Each NBA contender has one player who just makes everything go.
It may be the team's best player, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. Glue guys and secondary stars can also be the most vital ingredient, spurring the squad on to victory night in and night out. Maybe it's through stellar offense, maybe suffocating defense.
Maybe stats don't matter to this player.
In order to determine the representative for each of the Association's eight leading contenders, I'm turning to a two-category metric. Here's how each representative was determined, in step-by-step fashion:
- I eliminated all players who hadn't recorded 500 minutes at this stage of the season. That's both to account for lengthy injuries and to disqualify non-rotation members who might otherwise earn a spot due to small sample size.
- Using Basketball-Reference, I looked at the on-court/off-court differentials for each player. That's meant to quantify a player's impact on the team's success, as a more positive difference in points per 100 possessions is a good sign.
- Using 82games.com, I looked at the player efficiency rating disparity, subtracting a player's PER allowed from his PER earned. That's meant to quantify individual impact, as a more positive disparity indicates a victory in the head-to-head matchup.
- I ranked each team's players in each category, then summed the ranks of the stats generated in the previous two steps. The lower the number, the better, as a score of two would indicate a top finish in both relevant categories.
- In case of a tie, the winner was determined by finish in on-court/off-court differential, as team play should be considered more important. This only mattered for the Indiana Pacers.
Throughout this article, you'll see three relevant pieces of information on each slide: the featured player (aka the most vital ingredient), an honorable mention (the No. 2 finisher) and the dishonorable mention (the last-place finisher).
Some players will surprise you. Others won't.
See if you can guess them all, but good luck. You'll need it.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and 82games.com. They're current through games played on Feb. 25.