Blogcat's Take, 4/5
Even if Big Al took a bullet for Kemba Walker and his last name was “Corleone,” the strongest argument out of that bunch would be his double-double abilities; he and DeMarcus Cousins are the only centers currently averaging above 20-and-10 a game. And while that might be enough for voting sportswriters like Rick Bonnell, who treats advanced stats like street mimes and refuse to even acknowledge them, let’s see if we can dig slightly deeper. First off, let’s identify Jefferson’s main competition. In some order, I would say that it’s Cousins, Joakim Noah, and Dwight Howard. I thought Chris Bosh would be considered a forward, but ESPN lists him as a center, and NBA.com unhelpfully lists him as a center-forward, so I guess you have to throw him in the mix, too (Bosh always likes to photo-bomb, and now I feel like he’s photo-bombing this discussion). With only room for three, let’s see how Big Al stacks up.
I like to start with estimated wins added (EWA), because although it’s light on defensive performance, it’s generally unconcerned with overall team play. I’m one of those people who is maniacally against factoring in a team’s record when giving out individual awards, except as a tie-breaker; seriously, I think I get less upset about terrorism than I do about sportswriters who won’t vote someone an All-Star because his team is under .500. Anyway, as of this morning, Big Al is second among centers with 14.0 EWA, trailing only Cousins’ 16.4, and just ahead of Andre Drummond’s 13.9, followed by Howard, Noah, and Bosh (making a crazy face in the background). PER is the main ingredient in this ranking, and Cousins, it turns out, is having himself a morosely magnificent season so far at 26.22, about 3-and-a-half ahead of Jefferson.
Switching over to Basketball-Reference.com’s win shares, which do account more for defense and overall team performance, we have another surprise leader: DeAndre Jordan...followed by another surprise, Anthony Davis. In fact, Big Al takes a beating in this metric. Look at your win share leaders at the 5-spot:
Offensive Win Shares
Defensive Win Shares
Total Win Shares
Yikes, Jefferson’s not even top-10! I always imagine that being just outside the top-10 of something is a PR person’s nightmare. It means you have to either awkwardly campaign on a “Top-11” argument, or you have to round-up to “Top-15” or “Top-20,” which potentially causes your audience to assume your client is anywhere from four to nine spots worse than he actually is. A few things help Al here: first, Tim Duncan’s status as a center is even more questionable than Chris Bosh’s; I’m having an easier time questioning Woody Allen’s status as a child abuser. Second, the fact that Robin Lopez’s offensive win shares are more than double his defensive win shares suggests that something is flawed with this metric (and vice versa with Big Al’s defensive win shares being way higher than his offensive win shares). Third, Basketball-Reference.com, an otherwise fine and upstanding web site, lists Big Al as a power forward, which completely ruins its credibility. It’s like a doctor telling a pregnant woman not to smoke and then promptly injecting himself with heroin right in front of her. So let’s just dismiss this and move on.
Through the magical powers of a $25 subscription to Synergy, I can check out individual per-play performances:
Offensive Points Per Play
Defensive Points Per Play
Okay, more weirdness ensues here. First of all, I’m sure I committed some sort of statistical crime by adding the offensive and defensive rankings together and then sorting by lowest combined ranking. You should probably treat them like peanut butter and jelly and buy them separately rather than in the same jar. But now that I did it, look how it works in Big Al’s favor! Secondly, I see now that DeAndre Jordan definitely needs to be in this discussion; because this is the second category in a row that he’s dominated. And now that he’s on my radar, going back and looking at EWA, I see Jordan’s ranked 7th, just after Bosh. Thirdly, fourthly, and fifthly, what is going on with Robin Lopez on offense!? I guess those Basketball-Reference.com numbers weren’t a fluke; the man is Bill Walton with an afro-perm (and he’s ranked 8th in EWA, behind Jordan). Did anybody else know this? And relatedly, Jefferson ‘s individual defense has somehow outshone his offense again. I’m totally at a loss to explain all of this.
There are several metrics we could look at to further separate the cream from the crop...but not if we have a spouse nagging us to go get groceries. For instance, now that we have the ability on NBA.com, we can check out opponent FG% within 5-feet of the rim. We can then quickly turn away, because Big Al is way, WAY outside the top 10 list (this category strengthens the case of Lopez yet again, plus Noah, plus the heretofore forgotten Roy Hibbert). Maybe block rate is your thing...which would be a problem, because it’s apparently not Big Al’s—he’s all the way down to 13th, if you go off of Basketball-Reference.com data and put in some filters for minutes and games played (and also change his position to center, dammit!). Also, if you want to put some more emphasis on individual defense, which I definitely do, because it has turned into an unexpected victory lap, because Al’s apparently killing it defensively this year, you could check out his defensive adjusted statistical plus-minus (or “Dee-Asp’em,” as I like to pronounce it) and see big Al comfortably in 7th place, trailing Jordan, Cousins, Hibbert, Drummond, Howard, and Marc Gasol.
So all in all, Jefferson’s definitely got a solid case, but Jordan’s surprise crashing makes things pretty dicey. DeAndre apparently does a lot more than stuff alley-oops and come up with customized handshake greetings. I’m really shocked at how high he is. He measures out really well in just about any category, regardless of whether it’s individual- or team-oriented, offense or defense. The same goes for Noah. So I’ve got either Jordan and Noah at 1-2. This leaves Jefferson to duke it out with Cousins, Howard, Bosh, Drummond, and Lopez (the Vince Vaughn to Jordan’s Luke Wilson in terms of unexpected crashers) for that third spot, and I don’t really know if I can definitely put Big Al above the others. It’s going to be tough in the real world, too, but I think he can do it. Lazy sportswriters and broadcasters will most likely just go with Noah, Howard, and Jefferson as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd teamers, but it’s going to be mostly based on anecdotal stories and simple per-game points and rebounds (and the fact that most a) despise Cousins and wouldn’t even select Lopez as the most talented Lopez twin). No matter what, good luck, Big Al! Because of you, for the first time in several years, I want to buy Bobcats paint rather than sniff it.
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