Home > Essays > Essay: The Art Of Projecting A Player’s Future Value

Essay: The Art Of Projecting A Player’s Future Value

Making statistical projections on a basketball player—using numbers from both the past and present in an attempt to calculate future performance—isn’t just an inexact science, it’s hopeless. People love figuring things out, and can’t seem to accept an unsolvable situation, even as its obviousness kicks them in the teeth. Not to become one with an inner Grady Fuson, but there’s so much more intuitive evaluation that goes into a basketball player than a simple equation can encompass. The 1,000 jump shots a day that could or could not boost a player’s FG% up 40 percent, or continuous up and down the court ball handling drills to the point where a guy’s sneakers need to be replaced every three days are just two of the million variables that weigh on an unpredictable future.

What if Carmelo Anthony spent his entire offseason traveling around Australia, posing for pictures with cuddly Koala Bears? Besides smelling really bad, chances are his game wouldn’t improve in any area, and all the calculations regarding how he’d likely perform in the upcoming season would be rendered useless.

Then there’s the chemical factor. Baseball isn’t like basketball. There’s no one on one match-up that repeats itself over and over again until the game is over. Watching the game of basketball is like dipping your finger in a running river in that you’ll never get the same experience twice. Basketball players feed off one another and a lot of them need to be placed in the correct environment in order to reach their full potential, as opposed to baseball, where a murderer’s row lineup will always hit better than an average one because each piece isn’t entirely dependent on another. (Sure there’s protection, but managers who willingly place men on base are letting the very statistical insurgence this article is all about pass them by—they don’t last too long.)

I do believe advanced statistics are the smartest way to evaluate a player’s current value—there’s no debating it—but something about people trying to predict what’s going to happen down to the decimal point rubs me the wrong way.

Instead, I’ve decided to try my best looking down the road the old fashion way: through subjective gut feelings, supposed basketball knowledge, and, what the hell, a few numbers here and there. This post will look at players who should make immeasurable improvements next season, and players who will fall back to earth, into their limitations. Two players for each position will be selected, one good and one bad.

The list kind of resembles two overrated/underrated starting fives, while also resembling a stock market of sorts—if today you bought a team of random players, whose value would skyrocket and whose would take a generous dip into regression. The players who find themselves on the devalued list are still very talented and important to their respective teams, but I’m predicting this upcoming season won’t be as impressive as their last. Not only will there be a statistical drop off, but the player’s overall impact should slide a bit as well. 

Point Guard:

Rising: Ty Lawson

Last season, the tiny blur who is Ty Lawson averaged 3.8 shots at the rim in just 26.3 minutes per game. He was a whirling dervish of sorts, rumbling to the basket like a controlled ball of chaos, and once arriving there, shooting 63.2%. (As a Net, Deron Williams averaged the exact same amount of shots at the rim, but was exactly 10 percentage points lower. Yes his wrist was hurt and the sample size is small, but it’s definitely something to ponder.)

Combine this with the lingering stench of his famous 10-11 three-point performance (in 31 minutes), and what you have is the most difficult player to defend in the league who nobody talks about. Now with Chauncey Billups and Ray Felton gone, he’s the unquestioned starter. (Andre Miller’s aboard as the wily veteran backup in what could be the last year of his career, but make no mistake who’s running things.) And with Carmelo Anthony in New York, J.R. Smith to China, and Nene possibly walking in free agency, Lawson just might be Denver’s number one offensive option.

According to 82games.com, Lawson notches 5.2 assists for every bad pass, a number that matches up quite well with some of the league’s more prominently known play makers. (Derrick Rose is 4.1, Rajon Rondo is 4.8, John Wall is 4.9, and LeBron James is 4.2. Meanwhile, Chris Paul is 7.7.) I know those numbers aren’t on a per minute basis, and those guys handled the ball a LOT more than Lawson last year, but what it says about him as a point guard is good news. He isn’t a two guard stuck in a one’s body; he’s more than capable of creating favorable circumstances for teammates, opening lanes, and seeing the easiest possible scoring opportunity when the right option eventually develops. Who saw that coming two years ago?

