Challenging the Rising Stars Challenge

Jimmy Butler

On Wednesday, the NBA announced which players were selected to participate in the Rising Star Challenge. The Rising Stars Challenge is supposed to be a showcase for the league’s best first and second year players. The way this currently works is that nine rookies and nine sophomores (second year players) are selected. On February 7th at 7pm ET, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley will serve as general managers and draft the two teams. After that, fan voting will determine the starting lineups for each team. Given the nature of fan voting and the fact that Shaq has renamed himself the “Black Bryan Colangelo“, I’m sure that will be a lot of fun to analyse.

But before we get to that point, what about the initial pool of players selected to participate? Did the best first and second year players get selected? Here are the rookies who were selected:

Player Minutes Wins Wins Rank* PPG PPG Rank*
Damian Lillard 1730 2.7 6 18.1 1
Dion Waiters 1145 -1.0 74 14.5 2
Bradley Beal 1273 1.5 10 13.2 3
Anthony Davis 939 4.1 2 13.0 4
Alexey Shved 1058 0.7 18 10.8 5
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 1176 3.5 3 9.7 6
Harrison Barnes 1110 1.7 9 9.0 7
Tyler Zeller 1173 -0.4 69 8.3 9
Andre Drummond 931 7.0 1 7.5 11

*rankings include 77 rookies

And here are the sophomores who were selected:

Player Minutes Wins Wins Rank*  PPG PPG Rank*
Kyrie Irving 1252 3.1 8 23.9 1
Kemba Walker 1579 3.3 7 17.8 2
Klay Thompson 1625 1.9 11 16.7 3
Chandler Parsons 1693 5.4 2 14.2 4
Brandon Knight 1465 0.4 25 13.9 5
Kenneth Faried 1369 7.0 1 12.0 6
Nikola Vucevic 1458 5.0 5 11.9 7
Tristan Thompson 1458 5.3 4 11 9
Kawhi Leonard 832 4.3 6 9.4 10

*rankings include 53 second year players

In the tables above, we can clearly see how PPG drives the selection process. All of the rookies selected for the Rising Stars Challenge are near the top of the rookie points per game (PPG) rankings. Only two members of the PPG top ten — Kyle Singler (8th) and Jonas Valanciunas (10th) — were not selected. Given that nine rookies were selected, it is clear that the rookie selections were made almost exclusively based on PPG. And the sophs actually managed to one-up the rookies: only one member of the soph PPG top ten — Isaiah Thomas (8th) — wasn’t selected.

But if you take a look at the “wins” column, you’ll notice something: not all the players who are tops in PPG are tops in wins. This is especially true of the rookies; Alexey Shved (18th), Tyler Zeller (69th), and Dion Waiters (74th) are all outside of the top 11 in terms of rookie Wins Produced. For the sophs, only Brandon Knight (25th) is outside the top 11.

Who should have been nominated instead? The tables below represent this year’s top rookies as measured by total wins (as of January 31st):

Player Minutes Wins Wins Rank* PPG PPG Rank* Selected
Andre Drummond 931 7.0 1 7.5 11 Yes
Anthony Davis 939 4.1 2 13.0 4 Yes
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 1176 3.5 3 9.7 6 Yes
Kyle Singler 1267 3.0 4 8.5 8 No
Jared Sullinger 892 2.9 5 6.0 19 No
Damian Lillard 1730 2.7 6 18.1 1 Yes
Maurice Harkless 653 2.6 7 4.2 24 No
Pablo Prigioni 637 2.4 8 3.8 28 No
Harrison Barnes 1110 1.7 9 9.0 7 Yes
Bradley Beal 1273 1.5 10 13.2 3 Yes
Jon Henson 429 1.0 11 6.2 17 No
Nando de Colo 447 1.0 12 3.5 31 No
Draymond Green 651 1.0 13 3.3 35 No
Meyers Leonard 540 1.0 14 4.6 23 No
Jonas Valanciunas 627 0.9 15 7.8 10 No

*rankings include 77 rookies

Here are the sophs, sorted by total wins (as of January 31st):

Player Minutes Wins Wins Rank*  PPG PPG Rank* Selected
Kenneth Faried 1369 7.0 1 12 6 Yes
Chandler Parsons 1693 5.4 2 14.2 4 Yes
Jimmy Butler 939 5.4 3 6.9 17 No
Tristan Thompson 1458 5.3 4 11 9 Yes
Nikola Vucevic 1458 5.0 5 11.9 7 Yes
Kawhi Leonard 832 4.3 6 9.4 10 Yes
Kemba Walker 1579 3.3 7 17.8 2 Yes
Kyrie Irving 1252 3.1 8 23.9 1 Yes
P.J. Tucker 957 2.8 9 5.2 27 No
Greg Smith 594 2.6 10 5.5 23 No
Klay Thompson 1625 1.9 11 16.7 3 Yes
Bismack Biyombo 1091 1.5 12 4.6 32 No
Enes Kanter 635 1.0 13 6.3 19 No
Ivan Johnson 501 0.9 14 6.1 20 No
Lance Thomas 493 0.9 15 2.5 40 No

*rankings include 53 second year players

With respect to the rookies, Kyle Singler (4th), Jared Sullinger (5th), Maurice Harkless (7th), and old guy Pablo Prigioni (8th) all produced more wins than Bradley Beal (10th), Alexy Shved (18), Tyler Zeller (69th), and Dion Waiters (74th). Since the Rising Stars Challenge announcement, Sullinger has been deemed out for the season with a back injury, which means that if we replaced Shved, Zeller, and Waiters with Singler, Harkless, and and Prigioni, we’d have the top nine active rookies in terms of total wins. Singler has the most reason to be upset, as he was not selected even though he was top ten in rookie wins and rookie PPG.

As for the sophs, the only really glaring omission is Jimmy Butler, who ranks third in soph wins but was not selected due to ranking 17th in soph PPG. P.J. Tucker (9th) and Greg Smith (10th) would be better selections than Klay Thompson as well — especially if we look at per-minute numbers — but there is absolutely no excuse for leaving Butler out of this event.

Of course, none of this is unexpected, as fans, coaches, and GMs have used PPG as a measure of player productivity for decades. For all the talk about basketball moving in a stat-oriented direction, the reality is that there is still quite a long way to go.

- Devin

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