Shot creation: one reason we'll miss Andre Miller

Conventional analysis of the Andre Miller/Raymond Felton trade seems to boil down to the general notion that the Trail Blazers received a better fitting player who's slightly worse, but also much younger. This is due to Miller's non-existent three point shooting, along with the Blazers' dire need in that area. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that Felton falls short in two crucial areas of need for the Blazers where Miller excels: getting to the line and getting his own shot efficiently.

Area of interest one: free throw rate

Statistics show that the most efficient sources of offense are layups and dunks, free throws, and three pointers. While Miller falls pathetically short in the area of three point shooting, he excels in getting to the line. Here is his free throw rate (free throw rate is the number of free throw attempts earned per field goal attempted) for the last three years (all data from Hoopdata):

2008/09 (with Philly): .39

2009/10: .43

2010/11: .35

These are outstanding numbers. For comparison, the best team in the league in this category was the Denver Nuggets, at .37. The league average is .30. Being able to get to the line is an excellent source of easy offense, and Andre helps tremendously in this area. Here are Felton's free throw rate numbers for the last three years:

2008/09 (with Charlotte): .25

2009/10: .20

2010/11 (with NYK): .23

2010/11 (with Denver): .29

Remember, the league average is .30. The worst team in the league in this category last year was the Golden State Warriors at .24. Felton's best performance in this category was in a 21 game sample with a team that is systemically outstanding, and even there his performance was below the league average.

Foul drawing is an area of desperate need for the Trail Blazers, as they are nearly as bad in this area as they are shooting three pointers. Portland was 27th out of 30 teams in free throw rate of .28. That's not quite Raymond Felton bad, but it's below average. The Trail Blazers need to hope they are getting the Denver Felton who was a veritable foul-drawing machine, or else easy points will be hard to come by.

Area of interest two: shot creation

Shot creation is one of the most difficult skills to evaluate in the NBA. That's because there are many ways to help in creating a good scoring chance. Carmelo Anthony does so simply by drawing attention to himself, even if statistics say he's an atrocious passer. Steve Nash does it with pinpoint passing and freakish shooting. Jason Terry does it by forcing teams to guard him at the three point line and opening up space for Nowitzki. Despite these anecdotes, there's very little rigour attached to measuring shot creation. Usage and assist percentage both can function as crude proxies for shot creation, but don't explain the examples above. Additionally, by both these metrics, Miller and Felton are relatively even.

An additional measure of whether players are able to create their own shot is percentage of field goals assisted. Here are Andre's numbers in that statistic:

2008/09: 30%

2009/10: 29%

2010/11: 36%

And here are Felton's:

2008/09: 38%

2009/10: 38%

2010/11 with Knicks: 29%

2010/11 with Nuggets: 41%

Further, these statistics do not include Miller's massive advantage in drawing fouls as detailed above, because the NBA does not track assists leading to free throw attempts. As such, the Blazers should hope Felton can continue to get his own shot as frequently and as efficiently as he did in the 50+ games with the Knicks, and get to the line like he did with the Nuggets. If not, this team will be sorely lacking in easy points from free throw attempts and shot creation. Wallace, Matthews, Batum, and Smith don't project as reliable shot-creators, so absent an acquisition of an additional shot creator or continued performance from Felton out of line with his career trends, Aldridge will be shouldered with too heavy a burden, and the offense will suffer.

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