Using Advanced analytics to cut through the smoke
We’ve reached the point of the season where most teams are at least a third of the way through their schedule, and conference season is in full swing. Each team has played at least 2 in conference games.
Last season I looked at who were the best players in the conference, using a combination of advanced analytics. This entry marks the first installment of that series for the 2020-21 season.
Three different advanced analytics will be used. The analytics are: Player Impact Plus Minus, Points Over Expectation, and Bayesian Performance Rating.
These 3 contributions put together should give us a good idea of who’s performed the best this season, as they measure different things, such as impact vs. efficiency. They all also measure contributions on the offensive and defensive sides of the floor, enabling them to paint a full picture.
Player Impact Plus Minus – Also known as PIPM, this is an impact stat. Basically, it measures how well a player has performed in the role they’re in. A player being used in the way that best suits their skill set will have a higher score than a player who is talented in certain areas but not able to show that talent off. As an example, if Neemias Queta was asked to shoot 3 pointers all game he would hurt his team, as that’s not his skill set. This statistic is important because no matter how purely talented a player may be, if the player doesn’t use the talents correctly it will hurt the team and prevent winning. PIPM also makes adjustments for the quality of opponents. For more on PIPM click here.
Points Over Expectation – Also known as POE, this is an efficiency stat. It takes into account the number and type of shots a player takes (or defends) and compares the outcome to what an average player would’ve done with the same number and type of shots. A score of zero is the equivalent of an average player. Since POE takes into account the number of shots, than the higher usage a player has, the more likely they are to be farther from 0. So players that are really efficient on large volume are the ones that get good scores here. It is also a per game stat, as opposed to a per 100 possession stat. Since basketball is about scoring more points than your opponent, someone who can score, and defend, at an efficient level is a valuable player. For more on POE click here.
Bayesian Performance Rating: Bayesian Performance Rating, or BPR, attempts to qualify the value a player gives their team while on the court. It is an impact stat in the vein of PIPM, but uses a different methodology and inputs to reach it’s conclusion. Similar to PIPM, it makes adjustments for the quality of teammates as well as opponents in it’s calculations, so that fans can better determine who is good vs. who plays with good teammates. A score of 0 is considered average. To learn more about BPR click here.
Using a couple different methods to determine who has the most impact while on the floor, and coupling that with a great efficiency metric should give us a pretty good idea of who has performed well so far.
Simply taking the average of these numbers won’t work though, as they measure different things. So Z-scores will be used. Basically, Z-scores measure how far away something is from average. Once the Z-scores for all three metrics are calculated, the average of those numbers will be taken to determine who has been the best so far.
To give you a feel for Z-scores, last year, using the same methodology but slightly different measurements, Malachi Flynn led the league with a score of 3.052, and Sam Merrill came in second with a score of 2.492.
First though, a couple superlatives.
Who’s carried the heaviest offensive burden so far?
When taking into account scoring, shot creation, spacing, and shot creation (for self and others) using the offensive load metric, Bryce Hamilton is responsible for 50.05% of UNLV’s offense when he’s on the court. This is surprising considering David Jenkins was supposed to take on a lot of that load, but through 5 games has a slightly below average offensive efficiency. So far UNLV has gone as Hamilton has gone. Grant Sherfield comes in second at 45.89%, and Orlando Robinson comes in third at 44.12%.
Who creates the most shots for their teammates so far?
Grant Sherfield has been the ultimate facilitator in the conference so far according to the Box Creation metric. He is creating 10.5 open shots for teammates per 100 possessions. Isaiah Stevens comes in 2nd with 9.25 open shots created per 100 possessions. Bryce Hamilton comes in third with 7.86 open shots created.
Here are your top 10 players so far:
*Stats accurate through 1/5/21
10. Terrell Gomez: 9.6 pts, 1.1 rebs, 2.4 Asts, 1.496 averaged Z-score.
Standing at 5’8″, 165 lbs, Gomez is small even for a point guard. It hasn’t stopped him from shooting the lights out of the ball though. Through 9 games he’s connected on 45.5% of his 3-point shots. He’s a nice offensive spark plug for the Aztecs, and has put up solid defensive numbers too. He’s not expected to carry his team offensively, more so his job is to space the floor and open the lane for others. He is more than capable of filling up the stat sheet though, like when he had 19 points and 4 steals against Colorado St.
9. Abu Kigab: 12.2 pts, 5.1 rebs, 2.1 Asts, 1.532 averaged Z-score.
Kigab may be a little undersized as a power forward (6’7″, 220 lbs) but it hasn’t stopped him from putting up good numbers, and helping Boise St. jump out to an 8-1 record (4-0 in conference.) Kigab is a traditional power forward, in the sense that he doesn’t space the floor much. He is able to finish in the paint though, and is pretty good at drawing contact as well. He sits at 6th place in the conference for free throw rate. He’s not the best at converting at the line (68% on the season), but drawing fouls on opposing players can have a cumulative effect on the opposition. Combining that with solid defense gives Boise St a great compliment to their star players.
8. RayJ Dennis: 12.9 pts, 3.3 rebs, 3.9 asts, 1.550 averaged Z-score.
RayJ Dennis is only a sophomore, but his impact from the Point Guard position has been great for Boise State. He’s been so good in his role he’s gotten more minutes than anyone on the team, including POY favorite Derrick Alston. If he has a weakness, it’s 3pt shooting, where’s he’s only connected on 29% of his shots according to barttorvik.com. He’s been on fire from everywhere else though, hitting 86.4% at the rim and an elite 53.8% from midrange. Analytics generally say the midrange is bad, but when you hit shots at that clip, is becomes a shot that destroys a defense. Dennis also boasts a 2.3 Assist to turnover ratio, and is 5th in the conference in steal percentage according to KenPom. He’s done everything a PG should do, and is giving Isaiah Stevens a run for the title of “Best PG in conference.”
