Over the past few weeks I have reported the Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of every player in each division. Although I am sure it’s fun to look through six different columns searching for this or that player, I thought I would save everyone such effort and report every player in the league in one table.
A Comment on Statheads in Baseball
Before I get to that, though, I have to talk about something that has been bothering me for some time. My first love growing up in Detroit was baseball. A good part of my youth was spent collecting baseball cards and I spent many hours looking at the numbers on the back of each card. Such numbers are – by Sabermetric standards – quite simple. Hits, runs, RBIs, and of course batting average are the primary stats you tended to see back in the 1970s. At that time there was no mention of OPS or any other “advanced” metric.
And of course we didn’t need such stuff. Baseball fans knew who the best players were. Although we looked at the numbers, all we had to do was watch the players and we could tell who was “good” and who was “bad.”
Now, thanks to Bill James and others of his ilk, we have all these new numbers. And of course people look at these numbers as if they “prove” something. But anyone who knows baseball knows that these numbers don’t prove anything.
For example, consider a number like Runs Created. Runs Created supposedly considers everything a player does offensively and tells us how many runs a player “creates.” And since creating runs is the purpose of offense in baseball, Runs Created should tell us who is “better” or “worse.”
But all you have to do is look at the numbers and you can see that these Sabermetric numbers don’t tell us anything. Consider the rankings posted by ESPN of each hitter in terms of Runs Created per 27 outs. Fourth on the list is Carlos Pena. As a Tigers fan I am quite familiar with Mr. Pena. Pena played more than three seasons in Detroit and never saw his batting average go above 0.250. He was so talented he couldn’t even make the Tigers roster in 2006 and consequently spent most of that season in the minors.
Meanwhile, Albert Pujols spent 2005 “proving” that he was the Most Valuable Player in the National League. In 2006 Pujols finished second in voting for the MVP award. And then this past season Pujols hit 0.327 while Pena only hit 0.282. For those non-math majors out there, that’s a 45 point difference.
But the Runs Created stat ranks Pujols as only the 13th best player in baseball. Yes, Pujols – the 2005 MVP – is ranked nine spots below a player who spent 2006 in the minors with a batting average in 2007 that was 45 points lower.
When you see stuff like that you have to say, “these Sabermetric stat-heads need to get their head out of their computers and go watch a game. Pena better than Pujols? Yea, I think the Devil Rays would make that trade in a second.”
A Note for the Non-Satirical
Of course, no Sabermetrician would look at Runs Created in 2007 and declare that Pena is “better” than Pujols for all time. One would look at these numbers, though, and say that Pena was pretty good this past season.
Well, we would say that if we looked past batting average. In terms of this archaic 19th century stat, Pena was only the 83rd best hitter in baseball last year. There were only 162 hitters who qualified for the rankings last year, so batting average lists Pena in the bottom half of all hitters. The more advanced stats, though, place him in the top five. Given the flaws in batting average, we tend to believe the more advanced stats.
But even though we believe the advanced stats, we don’t look at results for one year and declare that this trumps the entire history we have on two players. Again, numbers help us think. Numbers do not do our thinking for us.
The December Rankings
With that said, we now turn to the rankings of every player in the NBA . These rankings are not based on every game these players have played since the dawn of time, but just the games played this season. And it’s not every game this season. Included in the table are the dates when I downloaded the data from NBA.com. For players in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Central, the data was taken after games played on December 23. For the Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest, though, the data was taken a few days earlier. Still, although I am not analyzing every game, I think I am analyzing enough to give us a good picture of where each player is at so far this season.
So without any further introduction, here are the rankings.
Table One reports where each player ranks in Projected Wins Produced (and please note the simplicity of my projection technique). Table Two reports the same data, but the data is organized by team. This should help you if you are interested in a specific player.
And for those who are just looking for the top players at each position, I give you Table Three.
One result that stands out for me is the ranking of Caron Butler ahead of LeBron James. If you look at WP48, James is well ahead of Butler. James is a bit behind Butler in Projected Wins Produced because 1) LeBron has missed a few games and 2) LeBron has spent a fair amount of time at power forward. With LeBron healthy and Anderson Varejao back in the line-up, we can expect LeBron to play most of his future minutes at small forward. Hence he will pass Butler soon (if he hasn’t already) and remain on top of the small forward rankings.
Or, maybe this won’t happen. Maybe Butler is to basketball what Pena is to baseball. Certainly this is something we will have to think about.
Moving beyond the LeBron-Butler comparison, here is the story of the M2P, Most Productive Rookie (MPR), and the Most Improved Player:
The M2P – Most Productive Player – thus far is Dwight Howard. As of December 16, Howard was on pace to produce 30.1 wins. The Orlando Magic, though, were only on pace to produce 54 wins. So if Howard reverted to last year’s form where he produced 20.5 wins – which was quite good – the Magic would revert to what we saw last year. In sum, the Magic’s ability to contend with teams like the Celtics and Pistons depends on Howard posting truly amazing numbers.
Most Productive Rookie
The most productive rookie thus far is Al Horford. He currently ranks 5oth in the league with 9.6 projected Wins Produced. In contrast, Kevin Durant ranks in the bottom 50 in the league (#384) while Yi Jianlian ranks 168th.
Most Improved Player
And although I have not looked at every player relative to last year, I have to believe that Chris Kaman is on pace to be the Most Improved Player. Last year he only produced 2.8 wins. This year he is on pace to produce 18.7. I can’t imagine anyone else making this big of a leap from last year.
Before closing, here’s one last comment. My plan is to repeat this analysis after every team plays 41 games. Until then I am going back to telling stories focusing on just one team or one player.
Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.