The Warriors are off to a 14-0 start and a threat to beat the Bulls 72-10 record. They were 5 wins from the Bulls last year and now look more potent. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green have so far gone to another level.
Much has been made of the Draymond Green at center lineup with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes. The lineup is a +/- monster and won them the Finals last year. An excellent RealGM article by Jonathan Tjarks reveals how hard it is to match up with the lineup. If you have a lineup like Kevin Love-Timofey Mozgov or Lamarcus Aldridge-Tim Duncan playing both leaves them too slow to chase Barnes and Green on the perimeter or in transition. Going small with Kawhi Leonard or Lebron James at center means leaving all-star talent in Love, Aldridge or Duncan on the bench in place of perimeter players not talented enough to beat the Warriors. You have to break your own legs to match up with the Warriors small lineup.
This is all true. However perhaps why Green messes up the opponent so much is because that’s what elite players do. Against Anthony Davis or DeMarcus Cousins in a playoff series most teams won’t have a matchup either. Draymond Green was too short to guard Davis last year and he went off. The Warriors just had to beat them in spite of Davis’ numbers. Likewise for stars at other positions such as Russell Westbrook or of course, Curry himself.
As revolutionary as the Warriors style of play, the underlying reason for success may be the same as always. Having better players than the opponent. It’s just part of the reason why players such as Green, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson are great is the value of defense and spacing.
Consider the defensive talent of the Warriors. Draymond Green is a defensive player of the year caliber power forward. Andrew Bogut per minute has a case for the best defensive center in the league. He is blocked from DPOY conversations by not playing as many minutes. Green and Bogut finished top 2 in ESPN’s DRPM last year. Compare Green to some of the other best defensive big men of this decade: Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka, Tim Duncan. Who had a better defensive partner than Bogut? Howard played with an offence-first player in Rashard Lewis. Noah covered for Carlos Boozer on defense half the time, when not paying with the excellent Taj Gibson. Hibbert and Gasol played with David West and Zach Randolph. Both smart responsible defenders, but not Bogut. Tim Duncan had a quality defensive partner in Tiago Splitter, but Duncan this decade is not quite as dominant as in his prime on defense. Ibaka played with Kendrick Perkins in the Thunder’s best defensive season, another quality defender but not special.
Add in a defense first backup center in Festus Ezeli and the Warriors may have the best defensive frontcourt in the last 10 years, since Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace in Detroit and Tim Duncan and David Robinson in San Antonio. Not that the Warriors defensive talent ends there. They have one of the premiere defensive wings of this generation in Andre Iguodala and plus defenders like Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Stephen Curry, Shaun Livingston.
This is a special defensive core. Most of us are not used to a defensive team who plays at the fastest pace in the league because we presume it limits their upside on the defensive end. But what if this defensive reduction IS happening to the Warriors, it’s just they’re so talented that after the reduction they’re still the best defensive team. Maybe if playing a grit and grind style and pace like the recent Pacers, Grizzlies and Bulls, they would be lapping any recent team on defense, not just matching them.
And with so much defensive talent they only needed so much offense to be dominant and they have more than enough. Curry who is playing at one of the great offensive levels of anyone in history. Klay Thompson’s combination of all-star level scoring and floor spacing makes him one of the most potent offensive SGs. Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green are providing efficient possessions of floor spacing. Of the two sides there is probably less dynamic talent on offense than defense. But as long as Curry and a full lineup of shooters is around it doesn’t matter.
This stat was created by Julien Rodger
I made a statistic this summer called VEDS, short for Volume, Efficiency, Defense, Spacing. My philosophy the last few years is acquiring the most defenders who space the floor is a key to getting ahead in the NBA. At least until everyone catches up. The Warriors last year were the greatest spacing and defense masterpiece we’ve seen to date. But how are players like Draymond Green or DeMarre Carroll quantified compared to the ones who fill the statsheet?
My stat intends to include how to value players in these four categories. I have a formula for each of the four, then add them together. Here’s my explanation for each:
Part 1: Volume (V)
Volume scoring is the skill becoming less in vogue by the year. The old school mentality is high point per game players create their own shot to avoid stagnant defenses. That go-to scorers help you win in the 4th quarter.
The analytics movement has drawn the focus away from high volume scorers and towards the context of efficiency. However volume is far from meaningless. Many players in the NBA such as shooters or finishers at the rim rely on open shots to be most productive. Stars help draw double teams and shift the help defense to get their teammates open.
To use an example, the S in my stat for Spacing is designed to value long range, off the ball shooters who draw defenders away from the rim. When floating that spacing concept, one forum poster brought up the subject of Dwight Howard in Orlando. His argument was although Dwight plays exclusively near the rim and thus performing poorly in my “Spacing” section, Howard was critical to creating space for his teammates on the Orlando Magic. The defenders he soaked in off the pick and roll or in the post opened up 3 point shots for the litany of Magic shooters like Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson, etc. Yet Dwight is rated as a poor floor spacer. The Volume category however, is how this stat evaluates Dwight situations by giving him credit for the volume of possessions he uses. In a way “Volume” is as much a floor spacing statistic as “Spacing”. Volume scorers open space for teammates, just while playing on the ball, not off the ball.
