NBA Metrics 101: Who Deserves All-NBA Honors, by the Numbers?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 20, 2018

NBA Metrics 101: Who Deserves All-NBA Honors, by the Numbers?

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Two guards. Two forwards. One center. 

    Each of the three All-NBA teams must follow that construction, but the choices at each slot can deviate rather significantly. Myriad players are enjoying special seasons in 2017-18, ranging from the many studs helping keep their teams alive in the Western Conference playoff race to the solo stars leading the charge for the league's bottom-feeders. And that makes for some tough choices. 

    Even if you filled all six possible guard slots with point guards, you'd have to omit four of Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, Ben Simmons, Kemba Walker, John Wall and Russell Westbrook. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and LeBron James can't all be First Team forwards. 

    So with full knowledge of how difficult these decisions can be, we're objectively determining how this year's premier players stack up by turning to the formula for Player Score used in previous articles

    For all 333 players who have logged at least 500 minutes this season, we pulled scores in four different overarching metrics: NBA Math's total points added (TPA), ESPN.com's real plus/minus wins (RPM Wins), player efficiency rating (PER) and win shares (WS). The first two look at volume/efficiency combinations, while the third focuses on per-possession effectiveness and favors offensive production. The last element rewards those whose individual merits lead to more victories. Volume and time on the court matter more than they might in other evaluations.

    To standardize between four metrics that operate on drastically different scales, we found the z-scores in each category and summed them to find a player's total score. Those cumulative z-scores are all that matter for these selections, which focus entirely and exclusively on work in 2017-18. 

3rd Team Guard: Chris Paul, Houston Rockets (9.95)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 2.22

    TPA Z-Score: 2.63

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 2.56

    WS Z-Score: 2.54

    Had Chris Paul remained healthy throughout the 2017-18 season, he might've climbed even higher up the positional leaderboard. But even missing a portion of the year, the resident Point God has been so dominant as an offensive force for the Houston Rockets that he's still brushing shoulders with the other elite 1-guards.

    Somewhat shockingly, Paul hasn't averaged fewer assists since his rookie season with the New Orleans-Oklahoma City Hornets. But he's picking up that slack (what little exists for a player dishing out eight dimes per contest) by shooting the ball with remarkable efficiency and refusing to turn it over. 

    Throughout the current campaign, only three players have a true shooting percentage north of 60, a turnover percentage below 13 and an assist percentage of at least 40: Paul, Jack Cooley and Monte Morris. The latter two have done so in a combined 35 minutes—not per game, but on the year as a whole. In fact, after perusing the sport's lengthy history, 2009-10 LeBron James is the only other man in the club who also qualifies for the minutes-per-game leaderboard. 

    Apparently, Paul and Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni make for a magical combination. No wonder the Rockets have posted a gaudy 13.4 net rating when this floor general is running the show. 

3rd Team Guard: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors (9.04)

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 1.17

    TPA Z-Score: 2.79

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 2.7

    WS Z-Score: 2.38

    Kyle Lowry isn't scoring as many points as some of his primary challengers for this spot, and his 16.4 per game pale in comparison to what he's produced during each of his last few years with the Toronto Raptors. But that's by design, and he's continued to serve as an effective presence while filling a drastically different role. 

    The isolation plays are gone. After turning to those sets for 11 percent of his plays in 2016-17 and falling in the 84th percentile, he's dropped that number to 6.4 percent by picking his spots wisely enough to sit in the 91st percentile for points per ISO possession. Instead of calling his own number, he's moving the ball even more frequently, trusting the rest of his teammates, letting the bench do some of the heavy lifting in key moments and conserving more energy for the defensive end. And as Zach Lowe detailed for ESPN in mid-March, this wasn't always a seamless process: 

    "Selling [DeMar] DeRozan and Lowry might prove harder. 'Go to any superstar and say, "We're changing our offense, and we're taking some of your minutes away,"' [head coach Dwane] Casey says. 'So many would look at you sideways and tell you to take a leap.'"

    Lowe continued: "DeRozan was diligent, but it wasn't easy at first. Lowry verbalized his frustration early in the season. 'They were a little resistant at times, to be honest,' [assistant coach Nick] Nurse says. 'Even still, Kyle has these moments when he's kicking out passes, and guys are missing, and he's getting pissed.'"

    But he's bought in, and that's helped him stave off the declines that typically await point guards moving deeper into their 30s. Don't be fooled by that dipping scoring average, especially when his new style is more conducive to sustained success that lasts throughout a postseason run. 

