The 2019 NBA Playoffs have been excellent, with teams playing at their absolute best. We’ve seen teams like the Warriors and the Bucks absolutely dominate, but how have these teams, along with other teams, changed their playmaking strategies? For instance, if we look at the Bucks in the Playoffs, they have obviously decided to make Giannis drive into the paint more and pass out less. This is due to the fact that Giannis’s points in the paint generate more points per shot (field goal percentage*a three or a two) than would a three-point shooter typically.
However, the Bucks have obviously employed a different strategy than did other teams in the playoffs. For instance, we know that the Denver Nuggets’ whole strategy depended on Nikola Jokic. However, it wasn’t his extraordinary ability to score that makes Jokic so great. Instead, it is his ability to make plays and get his teammates points, that allows Jokic’s team to win games. Thus, we saw the Nuggets embrace this strategy.
I expressed this idea of teams looking for playmaking with a simple statistic (Points from Assists adjusted for usage rate inflation). This stat basically allowed me to see
i) the quality of the passes (if they didn’t pass well, the passes wouldn’t translate into points) ii) the number of passes (if they didn’t pass often, they wouldn’t generate points)
Then, I graphed these players on a graph to see how (in general) teams change their strategies with regards to passing and playmaking.
In the graph above, the red line represents a player whose points from assists does not change in the playoffs. However, we see that the try line of best fit here has a slope that is slightly lower than 1 (actually it is about 0.79 with an R^2 of 0.65). This shows that teams in today’s league are becoming more focused on playing through a star player in the playoffs, as we have seen with the effects of superstars in the league.
Although we saw (in my previous post) that teams typically employ the same usage rate to important players in the playoffs vs in the regular season, we see here that teams typically make their players shoot more and pass less. Instead of getting points off of assists like they did in the regular season, they find it more beneficial to score through their star players.
However, outliers in this dataset remain. Steph Curry has actually created more points from assists in the playoffs than he did in the regular season. We’ve seen this with the type of play the Warriors play.