How I calculate Volume is simple. First, I use this to evaluate possessions:
FGA + (FTA*.44) + TOV
Using the 0.44 coefficient for free throws instead of 0.5, is the common way to adjust for the effect of and-1s.
For example Russell Westbrook who led the league in Volume per game last year averaged 22 FGA a game, 9.8 FTA a game and 4.4 TOV a game, or roughly 30.7 possessions per game.
To calculate Volume, I divide the player’s possessions by 25, then multiply by 10. Westbrook’s 30.7 possessions, when divided by 25 and multiplied by 10 equals 12.3.
Why divide by 25? Because using exactly 25 possessions a game would give a player a rating of 10 in Volume. Last year only Westbrook, Kobe Bryant in limited games, James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins and Lebron James used more than 25 possessions a game, with Carmelo Anthony fractionally under. In all my categories I tried to make breaking 10 as the threshold of an “elite”, special performance in it. 25 possessions a game felt as good a number as any to represent a 10.
Here is the top 20 players in the league in Volume per game, rounded. Note that since possessions per game is included, having a higher minutes per game affects these rankings:
Russell Westbrook – 12.3
Kobe Bryant – 10.9
James Harden – 10.6
DeMarcus Cousins – 10.6
Lebron James – 10.3
Carmelo Anthony – 10.0
LaMarcus Aldridge – 9.6
Dwyane Wade – 9.4
Kevin Durant – 9.1
Blake Griffin – 8.9
Anthony Davis – 8.8
DeMar Derozan – 8.8
Stephen Curry – 8.7
Rudy Gay – 8.7
Damian Lillard – 8.6
Chris Bosh – 8.6
Derrick Rose – 8.5
Kyrie Irving – 8.5
Monta Ellis – 8.4
Michael Carter-Williams – 8.4
Part 2: Efficiency (E)
This is the most complicated of my 4 formulas. How I would describe it “How productively the player used his possessions” vs an average replacement. For example when evaluating James Harden’s impact on the game, his value is not only drawing attention to himself as a volume scorer, floor spacing or defense, but because he uses X amount of possessions at Y greater levels than the league average in efficiency, this alone has a significant mathematical impact on his team’s offense.
Once again my possession stat of FGA + 0.44*FTA + TOV plays an important role in this calculation. Another key is Dean Oliver’s individual ORTG from basketball-reference.com which goes beyond just capturing shooting efficiency like TS%, but also turnovers, assists and offensive rebounding.
Here is how I calculate it:
Step 1: I start by taking the player’s individual ORTG and subtract the league average ORTG for that season.
James Harden’s ORTG in 2014-2015 was 118, while league average ORTG was 105.6. The difference is +12.4.
Step 2: Next, I divide this number by 100 and add to 1 to get a number I can multiply with.
12.4 / 100, + 1 = 1.124.
Step 3: I multiply Step 2’s result with the player’s number of possessions, then subtract the number of possessions. This gives me the difference between how efficiently the player used his possessions compared to the league average.
James Harden uses roughly 26.6 possessions a game last year. 26.6 multipled by 1.124 is 29.9, or +3.3 compared to if 26.6 had been multiplied by 1. Effectively what I calculated or close enough to it, is that Harden created 3.3 more points with his 26.6 possessions than a league average player would.
Step 4: I multiply 3.3 * 3 to get a number more representive of a scale of 10.
James Harden’s +3.3 translates to a rating of 9.9 in Volume. When I first created this part of the stat I wanted to multiply by 2.7 which is an estimate of how many wins a point is worth in the NBA. Multiplying by 2.7 leads to one player in the 2014-2015 in Chris Paul crossing the threshold of 10 which I established in the “Volume” category as representing an elite number. Multiplying by 3 includes 3 others in Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. I chose the latter to match it up with the “Volume” category’s scale slightly more.
Here is the top 20 players in the Efficiency per game:
Chris Paul – 11.2
Anthony Davis – 10.8
Stephen Curry – 10.7
Kevin Durant – 10.5
James Harden – 9.9
Jimmy Butler – 9.1
Enes Kanter (OKC) – 8.5
Brandan Wright (DAL) – 8
Kyrie Irving – 7.2
Tyson Chandler – 7.2
Deandre Jordan – 6.3
J.J. Redick – 5.3
George Hill – 5.3
Anthony Morrow – 5.1
Jonas Valanciunas – 5.1
Russell Westbrook – 5.0
Kyle Korver – 5.0
Lebron James – 5.0
Blake Griffin – 4.9
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) – 4.8
The list combines players who are lower volume but so efficient they make the best use of their value to be high enough to make this list such as Brandan Wright, Tyson Chandler and Anthony Morrow types, and players who use many more possessions at a less efficient but still above average rate such as a Russell Westbrook or Kyrie Irving. Chris Paul proves to have the highest rating combination of elite efficiency at a quality amount of possessions.
