Normally, a guy that scores a lot of points can be considered a productive offensive player. Normally, but not always.

I love Dean Oliver’s offensive rating as much as anyone, because it takes all aspects of a player’s statistical performance and states it in terms of efficiency, which we can easily relate to in terms of good and bad. If someone hands you a stats sheet, you can’t exactly compute offensive rating in your head (unless you’re Scott Flansburg). However, one can get a good idea about a scorer’s efficiency by looking at the readily available field goal percentage and the ability to get to the line. For example, compare these guys:

                  PPG    FG-FGA(Pct.) 3FG-FGA(Pct.)  FTA-FTM(Pct.)
Smith, Steven…. 20.3  206-481(.428)  34-116(.293)  142-176(.807)
Fazekas, Nick…. 20.7  223-444(.502)  33-101(.327)  183-232(.789)

La Salle’s Steven Smith and Nevada’s Nick Fazekas are two of the leading returning scorers in the nation, and both were among the 50 players on the preseason Wooden Award watch list. However, it doesn’t take a fancy formula to see that Fazekas was much more efficient in getting his points. He was a better shooter from the field, and while they were both excellent from the free throw line, Fazekas got there more often. Here’s how they compare in the more sophisticated metrics.

                 ORtg  %Poss   %Min  Poss  Pts.
Smith, Steven….  96   32.0   97.2   582  567
Fazekas, Nick…. 115   28.7   78.5   490  566

The difference in shooting percentage is captured in each player’s offensive rating. One other important difference between the two is in playing time. Smith led the nation in percentage of minutes played, and thus had many more opportunities to get his points.  The final two columns represent the total possessions used by each player and the points each produced. Similar to calculating a team’s offensive efficiency, divide a player’s points produced by possessions and multiply by 100 to get each player’s offensive rating.  Smith and Fazekas both produced the same amount of points, but Smith did so in 92 more possessions, thus reducing his efficiency.

Before labeling a scorer “great” merely based on the volume of points scored, look at his shooting accuracy and how often he gets to the line. There’s no doubt Smith had less help around him than Fazekas did – La Salle’s off-season rape scandal in 2004 removed what little depth the Explorers had last season. So to use these figures to say Fazekas is a better player than Smith requires a few assumptions. But to say someone who scores 20 a game in near-major conference must be a productive offensive player requires a unique set of assumptions in itself.