Beyond The Arch: A Closer Look at Balanced Playmakers

off ball playmakers
beyond the arch off ball playmakers

Beyond The Arch is a series of articles where I use K Means Clustering to better understand how players are used on offense in the modern NBA. With six new offensive archetypes we explore many questions about how modern day NBA offenses operate. You can find the very first article with a in-depth explanation of the model here.

In my previous article I took a closer look at how the number of On-Ball Playmakers is on the rise and I detailed three examples of the type of player that fit this mold. In this article I will do the same for Balanced Playmakers. While this archetype is also filled with some of the leagues very best playmakers you will notice how differently they achieve these results.

Playmaking Through Movement

Average play type distribution by archetype

Balanced Playmakers attack using off-ball movement more than any other type of player with almost 20% of their offense coming from Hand-Offs and Screens. While these players are not known for scoring via isolation they do utilize the pick-and-roll much like their On-Ball counterparts. That being said when not using off-ball screens or hand-offs they do spend a lot of time, around 27% of their possessions, spotting up behind the three-point line.

Slight Increase in Balanced Playmaking

Similar to On-Ball Playmaking we have seen an increase over the past couple of years however on a much smaller scale. Playmaking of any kind is as important as ever but not just any player can be used in this way. This can be attributed to the importance of shooting. Off-ball screens and hand-offs in many cases end in shots from three or the long mid-range. Add in the fact that these players spend a little more than a fourth of their possessions as a stationary threat from beyond the arc and it is clear being at least a decent long-distance shooter is a prerequisite for being a Balanced Playmaker.

Putting Faces to the Name

Now that we understand the DNA of a Balanced Playmaker, we can take a closer look at three different players who fall into this group. As you will see, even within the archetypes themselves players can differentiate themselves by how they choose to use their offensive possessions.

Steph Curry possessions from the 2018–2019 NBA season

Steph Curry is most certainly the most effective Balanced Playmaker the game has ever seen. He not only attacks with volume and efficiency using the pick-and-roll but he is even more efficient coming off screens. Even when his teammates are the focal point of the offense he scores 1.23 points per possession spotting up behind the arc putting him in the 94th percentile. Steph used possessions in nine different ways last season and ranked in the 80th percentile or better in all but two. This is why opposing coaches lose sleep over game planning for the Warriors every season.

J.J. Redick possessions from the 2018–2019 NBA season

J.J. Redick is exactly the type of player I believe is underappreciated when using the traditional positions of basketball. Almost anyone will call him a shooting guard, and even if we consider him one of the best shooting guards of all time we are still missing the point. Most people associate spotting up with J.J.’s offensive game but he spends twice as many possessions on hand-offs with 85th percentile efficiency. In addition to hand-offs and spot-ups, J.J. ranks well above league average efficiency coming off screens, in transition, and surprisingly as a pick-and-roll ball handler. I believe it is about time we stop trying to put Redick in a shooter’s only box and recognize him for the playmaker that he is.

Giannis Antetokounmpo possessions from the 2018–2019 NBA season

I imagine if my model could talk it would tell me Giannis was the most difficult player to put into one of the six groups. Because of his unique size and skill set Giannis is used differently than any other player we have seen. Giannis is constantly looking to push the ball in transition with 27% of his possessions used this way. What is unique about Antetokounmpo is how often he attacks via the post-up. Only four playmakers post up more often than Giannis which can be attributed to how often he as a mismatched defender on him. At 6’11 and 240+ pounds, with the ability to run the offense with the ball in his hands, there are only a handful of people in the league that can slow him down in the slightest. Giannis spent 5% or more of his possessions on eight different play types ranking no lower than the 56th percentile in efficiency. The scariest thing about Giannis is not that he can attack in so many ways but that he is only 25 years old and will only get better from here on out.

Conclusion

While sometimes not as flashy as their on-ball counterparts, Balanced Playmakers still represent some of the biggest names in the NBA. What is so interesting about these players is how differently these playmakers can contribute on offense. It is not necessarily one or even two different play types but rather a handful of actions these players can utilize if the situations calls for it. This this type of versatility and effectiveness I would not be surprised to see more and more players trying to imitate.

Beyond The Arch Glossary

  1. BTA: Introducing a New Way to Understand The Game
  2. BTA: A Closer Look at On-Ball Playmakers
  3. BTA: A Closer Look at Balanced Playmakers

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