A Very Early Look at the Top 10 Rookies

Josh Blakely is an attorney in the Milwaukee area.  He topped out as a bench player for a small Wisconsin high school, but has continued to play in intramural and pick-up games to this day.  His closest brush with basketball greatness was quizzing John Hammond on what he saw in Chauncey Billups that the Boston Celtics and Rick Pitino couldn’t recognize. Josh has a distant background in math and sports journalism, having completed the math requirements for a physics major and having served as sports editor for his college newspaper.  He joined a friend to blog about baseball at The Baseball Boys and more recently has been following his favorite teams at The BadgerBucco Blog.  Josh has avidly followed the sabermetric and sports economics revolution in all three major sports for over a decade and is excited to provide another voice for the Wages of Wins Journal.

It’s early days in the NBA season (just 7 to 9 games in for most teams), but let’s throw caution to the wind and take a look at all those exciting rookies who were going to change the course of their franchises.  I love looking at the rookies and comparing the actual production to the hype.  Keep in mind, Dave Berri’s admonition about small sample sizes, but damn those torpedoes, full steam ahead.

To start plumbing the depths of rookie production, we need a list of the projected top rookies from a non-sports-economics source to serve as our conventional wisdom.  This top ten list from Hoops World –  which is part of USA Today Sports – seems like a fairly respectable representation of the impact rookies (from the perspective of “conventional wisdom”).

  1. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
  2. Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
  3. Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
  4. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
  5. Dennis Schroeder, Atlanta Hawks
  6. Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
  7. Solomon Hill, Indiana Pacers
  8. Archie Goodwin, Phoenix Suns
  9. Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
  10. Gal Mekel, Dallas Mavericks

Of course, Wins Produced doesn’t always agree with conventional wisdom, so let’s see how the WoW Journal ranked the top 10 rookies — who have played this season (and this distinction will be important in a bit) — in terms of projected Wins Produced per 48 minutes (WP48) ( leading up to the draft) . You might argue that this is selection bias, but the same goes for the Hoops World list, which omitted Nerlens Noel (who we can all agree would be on anyone’s list if he were healthy).

  1. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
  2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
  3. Jamaal Franklin, Memphis Grizzlies
  4. Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
  5. Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
  7. Reggie Bullock, Las Angeles Clippers
  8. Stephen Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
  9. Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
  10. Brandon Davies, Philadelphia 76ers

We see a few common names, with Oladipo, McLemore, Olynyk, and Adams showing up on both lists.  Part of that has to do with limiting the sample to only those players who have played this season, but we still see quite a bit of disagreement.

Now for the unfair question: which list offers a better projection so far?  Again, the sample is small, which makes this analysis less certain.  Still, here are the top 10 rookies in terms of Wins Produced (WP is our choice of metrics because boxscoregeeks.com makes that so easy!):

Top 10 Rookies

Team

POS

GP

MIN

WP48

WP

Pre-Season Pick

Carter-Williams, Michael

PHI

PG

8

293

0.154

0.9

CW

Adams, Steven

OKC

C

7

142

0.260

0.8

CW/WOW

Wolters, Nate

MIL

PG

7

228

0.140

0.7

WOW

Faverani, Vitor

BOS

C

9

172

0.091

0.3

Withey, Jeff

NOR

C

5

34

0.342

0.2

Hill, Solomon

IND

SF

7

65

0.092

0.1

CW

Antetokounmpo, Giannis

MIL

GF

5

75

0.074

0.1

Buycks, Dwight

TOR

PG

5

55

0.096

0.1

Christmas, Dionte

PHO

G

6

55

0.093

0.1

Franklin, Jamaal

MEM

GF

4

29

0.157

0.1

WOW

WP numbers from boxscoregeeks.com.  CW = Conventional Wisdom top 10 player.  WOW = Wages of Wins top ten player.

One should note that Wins Produced reflects a player’s WP48 (a choice that favors the WOW pre-season model) and minutes played (which favors conventional wisdom model).  And so far, conventional wisdom is “winning”.   Or at least, conventional wisdom name three of the top six picks.  The WoW list got three right, but one choice – Jamaal Franklin – barely make it.

Overall, that’s not much of a difference between the two.  So we will definitely need to revisit this later in the season when the sample sizes are larger. And of course, you have to wonder whether this would change if WOW analysis favorites such as Mike Muscala or C.J. McCollum were playing.

These lists are interesting, but the bigger story to me is how little most of these rookies are affecting their teams’ performances.  Only Carter-Williams, Adams, and Wolters are making a real difference for their teams.  With more than 60 rookies added via the draft and via free agent signings, seeing only three players making a contribution tells us that in the small sample we have, teams are missing more than 95% of the time.

Of course, it’s not like the conventional wisdom and Wins Produced did much better.  Both systems seemed to have missed on Vitor Faverani, the 4th ranked player on the above list.

Again it is very early.  But compare these early results to the breathless commentary we heard around draft time, and you can’t help but feel (and yes, this is based on a really small sample) that the draft forecasts – by the teams, the media, and the WoW Journal – haven’t done so well so far.

– Josh Blakely

 

 

 

 

 

 

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