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Measuring a player's contributions beyond scoring.
There’s a statistic in baseball named “Secondary Average” that measures the number of bases gained by a batter beyond batting average. The general idea is to highlight players whose contributions are “hidden” by the more traditional batting average, which is simply hits divided by at bats (thus ignoring extra-base hits, walks, and stolen bases).
I wanted to do something similar for basketball in order to recognize players whose value comes from things other than scoring. I came up with an offshoot of Player Efficiency Rating (PER) that I’m going to call Player Secondary Rating (PSR). PSR is calculated the same way as PER, but with one major modification: all components related to scoring (makes and attempts) are removed.
Just like PER, the league average PSR in a given season is always equal to 15. However, PSR is more variable than PER. For example, last season the minutes-weighted standard deviation of PSR was 6.7 compared to 4.8 for PER.
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Anyway, let’s start with the career leaders for PSR (minimum 15,000 minutes; I’ll use this minimum for all of the career lists that follow):
36.4 — Ben Wallace
33.8 — Magic Johnson
33.5 — Andre Drummond
33.1 — John Stockton
33.0 — Chris Paul
32.9 — Bill Russell
32.8 — Marcus Camby
32.1 — Jason Kidd
31.9 — Nikola Jokic
31.1 — Wilt Chamberlain
It’s not a huge surprise to see Ben Wallace, a four-time Defensive Player of the Year Award winner, at the top of this list. Wallace averaged just 5.7 PPG in 1,088 games, the third-lowest scoring average in NBA history among players with at least 1,000 games played.
However, Wallace impacted the game in others ways, averaging 11.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes. Wallace had three seasons in which he recorded at least 1,000 rebounds, 200 blocks, and 100 steals, tied for the most such seasons since the NBA began tracking steals and blocks in 1973-74:
3 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
3 — Hakeem Olajuwon
3 — Ben Wallace
2 — David Robinson
1 — Bob Lanier
Wallace is the only player to achieve this feat in three consecutive seasons (2001-02, 2002-03, and 2003-04).
Despite being such an active presence on the defensive end, Wallace averaged less than two fouls per game for his career (1.91, to be exact). The only other center in NBA history to average less than two fouls per game in 1,000 or more games played is Wilt Chamberlain (1.99).
Speaking of Chamberlain, it might be be surprising to see his name on this list, but his contributions outside of scoring were still impressive. As mentioned above, Chamberlain had a penchant for avoiding fouls, which helps his secondary score. Chamberlain famously did not foul out in any of his 1,205 combined regular season and playoff games despite averaging 46 minutes per contest.
Chamberlain owns the NBA career records for rebounds (23,924) and rebounds per game (22.9), leading the league in each category 11 times. Chamberlain was also the NBA’s leader in assists in 1967-68, and had six other seasons in which he ranked in the 20.
Now let’s look at the flip side of this, players who contributed very little outside of their shooting. Here's the bottom 10:
2.4 — Allan Houston
2.8 — Ben Gordon
2.8 — Nick Young
3.3 — Bojan Bogdanovic
4.1 — Johnny Newman
4.7 — Jeff Malone
4.8 — Corey Maggette
4.9 — Isaiah Rider
5.2 — JJ Redick
5.6 — Hubert Davis
Allan Houston was a sweet-shooting guard for the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He averaged 17.3 PPG, with shooting percentages of 40.2% from 3-point range and 86.3% from the free throw line. Houston, Ray Allen, Mark Price, and Peja Stojakovic are the only non-active players to average at least 15 PPG on 40% shooting from long range and 85% shooting from the foul line.
That’s certainly impressive, but outside of scoring Houston did very little to help his teams. With a listed height of 6-feet-6-inches, Houston was big for a guard, but averaged just 3.1 rebounds per 36 minutes. Looking at qualifying players with a listed height within one inch of Houston, we find only three with a lower rebounding rate:
2.5 — Hubert Davis
2.7 — Jim Paxson
2.7 — Jamal Crawford
Houston wasn’t much of a playmaker, either, averaging just 2.5 assists per 36 minutes. Houston never averaged more than one steal per game in a season (his career rate was 0.7 SPG), and blocked just 139 shots in 839 games (about one every six games).
