NBA's unsung heroes of the advanced stat!
We all know about the big All-Star names and their big All-Star Games. We know about how many points the Durants, the Kobes and the Carmelos score; about how many rebounds that the Dwights, the Randolphs and Noahs grab; the assists that the Pauls and Rondos make; and the overall influence on the game that the LeBrons, Hardens, Parkers and Wades have. Many of these players have been All-Stars already. Many have been recognized for their efforts through the NBA’s various individual accolades. Many are household names, and many more are favourites amongst big NBA fans.
But we shall not speak of them any further. We shall focus our attention on some of the league’s lesser-known names who do not get the stats or the individual accolades, or who do not play in a big enough market to make a name for themselves. We shall turn to Stats.NBA.com to find the league’s advanced stats heroes, who are quietly making a big difference for their team.
Here are five unsung heroes of the advanced stat:
Mike Conley Jr.
The Grizzlies have the best defensive squad in the league, and this defense has led them to a top four spot in the Western Conference. The usual suspects behind this elite defensive effort have been Tony Allen, who has been named to the NBA’s All Defensive teams in the past and Marc Gasol, a former All-Star. But one of the most crucial parts of their starting five is point guard Mike Conley. Although at face value his averages of 13.6 points and 6.1 assists per game might not impress too many, take a closer look at his influence on the court – especially on the defensive end – and you’ll see his value.
Conley has a defensive rating of 94.5, meaning that he allows opponents on average to score just 94.5 points per 100 possessions against him. Of players who have played at least half the games this season, Conley’s rating is especially high considering that he plays 33 minutes per game. In Conley, the Grizzlies aren’t just blessed with a stable player to bring up the ball, they have one of the fiercest perimeter defenders in the league.
Yes, so the Miami Heat have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and yes, all three score a lot of points and are the team’s backbone. But one man who perhaps gets lesser credit for his efforts (unless he’s crediting himself) is Mario Chalmers. Thanks to the fact that Chalmers gets to pass the ball to some of the best offensive players in the world, his own offensive rating in the limited minutes he plays on court (26 minutes per game, compared to 38 and 34 for LeBron and Wade) is the highest in the team. It is actually the highest in the league for qualified players. When Chalmers is on the court, his team scores 114 points per 100 possessions. Call him a man at the right place at the right time but Chalmers (who only averages 8.2 ppg himself) is making the most of his time on court.
Another beneficiary of a fantastic group of talents around him, Sefolosha is game-changer when he’s on the court. What makes him unique as a player is that he’s the best perimeter defender for the Thunder but he is also employed as a part of the Thunder’s five-man unit when the team score the most points on their opponents. Together, Sefolosha enjoys one of the highest net-ratings in the league, which is the point-differential that the Thunder have over opponents over a stretch of 100 possessions.
When Kyle Lowry went down for Toronto, Jose Calderon stepped up and he was so good that the Raptors actually worried about how they would reward the Spaniard and satisfy the returning Lowry at the same time. They solved this ‘problem’ by trading Calderon to Memphis and he was then sent to Detroit. No matter the change of scenery, the 31-year-old has done what he does best: protect the ball and make plays. Not enough point guards get credit for avoiding turnovers to give their squad more quality possessions. Calderon ranks ninth in the league’s assist standings with 7.4 assists per game, but he is second only to Chris Paul in his assists-to-turnover ratio, a stat that counts how often his pass leads to points for his team as compared to a pass that loses the ball.
The NBA introduced a new stat to measure the overall value of a player to his squad. This stat is PIE, or player impact estimate. PIE measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in, yielding results which are comparable to other advanced statistics (such as Player Efficiency Rating). What this means is that we will be judging a player’s influence on the game per game. Some games are faster, some are slower, and some require a player to be on court for a longer time than others. With PIE, a player’s influence from his scoring, to the efficiency of his scoring, to the rebounds he collects and the right passes he makes, his influence on the defensive end and more can be taken into account.
The cream of the crop rises when we check the NBA’s PIE ratings. The top names are the ones that we could fully expect to see there: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. After scouring long and hard for a lesser-name player who has played enough minutes in enough games, the unheralded PIE hero is Portland’s JJ Hickson! Hickson has a 14.3 percent influence on his team, and while he does collect 13.4 points and 10.6 rebounds a game, he has a bigger impact with his presence on the floor to through defense, spacing, passing, scoring at a high percentage and helping out his team-mates get better.
These are only but a few unsung heroes. There are many more, like hidden gems around the league, who make a difference every time they step on court. Not all of them will grace the billboards or sell sneakers. Their genius might even go unseen at times until you take a deeper dig to find their value in numbers.