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  • Estimating the Impact of a Player's Playmaking Through Numbers (EPI)

    There are so many different ways for a player to be a great playmaker. There's those who excel at pressuring the defense to force rotations and open up teammates, and use their passing ability to get the ball to those spots. There's players who are just so good at passing the ball that they are consistently placing their team in the most efficient spots possible without forcing much defensive adjustment. Others may require unique defensive attention because of their scoring ability, and basic reads are enough to create a huge advantage over the defense. Some players have that level of gravity off the ball, and create opportunities for their team to score without ever even touching it. ​ What's the most valuable form of playmaking though? That's what Estimated Playmaking Impact (EPI) measures, using a combination of both the volume and value of a player's creation along with their passing ability and team situation to estimate how much impact they provide as a playmaker per 100 possessions. The most prominent form of playmaking is creation, which is the opening up of scoring opportunities for teammates by attracting defensive attention. There are multiple ways to create these opportunities for teammates including spacing the floor, drawing a double team that creates a power play, applying pressure to the rim and opening up shooters, along with many more, and I feel that Ben Taylor's "Box Creation" model does a great job at capturing the value in all of them. ​ Box Creation estimates the number of shots a player creates per 100 possessions. However, the metric can be a bit biased towards the modern era because of the 3 point explosion, so I use an era-adjusted version to even out the playing field a bit. While that pretty much covers a player's ability to create opportunities, we still haven't included the guys who are just so good at passing the ball that they are able to capitalize on advantages without having to move the defense. What better way to capture that ability than through "Passer Rating", an estimate of a player's passing talent. It's almost impossible for a player to not be adding at least some value as a playmaker if they are a high-level passer, but that passing ability becomes significantly more valuable as they create more shots, and that combination right there is where we see the most impactful playmakers: The final input within EPI is meant to make a slight adjustment for team situation, as it becomes harder to make plays for your team with worse spacing. This is where my Lineup Spacing metric comes into play; this is a simple, yet effective measurement that looks at the team around a specific player and how they shoot the outside shot, relative to their era. The downside to this is that 3 point data can only go far as back as the 3 point line itself, meaning EPI only goes back to 1980. If you're interested in viewing the results of EPI and the best seasons on record, you can do so by becoming a member here.

  • Estimating the Impact of a Player's Scoring Through Numbers (ESI)

    Scoring is probably the most polarizing aspect of basketball, and that's because of just how many factors go into it. A lot of people go the classic "best combination of volume and efficiency" route to rank their best scorers, while others might value the actual scoring counters and versatility a bit more. Even then, there are other factors influencing these things, such as the team around each player, the role they are asked to play, and of course the era that they played in. I found myself struggling to really evaluate a player's scoring while keeping all of these different aspects in mind, so I developed a statistic that would give a more accurate depiction. Estimated Scoring Impact (ESI) uses a combination of scoring volume, efficiency, team situation, and era to estimate how much value a player provides per 100 possessions from scoring alone, given an even playing field. Well how exactly do we capture the value of one's scoring? We can start by looking at a player's actual scoring rate per 100 possessions, to get a good idea for just how much they're putting the ball in the basket. While this does give players an equal amount of opportunities to score, it doesn't gauge how difficult it is to score, which can be very dependent on the defense. Here's a quick look at the league average offensive rating by year, showing the drastic changes in how efficient offense has been over time: To fairly account for the difference in scoring difficulty over time, we'll have to use an inflation-adjusted scoring rate. ​ Inflation-Adjusted Points Per 100 Possessions measure a player's scoring rate while factoring in the league average points per possession that season, giving us an actual "relative to era" scoring rate. ​ The next component in ESI is a player's scoring efficiency, or how accurate they are when attempting to score. This is an extremely important factor that many seem to overlook, as the more efficient a player is, the less amount of possessions they're taking up to score, thus giving their team a better chance at more productive offense. The actual measurement used for players' efficiency is Relative True Shooting Percentage (rTS%), but I did make some slight adjustments to account for role and add a slight skill curve. With the way efficiency is weighted in my model, players who are above league average get extra credit for ramping up the volume that they are attempting to score at, meaning a player who attempts 20 shots a game on 5% rTS would get more credit for efficiency than someone attempting 7 shots a game with the same accuracy. Certain teams relied on their primary scorer increasing the quantity of attempts as a source of offense (Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony), and the best way to put value to that is by giving them more credit for maintaining efficiency as opposed to 3rd/4th options who are receiving easier looks. Of course the other end of the spectrum means that players with below average efficiency get taxed for ramping up the volume, as they are doing so at a below average rate. When looking at hundreds of seasons on record, it's pretty clear that players generally become less accurate as they attempt more shots: Those few outliers that you'll see at the top right of the graph are the ones who get the most credit for this portion of the metric, as they're capable of maintaining elite accuracy while still providing lots of volume. Now that we've measured era-adjusted scoring rate and efficiency relative to volume, it's important to take the team situation into account. It's fairly obvious that it's scoring the basketball becomes much easier when there's more space to work with, and that's why the final input comes from my Lineup Spacing metric. This is a simple, yet effective measurement that looks at the team around a specific player and how they shoot the outside shot, relative to their era. The downside to this is that 3 point data can only go far as back as the 3 point line itself, meaning ESI only goes back to 1980. ​​ If you're interested in viewing the results of ESR and the best seasons on record, you can do so by becoming a member here.

