You can have points per game, field-goal percentage and all the other basic stats that leave so much hidden beneath the surface. You can rely on the eye test to tell you an NBA player is performing at a high level on defense or making a huge impact offensively.
This is the advanced-stats all-star team, where only the guys who perform best in a number of more telling metrics will hear their names called out. Many of these players already appear on the actual All-Star squad and are recognized as some of the league's best, but we're not shooting for novelty here.
We're just identifying the best of the best after crunching the numbers. Rudy Gobert gets it:
You have to post the right stats here. Most importantly, you have to aid your team in the pursuit of winning.
Andrew Wiggins and his empty scoring won't show up. Nor will Hassan Whiteside and his gaudy, block-laden triple-doubles. Forget about the one-way threats like J.J. Redick, who are such glaring liabilities on either defense or offense that they cancel out their value on the other side.
Unfortunately, we're also leaving out injured players—most notably Jimmy Butler and Tim Duncan, who would both have been backups on this squad—as we seek out a starter and backup at each of the five traditional positions.
Starting PG: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry continues to produce offensive numbers we've literally never seen before.
We're not just referring to his historic three-point proficiency, but rather a reigning MVP who has asserted himself as a masterful scorer inside the arc, a deft distributor who doesn't turn the ball over too often and who is a capable threat on the offensive glass.
His offensive box plus/minus (OBPM, which shows how many additional points per 100 possessions he yields than a league-average player would on an average team) paced the NBA last year at 9.6. Now, he's blowing that number out of the water and remains on track to establish a new all-time record:
It's not even close.
The difference between Curry's 12.3 OBPM and Michael Jordan's single-season record of 9.8 in 1987-88 is now as large as the gap between Jordan's best year and 2005-06 Kobe Bryant's 7.29 OBPM. That latter mark sits at No. 37 on the all-time leaderboard.
Backup PG: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
If it weren't for Curry, we'd be spending a lot more time discussing the historic nature of Russell Westbrook's season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. While remaining one of the NBA's best defensive point guards—his gambles tend to work out, even if he sometimes makes them too often—he's contributing to the team's offense at a ridiculous rate.
Now that Kevin Durant is healthy and scoring with aplomb next to him, Westbrook hasn't needed to spend quite as much time carrying the scoring load. But he's still maintaining a 32.5 usage rate, which leaves him behind only DeMarcus Cousins (35.5) and James Harden (32.6) throughout the league. Additionally, he's posted the third-best assist percentage in basketball, trailing just Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul.
That combination is unheard of. Throughout all of NBA history, no one has ever produced a usage rate above 30 percent while assisting more than 48 percent of his teammates' made field goals.
Well, no one until Westbrook.
First Alternate: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Second Alternate: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Starting SG: James Harden
James Harden's offensive contributions remain nearly untouchable. At shooting guard, they're so untouchable they cancel out his defensive shortcomings with enough left over to leave him as the clear-cut No. 1 option.
Among the 21 qualified players averaging at least 20 points this season, not a single man has been able to match Harden's free-throw rate. Frankly, no one is particularly close to taking slightly more than one free-throw attempt for every two shots from the field:
But Harden doesn't just surpass his peers en route to enjoying an impressive number of points per shot. He lends himself to historical comparisons as well, since Dwyane Wade and Jerry West are the only guards to ever post higher free-throw rates while scoring no fewer than 27 points per game.
Backup SG: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala is averaging just 7.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.3 blocks for the Golden State Warriors, but he's managed to make the most of his relatively limited minutes. If any player exemplifies the concept of an advanced-stats all-star, it's this swingman whose per-game marks mask the full extent of his impact.
Even though he doesn't spend all his time next to the Dubs' actual All-Stars, Iguodala helps Golden State outscore its opposition by an additional 6.2 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.
According to NBA.com's statistical database, the Warriors have had 22 different five-man lineups log at least 20 minutes this season, and Iguodala has been a part of 12 of them. When sorting those groups by net rating, the sixth man appears in each of the top three and six of the top seven, including the vaunted "death lineup" that's outscoring the opposition by a team-best 52.1 points per 100 possessions.
Forget about the meager contributions that get recorded in the box score. Iguodala actually helps his team get significantly better.
First Alternate: Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs
Second Alternate: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Starting SF: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
It's no secret LeBron James can't carry the individual load quite as frequently as he did during his true athletic prime. But even as he's taken a step back on the offensive end, he's compensated by trying a bit harder on the defensive.
As you can see by looking at his career-long trends in OBPM and DBPM, he's enjoying a resurgent season as a stopper, and that's allowed him to remain one of the league's most valuable players:
James' overall BPM of 8.3 trails only Curry and Westbrook, and it's allowed him to stay right in the thick of the MVP conversation. According to Basketball-Reference.com's Award Tracker, which looks at historical correlations between various factors and the actual voting, he's still on track to finish No. 5 in the balloting.
