2016 NBA Western 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 Western Conference nERD-Star Team. When you're done, check out the Eastern Conference squad.
Western Conference nERD-Stars
|Starting Guard||Stephen Curry||GS||27.7|
|Starting Guard||Russell Westbrook||OKC||15.9|
|Starting Frontcourt||Kawhi Leonard||SA||21.3|
|Starting Frontcourt||Kevin Durant||OKC||19.9|
|Starting Frontcourt||*DeAndre Jordan||LAC||12.4|
|Bench Guard||Chris Paul||LAC||10.1|
|Bench Guard||James Harden||HOU||9.6|
|Bench Frontcourt||Draymond Green||GS||11.3|
|Bench Frontcourt||*Enes Kanter||OKC||8.3|
|Bench Frontcourt||*Danilo Gallinari||DEN||8.2|
|Bench Wild Card||*Tony Parker||SA||8.5|
|Bench Wild Card||LaMarcus Aldridge||SA||7.8|
* Denotes a player who qualifies as a "nERD-Star" but didn't make the actual NBA All-Star Team.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
If there's anyone fans, coaches, scribes, pundits, and analytics can all agree on for this year's All-Star game, it's Wardell Stephen Curry II. Curry leads the entire association in -- deep breath -- scoring (29.9), threes made per game (4.8), nERD (27.7), Player Efficiency Rating (32.8), Win Shares (10.9), Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.354), Box Plus/Minus (13.0), and Value Over Replacement Player (5.6). Besides the scoring, he also averages 5.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 2.2 steals per contest, while making a bid for the exclusive 50/40/90 club with a shooting split of 51.1% from the field, 45.5% from long range, and 91.4% from the free throw line. He is the definition of an All-Star, any way you slice it.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook is a box score destroyer, averaging 24.1 points (seventh in the NBA), 7.3 rebounds (first among guards), 9.8 assists (second in the league), 2.4 steals (first), and 0.3 blocks per game, all while posting the best True Shooting Percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws) of his career at 55.1%. He's long been in the shadow of a certain lanky teammate (to be detailed shortly), but Westbrook's ranking second in Player Efficiency Rating (28.8), third in Win Shares (8.7), fourth in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.256), second in Box Plus/Minus (10.2), and second in Value Over Replacement Player (5.0) this season should have you considering him said teammate's equal (at a minimum).
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi is in the running for half the major awards this season (MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player), and he's second in the league in our nERD metric at 21.3. He's the only player in the Association who ranks in the top-10 in Offensive Rating (122.3, seventh) and Defensive Rating (93.0, second), making him arguably the best two-way player in the game today. His averages of 19.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game are easily the best numbers of his career, and he's posting that all while trying to be the first member of the 50/50/90 club, with a shooting split of 50.6% from the field, a league-leading 48.8% from deep, and 88.0% from the charity stripe. He's second in the NBA in Win Shares (8.8), second in Win Shares Per 48 (.294), fifth in Player Efficiency Rating (25.7), third in Box Plus/Minus (8.7), and fifth in Value Over Replacement Player (3.9). All the talk of "waiting for his breakthrough" is long, long forgotten.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Durant has had a nice bounceback campaign after an injury-riddled season that saw him miss all but 27 games in 2014-15. While many were worried that his foot surgery would cause him to lose a step, his numbers are right back to being otherworldly this season, just as they were prior to the injury. His averages of 27.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.0 steal, and 1.2 blocks are monstrous, and he's doing that while joining Curry and Leonard with a 50/40/90 bid of his own, shooting 50.5% from the field, 38.7% from deep, and 88.5% from the free throw line. He joins teammate Russell Westbrook on all the advanced stat leaderboards, currently ranking third in Player Efficiency Rating (28.2), fourth in Win Shares (8.5), and third in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.278).
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
The four previously mentioned nERD-Star starters are a perfect match with the actual Western Conference All-Star Team's starting five, but this one's completely different. DeAndre Jordan has never been named an actual All-Star, but this is his third consecutive nERD-Star selection and second straight year as a Western Conference Starter. Our metric just loves the big guy, despite his awful 42.0% mark from the free throw line on 7.8 attempts per game. His league-leading 71.2% shooting mark from the field (first in the Association for the fourth straight season) acts as kind of a counterbalance, while the 11.9 points, 13.6 rebounds (second in the league), and 2.2 blocks per contest (third) certainly don't hurt either.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul is consistency incarnate. His line of 18.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 9.6 assists, and 2.1 steals per game is almost identical to his career averages, while his shooting split of 45.3% from the field, 38.5% from long range, and 88.2% from the line continues to get the job done. He's been carrying the Clippers all season, while ranking sixth in Player Efficiency Rating (24.7) and in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.221). He's a lock to make any All-Star or nERD-Star team any season in which he's healthy and playing.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden isn't quite living up to his near-MVP performance from last season this year, but his numbers are still flat out bonkers. He's currently averaging 27.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game, while shooting 42.5% from the field, 34.2% from three, and 86.9% from the stripe. The shooting efficiency is down, and the Defensive Rating which he got all the way down to 103 last year has ballooned back to 109 this season (a career-worst). He might not be in the MVP running this time around, but he was still a shoo-in for the All-Star team and our squad alike.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Draymond was named to his first All-Star team this year, and we completely agree with the selection. He's having a career year, averaging 14.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game, while shooting 47.5% from the field, 41.4% from long range, and 68.3% from the line. His True Shooting Percentage of 57.6% is a career-best, as his is 20.1 Player Efficiency Rating. He, like Kawhi Leonard, is getting it done at a high level on the other end of the floor too, currently ranking sixth in Defensive Win Shares (2.8) and third in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (3.6).
Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder
Yeah, we know, this one is weird. If you want an explanation as to why Kanter is such an advanced stat anomaly and shows up so high in our rankings, look no further. In the meantime, just try to appreciate the fact that the dude averages 20.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per 36 minutes, while shooting 55.4% from the field and 78.3% from the free throw line. All that's pretty impressive, regardless of his glaring deficiencies on defense.
Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
Gallo didn't receive much love as a potential All-Star this year, but maybe he should have. He's averaging 19.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game, while shooting 41.1% from the field, 36.7% from three-point range, and 87.3% from the free throw line. That's not exactly the most efficient-looking stat line, but the raw numbers at least resemble those of an All-Star. The Nuggets being a losing team certainly didn't help his case in real life, but nERD is free of those biases.
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
Parker is a six-time All-Star and probably deserved some consideration this year for the renaissance season he's putting up. He's only averaging 12.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.2 blocks in 26.8 minutes per game, but his shooting split of 52.4% from the field, 42.9% from deep, and 76.3% from the stripe is arguably the best of his career. To wit, his 54.2% Effective Field Goal Percentage (weighted twos and threes) is the second-best mark he's ever registered, only barely trailing his 55.3% from way back in 2005-06. He's even currently leading all guards/wings in field goal percentage.
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
Aldridge's numbers are way down from what they were when he played for the Trail Blazers, but he was still named to his fifth All-Star Game this year, his first with the Spurs. His averages of 15.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks per contest don't really compare to his several 20-and-10 years, but they are still noteworthy, particularly because of his shooting split of 48.8% from the field and 81.1% from the line.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Thompson was named as an All-Star reserve for the second consecutive year, but missed out on making his second straight nERD-Stars appearance. His averages of 20.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game are all slightly down from last year, despite his playing more minutes (most likely due to the further emergence of Draymond Green). His True Shooting Percentage of 59.7% this year is almost identical to last season's 59.1%, so a large part of his omission from our team is likely just a product of other Western Conference players (Durant, Westbrook, Kawhi, Green) taking sizable leaps from this time last year.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Last year, Brow was a starter for our Western Conference nERD-Stars team with a league-leading nERD of 22.4. This year, he doesn't even make the team at all. He's still putting up huge raw numbers, averaging 22.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.4 blocks per game, but he's seen his shooting efficiency dip (a True Shooting Percentage of 55.8% this year, compared to 59.1% last year), and he's turning the ball over more (2.2 per contest, up from 1.4). Last year, he led the league in Player Efficiency Rating at 30.8, while this year it's down to 24.7 (seventh). He's still a worthy All-Star, but the dips in overall efficiency booted him from contention on our team. He's still 22. He'll be fine.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Boogie is a monster (puns) in the box score, but he simply never fares well in our metric. His averages of 27.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.4 blocks per contest are gaudy, but the 3.6 turnovers per game and 45.0% shooting percentage on 21.7 shots per contest hinder his performance in most advanced metrics and keep him far off our list.
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe is one of the best to ever play the game, but his All-Star selection this season might go down as one of the worst in NBA history. His -12.7 nERD is the second worst in the entire frickin' Association, so he's not only far from making our nERD-Star team, he'd head up our Anti-nERD Team if such a thing existed. He's not ending his career very gracefully, shooting 34.6% from the field and 25.0% from long range on 15.9 and 6.6 attempts per game, respectively.
The fact that Kobe's an All-Star this season is a big part of the reason articles such as this one exist. You might disagree with us and our metrics for selecting Enes Kanter over Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, but the fact that Kobe's an All-Star over a good many players in the Western Conference this year is arguably even more egregious. Let's face it: the selection system might just be broken. Analytics might not be the solution, but at least it rewards players for their performance on the basketball floor without any kind of bias related to a player's legacy or his nationality (Zaza Pachulia, #NBAVote).