2010-11 NBA Efficiency Per Game Leaders

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love drives against Dallas Mavericks forward Brian Cardinal (L) during the first half of their NBA basketball game in the Target Center in Minneapolis, March 7, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Miller (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

While we muddle through another lockout, it’s not a bad time to take a look back at the top performers at each position in terms of Efficiency Per Game (EPG) and Efficiency Per Minute (EPM). Here are the top 10 in EPG at each position; only players who played 41+ games qualify.

The point guard list looks pretty solid; Ray Felton chimes in at #10 after a strong start with the Knicks…Westbrook’s efficiency stats look great because he’s really an off guard who is playing point guard. It’s important to consider assists and turnovers when evaluating point guards…John Wall makes the list in his rookie season — not bad considering how tough it is to learn to play the position in the NBA…At SG, it’s interesting to note how thin the position is these days — just look at Stephen Jackson making the list with 15.0 EPG and a very mediocre EPM…Andre Iguodala is very solid all-around off guard and these numbers don’t even reflect how good of a defender he is.

No surprise at 1/2 with LeBron James and Kevin Durant at small forward…No surprises really until #9 and #10 with Dorell Wright (who had a nice season for a bad Warriors team) and Wilson Chandler (whose numbers were boosted by his start with the Knicks)…Considering the Bobcats pretty much gave him away, Gerald Wallace comes in strong at #6…The power forward list is solid with Kevin Love surprisingly dominating both categories. In fact, he had the highest EPM in the league, which makes the fact that he came off the bench earlier in his career all the more unbelievable…How good can Blake Griffin be?

Howard dominates the position but still can’t shoot free throws or convert in the post in crunch time…This list is a good snapshot of the position…The Nuggets need to re-sign Nene Hilario to stabilize the frontcourt and build on the team’s good play at the end of last season. He is a quality big man when healthy…Andrew Bynum’s EPM is the third-highest at his position, but the big question with him are those knees…Andrew Bogut posted the 5th-best EPG despite dealing with a recovering elbow.

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What kind of point guard is he?

The Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose shoots a free throw while playing the San Antonio Spurs during the fourth quarter of their NBA game in Chicago February 17, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

We hear it all the time. NBA analysts call one point guard “pass-first” and another “shoot-first.” Or they say one guy is “turnover-prone” while another “takes care of the ball.” But really, what makes a player a “pass-first” point guard? How carefree must he be with the ball to be considered “turnover-prone”?

I first tackled this subject two years ago, and settled on the shot-to-assist ratio to determine whether a player is “pass-first” or “shoot-first.” The higher the number, the more of a “shoot-first” player he is. To determine whether or not a player is “turnover-prone,” I calculated each player’s assist-to-turnover ratio. The higher the number, the better the player is at taking care of the ball.

I narrowed the list of players to 33, one for each team plus a few extra for teams like Cleveland, Sacramento and Denver, who have a couple of players manning the position. I also added eight prospects (indicated in green) just to see where a few of the younger guys land. Here’s the graph — it’s small, but if you click it, you’ll get to a bigger version:

So the pass-first/shoot-first aspect goes left to right, and the turnover-prone players will be towards the bottom, while the guys that take really good care of the ball will be up top. Players indicated with a blue diamond are in the Top 10 in this group in Efficiency Per Minute. I set the axis for each category at the average of the 33 players in question, so 1.97 for FGA-to-assist and 2.70 assist-to-turnover.

Two years ago when I conducted this study, seven of the top 10 EPM performers were in the top left quadrant (pass-first, takes care of the ball). This year, only five of the top 11 (I included both Rondo and Calderon, since they tied for #11) are in that quadrant. This is due to the emergence of three shoot-first, (fairly) turnover-prone guards who are emerging as stars: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry.

A few takeaways:

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Does Rudy Fernandez deserve to start?

Mar. 28, 2010 - Oklahoma City, OKLAHOMA, UNITED STATES - epa02097227 Portland Trail Blazers player Rudy Fernandez from Spain during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half of the game at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, 28 March 2010.

I keep hearing that Rudy Fernandez is unhappy with the amount of playing time he has been getting in Portland, and that he’s angling for a trade to a team where he’ll have an opportunity to play more minutes.

