An early look at some MVP candidates (Jan. 1st, 2021)


Happy New Year. It's been nine days of basketball, and we're only 5-10% done the regular season, but why not take that 5-10%, block out all remaining games until the start of the playoffs, and use it to base how good a player played for the entirety of the remaining 90+% of the regular season? Using a fairly simple, but I believe relatively accurate formula, here are the top 10 MVP candidates among players with at least 100 minutes played (159 players qualify). For the full results you can view them here. There's only four factors used to quantify players in my metric: On Court Rating, On/Off Difference (+/-), Player Efficiency Rating (PER), and minutes played. A lot of people are aware the lack of context PER provides when evaluating players, but for that I've kind of come back to enjoy using it as a weighting tool. It just says raw numbers you're putting up, and then On Court Rating and +/- balance it out. I do need to do a little fine-tuning with the formula, and yeah, Tobias Harris is probably not going to win MVP this year, but a few outliers are always going to show up with any one-number metric and a tiny-sample size only magnifies that. Anyway, let's look at the top 10 players from the 8 different teams shown above in my beautifully crafted graphic. Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid Tobias Harris: 17.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.6 TOV .472/.458/.909 (.579 TS%) 5 GP, 30.8 MPG Joel Embiid: 26.5 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 2.3 TOV .523/.385/.825 (.642 TS%) 4 GP, 32.5 MPG One thing you'll see with probably everyone on this list is unsustainably-high shooting averages. Embiid's .385% on three-pointers is most likely higher than he will keep up, but he is a .320 shooter for his career. I think a lot of people assume he's a worse shooter than he is, but .320 is respectable for a big man. I think .350 is completely realistic for this season, and that's league average. Tobias Harris' .458 from 3P might be a little more ambitious of an idea to convince people of being something that can stay constant. Regardless, for now Tobias has an on/off impact of 35 points per 100 possessions, which is 2nd best in the NBA behind only Kyle Lowry. He's been shooting effectively, and lined up with Embiid the 76ers are outscoring opponents by 23.14 (ORTG of 117.99, DRTG of 94.85) points per 100 possessions. A lot was made of the chemistry Doc Rivers had with Harris back with the Los Angeles Clippers, and thus far it seems to be even better than we imagined. As far as someone who has an actual chance at being an MVP candidate, the really impressive thing about Joel Embiid is his stats really aren't even impressive compared to what's expected. He has averaged more in every statistical category at some point in his career, the only thing that exceed previous seasons are his shooting splits and lower turnovers per game. With the roster construction I could see Joel keeping his turnovers low with the extra spacing, and while his 3P shooting is above his mean, he is also hitting better on his 2s and free throws compared to years past; he may simply have become a better shooter. He's missed a game, had he played all five games this season he could easily be the #1 MVP candidate. The 76ers are 4-1 this season, with their only loss being the game Embiid sat, a 24 point blowout by the Cavaliers where MVP contender Andre Drummond was UNLEASHED. Trae Young Trae Young: 33.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 8.3 APG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, 3.5 TOV .507/.348/.903 (.700 TS%) 4 GP, 31.5 MPG 33 points per game is pretty impressive, in only 31.5 minutes per game on .700 TS% is literally the greatest scoring season ever. More than likely, it is not sustainable. This has come from his absolutely insane free-throw rate. He's averaging 22.8 per 100 possessions, which, if that number is just kind of washing over you, that's a free throw attempt almost every 4 possessions Atlanta has the ball. If you adjust his FTA/G to 48 minutes played he is averaging 23.6, which would be 14th among teams in the NBA, AKA better than half the league all on his own. And he's dropping those attempts at an elite rate. He's a career .850 FT% shooter, so .903 isn't completely impossible, but the attempts have got to go down, and the percentage will probably go down a little too, but for now he's done amazing things. I have to laugh that he has literally no blocks or steals in roughly 250 defensive possessions, but Trae Young is not known for his defence. At the moment the Hawks' defence is +7.04 with him on the court, when he's more realistically a -5 point defender on a good day, and they're smoking teams with a 130.43 ORTG while he's on the court. I wrote about the Hawks before the season started and said the most important thing for them was having a reliable offence while he's off the court, and they're currently 111.51 while he sits, which is just above last season's league average. Atlanta's 3-1 at the moment, with their only loss being a close one to the Brooklyn Nets in a shootout (145-141). Paul George Paul George: 22.