Metrics 101: Assembling the NBA's Advanced Analytics All-Stars
Numbers don't tell the full story in the NBA.
They can fail to account for context. They don't give credit to the show-stopping style with which some players perform. They overlook key contributions that don't show up in the box score, and every individual metric is going to have a different flaw; none of them can be perfect.
But let's pretend the old adage is true and numbers really can't lie.
After all, they set a strong baseline, and looking at a handful of them simultaneously can help the cream rise toward the top. That's exactly what happens here as we look at players' scores in NBA Math's total points added (TPA) metric, ESPN.com's real plus/minus wins (RPM Wins) and win shares per 48 minutes to build All-Star squads for each conference. The first two provide a combination of volume and efficiency, while the last shows per-minute production with a team-success factor added into the equation.
For each of the three, we'll use z-scores to evaluate not only ranks, but also gaps between players mere rungs apart. Total the z-scores in each of the three categories, and you have the marks used for placement on these all-analytics rosters.
Even without the vaunted eye test, these choices just make sense.
Eastern Conference Backcourt Starter: Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
TPA: 90.55 (3.28 Z Score)
RPM Wins: 2.91 (2.57)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.237 (1.38)
This is not last year's version of Kyrie Irving. In fact, the earlier iteration of this point guard would have finished behind 25 other players throughout the league and earned status as an Eastern Conference alternate during his final season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as opposed to 2017-18's No. 8 placement using the same methodology.
So, what's changed?
Irving is actually scoring fewer points, grabbing fewer rebounds and dishing out fewer assists during his average appearance. He's shooting significantly worse from beyond the arc, no longer connecting on more than 90 percent of his free-throw attempts and spending less time on the court.
And yet, he's playing the most efficient basketball of his career by finishing around the hoop a career-high 67.3 percent of the time, making more trips to the charity stripe and refusing to turn the rock over to the opposition. Couple that with drastic improvements on the defensive end, where he's constantly engaged and spearheading a fearsome Celtics unit, and you have the profile of a star who's made the leap to full-fledged superstardom.
In the past, Irving's scoring average overstated his true value to the Cavaliers.
Eastern Conference Backcourt Starter: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
TPA: 81.07 (2.93)
RPM Wins: 3.2 (2.91)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.199 (1.06)
Kyle Lowry doesn't subscribe to the theory that point guards are supposed to decline after celebrating their 31st birthdays. He had us a bit worried after getting off to a slow start in 2017-18 (his first full campaign since hitting the magical age back in March), but he's rebounded with aplomb and continues to serve as one of the NBA's most dangerous offensive forces.
Averaging a mere 16.4 points, Lowry is scoring more infrequently than in any season since his first with the Toronto Raptors, all the way back in 2012-13. But he's playing fewer minutes, deferring more to his talented teammates and submitting the highest true shooting percentage (62.5) of his career.
So while he might not be the world-beating fringe MVP candidate as whom he's served in prior go-rounds, he remains an efficient juggernaut who can't be contained in the pick-and-roll game.
Not only is Lowry scoring 0.86 points per possession as a PnR ball-handler (62.9 percentile), which doesn't include his tremendous work as a distributor out of the set, but he's also produced a 52.6 effective field-goal percentage on his pull-up jumpers. Among the 67 players taking at least four such attempts per game, just Jeremy Lin (in one game prior to injury), James Harden, Eric Gordon and Stephen Curry have been more efficient.
Lowry continues to play strong defense for Toronto and is asserting himself as one of the league's best rebounding backcourt members. But he's most threatening when carrying out the death sentences that stem from ill-advised decisions to duck under screens.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt Starter: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
TPA: 187.9 (6.8)
RPM Wins: 4.4 (4.29)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.276 (1.7)
Do you need any justification?
Rather than going over the endless examples of greatness LeBron James has provided during his 15th professional season—seriously, you can read about him everywhere right now—let's have some fun with equations. We can look at his mind-numbing TPA score and realize that it's not just more than double the marks earned by all but five other players.
It also allows for interesting comparisons, like so:
- James (187.9) > Kyrie Irving + Al Horford (172.2)
- James (187.9) > Stephen Curry + Kevin Durant (168.75)
- James (187.9) > Anthony Davis + DeMarcus Cousins (159.59)
- James (187.9) > Joel Embiid + Ben Simmons + Robert Covington (159.25)
- James (187.9) > John Wall + Bradley Beal + Otto Porter Jr. (135.4)
And so on and so forth.
