Who Is the Most Aggressive Player in the NBA?
For this week’s article, I’ll be exploring a correlation between touches per game and drives per game using player tracking stats on NBA.com (*must average more than 20 ppg and 6 drives per game to be included). This correlation aims to illustrate aggression, as it’s focused on the percentage of times a guy drives when he touches the ball. Thanks so much to Nate Hollenberg (@nateyanalytics on Twitter) for letting me use this awesome graph that he made for some analysis!
The general trend makes sense: the more touches you get on the offensive end, the more drives to the hoop you are likely to make per game… basic math. But, when honing in on the outliers of this list, you can find some pretty cool data points that tell very interesting stories. So, let’s dive into some of those outliers and figure out why they are where they are on the graph.
Shai drives the ball more than anyone in the NBA which was super surprising to me. We all know Shai is one of the most talented young stars in the league, but I didn’t expect him to get to the rim more often than a guy like Luka (especially on fewer touches). However, after diving deep into the film, it’s not tough to realize why Alexander gets to the rim with such ease. SGA has certain physical characteristics that you just can’t teach; he’s 6 foot 6 with a 7 foot wingspan and Giannis-esque strides. He’s also an excellent ball handler, which when you combine with his size and length, allows him to manipulate his dribble in a number of ways. I’ve thought long and hard about other 6’6 guys with 7 foot wingspans that are able to control the ball and change speeds like Shai is. The short answer is that there aren’t any. Sure, there’s 6’6 guys who have good handles and can get to the rim effectively, but no one (that height) does it with the same level of skill, precision, and efficiency. What makes SGA’s drives per game even more impressive, though, is the context that he’s doing it in. Shai might have the fewest floor spacers around him of any ball-dominant star in the NBA. Go ahead, go down the line of NBA teams and give me a team that has worse 3 point shooters surrounding their star (you’re going to struggle mightily). Teams pack the paint on the Thunder, but SGA is still able to effortlessly knife his way through the defense. It’s incredible to think about what his game could look like if he was surrounded by floor spacers, or better yet another player who can create.
It’s interesting to see Giannis at only around 12 drives per game given how much it seems like he attacks the rim. NBA.com distinguishes between drives and fastbreak opportunities, though, which I think sheds some light on his position in this graph. Giannis is excellent at attacking the rim in transition; he leads the league in transition buckets and he’s probably the last NBA player you want to see coming at you full steam ahead. But, in the half court, I must say that it is a very different story for Giannis. The fact that he’s not a threat shooting the ball (from either Midrange OR 3) and that he’s not an elite ball handler limits his ability to get to the rim in the half court. The defense builds the well-known “Giannis wall”, and Giannis is limited to either kicking it out to shooters or bullying his way to the rim (which he’s really good at). This is why he struggles in the playoffs; the place slows down as teams pay more attention to both getting back on defense and getting good looks on offense, and that results in Giannis having fewer fast-break opportunities. It’s as simple as this: Giannis is a superstar in transition - he’s THE superstar in transition. But in the half court, he’s a borderline All-Star. He’ll need to improve his shooting ability to get better in the half court; even if he becomes a better ball handler, it’ll be tough for him to dribble through defenders and get skinny in between the help defense with his size and physical frame.
Look at Trae Young’s name on this graph. And then look at the names around Trae Young. Luka Doncic, James Harden, Jimmy Butler to name a few. These guys are big, strong, athletic - they look a lot different than Trae Young. And that’s what makes Trae an outlier; he’s the smallest, and probably the frailest player on this list, yet he’s behind only SGA and Luka in drives per game. I’ll never understand the hate that Trae gets on Twitter and among lots of talking heads in the basketball world. He’s 22 years old, and his decision-making shortcomings are to be expected. What’s important is that he gets into the lane with ease and has an excellent floater as well as an elite ability to find shooters and dunkers when he touches the paint (not to mention DEEP three point range). His first step is one of the quickest in the league, and he’s incredibly crafty at using his body once he gets a step on the defender. Yes, he struggles at times to make sound decisions and occasionally tries to make the home-run play instead of the easy one - again, something that can be expected of young players - but I have no hesitation in guaranteeing that he cleans that up as he gets older and the game continues to slow down for him. That’s why I predict that next season, Trae Young will make an All-NBA team.
Demar DeRozan is a perfect example of how good NBA players are. He didn’t make the All-Star game this year (snub?) and he almost never comes up in casual NBA conversation. Perhaps it’s because he has an old school game or maybe it’s because he had too many years of losing to Lebron while he was in Toronto. But there are times out there on the court where he looks virtually unstoppable, and it’s about time we talk about it. He gets to the rim with absolute ease, in fact he does it about 30% of the time he touches the ball. He’s got a great feel for the game and is unbelievably strong, so he’s quite effective at using his body in the midrange area. The threat of him shooting midrange is more than enough to make the defense have to play him close, so he definitely leverages that to his advantage in order to get into the lane. When you combine his physical tools (6’6, 220 lbs, 6’9 wingspan) with his ball handling ability and feel, it makes him VERY tough to keep out of the lane. He’s not necessarily the flashiest or the most fun to watch, but I personally love his game and think he’s very valuable to winning. He probably can’t be the best player on a championship team, but I think he could be a Robin to someone’s Batman.
Also, I want to address a recent clip I saw of Shaq arguing with Candace Parker, saying he thought Demar wouldn’t be able to play in Shaq’s era. Shaq, as if you hadn’t already embarrassed yourself enough by not knowing Pascal Siakam’s first name, you come out and say that Demar couldn’t survive in your era, when in actuality he would be one of the most dominant players in the league during your time. His game is perfectly catered to that era, and all you need to do is look at his physical frame and athletic ability to know that he would be excellent in the 90’s. And Candance, thank you for exposing Shaq.
*NOTE: I know a lot of you are probably wondering why I’m not writing about Lebron as an outlier considering his placement on the graph. However, surprisingly, Lebron typically hovers right around that 9-12 drives per game area. We think of Lebron as a powerful beast who attacks the hoop like a freight train. But, during the regular season, he relies a lot more on his outside shot and facilitating ability than we usually think.