Metrics 101: Biggest Snubs from NBA All-Star Reserves Announcement
Your 2017-18 NBA All-Stars have arrived.
We've already pored over the 10 starters, but the reserves from each conference were revealed Thursday, which means we know the 24 players (barring injury) who will play. The next step is figuring out which side each player will be on during the captain-controlled festivities.
As officially unveiled on TNT's broadcast, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell Westbrook are coming out of the Western Conference, while the East sends Bradley Beal, Al Horford, Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo, Kristaps Porzingis and John Wall.
Naturally, there are some snubs. The NBA has too deep a pool of talent to limit the worthy All-Stars to just 24 selections, so it's now our job to identify the players with the biggest gripes. They aren't necessarily more deserving than the chosen players (some are), but they have legitimate cases for inclusion all the same and would be featured if the league ever mercifully expanded rosters.
To determine these overlookages in objective fashion—limited to six apiece from each conference—and keep the focus solely on what's come to pass during the 2017-18 campaign, we're turning to Player Score, which is calculated in the same manner we used to determine the league's best Big Threes earlier this season.
We looked at all 208 players who have logged at least 800 minutes thus far and then pulled their scores in three different overarching metrics: NBA Math's total points added (TPA), ESPN.com's real plus/minus wins (RPM Wins) and player efficiency rating (PER). The first two are different looks at volume/efficiency combinations, while the latter focuses on per-possession effectiveness and favors offensive production—something the world typically thinks of as necessary for All-Star inclusion. Volume and time on the court matter more here than they might in other evaluations.
To standardize between three 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. That's the number you'll see parenthetically included for contributors throughout this article, and it's all that matters for this particular countdown.
Don't Ask Why These Gentlemen Are Missing
All-Star selections tend to inspire plenty of passion, but not everyone can be properly rewarded. In fact, not even a list of snubs can give credit to all the players who evoke positive feelings from fanbases. The following players will inevitably be discussed, though our formula doesn't allow them to qualify for any of this article's featured spots or notable exclusions:
Carmelo Anthony, SF/PF, Oklahoma City Thunder: Minus-0.52 Player Score
Yes, Carmelo Anthony is averaging 17.9 points per game. He's also slashing 42.4/36.5/76.6, failing to contribute much on defense and having trouble picking up the slack in any other non-scoring areas.
Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns: 1.3 Player Score
The young shooting guard is trending in the right direction and scoring with aplomb, but his game isn't yet complete enough to garner statistical support. That'll change once he starts playing defense or has a full season of shooting percentages like the ones he's maintained in recent outings.
Scoring 25 points per game is impressive, but the Phoenix Suns' willingness to lean on him a bit too much is what ultimately holds him back. His true shooting percentage (57.3 percent), while much improved from his first two campaigns, isn't far enough above the league average (55.6 percent) to make volume shooting a statistically valuable strategy.
His score sells him short, but it's also well shy of the necessary cutoff.
Goran Dragic, PG, Miami Heat: Minus-0.19 Player Score
Though the Miami Heat are winning games and Goran Dragic is the team's leading scorer, his porous defense and shooting struggles have not made him the most valuable presence on the roster. In fact, his score falls behind that of the following teammates: Wayne Ellington (0.36), Josh Richardson (0.49), James Johnson (0.69) and Kelly Olynyk (1.17).
Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies: 1.86 Player Score
The scoring numbers are still present, but Marc Gasol isn't having the same type of impact on the Memphis Grizzlies and has allowed his injury-riddled troops to slide down the Western Conference standings. He's a step slower on the defensive end, and his field-goal percentage (41.8) is plunging as he's unable to gain quite as much separation from foes eager to contest every one of his attempts.
Khris Middleton, SG/SF, Milwaukee Bucks: 1.68 Player Score
As the saying goes, defense wins championships. The lack of it also makes an All-Star snub.
Khris Middleton sits at No. 75 among 86 listed small forwards in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus. The defensive portion of NBA Math's total points added has him ahead of only six players, regardless of position. The Milwaukee Bucks allow 0.4 more points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, even though he's often replaced by weak defenders and suits up alongside point-preventing stalwarts for much of his run.
Case closed? Case closed.
Dirk Nowitzki, PF/C, Dallas Mavericks: 1.47 Player Score
Truthfully, you should be impressed with Dirk Nowitzki's score, which trails the marks earned by only 55 other players. Considering he's on the brink of celebrating his 40th birthday, that's nothing to be ashamed of.