James is indomitable. Opposing teams, rivals, former allies, leading combinations of teammates and, perhaps most notably, Father Time himself just swing and miss.
"The King" remains "The King."
Eastern Conference Frontcourt Starter: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
TPA: 115.24 (4.17)
RPM Wins: 2.92 (2.58)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.263 (1.59)
For the first time in his NBA career, Giannis Antetokounmpo isn't upping his per-game figures in each of the five major counting stats.
His scoring average has risen from an impressive 22.9 points per game to a jaw-dropping 29.4, which puts him in serious contention for the scoring crown. He's averaging double-digit rebounds for the first time, and he's now swiping the ball away 1.8 times per contest. But with the Milwaukee Bucks' playmaking ability buoyed by the arrival of Eric Bledsoe, he's recording slightly fewer assists and is "only" averaging 1.8 rejections.
Shame on him, right? Surely this new line of 29.4 points, 10.3 rebounds 4.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocks per outing isn't noteworthy at all. Except he's actually the first player in NBA history to record such prominent marks in all five categories, and he currently sits in the top dozen spots on all leaderboards but the dime-dropping one.
Antetokounmpo continues to do everything for the Bucks, and an increased understanding of space and a willingness to draw contact has him playing more efficiently than ever. He now realizes how to attack the exposed hip and make the most of his long arms when attacking the hoop, to the point that no singular defender can keep him from the hoop. Somehow, sagging off a positionless player with no working jumper is a poor decision.
The Milwaukee superstar hasn't quite been able to keep up his early-season pace, and the lackluster play of his running mates is keeping the team's win total in check. But as an individual? He's been about as good as it gets.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt Starter: Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards
TPA: 69.94 (2.53)
RPM Wins: 3.25 (2.96)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.197 (1.04)
How do you justify signing a maximum extension?
If you're Otto Porter Jr., you improve your scoring, rebounding, assist and steal averages while basically refusing to miss shots. In other words, you function as the most valuable player on the Washington Wizards even while Bradley Beal is continuing to improve and John Wall—albeit, an injured version—is still on the roster.
Porter has consistently played high-quality defense in the nation's capital. ESPN.com's DRPM even gives him the second-highest score among this year's qualified small forwards, trailing only Robert Covington. And yet, his work on the preventing end still pales in comparison to his red-hot shooting numbers.
From the field, the breakout member of the Washington Big Three has connected on 52.1 percent of his attempts. He's knocked down 45.9 percent of his triples, and he's converted on 82.4 percent of his free-throw tries. Combine those numbers together, and he's on pace to become the 36th player in NBA history to average at least 16 points and qualify for the three-point leaderboard with a true shooting percentage north of 61 percent.
No one will mistake Porter for a superstar. He's too dependent on set-up passes and doesn't have the glamorous 30-point games that generate so much love from fanbases.
But we're worried about impact rather than celebrity here. And his impact has been substantial enough that he should generate serious consideration for the midseason festivities.
Eastern Conference Backcourt Reserves: Simmons, Oladipo, Walker
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
TPA: 71.75 (2.6)
RPM Wins: 2.69 (2.32)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.126 (0.45)
Yes, rookies are eligible to make the All-Star squad. It's a rare occurrence (45 have done so throughout NBA history, but only 2010-11 Blake Griffin and 2002-03 Yao Ming have done so this millennium), and it's perhaps even rarer for one to qualify while looking solely at the numbers.
But Ben Simmons is an exception, given his preternatural feel for the passing game and ahead-of-his-years defensive positioning.
Simmons routinely jumps into passing lanes and swipes away the ball before leading the charge in transition, where he's a devastating wrecking ball who can't be kept away from the basket. Not only does he rank No. 2 in NBA Math's defensive points saved (boosted, in part, by his glass-cleaning ability), but he also possesses the top mark among point guards in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus by a remarkable margin.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
TPA: 56.12 (2.03)
RPM Wins: 2.9 (2.56)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.138 (0.55)
Victor Oladipo's breakout with the Indiana Pacers has come fast and furious, as he's become a beneficial presence on both ends while taking charge of the offense. The luxury of working with the ball in his hands has been key for the massive development, allowing him to attack the rim and earn trips to the stripe at a career-high rate while creating far more of his three-point knockdowns.
