Measuring Value Using Advanced Stats
As I said last week, at this point in the year, you guys should be beyond the stage where general fantasy advice is much help. By now I'd imagine that the only pertinent fantasy information for you would be injury news that relates to who will be producing over this last week. I'll provide that type of info in the sections below, so if that's all you're looking for, you can jump down to the next section, but in this space, I'll indulge my hobby of evaluating quality basketball in ways that don't always directly relate to fantasy stats.
Those that have read the Hoops Lab through the years know that I am a big advocate for the use of advanced stats to get a clearer picture of player quality than just what the traditional box scores can provide. Particularly, I like the advanced +/- approach that evaluates players based on a regression analysis of how the team performs with that player. This approach is entirely separate from the individual box scores and seems to be the best way to examine just how valuable a player might be. There are no "empty stats" in the +/- approach, so if someone measures well there, I tend to give it more credence than someone that produces gaudy fantasy stats that don't appear to have much impact on how good their team really is.
I'm not going to go too egghead here with the math behind adjusted plus minus (APM), but I do want to put it into a bit of context. Much of the NBA-watching public doesn't pay a lot of attention to APM because it isn't always easy to understand and is still too "new" to have gained full public acceptance as really useful. To address the second point in particular, I would point this out: Over the past decade, there have been several analysts to come along and become the new voice for APM, such as Dan Rosenbaum, Stephen Ilardi, or Wayne Winston. You know what happens right around the time they really establish their chops using APM? They get hired by an NBA team to do stats for them. Universally, the only way we as fans know that they've been hired is that their websites all of a sudden stop being updated publicly. For the last several years, the two biggest public sources for adjusted plus minus were Basketball Value and Jeremias Engelmann's site (regularized APM, or RAPM). For the 2012-13 season, mysteriously, both sites have stopped being updated publicly.
Moral to the story: we might not all understand adjusted plus minus, but the NBA does. And they absolutely devour people that get good at this stat. Which tells me that it must be pretty darn useful in player evaluation.
Since the two main APM sites stopped being updated this year, the good folks over on the APBRmetrics board decided to calculate and post the RAPM values for every player in the NBA up through the All-Star break. For those unfamiliar, it's where NBA stat-heads go to hang out. Without further ado, here are the five players that measured out as the most impactful in the NBA towards their team's success:
1) LeBron James +7.1
2) Tony Parker +6.3
3) Kevin Garnett +6.1
4) Blake Griffin +5.7
5) James Harden +5.6
LeBron at No. 1 is not only expected, but it also makes a nice sniff test for this stat. While his teammates are also really good (Dwyane Wade at No. 10 on the list, with Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, and Shane Battier also in the top-70), LeBron is quite obviously the driving force on his team and the best player in the NBA right now. Not only does he put up the gaudiest box score stats in the league, but this RAPM study corroborates that he is also the guy out there making the biggest impact on his team's win/loss performance. It'll be no shock when he notches his fourth league MVP at the end of the season.
Parker at No. 2 is interesting for a lot of reasons. Traditionally, I've thought of the Spurs as belonging to Tim Duncan, and even over the last couple of seasons when Parker has gotten some dark horse MVP talk I've still mentally defaulted to Duncan being the main man on the Spurs. This study suggests, though, that Parker's public ascension to the face of the Spurs has been well deserved. This study also indicates that the Spurs are a true ensemble cast, as they have five of the top-27 players on the list and six of the top-47 with Duncan (15), Matt Bonner (18), Danny Green (25), Tiago Splitter (27), and Manu Ginobili (47) all very valuable to the team's success.
Griffin at No. 4 is another mild surprise for me because I usually consider Chris Paul to be the man on that Clippers team, and he traditionally measures out as one of the best impact players in the NBA. A second look at the list shows, though, that Paul actually is still one of the big impact players in the league (No. 7 in the NBA, with a +5.2 value that is almost equal with Griffin's +5.7). This list indicates that the Clippers are clearly powered by a 2-man engine, with Griffin and Paul both in the top-7 and Matt Barnes as their only other teammate ranked higher than No. 92 on the list.
Garnett at No. 3 and Harden at No. 5 are the two most interesting results to me personally, even though they are the two results that surprise me the least outside of LeBron in front. For years, Garnett and Harden have been measuring out as much higher impact players than their public sentiment would have suggested. In fact, this was the key to probably my two most controversial predictions of this season. I predicted at the start of November, immediately after Harden was traded to Houston that Harden would be one of the best players in the NBA this season. I noted in that article that he was in the top-5 of our RotoWire Cheat Sheet, and that advanced stats argued that he may have been the most impactful player on the Thunder the previous year. At the time, I thought that would be my riskiest prediction of the season, and as Harden has led the Rockets to the playoffs in the tough Western Conference without a single other teammate ranked in the top-85 on the RAPM list, I am glad to see that prediction has worked out.
As it turns out, though, my most out-there prediction of the season would come in late January, when I said that as long as Garnett and Paul Pierce were healthy the Celtics would be fine even after Rajon Rondo went down for the season. Like Parker and the Spurs, Rondo had publicly taken over as the face of the Celtics in recent years. Unlike Parker, though, the impact stats like RAPM suggested strongly that the Celtics' success was still tied a lot more strongly to Garnett than to Rondo. What the impact stats measure that the public perception ignores is that Garnett still scores as arguably the best defensive player in the NBA, that the Celtics' defense is the unit that drives the team, and that the defense just flat out doesn't work without him. Rondo, Pierce, Avery Bradley, and now Jeff Green are keys to the Celtics' success as well, but even 18 years into his career, Garnett is still one of the most impactful players in the NBA.