    Hypothetical Fourth Team Guards: Kyrie Irving (8.93), Victor Oladipo (8.21)

3rd Team Forward: Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder (6.99)

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.5 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 0.99

    TPA Z-Score: 1.44

    RPM Wins Z-Score:  2.55

    WS Z-Score: 2.0

    Paul George does far too much for the Oklahoma City Thunder to be pigeonholed into the three-and-D classification, but let's pretend that's not the case. Even if his sole responsibilities involved knocking down triples and disrupting opposing schemes, he'd be rather valuable. 

    On the offensive end, this soon-to-be free agent is taking 7.6 attempts per game from beyond the arc and connecting at a 40.6 percent clip. Only one other qualified player—Stephen Curry, in case you've heard of him—is matching or exceeding each of those numbers this year, and the club's membership expands just a bit if we look at all seasons in this sport's history:

    • Ray Allen (2001-02, 2005-06)
    • Stephen Curry (2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18)
    • Paul George (2017-18)
    • Kyle Lowry (2016-17)
    • Dennis Scott (1995-96)
    • Klay Thompson (2015-16, 2016-17)

    Meanwhile, George is pacing the NBA in deflections with room to spare. His 4.1 per game easily outpace Robert Covington (3.8), Thaddeus Young (3.7), Victor Oladipo (3.5), Jimmy Butler (3.5) and everyone else. 

    George is a lockdown defender on the perimeter, but his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy hinges more on his havoc-inducing abilities away from the primary action. No passing lane is safe while he's on the floor, and he's a threat to produce a three-point swish or a thunderous jam during the transition opportunities that follow one of those many deflections. 

3rd Team Forward: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors (6.94)

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 23.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 1.58

    TPA Z-Score: 1.12

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 1.83

    WS Z-Score: 2.42

    Remember how these picks are by the numbers?

    Well, the numbers indicate that DeMar DeRozan should be listed as a small forward, regardless of his typical status as the Toronto Raptors' starting 2-guard. Cleaning the Glass, which has become the most accurate source of lineup information, indicates that 57 percent of his minutes have come at the 3. Plus, any Raptors fans complaining about this designation should take solace in the fact that he'd be omitted if he qualified at guard. 

    With that out of the way, we can praise the tremendous play of Toronto's fringe MVP candidate. The systematic changes that affected Kyle Lowry also made DeRozan change his style rather dramatically, and all shifts have been positive. 

    The mid-range master is still knocking down two-point buckets outside the paint, and he shouldn't deviate too far from his biggest strength. He's also having (rather easily) the best passing season of his career, avoiding turnovers, knocking down more threes than ever, continuing to frequent the charity stripe and beginning to hold his own on defense. 

    DeRozan's game hasn't always drawn love from advanced metrics, though that never should've been an indication that he was some sort of liability. Now, he's made all the right changes and added to his game in appropriate fashion. As a result, the metrics are starting to dig him.

    He's arrived as one of the league's deadliest wings. 

    Hypothetical Fourth Team Forwards: Otto Porter Jr. (6.93), LaMarcus Aldridge (6.76)

3rd Team Center: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (9.83)

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    Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 2.09

    TPA Z-Score: 3.0

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 2.45

    WS Z-Score: 2.29

    What more do you want Nikola Jokic to do in his quest to prove he's achieved stardom?

    Even on the most basic numerical level, his per-game numbers are staggering. No one else is averaging at least 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists this season, and just Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Kevin Garnett, Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook have matched those marks throughout the sport's entire annals. Oh, and he's doing so while shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from downtown and 84.6 percent from the charity stripe.

    Once you dig deeper, he only becomes more impressive—hence his placement as the Third Team All-NBA center. 

    But as I've said time and time again, you don't even need to use stats to sell Jokic's game. 

    Just watch his full-court football-style heaves to guards leaking out in transition. Observe the dizzying passes he makes within the half-court set, which often come in flashy fashion and lead to uncontested shots at the basket. Take a gander at him finishing plays at the hoop with silky-smooth touch shots and a wide arsenal of post moves that create far more space than defenders would like. Look at the comfort with which he steps to the perimeter and fires away. 

    Jokic's lumbering frame and baby-fat reserves don't give him the appearance of your typical NBA superstar. The game he plays is unique, especially compared to other unicorn bigs who rely on far more athleticism and dunk the ball with both ferocity and frequency. But the impact and—perhaps as important—entertainment are present for this third-year stud. 

    Hypothetical Fourth Team Center: Andre Drummond (8.54)

2nd Team Guard: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (11.32)

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 26.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 2.28

    TPA Z-Score: 3.31

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 2.56 

    WS Z-Score: 3.17

    Damian Lillard has improved everywhere. 

