Who's the better passer, Ball or Ben Simmons?

From ESPN - July 16, 2017

In this week's mailbag, we address players worth the supermax, whether Lonzo Ball or Ben Simmons will become the better passer and who the East's No. 2 player is -- and take a statistical dive into a fun NBA name game.

You can tweet your questions using the hashtag #peltonmailbag or email them to

@kpelton How many players in the NBA are actually worth the supermax? Specifically are/were PG, Butler, Wall worth it? #peltonmailbag

Jan Studebaker (@studebaking) July 7, 2017

There are two ways to answer this question and an important distinction. When we look at projected 2017-18 value based on the projected cost of a win, there are many players whose on-court production figures to be worth more than this year's supermax salary ($34.7 million): 26 in all, including all three players you mention.

Of course, the trickier part is determining how much players will be worth over the lifetime of a designated player extension, which could extend through six seasons (either one left on the current contract and five as part of an extension or two and four).

As I noted in explaining how designated veteran contracts might be bad ones for teams, relatively few players tend to continue producing at this level so deep into their careers. The ones who do are typically among the top handful of players in the league at the time they sign the extension.

Stephen Curry and James Harden, the two players who have to date signed designated veteran contracts, meet that criteria. None of the players on your list do, which makes it unlikely to me that they would produce supermax value on a designated veteran contract.

"Is there a ratio that exists that measures something like 'the gravity that you create on the court' vs. 'the EXPECTED gravity that you should create based on your shooting percentage?' In other words, is there a measure for how reputations and actual 3-point percentage interact? I ask because, as a Chicago Bulls fan, I am struck by how Nikola Mirotic creates space even when he's stinking it up from the beyond the arc, and a guy like Jerian Grant -- who for most of the season seemed much more reliable -- was left open more often." -- Alejandro Yegros

I took a look at expected gravity when we introduced the concept in 2014, using the gravity and respect ratings tracked by Stats Inc. during the 2013-14 season using SportVU data. The key takeaway:

"When it comes to spacing, taking 3s is more important than whether they go in. The percentage of shots a player attempts from beyond the arc correlates more strongly to distraction score than 3-point percentage."

That finding helps explain the contrast between the two Bulls you mention. While Grant shot 36.6 percent from 3-point range last season to Mirotic's 35.2 percent, Mirotic attempted 3-pointers more than 70 percent more frequently: 8.1 per 36 minutes as compared to Grant's 4.7.

The other issue here is that 3-point percentage is notoriously random from season to season. Grant was one of the least accurate 3-point shooters in the league as a rookie in 2015-16, making just 22.0 percent of his attempts, while Mirotic shot 39.0 percent. So my SCHOENE projections, which utilize up to three seasons of data, project Mirotic as the better 3-point shooter in 2017-18.

@kpelton Hey Kevin, who do you think is the better passing prospect, Ball or Simmons? #peltonmailbag

SB (@wiwt24) June 26, 2017

I'd say Ball, and I do not think it's particularly close. Simmons is an exceptional passer for someone 6 feet 10, which is a key part of his appeal, but relative to point guards, I do not think he's anything special as a passer. (Of course, because of his size, many of his other skills are unique for a point guard.)


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