The Best Player in the Game

Posted on June 16, 2008 by

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Throughout the NBA Finals we have heard over and over again: “The Lakers have the NBA’s best player.”

If we look at Wins Produced, NBA Efficiency, PERs, or any other “advanced” metric, I don’t think you will see Kobe Bryant on the top of any list.  The only place Kobe finished on top is in total points scored.

Of course – as detailed in The Wages of Wins – scoring dominates the evaluation of playing talent in the NBA.  So it’s not surprising to hear people say over and over again: “Kobe is the game’s best player.”

If we turn to Wins Produced, we see that Chris Paul was the M2P (Most Productive Player) in the NBA in 2007-08.  Kevin Garnett – the top player on the Boston Celtics – has frequently been the NBA’s M2P, and if we look beyond just 2007-08, appears to be the game’s “best” player.  Of course, neither Garnett nor Paul leads the NBA in scoring.  So it seems difficult for the media to think of either player as the “best.”

The M2P in the WNBA

On Sunday I offered my first analysis of the WNBA.  And given what The Wages of Wins says about the NBA, it’s natural to wonder: Does scoring dominate the evaluation of talent in the NBA’s sister league?

To answer that question, let’s look at the “best” player in 2007. If Wins Produced is our metric of choice – the M2P in the WNBA in 2007 was (drum roll please)… Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm.

Table One: The Top 50 in the WNBA in 2007

Fans of the WNBA should not be surprised.  Jackson led the WNBA in points score per game, and also ranked first in NBA Efficiency (the NBA’s simple, yet inaccurate, metric).  If we turn to WP40 – Wins Produced per 40 minutes – we see that Jackson’s mark of 0.396 also led the league. In sum, Jackson was not just the top scorer.  She was clearly the best player in 2007.

To put Jackson’s performance in further perspective, one should note that only two players – Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever and Cheryl Ford of the Detroit Shock – posted WP40 marks in excess of 0.300 (average is 0.100). Catchings and Ford, though, missed substantial portions of the season.  Consequently neither finished second in Wins Produced.

Over Valued Scorers Again?

The player that did finish second might be a surprise. Lindsey Whalen – a guard for the Connecticut Sun – produced 7.1 wins and posted a 0.272 WP40.  Despite this performance, Whalen was not named to either the first or second All-WNBA teams.

Becky Hammon – a guard who is ranked 21st in Wins Produced – was named to the first team All-WNBA.  How does a player ranked 21st top the second most productive player in the game?

Before I answer that question I should note that Hammon – like Martin Schmidt, Stacey Brook, and myself – attended Colorado State University.  In fact, Hammon might be the most famous athlete ever to attend our alma mater.  Consequently, my analysis of Hammon’s game might be biased.

Okay, it might, but as Table Two indicates, it ain’t.

Table Two: Comparing Lindsey Whalen and Becky Hammon

As Table Two indicates, Hammon – relative to Whalen – is the much better scorer.  This is true from the line and the field. But when we look at the Net Possession factors – rebounds, steals, and turnovers – Whalen has an immense edge.  Whalen is better on the boards, gets more steals, and is far less likely to commit a turnover.  As Win Score indicates (and this is the same story told with Wins Produced), Whalen’s advantage with respect to Net Possessions completely erases Hammon’s edge as a scorer.

Of course, as we see with respect to the NBA, scorers can be overvalued.  And it appears that might be the same story in the WNBA. 

Then again, one example does not a study make.  What if we look further down Table One?  The fourth player listed is Rebekkah Brunson of the Sacramento Monarchs.  Like Whalen, Brunson was also not named to the All-WNBA teams.  Further down the list, though, we see Tina Thompson of the Houston Comets.  Thompson was named to the second All-WNBA team.  How do these two forwards compare?

Table Three: Comparing Rebekkah Brunson and Tina Thompson

As Table Three indicates, Thompson takes more shots and therefore scores more points. But when we turn to Net Possessions, Brunson offers more rebounds, more steals, and fewer turnovers.  Consequently, we see a large difference in both Win Score and Wins Produced.

Okay, so now we have two examples.  Although this isn’t much, it’s enough for us to suspect that the WNBA suffers from the same problem as the NBA.  Scorers are overvalued.  Players who produce wins via the possession factors are undervalued.

Unlike the NBA, with respect to identifying the top player in the WNBA, the scoring bias is not a problem.  Laurent Jackson is the both the top scorer and M2P.  When we get past the top spot, though, we begin to see some problems.

For my next post on the WNBA, we will look at the overvalued and undervalued players in the league.  That column will offer further evidence that scorers are overvalued in professional basketball, regardless of who is playing the game.

– DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also 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

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.