The Whiteboard: Power ranking the unluckiest passers in the NBA

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

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Assists can be one of the noisest measures of statistical performance because they require to players to make it work. The creator who makes the pass is the one who is credited but they only receive that credit if their teammate can actually make the shot.

For years now, the NBA’s player tracking data has allowed us to see potential assists — passes that lead to a shot within two seconds of the player receiving the ball. This lets us see which players are creating scoring opportunities regardless of whether the shots go in or not, but it also gives us a way to look at players whose typical assist totals are likely suffering from some bad shooting on the part of their teammates. Here are the five players who have seen the lowest percentage of their potential assists turned into actual assists by their teammates making baskets.

5. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Edwards is putting up a robust 21.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in his second season, but those assist numbers would look a little better if some more shots for his teammates were falling. So far this season, just 46.7 percent of his potential assists have been converted into made baskets, the fifth-lowest mark among the 62 players who have totaled at least 400 potential assists this season. In particular, Edwards has been victimized by cold shooting from D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels and Naz Reid. That quartet has made just 58-of-202 (28.7 percent) from beyond the arc off passes from Edwards.

4. Caris LeVert, Cleveland Cavaliers

LeVert was traded from the Indiana Pacers to the Cavaliers in early February and his numbers here are heavily shaped by his experience with one team. On the season, just 46.3 percent of his potential assists have been converted into a made basket but that number was 45.8 percent while he was with the Pacers and has climbed to 48.7 percent since joining the Cavaliers. In particular, LeVert has really benefited from his connection with Darius Garland, who is 6-of-11 on passes from LeVert since the two became teammates.

3. Anfernee Simons, Portland Trail Blazers

Anfernee Simons has had a bit of a breakout season but playing largely without CJ McCollum (injured, traded) and Damian Lillard (injured) has certainly raised the level of difficulty. Simons has played just 37 percent of his minutes with McCollum and 22.4 with Lillard this season, which is why he’s passed to Jusuf Nurkic nearly twice as often as any other teammate. Nurkic, for his part, has posted an effective field goal percentage of 41.7 on shots after a pass from Simons. But Nurkic hasn’t been the only one missing a lot and, for the season, just 46.1 percent of Simons’ potential assists have been converted into a made basket.

2. Cory Joseph, Detroit Pistons

Joseph is holding down the No. 2 spot on this list, just a hair out of first. On the season, just 44.6 percent of his potential assists have been converted into made baskets by his teammates. And he’s not the only Detroit shot-creator who has suffered — Killian Hayes ranked No. 24 on the list. Cade Cunningham, Jerami Grant, Trey Lyles, Kelly Olynyk and Josh Jackson have all shot under 30 percent from beyond the arc on shots after a pass from Joseph and, as a team, the Pistons have posted an effective field goal percentage of 51.8 percent on wide-open shots, dead last in the league.

1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

Gilgeous-Alexander has ceded some playmaking duties to rookie Josh Giddey as the season has gone along but he’s still a prodigious shot-creator. He’s among the league leaders in time of possession and his 12.7 potential assists per game are the same as LeBron James and Ja Morant. However, he averages just 5.6 assists per game because his teammates have been so terrible at converting off his passes. Just 44.5 percent of his potential assists have been converted into made baskets by his teammates, the lowest mark in the league.

And, to be clear, this is not a fluke in the kinds of potential assist opportunities Gilgeous-Alexander is creating. He has five teammates — Lu Dort, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Josh Giddey, Darius Bazley and Ty Jerome — who are making less than 34 percent of their wide-open 3-pointers on at least two attempts per game. These are attempts with no defender within six feet of the shooter and they’re not even close to the league average for all 3-point attempts of any kind. If the Thunder can put some more competent shooting around Gilgeous-Alexander next season, his assist numbers could go through the roof.

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