As an aside (skip this part to get to the rest of the formula if you like), the origins of this part this “Efficiency” stat goes back several years for me. There was a time when I thought this formula alone could be enough to rate NBA players. One difference is I compared the player’s possession efficiency to the team’s on-court defense with the player on the court. Therefore it would capture how much more efficient player’s possessions are vs his opponent. My thought process at the time is this could explain all wins. Using possessions more efficiently than your opponent adds to the team’s chances of winning, using it less efficiently than them decreases their chance of winning. This is the essence of the difference between winning and losing in the NBA.
But while my statistic at the time did an excellent job explaining teams wins the season before, it’s predictive power proved poor. To explain why I’ll call it the “Kosta Koufos problem”. When creating the stat it was before the 2013-2014 season. The Grizzlies the season before had traded Rudy Gay, won 56 games and made the Western Conference Finals. With John Hollinger’s savvy on their side in the summer they acquired Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis and Mike Miller all of whom looked excellent in my stat. Kosta Koufos rated as one of the top 50 players in the league and a coup for the Grizzlies. In Denver he had used possessions at a great 122 ORTG and his team played quality (103.7) defense with him on the court. Ed Davis in his first half season with the Grizzlies had been at 113 ORTG with his team at 98.6 DRTG on the court and he projected to get an uptick in minutes by the Grizzlies. They got Mike Miller at 117 ORTG with his team at 105.9 ORTG his last season in Miami. On paper Hollinger had set up the Grizzlies to be the best team in the league. They had taken a 56 win, already perhaps better than that by subtracting Rudy Gay, and complimented their elite defense with the efficiency possession users to make them strong on offense. I predicted them to finish 1st in the West.
In reality the Grizzlies went 50-32 and squeaked into the playoffs. Marc Gasol’s injury didn’t help, but they had only started 7-5 up to that point regardless. Kosta Koufos efficiency fell from 122 to 106 in the Grizzlies system, making him not near the star upgrade as projected. Koufos was an efficient scorer in Denver, but as with Ed Davis didn’t space the floor and took shots at a low volume. Understanding the need to value factors such as volume scoring creating space for opponents, spacing the floor and better ways to value defense in the case of Koufos type players, is one of the reasons I created VEDS instead.
Part 3: Defense (D)
The need to evaluate defense needs little explanation. The question that may be asked is since defense is half the game, is it fair that defense only accounts for 1/4th of this statistic while Volume, Efficiency and Spacing are the remaining 3/4ths?
This is a fair point and it’s entirely possible I’m wrong for giving defense this low a weight. My justification is calling defense more of a team activity than offense. On defense one man can’t be everywhere but have the entire offense built around him. I am not alone in believing this. For example Andrew Bogut is considered an elite defensive player with non-existent offensive impact and James Harden is an elite offensive player with non-existent defensive impact. Harden is rated as superstar as his defense can be covered up by other players, while his offense is invaluable.
To evaluate defense, there is no perfect stat, I can only use the best available option. I decided ESPN’s defensive real plus minus (DRPM) which uses adjusted +/- and boxscore information, had acceptable enough results to use.
My goal with this stat was to have it on a scale comparable to my Volume and Efficiency categories. Last year Draymond Green led the league at 5.23 DRPM. My first thought was to multiply DRPM by 2.5, and then divide their minutes by 36 to account for minutes played. Minutes played would be taking into account because categories like Volume and Efficiency are affected by having the minutes to use more possessions per game. This gave me 4 players over 10 in DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard, with Cousins taking over the top spot because of more minutes played than Green.
However I had a problem with how this affected the players at the bottom of DRPM. By multiplying with DRPM, the players who had some of the poorer DRPMs in the league ended up with a negative score far beyond the worst rating players in my other categories. For example Enes Kanter’s -3.87 DRPM translates to -9.7 when multiplied by 2.5. This would make his lack of value on defense as negative as a superstar offensive players in a category like volume or efficiency. Even players with a more acceptable score like -2 on DRPM would take a major hit of -5 in their overall VEDS threatening to wipe out most of the positive value in other categories.
The formula I settled on is taking the player’s DRPM, multiplying it by 1.5, and then adding 5. Followed by dividing their minutes by 36. For example Draymond Green’s DRPM is 5.23, multiplied by 1.5 and adding 5 gets to roughly +12.8. Adjusting for Green 31.5 minutes per game scales his rating back to +11.2, once again sliding behind Cousins for the top spot.
This gives me the same top 4 players who break the 10 threshold in Cousins, Green, Davis and Leonard. The impact on the negative players is not as destructive however. A rating of -2 in DRPM would translate to a rating of 2 in Defense, more analogous to what a poor possession user rates in the Volume category. Kanter comes out at -0.6.
