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Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland invented a new basketball statistic called the “Kobe Assist” today, and it’s pretty fascinating.Basically, a player gets a “Kobe assist” when he misses a shot that leads to an immediate rebound and basket from one of his teammates.
For example: Carmelo Anthony misses a jump shot, Tyson Chandler grabs the rebound and lays it in. Carmelo gets a Kobe assist.
The theory behind the statistic that that all misses are not created equal. Basketball is a team game, and depending on where a player shoots from, where his teammates are positioned, and how early in the possession he shoots, his shot has a better or worse chance of resulting in an offensive rebound and, subsequently, an easy put-back.
Goldsberry has been tracking Kobe assists for the last two seasons, and guess who leads the league? Kobe!
He found that the Lakers retained possession on 50% of Kobe’s misses this year, which is far greater than the league average of 32%.
And when Kobe is close to the basket, he’s even more effective than we realised. According to Goldsberry, Kobe makes 59% of his close-range shots — a decent percentage. But a massive 14% of his shots from close range result in Kobe assists (in the form of putbacks from Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and co.)
So, in practice, 73% of Kobe’s shots from close range ultimately end up in the basket.
The point: Kobe’s misses are exceptionally effective, and traditional stats don’t begin to capture that fact.
There are certainly some problems with this stat:
Causation. The stat assumes that the shooter is responsible for whether or not his shot gets rebounded by his teammates. While Goldsberry is right to say that where a player takes his shots and how early in the shot clock he takes them affect the likelihood of an offensive rebound, there are clearly other factors that go into it.
The three leader leaders in Kobe assists (Carmelo Anthony, Dion Waiters, Kobe Bryant) all play with dominant rebounders (Tyson Chandler, Anderson Varejao, and Dwight Howard, respectively). Some of the credit for offensive rebounds has to go to the rebounder, right?
Positional bias. We haven’t dug into the numbers, but logic suggests that guards and wings are way more likely to earn “Kobe assists” than post players.
If a guard takes a close-range shot, he’ll typically have two teammates near the rim with a chance to grab the rebound, put it back, and earn that player a Kobe assist.
But if a centre takes a close-range shot, he is taken out of the equation as a principle offensive rebounder, and there’s only one big-man there with a chance to grab the board.
So, yeah, the “Kobe assist” isn’t perfect. But it’s still really fascinating as a way to see which players have more “good misses” than others.