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NBA Sabermetrics: The Ultimate "Moneyball" Team

J. Matthew nespoliCorrespondent IIJanuary 12, 2017

NBA Sabermetrics: The Ultimate "Moneyball" Team

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    Moneyball.

    Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane determined that a sabermetric approach to baseball gave a team a more statistically probable chance of winning.

    The belief of sabermetrics is that statistics such as batting average, home runs, and RBI are a lot less indicative of a player’s value to his team, than is slugging percentage, on base percentage, and total run production. Sabermetrics values players with high output in these categories, who can be had on the cheap.

    The concepts and theories proved to be so successful, that  it spawned copycats all over the league. Hollywood was so enamored by it that it deemed it worthy of its own movie, “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt.

    My question is why other sports haven’t adapted these proven philosophies, most especially the NBA, where it makes a lot of sense.

    Currently, in the NBA, the traditional statistics which are most valued are: points, rebounds, assists, in that order.

    But if you look at the mathematics of the game, these are some of the least important statistics.

    Let’s examine an NBA game.

    Two competing teams alternate possessions, back and forth, for 48 minutes. The team that converts the most of those opportunities, wins.

    Simple.

    A team can increase its likelihood of winning a game by giving itself extra possessions and shots through offensive rebounds, steals, blocked shots, and forced turnovers.

    Likewise, they can decrease their total possessions by turning the ball over.

    The only other mathematical factors for winning, besides total shot attempts and percentage of success, are bonus shots (free throws), and higher valued shots (three-point attempts).

    A team will win 100 percent of the time if they take more total shots, and make a higher percentage of those shots.

    Therefore, shouldn’t we place more value on statistics that affect these numbers? Statistics like shooting percentages, free throw attempts per game, and a player’s ability to affect an oppositions average in these categories?

    I believe we should, and I believe you could put together an NBA championship team, on a lower budget, using these statistics.

    By my estimations, a guy who scores 28 PPG (about 30 percent of a team’s total points), but shoots 35-45 percent of the teams total shots, making only 40 percent of his attempts, is not a very efficient player. I’d rather have several guys who score 10-18ppg, taking 15 percent of their team's shots, and making 45-50 percent. I want guys who get to the foul line and create extra possessions by blocking shots, forcing turnovers, and getting offensive boards.

    And so, by my theory, for your entertainment, I’ve assembled a 12-man lineup that is way under the salary-cap, who, by dominating the possession game and the field goal percentage game, would bring home the hardware for my imaginary franchise.

    So, Donald Sterling, after you tire of G.M. Neil Olshey, I’ll be more than happy to take your call and put together a winner at Staples.

Russell Westbrook: Starting Point Guard

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    Russel Westbrook may not be a "traditional" point guard, but in the modern NBA, this is a non-factor.

    30 years ago, players positions and roles were very defined.

    Today, in the modern NBA, you have very few "traditional" centers and "traditional" point guards.

    Instead, there are wing players, and post players.

    Russell Westbrook has the point-guard moniker attached to his name because the NBA is still in the habit of assigning positional labels to players. Thus, he is criticized for not being "traditional" at the position.

    So what?

    The man is an efficient scoring machine who distributes when he isn't able to score himself. This year he averaged 21.9 PPG and still managed to average 8.2 APG. That means Russell was directly involved in 37.8 of his teams points, per game.

    That's a lot.

    He made 45 percent of his shots and 84 percent of his free throws; he averaged 1.9 steals per game, and his assist to turnover ratio is about 2.5 to1

    Making a salary of only $5.1 million, Russell Westbrook is an absolute steal. He creates possessions and scores efficiently, all at an affordable price.

    What more could you want?

Eric Gordon, Starting Shooting Guard.

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    This year, after being one of Team USA's most vital players, Eric Gordon came back to the Clippers as a changed man.

    He averaged 23 PPG, and could do it all. He's a lockdown defender, a sniper from long range, and he can drive to the hole as well as anyone in the league.

    He shoots 45 percent from the field, 36 percent from 3PT range (making about two per game), gets to the line almost seven times per game, and converts 81 percent of them. He averages 1.3 SPG, has an assist to turnover ratio of 2:1 (high for his position), he gets 1 offensive board per game, and his opponents shoot 7% worse against him, than their average.