Here are the top 20 players in Defense per game:
DeMarcus Cousins – 11.4
Draymond Green – 11.4
Anthony Davis – 11.3
Kawhi Leonard – 10.5
Tim Duncan – 9.6
Serge Ibaka – 9.4
Khris Middleton – 9.3
Tony Allen – 9.0
Lebron James – 9.0
Tyson Chandler – 8.7
Nerlens Noel – 8.6
Andrew Bogut – 8.6
Trevor Ariza – 8.5
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – 8.4
Markieff Morris – 8.4
Deandre Jordan – 8.3
Zach Randolph – 8.2
Wesley Matthews – 7.9
Rudy Gobert – 7.6
Paul Millsap – 7.6
With only DRPM and minutes per game leading to these numbers, I am fairly satisfied with that list rating the top 20 most impactful defenders per game in the league. The minutes help weed out some players who stick out on the DRPM list such as Jusuf Nurkic and Darrell Arthur who rated 9th and 10th in DRPM, but fell out of this top 20 due to minutes played.
Part 4: Spacing (S)
The obvious place to start with a spacing statistic is distance of shot from the rim, tracked on basketball-reference.com.
But using distance along brings various problems. A player who takes 2 3pt shots from 23 feet and one shot from 1 feet, rates as 15.7 feet from the rim on average for the 3 shots. How do you value this player’s floor spacing vs a midrange shooter who takes 3 shots from 16 feet?
What I stumbled into as a powerful way to account for this is assisted %. I believe this is because 3 point shots are assisted at a much higher rate than midrange jumpers. By taking a 3 compared to a midrange shot not only is the player shooting a distance from the hoop but it is more likely his shot is assisted. So for example if Klay Thompson takes 2 3pt shots and one from the rim and DeMar Derozan takes 2 midrange shots, the extra liklehood Derozan’s shots are unassisted is a factor in evaluating how floor spacing-friendly each of those 3 shots are.
Using assisted % punishes ball dominance. For example on the Houston Rockets last year Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza rate far greater in floor spacing than James Harden despite not a large difference in 3pt shooting skill. The logic behind this is that Harden taking 3s off the dribble does not “space the floor” like Ariza standing at the 3 point line off the ball. Ariza draws defenders away from on ball creators like Harden. If Harden takes a shot off the dribble, his 3pt shot didn’t draw defensive attention away from a teammates FGA attempt – because he took the shot!
As outlined before however, it doesn’t mean that Harden isn’t credited for “creating space” for his teammates by drawing double teams and collapsing the defense for penetration. It’s just Harden’s creating space impact is in the Volume category, Beverley and Ariza’s are in the Spacing category, which is really more meant for off the ball, spot up shooters who drag defenders away from the rim.
How I calculate this:
Step 1: I start by dividing the player’s distance from the rim by 23.
Kyle Korver’s shots last year were on average 22.2 feet away. Divided by 23 this is .965.
Step 2: I take the player’s assisted % on his FGs. To calculate this on basketball reference I multiplied the % of a player’s FGs that were from 2 by the % of them that were assisted, added to the % of a player’s FGs that were from 3 multiplied by the % of them that were assisted.
95.1% of Korver’s shots were assisted.
Step 3: I multiply the distance from the rim stat by the assisted FGs one.
Since Korver’s “Distance” number was .965 and his assisted FG % was .951, multiplied together this is .917.
Step 4: I multiply the above number by 15, followed by dividing the player’s minutes by 36. This is to scale it to 10 like the other categories.
Korver’s .917 times 15 is 13.7, or 12.3 after the minutes adjustment.
Korver’s 12.3 is the only player who rates above 10 in the category, with J.J. Redick coming closest at 9.7 and Trevor Ariza, Channing Frye and Mike Dunleavy rounding out the top 5. I didn’t scale the stat up slightly more to match the other categories, because the main reason for less elite performing players in the category is minutes. Redick (30.9 minutes), Frye (24.9 minutes), Dunleavy (29.2 minutes) and Anthony Tolliver (22.3 minutes) rated above 10 before the minutes adjustment. The best floor spacers in the league aren’t as likely to be valued enough to play 36 minutes per game as the highest volume possession users in the league, for example.
Here is the top 20 in spacing per game:
Kyle Korver – 12.3
J.J. Redick – 9.7
Trevor Ariza – 9.1
Channing Frye – 8.7
Mike Dunleavy – 8.5
J.R. Smith (CLE) – 8.4
Danny Green – 7.9
Matt Barnes – 7.8
Wesley Matthews – 7.7
Marvin Williams – 7.6
Kevin Love – 7.4
Avery Bradley – 7.3
Anthony Tolliver (DET) – 7.3
Nicolas Batum – 7.3
Ben McLemore – 7.2
C.J. Miles – 7.0
Jose Calderon – 7.0
Serge Ibaka – 7.0
Henry Walker – 6.9
DeMarre Carroll – 6.9
For a purely quantified way to judge spacing, I am more than happy with the above list. Sure it may not be perfect, but like defense, it’s purpose is to be close enough to work with to rate how much of an off the ball floor spacer a player is. There are no real frauds on the list and the presumed right players are at the top in Korver and Redick.
