Chart: Nikola Jokic’s steadily improving assist proficiency


By now, Nikola Jokic’s unique passing ability is no secret, even on the national media stage which has tended to overlook the Denver Nuggets in recent years, as his flash, flair, and efficiency in creating easy looks for his teammates last season earned accolades not only from loyal fans and stat heads but also the likes of Charles Barkley, Jeff Van Gundy, and Bill Walton.

Still, sometimes it’s good to confirm that what we already know – or think we know – based on the good old eye test is backed up by the numbers. And in Jokic’s case, it certainly is.

The two lines in the graph above chart the rise of Jokic’s assist proficiency through the 153 games he has played thus far in his two-season career. The blue line might be less surprising, as it represents his assists per game, a number that would be expected to rise as he earned a larger role and along with it more minutes. The more telling figure, however, is the red line, which shows that not only has his per-game production consistently increased, but at the same time his assists per minute have as well.

Granted, this is among the simpler assist metrics (a good description of some of the more advanced ones can be found here at, which is also the source of the above statistics). Nevertheless, it is sufficient for our purposes here since we are only looking at The Joker’s performance over time in isolation, and not comparing him to other players. And we can clearly see a definitive and steady increase throughout his first two seasons in how prolific a playmaker he has been.

I would currently be prepared to put money down on him being the next in a fairly elite set of NBA centers who have averaged 5 or more assists per game, though I might be more reluctant to wager on this if the Nuggets were to acquire, for example, a ball-dominating point guard like Kyrie Irving who might take away touches from Nikola and alter Denver’s offensive flow. But for now, Jokic indeed appears to be on a 5-plus trajectory, and the addition of Paul Millsap, who like Jokic is an excellent passer who keeps the ball moving, will likely only facilitate this prospect.

Denver Nuggets 2011-12 PER and usage rates (or, why PER needs context)

This post was inspired by a recent discussion I had on twitter with some of the guys at Roundball Mining Company. Follow the link to their blog, and follow their twitter feeds if you haven’t already.

These days the use of PER is becoming more widespread as a kind of “all-encompassing” metric to evaluate the overall efficiency of players in the NBA. But sometimes it can be misleading.

Short, simplistic version: The fewer minutes and the lower usage rate a player has, the less significant the meaning of his PER becomes. Basketball Reference (the source of these stats) defines usage rate as “an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor”. In other words, the percentage of all possible chances for one player’s team to use the ball that were used by that single player.

So here’s the chart I made:

It should come as no surprise that the trio clustered in the upper right with both high PERs and high usage rates are among those who pass the “smell test” of players who made big impacts.

But more interestingare players like Chris Andersen and Kosta Koufos in relation to Al Harrington, Nene, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Miller and Arron Afflalo. Birdman and KK have higher PERs than the latter five players, but I don’t think many fans would seriously argue they made a bigger impact or helped win more games for the team.

Or in other words, their higher PERs are “devalued” by their lower usage rates, in a manner of speaking.

PER tends to be most useful in comparing star players with big minutes and high usage rates, or at least in comparing players with similar minutes and usage rates. But taken out of context it can be misleading: “Chris Andersen has a much higher PER than Danilo Gallinari.” So when you see PER discussed, always keep the context of minutes and usage in mind. It’s not that the stat itself is “wrong”, it’s just that it can be deceptive when it stands alone.