But to move up higher, the German 7-footer would need to A) do more on defense, B) get to the charity stripe a bit more frequently (1.5 free-throw attempts per game) or C) log more than 25.1 minutes per game.
Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat: Unknown Player Score
See: minutes cutoff addressed in the introduction.
Hassan Whiteside, due to a steady stream of injuries and head coach Erik Spoelstra's shuffling the rotation in search of the most beneficial combinations, has only logged 758 minutes during the 2017-18 campaign. That leaves him 42 shy of qualifying for the rankings.
Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Minnesota Timberwolves: Minus-0.92 Player Score
Don't be fooled by the occasional high-scoring explosions, because Andrew Wiggins is still a decisively negative presence for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Maybe he's still brimming over with upside, but his inability to play defense at a league-average level, unwillingness to chip in as a facilitator (1.8 APG) or rebounder (4.2 RPG) and woeful efficiency levels don't help his case.
Remember that league-average true shooting percentage of 55.6 percent? Wiggins is now at a career-worst 51.0 percent—the product of shooting only 44.0 percent from the field, 32.7 percent from deep and 63.6 percent at the stripe.
12. Ben Simmons, PG, Philadelphia 76ers: 2.82 Player Score
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.9 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 76.8 TPA (1.12), 17.2 PER (0.5), 4.35 RPM Wins (1.2)
Ben Simmons will populate an All-Star roster at some point in his career, even though he didn't gain the nod during his initial campaign. That's nothing he should hang his head about, considering only Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Grant Hill, Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutombo, Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson have made the squad during their rookie seasons in the last 30 years.
The 21-year-old has already become an impact player for the Philadelphia 76ers capable of drastically altering the proceedings on both ends of the floor.
He knows how to use his quick hands and oversized frame to jump passing lanes on the defensive side, where he's been shockingly effective during this inaugural go-round. And though he doesn't provide much gravity with his limited shooting range, he can hit open teammates with pinpoint passes after compressing the opposition with aggressive drives into the painted area.
Simmons' lone exploitable weakness is that lack of jump-shooting ability, and that's reflected in his limited scoring numbers. PER is the weakest of the three relevant categories for him, which shouldn't come as a surprise when the metric rewards volume shooting—something Simmons isn't willing to do because he avoids forcing the issue at all costs.
Next up for Eastern Conference Snubs: Darren Collison, Robert Covington, Enes Kanter, Tobias Harris, Jayson Tatum
11. Spencer Dinwiddie, PG, Brooklyn Nets: 3.01
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 45.93 TPA (0.63), 17.1 PER (0.48), 5.66 RPM Wins (1.9)
Spencer Dinwiddie has become a maestro when moving toward the basket.
Not only does the breakout guard have a 6'6" frame that helps him see over the tops of defenders' heads as he's operating in traffic, but he also has the awareness necessary to keep his eyes up, constantly probing for cracks in the opposing schemes. Once he finds one, whether it's a scoring chance or a passing lane to a teammate extricating himself from a foe's clutches, he can capitalize.
Dinwiddie is scoring 0.91 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, which leaves him in the 73.7 percentile. He's also racking up 1.6 assists per game while driving to the hoop, placing him behind only Jeff Teague, Dion Waiters, John Wall, James Harden, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. Not too shabby for a player who isn't yet pushing past the 30-minutes-per-game threshold.
The fourth-year point guard still isn't a complete commodity. His perimeter jumper often misfires, and he's woeful from mid-range zones. But he's been able to do enough damage in the painted area with his controlled aggression that the Brooklyn Nets are outscoring opponents by 0.1 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.
Should you be too impressed by that number? Probably not when looking at the league-wide landscape.
But consider this: He's one of only three Nets with a positive on-court net rating.
10. Lou Williams, PG/SG, Los Angeles Clippers: 3.48
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 82.92 TPA (1.22), 22.6 PER (1.64), 3.26 RPM Wins (0.62)
Lou Williams did everything he could to become an All-Star during his career season for the Los Angeles Clippers, but his lack of defensive chops likely held him back for the coaches' selections, just as they do in this analysis.
The veteran guard's scoring acumen is unbesmirchable.