Adding it all together
The last step is simple. I add up the players score in all 4 categories to get one total stat – VEDS per game. Here is the top 50:
Anthony Davis – 35.4
Stephen Curry – 30.9
Kevin Durant – 30.4
James Harden – 28.2
Jimmy Butler – 28.1
Kyle Korver – 27.6
Lebron James – 27.2
Chris Paul – 26.2
J.J. Redick – 25.7
Wesley Matthews – 25.4
Draymond Green – 24.9
Kawhi Leonard – 24.8
Kevin Love – 24.7
Blake Griffin – 23.7
Serge Ibaka – 23.7
Trevor Ariza – 23.5
DeMarcus Cousins – 23.2
Russell Westbrook – 22.8
Klay Thompson – 22.4
Kyrie Irving – 22.3
Khris Middleton – 22.0
Gordon Hayward – 21.7
Pau Gasol – 21.5
Danny Green – 21.5
Tim Duncan – 21.2
Marc Gasol – 21.1
Mike Dunleavy – 21.0
Al Horford – 20.9
Lamarcus Aldridge – 20.8
Tyson Chandler – 20.7
Damian Lillard – 20.6
Kyle Lowry – 20.6
Paul Millsap – 20.2
J.R. Smith (CLE) – 20.0
Derrick Favors – 19.8
Chris Bosh – 19.6
DeMarre Carroll – 19.3
Deandre Jordan – 19.2
Chandler Parsons – 19.1
Anthony Morrow – 19.0
Matt Barnes – 18.9
Dirk Nowitzki – 18.7
Darren Collison – 18.2
Eric Bledsoe – 18.2
Zach Randolph – 18.0
John Wall – 17.9
George Hill – 17.8
Nikola Vucevic – 17.8
Markieff Morris – 17.5
Marcin Gortat – 17.4
The main difference is the list of the traditionally accepted star players, are invaded by the likes of Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Wesley Matthews, Draymond Green, Trevor Ariza, Khris Middleton, etc. The type of player who seems to suffer the most compared to consensus opinions are ball dominant guards who aren’t geared towards the 3 such as Russell Westbrook who rates as an excellent player but not an MVP caliber one, John Wall who sneaks into the top 50, and Dwyane Wade is unlisted but ranked out of the top 150.
Since the above stat takes into account both games and minutes played there are variations that could be made from it. Multiplying VEDS by games played/82, gives a games adjusted rating of value and would be a more fair way of judging the most valuable seasons in the league. After this games played adjustment Stephen Curry does indeed come out as the MVP by edging out Davis, followed by Harden, Paul and Korver in the top 5.
I also found it useful to create a per minute VEDs stat, which I calculated by dividing their VEDS by minutes per game. For example of the above top 10 in total VEDs, here is their VEDS in per minute form:
Anthony Davis – .98
Stephen Curry – .94
Kevin Durant – .90
James Harden – .77
Jimmy Butler – .73
Kyle Korver – .86
Lebron James – .75
Chris Paul – .75
J.J. Redick – .83
Wesley Matthews – .75
There were 163 players with a rating of .50 or better last year, although this includes players who barely got on the floor and players were counted twice if they played on multiple teams. When discounting those it’s clear being above .50 makes a player a quality contributor. The 409th highest per minute VEDS was .30, which is a fair estimate for replacement level. Therefore creating a VORP stat using .30 as replacement level would also work.
Per minute VEDS was a useful way to make projections for next season. For example in VEDS per minute the Spurs added Lamarcus Aldridge who rated 29th in VEDS and lost Tiago Splitter (156th), Marco Belinelli (205th), Cory Joseph (222nd), Aron Baynes (248th), Matt Bonner (334th). Looks great right? But minutes played per game has a major part of Aldridge rating so well compared to them. In VEDS per minute stats Aldridge rates at .59 compared to Splitter (.59), Baynes (.54), Joseph (.51), Bonner (.50), Belinelli (.45). From this perspective Aldridge may not produce more than the platoon of Splitter, Baynes and Bonner alone in the frontcourt, in addition to the Spurs losing two quality perimeter pieces in Joseph and Belinelli.
For the record using my projection system here is what I predicted for team wins this season. These predictions were posted in the APBR forum prediction contest before the season started:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers – 57 Ws
T-2. Atlanta – 54 Ws
T-2. Toronto – 54 Ws
4. Chicago – 47 Ws
5. Washington – 43 Ws
6. Boston – 41 Ws
7. Detroit – 39 Ws
8. Indiana – 38 Ws
9. Charlotte – 35 Ws
10. Miami – 34 Ws
11. Philadelphia – 33 Ws
12. Milwaukee – 30 Ws
13. Orlando – 26 Ws
14. Brooklyn – 20 Ws
15. New York – 14 Ws
1. Golden State – 66 Ws
2. Oklahoma City – 58 Ws
3. San Antonio Spurs – 56 Ws
T-4. Utah Jazz – 52 Ws
T-4. L.A. Clippers – 52 Ws
6. Memphis Grizzlies – 50 Ws
T-7. New Orleans Pelicans – 48 Ws
T-7. Houston Rockets – 48 Ws
9. Portland Trail Blazers – 43 Ws
10. Phoenix Suns – 42 Ws
11. Dallas Mavericks – 39 Ws
12. Sacramento Kings – 36 Ws
13. Denver Nuggets – 30 Ws
14. Minnesota – 25 Ws
15. L.A. Lakers – 20 Ws
I am interested to see how these predictions do and whether they can prove VEDS has predictive power.
