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Who Was the Real 2009-10 NBA Rookie of the Year?

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This article is an attempt to rank last year’s rookies (most of whom were selected in the 2009 NBA Draft) 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, the wings on Tuesday, and the post players on Wednesday, all 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 (these are all things rookies tend to not do well, so their impact stats overall tend to be pretty low). Only three rookies ranked out as above average in all three advanced impact stats (again, that’s .500, 0, and .100): DeJuan Blair, Jonas Jerebko, and Taj Gibson.

I only used first-year players who played at least 820 minutes last year. To do so, a player would have to average at least 10 minutes per game over a full 82 games. This gave me 26 players to compare, and all of the major guys you’d expect are there, but please understand that some of these numbers are skewed a little too high or low because of the relatively few amount of minutes played by some of them.

FINAL RANKINGS (from 1 to 26): Here's the spreadsheet showing each rookie'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.

I was not shocked to see DeJuan Blair commandingly grab the #1 spot considering his absolutely dominant rebounding efficiency, his high shooting percentage, the amount of hustle plays he makes, and he played within a great defensive system that helped mask some of his individual deficiencies on that side of the ball (but in fairness, his D definitely improved as the season went on). Stephen Curry, Chase Budinger, Taj Gibson, Ty Lawson, and Serge Ibaka were others who predictably placed high considering they all do a lot of the little things that don’t show up in box scores—plus compiling some decent “regular” stats, as well—but impact stats will catch.

I was a little surprised to see Jonas Jerebko near the top, but it makes sense the more you think about it. Hasheem Thabeet blew me away by placing so high (tied for 3rd), but understand that even with a severe lack of athleticism and skills, he is still a decent first-year defender and rebounder, and he doesn’t need to do anything on offense considering he plays next to Zach Randolph, OJ Mayo, and Rudy Gay. He fit his role well, but understand he doesn’t really have the skills to fill any other role (think Channing Frye’s impact stats skyrocketing this year because the Suns’ changed the role he had been playing as a typical center into something that fits his speed and perimeter shooting).

I thought Tyreke Evans (12th), Omri Casspi (14th), Wesley Matthews (16th), and Terrence Williams (23rd) would have placed higher, but factors such as so-so defense, terrible surrounding talent, and overall lack of knowledge about the team’s systems all likely played a part to varying degrees. Jonny Flynn placed last, which was no surprise here when you consider the team’s system doesn’t fit him and he obviously tries to use athleticism over hoops IQ to do everything.

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, plus many of these guys played limited minutes, but it seems odd that some players’ rankings were so wide-ranging. A.J. Price ranked 1st in APM, 15th in WP/48, and 20th in PyWin%. Ibaka was 1st in PyWin%, 9th in WP/48, and 24th in APM.

Either way, I feel this attempt to rank the rookies 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.


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