Defenses have been hopeless against him in the half-court set, unable to slow him as he attacks the rim and utterly inept against his pull-up jumpers. He's getting buckets in every way imaginable and putting together one of his most efficient seasons by shooting 45.1 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from downtown and 90.4 percent from the charity stripe.
Getting up seven triples per game is supposed to be unfeasible—doubly so when connecting at such a high clip. Earning six trips to the charity stripe during your average appearance typically falls into the same category. And yet, Williams is doing both, making him one of only 13 players in NBA history to achieve the feat:
- Michael Adams
- Gilbert Arenas (twice)
- Devin Booker
- Stephen Curry
- Paul George
- Danny Granger
- James Harden (three times)
- Damian Lillard (three times)
- Kyle Lowry (twice)
- Tracy McGrady
- Isaiah Thomas
- Russell Westbrook
- Lou Williams
Not bad company. So once again, this placement has nothing to do with his offense.
It has everything to do with his defense...or lack thereof.
Next up for Western Conference Snubs: Gary Harris, Steven Adams, Pau Gasol, Jrue Holiday, Blake Griffin
9. Paul George, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder: 3.68
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.6 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 77.74 TPA (1.14), 18.1 PER (0.69), 5.57 RPM Wins (1.85)
Has Paul George been the same unstoppable asset he was for the Indiana Pacers?
Definitely not. That's virtually impossible while sharing the ball with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, especially as you're trying to learn a new role with a new set of teammates. But George has overcome his shooting struggles from inside the arc by continuing to serve as one of the NBA's deadliest three-and-D candidates.
Not only is he averaging 7.3 three-point attempts per game and connecting at a 42.9 percent clip, but he's also swiping the ball away from opponents 2.2 times during his average outing. He's an unabashed menace on the defensive end, inserting himself in just about every play and never taking a possession off for breathing purposes.
Just look at what ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote while picking him on his personal Western Conference ballot:
"I like rewarding two-way guys, and George has been perhaps the best wing defender in the league this season. He's also averaging 21 points per game -- about four fewer than [Damian] Lillard -- and shooting a career-best 43 percent from deep. Playing with Russ has its benefits.
"Oklahoma City has now jumped both San Antonio and Minnesota in scoring margin. The Thunder have separated themselves from rest of the West, and George's play as their No. 2 is a huge part of that push."
The defense rests (a statement you'll never hear from George this season).
8. Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic: 3.73
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 79.94 TPA (1.17), 21.3 PER (1.37), 4.32 RPM Wins (1.19)
Nikola Vucevic has fallen off the radar as his Orlando Magic have slid down the Eastern Conference standings following their scorching start to the 2017-18 campaign. His constant presence on the sideline in street clothes while rehabbing an injured hand hasn't helped.
But that shouldn't distract from the tremendous basketball he played before succumbing to the injury imp.
Averaging at least 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block isn't particularly easy, or else more than Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins and Russell Westbrook would be joining him in the club this season. Expand the time frame to include all of the last half-decade, and just Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap gain entry into the well-rounded fraternity.
Of course, Vucevic isn't just submitting those numbers. He's doing so in efficient fashion by shooting 49.1 percent from the field, knocking down 34.3 percent of his triples (on 4.1 attempts per game) and turning the ball over just 1.9 times per contest. That middle number might not be particularly impressive, but that novel part of his game has forced defenders to respect his presence outside the rainbow, which opens up even more opportunities from his pet areas.
Is Vucevic a defensive stud? Nope, and he doesn't need to be with his diverse offensive skill set. Nonetheless, he's managed to continue excelling in the Pau Gasol School of Defense for Bigs with Limited Mobility by successfully shutting down his designated portion of the schemes and not worrying about expanding his range.
7. Otto Porter Jr., SF, Washington Wizards: 3.79
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 85.27 TPA (1.26), 17.1 PER (0.48), 5.96 RPM Wins (2.05)
Otto Porter Jr. isn't your typical All-Star candidate.
He's not the primary option on his team. Hell, he's not even the secondary option. As such, he doesn't score many baskets on a nightly basis, and he doesn't make up for the point-producing deficit with ostentatious numbers in any other major categories.
Instead, his case hinges on two-way play and unstoppable efficiency.
Not every player scoring 13.5 points per game is made equal, and Porter's numbers are particularly valuable because they come on a shooting slash line of 48.3/42.7/82.3. Throw him into the corner or let him trail in transition, and he'll rarely miss a chance to splash in an open triple.
