2016 NBA Eastern Conference nERD-Stars: Choosing All-Stars Through Advanced Analytics
Every year, it feels like people spend more time complaining about the All-Star game than actually watching it. Fans, coaches, hoops scribes, and pundits have never really been able to come to an agreement on who should make the teams, much less how they should be selected.
Some people hate the fan voting process, because it sometimes rewards popular players that wouldn't otherwise make the team based on merit, while failing to identify the best performers from a particular year properly.
Others think the coaches shouldn't have a vote, since they don't seem to take it all that seriously and the results of their voting sometimes make them appear a little disconnected from what's actually going on with the rest of the league at a given time.
Others argue that it's an exhibition game for the fans and none of that really matters, yadda, yadda, yadda, and so on.
Right around this time every year, countless print and digital ink is spilled on the hottest takes about the most egregious snubs, the selection process, and whether or not any of it even matters (it kind of does, but not really?). It has become our annual tradition to offer our two cents in the form of our Eastern and Western Conference nERD-Star teams, selected entirely using our all-encompassing advanced metric, nERD.
If you're unfamiliar, nERD measures the total contribution of an individual throughout the course of a season, based on his efficiency. Comparable to Win Shares, this ranking gives an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win over an 82-game season with said player as one of its starters.
For example, Stephen Curry is posting a 27.7 rating this year. If he played on a team with four league-average players, you would expect that team to finish roughly 28 games over .500 (55-27) based on his play from this season.
We might never see a time when analytics is universally accepted and celebrated enough to be used to select All-Star teams. Even if we do, no one will ever be able to agree on which metric to use. It sure is fun to dream though, isn't it?
Here is this year's Eastern Conference nERD-Star Team. When you're done, check out the Western Conference squad.
Eastern Conference nERD-Stars
|Starting Guard||Kyle Lowry||TOR||13.8|
|Starting Guard||Jimmy Butler||CHI||13.6|
|Starting Frontcourt||LeBron James||CLE||13.2|
|Starting Frontcourt||Paul Millsap||ATL||12.1|
|Starting Frontcourt||Chris Bosh||MIA||11.4|
|Bench Guard||Isaiah Thomas||BOS||9.2|
|Bench Guard||DeMar DeRozan||TOR||8.5|
|Bench Frontcourt||*Hassan Whiteside||MIA||8.3|
|Bench Frontcourt||*Jae Crowder||BOS||7.9|
|Bench Frontcourt||*Kevin Love||CLE||7.1|
|Bench Wild Card||*Tristan Thompson||CLE||7.0|
|Bench Wild Card||*Al Horford||ATL||6.5|
* Denotes a player who qualifies as a "nERD-Star" but didn't make the actual NBA All-Star Team.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Lowry is our Eastern Conference leader in nERD (fifth overall) and completely deserves the starting All-Star spot that the fans bestowed upon him. He's putting up career numbers across the board, averaging 21.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 2.2 steals per contest, while shooting a career best 58.1% True Shooting Percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws). He's top five in many advanced stat categories, including Win Shares (7.6, fifth), Box Plus/Minus (7.8, fifth), and Value Over Replacement Player (4.2, third). Do people still think that the Raptors don't have a legitimate star?
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Jimmy Buckets was selected by the coaches as a reserve this year, but according to our metrics, he deserved a starting nod. Butler is following up a season in which he won the Most Improved Player award with an even better campaign, leading the Bulls in scoring with 22.4 points per contest, while averaging 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.7 blocks, and shooting 45.5% from the field, 32.5% from deep, and 83.6% from the line. He's leading the NBA in minutes per game (38.1), while also coming in 7th in Win Shares (7.3) and 10th in Value Over Replacement Player (3.0).
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron is the kind of All-Star that coaches, fans, and analytics can all agree on. It just seems like par for the course at this point in his career, but James is still putting up a monster stat line, averaging 24.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game, while shooting 50.7% from the field (his best mark ever as a Cavalier). With all the focus shifting to up-and-coming superstars like Stephen Curry, LeBron is quietly fifth in the NBA in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.232), fourth in Box Plus/Minus (8.4), and fourth in Value Over Replacement Player (4.0).
Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
Millsap is arguably one of the most underrated players in the Association. He rarely gets brought up in any "best player" conversations, but the coaches still selected him for his third consecutive All-Star appearance for what has been the best campaign of his career-to-date (although we'd go a step further and name him a starter). His averages of 18.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game all represent career highs, as does his 58.1% True Shooting Percentage. An effective scorer and rebounder, Millsap has also become a defensive force, coming in ninth in the league in Defensive Rating (98.2) and fourth in Defensive Win Shares (2.9), while joining Andre Drummond as one of only two players to rank in the top-20 in the NBA in both steals and blocks per game this season.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
The coaches named Bosh to his 11th-consecutive All-Star team as a reserve, but our metrics would name him a starter. Bosh has held down the fort in a post-LeBron Miami admirably, averaging 19.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game this season, while shooting 47.6% from the field, 37.2% from long range, and 79.6% from the charity stripe. He's quietly having one of his most all-around efficient seasons ever as well, with his Win Shares Per 48 Minutes mark of .197 representing the second-best mark of his career (behind 2007-08's .200). He's a beacon of consistency and a staple on Eastern Conference All-Star Teams, so it's no surprise to see him named to our team as well.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
IT2 has said in the past that he wants to be the best little guy to ever play the game (more specifically under 6'0"), and his first All-Star selection is a good step in that direction. After bouncing around Sacramento and Phoenix, mostly as a reserve, Thomas has found a home as the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics. In the first year of his new role, he's leading the Celtics in scoring (21.6 points) and assists (6.6 per contest), while adding 3.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game, and shooting 42.4% from the field, 34.7% from three-point range, and 89.2% from the line. At 5'9", he'll share the honor of shortest player ever named to an All-Star team with Calvin Murphy, and that's no small feat.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
This year marks DeRozan's second All-Star selection, and he's certainly done everything in his power to earn it. He's putting up career-best numbers, averaging 23.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.0 steal per game, while shooting 44.3% from the field, 32.2% from long range, and 84.5% from the free throw line. He's traded in his mid-range game for one predicated on driving (he leads the league in points scored via drive per contest at 8.6) and getting to the free throw line (he's third in the NBA in free throw attempts per game at 8.1). Again, who says the Raptors don't have star power?
