Metrics 101: NBA's New Western Conf. Dominates East at Nearly Every Position
Paul Millsap has left the Atlanta Hawks for the Denver Nuggets. Paul George was traded from the Indiana Pacers to the Oklahoma City Thunder, bringing back only a modest return. Ditto for Jimmy Butler, whom the Chicago Bulls sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Sure, moves like Gordon Hayward's journey to the Boston Celtics help cancel out some of the Western Conference's influx of talent. But the disparity between the East and West is only getting worse.
Way worse, in fact.
The West was already the vastly superior conference, producing each of the league's top three records in 2016-17. But it's only getting stronger at the expense of its counterpart, and we're turning to NBA Math's total points added (TPA) metric to underscore the expanding crevasse.
Leaving current free agents in the free-agency pool (Andre Roberson's deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder was the last to go into the calculation), we looked at every player's TPA score from 2016-17, broken down position by position.
Could the summed efforts of the East even score a victory at one of the five lineup slots?
Do note that TPA is only one metric. There are some outliers (cough, Lucas Nogueira, cough), but the overall estimate still produces a result that's easier to understand than any one-number mark. Don't take the positional rankings as gospel, because the numbers are wholly devoid of context.
But together, the scores are meaningful.
Eastern Conference's Position Score: minus-418.93 TPA
Western Conference's Position Score: 2214.52 TPA
East's Top Scores: Kyle Lowry (292.19), Isaiah Thomas (274.58), John Wall (241.45), Kemba Walker (196.6), Goran Dragic (131.68)
This just isn't fair.
The Eastern Conference has a number of impressive point guards who will inevitably compete for All-Star bids, especially now that Kyle Lowry has chosen to return to the Toronto Raptors. Kyrie Irving isn't listed above because of his defense, but he plays better for the Cleveland Cavaliers than his TPA (126.56) might indicate.
But still, the discussions about the league's best point guards begin and end with Western Conference players: Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and James Harden. Plus, that half of the Association is just swimming in depth, with Damian Lillard (238.8 TPA), Eric Bledsoe (150.05), George Hill (106.08) and Jeff Teague (100.86) all in triple digits.
Go 10 players down the rankings in the West, and you're looking at Jrue Holiday (76.02), who's ready to submit an even higher score by staying healthy for the New Orleans Pelicans. Dig that deep for the East, and you're staring at Demetrius Jackson (2.19), since so many contributors have submitted below-average per-minute scores while racking up playing time.
Eastern Conference's Position Score: minus-953.05 TPA
Western Conference's Position Score: minus-972.47 TPA
East's Top Scores: Bradley Beal (114.25), Nicolas Batum (67.83), Tyler Johnson (60.48), DeMar DeRozan (46.52), Dwyane Wade (35.58)
West's Top Scores: Patrick Beverley (98.61), Danny Green (85.11), CJ McCollum (61.96), Gary Harris (58.39), Lou Williams (28.76)
It figures that the only position the Eastern Conference wins is the one that's overwhelmingly weak across the board. TPA doesn't care for volume scorers who play without elite levels of efficiency, fail to contribute in other box-score categories and/or take possessions off on the defensive end, which spells doom for traditional stalwarts such as Klay Thompson (16.53) and J.J. Redick (0.0).
The top players on each side are fairly even here, but the East has the depth advantage.
Only nine 2-guards submitted positive scores for the West, while youngsters such as Jordan Clarkson (minus-137.72), Devin Booker (minus-131.2), Ben McLemore (minus-111.61), Buddy Hield (minus-103.12) and Jamal Murray (minus-86.7) drove the conference's score into the dirt. The East produced just seven players with at least average scores, but it didn't have quite as many anchors.
Of course, this can also be spun positively for the positional losers: As those high-upside youngsters develop, they'll inevitably give the West a decisive advantage at one more spot in the lineup.
Eastern Conference's Position Score: 355.86 TPA
Western Conference's Position Score: 585.78 TPA
East's Top Scores: LeBron James (470.37), Giannis Antetokounmpo (425.68), Otto Porter Jr. (205.94), Gordon Hayward (201.66), Jae Crowder (70.63)
Gordon Hayward's presence with the Boston Celtics undoubtedly helps the Eastern Conference. So too does Otto Porter Jr. agreeing to an offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets, since he's now guaranteed to remain in the same half of the NBA. And we can't forget about the enduring presences of LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But with Jimmy Butler and Paul George both switching teams, the West is still loaded.
Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant may well be the second- and third-best players in basketball, even if playing time kept them below Butler in this volume-based metric. And that's saying nothing of the many under-the-radar studs swarming around in the territory west of the Mississippi River: Andre Iguodala, Joe Ingles (97.84 TPA), Trevor Ariza (92.43), PJ Tucker (41.34), Danilo Gallinari (34.96) and more.