Last year, Oladipo took 5.3 triples per game and hit 36.1 percent of them. A staggering 88.2 percent of those successful conversions came after a teammate's set-up feed. This year, he's requiring assists on only 51.9 percent of the deep makes and hitting his 5.5 attempts at a 43.3 percent clip.
The Pacers are letting him play in a style most conducive to his individual success, and it's working.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets (wild card)
TPA: 52.25 (1.89)
RPM Wins: 2.68 (2.31)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.177 (0.88)
With Kemba Walker on the floor, the Charlotte Hornets have outscored the opposition by 7.8 points per 100 possessions—slightly better than the No. 3 Toronto Raptors' season-long mark (7.6). When he doesn't play, that net rating plunges down to minus-16.2, which would be quite a bit worse than the No. 30 Chicago Bull's minus-13.1 mark.
That's a telling differential, especially because it's rather easily the biggest positive outlier on the Charlotte roster. The 24-point swing nearly doubles the next biggest upticks: Dwight Howard (13.0), Marvin Williams (12.7), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11.7) and Jeremy Lamb (5.0).
Walker isn't a beneficiary of playing alongside other starters, so much as the impetus behind everything that goes well.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt Reserves: Horford, Drummond, Covington, Gordon
Al Horford, Boston Celtics
TPA: 81.65 (2.95)
RPM Wins: 2.81 (2.46)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.205 (1.11)
Were the Boston Celtics less willing to operate under a by-committee approach, Al Horford might have the offensive touches necessary to move into a starting spot here. But he's instead content to fill a slightly smaller role while flat-out dominating in all areas whenever he plays.
Horford is averaging 5.1 assists, routinely running the show from the elbows and creating easy opportunities for his teammates. He's shooting 44.4 percent from beyond the arc while taking 3.3 deep looks per game—numbers matched by only 12 other qualified players this season. He's also sparked the Celtics' league-leading defense with his versatility and ability to protect the interior while smaller bodies switch all around him.
Basically, he's been arguably the league's most complete center during the 2017-18 campaign, kept out of the starting lineup here only because three forwards have submitted superior numbers in the early going.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
TPA: 97.6 (3.53)
RPM Wins: 2.22 (1.78)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.191 (0.99)
As Andre Drummond explained to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, a role change has helped him break out:
"We tried to work me out in the paint and try to beat people up down low, but [Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy would] rather me use my quickness with more ball movement. It's just taking my post game out and being able to have the ball more in my hands and making decisions. I think it’s a good sacrifice and I'm excited about my new role and way more involved in the offense. I'm able to make plays and get teammates open with my passing and activity."
Where hasn't Drummond improved massively? His free-throw percentage has jumped from 38.6 to 64.8. His assists per game have grown from 1.1 to 4.0. He's more disciplined on defense. He's more aggressive offensively without fear of whistles exposing his weakness at the stripe.
Everything has clicked.
Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers
TPA: 50.38 (1.82)
RPM Wins: 3.35 (3.08)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.135 (0.53)
Even if Robert Covington weren't making shots, he'd be a valuable presence for the Philadelphia 76ers, who are allowing 6.7 fewer points per 100 possessions while he's on the floor. Thanks to his quick hands and springy athleticism, he's a switching machine who excels when asked to provide help defense and tougher contests on shots.
NBA Math's defensive points saved has Covington behind 51 players in 2017-18. ESPN.com's DRPM is even more optimistic about his point-preventing chops, listing him ahead of every other qualified small forward and at No. 9 overall.
Oh, and he's shooting 42.0 percent from downtown while taking 7.7 attempts per game.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic (Wildcard)
TPA: 55.18 (2.00)
RPM Wins: 2.1 (1.64)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.165 (0.78)
Aaron Gordon's deep shooting has predictably fallen back toward more reasonable levels (42.6 percent on 5.8 attempts per game), but his overall improvements aren't going anywhere. After a year in which he proved a poor fit as a 3 for the Orlando Magic, he's applying the skills he learned and becoming a versatile threat who can make due with both skill and athleticism at his natural position.
The 22-year-old seems to be doing everything at a higher level, whether he's rebounding with ferocity, connecting on 80 percent of his shots from within three feet, hitting open teammates on the break or playing with more defensive discipline on the interior.
Those strides ensure his future legitimacy, regardless of how far his three-point shooting plunges after the scorching start during the season's opening salvo.
