Nine months ago the race for the 2008 Rookie of the Year award had two candidates. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, the top two picks in the 2007 NBA Draft, were clearly the front-runners. And based on the college numbers of each player, both were deserving candidates.
Last summer, though, this race changed. First Oden was lost to injury. And then Durant stayed healthy and actually started to play.
Down on Durant
As noted in the following posts, the early returns on Durant were quite inconsistent with his college numbers.
July 7, 2007: Disappointing Durant
July 21, 2007: Durant Disappoints Again
October 31, 2007: Will Kevin Durant Be the Best Rookie?
November 16, 2007: Choosing the Best Rookie in November
November 27, 2007: Evaluating Future Stars in Baseball and Basketball
November 28, 2007: The Top Rookies, Again
November 29, 2007: Re-Hashing Durant, Melo, and Stack
December 31, 2007: Should the Rookie of the Year Help His Team Win More Games?
February 13, 2007: The Assistant Coaches Choose the Best?
Each of these posts made essentially the same observation. Durant – whether we look at his summer league performance, his pre-season performance, or his regular season performance – has not played very well in a Sonics uniform.
And then came the month of March.
Seth Kolloen of Enjoy the Enjoyment (Hat Tip to Henry Abbott of TrueHoop) has noted that Durant has been a different player the past few weeks. Specifically, Durant – who was a very inefficient scorer the first four months of the season – has nearly a 54% adjusted field goal percentage in the month of March. As a result, even though his shot attempts are down, his scoring has increased (and I think Antonio in the comments here made the same point a few days ago).
Unfortunately for Durant, there is more to the game than scoring. And when we look at the other statistics – and this is true even if we take the statistically questionable approach of just looking at the games in March – there are still problems with the production offered by Durant.
Focusing on Wins
Before we get to that, though, let’s talk about wins. The objective of an NBA game is to win. And when we look at wins, it is hard to see how Durant is the first choice for Rookie of the Year.
Now I could make that argument by looking at every single rookie. Such an approach, though, would require that I look at all rookies (and I don’t want to do that until the season is over in a few weeks). Given my laziness, I am going to make my argument with respect to Durant by focusing on the player I think is a very good choice for Rookie of the Year, Al Horford.
Tables One and Two reports the Wins Produced of every player on both the Atlanta Hawks and the Seattle Super Sonics
These tables indicate that both teams have performed about as well as we could expect this season. If we assume each player on the Hawks performed as they did last year (with the exception of the rookies), we would expect the Hawks to have 31 wins at this point in the season. Given what the Hawks have done this season, we would expect 30 wins (or exactly what the team has right now).
When we look at the individual players we see that the Hawks are led by Josh Childress (as they were last season). Second on this team, though, is Al Horford. Yes, without Horford, the Hawks would be firmly entrenched in the lottery (as opposed to competing for a playoff spot in the weak East).
When we look at the Sonics, we again see a team that is doing as well as we would expect. In other words, we should have known this team was going to be among the league’s biggest losers. Of course, this team could be more competitive if it was getting the production from Durant suggested by his college numbers. But that hasn’t happened. Among all the players employed by the Sonics, only Jeff Green – the team’s other rookie – has offered less.
So there you have it. Horford is leading his team to a few more wins this year. Durant is leading his team to a few more losses. Given this, Horford should be preferred to Durant in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Rookie of the Month?
Certainly some are going to be swayed by Durant’s recent surge, despite the fact this award is called Rookie of the Year.
But what if it was Rookie of the Month? Is Durant now the choice?
As Table Three notes, Durant doesn’t win the RoM award either.
Durant has improved his shooting efficiency in the month of March. What people fail to note is that Durant has also increased his turnovers while reducing his rebounds. So with respect to Net Possessions (rebounds +steals – turnovers), March was the worst month for Durant. Still, his amazing shooting efficiency did somewhat overcome his performance with respect to net possessions, and hence for the month of March, Durant had a positive PAWSmin (Position Adjusted Win Score per minute).
When we look all the months Durant has played we see that his PAWSmin has only been positive in March. In contrast, Horford has been in the positive range in every single month. And his March, like Durant, was easily his best. Not counting Tuesday’s game against the Bulls, Horford has an adjusted field goal percentage of 59.8% in March. When you couple this shooting performance with his strong Net Possession numbers, it’s not surprising to see Horford post a 0.128 PAWSmin, or the best mark he has had this season.
In sum, Durant has played better in March. But Horford has played even better. And when we look at the entire season – either via the lens of Wins Produced, PAWSmin, the individual statistics, or team wins – it’s hard to see how Durant could be preferred over Horford.
So let us pay heed to the political movement created by Horford’s teammates. If the candidates for this award are Horford and Durant (and yes, I am ignoring other rookies like Luis Scola in this column), then Horford is the man. And this is true whether we are voting for Rookie of the Month in March (or any other month) or Rookie of the Year.
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.