7. Justin Bean: 12.4 pts, 8.1 rebs, 1.9 asts, 1.791 averaged Z-score.
Justin Bean is the first player to be mentioned that also made last year’s final list. Bean finished last season with the third best averaged z-score. This year he comes in at 7, which is still really solid. His main impact will likely always come from the boards, where he ranks 7th in defensive rebounding percentage and 3rd in offensive rebounding percentage in the conference. He is also a great finisher at the rim and a solid defender anywhere on the court. His only real weakness is shooting from the perimeter, but so far it hasn’t hurt his overall impact of efficiency much.
6. Derrick Alston: 17.9 pts, 4,3 reds, 2.4 asts, 1.807 averaged Z-score.
Alston was the preseason pick for conference player of the year, and for good reason. He flirted with the draft but decided to return for his senior season, and so far it has looked like a good decision. Through 9 games he has improved his 3 point stroke from an average 33.5% to 43.1%. Some of his counting stats are down from last year, but that is because he has teammates that can better fill those roles. A 6’9″ SG-SF is a nightmare matchup for every team in the conference, and an improved 3 point stroke will help stretch defenses and open up the lane for himself as well as teammates. His +/- of +99 (with garbage time removed) is evidence of that, and is second in the conference. He dropped a dud against Houston, but has been great since then, and if he continues to improve as he builds chemistry with teammates a Conference POY award could be in sight.
5. Neemias Queta: 11.8 pts, 8.7 rebs, 3.6 asts, 2.108 averaged Z-score.
Queta came into the conference with a lot of hype, and was a possible one and done candidate for Utah State. He had an unfortunate knee injury that slowed down his sophomore season, but by the time the tournament started he was back to his old self and played a big role in defeated the Aztecs in the championship game. He has started this season on a similar tear. He is still a defensive monster, and is currently 8th in the nation in block percentage according to KenPom. With Sam Merrill gone he’s had to add a lot of offensive responsibility, and he’s stepped up to the challenge. He boasts an impressive 2.4 Assists to Turnover ratio, which is great for a center and is better than most point guards in the conference. The best teams always have good rim protectors, and when that player can also score against single coverage and pass out of double teams they become an elite player.
4. Matt Mitchell: 14.9 pts, 4.3 rebs, 2.0 asts, 2.335 averaged Z-score.
Matt Mitchell is the on court leader of the Aztecs, and was my personal pick for preseason Conference POY. He’s a legit 3 level scorer (75% at the rim, 42.4% from midrange, 37.1% from deep according to barttorvik.com). His size at 6’6″, 235 lbs poses a matchup problem for most teams, as he can bully smaller players and use his skill to take bigger players to the perimeter. He hasn’t lived up to his billing as a playmaker, but he’s made big shots and improved his ability to draw fouls. He currently draws the 64th most fouls per 40 minutes in the nation according to KenPom. He’s also been a fantastic defender overall, coming in second in defensive DPR, third in defensive PIPM, and 7th in defensive POE.
3. Nathan Mensah: 9.6 pts, 7.6 rebs, 0.8 asts, 2.418 averaged Z-score.
Nathan Mensah was having a breakout season last year before being sidelined with a pulmonary embolism. He started slowly this year as he had a year’s worth of rust to knock off, but is improving his play and consistency. To start off slowly and still be third in the ranking shows how good Nathan’s potential is. It all starts with the defense, where Nathan ranks 9th in the nation in block percentage, and 44th in defensive rebounding percentage. He’s first in both defensive PIPM and defensive BPR. He’s only 10th in defensive POE, but he’s climbing quickly. The key for Nathan will be his aggressiveness around the hoop, as the team plays better when Nathan attacks the rim. He’s not the offensive player Queta is, but he’s arguably a better and more impactful defender.
2. David Roddy: 15.9 pts, 9.2 rebs, 2.4 asts, 2.422 averaged Z-score.
Isaiah Stevens got the preseason hype for Colorado State, but David Roddy has been the key to their success so far. Listed at 6’5″, 252 lbs, Roddy has been able to play many roles for the Rams so far. He’s the team’s leading scorer, he can run some offense as a facilitator, and he can defend anywhere on the court. Playing him as a small ball center gave the Aztecs fits in their two game series. He’s so big and physical that most players can’t guard him, even the bigger ones. He also ranks 61st in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage despite his smaller height. One of his weaknesses last season was his perimeter shooting. He connected on only 19.5% of his treys last season, but has improved to 32% early in the season. Don’t sleep on the Rams, because Roddy will lead them to a lot of wins this season.
1. Jordan Schakel: 14.6 pts, 4.2 rebs, 0.8 asts, 2.650 averaged Z-score.
The modern era of basketball revolves around shooting treys. Jordan Schakel has a solid claim for being the best shooter in the nation. He is currently shooting 45.9% from behind the 3 point arc, a feat made more impressive by the fact that he has taken more moving 3 pointers (off screens, handoffs, etc.) than stationary 3 pointers. Factoring the difficulty of those shots makes the percentage even more elite than it first appears. He is much more than a shooter though, posting the lowest 3 point rate of his career, he has added the ability to attack the basket off the dribble. This has resulted in Schakel drawing more fouls. His free throw rate has improved from 17.7% to 27.3%. It’s an important factor because Schakel is shooting 95.8% from the charity stripe. Schakel has also a true 2-way player, as he ranks in the top 5 of the defensive components of all 3 stats used. The last piece of evidence, the Aztecs have outscored their opponents by 104 points (when removing garbage time possessions), good for first in the conference.