Around the NBA
Heat shut down: Last week I predicted that the Heat, post-streak, would start sitting some of their main guys. That has turned out to be the case, though I did think Chris Bosh would be the one getting rest instead of Mario Chalmers. Nevertheless, neither LeBron nor Wade have played in the last week (before LeBron's return Saturday), and Chalmers and Ray Allen have also joined them on the bench. Since the Heat have long-since clinched the No. 1 seed in the East, and they are also in the driver seat for the best record in the NBA, I don't see the impetus for any of their veteran stars to play much if at all for the rest of the year outside of possibly a game or two to knock the rust off.
Melo going nuts: Carmelo Anthony has scored 131 points in his last three games, making him the first Knick with three straight 40+ point scoring efforts since Bernard King. Anthony is within .05 points of Kevin Durant for the NBA scoring lead, and I think that being a scoring champ would actually be a motivating factor for Anthony. I look for him to continue to put up big numbers for as long as he stays on the court, but if the Knicks clinch the No. 2 seed over the Pacers, I could see the Knicks shutting down their players to get some rest afterwards.
Gallinari's knee: Danilo Gallinari is out for the season with a torn ACL. The Nuggets win as an ensemble cast, which means that there isn't a clear-cut understudy that suddenly becomes fantasy viable. Look for Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer, and perhaps Jordan Hamilton to be some of the biggest beneficiaries as far as minutes and production opportunities.
Parker and Ginobili out: Tony Parker, already battling an ankle injury, was out for Saturday's game with a sore neck. Considering that the Spurs don't care much about playoff seeding, health is their biggest concern, and that Manu Ginobili is already out for the regular season, and perhaps the first round of the playoffs with a hamstring injury, it would surprise me to see Parker play very much over the last week of the season. In fact, I'm expecting Duncan to get shut down in the near future as well as coach Gregg Popovich prepares his veteran squad for the postseason.
Garnett and Pierce back Sunday?: Garnett has missed 10 of the last 12 games with various ailments, most prominent a swollen ankle/foot issue, while Pierce has missed two of the last three games with his own ankle issue. Both were full participants in practice on Saturday, though, opening the door that they may be back in the lineup on Sunday against the Wizards. Because Garnett has missed so much time lately, look for the Celtics to get them some on-court time in the next week to get their playoff rotation set and in rhythm before the season ends. They may be shut down again for the last game or two, but I expect them to get some quality time before that.
Love not walking through that door: Kevin Love has still not been cleared for even full-contact practice, let alone game action. Since there's only about 10 days left in the NBA season, that is an issue for him returning this season. The door hasn't been officially closed on his return, but I just can't imagine a scenario where he's able to get cleared and get some practice time in with enough time for him to play a single regular season minute this year. And there's no upside for the Timberwolves in risking Love at this point, so I think we've seen the last of him this season.
Rose is "close", whatever that means: According to an article in New York Newsday, Derrick Rose is "close" to a return. I have no idea when to expect Rose back, and frankly, no one else does either. The ship has sailed on him coming back to be an impact fantasy player, but if he does return, it would be a negative for Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson who have both been effective in his absence.
Jonas Valanciunas (46% owned): Valanciunas was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for March after averaging 11.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks with 62% shooting from the floor and 82.2% from the line for the month. If anything, those numbers are getting better in recent weeks since Andrea Bargnani was ruled out for the year.
Jason Thompson (40% owned): Thompson got the start on Friday when coach Keith Smart decided to bench DeMarcus Cousins for unknown disciplinary reasons. Thompson responded with a strong double-double and is averaging 16 points and 16 rebounds over his last two games.
Corey Brewer (28% owned): Brewer has been a solid fantasy option at several points over the season, and with Gallinari (knee) out, he has the opportunity to finish strong. Brewer is a garbage man player capable of contributing to any roto category on any given night.
Beno Udrih (23% owned): Udrih has been filling in for Jameer Nelson (ankle) and is putting up very strong roto numbers. He is averaging 19.5 points, 8.3 assists, 4.0 boards, 1.8 steals, and 2.5 3-pointers over his last four outings.
Brandan Wright (21% owned): Wright has played very well of late, and is getting added opportunity with Elton Brand struggling with calf issues. He has averaged 18 points, six boards, and 1.5 blocks over his last two outings.
Earl Clark (15% owned): I was never a believer in Clark, even during that stretch a couple of months ago when he took over the starting job over Pau Gasol. While Clark tailed out in production in recent weeks, he has been strong over his last couple of outings with averages of 15 points, 8.5 boards, and 3.0 blocks. If he can continue that for one more week, he could really help some teams down the stretch.
Jermaine O'Neal (12% owned): O'Neal has been surprisingly solid to finish the season, averaging more than 15 points, 7.3 boards, and 1.3 blocks over his last three games. He's old, but he's now working with the famed team doctors in Phoenix, and all he needs to do is hang on to the fountain of youth for another week.
Jonas Jerebko (8% owned): Jason Maxiell is out for the rest of the season with an eye injury, which has locked Jerebko into a rotation spot down the stretch. He has scored at least 15 points in three of the last four games and can also contribute in rebounds, steals, or 3-pointers on a given night.
Mike Miller (7% owned): With the Heat resting their studs, Miller has been one of the main beneficiaries of the added minutes and opportunities. He has scored double digits in three straight games, averaging 18.3 points with 15 total treys over those outings.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.