Nick Young (aka “Swaggy P”) was a shoot-first guard who played for six franchises in his 720-game career. Young averaged just 1.5 assists per 36 minutes, the worst such rate among qualifying guards:
1.5 — Nick Young
1.8 — Dale Ellis
1.9 — CJ Miles
1.9 — Wayne Ellington
2.0 — Quentin Richardson
Now let’s look at this a different way and subtract a player’s PER from his PSR:
+20.9 — Ben Wallace
+16.1 — Nate McMillan
+15.0 — Marcus Camby
+14.2 — Jason Kidd
+14.0 — Bill Russell
+13.8 — Muggsy Bogues
+13.3 — Dennis Rodman
+13.1 — Rajon Rondo
+13.0 — Joakim Noah
+12.5 — Fat Lever
Nate McMillan is mostly known for being a head coach now, but he was a solid player for the Seattle SuperSonics, with whom he spent his entire 12-season career. McMillan averaged just 5.9 PPG in 796 career games, but he was a good playmaker and ballhawk.
McMillan averaged 6.1 APG, ranking in the top 20 in that category five times. He’s the only player in NBA history to play at least 400 games and average more APG than PPG.
McMillan led the NBA in steals (216) and steals per game (3.0) in 1993-94, and ranked first in the league in steals per 100 possessions twice (1992-93 and 1993-94). His career figure of 3.75 steals per 100 possessions is the third-highest such rate since the NBA began tracking steals in 1973-74:
4.12 — Alvin Robertson
3.79 — Quinn Buckner
3.75 — Nate McMillan
3.68 — Micheal Ray Richardson
3.53 — Brevin Knight
Joakim Noah’s career-high scoring average was 12.6 PPG in 2013-14. Noah was also named All-NBA First Team, All-Defensive First Team, and Defensive Player of the Year that season, so his contributions outside of scoring were definitely noticed.
For his career, Noah averaged more RPG (9.0) than PPG (8.8). He was a skilled shot blocker, ranking in the top 20 in blocks and blocks per game five times apiece.
On February 18, 2013, Noah became the sixth different NBA player (eighth instance) to record at least 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 blocks in a game. No other player has achieved the feat since Noah.
Once again, let’s look at the flip side:
–14.5 — George Gervin
–13.1 — Adrian Dantley
–13.0 — Corey Maggette
–12.8 — Devin Booker
–12.5 — Allan Houston
–12.1 — Ben Gordon
–11.9 — Kevin Martin
–11.8 — Kevin Durant
–11.8 — Ricky Pierce
–11.7 — Bernard King
George Gervin’s efficient, high-volume scoring was definitely his calling card. In fact, he’s the only non-active player in NBA history to average at least 25 PPG while shooting 50% from the floor and 80% from the foul line for his career.
The NBA tracked individual turnovers in nine of Gervin’s 10 seasons. He recorded 2,137 turnovers and 1,976 assists in those seasons, a rate of 1.08 turnovers per assist, the worst such figure by a guard who played at least 15,000 minutes over that span.
Gervin also had seven seasons in which he played at least 70 games and recorded more turnovers than assists, tying him with Darrell Griffith for the most such seasons by a guard since the NBA began tracking individual turnovers in 1977-78.
To be fair, Gervin wasn’t totally devoid of secondary skills, as he produced two seasons in which he recorded at least 100 steals and 100 blocks. The only other guard with multiple such seasons since the NBA began tracking those statistics in 1973-74 is Michael Jordan.
Ricky Pierce was a two-time winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in a career that lasted 16 seasons. Pierce’s primary job was to come off the bench and score points. It was a role he filled quite well, averaging 14.9 PPG with shooting percentages of 49.3% from the field and 87.5% from the free throw line.
In 1989-90, Pierce averaged 23.0 PPG in 59 games despite not starting a single game. Since the NBA began tracking starters in 1970-71, Pierce is the only player to average at least 20 PPG in a season in which he did not start a game.
Pierce is one of 390 players in NBA history to score at least 10,000 career points. He’s one of only five of those players to average less than 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, the others being Dell Curry, Johnny Newman, JJ Redick, and Mike Woodson.
To be fair to Pierce and the others who appear on the “negative” lists in this post, I should note that having a low PSR isn’t an indictment of a player’s overall value. For example, the 10 players listed above have PERs ranging from 14.9 (Houston and Ben Gordon) to 25.3 (Kevin Durant) in relatively long careers. These are good-to-great players who provided most of their value through efficient scoring, which is certainly not a bad thing.