  • The Timberwolves, Bulls, and Current State of NBA Defenses

    Both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls' defenses have been better than advertised to start the season. Both teams have rim protectors who are a bit questionable, but have surrounded them with the pieces to make up for their weaknesses. These two teams reach their goals on defense in similar yet contrasting ways and are equally an interesting case study on protecting the rim through perimeter play. The Bulls rank 5th in defensive rating through their first 6 games with a 99.7, and the Timberwolves rank 6th in through their first 6 games with a 99.9. Why has each been so good, and is this success sustainable across an 82 game season? Before we discuss the long-term proposition of the Timberwolves, or the Bulls defense being this smoldering, we have to determine just how sustainable league-wide results are. I think it's fair to question the long-term possibility of defensive results being this good in general. The best defenses have strung together short-term results better than the best early 70's defenses (pre 3 point line). No matter what fouls are being called, the long-term results for defense are dependent on offense, and I'm struggling to believe that with the league's current offensive tendencies that there will continue to be 6 defenses that are sub-100 defensive rating. Last season there wasn't a single team sub-105, and there has only been 1 to reach that mark within the previous 3 years. You'd have to date back to 2016 for the last sub-100 defensive rating team, and you'd have to go to 2012 to find a season with multiple teams in that arena. To add even more context, from 2005-2021 there were 5 teams to have sub-100 defensive ratings, meaning that there have been better defensive results this season than in the last 16 years of basketball. The 6 sub-100 defensive rating teams we have so far this season would be good for the most in league history (non-estimate) since 1983. Looking at the league-wide offensive results, you'll spot one glaring difference. 2020-21 League average : 36.7% 3P% 34.6 3PA 21.8 FTA 77.8%FT% 13.8 TOV 2021-22 League averages ( 2 1/2 weeks in ): 34% 3p% 35.9 3PA 20 FTA 76.3%FT% 15.2 TOV The single biggest change isn't the FTA that everyone has been clamoring about the most, but 3 point percentage. Long-distance shooting accuracy has taken a pretty big dip, going from the highest it's ever been in 2021 to the lowest since the turn of the century. League-wide 3 point efficiency since 2000 has hovered around 35%, only dropping below that mark 3 times. Even among those 3 shooting seasons, 2022 so far has been an outlier with it being almost a full point (-.7%) less than the second-worst shooting season of the 21st century. Small little increments in shooting, at the volume it's attempted in today's game, can completely shift offensive production; the difference in shooting currently is costing league average offenses 2.9 points per 100 possessions. That difference would be about the difference between an average and a top 5 defense in the league. The Golden State Warriors last season had a -2.2 relative defensive rating, which means on average, shooting variance alone has cost teams more points so far this season than the Golden State Warriors featuring Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins did. What does this mean for the Bulls and the Timberwolves? Regression to the Mean: To start, I like what the Timberwolves do on that end, I think they've been able to transform their defense with Karl Anthony-Towns often blitzing the pick and roll ball handler. Towns' ball containment in these spots looks pretty good, his footwork isn't extremely choppy, and he's used his length extremely well at the rim. The Timberwolves have been switch-heavy since Finch became the coach, and while their switch usage has seen a slight dip, it's still very much a strength they have. Their are multiple players on the roster who can switch on multiple possessions, and Towns' added mobility makes this attack even more potent because you can't matchup hunt. Vanderbilt and McDaniels each cover so much ground for this team, helping on drives, closing out to shooters, and adding a presence at the rim. The role each plays as a helper was why I thought the Timberwolves would be a solid defense, and the range they have often destroys offensive possessions. They often have "sinking and fill" on big man isolations with wings or smalls effectively closing driving gaps. The Timberwolves have 3 players within in the top 40 in distance run on defense. As a team they rank 7th in distance run, 4th in 3 point shots contested, and 6th in deflections. They're a young and active defense, and while I think their point of attack could use some help, they have looked like a pretty nice defense. The thing is, I don't think they're a sub-100 defensive rating team, and I don't know if they finish as a top 10 defense by the end of the year. Which *spoiler alert* is perfectly fine, I also don't think they're the 23rd best offense in the league (just another example of why early-season per possession stuff is wonky). The Timberwolves could realistically finish anywhere from the 9th-17th best defense. When it comes to the Bulls on the other hand, I'm not as optimistic about their success being stable. A lot of the things I mentioned about Minnesota can also be applied to Chicago; the Bulls are young, active, and all those other colorful adjectives I used to describe the Timberwolves. They currently rank 6th in defensive miles ran and are tied for 2nd in loose balls recovered on defense. The difference between the two teams is the quality of rim protection and team defense. Despite what their numerical success has looked like, the Bulls just haven't impressed me much on that end of the floor. The Bulls allow opposing teams to get 2 feet into the paint anytime they want, and their ability to stop the bleeding when opponents want to get there is what worries me most. They rank #1 in shots 0-5 feet from the basket allowed with a whopping 36.7 attempts, but what has been the team's saving grace is what they've allowed at the rim (56.8%). That doesn't feel like a sustainable number, Vucevic is an average rim protector and the Bulls don't have the bevy of help defenders that Minnesota has. Let's say hypothetically the Bulls are allowing the league average FG% from 0-5, they'd be giving up 3.9 more points per 100 possessions. Combine that with the unimpressive long-distance shooting from opponents (33%), and we are looking at a start that seems very skewed. I see them being around a 15th-21st ranked defensive team as opposed to top 10. So far seasonal results aren't very important, we don't really have many matchup combinations nor a big enough sample size to really dictate the quality of defense through numbers. Early season results so far seem relatively fluky, and that's perfectly fine; it's been 6 games (less than that for some teams), and a little early season luck hasn't hurt anyone (other than the pelicans)!

