Future NBA Stars

Posted on October 12, 2007 by

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A few weeks ago Sports Illustrated.com posted a photo essay revealing the top ten “future stars of the NBA.”  When I saw this I thought this would make a great story at the WoW Journal.  I even went so far as to analyze the players SI chose and to compile my own list.  But by the time I got around to writing the story, the photo essay was gone and now I can’t find it.

Today, though, I was looking for something to write about and decided to return to this topic.  Of course, I still can’t link to SI’s photo essay.  So you are going to have take my word that the players listed in Table One were indeed the ten players Sports Illustrated chose.

Table One: Future NBA Stars, according to Sports Illustrated

Here is what stands out for me when I look at these ten players.

1. Except for Tyson Chandler, all of these players are above average scorers.  To be considered an “NBA star” you typically have to score, so it makes sense to focus on such players.

2. Most of these players are above average with respect to Wins Produced.  When we look at WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] we see six players – Chandler, Al Jefferson, Luol Deng, Gerald Wallace, Kevin Martin, and Andre Iguodala – post marks either above, or very close to,  0.200. Again, an average player is at 0.100. So to be at 0.200 is to be twice as productive as an average NBA player.

3. Monta Ellis, who was named the Most Improved Player for 2006-07, is not an above average NBA player (a point I made last June).  So Ellis may be a future star, but at this point he doesn’t look to be a productive star.

A different look at the future

Beyond the player’s performance, I would note that for these players the future is very much now.  What I mean is that all of these players play more than 30 minutes a night for their respective teams.  So although these players might be unknown to the casual NBA fan, those who follow the league a bit more closely are aware of all of these players.

This observation led me to think about the players who are currently spending most of the time on the bench who might someday be future stars.  With this thought in mind, I looked at all players in 2006-07 who met the following criteria:

– played less than 24 minutes per game, but more than 12

– played at least 41 games

– had less than six years of experience

This criterion gives us a collection of players who are sitting more than playing, yet playing enough for us to say something about their performance. Table Two reports the Top 10 players, in terms of WP48, who met this criterion.

Table Two: Top Ten Future Stars, WoW Journal

The top player on this list is Renaldo Balkman, the much maligned draft choice by the New York Knicks in 2006.  He is followed by Trevor Ariza, another draft pick by Isiah Thomas.  Yes, Thomas does draft well. 

Beyond the drafting skills of Isiah, what stands out on this list is the lack of scorers.  An average NBA player will score 19.2 points per 48 minutes. Of these players, only Jose Calderon and Matt Barnes are above average in terms of points production.  Given the lack of scoring ability, it’s likely that most of the players I have identified will ever be considered “stars.”  Still, all of these players are above average NBA performers. So going forward, all of these players should help their respective teams win games.

Distant future stars

Okay, let’s take this one step further.  Requiring a minimum of both 41 games and 12 minutes per game means that I only considered players who played at least 492 minutes.  What if we lower our minutes requirement to players who played at least 100 minutes in 2006-07?  Now we are looking at players who briefly played well, although with such a small sample of minutes, what we briefly saw many not mean much.  Still, let’s take a look at the top ten anyways.

Table Three: Distant Future Stars

On this list we see Sean May, who would have made my first list but he only played 35 games last year.  This year he will not play any games.  Still, what we have seen so far suggests he might be very good if he recovers.

Other notable names on this list include Kyle Lowry, who played well for the Grizzlies in 10 games last year.  But he was then hurt and now he is going to be fighting for playing time with Mike Conley, the latest lottery pick chosen by Memphis.

Amir Johnson is another player who will fight for playing time.  He was just signed, though, to a multi-year contract and the Pistons promise that he will play more minutes this year.  From what we have seen so far, it looks like the Pistons have found someone who can help.

And then there is James Singleton, who could help any NBA team.  Singleton played well for the Clippers last year, but is now playing in Europe (at least, that’s what I think I heard).  Certainly some team should think about bringing him back into the Association next year.

It’s important to note that the players listed as “distant stars” have generally not played enough for us to be sure about their future productivity.  When you have played less than 200 minutes, one or two good games can dramatically increase your average level of productivity.  This point needs to be remembered by Pistons fans who think A. Johnson is going to be a future star in Detroit.  As a fan of this team, I hope that’s true.   But until we see more, we are doing more hoping than knowing.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The equation connecting wins to offensive/defensive efficiency is given HERE

Wins Produced and Win Score are discussed in the following posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say