# The Guide to Ball Stopping

Click for a full-sized interactive version.

Last week was interesting. I heard so much about these balls being stopped and those balls being sticky that I thought I was writing for an adult website. Dirty jokes aside, the basketball version of balls that are stopped, and which may or may not be sticky, is a topic worth exploring because most people generally agree that stopped balls are not good. The hard part is actually identifying data that captures who makes balls stick. Just in our forums alone people batted around ideas and exceptions to ideas. What I do in this post is create a compilation of different measures that collectively identify which players make balls stop the most.

Measures

Measure 1: Usage rate. I feel like usage rate is a somewhat misunderstood statistic, maybe just due to its name. A more accurate and longer description is how many possessions end with a certain player while that player is on the floor. Ending a possession means a shot, foul shots, or a turnover. So if player X has a 25% usage rate, that means 25% of all possessions end with player X while he is playing.  The disadvantage of usage rate for our purposes is that it doesn’t capture everything else that happens before the possession ends. Also, a turnover might be a result of a ball moving play, like if the player was trying to pass the ball.

Measure 2: Touches per pass. I developed this for my selfishness posts. It’s exactly what it sounds like, number of touches divided by number of passes. It’s better than usage rate at capturing what happens before a possession ends, since its unit of analysis is each touch instead of each possession. What it does not do, however, is capture what player X is doing while he’s touching it, or for how long he touches it.

Measure 3: Seconds per touch. Henry Abbott was really interested in how long players hold the ball while they’re touching it. Passing it immediately, he said, is different from holding it, jab stepping, and letting the play die. So I developed this statistic to measure how long someone holds the ball every time they touch it. It’s simple, just seconds of possession per game divided by touches per game.

Measure 4: Outside touches %. In the forums, someone also mentioned that touching and holding the ball close to the basket is different than touching and holding it far from the basket. After all, if you’re five feet away from the basket, you should touch the ball because you have a better chance of scoring. I created this statistic to measure what percentage of a player’s touches originate far away from the basket, defined as not in the paint and not at the elbow.

The Table

The table above shows values for all players who played at least 35 games and at least 22 minutes per game. Each player is also ranked in each statistic. The final column is a rank of ranks. Basically, each of the players ranked is added and that number is then ranked in this column. Assuming that each statistic has equal “ball stopping power,” then whoever has the highest overall rank stops the ball the most.

Note that the data for touches per pass are from my last selfishness post, for which I collected data in late January. Moreover, due to a few players who were in the touches per pass data and not in the more recent data, or vice versa, there may be some slight inconsistencies in the ranks. Some players who switched teams also have very small sample sizes. All these cases were removed.

Observations

I despise that NBA.com’s data does not identify player position. It’s especially crappy in analysis such as this one, in which one position (point guards) are heavily biased. As one would expect, point guards have and hold onto the ball the most, and tend to start far away from the basket, like in the back court. Not much they can do about that. So we can compare point guards to each other, but it’s hard to compare other positions to them.

No surprise that James Harden is the most ball stopping Rocket. It is a little surprising just how high he ranks compared to everyone else, including point guards. In fact, he’s fourth overall, ahead of players like John Wall and Brandon Jennings. Maybe Henry Abbott (and Chandler Parsons) was onto something.

Discuss.

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Total comments: 11
• thejohnnygold says 5 months ago

It's tricky. They know he is looking to drive. They know that cutting to the rim could foul up Harden's path. They know Harden needs outlets on the perimeter to pass to if he gets cut off. It's a bit of a catch-22. To move or not to move....

I would like to see them incorporate a cut or two from the wings early in the possession once Harden gets the ball up top. That movement could open up a lane, or create a "legal" moving screen, or just be a great cut and Harden hits them with a pass on the way to the rim. They would have to practice this and get a feel for the timing, but I think it would not only help with stagnation, but should also help Harden get better paths to the rim. If nothing else, it will help keep the defense honest.

• txtdo1411 says 5 months ago

Not to defend Harden particularly, but one aspect of a sticky ball happens when the entire team stops moving and becomes a spectator to the man handling the ball. Obviously, if the entire team stops moving, the ball is stuck... Harden is a willing passer when anyone bothers to cut to the basket, or run the baseline. He can make stellar passes if players and coaches work the plays effectively.

This. I don't know if everyone stops moving because they think Harden is going to iso, or if Harden isos because everyone stops moving... Either way our movement as a whole sucks when the ball gets sticky.

• thejohnnygold says 5 months ago

Here, check out this article correlating three point shooting %'s with assists. It was written after the 2011-2012 season, but the principles are the same. After reading it, consider our team and how it is functioning. It all makes sense :) .