  • 2021-22 NBA Season Predictions and Expectations: Playoff Projections, Award Winners, Dark Horses

    The NBA season is finally upon us; and for the first time since 2019, we are expected to get the full 82 game experience. This 75th anniversary season looks to be one of the best in a long time, with elite talent and exciting players spread across all 30 rosters, and some phenomenal competition. Of course with any NBA season it's impossible to predict exact outcomes, as too many factors play into it. There's no way of knowing who gets injured, which players start to regress, or who takes that next leap, but I can say with confidence that I considered all angles and possibilities when making these projections. NBA Seeding Predictions Eastern Conference 1. Brooklyn Nets 2. Milwaukee Bucks 3. Atlanta Hawks 4. Philadelphia 76ers 5. Miami Heat 6. Boston Celtics 7. Chicago Bulls* 8. New York Knicks* 9. Indiana Pacers* 10. Toronto Raptors* 11. Washington Wizards 12. Charlotte Hornets 13. Cleveland Cavaliers 14. Detroit Pistons 15. Orlando Magic *play-in tournament - Even with Kyrie Irving potentially not playing the entire season, I still believe the Nets are the best team in the East. James Harden returning to more of an offensive floor raiser role for the regular season with one of the best off-ball superstars in league history in Kevin Durant playing off him is certainly a recipe for an all-time great offense. They added some more depth on both ends of the floor to really round out their roster, and if they stay healthy there's no doubt in my mind they secure the top seed. - The Atlanta Hawks played at a 58-24 pace after hiring Nate McMillan as the coach, and followed that up with a near NBA Finals appearance. With a full offseason to really figure out which system works best on both ends of the floor, and potential leaps by their young stars, I feel very confident in saying there's a scenario where the Hawks secure the #1 seed. - The 76ers are always hard to project, but now more than ever with the whole Ben Simmons situation. Who knows if he gets traded, or what that trade would even look like, but he's still a very valuable player, especially on the defensive end. The real determining factor in where they land come playoff time is how many games Joel Embiid ends up playing, and I'm saying it's enough to earn them home court advantage. - The Bulls are easily one of the most exciting teams going into next season. With amazing preseason performances across the board, expectations for this team are pretty high. Although I love the way their offense is constructed, I just can't wrap my head around that defense, even with Caruso and Ball on the point of attack. Western Conference 1. Utah Jazz 2. Phoenix Suns 3. Golden State Warriors 4. Denver Nuggets 5. Los Angeles Lakers 6. Portland Trail Blazers 7. Dallas Mavericks* 8. Los Angeles Clippers* 9. Memphis Grizzlies* 10. Minnesota Timberwolves* 11. New Orleans Pelicans 12. San Antonio Spurs 13. Sacramento Kings 14. Houston Rockets 15. Oklahoma City Thunder *play-in tournament - I feel like people understate how prone to explosion this Golden State team is. In games that Steph Curry played in last season the Warriors played at a 48-34 pace; with a strong offseason, the return of Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole seemingly taking a leap, what's preventing them from winning upwards of 54 games? - The Nuggets are more than capable of securing that #1 seed behind the anomaly that is Nikola Jokic. Even after Murray went out with injury they remained one of the best offensive teams in the NBA, and if MPJ takes that next step the league is in trouble. I went with a safer pick at #4, but I don't see them dropping below home court advantage. - Come postseason time I expect the Lakers to have figured it out, but to start I feel like they are going to have some problems adjusting. The Russell Westbrook experiment is prone to its lowlights, and they will definitely be load managing their stars, which I do think is enough to hold them just outside the top 4. - I would argue that Portland had the most underrated offseason in