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Ranking the Best Big Men in NBA

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This article is an attempt to rank the post players (most commonly referred to as power forwards and centers) based solely on advanced impact stats. These are the numbers that try to measure a player’s impact on a squad independent of his teammates and opponents. I took on the point guards on Sunday and the wings on Tuesday, both of which definitely passed the laugh test and look somewhat legit. 

The three stats I used to rank the wings are Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PyWin%), Adjusted Plus/Minus (APM), and Wins Produced per 48 Minutes (WP/48). For an explanation of each and links to where I found them for each player, go to the PG link above. For easy comparison’s sake, the average for each is as follows: PyWin% is .500 by definition since that’s the average winning percentage in every game and league, APM is 0 by definition since the plus or minus is in relation to average, and WP/48 is 0.100 by definition since 10 positions in a game (split up between multiple players) result in exactly 1 win each contest.

I’ve avoided using any conventional player stats such as points, steals, blocks, etc. since these only measure what one player produced and does not give fans a true indication of his entire impact on a game. Players who excel at help-side defense, setting picks, and correctly running the team’s offensive sets rarely get any credit in those stats, but they tend to do much better on impact stats since these actions clearly help a team win (Shane Battier is a shining example of this).

I used data from the last two seasons so that one fluke year didn’t skew things, and it’s hopefully a short enough period of time that one’s play two years ago isn’t much different than what you’d expect in 2010-11.

FINAL RANKINGS (from 1 to 42): Here's the spreadsheet showing each post player's rank in the three advanced categories (in yellow) and their overall average ranking (green).

Overall Rankings

Using the spreadsheet, I simply averaged each player’s rank in the three categories together to get an overall idea of where they fall within these different ways of evaluating a player’s impact on the team. Again, none of these matricies factor in the normal stats we’re used to looking at for a player: points, shooting percentages, assists, rebounds – they were never considered in any of these rankings.

After averaging everyone’s rankings in the three categories, the results generally followed what I’d expect—with a few notable exceptions—if I had to give my opinion on how good they were. Without hesitating, I would consider Dwight Howard the best interior player in the league, and he came out on top with a commanding lead over everyone else. Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan would be my next two picks, and both finished in the top 4. I’ve long sung Lamar Odom’s praises (he’s starting for Team USA, so I don’t think I’m the only one) and he finished a strong 8th overall. Greg Oden is always hurt, but when he does play, his great shooting percentages and very high rebounding and shot blocking rates have translated into a top-10 placement in terms of statistical impact.

Most of the guys near the bottom have some very clear deficiencies, or ones that are apparent when you watch the game with a discerning eye toward players willing to do the little things that win games but don’t go in the scorebook: guys like Shaquille O’Neal, Kenyon Martin, David West, Hedo Turkoglu, Antawn Jamison, and Amar’e Stoudemire.

If you looked at the charts for the PG’s and wings that were posted earlier this week, you’ll see that far more post players recorded above-average scores on these advanced impact stats. This should shock nobody. The inside men are almost always the most important piece to a team’s success; even without scoring many points, they have the greatest effect on their squads. A team full of poor perimeter defenders can still look good because a great inside defender or two can cover up a lot of problems like opponents driving into the paint (look at the Lakers’ Defensive Ratings the past three seasons compared to before Gasol showed up). Strong rebounders can lengthen their team’s possessions, especially if they play alongside high volume shooters with itchy trigger fingers, and shorten those of opponents; both of these actions greatly impact a team’s overall offense and defense.

Obviously it’s tough to judge how accurate or “correct” each of the three calculations are since all of these formulas are being tweaked regularly, but it seems odd that some players’ rankings were so wide-ranging. Rashard Lewis ranked 9th in APM, 18th in PyWin%, and 41st in WP/48. Joakim Noah was 6th in PyWin%, 12th in WP/48, and 31st in APM.

Either way, I feel this attempt to rank the post players with nothing but advanced impact stats certainly looks somewhat credible, and has some very clear advantages over any rankings based strictly on players’ individual statistics. I’m hoping over time more fans will rely on advanced impact stats such as these three to judge how good players are. Until then, volume scorers will unnecessarily be propped up over lock-down defenders and team-first players who lack both weaknesses and a highlight reel flash to their game.

Check back on Hoops Karma's home page later the week to see rankings for class of 2009 rookies based on advanced impact statistics.


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