Fun with Stats: Clyde Drexler

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There’s no doubt that Clyde “The Glide” Drexler was one of the greatest shooting guards to play in the NBA. His accolades are legion: 10-time NBA All Star, All-NBA First Team (92), All-NBA Second Team (88, 91), All-NBA Third Team (90, 95), NBA Championship (95), Named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA History, Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee (2004). His career stats are equally impressive: 20 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game, 5.6 assists per game, 47% field goal shooting, 79% free throw shooting, and 2 steals per game. As you can see, he was an incredibly efficient and effective player.

There are a few custom statistics (i.e. not used for a standard box score, or on the NBA.com player profile page) that really demonstrate Drexler’s average impact on a NBA game. Most folks are familiar with the assist per turnover stat. This is simple custom stat that shows on average how many assists a player generates compared to a turnover. Over his career, Drexler averaged 2.06 assists per turnover. His worst season was his rookie year, the 1983-1984 season, at 1.24 and his best year was in the 1992-1993 season, at 2.42.

On the surface, this average looks like a straight forward 2:1 ratio. Twice as many assists to turnovers. Hooray for Drexler. However, to understand the true impact this stat represents, you have to look at the value of a possession during a game between 1983 and 1998. On average, Drexler’s teams scored 1.1 points per possession during his career. Their opponents scored 1.07 per possession. Since a turnover is the loss of a possession, each turnover cost his team 2.17 points. Furthermore, each assist represents at least 2 points, and probably something closer to 2.2 or 2.3 points, though that stat is more elusively cultivated. Applying these numbers to the assist per turnover stat, we can see that Drexler was creating 4+ points for his teammates per every 2.17 points he was costing them. This does not include his own scoring output, of course, which we will get to right now!

Perhaps what you require, old chum, is a thunderous dunk shot.

Perhaps what you require, old chum, is a thunderous dunk shot.

Over the course of his career, Drexler averaged 20.4 points per game, while shooting a very efficient 47% from the field. However, when you include his assists per game, 5.6, you see that Drexler was responsible for more than 20 points. Drexler’s career total offense per game is 31.72 points. That averaged out to 29% of his team’s total offense during his career. Taking what we know about turnovers and total offense, we can calculate the total offense per turnover. Drexler averaged 11.57 true offensive points per turnover. That’s 11.57 points a game for every 2.17 he cost them. Drexler made up for each turnover to the tune of 5 times the damage going the other way. That is, by any measure, a fine display of efficiency and effectiveness.

The same approach can be applied to defensive stats as well. Drexler averaged .9 steals plus blocks per turnover. This defensive metric is a little more fuzzy, while a steal always translates into a possession, it is very difficult to estimate how many blocked shots translate into a defensive rebound (and thus a new possession). But to give an example of where Drexler stands in the pantheon of defensive players, Hakeem Olajuwon, the NBA all-time leader in steals plus blocks averaged 1.57 steals plus blocks per turnover. Given the amount of ball handling Drexler did, and the lack of block opportunities, .9 becomes an impressive number.

Of course, Clyde was not nicknamed “The Glide” because people poured over his box score. His fame came from stuff like this. Please be warned. Small children and the elderly should not view dunks this vicious.

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2 Responses to “Fun with Stats: Clyde Drexler”

  1. jpalumbo Says:

    Another great metric to look at when viewing Drexler is his Statistical Plus/Minus. SPM is an attempt by statistics gurus to deduce a formula to use box score statistics to approximates adjusted plus / minus numbers. Clyde’s got fantastic SPM numbers http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=1813 & http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=1415. On the All-Time list he looks like the 3rd best guard of all time behind only Mike and Magic. SPM tends to value versatility quite a bit, versatility and efficiency, and those are areas where Clyde shined.

  2. Alternate Win Score Shenanigans « Double Dribble Says:

    […] – see Paul’s article regarding the benefits of Drexler’s possession creation here. Kobe of course is almost always rated lower than we’d expect by metrics. Too many misses and […]

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