Who’s Assisting Who? An Interactive Look at Assists in the NBA.

In computer science we frequently use Graphs to examine the relationship between multiple variables. A Graph consists of a set of nodes (in this case players on a team) and edges (here assists from player a to player b). We wanted a way to look at who the target of each players assists were and how they stacked up against their other teammates. What we came up with is an interactive Weighted Graph for each team using the 2009/2010 season totals.

All 30 teams are represented. By default all the connections are displayed. The color of the line matches the player who made the pass, the thickness represents the quantity of assists. The outgoing connections can be turned on and off by right clicking the player. You can also turn off all the nodes by pressing the space bar. In addition, you can move the players by left clicking and dragging them. This allows you to explore smaller groupings (or center a single player to better see the relationship with his teammates).

Click Here to Go to the Interactive Graph

Interesting Cases:

Deron Williams

It should be interesting to compare the 09/10 season with this year. Carlos Boozer was clearly a favorite target for Deron. With Okur out and Boozer gone I would expect that the newly acquired Jefferson and surging Millsap are going to see an increase in targets.

Jason Kidd

The fact that the bulk of Kidd’s assists are going to the best scorers on the team is not that notable. The amount of players he has a significant amount of assists to is. Very few players have that many weighted connections. One problem with looking at totals is that the lines can be skewed when players spend more time on the court together. I think a more compelling chart would look at the percentage of assists to a player while they are on the court. This would more accurately show a players tendency given his current options.

Steve Nash

Nash this year, like Deron, is also missing his main target from last year. We see his connection with Amare is one of the strongest in the league. By comparison, Nash has relatively few high volume targets when compared to Kidd/Deron. This is likely a function of rotations (Suns played fewer players) but is interesting to note.

Russell Westbrook

I was pretty bummed to see the Sonics leave Seattle. Despite that fact it’s hard not to really love the makeup of this OKC team. I chose this image because I thought it captured the strength of the core of this team. It will be interesting to see this years data (Ibaka and Harden should both figure more prominently). I also think it’s interesting to see Nash/Westbrook vs Deron/Kidd. There’s clearly two styles here in terms of number of targets and volume.

Additional Info: The statistics were parsed from Ryan Parker’s play-by-play data over at basketballgeek.com. It appears there are 15 games missing from the data set (total, not per team). For the purpose of relative comparison, this does not make a big difference. The parsed CSV files for assist pairs and totals can be downloaded here. The visualization was constructed using Processing, which uses a php script to get data out of our database. Also want to thank Henry Abbott of TrueHoop for some further inspiration with this project. Hopefully we’ll have something related to his idea in the coming weeks. We appreciate all the blogs/twitter/facebook mentions out there, if you have a suggestion or want to see something down the road feel free to give us a shout.