Advanced statistics have come a long way in the NBA. Every year, more and more metrics get tracked to help coaches, media members and fans understand the players (and the game of basketball as a whole) better.
There’s still work to do, though, both in acceptance and understanding of these statistics among the league’s viewership as well as the breadth of the statistics that are actually available. I’ve written about a couple different areas where the league can improve.
However, there are plenty of advanced statistics which have already become commonplace in the league’s discourse. Let’s take a look at which players should contend for the league lead in some of those metrics.
PLAYER EFFICIENCY RATING
1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder- 29.4
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans- 28.3
3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 27.9
4. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers- 27.6
5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs- 26.9
Honorable mentions: James Harden (Houston Rockets), Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors), Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers), Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Basic definition: PER is a rate metric that ostensibly measures the efficiency with which players accumulate good stats and how well they avoid bad stats in the time they are on the floor, adjusted for pace. It favors players who play a big role in their team’s offenses. The league-average for the metric stays constant at 15. It doesn’t take defense into account beyond steals and blocks.
Explanation of picks: I don’t think Westbrook being No. 1 here should be too surprising. He’s probably going to break his personal triple-double record of 18 in a season, with the ball in his hands so much and without Kevin Durant taking a few of his rebounds. Shooting efficiency and turnovers will play a role, and his deficiencies there will hold him back from reaching the elusive 30+ PER group.
Davis went crazy with a 30.8 PER in 2014-15, then faltered last season due to injuries (both his own and his teammates’) and some stagnation in his development to end up with a 25.0 mark. 28.3 seems like a reasonable estimate for Year 5 of the Brow experience, assuming some slight improvement and better health from teammates.
Curry will not touch 30 points per game in 2016-17, mainly because a lot of his shots will go to Durant. Plus, special seasons like his barely get repeated, especially following a difficult and injury-plagued postseason.
James and Leonard dominate the stat sheet in different ways. LeBron will contribute high point, rebound and assist totals, though those numbers aren’t quite as gaudy as they used to be. Leonard specializes in hoarding points, rebounds, steals and blocks while maintaining excellent percentages and extremely low turnover numbers.
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers- 9.5
2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs- 9.2
3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers- 9.2
4. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors- 8.3
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 8.0
Honorable mentions: Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors), Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Andrew Bogut (Dallas Mavericks), DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers), Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks), Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)
Basic definition: One of the more complicated advanced statistics we have around, RPM estimates a players’ impact rather than his production. It’s a unique take on the on/off court split statistic — rather than looking at just how much better a team is with a player on the floor, it contextualizes it by taking into account how good the on-off splits of the players he’s playing with (and against) are. I like to think of it as a measure of how well someone performs in his given role, not necessarily how good of a player they are overall. It skews heavily toward strong two-way players, as well.
More information can be found here.
Explanation of picks: LeBron is a flat-out difference maker. When he’s on offense, he has the opposition constantly worrying about keeping his 6’8″, 250-pound freight train of a body away from the rim. But then he’s also one of the best passers in the game, so he’ll hit a cutting or spotting-up teammate for an easy bucket if you key in on him too much. The defensive end doesn’t receive LeBron’s best effort all the time in the regular season, but it’s still much better than what most players provide.
Leonard knows his limitations (making plays for others and consistently getting to the rim off the dribble), so he exerts his energy efficiently and uses his impressive physical tools to dominate on both ends.
Paul has ranked first, third and first among point guards in the past three seasons, so it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to see him so high. He makes players around him better on offense with smart passing and pick-and-roll maneuvering and doesn’t often cut corners on the defensive end.
Green may be the most debatable selection here until you realize he was second in the league in this stat in 2015-16. He’s aided in unlocking the potential of the two shooting stars playing alongside of him with excellent screen-setting and distributing, and he’ll be a big help in getting Durant comfortable with the Warriors’ offense.
Green’s teammate, Curry, is usually a little bit shortchanged in this statistic because he’s a beast on one end and just decent on the other end. Of course, if the Warriors let up a bit on defense with the starters on the floor this season (understandably so, considering their offensive firepower), this will hurt his numbers some, along with Green’s.
TRUE SHOOTING PERCENTAGE
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 65.5
2. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors- 64.8
3. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers- 64.0
4. J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers- 62.9
5. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat- 62.8
Honorable mentions: Enes Kanter (Oklahoma City Thunder), Dwight Howard (Atlanta Hawks), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers), Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors), Steven Adams (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Basic definition: True shooting percentage is a superior alternative to field goal percentage that takes into account three-pointers and free throws. The formula is as follows: PTS / (2 x (FGA + 0.44 x FTA)). This statistic rewards players who make the most of their scoring attempts.
More information can be found here.
Explanation of picks: Curry’s efficiency is going to go down a hair this season. That may seem counterintuitive with Durant joining the squad, but he’s just due for some regression after what happened last season. Plus, the adjustment period of finding where and when everybody is going to get their shots could have an impact on his numbers.
Durant’s efficiency, however, is going to go up. He posted a 63.4 true shooting percentage on an OKC team that had average spacing and Russell Westbrook as the only other explosive offensive player. Now, he’ll share the court with probably the best two three-point shooters of all time and a solid stretch 4, all of whom are also strong as ball handlers and passers. Though the aforementioned adjustment period will take place, it’s hard to believe it will be a big enough factor to make KD’s shooting efficiency decrease.
Jordan remains a disaster from the free throw line, but the NBA’s new hacking rule should take away some of his efficiency-killing free throw attempts. Adam Silver thinks the rule will take away approximately 45 percent of the incidents. If that’s even close to true, Jordan’s astronomical field goal percentage will impact his true shooting percentage much more than it used to.