For all the attention three-and-D players receive, their value somehow gets undersold on a regular basis. Let's stop that from happening by giving Porter due credit, since he's become one of the league's elite figures in that category.
Among all qualified three-point marksmen with a defensive box plus/minus north of 1.5, Porter ranks No. 3 in three-point percentage, trailing just Al Horford and Jayson Tatum. And among all qualified shooters knocking down at least 40 percent of their treys, only those same two Boston Celtics have posted higher DBPMs.
Don't undersell that devastating combination.
6. Clint Capela, C, Houston Rockets: 4.18
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.7 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 80.66 TPA (1.19), 26.0 PER (2.36), 3.23 RPM Wins (0.61)
"Usually he's catching the ball and laying it up from CP [Chris Paul] or James Harden. His job is not that hard. When your job is that hard, you know you can't just come out there and say s--t like that. I don't expect that from CP [Chris Paul] and James [Harden] and [Trevor] Ariza and the rest of the guys like that because they know how hard it is to come out and do that every night. Capela, catch and dunk every night, it's pretty easy for him."
Per Anthony Slater of The Athletic, those were Kevin Durant's words about Clint Capela after the Houston Rockets center engaged in some trash-talking of his own, and they echo the sentiments typically expressed by fans eager to discredit the work of players who excel in more limited roles.
(See: Gobert, Rudy in 2016-17).
Capela's role is limited. Denying that is impossible. But what Durant and those fans so often miss is just how difficult it can be to fill a role to perfection, no matter what responsibilities fall under the relevant umbrella. If Capela's job were easy, why can't more players throughout the league fill it as well as he does? Why doesn't everyone just catch passes and dunk every night?
Shooting 66.4 percent from the field, Capela leads the league in that particular category. He's scoring 1.34 points per possession as a roll man, allowing him to sit in the 89.4 percentile while boasting monumental volume numbers. Per ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus, just nine centers have been more effective on the preventing side.
Capela could never fill the role occupied by DeMarcus Cousins. Good thing he doesn't have to.
5. Tyreke Evans, SG/SF, Memphis Grizzlies: 4.57
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 106.77 TPA (1.61), 21.6 PER (1.43), 4.97 RPM Wins (1.53)
This is the version of Tyreke Evans we've been waiting to see since he exploded onto the NBA scene as a rookie for the Sacramento Kings.
He's no longer dealing with injuries, and the clean slate of health has allowed him to attack the basket with reckless abandon. Never hesitant to drive into the teeth of a defense, he possesses the size, strength and skill necessary to finish in a variety of manners when fighting his way through traffic, and he's taking 42.2 percent of his overall field-goal attempts from inside three feet.
Just as significant a development: The three-point stroke is finally clicking.
Evans is knocking down 38.8 percent of his triples while taking 5.5 per game. And though his numbers are trending in the wrong direction as we move past the midseason point, he's now established himself as a dangerous shooter that defenders have to respect. As soon as they step up to challenge a pull-up jumper, he's able to jet by them and keep them on his back as he completes an easier play.
All the old tricks remain present. Evans is a gifted passer who can use his height advantageously in search of unorthodox passing avenues. He's a skilled rebounder out of the backcourt. He can make the most of his size on defense.
But this offensive breakthrough is legitimate, and it's allowed him to become the Memphis Grizzlies' most valuable player during a season in which Marc Gasol has regressed and Mike Conley has dealt with injury issues.
4. Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Hornets: 4.95
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 110.34 TPA (1.66), 20.3 PER (1.15), 6.12 RPM Wins (2.14)
Kemba Walker's value to the Charlotte Hornets can't be overstated, which is why his score in RPM Wins outpaces his other two marks by a significant margin. Part of this is the team's inability to find a high-quality backup point guard who can spell him for brief spurts, but it's mostly due to his high-level play on the offensive end.
The veteran point guard is not a defensive stalwart, and that's fine. He's at least holding his own in many situations to avoid becoming a total liability, and he's continued to provide immense value on the scoring end that more than negates his longstanding porosity.
With Walker on the floor, Charlotte topples its adversaries by 5.1 points per 100 possessions. Only Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has a higher on-court net rating among rotation members (5.6), and the point guard's mark would leave the Hornets buzzing behind just the Golden State Warriors (10.3), Houston Rockets (7.6) and Toronto Raptors (6.7) in the season-long hierarchy.
