Debunking NBA Myths: Team's Best Player Should Be Ball Dominant

03/03/2021

There is an NBA school of thought revolving around the idea that the ball should always be in the hands of your best player. The idea is that anytime your best player is on the floor, the offense and primary decision-making should run through him. Well, I am here to tell you that this is nothing more than a myth that has no backing in basketball history.

NBA myths can be dangerous and its time someone does something about it. With this series, we attack and debunk the most outrageous NBA myths. We've talked about Lonzo Ball, Joel Embiid and Dwight Howard. We've talked about the league's misguided obsession with three pointers. And today, we debunk the myth that a team's best player has to take all the shots.

Let me provide some context before debunking this argument. It is important to note that this is all based on the NBA's usage rate statistic. Usage rate is the percentage of a team's scoring a player is responsible for when he's on the floor. So any possession ending in a player making a basket, taking free throws, or turning the ball over counts towards their usage rate percentage. The more involved a player is in scoring while they are on the court, the higher their usage rate.

The age of basketball analytics has fundamentally changed the usage rate around the league. Gone are the days of team-oriented ball movement. Nowadays, it is commonplace to see stars like Westbrook, Harden in the Houston days, and Luca Doncic handle the ball over and over again and make nearly every offensive decision when they're on the court.

In fact, of the ten highest individual usage rate seasons in NBA history, 7 of the 10 have come since 2014.

Simply put, the new analytic wave for many teams in the NBA is to have your star dribble the air out of the basketball. On paper, it makes sense why you would want your best player to have the ball the whole game, but in reality, it does not.

Of the 15 highest usage rate seasons in NBA history, not a single one of those players led his team to the NBA finals come playoff time. In fact, the highest usage rate season that correlated with a trip to the NBA Finals is with Allen Iverson's 2000-01 season coming in at #17th place.

Outside of that, no individual season with a top 30 usage rate has correlated with a trip to the NBA Finals.

Here's where the myth really gets popped.

Of the 50 highest usage rate seasons in NBA history, only three have resulted in trips to the NBA Finals. Outside of A.I., Michael Jordan won the 92-93 Championship with a usage rate that ranks 35th in NBA history, and again with a championship in 97-98 that ranks 50th in usage rate history. Outside of that, the next highest usage rate season resulting in a trip to the finals by someone not named Michael Jordan is by 1996-97 Karl Malone coming in at 86th place.

And if your argument is, well, this is the era of super teams, and that means usage rates are lower for championship teams because there are so many great individual players on the floor.

Well, that explanation would be incorrect. The 2006-07 Cleveland Cavaliers team LeBron wheeled to the finals is considered by many to be the worst roster to ever play in an NBA Finals. LeBron James was by far the best player, to the point where he was the only All-Star player on the team. So you would assume his usage rate was through the roof, but that was not the case. 

His individual usage rate for that season comes in at #187 in NBA History . . .

This is all to say that there is no truth to the myth that the ball has to be in the hands of a team's best player for 48 minutes while he takes all the shots. In fact, NBA history tells us that the higher the usage rate for a team's best player, the less likely that team is to make the NBA finals, let alone win it. Sharing the ball really does lead to more wins.

So don't let the gaudy numbers modern players are putting up fool you. They are doing it with historically high usage rate, and more importantly, it does not correlate with winning.

The NBA myth that the ball has to be in the hands of your best player all game is nothing more than that, a myth.


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