A true underrated player is hard to find in the NBA anymore. When Michael Lewis called Shane Battier a no-stats all-star the sophistication of public analytics trailed today’s. Now Draymond Green’s defense and spacing combination is appreciated as having top 20 player in the NBA value. DeMarre Caroll and Danny Green are marquee free agents.
My pick for one of the last underrated types of players is J.J. Redick. Redick misses the buzz of Draymond Green, Carroll or Danny Green from missing the D in “3 and D”. +/- stats suggest Redick is average, not poor on defense, but the point stands. His physical tools limit him on that end.
But Redick is not them on offense either. Here are key stats for those four players in 2014-2015:
16.4 points per game, 30.9 minutes per game (19.1 points per 36 minutes)
43.7% from 3, 5.9 attempts a game
.622 TS%, 118 ORTG
11.7 points per game, 31.5 minutes per game (12.4 points per 36 minutes)
33.7% from 3, 4.2 attempts a game
.540 TS%, 108 ORTG
11.7 points per game, 28.5 minutes per game (14.7 points per 36 minutes)
41.8% from 3, 5.6 attempts a game
.596 TS%, 114 ORTG
12.6 points per game, 31.3 minutes per game (14.5 points per 36 minutes)
39.5% from 3, 4.3 attempts a game
Redick’s scoring rate per minute is in a different tier than the rest. Here are some of the players he scored more points per minute than last year: Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague, Brandon Knight, Paul Millsap, Zach Randolph, Eric Bledsoe, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Kevin Love, Goran Dragic, Andrew Wiggins, Michael Carter-Williams. These are players known for volume scoring and creating their own shot far more than Redick is. This evidence along with less than half of Redick’s points coming from 3, shows the other layers in his game last year.
Draymond Green, Danny Green and DeMarre Carroll are rated more valuable offensively than their scoring statistics because of stretching the floor by bringing defenders out out of the paint. The same goes for Redick compared to his scoring numbers, but even greater. Presumably Redick is easily the most “respected” shooter of the four. Leaving Carroll or Draymond open from 3 to defend a teammate is a more livable strategy than leaving Redick open, one of the signature 3 point shooters in the NBA.
Overall while Redick does not have the D of “3 and D” players like Danny Green or Carroll, his offensive case is by far and away better than theirs. He provides more volume scoring, more efficiency and more floor spacing. Whether this outweighs the presumed defensive gap is unclear.
The argument against Redick would be to call him a system player. Saying ok, he can do this getting shots off Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but what if he had to be best scorer on the 76ers? This is fair, but the same argument has followed 3 and D players around this summer and made ranking Draymond Green a controversial topic. The context of playing off Paul and Griffin has also not stopped people from giving Deandre Jordan far more star accolades than they do for Redick. Even if overexposed on bad teams where his shooting % plummets, Redick’s offensive spacing would be gladly welcomed.
Regardless of how he got there, I’d suggest Redick’s floor spacing and scoring stats made him not just a nice supporting player on the Clippers last year but one of the most powerful offensive weapons at his position and a key part of the league’s top ranked offense.
Minnesota bought out Anthony Bennett this week continuing his worst ever start for a #1 pick. With PFs option they liked more in Adriean Payne and Nemanja Bjelica to take back PF minutes the Timberwolves decided they’d seen enough. Bennett wanted a buyout to find a team with playing time.
Does Bennett have a chance to be something in the NBA? Or is he a lost cause?
To start his numbers did improve as a sophomore. In Cleveland his PER was 6.9, WS/48 -0.028, TS% .425 and ORTG 85. In Minnesota his PER was 11.4, WS/48 .017, TS% .458 and ORTG 96. His numbers improved from unspeakable badness to “D League call-up level”.
What strikes me about Bennett’s efficiency in Minnesota is the shot selection. Consider his 16-23 ft and 3pt shooting numbers:
16-23 feet: 46 for 139 (33.1%, .331 eFG)
3-pt: 7 for 22 (31.8%, .477 eFG)
Despite a far higher eFG for his 3 point shots Bennett’s shots came from 16-23 feet. Taking 46.7% of his overall field goals from long 2 led to an inefficient season.
But part of this is design. Flip had a “no 3s” rule for Bennett. To the point where Flip pulled Bennett from games when he attempt a 3 and breaking the rule.
Simply redistributing Bennett shots from midrange to 3 would’ve improved his efficiency. Take Derrick Williams last year who shot 31.4% from 3 for Sacramento but had quality overall averages of .54 TS% and 108 ORTG. The biggest difference is attempting 156 3-pters to 65 16-23 foot jumpers instead of Bennett’s inverse ratio. On numbers-driven teams like Philadelphia or Portland I expect Bennett would be asked to take a high ratio of 3s to long 2s.
Bennett went on to shoot 40% (12 for 30) from 3 at the Pan Am Games and Fiba Americas tournaments. On a shorter 3 point line this is an unreliable number but remains encouraging. His NCAA freshman 3P% of 37.5% also is an encouraging long term sign.
