Who is the Raptors’ true MVP?

Posted on January 29, 2008 by

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TSN.ca (Canada’s Sports Leader) posted the following story on their website last night:

Who is the Raptors’ true MVP?

[hat tip to Steven Trainor]

The story draws upon The Wages of Wins and the WoW Journal.  And it also reports part of a table (analyzing the Raptors at the midpoint of this season) from the column The Third Way of Bryan Colangelo. The story reads like something written for this forum (except the writing by the unidentified TSN.ca staff person is better).  So rather than write a post this morning, I thought I would just re-post the TSN story.

But before I could get this posted, though, the story was updated this morning with three additional paragraphs on John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating. This additional material is in italics below.

Judging who the Most Valuable Player in the NBA is has always been a tricky task. To begin with, the term “valuable” can be vague and subjective.

Is the MVP the best player in the league? If that were the case, surely Kobe Bryant would have won the award by now. Is the MVP the most valuable to his team? Or is the MVP the most valuable in the league?

In their book The Wages of Wins, economists David Berri, Martin Schmidt and Stacey Brook have attempted to make it easier to determine what it means to be valuable. The trio has established a formula that attempts to determine a player’s true value to his team.

The Toronto Raptors are a good example that numbers might give some better insight into a team’s play.

Forward Chris Bosh is clearly the most talented player on the Raptors. Bosh is the only player on the team to have made an All-Star team and he is widely regarded as one of the best young players in the league. Nevertheless, according to Berri’s research, point guard Jose Calderon has actually produced more wins for his team than Bosh and, arguably, is the more valuable player.

Berri’s analysis of the first half of the Raptors’ season shows that after 41 games Calderon’s Wins Produced value is 8.5, while Bosh’s is 5.7.

Wins Produced for Selected Toronto Raptors

Player Wins Produced after 41 games Predicted Wins Produced after 82 games
Jose Calderon 8.5 17.0
Chris Bosh 5.7 11.5
Carlos Delfino 3.6 7.2
Anthony Parker 3.6 7.2
Jamario Moon 3.0 5.9
T.J. Ford 1.6 3.1
Jason Kapono -0.3 -0.6
Andrea Bargnani -3.5 -7.0

To get these values, Berri and his team decided to look beyond simply scoring numbers – a stat his research has shown to be greatly overvalued.

In his own words: “productivity in the NBA is not strictly about how many points you score. Rebounds, turnovers, steals, and shooting efficiency matter.” With that said, a player that scores a lot with a low shooting percentage may not be as valuable as a player that scores a little less, but has a higher shooting percentage and a higher turnover average.

To arrive at those numbers, Berri first began by calculating Calderon and Bosh’s Win Score. Again, Berri in his own words:

“Our research indicates that the relative value of a point, rebound, steal, turnover, and field goal attempt … is equal. Assists, blocked shots, free throw attempts, and personal fouls … are each worth less.”

So in order to measure a player’s performance, Berri and his tream created the following simplified formula:

Win Score = Points + Rebounds + Steals + ½Assists + ½Blocked Shots – Field Goal Attempts – Turnovers – ½Free Throw Attempts – ½Personal Fouls

Turnovers, missed field goals, missed free throws and personal fouls are all things that could turnover the ball and give the opposing team an opportunity to score.

Berri then tweaks this number slightly to account for other factors, such as player position, to determine how many Wins Produced a player has earned.

Berri’s research has been remarkably accurate. For the 2003-04, he and his team added up all the wins predicted by his formula and compared it to the teams’ actual win total – Berri’s formula was an average of just 1.67 wins off.

Looking back at Berri’s formula, it becomes clear why Calderon is valued so highly. Maintaining possession of the ball is a key component of Wins Produced. Calderon’s low turnover rate is well known, but what haven’t gotten as much attention have been the Spaniard’s incredible shooting percentages. Calderon is hitting 50.7 percent from the field, 43.4 percent from behind the arc and 91.2 percent from the free throw line. Steve Nash is the only other player in the league shooting better than 50% from the floor, 90% from the line and 40% from 3.

Not only is Calderon effectively getting his teammates the ball, but he’s also doing it at an incredibly efficient level. A highly efficient player, particularly a point guard, can limit the number of possessions and scoring opportunities the other team gets. In other words, the Raptors’ best defense might just be Calderon’s offense.

Calderon is on pace to generate 17.0 Wins Produced this year. As a comparison, San Antonio’s Tony Parker only marked 10.1 Wins Produced last year and the Pistons’ Chauncey Billups notched 13.3 Wins Produced last year – should Calderon maintain his level, he would join some pretty good company.

NOTE: THE FOLLOWING THREE PARAGRAPHS WERE ADDED TO THE TSN STORY THIS MORNING

Update: In all fairness, it should be mentioned that Bosh has a better Player Efficiency Rating (PER) than Calderon, 24.97 compared to 21.78. PER was created by ESPN.com analyst John Hollinger to “summarize a player’s statistical accomplishments in a single number.”

The formula for PER is uber-complicated, but, much like Wins Produced, it attempts to balance positive stats, such as scoring and assists, with negative stats, such as turnovers and personal fouls. Hollinger adjusts each player’s PER to account for minutes played and pace of his team (so players on slow-paced teams aren’t penalized).

With that out of the way, here is the most interesting part: Bosh’s PER is currently sixth best in the NBA – better than Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming.

Bosh is clearly having one of his best seasons, particularly in the last month, but is Calderon more valuable?

This is where the article ends.  For those who are intersted, here is the full table cited above:

The Toronto Raptors at the Midpoint of the 2007-08 Season

– DJ

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