game: 27.44
Point guard? More like point god.
Chris Paul deserves all the credit he gets, and then a little bit extra, as he remains an elite defensive floor general with terrific scoring instincts while also earning the top spot in a set of rankings geared only toward passing. It's hard to imagine a better floor general, and it's largely because he thinks about each and every step, hesitation dribble, eye fake and subtle movement on the court.
When Paul was on the court, the Los Angeles Clippers—other than him—shot an undeniably impressive 49.7 percent from the field. Among the 135 players we looked at, only eight had their teammates shoot at a higher clip, but this point guard god still elevated the Clippers' percentages by 4.3 percent when hitting them with a pass.
Additionally, thanks to his ridiculous knack for minimizing bad-pass turnovers, Paul had the No. 1 mark among point guards in that ratio we've discussed so many times by a huge margin. Only coughing it up on a bad feed 1.5 times per contest, his ratio was a stellar 16.08. Josh McRoberts did manage to finish above him, but no other floor general came within three points.
That, combined with a pace-adjusted assist opportunities mark that trailed only Rajon Rondo, gave him the top overall passer rating with room to spare.
The NBA world is chasing Paul for at least one more year.