    Thanks to his increased accuracy on ridiculous volume from beyond the arc and his prowess at the free-throw stripe, he's having the most efficient shooting season of his career while averaging 26.7 points per game. He's more involved than ever as a passer, making the most of the Portland Trail Blazers' flow offense and keeping his teammates involved until he takes over down the stretch of tight games. He's no longer treating screens like brick walls and has become a somewhat decent defender for Rip City. 

    And the numbers may still sell him short, given the difficulty of the shots he attempts. 

    Only 41.3 percent of his triples have been assisted this season, which is rather easily the lowest mark of his career. Among the 78 players in 2017-18 who have drilled at least 100 treys, only Chris Paul (24.8 percent assisted), James Harden (28.6) and LeBron James (36.6) have been more self-sufficient from beyond the arc. 

    Lillard has become an offensive genius with nearly unmatched shot-making prowess. And lest you think he should be dinged for taking so many contested jumpers off the bounce, remember that the Portland offense needs someone who can fill that role. 

2nd Team Guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (10.84)

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 26.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.1 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 2.94

    TPA Z-Score: 3.01

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 2.43

    WS Z-Score: 2.46

    Don't let Stephen Curry's recent ankle trouble distract you from how devastatingly effective he's been when healthy. 

    The Golden State Warriors point guard doesn't need to shoulder as massive a load as he did during his MVP campaigns, so he's responded by becoming even more efficient. He's knocking down a career-best 59.2 percent of his two-point attempts, firing away 9.9 times per game from beyond the arc, hitting those deep looks at a 42.4 percent clip, getting to the line a career-best 5.9 times per contest and knocking down 91.9 percent of his freebies. 

    Altogether, Curry is averaging 26.3 points per game while submitting a 67.5 percent true shooting percentage. Not only is that the best mark in an efficiency-loving league, but it outpaces the work from his unanimous MVP campaign (66.9 percent). 

    Of course, the Davidson product still isn't perfect. That won't change unless he cuts back on some of his careless turnovers and becomes a defensive ace, as opposed to an underrated stopper who understands the nuances of positional defense. 

    But he doesn't have to be perfect. He's still one of the league's most valuable guards, despite the blemishes on his attendance record this year. 

2nd Team Forward: Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (9.55)

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 26.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.9 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 2.48

    TPA Z-Score: 2.62

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 1.77

    WS Z-Score: 2.67

    Perhaps it's time to talk about Kevin Durant not just as one of the deadliest scorers in NBA history, but also one of the most well-rounded players. 

    Focusing on his point production remains an easy task, considering he's putting up 26.6 points per game while shooting 52.0 percent from the field, 43.0 percent from downtown and 88.7 percent from the stripe—right on the cusp of a second career entry into the vaunted 50/40/90 club.

    And still, that's not the only place the focus should rest. 

    Durant actually ranks No. 29 in assists per game, routinely makes the right passes and finds the open Warrior patrolling the perimeter. He's also No. 32 in secondary assists per contest—an indication that he's consistently making the right passes in Golden State's schemes. 

    That's still not it, considering the hype he's received in the Defensive Player of the Year race. Actually picking him to win the award would be giving too much credit to his point-preventing chops, but his versatility, which allows him to function as a perimeter stopper and rim-protecting presence on alternating possessions, still aids Golden State's overall efficacy. 

2nd Team Forward: Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves (9.31)

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 2.0

    TPA Z-Score: 2.18

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 2.92

    WS Z-Score: 2.21

    With Jimmy Butler on the floor, the Minnesota Timberwolves offense goes from good to great. It can muster 108.7 points per 100 possessions without him—strong enough to sit at No. 7 in the season-long standings. But that number skyrockets to 113.1 when he's playing. 

    Of course, his defensive impact is even greater. 

    Without him, the 'Wolves become rather porous—something we've seen happen in larger doses while he's been sidelined with a meniscus injury. They give up a whopping 114.7 points per 100 possessions, which would place them dead last in the year-long hierarchy with room to spare, as the Phoenix Suns (110.8) boast the No. 30 defensive rating. 

    When Butler plays, however, head coach Tom Thibodeau starts to justify that defensive reputation he earned during his former tenure with the Chicago Bulls. Minnesota's score plummets to 105.3, which would nestle between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers for the No. 11 mark in the league. 

    Combine these two elements, and you start to see why Butler is so vital to his team's success. No one on this roster has a superior overall on/off split, and no one can match his two-way contributions. 

