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Projecting the 2015-16 NBA Leaders in Advanced Statistical Categories

You don’t want to be stuck on the wrong side of history, do you? Just ride the analytics wave.

Advanced stats are gaining steam in the basketball world, and it’s only a matter of time before terms like PER (player efficiency rating), RPM (real plus-minus) and TS% (true shooting percentage) become staples in the NBA community. Stats such as these don’t measure the value of a player perfectly, but collectively they can tell us a lot that we can’t glean from basic stats, which is great for people who don’t have the time to watch all 1,230 regular-season games and nearly 100 playoff contests.

So all of us, basically.

Below, I’ve gone through six of today’s most common advanced stats, given a brief explanation of each and picked which players will pace the NBA in said stats for the 2015-16 season. There are many, many more quality metrics out there today, but there isn’t time (or space) to look at all of them.

Player Efficiency Rating

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans- 31.6

2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder- 28.8

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers- 27.5

4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder- 27.0

5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 26.8

Honorable mention: DeMarcus Cousins, James Harden, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Kawhi Leonard

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:

Davis is the reigning PER king, attaining a league-best 30.8 mark last year. With new head coach Alvin Gentry on board, expect a Pelicans offense that gets him the ball more in transition and helps boost his scoring and efficiency numbers.

Durant is a question mark, but his PER was 27.6 in 27 games despite coming back from an injury. He and Westbrook do have to share possessions in the Thunder offense, but Durant is incredibly efficient, and Westbrook fills the stat sheet in a bunch of different ways, so sharing the ball shouldn’t hurt Durant’s PER.

James and Curry are usual suspects in this category, as the best players on the favorites to win their respective conferences. LeBron had a down year in 2014-15, taking a while to acclimate himself to his new team, but expect improved efficiency this season. Curry may let Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes cut their teeth on some bigger offensive roles on occasion, hence the slightly lowered number from last year (28.0).

Here is more information.

Offensive Rating

1. Tyson Chandler, Phoenix Suns- 128.6

2. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz- 128.5

3. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers- 127.9

4. Anthony Morrow, Oklahoma City Thunder- 127.7

5. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers- 127.1

Honorable mention: Timofey Mozgov, Patrick Patterson, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Korver

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:

A mainstay near the top of this list, Chandler is an underrated big man due to his excellent rim protection and efficient offensive game. His field-goal percentage is usually far above 60, and he’s not a liability at the free-throw line like many other big men.

Gobert’s and Jordan’s offensive contributions fall in the same category as Chandler, except they’re both worse at the charity stripe — Gobert slightly, and Jordan by a mile. For that reason, The Stifle Tower should edge out DeAndre 3000 despite the Clipper big man’s superior efficiency at converting baskets inside.

Can you imagine how many open three-point looks Morrow will get this year? He’s never played on a playoff team, and now he has a fully healthy Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka drawing attention away from him. The knockdown shooter has a career three-point percentage of 42.9, but I fully expect 45 percent from him this season.

Paul is the only non-specialist on this list. His combination of efficient passing (4.4 assists per turnover last year) and shooting efficiency (48.5/39.8/90.0 shooting slash in 2014-15) is perfect for the offensive rating statistic.

Defensive Rating

1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs- 96.1

2. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz- 96.8

3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs- 96.9

4. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors- 97.5

5. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks- 98.0

Honorable mention: DeAndre Jordan, Tony Allen, Anthony Davis, Derrick Favors, Nerlens Noel, Paul Millsap

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:

Leonard’s combination of uncanny instincts, effort and athleticism on defense making him the premier stopper in the league. He was first in defensive rating last year, but he’ll be in the top five pretty much no matter what in 2015-16.

His teammate, Duncan, still gets the job done in the post despite being 39 years old. Don’t ask him to contain perimeter players on switches, but he’s an expert at positioning himself inside for contests and blocks.

Gobert helped spur a Jazz defensive breakout in the second half of last season, and the 7’2″ center should only get better. He can get knocked off his position on occasion because of his lanky frame, but the rest of defense is exquisite.

Many thought Green should’ve won Defensive Player in 2014-15, and now he’ll have to prove them right with another season of shutdown defense at the many positions he guards. The Warriors could be playing him more at the 5 this season, which may adversely affect his rating here since he’s better at covering power forwards.

