Photo by Iain Lees [CC-BY-SA-2.0],
I'll explain the approach below, but let's begin with what you came here to see. Listed below are the top 25 NBA players based on their 2011 Win Shares multiplied by their PER. It's a simple metric that has its flaws, but to reach the top you need to be both statistically competent and help produce wins. This is a combination we want from our stars, so it seems a good place to begin the discussion of who ESPN is over and underrating. I've also noted each player's TBCB and ESPN ranking. Note that a positive difference between these two rankings represents an underrated player, and a negative difference represents an overrated player.
TBCB Top 25
A few observations can be made immediately. But before we begin, a few caveats. First, I'm among those who believe that stats can't be judged in isolation. Nothing beats watching the games with a trained eye, but the stats give us important information that we can use for making informed judgments. Since I didn't watch every game last season, I'm sticking with the numbers, but I recognize that they're only indicators. Second, the TBCB rankings reflect the 2011-12 season, which due to the lockout favored young players and teams, while the ESPN rankings also incorporate expectations for the upcoming season based on off-season changes. Again, the TBCB Rank is a starting point for discussion, and not expected to settle any arguments. Finally, I'm no statistics expert, but I recognize that every statistic and advanced statistic has its limitations, and combining certain statistics can result in strange results that overemphasize or deemphasize important information. However, wWith that said, let's get on with the good stuff.
The most immediate surprise in the above chart is Ryan Anderson. Settle down Hornets fans. I don't actually believe that Anderson is a top 10 player, but I do think he's a lot better than he's typically perceived. Last season, his efficiency rating of 21.2 placed him 29th overall. He was also 9th overall in Win Shares, one spot behind Joakim Noah and just ahead of the Gasol brothers. Another big surprise is the absence of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. Where are they? Kobe is ranked 28th overall and Nash is 37th. And Nash might be breaking down. Uh oh.
[public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Kobe Bryant clocks in as the most overrated player in the TBCB Top 50, followed by Derrick Rose, Many Ginobili, Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Rudy Gay. Each of these men were ranked at least ten spots higher by ESPN than by TBCB. Look, these guys are all great players. Half of them might even be Hall of Famers. However, their output last year isn't consistent with ESPN's rank this year. Maybe the gap was due to injuries, but if a guy is considered a great player but is often inconsistent and limited by injuries, is he really great anymore? This is one reason why I really enjoyed Aaron McGuire's analysis of the standard deviation of Steve Nash's Game Score. If we had this data for all players, we could have really great debates about whether it's better to be consistently good or inconsistently great.
My favorite part of this analysis is identifying guys who might be overlooked. In this case, the most underrated players by ESPN are Thad Young, Lou Williams, Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand, Ryan Anderson, Ersan Ilyasova, Marcin Gortat, and Paul Millsap. Are there any of these guys that you wouldn't want on your favorite team? Not me. My favorite of the bunch is Elton Brand, who I hope to see have a comeback year with the Mavericks. Although based on last year's numbers, it wouldn't really be a comeback year, would it? James Harden is also an underrated player appearing in our top 10. While not as underrated as Anderson, he definitely seems to deserve a max or near-max deal after this season.
The Top 50
Much more could be written about this, but my self imposed time limit for this post has passed. I've listed all the key details for the top 50 players below, so feel free to review, critique, debate, and discuss in the comments or on Twitter.
TBCB Top 50