The East is undeniably top-heavy, experiencing a major drop-off in production after Hayward. Aside from the men you can see listed above, only DeMarre Carroll (40.84), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (9.36) and Bruno Caboclo (0.63 in minimal minutes) finished 2016-17 in the green, which pales in comparison to the West's 14 positive contributors.
Need another way of looking at it? The NBA's stronger side boasted the services of the two lowest-scoring 3s—Andrew Wiggins (minus-162.2) and Brandon Ingram (minus-187.06)—and still blew its competition out of the water.
Eastern Conference's Position Score: minus-436.62 TPA
Western Conference's Position Score: minus-63.7 TPA
East's Top Scores: Amir Johnson (71.34), Thaddeus Young (67.04), Robert Covington (60.88), Kevin Love (26.44), Marvin Williams (13.73)
West's Top Scores: Draymond Green (272.29), Blake Griffin (187.03), Paul Millsap (123.61), Gorgui Dieng (88.89), Larry Nance Jr. (59.18)
Forget about how much star power the Western Conference boasts at power forward, especially after the addition of Paul Millsap to the Denver Nuggets. You can't even see LaMarcus Aldridge (50.4 TPA) listed above.
Instead, let's focus on the putridity of the East's 4s.
Kevin Love, no matter what his score may say, is the class of the conference. He's just not put in a position to rack up big numbers while working next to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
But who's the Robin to his Batman in this half of the Association? To help you out, here are the other 14 starting power forwards listed out, per Rotoworld's depth charts: Mike Muscala, Trevor Booker, Jonas Jerebko, Marvin Williams, Nikola Mirotic, Tobias Harris, Thaddeus Young, Josh McRoberts, Jabari Parker, Kristaps Porzingis, Aaron Gordon, Ben Simmons, Serge Ibaka and Markieff Morris.
You can find substantial upside in the frames of Simmons, Porzingis and Parker. But good luck locating an in-his-prime All-Star.
Eastern Conference's Position Score: 407.66 TPA
Western Conference's Position Score: 1642.34 TPA
West's Top Scores: Nikola Jokic (342.24), DeMarcus Cousins (319.12), Rudy Gobert (308.95), Karl-Anthony Towns (304.55), DeAndre Jordan (205.81)
No, that's not a mistake. Of the centers remaining in the Eastern Conference, Lucas Nogueira finished No. 2 in TPA—a testament to his ridiculous offensive efficiency and defensive impact, as well as the overall ineffectiveness of the conference's 5s.
Myles Turner should keep trending toward stardom. Cody Zeller (72.22 TPA) is one of the league's most underrated players. Joel Embiid (51.61) could surpass Al Horford for the top spot if he stays healthy. Andre Drummond (38.15) is a post-up move away from (finally) breaking out. Hassan Whiteside (minus-24.92) can make a monumental impact when he's placed in the right type of system.
But seriously. Look at those names.
Now compare them to the five listed above for the Western Conference, as well as the notable omissions: Anthony Davis (204.56), Marc Gasol (204.41), Brook Lopez (70.34), Clint Capela (32.31) and Jusuf Nurkic (minus-8.5, though he finished with 31.77 TPA during his 20-game stint for the Portland Trail Blazers).
C'mon now. This isn't close.
Eastern Conference's Overall Score: minus-1045.08 TPA
Western Conference's Overall Score: 3406.47 TPA
East's Top Scores: LeBron James (470.37), Giannis Antetokounmpo (425.68), Kyle Lowry (292.19), Isaiah Thomas (274.58), John Wall (241.45)
West's Top Scores: Russell Westbrook (890.62), James Harden (626.23), Stephen Curry (405.88), Jimmy Butler (384.82), Kawhi Leonard (383.56)
Let's pare this down to a single description that really helps put into perspective how dominant the Western Conference has become—as if the yawning chasm in summed TPA doesn't already do the job.
With 191 players from 2016-17 contributing to that minus-1045.08 TPA, the average contributor in the East posted minus-5.47 TPA last year. The closest comparisons come from Johnny O'Bryant (minus-5.35 TPA) and Justin Harper (minus-5.66).
On the flip side, 187 players racked up the 3406.47 TPA for the league's stronger side—an average of 18.22 per man. This time, the closest comparisons stem from the work of Kelly Olynyk (18.61) and Marreese Speights (18.02).
If the discrepancy between Olynyk/Speights and O'Bryant/Harper isn't large enough, just remember that's only for one average player. Now, multiply that by 186 or 191, and you get a better picture of the magnitude of the ever-growing gulf.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.