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
This is the first place where our nERD-Star selections differentiate from the actual All-Star teams (and that's the case for this and the next four blurbs). Whiteside is still considered a somewhat raw basketball player, but our metrics are in love with his stat line and don't really care if he doesn't have the same star appeal as some of the guys that actually made the team over him. He's averaging 12.3 points and 11.2 rebounds per contest, shooting 61.3% from the field, and leading the league in blocks per game at 3.9 (a full 1.5 blocks more than the next closest competitor). Should a guy that leads the league in blocks per game, is fifth in rebounds per game, and second in field goal percentage be an All-Star? We sure think so.
Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics
There probably aren't many people who had Crowder on their radar as a potential All-Star this season, but his numbers urge you to reconsider his snub status. He's averaging career highs across the board in minutes (32.4) points (14.4), rebounds (5.1), assists (1.9), steals (1.8), blocks (0.6), and three-pointers made (1.7), while posting a career-best True Shooting Percentage of 57.6%. There's nothing in that line that screams All-Star, but he's subtly 18th in the NBA in Win Shares at 5.1, largely because of his 12th-ranked 2.5 Defensive Win Shares.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
It seems like talk of the Cavaliers trading Kevin Love will never completely die down, but while people are questioning his fit in Cleveland, he's quietly putting up a nERD-Star-worthy season. His averages of 15.7 points, 2.0 made threes, 10.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steal, and 0.5 blocks per contest are certainly nothing to balk at, even if he's not putting up quite as many 20 and 15 games as he used to in Minnesota. He might never be named an All-Star while playing in Cleveland in the shadow of LeBron, but his contributions shouldn't be so completely overlooked when considering the best frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference.
Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
Ok, this one might get our whole "let's use analytics to select All-Star teams" idea thrown out entirely, but hear me out. Thompson may only be averaging 7.8 points and 9.3 rebounds in 27.4 minutes per contest, but his 56.4% shooting percentage and seventh-ranked 13.6% Offensive Rebound Percentage contribute to his currently ranking third in the Association in Offensive Rating at 125.3. He might not be putting up huge numbers on the surface, but his .178 rate of Win Shares Per 48 Minutes and 7.0 nERD rank him among the best in the game, so his per-minute impact shouldn't be entirely ignored.
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Horford has been named to three All-Star teams in his career but missed the cut this season. Simply put, his game is too subtle to be properly appreciated. He doesn't destroy box scores, but his all-around contributions are certainly worthy of a nERD-Star selection. His line of 15.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.5 blocks, 50.1% shooting from the field, and 76.3% from the line is practically identical to what got him to the mid-season classic last year, and he's thrown in nearly a made three per game (0.9) at 31.7% to boot. We reward that subtle growth to an already strong game by making him our final wild card selection.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers
For five players to make our Eastern Conference nERD-Stars who weren't on the actual All-Star team, there had to be a handful of snubs. The most notable is almost certainly Paul George, who is actually set to start for the East squad this year. His monster line of 23.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.9 steals per game makes us look a little silly for not including him, but the 41.2% shooting from the field on 18.1 shots, coupled with 3.7 turnovers per game are a major drain on his advanced stats.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Drummond almost certainly deserves his first All-Star selection, especially when you consider the fact that he's averaging 17.3 points per game, leading the league in rebounding with a whopping 15.2 per contest, and averaging 1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks to boot. The reason he doesn't score so well in most advanced metrics, however, is because he leaves so many points at the line. Shooting a putrid 35.5% from the line on 7.8 attempts per contest isn't exactly going to endear you to many advanced metrics.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Eastern Conference starter Carmelo Anthony is an All-Star staple (this is his 11th selection, 8th as a starter), but he doesn't really cut it when it comes to nERD. The averages of 21.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game certainly look like the line of an All-Star, but the 43.3% shooting from the field on 17.6 attempts, 2.5 turnovers, and brutal Defensive Rating of 107 hold him down here.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Wade was voted in as a starter to the actual All-Star Game by the fans, but his negative nERD rating keeps him far away from our team. His 18.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.0 steal, and 0.5 blocks per contest are great, but his 2.6 turnovers per game and career-low 46.5% Effective Field Goal Percentage (weighted twos and threes) make him decidedly un-nERDy.
John Wall, Washington Wizards
Wall's 19.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 9.8 assists, and 2.1 steals per game have earned him a ticket to Toronto, but the 42.6% shooting from the field on 17.1 attempts and whopping 4.3 turnovers per contest have given him the lowest nERD of anyone named to the actual Eastern Conference All-Star Team this year.