    And all this for only $3.8 million, making him one of the biggest bargains in the NBA.

    If there is a season this year (and there may not be), I can't wait to see how much this guy grows in 2011-12.

Thaddeus Young, Starting Shooting Forward

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    I'm sure some people will be surprised at this pick.

    Thaddeus has only played one season, and he wasn't a starter for much of the time.

    However, he's a great talent, a possession guy, a good defender, and he comes on the cheap.

    Thaddeus made only $2.42 million this past season, making him one of the best contracts in the NBA.

    He averaged only 12.7 PPG, but he made 54 percent of his shots, which is an extremely high percentage for his position.

    Plus, in only 26 mpg, he averaged 2 offensive boards per game, often converting those into points himself.

    It's likely that AI will be traded from Philly this season, making Thaddeus the starter, and I expect big things.

Blake Griffin, Power Forward

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    Blake Griffin was a no-brainer for this team.

    Making only $5.7 million, the man averaged 22.5 points on 51 percent shooting. Also, he brought in 3.3 offensive boards per game, and converted over 50 percent of those into points.

    Blake is a beast down low, always drawing double teams, and he's a great passer from the post, leading all big men with 3.8 APG. He also got to the line over eight times per game, which is a ton for a rookie. As his star power increases, you can expect those FTA's to increase even more.

    Plus, Blake is the best dunker in the game, and there isn't a more high percentage shot than the dunk.

    For all those reasons, you need Blake on this team.

    Get him the ball in the post and there's a 50 percent chance he's going to dunk it. If he doesn't, it's likely he's going to kick it out to Russell Westbrook or Eric Gordon to knock down a wide-open three-pointer.

    How can you stop these weapons?

Brook Lopez, Center

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    Though the league is shy on "traditional" centers, Brook Lopez most definitely fulfills that description.

    Making on $2.01 million per year, Brook blocks 1.5 shots per game, pulls down 2.5 offensive boards per game, and brings in .6 SPG. That's 4.6 extra possessions per game from Brook, all at a very low price.

    But more than that, he's an under-rated scoring force who pulls in 20 PPG on 50 percent shooting, making him extremely efficient.

    He's a beast in the middle, clogging up the lane, and discouraging other teams attempts at taking it to the hole. At a cost-worth ratio, it doesn't get better than Brook Lopez at the center position.

Bench

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    John Wall: $5.5 million, facilitator

    Stephen Curry: $3.1 million, three-point assassin.

    Brandon Jennings: $2.33 million, scoring machine

    James Harden: $4.6 million, total team player

    Matt Bonner: $3.3 million. Stretch four who opens the lane for penetration.

    DeAndre Jordan: $0.854 million (are you serious?), defensive beast, dunking machine.

    JavVale McGee: $1.33 million, shot-blocking monster.

Free Agent Signee: Chris Paul

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    The best thing about this team is that the total team salary comes to only $40.04 million, which is about $20 million under the cap.

    This leaves me enough cap space to go out and sign Chris Paul, in the offseason, to a max-contract.

    Chris Paul would be the ultimate NBA Sabermetrics guy.

    He's a lock-down defender that always causes his opponents offensive value and field goal percentage to drop.

    You put Paul and Gordon at guards and you're going to cut about 10 PPG off the other team's backcourt averages each game.

    However, I'm not giving him $20 million for his defense.

    Chris Paul sees the court like no player I've ever watched before. He makes plays that most point guards couldn't make were the game played in slow motion.

    This year he averaged 10 APG to only 2.2 turnovers per game, giving him an assist to turnover ration of almost five, which is almost unheard of in NBA history.

    He steals 2.3 possessions per game, which is more steals than turnovers (a rarity), and from the PG position, he gets an offensive board once every two games. He's a career 48 percent shooter from the field, which is phenomenal for a Pg; he shoots 38 percent from three-point range, gets to the line five times per game, and makes almost 90 percent of his free throws.

    What's more is that this is a man who steps up his game when it matters. He's a gamer, a clutch performer, and he's ridiculous in the playoffs, stepping up his average numbers by 3 PPG, and 1.2 APG, for his career.

    At any price-tag, numbers and performance like that are a bargain.

    If Chris Paul can land on a team that has at least one other all-star, he will take that team to at least the Conference Finals.

    Write it down.

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