Ranking the top Mountain West basketball players to date using analytics

Ranking the top Mountain West basketball players to date using analytics

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Ranking the top Mountain West basketball players to date using analytics


Conference season is in full swing, so it is time for the annual look at which players the analytics say have been the best this season. To that end, @aztecbreakdown has created a composite metric that combines the three best player metrics available for college basketball players.

The Metrics:

PIPM: PIPM, or Player Impact Plus-Minus, uses box score data to measure a player’s contributions to a team on a per-100 possession basis, and is adjusted for level of competition. So a score of 3 means if the player is on the floor with nine other average players, the Player’s team would outscore their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. Both offense and defense are taken into account to make the final score.

BPR: Very similar to PIPM, but uses +/- data rather than box score data. The final result is interpreted the same way as PIPM, and it also calculates impact for both offense and defense.

POE: POE is an efficiency metric that measures how many points a player accounts for relative to what an average player would’ve done with the same amount and type of shots. The points a player accounts for are both the points they score as well as the points they prevent. So a POE of 50 means over the course of a season, the player combined to score and prevent 50 more points that an average player would’ve given the same opportunities.

To get the final score, Z-Scores are taken for each metric and averaged out to make one number. The results tell us which players have been the best so far this season.

For reference, Player of the Year David Roddy finished with a score of 3.112 last season, and was the only player to finish with a score above 3. Dating back through the 2013-14 season, only 5 players have finished with a score greater than 3 in this metric. 

What is crazy about this year is that there are two players head and shoulders above everyone else, and then a big clump of players that are all really close to each other.

10. Lamont Butler, SDSU. 8.2 pts, 2 rebs, 2.9 ast. 1.314 Z-Score

Lamont Butler is in many ways the heart of the Aztecs team. He plays defense as if his life depends on it, and it’s one of the reasons the Aztecs are ranked 13th in the nation defensively. His steal percentage is second in the conference (4.6%) to another player on this list, and he’s top 6 in the defensive component of every metric we used. He can struggle with foul trouble and turnovers sometimes, which hurts his ability to help a lot offensively, but he still grades as above average in that regard. He has one of the best first steps in the conference and he uses it to get by defenders and finish at the rim. Mostly though, his ability to terrorize opposing point guards is what makes him so special.

9. Keshon Gilbert, UNLV. 12.5 pts, 3.6 rebs, 3.5 ast. 1.354 Z-Score

UNLV got off to a 10-0 start and Keshon Gilbert was a big part of that run. He scored in double figures in 9 of the 10 games, and still had 7 assists in the game he didn’t. As a freshman he was touted as a great defender, and still is, as evidenced by his 4.1% steal percentage. What sets him apart is his ability to shoot the ball. He’s hit 42% of his threes and is great at setting up teammates too. UNLV’s current slump in large part can be attributed to Gilbert cooling off. IF he finds his rhythm again the Rebels will get scary.

8.Max Shulga, Utah State. 12.3 pts, 5.3 rebs, 4.3 ast. 1.466 Z-Score

Max Shulga could be the favorite for most improved player this season. Since last season he has doubled his minutes, nearly tripled his scoring output, increased his playmaking, cut down on turnovers, and cut down on fouls. Shulga is the first player who is listed more for his offense than his defense, but he isn’t a liability on the defensive end. His offensive abilities are largely what get the rest of his teammates going, as his ability to create for himself as well as others makes him tough to stop. 

7.  Darrion Trammell, SDSU. 13.2 pts, 2.8 rebs, 3.8 ast. 1.471 Z-Score

Darrion Trammell transferred into SDSU from Seattle for this season, and he has made an immediate impact. He’s been the type of facilitator the Aztecs haven’t had for a few years, he adds another shooter to coach Dutcher’s arsenal (37.1% from three), and he’s also been great defensively. His steal percentage ranks 7th in the conference (3.5%). He came to SDSU presumably to be Robin to Matt Bradley’s Batman, but early in the season Trammell has picked up more than his fair share of slack. He’s the leading scorer on the Aztecs and leads the team in +/- as well. Perhaps most importantly, he has that dog in him. He already has multiple games where he hits a three late in the game to put the Aztecs’ lead out of reach. His clutch play is what the Aztecs missed last season, and it’s already shown up.

6. Kenan Blackshear, Nevada. 14.3 pts, 4.8 rebs, 4.9 ast. 1.482 Z-Score

Kenan Blackshear is a matchup problem in this Nevada offense. He plays the point guard at 6’6”, and that makes him hard to stop. His size lets him be very efficient on both ends of the floor, as he can score over smaller players, and swallow them with length on the defensive end. His size allows him to draw a lot of fouls as smaller players try to guard him (51st in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes), and lets him see over the defense, resulting in an assist percentage of 33.5%, good for 27th nationally. His only real weakness is shooting the ball, but defenders still can’t sag off of him because that will give him a runway to attack the rim. Nevada has quietly been one of the better teams on the Mountain West, and Blackshear has been a large part of that.


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