Assists around college basketball

When we look at assists, we tend to look at them in one way; we look at which players are credited with the most assists.  For example, Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse leads Division I with 147 assists, while Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper currently leads the nation in assist rate, assisting on 53 percent of his teammate’s baskets while on the floor.  But there is a lot more to assists than just this.  Assists give us insight on how the game is played.  They can also tell us about players who are good at creating their own shots, and about players who need a little extra help earning their points.

Across Division I basketball, 47 percent of made baskets at the rim are assisted.  Only 37 percent of scores on two point jump shots are assisted, while nearly 85 percent of three point baskets come off of assists.  The comparison between two point jump shots and three point shots is interesting.  It tells us that a large fraction of mid-range shots come off the dribble, while nearly all made threes come in catch-and-shoot situations.  40 percent of all assists in college basketball result in made three point shots, so it is no surprise that D.J. Cooper’s assist rate is so high. 43 percent of Ohio attempts come from long range, which is the fourteenth highest three point shooting rate in the nation.  It should be pointed out that there are some exceptions to the rule that nearly all threes come off of assists; just under half of SWAC doormat Jackson State’s three pointers have been assisted so far this year.

Because so many assists are on three point shots, the players that most commonly benefit from assists are three point shooting specialists.  One example is Brian Neller of the University of Maryland Baltimore County.  86 percent of the 6-4 senior’s points have been assisted so far this season, which is the highest percentage for all players in the hoop-math database with more than 100 shots recorded.  79 percent of Neller’s attempts have been from long range, and he has only attempted four free throws this season.  VCU sharpshooter Troy Daniels is another player who lives off of assists.  The 44 percent three point shooter has been assisted by teammates on 85 percent of his points.

Not all players who have received the benefit of assists are long range gunners.  Some are like 6-9 senior Ivo Baltic.  Baltic is one of Cooper’s teammates at Ohio.  86 percent of Baltic’s points have been assisted.  61 percent of Baltic’s shots are logged as two point jump shots, and 85 percent of his made shots from this range are assisted.  25 percent of Baltic’s attempts have been at the rim, and 91 percent of which have been assisted.  Cooper’s high assist rate isn’t just coming from setting teammates up from long range; he has also found Baltic in catch-and-shoot situations inside the arc, as well as under the basket for easy scores.

At the other end of the spectrum are players who get their points without the benefit of assists.  These players generally play with the ball in their hands, attack the basket, and get to the free throw line.  Jarvis Threatt of Delaware leads the pack, with only 6 percent of his points coming off of assists.  Threatt takes the ball to the rack, with 39 percent of his shots coming there, but amazingly he has only connected on 37 percent of these shots in close.  This staggeringly low shooting percentage on layups is part of the reason Threatt only has an offensive rating of 88, per

Indiana State guard Jake Odum is having a remarkable year.  Only 8 percent of his points are assisted.  The junior from Terre Haute lives at the free throw line, attempting nearly one free throw for every field goal attempt, which is one of the highest rates in the nation.  He relentlessly attacks the rim, getting 37 percent of his shots there, and connecting on 54 percent of these baskets.  Additionally, 46 percent of his shots are two point jump shots, and he has hit these 43 percent of the time, which is a fairly high shooting percentage from mid-range.  Odum's 112 offensive rating underestimates his value to his team, as he is creating high efficiency offense for himself with virtually no help.

The final list we will look at is the list of players who like to jack up unassisted three point shots.  Only 37 percent of Western Kentucky guard Brandon Harris’ three point baskets have been assisted this year, which is the lowest rate of any player with more than 20 made threes logged in the database, and his 28 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc leaves something to be desired.  Lead guards Phil Pressey of Missouri and Isaiah Canaan of Murray State have both been assisted on only 41 percent of their made three point shots.  Unlike Harris, both Pressey and Canaan are shooting well from beyond the arc. 

Assists help us create a quick snapshot of players.  Studying how frequently a player is assisted allows us to quantitatively sort players into categories based on their role in an offense.  It can also provide context for interpreting more traditional tempo-free statistics.