First Alternate: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Second Alternate: Enes Kanter, New York Knicks
Third Alternate: Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
Western Conference Backcourt Starter: James Harden, Houston Rockets
TPA: 191.6 (6.93)
RPM Wins: 5.86 (5.97)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.332 (2.17)
No one in the NBA has matched James Harden's quarter-season tally in NBA Math's TPA. LeBron James is only marginally behind, while Andre Drummond, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the lone remaining players with scores greater than half Harden's mark.
RPM Wins tell a similar story.
Harden's mark of 5.86 is lightyears ahead of Curry's No. 2 total (4.42). In fact, that gap between the two Western Conference guards is about the same size as the difference between the Golden State Warriors point guard and one of his running mates. Except Draymond Green's 2.97 RPM Wins fall in at No. 13.
Oh, and the same tale unfolds in the third of our three categories, though not quite to the same extreme. Harden's 0.332 win shares per 48 minutes actually come in at No. 4, but the three players ahead of him (Jack Cooley, Joakim Noah and Kyle Singler) have combined to play a meager seven minutes—the same amount of time, on average, it takes the bearded guard to score about 6.2 points.
Harden has been a statistical machine for the Houston Rockets, producing an unreal amount of offense with his scoring acumen and passing wizardry. Whether he's running the show by himself or working alongside Chris Paul, he's been the spark plug for one of the league's most dangerous teams and has consistently displayed a near-mastery of offensive basketball in the NBA.
Just for good measure, he's also playing the best defense of his career. Because when you're tired of narrowly losing out on MVP, every little bit of effort counts.
Western Conference Backcourt Starter: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
TPA: 107.24 (3.88)
RPM Wins: 4.42 (4.31)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.274 (1.68)
Stephen Curry can't be stopped by issues that plague mere mortals. Even while playing with a troublesome finger, he's still putting up historic numbers from beyond the three-point arc.
Through his first 22 games, he's taking a whopping 9.4 long-range attempts per game and connecting on a respectable 37.7 percent of those attempts—a transcendent percentage given that level of volume, even if it's far lower than the marks typically produced by the greatest shooter in league history. That puts him on pace to make 267 treys in 2017-18 (more if he stays healthy all year). In case you've forgotten, only he, Klay Thompson and Ray Allen have ever topped that number during a single season.
But Curry hasn't let his diminished three-point efficiency stop him from putting together yet another fantastic resume.
He's hitting two-thirds of his attempts within three feet, refusing to miss mid-range jumpers, racking up assists and traveling to the free-throw line at the best rate of his career. His offensive box plus/minus is actually higher than last year's mark, and DRPM shows that he may actually be a slightly beneficial presence on the defensive end.
Curry's year might not leave him in the same ballpark as Harden, but he's still the easy choice for the second backcourt spot in the NBA's stronger half. He has the third-best score in our analysis, and the gap between him and No. 4 Giannis Antetokounmpo is a substantial one.
Western Conference Frontcourt Starter: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
TPA: 90.75 (3.28)
RPM Wins: 3.58 (3.34)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.228 (1.3)
If you're still a holdout, we'll allow it. But do know the "Nikola Jokic is a legitimate star" bandwagon is about full, and it isn't likely to feature any vacated spaces in the near future. All three of these overarching stats agreeing on his top-tier value isn't fluky.
Prior to suffering a sprained ankle that figures to knock him out of the lineup for a short period, Jokic was averaging 15.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks. Better still, he was doing so while keeping his turnovers in check and slashing 51.0/40.6/86.4.
Yes, you're reading that correctly. A double-double threat who consistently serves as one of the league's deadliest frontcourt passers is on the verge of the 50/40/90 club. And as if that's not enough, he's improved his defense drastically, mastering the art of split-second positioning and smart contests around the rim so thoroughly that only Hassan Whiteside, Zaza Pachulia and Dwight Powell have superior scores in ESPN.com's DRPM.
Not among centers. Among every player.
With Jokic on the floor, the Nuggets are outscoring opponents by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. Without him, that net rating plunges to a putrid minus-6.4. Only Gary Harris has a superior differential, and the shooting guard's value is so closely tied to the big man's, thanks to the synergy they enjoy when the smaller Nugget is cutting to the hoop, spotting up on the perimeter or trailing in transition.
Every number agrees: Jokic is a stud. And given his affinity for geometry-defying passes, incredible touch around the hoop and newfound defensive acumen, the eye test falls right in line, as well.