the NBA, dumping off their 2 worst defenders and adding a great one in Larry Nance Jr. Nance and Covington on the court together is pretty terrifying, and should be enough to prevent them from another disaster of a season on that end. It'll be interesting to see what Billups opens up for Lillard offensively, potentially exploring more off-ball action to make that fit with McCollum work a bit better. - Minnesota has the potential to explode this year, and not a lot of people are talking about it. A fully healthy trio of Russell, Edwards, and Towns is a matchup nightmare, and with 2 athletic defensive forwards in Vanderbilt and McDaniels along with the addition of Beverley, this team could very well sneak into the playoffs. NBA Season Award Predictions Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry If the Warriors do end up with a top 3 seed like I predict, this truly is Steph Curry's award to lose. His offensive dominance never fails to amaze anyone, capable of exploding for yet another scoring title and 3 point record all while maintaining otherworldly levels of efficiency. If he does win he would join a group of just 9 other players to win 3 MVPs, further cementing his legacy as an all-time great. Other Names to Watch: Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trae Young Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert Despite what the media might tell you about Gobert, he truly is the most impactful defender in basketball. His ability to protect the rim at such a high level allows Utah to run lineups with very weak guard and wing defenders and still produce a top 5 defense. Their entire system is built on running 3 point shooters off the line, and because of how good Gobert is down low opponents are forced to live in the mid range, which just isn't good offensive output. The Jazz last season had both the #1 3 point and paint defense in the NBA in minutes with Gobert on the floor, and there's no reason to believe any of that changes this season. Other Names to Watch: Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo Most Improved Player: Jordan Poole The most improved player award is definitely the hardest to predict, as nobody really knows who's capable of taking that leap. In my opinion though, the flashes we saw from Jordan Poole look like that of a future superstar. His self-creation looks phenomenal and his confidence is through the roof, which means that if he does get the minutes he will have the production to go along with it. As long as Klay Thompson is out, he looks like the clear offensive #2 for a Golden State team looking to get back in the mix, and might just be the piece they needed. Other Names to Watch: OG Anunoby, Dejounte Murray, Michael Porter Jr. Sixth Man of the Year: Tyler Herro The addition of Kyle Lowry leaves Tyler Herro with a large chunk of the offensive load leading the 2nd unit, which I believe will show his best results yet. He's shown flashes of strong pick and roll ball-handling skills that will come with a larger sample this year, and it looked like he took some major leaps during the preseason. His pull-up 3 point shot continues to develop, adding a layer to his game that could help him become the league's best bench scorer. Other Names to Watch: Malik Beasley, Derrick Rose, Jalen Brunson, Patty Mills Rookie of the Year: Jalen Green The Rookie of the Year award usually comes down to the rookie with the most eye-popping box score, and where better than Houston for Green to ramp up those scoring totals? I did originally go with Cade Cunningham as my pick, but with the injury concern at the moment and no real date for his return, I felt more confident going with Green who we all know will at least attempt to get his. Other Names to Watch: Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham, Josh Giddey Coach of the Year: Steve Kerr Steve Kerr's system works. If the Warriors do end up with a top seed, he deserves credit for bringing the best out of the squad and helping develop the young guys. Other Names to Watch: Michael Malone, Nate McMillan, Erik Spoelstra

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