Redick is a beneficiary of Chris Paul’s facilitating, Jordan’s aerial threat and Blake Griffin’s versatile offensive game. However, he’s also a dead-eye shooter who can hit shots despite a tough contest. He graded out as my third-best three-point marksman last season, and I see no reason why he’ll suddenly lose that stroke.
Two factors led me to conclude that Whiteside would end with a true shooting percentage very similar to last year’s number (62.9): he improved big time from the free throw line over the second half of last season, but he’ll also take on a bigger offensive role this season that means more post-ups and fewer putbacks and other gimmes at the rim.
1. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers- 131.5
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 124.1
3. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers- 123.6
4. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors- 122.9
5. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers- 119.6
Honorable mention: Enes Kanter (Oklahoma City Thunder), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Steven Adams (Oklahoma City Thunder), Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat), J.J. Redick (Los Angeles Clippers)
Basic definition: Offensive rating measures the results of offensive possessions used by a certain player. It’s a complicated formula that takes into account statistics including missed shots, missed free throws, scoring possessions, assists and turnovers, but the end result is a number that estimates how many points a player would produce in 100 possessions in which they tried to make. It favors guys who have a specific offensive role that they do efficiently, as well as all-around elite offensive players.
For clarity’s sake, this is not the offensive rating that merely calculates a team’s points per 100 possessions when a particular player is on the floor.
More information can be found here.
Explanation of picks: More than 95 percent of Thompson’s field goal attempts came inside of 10 feet last season. He attempts really easy shots, plays with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and hardly ever turns the ball over. This will be a repeat win for him.
We’ve discussed Curry’s shooting, but his assist-to-turnover ratio should improve slightly in his 2016-17 role. That should be enough to keep his offensive rating pretty consistent with last season.
Jordan will probably shoot 70 percent from the field for the third year, which usually leads to a pretty good offensive rating. There’s the bad free throw shooting and lack of assists, as well, but Jordan also avoids turnovers well.
Durant will be asked to facilitate a little bit less in Golden State (think 3 to 3.5 assists per game), but his turnovers will go down pretty proportionally and the shooting will improve, as we already mentioned.
Paul finishes the Warriors-Clippers sweep here. He’s pretty efficient shooting the ball, but the attribute contributing most to his spot here is his perpetually astounding assist-to-turnover numbers. In that stat, he’s been in the top three for 10 (!) consecutive seasons and has taken first five times in that span.
1. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz- 94.1
2. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat- 95.9
3. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks- 96.4
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs- 96.8
5. Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz- 97.9
Honorable mentions: DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers), Dwight Howard (Atlanta Hawks), Jae Crowder (Boston Celtics), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), Thabo Sefolosha (Atlanta Hawks), Andrew Bogut (Dallas Mavericks), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), Al Horford (Boston Celtics)
Basic definition: It’s the inverse of offensive rating, so it’s the number of points a player allows per 100 possessions of their opponent trying to make something happen against them. This stat is heavily influenced by the player’s team’s defensive efficiency. It also often favors big men.
More information can be found here.
Explanation of picks: Gobert is going to anchor an amazing defensive squad. He’ll have great block numbers, low opponent field goal percentages and should be healthier this season to be more mobile on the perimeter. Watch out.
Whiteside should become a more impactful team defender overall next year, even though his defensive rating will decline slightly. Whether it’s blocking the ball to teammates or out of bounds instead of the opponent or only helping from the weak side when it’s needed, I like his chances at keeping the Heat defense solid despite losing several important players.
Millsap is underrated overall, but his defensive impact also gets overshadowed too often. His lateral quickness is very good, but he’s also strong and has long arms and decent hops. The Hawks should fare just as well as last season defensively with the addition Dwight Howard.
Leonard’s matchups just don’t fare very well against him. His length, hands and instincts create all sorts of chaos and make every shot and attempt at dribble penetration difficult.
Utah’s defensive attack will be aided by Favors’ potent rim protection and respectable pick-and-roll coverage. Don’t be surprised if the 25-year-old power forward contends for an All-Star nod and one of the All-Defensive teams at season’s end.
WIN SHARES PER 48 MINUTES
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 0.295
2. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors- 0.282
3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers- 0.253
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs- 0.243
5. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers- 0.240
Honorable mentions: DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers), Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Al Horford (Boston Celtics)
Basic definition: The Win Share statistic is separated into offensive and defensive categories, which have roots in Basketball-Reference.com’s offensive and defensive rating metrics, respectively. While offensive and defensive rating both rely solely on efficiency and don’t take into account volume, Win Shares rewards players who are able to provide quality and also quantify (high usage) on both sides of the ball while adding a couple of other statistics in there. Win Shares per 48 minutes is an attempt to make Win Shares a rate statistic, simply dividing a player’s total Win Shares by the length of a regulation game. Essentially, Win Shares is used to determine how many wins a player is worth to his team, and players on winning teams will be rewarded significantly here.
More information can be found here.
Explanation of picks: Curry led the league in this statistic by a long shot last season. The margin won’t be quite as big with a lower usage rate, but his crazy shooting efficiency and presence on a team that will probably be very good defensively will keep him at No. 1.
Durant will be a tad below Curry in offensive efficiency and usage, but he also has a slight defensive edge. The two will be close in Win Shares per 48 minutes all season.
James, Leonard and Paul are all super efficient on offense, use enough possessions so that said efficiency carries a lot of weight, are great to spectacular on defense and play on elite teams. Expect the trio to battle not only for positioning in this statistic, but for MVP honors.