This offseason, the NBA installed motion tracking cameras in every NBA arena. They track the scoring, rebounding, and defense of every player in the league. We used them to find the NBA players to whom no one will pass the basketball.
Now that the NBA's new SportVU site has launched, armchair morons like you and me can avail themselves of all kinds of wonky stats—how often Marc Gasol touches the ball on the elbow, say, or how many of his rebounds Dwight Howard actually has to fight for. But leave that for the professionals. What we want to know is this: Which NBA player is the kid to whom no one will pass the ball? Here, we find a definitive answer.
First of all, yes, we're just a few games into the season, so these figures will probably shift considerably. We'll be updating this list at the quarter, halfway, and other arbitrary points of the season. For now, we're just playing with the new toys the NBA has given us.
It wouldn't be fair to just go by the fewest touches in a game—that would obviously just be some stonehanded bench player whose value is measured entirely in how many fouls he has left to give. So to start, we imposed a filter. Here's a list of the players who play at least 15 minutes per game with the lowest ratios of touches per minute:
1. Bismack Biyombo: 0.693
2. Robin Lopez: 0.860
3. James Anderson: 0.910
4. Marcus Thornton: 0.911
5. Anthony Morrow: 0.923
6. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: 0.943
7. Klay Thompson: 0.949
8. Francisco Garcia: 0.973
9. Andre Drummond: 0.982
10. Cartier Martin: 1.048
11. Jodie Meeks: 1.056
12. Kyle Singler: 1.066
13. Travis Outlaw: 1.075
14. Ian Mahinmi: 1.078
15. Corey Brewer: 1.083
16. Randy Foye: 1.086
17. Al-Farouq Aminu: 1.090
18. Eric Gordon: 1.104
19. Steven Adams: 1.111
20. Maurice Harkless: 1.115
There are a few names you wouldn't expect to be on that list; Klay Thompson, for one. He plays almost 35 minutes per game, though, and cedes ball-handling to Steph and Iguodala. He also doesn't come by many steals or rebounds. And what touches he does get (a large part of them catch-and-shoots), he makes count: 0.68 points per touch, and 0.83 points per touch in the halfcourt. Those are both exceptional numbers.
But hold on! According to STATS Inc., the "touches" data includes every time a player gains possession of the ball, which includes rebounds. Some of the players on the above list are actually very competent rebounders. Clubhouse leader Bismack Biyombo, Andre Drummond, and Travis Outlaw are all strong defenders who amass blocks, steals, and rebounds to dirty up this stat.
Here's that list again, with each player's rebounds per minute listed, and the number of non-rebound touches per minute in parentheses:
1. Bismack Biyombo: 0.693 - .266 (0.427)
2. Andre Drummond: 0.982 - .317 (0.665)
3. Robin Lopez: 0.860 - .134 (0.726)
4. Travis Outlaw: 1.075 - .308 (0.767)
5. Anthony Morrow: 0.923 - .150 (0.773)
6. James Anderson: 0.910 - .128 (0.782)
7. Ian Mahinmi: 1.078 - .281 (0.797)
8. Steven Adams: 1.111 - .299 (0.812)
9. Marcus Thornton: 0.911 - .082 (0.829)
10. Klay Thompson: 0.949 - .101 (0.848)
11. Al-Farouq Aminu: 1.090 - .225 (0.865)
12. Jodie Meeks: 1.056 - .152 (0.904)
13. Francisco Garcia: 0.973 - .059 (0.914)
14. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: 0.943 - .022 (0.921)
15. Cartier Martin: 1.048 - .118 (0.930)
16. Kyle Singler: 1.066 - .133 (0.933)
17. Randy Foye: 1.086 - .138 (0.948)
18. E'Twaun Moore : 0.995 - .039 (0.956)
19. Maurice Harkless: 1.115 - .142 (0.973)
20. Corey Brewer: 1.083 - .075 (1.008)
Biyombo is distancing himself from the pack here. And there's more.
SportVU also has a variant of touches called Frontcourt Touches, which only accounts for times a player posses the ball on their offensive half of the court. Here, we see more familiar "Don't pass him the ball" faces, like Jason Maxiell, Chris Anderson, and Omer Asik. Still, Biyombo leads by a mile here as well with 7.3 of these touches per game—one full touch fewer than the next lowest, Jason Maxiell. Adjusted for offensive rebounds, this number drags Biyombo down to 0.239 offensive touches per minute he is on the court. Think about that: For every four minutes and change he is on the floor, Bismack Biyombo, an NBA basketball player, is passed the ball once.
Here's the list of fewest front court touches per minute (min 15MPG), adjusted for offensive rebounds:
Adjusted Frontcourt Touches
1. Bismack Biyombo: 0.277 - 0.038 (0.239)
2. Omer Asik: 0.406 - 0.107 (0.299)
3. Ian Mahinmi: 0.426 - 0.099 (0.327)
4. Jason Maxiell: 0.415 - 0.039 (0.376)
5. Steven Adams: 0.641 - 0.222 (0.419)
6. Samuel Dalembert: 0.492 - 0.052 (0.440)
7. Andrew Bogut: 0.504 - 0.036 (0.468)
8. Chris Andersen: 0.559 - 0.086 (0.473)
9. Jermaine O'Neal: 0.540 - 0.062 (0.478)
10. Larry Sanders: 0.629 - 0.057 (0.572)
Over these first few games, Biyombo has been far enough ahead(?) of his peers for his body of work to deserve closer scrutiny. In his first game, against the Rockets, he entered the game with 6:20 remaining in the first quarter, and left with 0:57 remaining. Here is the single offensive touch he accrued over those five minutes and 23 seconds. It appears to have been an accident:
More commonly, the possessions look like this:
We should note that this is hugely unfair to Biyombo, who is a very good defender who's looked especially good in pick-and-roll defense, rebounds well, and affects shots. He told The Charlotte Observer this year, "My goal is to play defense, rebound the ball, block shots, protect the paint and let the other stuff take care of itself. Of course I will work on my offense... But it's obvious that those things are the things I bring to the table."
We're not interested in fairness, though. We're interested in how infrequently Bismack Biyombo is passed the basketball. The answer is, "Very."
For fun, here's the entire five-and-a-half minute chunk of gametime during which Biyombo touched the ball just that once.
Additional research by Billy Haisley
Image by Jim Cooke, original photos via Getty and AP