Kevin Durant's scoring figures may push him ahead in award voting, as does the success of his Oklahoma City Thunder. Kawhi Leonard's defense justifiably garners quite a bit of recognition. But if you're hoping to dethrone the king of the small forwards, you're going to need to wait until at least next year.
Backup SF: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Even if he ranks dead last in FEPQP* with a score of zero, there are plenty of reasons Kawhi Leonard sits at No. 10 on ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus leaderboard—14 spots clear of the next wing defender (Tony Allen) and 39 ahead of the No. 2 small forward (LeBron James).
Leonard's hands allow him to swipe the ball away from his assignments and wreak havoc in the passing lanes. He's shown an ability to protect the rim in certain situations. He contests just about everything. He's developed into a true leader on the defensive end, often yelling out switches and keeping his teammates in the right spots.
And per NBA.com, he doesn't let anyone score against him from any spot on the court:
|Leonard's Shutdown Ability|
|Range||Opponents' Typical FG%||FG% Against Leonard|
|Inside 6 Feet||59.9||56.0|
|Outside 15 Feet||36.9||35.7|
There simply isn't a crack in the defensive facade.
*FEPQP is my totally make-believe stat for "facial expressions per quality possession".
First Alternate: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Second Alternate: Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics
Starting PF: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green won't stop improving.
Looking at the two components of total points added (TPA, which is explained in full throughout this article), he's on pace to post career-best scores on each side of the court. Again.
Just as he's done each and every season of his professional career:
The combination of those two numbers leads to a 359.2 TPA. According to my databases, that would be the No. 7 score in the NBA this year, as well as one of the top 140 seasons since 1973. Being in the top 140 might not sound like much, but that puts this campaign in the 99.14 percentile over the last 43 years.
Now, imagine if this triple-double machine just keeps getting better. Not bad for a second-round pick.
Backup PF: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
Forget about Paul Millsap's per-game numbers, as impressive as they may be. If we dive into the advanced metrics, he still stands out as one of the most versatile players we've seen in a long time.
The Atlanta Hawks power forward has maintained a 57.5 true shooting percentage while using 24.6 percent of his team's possessions. This season, the only other players matching or exceeding those marks are Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, James Harden and Klay Thompson, making it clear he's become an elite scorer.
But he's also grabbing 14.8 percent of the available rebounds, recording assists on 16.7 percent of his team's buckets, stealing the ball on 2.8 percent of the opponent's possessions and swatting away 3.4 percent of the two-point field-goal attempts that go up when he's on the floor.
Any idea how many men stack up favorably against each of those four marks during the current season? Millsap is the only one. Even throughout all of NBA history, Charles Barkley is the lone player to join the club.
First Alternate: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Second Alternate: Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Starting C: Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
Pau Gasol is a perfect case study for the balance between the eye test and statistical observations.
His numbers are all remarkably strong, but they're also the product of a strange situation. Especially on defense, the Chicago Bulls have figured out how to mitigate his lack of mobility by keeping him in one area and funneling bodies toward him. He looks fantastic in his role, but the need to pigeonhole him might prevent the Bulls from gleaning as much value out of the rest of their players.
Still, the numbers look damn good, and that's what matters here.
According to Nylon Calculus' rim-protection data and looking at all qualified players, only Festus Ezeli, John Henson, Rudy Gobert, Andrew Bogut, Jeff Withey and Hassan Whiteside are saving more raw points per 36 minutes at the hoop. ESPN.com's DRPM is similarly impressed by his work on the point-preventing end, giving him the league's No. 8 score.
Plus, the Bulls have been markedly better when he's on the floor. With Gasol, they're outscoring the opposition by 1.1 points per 100 possessions. Without him, the net rating drops to minus-3.0.
Backup C: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Fifty-five players this season have suited up in at least 20 contests and faced five or more shots per game at the rim. Of them, not a single player has been stingier around the basket than Rudy Gobert, who has held the opposition to 39.9 percent shooting, per NBA.com's SportVU data.
But it's not just the French center's incredible rim protection that's made him such a defensive stalwart. He's also continued to serve as one of the league's best threats on the glass while spending an awful lot of time deterring opponents.
Nylon Calculus' rim protection data takes involvement into account, so let's take a look at where he and the rest of the 20 players who save the most raw points per 36 minutes—among those who have logged at least 750 minutes this season—stack up in basket defense and total rebounding percentage:
That's such an elite combination for Gobert that he's overcome his relative lack of impact on the offensive end.
If he ever becomes a significant scoring threat, there won't be much hope for the rest of the NBA, especially because both his OBPM and his on/off splits indicate he's already become a positive presence on the scoring side.
First Alternate: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Second Alternate: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's own databases and are current heading into games on Feb. 10.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @fromal09.