Denver was a mess after the All-Star break last year. The team was an international scandal of scattered pieces, a New York Knicks/Denver Nuggets hybrid that didn’t have anyone close to qualifying as a go-to scorer, captain, or undisputed best player. Sure they had depth, but a lot of the new players overlapped with the ones leftover, and almost everybody lacked a clearly defined role. It started out as a positive with the Nuggets able to attack their opponents from all angles, but eventually fizzled to a whimper in the playoffs against the disciplined, well-defined, supremely talented Oklahoma City Thunder. Ty Lawson started 25 games for the Nuggets after the trade, and the result was a numbers explosion. In February he averaged 8.3 points, 3.9 assists, and shot 45/35/68%. In March he was a different player: 16.3 points, 7.5 assists, shooting 53/40/88%. It’s to be seen whether he’s one day worthy to make the team, but those are All-Star worthy numbers

Here’s the case of a player being provided an opportunity and giving it a humongous hug. Next year he plants it a kiss.


Honorable Mention: Kyle Lowry, John Wall


Falling: J.J. Barea

Apart from teammate and major benefactor Dirk Nowitzki, nobody came close to being the darling of 2011′s postseason. Heading into the NBA Finals, Barea was seen as the championship series’ X-Factor. If he played well Dallas would win, and if he didn’t they would fall. He was an offensive maestro on the court, albeit a one-dimensional one, and a defensive pest, able to draw offensive fouls with the best of them. Barea symbolically embodied the team he played for, and that team won it all, so it’s only natural for people to draw the conclusion that players like J.J. Barea are vital in building winning basketball teams.

To a certain degree this is true. He’s an offensive firecracker who can take over an entire game for five minute periods, but if his shot isn’t falling or the opponent is quick enough to defend the pick and roll then the firecracker lacks a spark.

When he fearlessly went mid-air to take Andrew Bynum’s cheap forearm shiver, the moment captured the country as a defining underdog triumph, and, depending what city you live in, good vs. evil. To cap it all off, the moment Dallas won the title Barea became a free agent, creating a perfect storm of sorts. Not only did the league’s general managers get to see what type of bench player they’d need to dissect the two teams most figured would be competing in the Finals (Los Angeles and Miami) but all of a sudden, the actual model was on the market! No matter how much you love JJ Barea or how great you think he is, or how valuable to Dallas’ championship run you believe him to be (and he was huge, let’s not mince words), this sets itself up for an overvalue, overpayment situation.

Jose Barea is not a starter, and he will never be a starter. The high screen set he ran over and over and over again with Dirk last year was unstoppable not because of Barea’s feisty quickness and ability to make difficult floaters (although that is a factor), but because defenses are so petrified of leaving Nowitzki alone for even a split second (or Terry, Stevenson, and Peja) that Barea’s able to waltz into the lane and get off high percentage shots that he’s clearly spent a majority of his practice time working on.

Barea has found a perfect situation in Dallas, with teammates who can shoot and allow him to wreak havoc. If he were to go to New York or Miami, he’d still be the same person and the same player, but there’s no chance he’d find the same success. At the end of the day he averaged less than 20 minutes a game in last year’s postseason. When he’s on top of things Barea is lethal for half a basketball game, but what about the other half?


Honorable Mention: Derrick Rose

(I think Rose is an unbelievable talent who should be the best point guard in the NBA once Chris Paul’s legs knock him from the mantle. My explanation for putting him here is a simple one: Derrick Rose should not have won the MVP last year, and he will not win it in 2012. Expectations are through the roof. He won’t get worse as a player. He’s 22-years-old, so that just won’t happen. But apart from a historically significant season in which he obliterates the whole league, wins a championship, and takes home the MVP again, his stock can’t improve. Once again, with all that being said, he’s a favorite to start on the Eastern Conference All-Star team for at least the next eight years.)


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