Is Brook Lopez The League’s Biggest Ball-Hog? (Hint: No, And Here’s Why)

Brook Lopez Jason Kidd
Something tells me Kidd’s not yelling at Brook for hogging the ball. (AP)
Brook Lopez Jason Kidd
Something tells me Kidd’s not yelling at Brook for hogging the ball. (AP)

The NBA has installed optical tracking cameras in every NBA arena, in the hopes of further quantifying some of basketball’s most intricate details. Now we have information on nearly everything, from how many miles players run per game, to how many touches they receive in the half-court, to how effective they are at defending the rim

In a crude analysis done by Business Insider, Tony Manfred concludes with his formula — named “pass rate” — that Brook Lopez is the biggest ballhog in the game. The formula is simple: passes per touch. Lopez has the lowest “pass rate” in the league, passing the ball out on just 47.7% of his touches.

Manfred states:

Brook Lopez at No. 1! He’s certainly not the type of player you think of when the words “ball hog” come to mind. But he gets a relatively low number of touches, and he almost never passes once he does get the ball in his hands. The average pass rate across the NBA is 70.1%, and Lopez is at 47.4%.

When the ball goes into him in the post, more often than not it’s not coming back out.

While it’s impossible to argue with a formula — by the numbers, he’s right — here’s why he’s still wrong.

What Manfred loses is the context. He later notes that many shooting guards are the “terminal node” in their offense, as the open man and the last pass before shooting. He cites guards Eric Gordon and Klay Thompson, primarily spot-up shooters, as examples.

But Lopez has the same function: the team finds him in open spots near the rim, and he converts. He’s the outlet, the team’s primary method of scoring, not its passer. Lopez currently leads the league in points per possession on post-ups and cuts to the basket, and a high percentage of his baskets are assisted on. This is how the offense works when it’s run through Lopez: he creates space in a high-percentage area, receives a pass in that high-percentage area, and converts a high-percentage shot.

That’s not to say that Lopez is a great passer. He’s struggled passing out of double-teams through much of his career, and no one will mistake him for Kevin Garnett in the high post. But a better way to do this analysis would be to chart how much time a player has the ball per game, not how many pure touches. Lopez, despite his high touch count, only has the ball in his hands for 0.8 minutes per game, ninth on the team. He’s not catching the ball, holding onto it for 16 seconds, and taking a Blatche bad shot. He’s finishing.

And if you’re worried about his production? Check out the league leaders in points per half-court touch, from #10 (Markieff Morris) to #1 (guess who).

If you’re having trouble viewing the chart: Lopez scores nearly a full point per half-court touch (again, that includes passes, turnovers, the works), at 0.99 points per touch. Second place is Andre Drummond, at 0.79 points per touch, and 10th place is Jodie Meeks, at 0.62 points per touch. The second-place Drummond is closer in effectiveness to the tenth-place Meeks than he is to Lopez through six games.