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Who are the Best Wing Players in the NBA?

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This article is an attempt to rank the wings (players most commonly referred to as shooting guards or small forwards) 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 with the following results, 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 above link. 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).

These impact stats are not without their flaws, though. Although each one attempts to isolate one player’s impact, it’s often impossible to completely separate two teammates who play a lot of the same minutes together in these matricies. Players who operate within a well-coached, well-run club will do better since there will certainly be less overall team breakdowns, resulting in better impact numbers for everyone. Wings and PG’s whose squads have great frontcourts can shoot whenever they like and slack on defense because their big men will clean up a lot of problems by rebounding missed jumpers and suffocating the paint when an opponent penetrates into the lane due to so-so perimeter D. Players who play alongside lots of talent at any position(s) can play a sloppier, lazier game and not take a tremendous hit on impact numbers because their teammates will fix or counter some of their miscues. All of these things should be considered when looking at the final rankings (think about the crap Dwyane Wade has played next to recently while still generating huge impact stats – it’s extremely impressive).

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: Here's the spreadsheet showing each wing'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 LeBron James and Wade as the top two wings, and they came out on top with a commanding lead over everyone else. Although both Kevin Durant and Nicolas Batum (?) placed in the top 7, their current positions should be even higher since their improvement from two seasons ago to last year was quite profound, so the two-year averages actually pulled them down some.

Some team leader, jack-of-all-trade players you’d expect to place high were in the top-10, guys such as Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy, Andre Iguodala, and Paul Pierce, and you have to applaud Roy and AI for placing so high when they don’t have nearly the talent next to them that the Lakers and Celtics provide. Battier’s spot at #11 may surprise some people, but again, he’s a does-all-the-little-things type of player who helps his team win in a way that’s far greater than his individual stats would suggest.

The bottom of the list of 30 shouldn’t surprise anyone. Monta Ellis was last, which makes perfect sense considering how poorly he seems to buy into the team concept compared to many of these players. O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, an aging Richard Hamilton, Rudy Gay, and rookie Marcus Thornton are other guys I expected to place poorly who did.

Danilo Gallinari and Manu Ginobili seemed a little high at 15th and 3rd, respectively. On the flip-side, Joe Johnson and Tyreke Evans seemed a little low at 18th and 23rd, respectively, although all of these “mis-rankings” can reasonably be explained when you look closely at their overall contributions to their teams’ success and not just their regular, individual stats.

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. Thabo Sefolosha ranked 23rd in PyWin%, 22nd in APM, and 9th in WP/48. Gallinari was 18th in PyWin%, 22nd in WP/48, and 5th in APM.

Either way, I feel this attempt to rank the wings 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 main page throughout the week to see rankings for post players and class of 2009 rookies based on advanced impact statistics.


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