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.6 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 4.4 TOV .542/.474/.889 (.701 TS%) 5 GP, 30.8 MPG It's crazy how much the media and fans hate Paul George. By all means he's having a very good season and shooting phenomenally. People will point out they were down 50 at halftime against Dallas this week, the biggest half-time lead of all time, but Paul George was only -22 in that game, and 6 of his teammates posted a worse +/- in that game. Lou Williams was -24 in 9 minutes, Patrick Patterson -26 in 8:51. He wasn't a stud by any means but he was still their best player that game, leading the team in scoring and assists. He also went 0/6 from 3 that game and is still shooting .474% from 3 on the season. George shot .412 from 3 last season which I think people didn't really look at enough, because that's absolutely an elite percentage for a 20+ point per game scorer on 7 attempts per game. Only Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have ever averaged his numbers from last season outside of him, and literally no one talks about it. I mean, it's irrelevant to the point of this article, but just gotta do a little defending while I have your attention #FREEPAULGEORGE. He's also one of the best wing defenders in the NBA and shooting 62% on 2 pointers, which probably isn't sustainable, but crazy efficient for his shot profile. One thing that I find interesting is his assists per game are quite a bit higher than he's ever averaged (his career best in a season is 4.1). It could be an issue of the small sample size, I have only seen one Clipper game thus far and didn't really notice it, but I'm curious to see if he maintains a bigger playmaking role this year, like Kawhi stepped in to last year. The Clippers are 4-1 despite missing two games from their best player, Kawhi Leonard, with pretty big margins of victory in all 4 wins. Kyle Lowry Kyle Lowry: 19.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 8.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.0 BPG, 4.0 TOV .439/.406/.882 (.605 TS%) 4 GP, 37.0 MPG Kyle Lowry isn't even doing anything impressive this season, he's shooting well from 3 but he's shot better for a full season before, the thing is Toronto has looked absolutely terrible without him. His On/Off numbers are way ahead of anyone else in the league: +8.87 with him on the court and -36.56 with him off court. The non-Lowry Raptors are putting up an ORTG of 73.12. Via my formula Siakam is the 7th worst player in the NBA with 100+ minutes thus far, which uses minutes played as a multiplier, which when you consider Toronto has played only 4 games, less than most, AND Siakam missed a game, it's not a good sign. I am a Siakam defender and think people are way too hard on him, but he's just been plain bad, and not even bad in like a relative-to-what's-expected-of-him kind of way, but bad like an I-am-literally-Dwayne-Bacon-and/or-Cedi-Osman kind of way. But that said, Siakam shouldn't be expected to be the guy to initiate the offence, there's more people to point the finger at. VanVleet has played 43 minutes without Lowry and the Raptors' offence is a pathetic 73.49 in that time, which is just as bad as the Raptors are with both of them off. Fred needs to really pick it up no matter how bad his teammates are. Either way, the rest of the team's atrocious offence makes Lowry look great by this metric even if the Raptors are 1-3 with their only win against the Knicks. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant Kyrie Irving: 28.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, 1.8 TOV .531/.472/1.000 (.662 TS%) 4 GP, 32.3 MPG Kevin Durant: 28.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 2.5 TOV .522/.579/.882 (.673 TS%) 4 GP, 32.5 MPG The most anticipated duo of the season has not disappointed thus far. They both had concerns how they would look after almost 2 seasons without any court time between the two of them, but I think Kyrie's was a little overrated, as outside of one bad playoff series which was rooted in an off-the-court issue, he looked like a for-sure top 15 player the last time we saw him regularly on the court, and there was no real reason to think he should decline. However, on the other hand, I expected worse things from Durant, and maybe I'm the fool with that one. They were the next team I was supposed to do alphabetically when I initially wanted to write team previews, but they were so tricky to gauge and I didn't want to look like a complete hack right off the bat by posting my opinion on the universal cosmos of the internet. Thankfully I didn't say anything, because I was leaning toward a 6th seed for my placement, with them possibly being even lower. I mean, they're only 3-2 so maybe I am right, but when they're on the court, Kyrie and KD have been killing teams. Outside of, randomly, Cam Johnson of the Phoenix Suns, Kyrie and Kevin Durant have the next two best on-court ratings in the NBA and the Nets' depth has been nice while they sit too. Their two losses were to Charlotte and Memphis, and as I mentioned earlier in Trae Young's section, they were close to