Let’s pretend you have hundreds of millions of dollars sitting in the bank and you want to start a new NBA franchise today. What player would you pick to build this team around?
I am a Lakers fan, and realistically I would not pick Kobe Bryant today to be that guy. Probably 12 years ago I would, but not today. Neither I would pick Lebron, Carmelo, or Durant.
Here I will explain to you who would I pick based on statistics with a little sprinkle of reality in the middle.
Let me first define the metrics I am using to analyze each player (based on the 2013-14 season):
- MPG: minutes per game
- PPG: points per game
- APG: assists per game
- RBP: rebounds per game
- SPG: steals per game
- BPG: blocks per game
I have also decided to use three advanced statistics metrics because I believe they will be able to better define how effective each player really is:
- PER: player efficiency. This is the player’s productivity per minute taking into account positive accomplishments (field goals, assists, blocks, steals, etc.) and negative accomplishments (turnovers, missed shots, fouls, etc.) – the NBA average is of 15.00
- TS %: True shooting percentage. This is the player’s shooting efficiency taking into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws
- BPM: Box plus minus (or just +/-). This shows the impact a player has on the team taking into account when he is on and off the floor, per 100 possessions. From the team’s perspective, it represents how many points they are up or down by when the player is playing.
There is some controversy regarding the PER, because this metric is largely an offensive one, since it only takes into account two defensive statistics – blocks and steals. And since it is a “per minute” metric, it might show distorted numbers, because it cannot measure when one is playing against the other team’s second unit. However, since I am analyzing players of similar quality (all starters) and of similar minutes, this should not present a problem.
According to a study done by Dave Berri – professor of economics at Southern Utah University – players in the NBA are at their best when they reach 24 years of age and stay that way until 25, then start declining. Of course, this is not the same case to all players, such as Jordan who won all his titles after the age of 28.
However, since I am assuming that there will be no anomaly in this sample, I have picked the top 8 players under the age of 24 in the NBA today that I believe could potentially serve as a good first building block. Assuming that every thing else is perfect – that you have a great coaching staff and you are the GM of this team – picking players this young and already established would attract other key players to play for your team.
All the data below is based on the 2013-14 NBA season:
From looking at the data above we can conclude a few things right off the bat:
- all of these players have a positive +/- average contribution
- all of these players have an above 50% TS %
- there are only 2 players who play the center/power forward position (Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins)
- Kawhi Leonard has considerably smaller MPG and PPG metrics
- Klay Thompson has considerably smaller PER and +/- average contribution
- The reason why all of these players have a positive +/- average contribution is because they are all key players on their respective teams. They are all starters and play a considerable amount of minutes, contributing in all aspects of the game.
- Having a TS % above 50% is a good sign. The NBA average tends to be always above 50%, so these numbers are not so surprising. But to put things into perspective, last season’s MVP, Kevin Durant, had a TS % of 63.5%. So the players above aren’t doing so bad.
- Unfortunately, today’s game does not have that many dominant centers anymore. The league even eliminated the center position from the All-Star ballot last year (what I think is outrageous). However, these two young players, Davis and Cousins, seem to be right up there with the best in the business, such as Noah, Howard, and Duncan. With that, these two guys have their stock values increased due to the shortage in their position.
- The way Greg Popovich runs his team is very different from the rest of the league (what might be a hint to the other coaches as to why they keep winning titles). Pop uses all of his bench in every game, and it is rare to see someone in the Spurs scoring more than 25 points. Consequently, Leonard has lower PPG and MPG averages in comparison to the other guys. However, he has something that no one else in this list has: a ring and a Finals MVP award.
- Thompson’s low PER is due to the fact that last season he did not contribute to the team all that much in any other categories besides scoring. This could be alarming, however I decided to pull Klay’s early 2014-15 season PER and we can see an improvement: 22. Aside from his new 4-year $70 million max contract extension, we can all agree that Thompson has improved a lot over the summer, as he was one of the members of the Gold medalist USA team in the FIBA World Cup. His low +/- is not alarming as I am sure this number will increase in the upcoming seasons.
With that, who would be the best pick to build a franchise around today?
Taking into consideration that Davis, Irving and Cousins did not play for playoff teams last year, it is easy to understand why they put up such big numbers. They were the star of their teams and got a lot of the offense going through them.
Wall, Lillard and Thompson played for teams that were strong playoffs contenders. Although Golden State did not get past the first round, they were still a pretty strong team, finishing 3rd in the highly competitive Western Conference. Lillard proved himself by beating the Rockets with a last second shot taking his team to the second round for the first time in years. Wall, in the other hand, managed to lead his team to the second round of the weak Eastern Conference playoffs by beating the Bulls. All three of these players have proved to be a critical part of their team’s success, but none of them ever got past the second round.
Finally, George and Leonard were part of championship contending teams. Indiana dominated the East but came up to when they lost to the stacked back-to-back NBA champions Miami Heat. Leornard’s Spurs won the title and he had a breakout season by winning the Finals MVP. His performance during that Finals took a lot of people by surprise when he showed the tip of the iceberg of his upside potential.
If I had the chance to take any single one of these guys today I would. But if I had the privilege to pick, I would go with…
The hype about this guy is real. His stats are right up there among the best players in the NBA. On the 2014-15 season opener he had 9 blocks – the first player to ever do that in a season opener since the 1974-75 season. He is currently in the top 10 in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals in the league.
Considering that NBA MVPs generally have a PER of above 27.5 (Jordan has a career PER of 27.91), on his second season he recorded a PER of 26.5 – considered to be a “weak” MVP contender.
He finished in the top 5 in double-doubles recorded in the league in the 2013-14 season, with an average of 20.8ppg and 10rpg at the age of 19. Plus, the kid can shoot the ball from 18 feet with consistency.
Taking into account that he has won an Olympic gold medal in 2012 and another gold medal in the 2014 FIBA World Cup with the USA National Teams all before the age of 21 adds even more credibility to his curriculum.
He has an immense wingspan of over 7’7″, what makes it understandable why he blocks so many shots, gets so many steals, and grabs so many rebounds.
And, on top of all of that he has proven to be extremely coachable and professional at such a young age.
The sky is the limit for AD, and if he continues on this pace he will certainly become one of the best centers/power forwards to ever play the game.
With that, he would be my pick to be the face of my newly formed franchise, as he would also easily attract other key players to join the team.
I will leave you with a few of his highlights. Enjoy.