If I’m a team like Portland or Philadelphia and I sign Bennett I have hopes he turns into the next Patrick Patterson. Patterson shot 0 for 5 from 3 his first 2 seasons in Houston. In his 3rd season he broke through and shot 51 for 132 from 3 (38.6%). By 2014-2015 in Toronto he shot 105 for 283 (37.1%) from 3 as a premiere stretch four. Another player he could follow is Meyers Leonard in Portland. Leonard struggled to find minutes his first 2 years. After shooting 3 for 13 combined those seasons from 3, in his 3rd year he shot 47 for 112 (42%) from 3. This gave him an NBA role and now makes an intriguing free agency target next summer if it continues.
Both Patterson and Leonard are quality offensive rebounders at over 2 ORBs per 36 minutes like Bennett. Bennett has averaged 2.3 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, 2.1 in Minnesota. He shot 68% at the rim with the Timberwolves. In addition to 3s getting offensive rebound putbacks could be a way to carve out a role and up his efficiency.
Bennett is not at their level as a 3pt shooter yet. He has to prove himself there and has to prove he’s not a mental enigma. But this is far from a lost case. His chances of making a Patterson or Leonard like leap have to be “solid”. For all we know just letting him shoot 3s instead of 2s could make him Sacramento Derrick Williams overnight who still drew demand on the free agent market with 2 years, 10 million from the Knicks. This is not as lost a cause as the Timberwolves are treating it.
Amir Johnson’s tenure with the Raptors ended after six seasons this summer. The Raptors used their salary cap room to sign DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph and Johnson found a nice home in Boston.
Amir never came close to making an all-star team with the Raptors. He never surpassed 10.4 points per game. But he finished 4th all time in Win Shares for the team, 4th in games played and 3rd in rebounds.
When the Raptors first acquired Amir before 2009-2010 he wasn’t even supposed to break the rotation. A something for nothing acquisition in letting Milwaukee sign Carlos Delfino, Amir quickly passed the returning Rasho Nesterovic as the backup center in the rotation. His athleticism on the glass and efficiency showed itself immediately. The Raptors narrowly missed the playoffs and Chris Bosh left the team for Miami. In the following years Amir’s defensive intelligence and pick and roll game developed.
We are used to the term “best player on a bad team” referring to the shot-chucking volume scorer who wouldn’t have these shots on a contender. But why can’t it be a player like Amir Johnson? The team’s leading scorer in the post Chris Bosh season was Andrea Bargnani who gave any value away defensively and on the glass. Both Bargnani and secondary scorer DeMar Derozan were below league average efficiency. Jose Calderon capably passed the ball but struggle on defense and fell below the efficiency in his 2007 to 2009 prime. On a contending team Bargnani and Caldeorn’s defense or Derozan’s poor floor spacing would have been an undesirable fit. It’s Amir Johnson’s defense, efficiency and ability to set picks that would have translated to any situation. He led the Raptors in Win Shares in 2010-2011 and in Kyle Lowry’s first season in 2012-2013. In 2011-2012 his individual statistics suffered, but the Raptors had their most successful defensive season of the three lottery years finishing 14th, which they surely wouldn’t have come close to without Johnson. Over this time Amir also became a favorite of advanced +/- afficiandos.
In 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 the Raptors reeled off back to back franchise record seasons with 48 and 49 wins. Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan made an all-star team but Amir’s defense and efficiency continued to have value. While observers were waiting for Jonas Valanciunas to break out, +/- stats reflected Amir as the steadier force of the two, especially defensively. In 2014-2015 health and an already 10 year long career began to slow Amir down on the defensive end, although his offensive production continued. Patrick Patterson’s efficient, floor spacing season began to stand out more at power forward. Masai Ujiri decided it was time to move on.
Amir Johnson had one of the longest Raptors tenures from players who aren’t Vince Carter or Chris Bosh. His resume contains both being the probably best player on several teams and a top 3 or 4 player on two playoff seasons. For all of this a case can be made he is top 5 in the franchise’s history.
Andrew Wiggins is the crown jewel of the Minnesota Timberwolves. His rookie of the year campaign backed up the heralded prospect status making him the #1 pick. To some all that’s left is a surefire path to stardom.
What has scouts salivating is his athleticism. Wiggins has the speed and springiness of a track star. His rare natural athleticism has drawn comparisons to Tracy McGrady and Michael Jordan.
But athleticism is one part of the game. For example Steve Nash has two MVPs and the more athletic Gerald Green couldn’t stick in the NBA his whole prime. And every GM would take Marc Gasol over Javale McGee. Gasol’s strength, skill, basketball IQ and motor overwhelm the advantage McGee has in athleticism.
Athleticism can never be a superstar’s only strength. For example Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin are two widely regarded top 10 players who are driven by athleticism. Both however are also elite ball handlers for PG or PF, have stronger builds than their peers, are talented passers and have special motors.
What Wiggins career depends on is his secondary abilities outside of athleticism. Right now he is not known as a ball handler or shooter. His motor sometimes was criticized at Kansas. No one has a problem with his basketball IQ but also doesn’t hang his reputation’s hat on it yet. His length can be an asset. It is above average for a SF and strongly above average for a SG. Is this enough?