losing to Atlanta too, so they could easily be a 2-3 team, but they blew out Golden State and Boston by 20+ each to open the season, which have been their marquee games so far. Interested to see if they are a show-time team and struggle to collect "easy wins" throughout the season or they're just straight up good and steam-roll teams all year. Either way, they both sat out in the Charlotte game and are both 3-1 in games they've played. Also might be worth mentioning they are shooting astronomically from 3 and you can expect that to drop a bit. The more I talk my self through the Nets I am kinda coming back to like "Hey, maybe you were right, maybe the Nets are only a 6th seed!" but I also think I might have just cursed my self and they make a clown out of me. Nikola Jokic Nikola Jokic: 24.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 13.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 6.0 TOV .625/.400/.800 (.708 TS%) 4 GP, 38.3 MPG What the hell are those stats? From a "numbers are sexy" perspective Jokic is definitely looking pretty, easily averaging a triple-double, with his only non-triple-double game being 24/9/10. The Nuggets haven't looked great this year, they've been, like Kyle Lowry's Raptors, really bad without their main guy. A 122.12 offensive rating is really nice while Jokic is on the court, but 91.67 with him off the court, while not a complete embarrassment like the Raptors, definitely needs to be improved for a team that has a lot of good offensive tools, and only average defenders. In 18 minutes without Jokic, but Jamal Murray on, the Nuggets have stayed true with a 115 offensive rating, but the likes of Monte Morris or the rookie Facundo Campazzo need to be able to run something without them. Outside of the Clippers loss, Jokic has had a positive net rating in all their other games, yet the Nuggets sit at 1-3. Jokic is shooting fantastically, which will drop, but he's also had a tonne of turnovers, which will drop, so his game should balance out a bit and I could continue to see the sustained fantastic production. He was my back-up MVP choice behind Kawhi Leonard (who isn't included in my metric as he hasn't played enough yet), so I'm rooting for him quietly. Steven Adams and Andre Drummond Steven Adams: 9.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.2 TOV .676/---/.250 (.657 TS%) 5 GP, 29.6 MPG Andre Drummond: 18.0 PPG, 14.8 RPG, 3.6 APG, 2.4 SPG, 2.4 BPG, 3.4 TOV .444/.000/.563 (.473 TS%) 5 GP, 31.0 MPG Why are either of these guys on this list? Who knows, I've merged them in to one section as neither will probably be in consideration by the end of the season for the MVP award. Steven Adams has been shooting efficiently enough, but also who cares when they are scoring 9.4 PPG with starter's minutes. But the Pelicans have actually played way better with him on the court. 3 of the bottom 15 players in my metric are Pelicans players: JJ Redick, worst in the NBA; Zion Williamson, 6th worst in the NBA; and Eric Bledsoe, 15th worst in the NBA. Van Gundy still has a lot of figuring out to do in New Orleans, but in the meantime Adams is the benefactor of some really nice lineup data. Derrick Favors also had really good on/off data last year with the Pelicans, I think it's just them being such a young, inexperienced team. Someone like Favors and Adams are just able to grasp the little mistakes their teammates are making and not let things stagnate offensively or get exploited defensively. The Pelicans are +13.65 with Adams on the court and -15.01 with him off the court. In the 35 minutes of Zion/JJ/Bledsoe, which should be a perfectly okay trio, they are -47.62 with Adams off the court. Adams + each one of those three individually while the other two sit are actually huge net positives, too, so he can work with all three of them, but those three seem incapable of fitting together so far. New Orleans is off to a solid enough start though, 3-2 after a little more than a week. Maybe I shouldn't have merged them because I spent as much time talking about Adams as I did everyone else. Anyway, Drummond is kind of the opposite of Adams. Like Jokic, Drummond is right there battling for the sexiest numbers award, while also shooting, like, as bad as you possibly can. It's mind-blowing that the Cavaliers offence is almost 20 points better with him on the court with him taking so many shots (he has to, to be averaging 18 points per game) at such an abominably below league-average rate. But, they are. The Cavaliers are one of the quick surprise teams of the season so far, starting out at 3-0, though they've dropped their last two by big margins. Sexton, Garland, and Larry Nance Jr. have all played well and Drummond seems to be the glue that keeps them together. It's still early so we'll see how it goes. Drummond being a positive impact correlated to winning is so antithetical to his being, I can't wait to see it and the Cavaliers shock the world and make a play-in game. Very unrealistic, but I do think they're very fun to watch. Stats were gathered from basketball-reference.com and pbpstats.com. Written by W. Smith, thanks for reading!

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