2nd Team Center: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (11.59)

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.4 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 2.28

    TPA Z-Score: 2.87

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 2.82

    WS Z-Score: 3.63

    Karl-Anthony Towns has begun to show signs of defensive improvement, but his placement here is still a direct function of his abilities on the scoring end. Just take a gander at a more detailed version of ESPN.com's RPM, which breaks down his score into components isolating each side of the floor: 

    Fortunately, not everyone has to be a two-way stud. The Minnesota Timberwolves would surely prefer if their Kentucky product could develop the defensive chops necessary to compete for end-of-season awards, but they'll presumably be content while he's only so lethal on offense. 

    Towns, despite only spending 22 years on the planet, is already one of the NBA's deadliest shooters, connecting on 42.6 percent of his triples while taking 3.3 per game. He's similarly destructive on mid-range jumpers—whether of the spot-up, face-up or off-the-bounce variety—which helped him rank as the league's No. 6 most valuable shooter earlier this season. 

    That analysis didn't even factor in Towns' work around the basket. A solid 34.4 percent of his field-goal attempts come within three feet, and he finds twine on 71.6 percent of those close-range looks. Nor did it account for his improved work as a distributor, as he's now more comfortable than ever kicking the ball out after encountering a double-team. 

    Towns has become a complete offensive threat.

1st Team Guard: James Harden, Houston Rockets (17.18)

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 31.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.7 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 3.5

    TPA Z-Score: 5.61

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 3.61

    WS Z-Score: 4.46

    Say hello to the player with the highest overall score in this analysis.

    Fittingly, James Harden is also the runaway favorite for the league's preeminent individual award. Basketball-Reference.com's NBA MVP Award Tracker places him at No. 1, granting him a staggering 70.5 percent chance at holding up the Maurice Podoloff Trophy for the first time in his Hall of Fame career. And that's not the direct result of any singular metric, as you can see by his lofty placement in each of our four categories. 

    Among all players with at least 500 minutes logged in 2017-18, no one has a superior PER. Nor can anyone top the Houston Rockets' bearded guard in TPA, RPM Wins or win shares. He's literally sweeping the criteria, which is fitting for a player engaged in such a historic season. 

    If you're still criticizing Harden's defense, you're justified in doing so. If you're still calling him an atrocious defender, however, you need to start watching Rockets games and seeing what an impact he can have in on-ball scenarios and with his quick hands. He's by no means perfect—or even well above average—but he's not the liability of previous go-rounds. 

    On the flip side, he's just about perfect offensively, having mastered the art of drawing contact and earning easy trips to the charity stripe. His dizzying array of tricks and shot-making tools keeps defenders from ever figuring out how to slow him down

    With 12 games left to go in Houston's regular season, Harden is now at a score of 458.41 in NBA Math's offensive points added. Even though he's missed eight outings, that's already the No. 27 mark of the three-point era (1979-80 and beyond). Should he suit up in all games to come and maintain his current pace, he'll finish trailing only 2016-17 Russell Westbrook, 2015-16 Stephen Curry and three vintage Michael Jordan campaigns (1987-88, 1988-89 and 1989-90). 

1st Team Guard: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (12.07)

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 25.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 10.2 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 2.26

    TPA Z-Score: 4.51

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 2.96

    WS Z-Score: 2.34

    Yes, Russell Westbrook's shooting percentages—28.7 percent from three-point territory and 73.7 percent from the charity stripe—remain in the toilet. Yes, his focus lapses on the defensive end have been more noticeable in 2017-18 and have proved detrimental to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yes, he's no longer averaging a triple-double, as he did during last season's MVP efforts. 

    But focusing solely on the negatives gives you a warped picture. 

    For all Westbrook's flaws, he's still a positive presence. A passionate wrecking ball with unsurpassed athletic abilities, his work at the rim (his 49.0 percent shooting on two-point attempts is substantially higher than last campaign's 45.9 percent), ability to involve his teammates and defense-warping style all make OKC so much better. In fact, the team is still 10.1 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the floor, giving him the roster's largest on/off split

    Context is vital for Westbrook, and it works in both ways. 

    His shooting percentages are more palatable because the Thunder benefit from his aggression, whether by hauling in offensive rebounds on his pull-up jumpers in transition or by his ability to get the opposition into foul trouble as he bursts into the painted area. Conversely, his defensive rebounding feeds into some of his overly positive defensive metrics, and that's a direct result of the hard work Steven Adams does boxing out foes and an OKC scheme that wants the ball in Westbrook's hands as soon as possible in transition.

    The Thunder point guard has become a polarizing figure in the realm of superstars. He's still been pretty darn good at this whole basketball thing. 

