Choosing the Best Rookie in November

Way back in October the NBA season began.  And here we are, already halfway through November.  So with this much time elapsed, it’s time to determine the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.  I know, what took us so long?

Okay, teams haven’t even played 10 games yet.  But David Thorpe at ESPN.com is already discussing the issue, so I thought I would chime in.

The leading candidates on drafting night were Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.  Then Oden got hurt, and that pretty much left Durant as The Choice.  Unfortunately for Durant, the NBA started its season.  And now that we have seen Durant play, as well as a few other other rookies, Durant’s front-runner status has been shaken.

To see this, let’s look at the numbers generated by three rookies – Durant, Al Horford, and Yi Jianlian.  Why these three players?  Durant is the de facto front-runner.  Horford, as I noted a few weeks ago, was the most productive rookie in the pre-season.  And Yi was identified by David Thorpe of ESPN.com as a player who has surpassed Durant.

Table One: Early Returns on Durant, Horford, and Yi

Table One begins with Durant.  ESPN reports that Durant is a shooting guard, so his numbers are being compared to the average at that position.  And relative to the average performance at this position, we see Durant is well below average with respect to shooting efficiency and assists.  He’s also turnover prone.  He does get the Sonics rebounds, steals, and blocked shots, although the rebound story is only positive if he is indeed a guard.  As a small forward, he would be below average on the boards.

When we put it all together we see a Win Score that is well below average and a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] that’s in the negative range.  Given his very low levels of shooting efficiency, this is not surprising.  It is interesting to note that NBA Efficiency also tells us that Durant is below average, although not by much.  Durant’s NBA Efficiency measure is enhanced by the fact he takes ten more shots than the average shooting guard per 48 minutes.  Consequently, as detailed before, his NBA Efficiency measure is inflated.

Although Durant’s scoring attracts attention (and inflates his NBA Efficiency mark), Thorpe saw past this and argued that Yi has thus far been the better player.  And the numbers confirm that story.  So far Yi has shown an ability to rebound, get steals, and block shots.  His shooting efficiency, though, is well below average.  And he is not getting many assists.  Consequently, his overall value – as measured by Win Score and WP48 – is below par.  Still, he is doing more than Durant.  So if the choice is between these two players, Yi would get the nod.

Of course the choice is not confined to these two players.  Horford, as noted, was the best rookie in preseason.  And thus far, he has been a pretty good rookie in the regular season.  Again we start with the individual stats.  Horford is above average with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, and steals.  He is prone to commit turnovers and he is a shade below par with respect to blocked shots and assists.  When we put it all together, though, we see Win Score and WP48 marks that are well above average.  In fact his WP48 of 0.189 matches exactly the mark posted by Rajon Rondo last season.  And as noted, Rondo led all rookies last year in Win Produced.

What of the other rookies?  I only intended to look at these three rookies.  But in calculating the WP48 for these players I did look at their rookie teammates.  So I can say that Jeff Green – Durant’s rookie teammate in Seattle — has a WP48 of 0.102, if he is a small forward.  I think he has spent substantial time at power forward, though, and he is below average when he makes this switch. 

Acie Law – Horford’s teammate in Atlanta – has posted a -0.036 WP48.  A negative mark is bad, but he has actually been the most productive point guard Atlanta has employed this year.  Obviously this position is what’s holding this team back.

Yi doesn’t have any rookie teammates.  But let me toss this out for Milwaukee fans.  Thus far Michael Redd and Desmond Mason are playing very well.  Unfortunately  Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva are not. Still the season is young.

And that point needs to be remembered.  Our sample is still too small.  If only the NBA would just make all its teams play 20 or 30 games in the first two weeks of the season.  I could tell much better stories if my data was just a bit better.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

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