Middleton’s Bucks were No. 4 in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season, and the 24-year-old wing was a big reason why. He’s improved steadily on both ends of the floor every year since entering the league in 2012, so I expect him to sneak in here at No. 5.

Total Win Shares

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans- 17.9

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 15.4

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets- 15.0

4. Chris Paul, Houston Rockets- 14.9

5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers- 14.7

Honorable mention: Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gobert, Paul George

Basic definition: The win share statistic is separated into offensive and defensive categories, which have roots in the already-discussed 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 isn’t a rate statistic, so players who earn more playing time are at a clear advantage. 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:

If The Brow stays healthy (which could be a big “if”), he’s the clear favorite to take this title. He’s consistently elite on offense and defense and doesn’t have any teammates who are even close to taking his No. 1 status.

Curry and Harden, both MVP candidates last year, were third and first in this statistic in 2014-15. Curry’s total may be a hair lower this season, because I don’t think the Warriors will win 67 games again, while Harden will be ceding over some ball-handling responsibilities to new Rockets point guard Ty Lawson. The Rockets’ depth is also much better than last year and should keep Harden’s minutes from getting too high.

Paul and James are the old standbys in this category. Both are 30 years old and will continue to see their regular-season usage gradually decrease as their title-contending teams try to keep them fresh for the postseason.

True-Shooting Percentage

1. Tyson Chandler, Phoenix Suns- 66.5

2. Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks- 66.0

3. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz- 64.3

4. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers- 63.9

5. Anthony Morrow, Oklahoma City Thunder- 63.4

Honorable mention: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, J.J. Redick, Anthony Davis, Tyson Chandler, James Harden

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:

You’ll notice a lot of similar names here, as high true shooting percentages often correlate to strong performances in offensive rating.

Chandler, Gobert and Jordan are all strictly finishers at the rim who will have field-goal percentages above 60. Once again, the order of their free-throw shooting ability (Chandler, Gobert, Jordan) will play out here.

I want to trust Korver for another all-time great shooting season (69.9 TS% in 2014-15), but a few factors make me a bit cautious: he tailed off badly late last regular season and during the playoffs, he had surgery on his ankle over the summer and floor-spacer DeMarre Carroll bolted for the Toronto Raptors in free agency.

Morrow, as we mentioned before, will kill opponents as a standstill shooter when opponents collapse on Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka. His deadeye free-throw shooting (88.8 percent in 2014-15) helps his chances here.

Real Plus-Minus

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans- 9.8

2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers- 9.0

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder- 8.9

4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs- 8.7

5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 8.7

Honorable mention: Chris Paul, James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook

Basic definition: Definitely, one of the more complicated advanced statistics we have around, real plus-minus 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 teammates he’s playing with are.

For example, if LeBron somehow landed on a team with a starting lineup of Curry-Harden-James-Davis-Cousins that exclusively played with each other and the team also had a horrible bench, his on-off court split would be through the roof. However, you could replace James with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and that lineup would still dominate. Real plus-minus would tell us that LeBron getting a plus-40.0 on-off split with that team isn’t as impressive as it looks.

ESPN also separates this statistic into offensive and defensive plus-minus, essentially giving us how many points a player’s team would score in 100 possessions with him on the floor and how many fewer points the opponent would score in the same amount of possessions. While it’s definitely not perfect, this statistic is probably the all-inclusive player metric that is the closest to a legitimate player ranking, if impact is what you’re looking for in a player.

More information can be found here.

Explanation of picks:

Davis, Davis, Davis. You’re probably tired of seeing him here, but I don’t care. He’s the future of the NBA, for goodness’ sake. The 22-year-old will just keep getting better as he works in Gentry’s offense and uses his experience to outsmart his opponents.

James and Durant should be MVP candidates again, and this statistic will show it. Their effort can fade in and out defensively, but the impact of their offensive abilities is huge.

Leonard is the second coming of Scottie Pippen (yes, I said it) who probably won’t ever be as good of a ball-handler but has a definite advantage in shooting efficiency and avoiding turnovers. The most obvious comparison between them is their relentless, technically sound man-to-man defense, of course.

Curry, the leader last year, could be saving a little something extra for the postseason after a four-round playoff run last season, and I don’t fault him for it.

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