The Kobe Assist: Deleted Scenes

The Kobe Assist: Deleted Scenes

Dec 10

The Kobe Assist: Deleted Scenes (part I)

I have been blown away by the reaction to the Kobe Assist article on Grantland. It goes to show that there are a ton of basketball fans out there, and that many of them are reading Grantland, which in my biased opinion is putting some great NBA content out every day.

I am really happy that (most) people appreciated the piece and seemed to take away something interesting from it. I have received so many questions and comments on email and twitter that I could not possibly answer them all, but I did want to follow-up some of them, and add some more numerical details to the story.

Before I do that, many have noticed that the piece was more “philosophical” than my normal stuff, which is exactly right. There are very rigorous analytics behind the story, that will come to light in a few months at the Sloan Conference. I appreciate your patience. I hope to see many of you there. Feel free to skewer my soft science in the mean time.

Also, I believe Kobe Assists are fascinating, and an important component to offensive basketball. I do not believe they will revolutionize basketball analytics. As I explain in the piece, I do believe they expose – albeit in an admittedly silly way – a critical limitation of basketball metrics. We chop up the game too much. I also want to clarify something about “crediting” the jump shooter for the Kobe Assist. In no way do I believe that people miss shots on purpose in a way that create second chance points. I do however absolutely believe that teams are units, and good schemes that align shot timing, shot locations, and rebounding positioning can increase second chance points. Exhibit A this season is Felton and Chandler in New York. Many astute Knicks fans pointed this out, and the numbers back it up. Despite being nowhere near the top of the shot attempts rankings, Felton is in the top 5 this year in Kobe Assists. It’s clear that Felton knows a missed runner when Tyson is lurking is not a bad miss at all. The same goes for Melo down low. Somebody ask them!

My main point is that functional basketball ecosystems create additional opportunities. I’m not taking anything away from players like Dwight or Varejao who deserve massive credit for their awesome rebounding work down low. I’m only suggesting we think a little harder about how and why second chance points occur, and how schemes can align with dominant rebounders.

1. If you’re interested in general findings:
32% of missed shots are rebounded by the offense in the NBA. But this statistic depends heavily on shot location.


11% of missed shots turn into Kobe Assists. This also depends heavily on shot location.

Close range shots beget Kobe Assists about 2X as frequently as 3-point shots.

Last season there were 9,522 Kobe Assists league wide. Kobe Bryant and DeMarcus Cousins led the league with 92 each.
Here’s your top 10:

Kobe Bryant 92
DeMarcus Cousins 92 –  50 of them were self-assists (Cousin-Assists?)!
Kevin Durant 87
Brandon Jennings 79
Danny Granger 75
Carmelo Anthony 72
Antawn Jamison 71
Russ Westbrook 71
Kevin Love 70
John Wall 67
Rudy Gay 67

2. Some people really hate Kobe Bryant

A bunch of readers seem to hate that I called this the “Kobe” Assist. I can see that. Most of these complaints came from people who just hate Kobe, but the more valid complaints came from people who suggested that it should be called the Iverson assist. I can’t say that I disagree, however it’s 2012, and regardless of the fact the Iverson may be the all-time leader in Kobe Assists, and I love AI, I’m sticking with the Kobe Assist. Regardless, as a sign of respect to Iverson and the astute fans that picked up on this, Iverson Assist is definitely a worthy synonym.

I loved this email from Arden from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, an avid Bucks fan with a painfully photographic memory of the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals:

As a Bucks fan, the value of a then-unknown Kobe assist was overwhelmingly evident in the 2001 eastern conference finals. Allen Iverson hurt the Bucks with his scoring, but the 76ers murdered them with their Kobe assists. AI got to the rim seemingly every possession, and many of the highly contested shots did go in. But plenty of the misses still quickly became points. The combination of the Bucks defense collapsing to AI (and thereby not in ideal rebounding position) along with stellar rebounding talent in Dikembe Mutumbo and Tyrone Hill led to backbreaking scores off Kobe assists.

It would be intriguing to see how that series in particular, or how that MVP season for AI, stacked up for Kobe assists.

I’m too lazy to research the numbers from back then, but Arden nails a key point here. Many of the best missed shots in the league come from “attack” guards and wings like Iverson who change the shape of the opponents’ interior defense. When a big man has to leave his man to defend a penetrating guard or wing he may prevent the initial shot from going in, but he is also greatly diminishing his own ability to get the defensive rebound thus opening up the chance for an offensive rebound and a put-back. The key action here is the ball-handler forcing the defense to compromise its shape. It goes without saying that Iverson did this a lot, but it is definitely worth noting that the point totals of Mutombo and Hill were key beneficiaries of Iverson’s misses.

I also loved this tweet from Kelly Dwyer

Ask Tex Winter about the “Kobe Assist.” One of the Triangle principals is getting the ball on the rim, even if it’s off a missed shot.

I love it because it reminds us that this is not a new idea, and basketball tacticians have noticed this effect for a long time. All missed shots are not bad.

3. Kobe Assist® the Drinking Game
While working on this article, I became obsessed with Kobe Assists. I became fascinated by the events following missed shots, which are really interesting. The bad news is I found myself blurting out “Kobe Assist” in my living room. There’s a potential for a decent drinking game here: when you’re watching a game with friends, keep your eye on Kobe Assists. The winner is the first one to correctly call “Kobe Assist” – the loser drinks. Don’t’ worry, they don’t happen too often.

Anyway, thanks for reading… I’ll post another set of data later in the week.

1 comment

  1. Frank

    We have been discussing your article on Knickerblogger since it came out (and actually before it – although in a much less focused fashion than after your article). One thing I’d love to know the answer to is the Derrick Rose assist, since Chicago kills other teams on the offensive boards — we have a very nice (and unfortunate for D-Rose) controlled trial from last year since D-Rose only played 1/2 the season. Can you give any input on Chicago’s ORR when D-Rose drives vs. others? Is it purely a function of getting into the lane (ie. CHI ORR + Rose = CHI ORR + JL III when shots are taken “at the rim”) or does D-Rose cause “extra” collapse of the defense when he gets into the paint?

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