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Best Point Guards in the NBA by the Numbers

I'm really into the APBR-metric stats in basketball, as I think they give us a LOT of information that either isn't apparent or else just flat out isn't in the box scores.  But in order for them to be effective, IMO, you need to a) understand a bit about how they work, b) understand a bit about their strengths and weaknesses, and c) look at a large enough cross-section of the "advanced stats" to get a full picture of a player. 

This year has become a "year of the point guard", where there are about 5 or 10 elite PGs making news on a nightly basis.  Ask someone in Chicago and they'll tell you Derrick Rose should be the MVP.  Ask someone in Boston and they'll tell you Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the league.  A New Orleans fan will tell you that Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA, while a Utah fan will fight you to the death that Deron Williams is better.

So I wondered: how do the top point guards measure out vs their peers, according to the nerd stats? If we take allegiance and bias out of the equation and look at the stats that supposedly tell us more about the game than just a quick perusal at the points/rebounds/assists box scores, what do the numbers tell us?

I'm looking here at 10 news-worthy point guards, though it wasn't an exhaustive list and might leave some deserving players out (Chauncey Billups I'm looking at you).  I came up with my 10 by brainstorming on who I thought the best PGs in the league were and I came up with seven names, then I added Raymond Felton because of his All Star game buzz and John Wall because of his rookie flash buzz.  I rounded it out with Stephen Curry to get a nice 10 players, and he was almost last year's rookie of the year so that earned him a spot at the table.  I'm going to look at 5 different stats: John Hollinger's PER, Basketball-reference's win shares, Dave Berri's Wins Produced, 82games.com's Roland Rating, and BasketballValue's 1-year adjusted +/-.  I'll give a brief blurb about each stat based on my experience with them, and then at the end we'll look and see how those stats would rank the best of the position..

The roster: Paul, Williams, Rondo, Rose, Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Felton, Curry and Wall

PER: Hollinger's stat, probably the most popular of the "advanced stats", favorable (compared to other advanced stats) to volume scorers and players that generate a lot of free throws; generally ranks those considered "great" by the general public well, though also will tend to have role players with good scoring-per-minute very highly.  Here is how each of our PGs ranks in PER:



PER
Paul 26
Nash 24.05
Westbrook 24.02
Williams 23.08
Rose 22.89
Parker 21.06
Curry 20.67
Rondo 18.55
Felton 17.31
Wall 15.35


Win Shares: From Basketball-reference.com, big emphasis on shooting/scoring efficiency; loves points per shot (thus values FTs drawn).  To account for different minutes played, we're going to look at Win Shares per 48 minutes played.  



WS48
Paul 0.284
Nash 0.195
Rose 0.189
Williams 0.184
Parker 0.179
Westbrook 0.155
Rondo 0.151
Curry 0.145
Felton 0.097
Wall 0.038


Wins Produced: Dave Berri's controversial stat (most likely to be trashed on an APBRmetric board) is also the one seemingly growing fastest in popular usage; wins produced values what he defines as possessions, so loves rebounds, steals, and blocks and doesn't like TOs; doesn't value shot creation, but does value assists.  We'll look at Wins Produced per 48 minutes.



WP48
Paul 0.4
Nash 0.335
Rondo 0.31
Williams 0.229
Westbrook 0.208
Rose 0.194
Parker 0.184
Curry 0.15
Felton 0.128
Wall 0.104


Roland Rating: 82games.com's Roland Rating is based upon a combination of PER and +/- stats.  It looks at the individual PER of each player, the PER of their primary defensive assignment, and subtracts the 2 for a 1-on-1 value then they combine that 1-on-1 value with a team-impact based on-court/off-court +/- stat to get the rating.  Tends to produce fewest "what???" rankings, because players that rank out highly in both the 1-on-1 and team stats are almost universally who we consider to be among the best in the game...though the order at the top isn't always what you'd expect.



Roland Rating
Nash 15.8
Paul 12.5
Rondo 9
Rose 7.1
Williams 4.1
Parker 4
Curry 3.5
Westbrook 2.9
Wall -2.9
Felton -5.2


1-year Adjusted +/-: This is Basketballvalue.com's APM calculation.  I don't love it because APM is so incredibly noisy that a single year (or less) doesn't give conclusive answers.  Even 2 years may be too short for an APM calculation.  I like longer APM calculations, 4 years or more, to really clean up the noise and give a robust effect.  Nevertheless, we're talking about this year so this is both the 1-year APM as well as the (huge) standard errors for each guy:



