A while back, I wrote this article describing a new way of understanding positions in basketball, the focus being separating offensive responsibilities from defensive responsibilities. Another guy in the basketball office and I were arguing recently about whether a specific player deserved to be termed a “scorer.”

The argument basically went like this: He said (correctly) that this player couldn’t create his own shot, and wondered how anybody like that could be described as a scorer. To which I responded (correctly) that you didn’t need to create your own shot to score and score effectively. Our eventual compromise was to create a subscript to the “scorer” designation with a descriptor that the scorer was either “creative” or “opportunist.” (This does, admittedly and unfairly, make it sound like the creative scorer is a genius and the opportunist scorer is a thief – that’s not the intention.)

I was working on a project that involved me trying to define my offensive positions statistically, and we realized that we could do this pretty easily – opportunistic scorers are considered opportunistic because they need assists from their teammates or putback opportunities to be successful. Ken ran some code, and now you can take a look at the scoring style superlatives among returnees.

(About 9% of last season’s shots were putbacks, 53% were assisted, which leaves 37% that were creative. On twos, the breakdown was 13% putback, 43% assisted, and 45% creative, and threes were 84% assisted and 16% creative.)

>60% creative division: Pierre Jackson, Baylor (74%).
>50% creative division: Khalif Wyatt, Temple (56%).
>40% creative division: Kenny Boynton, Florida (40%).
The typical “high creative” guy is a guard who rarely shoots three-pointers, though obviously none of these three follow that rule. Boynton and Wyatt were creative enough inside the arc (and frequent enough two-point shooters) that it canceled out their mostly assisted three-point attempts. Jackson, on the other hand, created more than half of his own three-point makes.

<10% creative division: Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (9%).
<33% creative division: Doug McDermott, Creighton (15%).
This is what I mean when I say that “opportunist” has no relationship with importance to the offense. McDermott and Cooley are obviously both fantastic basketball players, and they’re both great examples of opportunistic scorers. McDermott took 54 threes last year, and 53 of them were assisted. Both made significant use of the offensive glass and teammates assists on twos. They score most effectively by creating space and angles, but they need their teammates to be aware of them to convert those opportunities into points. That’s all “opportunist” means.

>25 FGM division: Connell Crossland, TCU (50%).
>50 FGM division: Daryl McCoy, Drexel (45%).
>100 FGM division: Corey Law, High Point (31%).
Law is technically a hair higher, but Dennis Tinnon of Marshall is the best returning player with such a massive emphasis on putbacks. Take the offensive glass from him and you take a lot of his scoring.

>25/50 FGM division: Ethan Wragge, Creighton (95%).
>100 FGM division: Scott Wood, NC State (92%).
The most assist-dependent guys are those who spend the most time behind the three-point line.

>25 FGM division: Joey Getz, UMBC (100%).
>50/100 FGM division: Anthony Collins, South Florida (93%).
The guys who rate high in creative scoring tend to be guards who rarely shoot three-pointers. Interestingly, players who rate the highest on creative scoring – when considering the better scorers in the country – tend to be considered legitimate draft prospects. Damian Lillard and Reggie Hamilton come to mind as guys who could create for themselves as well as hit threes, and whose success translated into NBA interest. An under-the-radar guy along those lines for this season: Shane Gibson of Sacred Heart.

*I measured “best” with a new overall scoring stat, schedule-adjusted. Basically, I tried to create a PET score that ignored assists and rebounds and turnovers, or I tried to create a three-point score that included twos and free throws. I wanted to answer the question, “How effective is this person at actually putting points on the scoreboard?”

The formula:
(PTS – 0.4*FG.missed – 0.2*FT.missed + (1.125 – 1.25* (1 – SA%)/4)*(TmPoss – FG.missed – 0.43*FT.missed))/TmPoss

Where SA% is “shot attempt percentage” and is calculated like this:
(FGA + .43*FTA)/(Min%*(TmFGA + .43*TmFTA))

SA% just mixes free throw attempts into the typically-used Shot%, while the overall scoring stat gives you credit for making shots and penalizes you for missing them (while any attempt makes your teammates’ score more effectively when you don’t shoot).