Offensive Roles

Understanding a player’s job is a critical factor when assessing performance, style, and degree of difficulty. Up until today, we’ve done so offensively through assessing how players are deployed in half court situations. Today, we shift that focus somewhat to better integrate core competencies of players along with how they’re deployed.

These new offensive roles are now part of the filters available within our Player Profiles, and will be integrated into our site’s offerings moving forward in areas such as our data visualizations and stable scoring impact data. Based on the data inputs used, such as Driving data, we’ll be able to calculate these (and already have) for the 2013-20 seasons.

Building from the Past

For the past year, we’ve utilized the offensive roles designed by Todd Whitehead and introduced here to aid in filtering and comparing data at the site. Those 11 roles leverage Synergy’s play type data to bucket players between roles looking at how players are deployed from an offensive standpoint for their scoring possessions.

These new offensive roles worked backwards, with us spending a couple weeks actively (and a bit longer subconsciously) grouping players by the core competencies they bring to the table, then bringing in the data and finding where those natural divisions existed to group players.

Our roles similarly capture usage/deployment offensively, but leverage a few other data sources (like drive and 3PT attempt rate) to do so. These seek to evaluate roles as scorers, not comment on playmaking capability.

The other offensive roles that came out recently and have perhaps even more overlap with what I’d been planning are Jeff Siegel’s offensive roles over at EarlyBirdRights. Between Todd and Jeff’s roles, you’ll see a lot of similarities with what we’ve created and plan to use moving forward.

Without further ado, here are the 12 offensive roles you’ll see referenced in BBall Index content moving forward:

Guard/Wing Roles

Primary Ball Handler: these players used most like Guards, categorized as such based on their pick and roll ball handler and perimeter isolation scoring possessions, that don’t isolate enough to be categorized as Shot Creators and have a higher percentage of their possessions on-court where they’re estimated to be the initiator of the offense. Examples from 2019-20 are Kemba Walker and Rajon Rondo.

Secondary Ball Handler: also Guards based on the same math, these players similarly have lower isolation rates as the Primary Ball Handlers, but have lower estimated initiation rates for the offense. Examples from 2019-20 include D’Angelo Russell, Alex Caruso, and Donte DiVincenzo.

Shot Creator: players in this offensive role are non-Bigs that we identify as have high rates of perimeter and interior isolation rates, creating their own shots within the offense as a key skill set. Examples from 2019-20 are Luka Doncic and James Harden.

Slasher: Slashers are on-ball players that have a high tendency to drive to the rim. We use 3PA rates, drives per 75 offensive possessions on-court, and some play type data to calculate this role. Examples from 2019-20 include Collin Sexton and De’Aaron Fox.

Athletic Finisher: these players, as opposed to Slashers, are off-ball Guards/Wings that do damage at the rim through their cutting and activity on putbacks. Examples from 2019-20 are Jonathan Isaac and OG Anunoby.

Off Screen Shooter: players in this role are Guards/Wings that have a high proportion of their offensive scoring possessions coming from off-screen and handoff play type possessions. Examples from 2019-20 are Joe Harris and JJ Redick.

Movement Shooter: these players are primarily shooters based on their 3PA rates, but do so often while moving around the court based on our estimations rather than being off-screen or stand still shooters. Examples from 2019-20 are Svi Mykhailiuk and Danny Green.

Stationary Shooter: guys here have high 3PA rates, but our estimations show these guys to be shooters mostly from catching & shooting standing still, rather than moving to get themselves open for their shots. Examples from 2019-20 include Eric Gordon and Cedi Osman.

Big Man Roles

The last four offensive roles belong to Bigs, which qualify based on frequencies of post up, roll man, putback, cut, and dump off chances.

Versatile Big: players in this category are Bigs that do it all. They’ll shoot 3s, post up, and be active with other Big man actions (roll man opportunities, putbacks, cuts, and dump offs). Examples from 2019-20 are Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Love.

Post Scorer: here we find Bigs that don’t have high 3PT attempt rates and have particularly high post up possession usage. Examples from 2019-20 are Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid.

Stretch Big: these players are Bigs that have lower post up rates and higher 3PA rates. Examples from 2019-20 are Marc Gasol and Frank Kaminsky.

Roll & Cut Big: our last category of Bigs belong to players with low post up and low 3PA rates. That leaves us with guys primarily adding value with their rolling, cutting, and ability to finish dump offs. Examples from 2019-20 are DeAndre Jordan and Clint Capela.

These roles build off of the great groundwork Todd Whitehead formed with his roles, but hopefully better encapsulate primary value add areas for players in an easy to understand way for most fans and have an easier flow from one offensive role to another when it comes to development.

For example, developing from a Stationary Shooter to a Movement Shooter comes with better footwork and technique along with better offensive IQ to know when to relocate to the 3PT line, fade from the wing to the corner (like on a baseline drive), or lift from the corner to the wing. Going from a Movement Shooter to an Off Screen Shooter is the next natural progression.

For Ball Handlers, the Secondary → Primary leap is a natural one.

For Bigs, developing from just one existing skill set to a second (shooting, or post play) helps bring players from the more siloed Stretch/Roll & Cut/Post Scoring roles to the Versatile Big role.

Tracking Development & Movement

Hopefully these roles will aid how we group and assess players moving forward. This development should also help us assess the possible future roles for players based on where they are today.

Based off of players movement from 2013-20 (nearly 2,000 players with 100+ scoring possessions in both Y1 and Y2), the early results are promising. Here are some examples of player movement that tracks with what I’d expect to see based on what I’d consider natural skill development progressions:

  • An overwhelming majority of Versatile Bigs (88%) were either Post Scorers (44%) or Stretch Bigs (44%) the year prior
  • Most Post Scorers (74%) were Roll & Cut Bigs the year prior
  • A strong majority of Primary Ball Handlers (66%) were Secondary Ball Handlers the year prior
  • Over half of Off Screen Shooters (56%) were Movement Shooters the year prior

This data will help inform our ability to project roles moving forward. For example, we can know that a Roll & Cut Big like Jarrett Allen (who has been one all 3 seasons of his career) likely won’t become a Versatile Big next season.

On the other end of the spectrum, Joe Harris’ career progression from Stationary Shooter → Movement Shooter → Off Screen Shooter was a more predictable outcome based off of this data.

Sample Team – 2015-16 Title Cavs

To get a better idea of what a roster might look like, let’s check out the 2015-16 championship Cavaliers roster looks for these new roles. For our purposes here we won’t look at the Playmaking tag.

Name Offensive Role
LeBron James Shot Creator
Kevin Love Versatile Big
Kyrie Irving Shot Creator
JR Smith Movement Shooter
Matthew Dellavedova Primary Ball Handler (Ky missed 20+ games that year with injury, so Delly ended up a Primary Ball Handler rather than a Secondary Ball Handler).
Tristan Thompson Roll + Cut Big
Timofey Mozgov Post Scorer
Channing Frye Stretch Big
Richard Jefferson Stationary Shooter
Iman Shumpert Stationary Shooter
Mo Williams Secondary Ball Handler
Anderson Varejao Roll + Cut Big
James Jones Movement Shooter
Sasha Kaun Post Scorer
Dahntay Jones Slasher


We’ll continue exploring uses for these roles to aid analysis and report back. Among the areas I’m excited to explore are how roles combine well or poorly from a lineup standpoint. That and more is on the way! But for now, enjoy their inclusion in our Player Profiles.