Category 1 Wings: Two-Way Primary Initiators
(Skills: High Usage Handling In Point-Forward/Lead Guard Role Initiating the Offense, Creation For Others, Self Creation, Driving/Finishing, Defense)
- LeBron James (HS) #1
- *Giannis Antetokounmpo (International) #15
- *Ben Simmons (Freshman) #1
Also Included: Prime Kobe Bryant, Prime Dwyane Wade, Prime Manu Ginobili & Paul Pierce (Arguably)
I. What Sets Them Apart
This player archetype either can or projects to potentially be the primary on-ball initiator in an offense, capable of creating for himself and for others in a high usage playmaking role, separating this group from primary scorers who either can’t create for others in elite fashion or of whom need to share playmaking duties with a perimeter lead guard.
LeBron is really his own archetype as one of the few players of all time who you can surround with 3&D players and he can carry the entire playmaking load. Most will group the elite wing players (Durant, George, Butler, Melo etc) into one overall category, but delineating between what separates LeBron from the masses is incredibly important.
LeBron is essentially a lead guard, armed with the high level handling and passing to consistently initiate the offense in a creator role for both himself and for others. His perimeter skills in handling the ball and corresponding vision are unmatched for someone his size. Players like Durant can probably initiate consistently, but they don’t have quite the same level of creation for others and more importantly have never been utilized in that role, thus it’s difficult to argue that they could given the same playmaking burden LeBron has carried throughout his career. Durant has always had a ball dominant creator sidekick in Westbrook and in Golden State he will not have primary initiator responsibility, freeing him to be a scorer in a motion based system, and no one does that better. The same goes for a George type, who can probably initiate the offense consistently but he projects better as a primary scorer paired with a playmaking lead guard due to his lack of consistently being able to get to the rim and high level creation for others.
Giannis is really the only current player who projects similarly as an overall point forward type you can run an offense through in an on-ball role in both scoring and creating for others at a high level with high usage. He’s not there yet, but there are promising indicators. Similarly, Simmons’ ceiling outcome is this player archetype (although I put him in the playmaking 4 group as it suits his current game better), which is why I had him ranked ahead of Ingram in the draft. Whether he can finish and/or shoot well enough to enter this tier is definitely debatable.
As for other players in this grouping, peak Wade, Kobe, Manu and Pierce deserve mention, though the former 2 have cleaner fits here. Wade was a two-way initiator in his prime, though his prime was partly shared by a superior player of this mold. Kobe could be this player when he wasn’t predetermining what role to fill in either/or fashion. Manu had this ability, but given his surroundings as a sixth man playing next to Parker and Duncan it’s certainly fair to disqualify him. Same goes for Pierce, who probably could fill this role (and did in some variation for years), but might be more optimally used in his “Big 4” title team role.
Overall, this is half of the holy grail wing archetype, as taller wing initiators/scorers in the league typically eclipse smaller lead guards as contributors to successful teams. This shouldn’t be viewed as all category 1 players are inherently better than category 2 players. Durant for instance as one of the best scorers of all time will likely be better than Giannis or Simmons after their careers finish (and he certainly is now of course). It’s more a skill-set and role delineation.
A.High Usage Handling/Creation For Others
2015/16 Regular Season Usage Rate Leaders
- When we’re talking about star players, the implicit undertone message is the ability to handle high usage without a curb off in efficiency. LeBron obviously satisfies the usage burden.
2015/16 Regular Season RPM Leaders
- …And corresponding efficiency/production
2015/16 Regular Season AST/USG Ratio (Non-Inclusive)
- Hat tip to Marc Whittington (you should be following him @mwhittington13 on twitter) for this AST%/USG% stat, which really contextualizes high usage creating for others. For context, a player is typically an elite high usage creator for others with a usage rate at 25 or over with a corresponding AST/USG of 1 or more.
- Last season for example, there were only two players who fit this category (non “point guards” as determined by ESPN): LeBron and Harden.
- I included Giannis as well, but he does not meet the 25% usage threshold. Regardless, his .90 AST/USG ratio for his age is a very promising indicator, and it’s very reasonable to assume that he eclipses a 1 ratio with the requisite usage in the near future.
- This is what separates LeBron and potential Giannis/Simmons from Durant types: high usage creation for others.
B.On-Ball Self Creation
2015/16 Regular Season Isolation Finishing Playtype (Non-Inclusive)
- Both LeBron and Giannis are high volume isolation creators capable of getting to their spots (usually the rim). Both are minus jump shooters and Giannis doesn’t shoot a lot of threes, which impedes their upside here.
2015/16 Regular Season PNR Ball Handler Finishing Playtype
- The second component to self creation, handling the ball in the pick and roll, really separates LeBron and Giannis in terms of usage. A lot of that is scheme, but also some is the fact teams usually go under the screen on both players and LeBron has years of experience to combat this (on top of generational finishing). Giannis in due time will likely improve on his efficiency, which is above average currently. The bigger takeaway is the on-ball volume.
2015/16 Regular Season Post Up Finishing Playtype
- Often overlooked, the ability for a wing to operate out of the post as a scorer and facilitator is crucial. LeBron took that next step as a player in Cleveland once he started attacking smaller wings in the post, which unlocked a new dynamic offensively. This only measures finishing possessions, but both players are high volume post finishers for wings and both possess the corresponding vision to facilitate out of those positions, which is not captured here.
2015/16 Regular Season Drives Per Game (Non-Guards)
- The ability to dribble penetrate and either get to the rim or the foul line in terms of finishing or break defenses down to create opportunities for teammates is especially paramount for high usage initiators who aren’t adept jump shooters. Both LeBron and Giannis rank among the elite in the league for “non-guards” (and even including guards) in drives per game, showcasing handling ability.
2015/16 Regular Season Restricted Area Attempts Per game (Non-Guards)
- Correspondingly, both players rank a the top of the league in restricted area attempts per game, with both sporting plus finishing capability.
2015/16 Regular Season FTr (Non- “Point Guards” as Deemed by Bball Ref)
- Butressing Giannis’ and LeBron’s on ball self creation profile and compensating for the lack of shooting is the ability to get to the line frequently. Giannis especially is very adept at this for his age.
2015/16 Regular Season LeBron Shot Chart
- In case you were wondering what makes LeBron a freaking marvel outside of creating for others, he is one of the best offensive players in the league even though he can’t shoot. Why? Because he gets to the rim at will and is probably the best finisher of all time for a perimeter player.
2015/16 Regular Season Giannis Shot Chart
- Giannis isn’t the finisher LeBron is but sports an even greater shot distribution around the rim. He can’t shoot with range yet, but his ability to get to the rim with those space-eating euro-steps and long limb length extension finishes is virtually unguardable.
2015/16 Regular Season DBPM (Wings)
2015/16 Regular Season DRPM (ESPN “Small Forwards”)
- LeBron’s defense isn’t what it once was, which is understandable given his age and offensive burden, but he’s still a plus two-way player. Similarly, Giannis is one of the pillars of Milwaukee’s hyper-active overload defense with his length and ability to cover ground. He’s not a defensive stopper yet, as he isn’t especially quick twitch reaction wise defending in space, but as a team defender and chaos creator he’s at the very least an above average defender.
II. College Indicators/Translations
- As we don’t have Giannis’ official measurements I didn’t include him here, though from the eye test he obviously has outlier tools in terms of height and length.
- Wade doesn’t get enough credit as one of the true outliers in the game. It’s rare to have an elite primary two-way initiator under 6’6″ , but Wade compensated with plus length and elite athleticism.
2.40 Minutes Pace Adjusted:
- Wade: Sporting the profile of an elite overall creator, Wade’s points and assists numbers were outlier elite in DXs database for “shooting guards and small forwards”. He fortified his projection with elite defensive numbers in blocks and steals, along with solid rebounding numbers to showcase his overall athleticism. There weren’t any outlier negatives in Wade’s profile, with only the dicey FT% and modest 3pt volume as potential negatives.
- Wade: Wade’s pass first and decision-making metrics ranked from above average to generational elite for his position. Throw in solid shooting efficiency and ability to get to the line and he was a plus all around offensive prospect. The lack of 3pt volume was again the only potential negative.
- A paramount component to any primary initiator, Wade showed high self-creation and creation for others metrics with consistent elite usage.
- Elite Scoring/Self Creation
- Elite Passing/Creation for Others
- High Usage Overall Creation Without an Efficiency Curb Off
- Plus Decision-Making and Willingness to Facilitate
- Plus Defensive Profile
- First Contract Translation: Starter, All-Star Yrs 2-4 (And Every Year Since)
III. Overall Takeaways
- Generational Archetype: It’s an obvious statement but players with wing/four size who can handle the ball, create for themselves and create for others as the primary cog in an offense are the rarest commodity in basketball. We’re not just talking all-star level here, but a championship level elite archetype found on elite teams. LeBron really is his own category in this regard, but Giannis and Simmons both have the baseline skill-set to fill this role in time, albeit in less dominant fashion.
- Simmons’ Ceiling/Delineation with Ingram: It warrants mentioning again, but the delineation between Simmons’ primary initiator projection and Ingram’s potential category 2 primary scorer ceiling outcome was the driving force for me personally in ranking Simmons a tier above Ingram. If Ingram had the elite scoring/shooting indicators and corresponding fluidity with the ball that Durant did (he didn’t and does not), it might have been another story. But Simmons’ on-ball initiating skills and the percentage chance he becomes a good enough shooter and/or finisher to be a generational overall creator outweighed Ingram’s far inferior creation for others game with a non elite scoring profile. Simmons isn’t LeBron, as he is nowhere near the overall athlete, especially vertically, and doesn’t project to be in the same realm of finisher, but he is probably the closest thing we’ve seen since LBJ entered the league in terms of the size + handling/vision package
Next Up: Category Two Wings: Two Way Primary Scorers/Self Creators (*With One Exception)
Stats provided by NBA.Com, ESPN.Com, Draftexpress.Com, Sports-Reference.Com, Hoop-Math.Com and Basketball-Reference.Com