Using Advanced analytics to cut through the smoke
Non conference season is coming to a close. Teams are taking breaks for the holidays, and then returning to play games in conference. This means we’ve played enough ball to cut through the smoke and see clearly who has been performing at high levels.
The past few seasons I have looked at who were the best players in the conference, using a combination of advanced analytics. This entry marks the first installment for the 2021-22 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 that primarily takes it’s measurements from box score stats. 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 Hunter Maldonado 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 primarily by measuring offensive and defensive ratings while a player is on the floor. It is an impact stat in the vein of PIPM, but uses different inputs to estimate the impact a player has. 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.
Combining the different methodologies of who helps their team when they’re on the floor, who looks good in the box score, and who is efficient should give us a pretty good feel for who has perfromed well this season, as these metrics will help cover up each other’s weaknesses.
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, with zero considered to be 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, Jordan Schakel led the league with a score of 2.777, and Neemias Queta came in second with a score of 2.694. Bryce Hamilton was considered pretty average with a Z-Score of 0.074.
With the boring explanation out of the way, lets look at the results.
First though, a couple superlatives.
Who’s carried the heaviest offensive burden so far?
When taking into account scoring, spacing, and shot creation (for self and others) using the offensive load metric, Grant Scherfield is responsible for 51.10% of Nevada’s offense when he is on the court. It is not terribly surprising given how good Sherfield is at everything on the court. Sherfield has been a huge part of Nevada’s turnaround, scoring no less than 23 points in each of the last five games. As long as Sherfield is around, he will have the keys to the offense. Bryce Hamilton comes in at second, carrying 47.38% of UNLV’s offense, and Graham Ike comes in third at 45.11%.
Who creates the most shots for their teammates so far?
No surprise here, Grant Sherfield has been the ultimate facilitator in the conference so far according to the Box Creation metric. He is creating 12.25 open shots for teammates per 100 possessions. Omari Moore comes in 2nd with 11.36 open shots created per 100 possessions. Isaiah Stevens comes in third with 9.63.
Here are your top 10 players so far:
*Stats accurate through 12/21/21
10. John Tonje: 12 pts, 3.4 rebs, 1 Ast, 1.252 averaged Z-score.
John Tonje makes the list due mostly to his otherwordly efficiency so far this season. He is currently 2nd in the nation in true shooting percentage. He is connecting on 58.6% of his shots from behind the arc, good for 6th in the nation among players with at least 25 attempts. He is flourishing in Colorado State’s offense. This level of efficiency is likely unsustainable, but he has started out on fire and the Rams should ride that wave as long as they can.
9. Hunter Maldonado: 16.8 pts, 5.4 rebs, 5.2 Asts, 1.347 averaged Z-score.
Hunter Maldonado took a back seat to freshman phenom Marcus Williams last season, but this season he has once again been given the keys to the offense, and Wyoming has looked great because of it. At 6’7″ Maldonado has point guard skills, letting him attack the basket and pass to open teammates after breaking down the defense. He has been remarkably efficient this season as well. Consider that dating back to the 09-10 season, the best POE score is 5.560, held by Jimmer Fredette in 2011 when he won National Player of the Year. Maldonado’s current POE is 5.586, meaning if he holds that score until the end of the season he’ll set the record. It speaks to a level of balance he has on the floor, being able to score as well as prevent points with ease. Add in his versatility in terms of passing and rebounding, and you get a player that has led Wyoming to a great start and is looking to end his college career with a bang.
8. Trey Pulliam: 11.3 pts, 3.2 rebs, 3.6 asts, 1.410 averaged Z-score.
San Diego State has gotten off to a rough start this season, not quite living up to their lofty expectations. Trey Pulliam has not been the issue however. He is the team’s best ball handler, has been a solid perimeter shooter, initiates and organizes the offense, and has been a great point of attack defender as well. He hasn’t been as efficient a player as the previous players mentioned, but his impact has been magnified by the absence of Lamont Butler. Pulliam has been forced to play at least 36 minutes a game since Butler went down with injury, as the Aztecs do not have another true ball handler on the roster. Pulliam has stepped up and continued to play well despite the heavy workload, and was instumental in getting the Aztecs a quality win against St. Mary’s.
7. Abu Kigab: 14.5 pts, 6.9 rebs, 2.0 asts, 1.448 averaged Z-score.
Abu Kigab ended last season with an injury, but has been great since returning. He leads the Broncos in points per game, is second on the team in rebounds, and leads the team in steals. He has been good on both sides of the floor, having a positive impact both offensively and defensively. He presents matchup problems all over the court with his size and athleticism. Boise State’s tournament hopes were crushed when they took a bad loss against Cal St. Bakersfield, but if they want to make a run in the conference tournament, Kigab will be a vital part of their gameplan.