Western Conference Frontcourt Starter: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
TPA: 81.02 (2.93)
RPM Wins: 3.4 (3.14)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.256 (1.53)
As Justin Verrier detailed for The Ringer before discussing how detrimental the steady stream of injuries can be, Anthony Davis is becoming the idealized version of himself:
"Through the [New Orleans] Pelicans' first 23 games, Davis has played like he's finally figured out all the buttons of his luxury-SUV physique. As [Giannis] Antetokounmpo grows into his jumper, Davis has shot the 3-ball at a slightly better success rate than Khris Middleton, all while finishing in the paint better than Clint Capela. Davis's true shooting percentage ranks fourth among players with a steady diet of possessions, and while his prodigious block rate has taken a tiny dip, he has started getting teammates involved with his passing, not just by drawing double teams."
He's scoring more efficiently than before, thanks to a working three-point jumper and improved patience around the basket. He's become a secondary distributing hub for the New Orleans Pelicans, comfortable both operating from the elbows or generating offense from the top of the key. He's no longer chasing blocks and is instead focused on shutting down the interior of the NOLA schemes, moving into the top 20 in ESPN.com's DRPM despite learning how to fill a new role alongside fellow big man DeMarcus Cousins.
All in all, he's become a basketball machine.
How many players in NBA history have averaged at least 25 points per game with a true shooting percentage on the right side of 64 percent? Just eight: Charles Barkley, Stephen Curry, Adrian Dantley, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin McHale, Chris Mullin and Amar'e Stoudemire.
That's already impressive company, and Davis is tracking toward that club and All-Defense consideration.
Western Conference Frontcourt Starter: DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans
TPA: 78.57 (2.84)
RPM Wins: 4.05 (3.89)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.119 (0.39)
Anthony Davis isn't the only frontcourt standout by the bayou.
DeMarcus Cousins has been every bit his equal during his first full season with the New Orleans Pelicans, exerting far more effort and discipline on the defensive end than in previous go-rounds for the Sacramento Kings while continuing to engage in more and more perimeter exploits. Not even including his combined three steals and blocks per game, he's now averaging 25.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists—numbers just Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Roberston have matched throughout all of NBA history.
But those numbers aren't key to the rankings here. Only the advanced metrics matter, and Boogie's overall score in our analysis leaves him at No. 9 overall—two spots behind his star running mate. Throughout the entire Western Conference, only James Harden, Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic, Davis and an as-of-yet-unnamed backcourt reserve (listed first shortly) have superior numbers.
This is the version of Cousins we've all been waiting for.
He might be a bit too dependent on his three-point stroke, but he's leading the charge on offense with both physicality and finesse. He's making an immense impact on the defensive end. Though he's pacing the league in technical fouls, that finally feels like nothing more than a tertiary story—at best.
Enjoy the dominance, Pelicans fans. Big men like this don't grow on trees.
Western Conference Backcourt Reserves: Lillard, Westbrook
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
TPA: 102.45 (3.71)
RPM Wins: 3.51 (3.26)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.217 (1.21)
Damian Lillard is shooting an uncharacteristic 33.1 percent from three-point land, but that isn't stopping him from having arguably the best season of his career. Even without the stroke that's come to define his game in previous go-rounds, he's finding heretofore unseen levels of success at the free-throw stripe, finishing plays on the interior and—most importantly—making monumental defensive strides.
The point guard no longer seems like a walking liability on the preventing end, and he's been an integral part of the Portland Trail Blazers' climb up the defensive leaderboard. No one will mistake him for a true stopper, but no longer treating screens like brick walls has helped him rise from 2016-17's minus-1.49 in ESPN.com's DRPM to 2017-18's more palatable minus-0.38.
And accordingly, his overall standing has climbed in spite of his middling deep shooting. Only four players throughout the NBA finished with a higher score in this analysis, though two happened to be backcourt members of the same conference.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
TPA: 92.76 (3.36)
RPM Wins: 3.43 (3.17)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.123 (0.43)
Russell Westbrook isn't averaging a triple-double, but he's not far off that magical feat of round-number bias. By posting 22.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 9.7 assists, he's still putting up numbers that only Oscar Robertson has matched throughout all of NBA history, so don't make the mistake of discrediting his year because his stats don't qualify for arbitrary milestones.
That's not to say this go-round is the equivalent of his MVP season. It's not. In fact, he would've finished with the top score in this analysis by a mile with last year's numbers, since he effectively broke some advanced metrics with his ridiculous usage and assist rates.