Fine. But does he deserve to play more minutes?

In 2008-09, he averaged 25.5 minutes per game. In 2009-10, that number fell to 23.2. In order to determine if Fernandez should get starter’s minutes (which I define as around 28 min per game), I parsed out those games where he played 28+ minutes to see if he played any better with that much run. Here’s what I found:

Obviously, his numbers are going to go up the more minutes he plays, so the key numbers to look at are his shooting percentages and his Efficiency Per Minute (EPM), which provides a good overview of what Fernandez brings to the table statistically on a per minute basis. He does play about 8% better (in terms of per minute stats) when he gets 28+ minutes per game. But that’s to be expected, assuming a player is in good physical shape and can play extra minutes. The more minutes you play the more comfortable you are, and the more comfortable you are, the better you’ll play.

However, his EPM of .400 in starter’s minutes is not particularly good. There are 53 shooting guards and small forwards that averaged 28+ minutes per game this season, and the group’s average EPM was .458. Fernandez would rank #38 (or in the 30th percentile) if he were included in this group, just ahead of guys like O.J. Mayo, Richard Jefferson, Rip Hamilton, Marvin Williams, Ryan Gomes and Eric Gordon.

Looking only at shooting guards, Fernandez’s performance in 28+ minutes would trail John Salmons (.401), Ray Allen (.426), Jason Terry (.431) and Anthony Morrow (.432).

Moreover, he ranks ahead of several players — Ronnie Brewer, Courtney Lee, Ron Artest and Thabo Sefolosha — who are known more for their defense than anything they produce offensively or statistically. Fernandez’s defense is considered to be mediocre at best.

So to answer the question posed in the title of this post — no, he does not deserve to start, at least not for a playoff team. Virtually everyone who ranks below him in EPM plays for a lottery team or is known more for their defense than their offense.

He may very well get his wish and find a new home, but the chances of him finding a situation where he’s going to get starter’s minutes on a playoff-caliber team certainly seem slim.

His coach, Nate McMillan, sums it up pretty well:

“The thing about it, anybody in the league can use him,” McMillan said. “He’s a good player. He’s a rotational player. For some teams, he’s going to be able to start. For some teams, he’s going to have to come off the bench. If he goes to Boston, he’s probably coming off the bench behind one of those guys, Ray Allen or Paul Pierce. So it just depends on where he goes as far as his role and how he would play. But his talent, there are a lot of teams that can use him and take advantage of what he does. But we’ll see what happens.”

Using EPM to judge the 2010 All-Star picks

For an explanation of Efficiency Per Minute, click here.

Over the past few weeks, I have been listing the top EPM players at each position and discussing a few of the surprises. I decided to take the next step and plot EPM versus minutes per game, figuring that the results might shed some light on who is playing the best basketball this season. After all, if you’re playing big minutes at a high level, you’re one of the best players in the league.

Below are five charts that show the EPM and MPG of the top 30 players (in terms of total minutes played) at each position. The higher the EPM, the better. The players in red were All-Stars this season.

Click on the chart for a larger view.

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Efficiency Per Minute: Centers

For an overview of this statistic (and the point guard numbers), click here. I ran the numbers for centers, and here are the top 10 in EPM:

Tim Duncan (0.781)
Dwight Howard (0.730)
David Lee (0.720)
Andrew Bogut (0.665)
Marcus Camby (0.644)
Nazr Mohammed (0.625)
Joakim Noah (0.620)
Samuel Dalembert (0.619)
Andrew Bynum (0.616)
Brook Lopez (0.616)

Next 5: Jefferson, M. Gasol, Shaq, Horford, Nene

Mohammed is the only player in the top 15 playing less than 20 minutes per game. He’s averaging 8-5 and almost a block per game in 17.1 minutes…Andrew Bogut is having something of a breakthrough year, averaging 16-10 with 2.3 blocks per game…Who are the bottom five Cs playing more than 25 minutes per game? 1. Ben Wallace, 2. Channing Frye, 3. Mehmet Okur, 4. Spencer Hawes and 5. Andrea Bargnani.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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