With roughly six weeks left of the regular season, the complexion of the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year race is changing.
For most of the year, Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo has been perceived as the projected runner-up to Michael Carter-Williams, who's put up some big games and numbers for the Philadelphia 76ers. And there's no arguing Carter-Williams has been the more productive player, averaging 3.2 more points, 2.2 more assists and 1.1 more rebounds per game.
But those margins are no longer very convincing when you examine how they're being generated.
Oladipo is averaging 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists. It's not the 17.1-5.4-6.2 line of Carter-Williams, but it certainly isn't too shabby.
And Oladipo's production in Orlando's offense has actually been more impressive than Carter-Williams' in Philadelphia.
For starters, while Carter-Williams is averaging a few more minutes per game, he's also getting plenty of extra possessions. The Sixers are ranked No. 1 in the NBA in pace, which measures the possessions a team uses per game.
Orlando is tied for No. 17 in the league in pace, averaging 6.6 fewer possessions per game.
Oladipo's offense is also coming with considerably fewer touches. In Orlando, he's got Jameer Nelson handling the ball, and Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic there to score it.
On the other hand, Carter-Williams has a lot more freedom and opportunity to make plays as Philadelphia's primary ball-handler. Take a look at how big his role is compared to Oladipo's:
|Touches per game||Usage Rate||Team's Pace||Shots per game|
|Carter-Williams||84.6||26.3 percent||102.6 (No. 1 in NBA)||15.5|
|Oladipo||67.9||23.8 percent||96 (No. 17 in NBA)||11.9|
Oladipo might be averaging 3.2 fewer points per game, but he's also taking 3.6 fewer shots. And given how many extra touches Carter-Williams gets, it's only natural that he averages a few more assists.
Offensively, Oladipo has shown more polish and precision as a scorer. He's finishing at a higher percentage around the rim, in the mid-range and behind the arc:
|Field-Goal Percentage per Area|
|Restricted Area||Mid-range||Three-point range|
According to NBA.com, Carter-Williams has made just 70 of his 364 jump shots on the year. That's a disastrous 19.2 percent. Oladipo's 27.1 percent is a little more respectable, though both players' perimeter games clearly need some work.
Defensively, you can't argue against Carter-Williams' two steals per game compared to Oladipo's 1.6. But you can argue their impact.
Let's talk advanced stats: Oladipo actually has a better defensive rating than Carter-Williams, which measures an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions.
And that leads us to win shares, which estimates the number of wins a particular player contributes to his team. Oladipo's 2.2 defensive win shares to Carter-Williams' 1.3 gives him more total wins shares as a two-way guard.
|Defensive Rating||Defensive Win Shares||Win Shares|
If you're a believer in analytics and advanced stats, the numbers say Oladipo has been the more valuable team player.
With the Philadelphia 76ers now losers of 14 games in a row (two of which came to Orlando), and the team just 2.5 games in front of the Milwaukee Bucks for worst-record-in-the-league honors, Carter-Williams has started to lose some of his allure.
And though M.C.W. continues to put up numbers, Oladipo has started putting up some big ones of his own. He recently blew up a few times late in February, going for 30 points, 14 assists and nine boards on the Knicks, 26 points and five assists on the Wizards and 17 points and 11 boards in a win over Carter-Williams' Sixers.
Throw in the fact that Oladipo hasn't missed a game yet, while Carter-Williams has missed 12, and there's a pretty good case to be made for the Indiana product.
"If they give me Rookie of the Year, it's a good thing," Oladipo told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. "But, at the end of the day, I want to be great. So whether I get it or not, I'm just going to go out and continue to keep getting better."
The strides he's made have been beyond impressive, as Oladipo has evolved into a legitimate playmaker after spending three years at Indiana as an energy guy. And while Carter-Williams has been more productive this year, he hasn't shown the same in-season growth we've seen from Oladipo.
It's a two-man race at this point, but given Philadelphia's record, Carter-Williams' missed games and his inflated stats, the highest points-per-game average shouldn't be what determines this year's winner.
If the Sixers continue tanking and the Magic can eke out some wins behind a surging Oladipo, the final 20 games could be the stretch where he officially makes his move to the top of the 2014 rookie rankings.