1st Team Forward: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (14.66)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 27.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 3.0

    TPA Z-Score: 5.38

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 2.86

    WS Z-Score: 3.42

    LeBron James might be taking a few defensive possessions off every now and then, but that's pretty understandable. The man is 33 years old, has logged an unreal amount of miles during his regular seasons and lengthy playoff excursions, shoulders a preposterously heavy load for the Cleveland Cavaliers and has had to deal with a tumultuous season in which he's been the only consistent figure. 

    "Here we are in season No. 15," K.J. Johnson wrote for the Chicago Tribune before reeling off some of the many impressive statistics. "James is averaging 27.1 points, tied for his highest scoring average since 2009-10. He's averaging a career-high nine assists and a career-high-tying 8.6 rebounds. He's shooting 54.5 percent, the fourth-most accurate of his career."

    "That's not just greatness," Johnson continued. "It's ridiculousness."

    Ridiculousness indeed. 

    With 13 games remaining on the calendar, James (491.42) has already surpassed 1996-97 Karl Malone (472.16) for the best score in NBA Math's TPA among all players in their age-33 seasons. He has a distinct chance to move past 1972-73 Wilt Chamberlain (540.81) for the premier mark among everyone of at least that age. 

    Only six men this season have higher usage rates than James, and he's maintaining this remarkable workload while playing in every single contest—something he's never done, despite his jaw-dropping durability. He's closer to a triple-double average than ever before, despite the diminished tread on his tires.

    He's still in the "best player in the world" conversation, if he's not leading it outright.

1st Team Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (12.84)

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 27.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.4 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 2.91

    TPA Z-Score: 3.31

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 3.32

    WS Z-Score: 3.29

    What can't Giannis Antetokounpo do for the Milwaukee Bucks? 

    Shoot threes? Yeah, I know. That's the easy answer.

    Except given the remarkable skill set of the aptly monikered "Greek Freak," that lone hole in his game isn't as impactful as it might be for almost anyone else. Defenders are still forced to play him tightly, or else he'll attack an exposed hip, using his lanky arms and legs to finish plays around them after working into the painted area. He still provides gravity, even if it that pull is granted in a drastically different manner that it is for shooters such as Stephen Curry. 

    According to PBPStats.com, the Bucks knock down 66.1 percent of their looks at the rim and 36.7 percent from beyond the arc when Antetokounmpo is on the floor. Without him, those respective numbers drop to 59.8 and 32.9 percent.

    [Saracsm font] Clearly, his presence is destroying any semblance of spacing. [End sarcasm font]

    So if Antetokounmpo's three-point deficit isn't really a weakness, does he have any?

    He certainly doesn't seem to. He's a tremendous scorer who can blend together volume and efficiency with the best of 'em. He's a dangerous defender whose switchability allows him to slow down point guards on one possession and then centers on the next. His rebounding has gone from great to elite in 2017-18. His passing allows him to initiate offense for Milwaukee, and he's not even averaging three turnovers per contest.  

    His skill set might not be complete, but his impact is. 

1st Team Center: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (11.86)

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.4 blocks

    PER Z-Score: 3.09

    TPA Z-Score: 2.49

    RPM Wins Z-Score: 2.91

    WS Z-Score: 3.38

    Forget about Anthony Davis' season-long statistics. 

    Since DeMarcus Cousins went down with a ruptured Achilles near the end of a Jan. 26 victory over the Houston Rockets, his unibrowed counterpart has averaged a mind-numbing 31.0 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 3.0 blocks while shooting 50.5 percent from the field. And since the New Orleans Pelicans kicked off a 10-game winning on Feb. 10, Davis has gone for 32.9 points, 13.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.3 steals and 3.3 blocks per game while slashing 52.7/33.3/86.6. 

    It won't be enough to push him past James Harden in MVP balloting, but Davis has re-inserted his name into the top-five mix. He's singlehandedly willed the Pelicans into the Western Conference's crowded playoff picture (no disrespect to the inspired play of Jrue Holiday) with his Herculean efforts, taking it upon himself to score in every way imaginable and look like a video-game cheat code on defense.

    Before too long, the back of his jersey will read "Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start" instead of "Davis." 

    Some prominent NBA figures might concur. As Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger told NBA.com's Jim Eichenhofer, "The tear that Anthony Davis is on is kind of not fair. It's kind of cheating."

    Davis has been masterful all year. But again, operating as the solo star in the wake of the Boogie blow, he's left little doubt this First Team spot is his to lose.

    Based on his recent play, he ain't losing it. 

          

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com and are current heading into games on March 19.