6. Tyson Degenhart: 8.7 pts, 2.8 rebs, 0.7 asts, 1.455 averaged Z-score.
Tyson Degenhart just barely beats out teammate Abu Kigab for the 6th spot. The main reason the Freshman beats out Kigab is better efficiency. Degenhart is currently 10th in the conference in POE, being effient both offensively and defensively. Shooting 44.8% from behind the arc really helps in that regard. His efficiency may waver as the season progresses, but Degenhart’s impact, which is already 9th in PIPM and 21st in BPR, should improve as he learns the college game. Leon Rice and staff have shown the ability to develop players over the years, and Degenhart looks poised to be the next great Boise St. Player, following in the footsteps of Derrick Alston Jr. and Chandler Hutchison.
5. Grant Sherfield: 20 pts, 4.8 rebs, 6.5 asts, 1.524 averaged Z-score.
Sherfield has been on fire since AJ Bramah left the team. He is currently second in the conference in both points per game and assists per game. HE has also been efficient, currently he’s 8th in the conference in effective field goal percentage, and 9th in POE. Sherfield has been an offense all by himself, scoring in bunches, creating shots for himself and others. If Sherfield gets hot, anything is possible.
What has held him back has been defense. All three metrics have Sherfield as an average or worse defender. His greatest defensive asset was how disruptive he was, but he hasn’t been getting the steals this season. The lack of defense can be forgiven with how stellar he has been offensively, but he’ll need to improve it in order to move up the list.
4. Orlando Robinson: 18.2 pts, 8.2 rebs, 2.7 asts, 1.730 averaged Z-score.
Orlando Robinson flirted with the draft this past offseason, but decided to return for his junior year at Fresno St. Early on it seems like a good decision. If his numbers hold, the 7’0″ center will set career highs in points per game, assists per game, steals per game, and blocks per game. He continues to be a threat both inside and outside, and his defense continues to improve. Fresno St. has had a good start to the season, and it all begins with Robinson. With him playing well the Bulldogs will have a chance to make some noise in conference play.
3. Isaiah Stevens: 14.1 pts, 3.1 rebs, 7.3 asts, 1.836 averaged Z-score.
Isaiah Stevens is currently the best point guard in the conference. An argument can be made for Sherfield, it’s hard to argue with twenty points and six assists. Stevens has been better though, he just does not need to put up absurd numbers because he has more help. His efficiency has been down compared to his career, but despite that he is still 14th in the conferecne in POE. Where he really stands out is in BPR, where he’s third in the conference, showing that the Rams do really well when he is on the floor. Rams fans should expect some mean regression in terms of his shooting numbers as well, meaning he’ll hit more shots in the future, which is a scary thought for the conference. The Rams have been far and away the best team in the conference so far, and it is largely (but not solely) due to Stevens’ abilities.
2. David Roddy: 20.5 pts, 7.7 rebs, 2.4 asts, 2.722 averaged Z-score.
David Roddy is the early favorite for conference player of the year, and why shouldn’t he be? He was already being considered for it last season, and has gotten even better this year. In nerd speak, he’s reached his final form. He’s always been a matchup problem due to his strength and physicality. He’s able to matchup agaisnt opposing centers and overwhelm players much bigger than he is with his style of play. The difference this season is that he has added a 3-point shot to his arsenal, connecting on 46.9% of his shots from deep so far. He has addressed his one true weakness and made it a strength. Even if there is a player in the conference who is strong enough to stop him (unlikely) he can just take that player to the perimeter and hit shots over them. He is scoring with a level of efficiency the conference hasn’t seen ever. That is including the year of Jimmer-mania. Jimmer Fredette has the highest CPOE (offensive component of POE) in the conference at 5.771. Meaning Jimmer scored about 5.8 points more per game than an average player would have had they taken the same shots. Roddy’s CPOE is currently at 6.015. No one, including the 2011 National Player of the Year, has scored with the efficiency that Roddy is currently at over a full season. Between Roddy and Stevens, the Rams have a fantastic 1-2 punch, and are set to make some noise come March Madness.
1. Justin Bean: 19.9 pts, 10.5 rebs, 2.5 asts, 3.137 averaged Z-score.
If you’ve read previous iterations of this article, or know a little about how Z-Scores work, you know it is HARD to get a Z-Score above 3. The only player to do it over the last two years was 2nd team All-American Malachi Flynn. Justin Bean is currently in that company. He is first in both impact metrics, by hefty margins in each of them, and 6th in POE. Similar to Roddy, this is probably Bean’s ceiling. Without Neemias Queta hogging all the rebounds, Justin Bean is averaging a double-double. More impressively, he is thriving under a new coach as the number one option for the Aggies. He has grown from a walk-on who brought a lot of energy and hustle into a very skilled player, capable of hitting shots all over the floor while simultaneously guarding the opponent’s best player. His effective field goal percentage is currently ranked 3rd in the nation, boosted by his 58.6% clip from deep. That is not a sustainable number, but similar to Roddy, his biggest weakness was the lack of a perimeter shot. He seems to have solved that deficiency though, and Utah St. is exceeding expectations because of it. Utah State’s loss to UC Davis at home may be too much to overcome to recieve an at large bid, but with Bean leading the way, a fourth consecutive trip to the conference championship game would not be surprising at all.