• thejohnnygold says 5 months ago

No wonder Jeremy Lin has to come off the bench, he doesn't have a prayer prying the ball away from James Harden's hands. The beard calls the Rockets his own team, so why are we shocked he holds the ball whenever and for however long he wants and McHale does absolutely nothing about it.

This statement has merit...until you remember that the other 4 starters around Harden are all able to prosper....and also remember that Harden and Lin share the floor quite a bit--successfully, no less.

Let's see...(numbers are rounded)

Dwight Howard: 19 pts 13 rebs on 58% shooting

Chandler Parsons: 17 pts 6 reb 4 ast on 50% shooting

Terrence Jones: 12 pts 7 reb on 52% shooting

Patrick Beverley: 10 pts 4 rebs 3 asts on 40% shooting (more than half the shots he takes are from 3 pt range so his % will be lower than one might expect)

Jeremy Lin: 13 pts 3 rebs 5 asts on 47% shooting (1/3 of his shots are from downtown)

I see 5 guys averaging double figures around James Harden. Technically, Bev is at 9.6 pts, but it's close enough.

Harden posts 24 pts 5 reb and 5 ast on 45% shooting (about 40% of his shots are from 3. He shoots 52% inside the arc)

We take the 28th fewest shots in the league while scoring the 3rd highest number of points per game. (Let that one sink in while picturing Morey sipping on some single malt, holding a cigar, grinning from ear to ear) Our team fg% is 4th in the league. Our 2pt fg% is 2nd in the league (our 3 pt. shooting has been dreadful--as everyone knows)

Don't get me wrong--I am a firm believer in the power of passing and ball movement. I just don't think Harden is the burden, or black hole, that some want to make him out to be. I don't think that was the intent of this study by any means.

Is there room for improvement? You betcha! Is this a HUGE problem? Nope--not at all.

Remember, Harden, for all intents and purposes, is our main PG. He holds the ball more because he is reading the defense. He dribbles out shot clocks at the end of every quarter. Again, I agree that his ball movement can improve and would would improve our offense to a certain degree. As bob mentioned above, at times the entire team stalls out.

Basically, this isn't a Jeremy Lin Problem. Let's try to not make it one. James, Dwight, and Jeremy hold the 3 highest usg%'s on the team for our main players (27, 24, and 20 respectively).

Our team, on the whole, could marginally improve on offense with better ball movement. We are already quite good though so we need to have realistic expectations of how much better it can get. I think where it would matter most is against elite defensive teams that can shut down iso penetration. We'll get there. It's all part of the process.

I think an interesting next step from this study would be to take points scored plus points generated via assist and divide that by total time holding the ball to get an idea of points generated/sec. The idea being that holding, or not holding, the ball may not necessarily be a bad thing. I guess you could also invert it to get a seconds held/point scored ratio.

In that kind of study, guys like Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson (3 point bombers) and D'Andre Jordan (dunkers) would have crazy good numbers. It would require a subjective knowledge of the players to know how to interpret those findings--I still think they would be very interesting.

• bob schmidt says 5 months ago

Not to defend Harden particularly, but one aspect of a sticky ball happens when the entire team stops moving and becomes a spectator to the man handling the ball. Obviously, if the entire team stops moving, the ball is stuck... Harden is a willing passer when anyone bothers to cut to the basket, or run the baseline. He can make stellar passes if players and coaches work the plays effectively.

• goRockets says 5 months ago

No wonder Jeremy Lin has to come off the bench, he doesn't have a prayer prying the ball away from James Harden's hands. The beard calls the Rockets his own team, so why are we shocked he holds the ball whenever and for however long he wants and McHale does absolutely nothing about it.

• shirtless says 5 months ago

Melo is 20th, which isn't exactly low. He gets bailed out somewhat, like a lot of other players, by virtue of not being a point guard. By being a bigger player, he also tends to touch the ball closer to the basket, unlike smaller guards and wings.

• TeamBall says 5 months ago

I am surprised Melo is not up on your chart. Love LBJ, he is a team player.

• metaman says 5 months ago

Really impressed by this kind of number crunching. Insightful.

Harden is a great scorer, but his downside is significant: less movement and flow, less possessions, less overall team scoring, less defense. If the NBA decides to stop giving Harden his calls, Houston is in trouble. Love the guy, but he's no LeBron.

• Charles B says 5 months ago

Now include the pace of each player into your table. You will see how sticky the ball really get.

• NorEastern says 5 months ago

Wow. Excellent and insightful work.

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