APM (basketballvalue) APM SE
Rose 17.81 10.76
Paul 17.46 9.55
Williams 11.66 9.34
Nash 10.75 9.68
Curry 9.09 5.69
Rondo 5.53 6.83
Westbrook -0.3 10.11
Parker -1.49 7.31
Felton -10.52 6.81
Wall -12.33 6.01


Overall Rank orders: Giving each of our 10 guys a '1' through '10' ranking based on where they ranked in each stat, here is a quick and dirty summary of how each guy did.  I'll add an average across the 5 stats (with standard error) to give us a better idea how our seat-of-the-pants-advanced-stat-cross-section-view ranks 10 of the best point guards in the NBA with respect to each other:



PER WS48 WP48 Roland Rating APM 
Average Std. Error
Paul 1 1 1 2 2
1.4 0.24
Nash 2 2 2 1 4
2.2 0.49
Rose 5 3 6 4 1
3.8 0.86
Williams 4 4 4 5 3
4 0.32
Rondo 8 7 3 3 6   5.4 1.03
Westbrook 3 6 5 8 7
5.8 0.86
Parker 6 5 7 6 8
6.4 0.51
Curry 7 8 8 7 5
7 0.55
Felton 9 9 9 10 9
9.2 0.20
Wall 10 10 10 9 10
9.8 0.20


Conclusions:

Just about every advanced stat, no matter how calculated, agreed that Chris Paul and Steve Nash have been the 2 best point guards in the NBA this year.  Likewise, just about every stat concurs that John Wall and Ray Felton have been clearly the worst of this top-10.

With standard error considered Rose, Deron Williams and Rondo all overlap with each other for the 3 - 5 slots.  Likewise Westbrook, Parker and Curry all overlap each other for the 6 - 8 slots.  But the clusters are so close that Rondo's ranking would overlap with everyone from Rose (nominally 3rd) to Parker (nominally 7th).

Comments

By: Chris Liss
On: 2/2/2011 2:54:00 PM
Surprised to see Nash still ranks so high. Wonder if his bad teammates help him under these metrics.
 
By: nayfel
On: 2/2/2011 5:01:00 PM
Great blog. I definitely agree that you really need to review many advanced stats together in order to account for their deficiencies.
This is a little off topic but it kills me that ESPN and Hollinger specifically talk about PER like it's the ultimate perfect stat. Obviously he created it and feels that it's as good as it gets but he never leaves any room for doubt. Almost all of his work is centered around players' PER and it drives me nuts.
I do think he's smart and I really appreciate his logic and thoughts but it irks me that the foundation for everything is PER and you can;'t be a fan of him or most ESPN analysts if you don't subscribe to it.
Am I crazy? I feel like I cannot be the only one who feels this way.
 
By: seps
On: 2/3/2011 4:23:00 AM
With all these stats thrown at me, my eyes glossed over fairly early. I'm sure an MIT grad student followed it number for number but keep it simple for us morons. Just base it on how someone is playing and his last game notwitstanding, it's tough not to love Westbrook and the triple double threat he is... he's like Jason Kidd 5 years ago (without the 3's yet) but is more of a scorer. He's in the last year of his contract this year and I'm dreading how high he'll go next year in my auction.
 
By: The Professor
On: 2/3/2011 6:11:00 AM
@Chris...the bad teammates shouldn't help Nash in most of the metrics. Some argue that it helps in the on-court/off-court +/- that contributes to Roland Rating, but it wouldn't help at all with PER, WS or WP that are based on efficiency (which in theory should suffer with worse teammates). And the fact that he measures out at the top in all of the metrics would suggest that he really is just playing that well this year.

For what it's worth, that conclusion passes the eye test with me as well. Despite being 37, Nash has been balling in every game I've seen him play this year and keeping the Suns competitive without much front-line talent.
 
By: The Professor
On: 2/3/2011 6:12:00 AM
@Seps. Lol. If the numbers are too much, just skip to the end where I talk about "overall rank" and "conclusions". That'll get you to the main point/conclusions without worrying overmuch about what each individual stat says.
 
By: The Professor
On: 2/3/2011 6:15:00 AM
@Nayfel. Yeah, I agree that Hollinger/ESPN's focus only on PER is annoying and probably counter-productive. They aren't unique with this, though. If you follow Dave Berri's wins produced blog, he's very dismissive of other stats. If you follow Wayne Winston's advanced +/- blog, he's very dismissive of other stats. Essentially, any of the math guys that come up with a stat are then obliged to pimp their stat to the masses without giving any credence to the competition...might get them more individual shine, but I agree with you that it doesn't help with true evaluation of the game.
 
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On: 6/10/2011 1:35:00 AM

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