But this one is still special, and it should be treated as such.
Second Alternate: Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
Western Conference Frontcourt Reserves: Aldridge, Green, Durant, George, Capela
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
TPA: 62.08 (2.25)
RPM Wins: 2.35 (1.93)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.246 (1.45)
The San Antonio Spurs wouldn't have survived Kawhi Leonard's lengthy absence without the offensive exploits of LaMarcus Aldridge.
He's taken over as the team's go-to scorer, re-assuming a style that at least partially resembles his glory days with the Portland Trail Blazers by willingly commandeering possessions and consistently putting the ball in the basket. The 32-year-old power forward is averaging 23.0 points while shooting 51.6 percent from the field, and every bucket has been crucial for an offense that often struggles to score.
But Aldridge has also showcased new elements to his game—chief among them, a deadly three-point stroke (39.5 percent on 1.7 attempts per game) and a willingness to pass the ball from the high post rather than dribble the ball into the hardwood while waiting for a shooting opportunity. He's become a more complete threat, and at a perfect time.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
TPA: 61.51 (2.23)
RPM Wins: 2.97 (2.64)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.155 (0.69)
Draymond Green hasn't been the same devastating presence on the defensive end during the 2017-18 season. He's not quite as fleet of foot while shifting between assignments at the blink of an eye, and he's failing to protect the rim like he did during his award-winning campaign.
And yet, he's remained one of the league's most valuable power forwards even while averaging just 10 points per game.
Green remains the beating heart of the Golden State Warriors, inspiring his troops with passion and fervent play that never relents. He can fill virtually any role, spacing out a defense with the threat of a triple on one possession and then dishing a clever dime to an open teammate on the next trip down the floor. Rather than his efficacy in any one area, his versatility makes him special.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
TPA: 61.51 (2.23)
RPM Wins: 2.38 (1.96)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.198 (1.05)
And a third member of the Warriors makes the cut.
Kevin Durant may not receive quite as many call-his-own-number touches as he did during his Oklahoma City Thunder days, and he's let the Dubs' persistent turnover problems affect his own game. But he's also taken advantage of spread-out defenses to average 24.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting 53.2 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from downtown and 86.5 percent from the stripe. Yes, he's just one hot streak at the line away from the 50/40/90 club with impressive volume.
Yet that still may not be the most notable development, as Durant is learning how to parlay his lanky arms and ample athleticism into consistent production on the defensive end. His 4.7 block percentage, for example, is the high-water mark of his career and stands as the fourth consecutive season in which the figure has trended up.
Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder (wild card)
TPA: 42.55 (1.54)
RPM Wins: 3.37 (3.1)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.139 (0.56)
"Honestly, defense is the part that I lock in at," Paul George told the Associated Press in mid-November, per USA Today. "Offensively it is going to come, defensively is where I like to leave a mark and really try to be special on that end. It's just sticking to the game plan personally in matchups, sticking to the gifts that God has given me."
George has indeed been a stud defender for the Oklahoma City Thunder, using his perimeter skills to help propel the team to the No. 3 placement in points allowed per 100 possessions. But his offense, while admittedly wildly inconsistent and at times devolving into far too many isolation plays, has still been rather beneficial.
Complaining about anyone shooting 40.2 percent from beyond the rainbow is tough when they're letting 7.7 attempts fly during their average outing.
Clint Capela, Houston Rockets (wild card)
TPA: 59.73 (2.16)
RPM Wins: 1.67 (1.14)
Win Shares per 48 Minutes: 0.278 (1.72)
Though Clint Capela has been a solid defensive presence for the surging Houston Rockets, has thrived on the glass and has made free throws at the highest clip of his career (65.6 percent), he's still best when serving as a roll man. There, his combination of physicality, size and touch makes for an overwhelming presence attacking the hoop, and precious few defenders have proved capable of slowing him.
Capela is scoring 1.34 points per possession as a roll man, which leaves him in the 85.7 percentile. But that second number, impressive as it may seem, belies his true effectiveness as a rim-running threat.
With the same methodology we used to evaluate the league's top isolation scorers, Capela has scored 22.32 more points than a league-average roll man would have with his relevant possessions. That leads the league by such a wide margin that Julius Randle (14.5) and Rudy Gobert (13.82) are next up on the play-type hierarchy. The gap between Capela and Randle is larger than the chasm between Randle and No. 21 David West (6.76).
First Alternate: Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs
Third Alternate: Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets