Voters have many factors to consider when choosing the MVP every year. They can look at a player’s per game statistics and number of games played. They can analyze advanced metrics and on/off ratings and defensive impact. They can weight a team record and reward any candidates from no. 1 seeds.
But most of all, it seems, voters care about which player gets the most buckets, preferably for both himself and his teammates. Last season, Nikola Jokic was involved in the creation of 59.6 points per 36 minutes, the top mark in the NBA. (As we outlined two years ago, our points created metric includes the points a player scores, points off their assists, and points off their screen assists.) He rightly won MVP.
In 2019-20, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the league in points created; he won MVP. In 2018-19, Giannis ranked second in points created, 1.5 per 36 behind James Harden, and won MVP. In 2017-18, Harden led in points created and won MVP. And in 2016-17, Russell Westbrook led in points created—and, guess what, he also won MVP.
That’s as far back as this metric can be calculated, because 2016-17 is the first regular season for which screen assist data is publicly available. But in that time, which neatly coincides with the modern era of heliocentric offenses, four of the five MVPs led the league in points created, and the fifth finished a close second place.
So as we pass the halfway point of the 2021-22 season with a persistently uncertain MVP race—get well soon, Kevin Durant! And you, Steph Curry’s jumper!—how does this season’s points created leaderboard look? Which players lead the field, and which surprises are pushing toward the top?
This points created statistic involves three parts. First is simplest: a player’s own points. Second is the points he creates via assist, which offers an improvement over the traditional assist statistic because assists on 3-pointers are more valuable than assists on 2-pointers. And third is the points he creates via screen assist—defined by NBA Advanced Stats as when “an offensive player or team sets a screen for a teammate that directly leads to a made field goal by that teammate”—via the same logic.
(For the anti–screen assist crowd, just know that every argument against the stat—that it’s dependent on role; that it can be awarded arbitrarily; that it inherently requires the teammate to make a shot—also applies to the regular old assist, too. They’re both flawed stats that nonetheless reveal information.)
Add all those parts together, convert to a per-36-minute scale, and voila—points created. Here’s the top 10 in this season’s leaderboard (minimum 500 minutes played), with a couple of familiar names at the top:
Points Created Per 36 Minutes Leaders
|Player||Points Scored||AST Points||Screen AST Points||All Points Created|
|Player||Points Scored||AST Points||Screen AST Points||All Points Created|
Given the recent correlation between points created leaders and MVP winners, it’s no surprise that Jokic ranks first and Giannis second in Basketball-Reference’s MVP tracker—with a healthy lead for Jokic, in both points created and his MVP odds.
The reigning winner is just as dominant on offense this season, essentially elevating an injury-riddled Nuggets rotation all by himself. Jokic isn’t just one of the league’s top scorers. He also ranks second in points created only for others, combining assists and screen assists. Only the Warriors’ Draymond Green creates more points for his teammates, but unlike Jokic, Green scores only 9.5 points per 36 minutes, one of the lowest marks for any rotation player.
Points created can also help track changes in player role and impact. Harden ranked second, first, and first in points created during his isolation heyday in Houston, but he’s fallen to seventh and eighth place in his two seasons in Brooklyn. For an opposite example, Joel Embiid ranks fourth in points created this season, which would mark the first time in his career breaking into the top five. He’s always been a ferocious defender and unstoppable force around the rim, but now he’s creating more points for others than ever before—and gaining MVP buzz accordingly.
Most of the names in this top 10 are mainstays; even Harden is still firmly in the mix despite his decline, and Jokic and Giannis finished 1-2 last season as well. It is exceedingly difficult for a new premier creator to break into the upper ranks: Last season, every one of the top 10 points creators had ranked in the top 10 at least once before, and this season, only one of the top 10 is new. That outlier is Ja Morant, who ranked just 30th in points created last season, but whose ascendance to superstardom is one of the main stories of the season’s first half.
The data tells other stories as well. This list shows the top-ranked player on every team that doesn’t place a player inside this season’s top 10:
- Suns: Chris Paul (11th, 45.2 points created per 36 minutes)
- Spurs: Dejounte Murray (12th, 44.3)
- Trail Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic (13th, 43.9)
- Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns (14th, 43.8)
- Hornets: LaMelo Ball (16th, 43.6)
- Cavaliers: Darius Garland (18th, 42.9)
- Heat: Jimmy Butler (19th, 42.8)
- Jazz: Donovan Mitchell (20th, 42.5)
- Wizards: Bradley Beal (22nd, 41.1)
- Bulls: DeMar DeRozan (23rd, 41.0)
- Clippers: Paul George (25th, 40.6)
- Rockets: Alperen Sengun (27th, 40.3)
- Knicks: Julius Randle (30th, 40.1)
- Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (32nd, 39.6)
- Pelicans: Brandon Ingram (42nd, 38.6)
- Kings: Alex Len (44th, 38.1)
- Raptors: Fred VanVleet (45th, 37.9)
- Celtics: Jayson Tatum (52nd, 36.7)
- Magic: Cole Anthony (53rd, 36.6)
- Pistons: Cade Cunningham (66th, 34.4)
Gawk at how far down the first Celtic is; Tatum’s rank is a direct indicator of the challenge Boston’s stars find in creating for their teammates in addition to themselves. Or, on the other side, admire rookie Alperen Sengun, who finds himself contributing across the offensive spectrum.
This next chart shows the top five risers and fallers in points created compared to last season, among qualifying players:
Biggest Risers and Fallers in Points Created Per 36 Minutes
Hey, look at the Grizzlies! Not only has Morant rocketed into the top 10 overall, but both Brandon Clarke and Desmond Bane have exhibited much more production this season. And all three players are 25 or younger, giving Memphis a tremendous young core both this season and moving forward.
Anfernee Simons has also ramped up his scoring and assisting output, perhaps making one of Portland’s veteran starting guards expendable at the trade deadline, and P.J. Tucker—shooting a league-leading 47 percent from 3!—is rejuvenated on offense after posing as a mere one-way player for most of last season. Most of all, Murray is enjoying a breakout campaign in San Antonio, in which he’s both receiving more of an offensive burden and making the most of it: He’s one of just seven players—along with four in the top 10, Ball, and Garland—who’s creating at least 20 points per game for both himself and his teammates.
On the other end, the two main standouts are a pair of offseason additions who haven’t remotely fulfilled expectations with a new team. Compared to last season, Evan Fournier is scoring less efficiently and creating only half as many points for others—a massive disappointment in year one of a three-season deal (with an extra option year) with the Knicks. And finally, Westbrook pulls up the rear as he struggles to adjust to life next to LeBron, in an offense not designed for his ball dominance.
In each of the past five seasons, Westbrook ranked in the top 10 in points created, including his league-leading total in 2016-17 and extending through a sixth-place showing last year. Now he’s down to 29th place, essentially swapping with a new star in Morant.
Stats through Wednesday’s games.