Of course, a different story emerges when he connects rear end to pine.
In that situation, Charlotte posts a vomit-inducing minus-12.0 net rating that would make the Sacramento Kings (minus-10.1) take a deep breath because they no longer own the league's worst mark. And the jaw-dropping part? The next-worst off-court net ratings belong to Dwight Howard (minus-6.2), Kidd-Gilchrist (minus-5.3) and Marvin Williams (minus-2.9).
Walker is indispensable, and no other player in the Queen City comes close to earning that status.
3. Chris Paul, PG, Houston Rockets: 5.62
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 149.16 TPA (2.29), 25.6 PER (2.28), 4.06 RPM Wins (1.05)
Well, this was unexpected.
Surely Chris Paul's presence on the Western Conference's newest juggernaut would endear him to voters. His history as a yearly All-Star was supposed to make him a lock to represent his half of the NBA once more, just as he has nine times in his career.
Except for the second consecutive season, he'll be watching from afar. And yet again, injuries are probably to blame.
Paul has only suited up in 28 games during the 2017-18 campaign, which makes his ability to fare so well in our analysis all the more impressive. Two-thirds of our calculation are based on volume-oriented stats, and the league's resident Point God still managed to overcome his availability limitations by finishing with the No. 16 overall score—ahead of 11 players with the coveted All-Star designation.
The 32-year-old has been a nightmare to defend, especially when working alongside James Harden. His quick-trigger shooting is a new development in a career filled with patient, probing play, and he's using those decisive actions to get even more open looks. He's still racking up assists while splitting time as the primary ball-handler, and he's averaging just 2.6 turnovers per contest.
Everything is working—aside from the various body parts that have broken down during the first half of his initial run with the Houston Rockets.
2. Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets: 5.67
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 142.44 TPA (2.18), 22.3 PER (1.58), 5.68 (1.91)
Though Nikola Jokic hasn't been quite as effective as he was during his breakout 2016-17 effort, he's still been a force for the Denver Nuggets. His improving defense has allowed them to remain competent on that end while Paul Millsap recovers from his wrist injury, and his offensive game continues to dazzle.
How many big men can average five assists per game, many of which come in highlight-reel fashion? How many are typically tasked with serving as a primary initiator on the offensive end, to the point that their teams don't feel the need to employ a prototypical 1-guard?
Jokic does all that and more, since defenses have to respect his three-point habits and prevent him from using his unstoppable touch shots from closer zones. He requires constant attention, and that gravitational pull goes well beyond his more middling points-per-game average.
Adjusting to defenses respecting him as a No. 1 option has made the 2017-18 campaign a roller-coaster ride for Jokic and the Nuggets. But they're still outscoring opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor—a sharp uptick from the minus-4.2 net rating posted when he's riding the pine.
Jokic doesn't look like a traditional superstar. He doesn't play like one, either.
1. Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons: 6.43
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 15.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.2 blocks
2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 194.79 TPA (3.02), 23.4 PER (1.81), 5.1 RPM Wins (1.6)
Maybe coaches have been too busy game-planning for their next opponents to notice that Andre Drummond is maintaining all the mountainous improvements he's made this season.
But just briefly, forget about the season-long numbers. If he's gotten this much better, he'd be sustaining his stats deep into the season. So what has he done since calendars flipped over from 2017 to 2018?
Starting with his first game in January and running through the announcement of the All-Star reserves, Drummond has averaged 14.8 points, 14.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting 57.6 percent from the field and 64.5 percent from the charity stripe.
He's still knocking down a respectable portion of his free-throw attempts, which gives him the confidence to attack on the interior without fear of exposing what used to be his biggest weakness. He's still picking the right looks around the basket. He's still serving as one of the league's most potent glass-eaters. And perhaps most importantly, he's continued to get even better as a distributing hub for the Detroit Pistons.
Perhaps the coaches actually overlooked him. Maybe they just saw the Motor City has been 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the bench and ignored any necessary context. ESPN.com's RPM Wins, as a context-inclusive example, is a highly adjusted version of those on/off numbers that "takes into account teammates, opponents and additional factors" before factoring in volume, and it gives Drummond the league's No. 29 score.
Either way, Drummond is the league's biggest snub. Frankly, it's not that close.