Early this season, we ran an item called "The NBA Players No One Will Pass To." It used newly accessible SportVU motion-tracking data to determine who among all the NBA players receives the ball the least. It was based on just a few weeks' worth of data, but ended up being representative. In short: The leader has widened his lead, to a really remarkable degree. In short, also: He started a playoff game last night.
Like last time, we determined that the most accurate way to figure out who saw the least of the ball was to take all of the SportVU "Frontcourt Touches" that each player has accumulated (these are any time the player physically touches the ball on the offensive end of the court) and subtract offensive rebounds, since those count toward the total. For big men who do not dribble the ball up the court (and the guys capable of that are far removed from this list), this should isolate just the times that they are passed the ball, plus the rare case of a stolen inbounds pass, or whatever.
We've gathered up that data, with a minimum of 150 minutes played. Here's how that list looks, sorted by adjusted frontcourt touches per minute:
As you can see, our friend Bismack Biyombo is once again the NBA player whose teammates pass him the ball the least. We'll get back to him momentarily, but first, a few stray observations about the above list:
- Andre Drummond is a monster, but he's still living off of putbacks. He led the league with 5.4 offensive rebounds per game (the next closest were DeAndre Jordan and Robin Lopez at 4.0). Per Synergy Sports, he also led the league in putback attempts, with a massive lead of 4.6 per game, to 3.3 for Nikola Pekovic, and 2.8 for Robin Lopez. (Counterbalance: Lopez's teammates miss far, far fewer shots than Drummond's.)
- Chris Andersen is on the list, but he makes the absolute most of his touches. Of players who played at least 10 games, Birdman is fourth in the league in points per possession (1.166), behind only Brandan Wright, Steve Novak, and teammate James Jones, and Andersen played far more than Novak or Jones.
- DeAndre Jordan also has excellent points per possession numbers (1.061, in the 94th percentile), but is somehow miserable on his putbacks, which we aren't measuring here but figured we'd point out anyway, because what the hell. Including free throws, he scored on only 49.2 percent of his 187 attempts, and was in the bottom third of the league (which includes tiny point guards who are not giants like DeAndre!) for efficiency.
Now then, about Biyombo.
Bismack receives the ball once every 3.9 minutes that he is on the court. Even on the surface, this is remarkable. Four minutes is a long time! Already this year, 13 people have run an entire mile in (basically) less time than it takes, on average, for a teammate to pass Bismack the ball. And when you consider that Biyombo's minutes as a substitute often coincide with TV timeouts, he often goes 10 or 15 actual minutes without a teammate giving him the ball on purpose.
How is this possible? Bismack has three key deficiencies on offense: He cannot catch, or shoot, or dribble. These are serious problems, of course, but they are further compounded by the fact that, very often, he does not know where to stand, in the Andrea-Bargnani-on-defense, walking-around-in-circles-and-getting-yelled-at-by-teammates manner, and commits moving screen violations with enough frequency to rank with Jeremy Lin on turnover percentage. He also occasionally plays defense on his teammates:
As a scoring threat, Bismack did not have a very good season. He managed to score on only 50.9 percent of his putback attempts (in the bottom third of the league in efficiency). He posted up 15 times (in 77 games), and scored a total of seven points on those possessions (this is in the bottom fifth percentile in the league).
Biyombo does not shoot a hook shot so much as he extends his arm at some harsh angle and ejects the ball on what appears to be a downward trajectory, as though he were attempting one of those Blake Griffin Mozgovian throw-dunks, but from 10 feet, and sideways, while falling down. He shoots hook shots like an aircraft carrier dropping anchor.
Still, this can be avoided simply by not shooting. In 39 games this year, he had either one or zero field-goal attempts, and he attempted five or more field goals only six times all year. On the whole, this is very good judgement. More troublesome is Biyombo's difficulties in holding onto the ball when teammates do decide to pass to him:
The counterpoint in waiting is that Biz contributes meaningfully to the Bobcats' team defense, which ranked sixth or seventh in the league, depending on the metric. Among players who logged more than 10 minutes per game, Biyombo is the best of any big man in SportVU's Close FGA Percentage, which tracks how well opponents shoot when both the defending player (here, Bismack) and the shooter are within five feet of the rim. In 14 minutes, he allowed 38.8 percent shooting on 4.5 attempts, which, minute for minute, is about the same impact that Roy Hibbert had while he was in the game (29.9 minutes, 9.8 attempts, 41.4 percent shooting). This is a noisy stat, but Bismack rates well in all the ways you'd want him to. He's seventh in the league in block percentage, and only averages 4.2 personal fouls per 36 minutes, which is outside the top 100. In transition, he has scored 1.5 points per play (in the 98th percentile!) ... of the 10 times his teammates trusted him with the ball on the break.
In any case, the Biyombo and the Bobcats were swept out of the playoffs last night, losing 109-98 to the Heat. Here's a reminder of better times:
And a reminder of all the other times:
Image by Jim Cooke, original photo via Getty Images