One may ask “If he had these flaws how come he won rookie of the year going away?” Wiggins did have a fine rookie season finishing 37th in the NBA in points per game at 16.9 per game. By other statistical measures he wasn’t as impressive. A PER of 13.9 is below league average of 15.0. A WS/48 of .034 is below league average of .100. His RPM is -1.66. He used possessions inefficiently at .517 TS% and 103 ORTG. At 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks per 36 minutes he didn’t stand out in areas besides points. An encouraging peripheral is 5.7 free throw attempts per 36 minutes.
Despite these stats Wiggins rookie season could be the first step towards stardom. But it’s not a rookie season unanimously good enough to make him a cinch. The scoring is nice, but rookies such as Tyreke Evans, O.J. Mayo or Michael Carter-Williams have done even better in the category and it didn’t guarantee them anything. Wiggins needs more than 16.9 points per game as a rookie to prove he’s a superstar in the making.
Where Draymond Green ranks in a vacuum is divisive to some. Sports Illustrated rated him 16th in the league. Some argue Golden State is perfect for his strengths and hides his weaknesses. He anchors their defense, passes the ball and shoots open 3s and isn’t relied upon to create his own shot. What happens on a team where his 3s aren’t open and he is asked to create more offense?
But is this unique to his style of play? Consider how Kevin Love’s value shifted going from Minnesota to Cleveland. On a team with Lebron James and Kyrie Irving he didn’t have enough shots to take advantage of his volume scoring ability. His defensive weaknesses proved a bigger problem than in Minnesota.
If anything I’d have thought defense and floor spacing should be more stable team to team than scoring. For scoring the availability of field goals will change team to team. On different teams efficiency may be affected by less open looks. In Dallas Brandan Wright had .762 TS% but in Boston and Phoenix .571 TS% and .600 TS%. Dallas specialized in creating space for his and Tyson Chandler’s dunks.
Floor stretching shouldn’t be affected by team. The player’s range and respect the defense gives them shouldn’t change much by teammates. Defensive results may change because of burning energy to take a greater offensive role. The system may also help defensive results. But on the whole defensive tools, intelligence and effort reign supreme.
The argument against Draymond isn’t his spacing and defense declining. It’s his offensive production going from average to unacceptable on the wrong team. His average shooting percentage may become poor if guarded too strong. But would his points per game go up? Would his already impressive 3.7 assists per game go up? Is a Draymond who scores 15 points per game and 5 assists with poor efficiency, less of an asset when added to his defense and spacing?
Furthermore not every bad team needs a scorer. Many have scorers but not the spacing and defense Green provides. Here’s a list of leading scorers on the 14 lottery teams. In brackets are players who led in total points but not points per game:
Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Martin: 20.0ppg (Andrew Wiggins: 16.9ppg)
New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony: 24.2ppg
Philadelphia 76ers: Tony Wroten: 16.9ppg (Robert Covington: 13.5ppg)
Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant: 22.3ppg (Jordan Hill: 12.0ppg)
Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic: 19.3ppg,
Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins: 24.1ppg (Rudy Gay: 21.1ppg)
Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson: 15.2ppg
Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson: 17.6ppg (Andre Drummond: 13.8ppg)
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker: 17.3ppg (Al Jefferson: 16.6ppg)
Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade: 21.5ppg
Indiana Pacers: George Hill: 16.1ppg (C.J. Miles: 13.5ppg)
Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward: 19.3ppg
Phoenix Suns: Eric Bledsoe: 17.0ppg.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook: 28.1ppg
In several situations he wouldn’t be more than a 3rd or 4th option including playing with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris or Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. They need a Draymond Green’s defense and spacing more than volume scoring.
Minnesota ranked last in defense and had minimal floor spacing. Green fills these ailments while keeping the ball in Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins’ hands. Green is the Andre Drummond compliment Greg Monroe never was in Detroit. In Charlotte his strengths help cancel out Al Jefferson’s spacing, defending weaknesses. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist he pushes the Hornets from top 10 defense to likely elite.
Philadelphia is a “if Draymond had to do too much” team. While true his spacing is needed and the defensive pairing with Nerlens Noel has elite upside. Indiana without Paul George, Los Angeles without Kobe Bryant and New York without Carmelo Anthony also may find him forced out of his element. Like Charlotte he could have made Indiana elite defensively again beside Hibbert and New York and Los Angeles needed his defense.
Draymond may not be as valuable to last year’s Philadelphia, Indiana, New York or Los Angeles as he is a Sacramento or Miami. That’s ok because it’s the same for offense-first stars like Kevin Love. Love provides great value to a Philadelphia or Indiana but on Sacramento or Miami his volume scoring is more redundant than Green’s defense. To be fair to Love his floor spacing should provide value to any team including Cleveland’s.
If Green’s value isn’t the same on every team it’s likely a matter of being better at one end than the other. Teams set with offensive talent but not defense need a Green more than a Kevin Love. Teams set with defensive talent but not offense need a Love more than Green.