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Monday, April 29, 2013

Nuggets Off the Rails

I was a season-long fan of the Denver Nuggets this year. No team was more fun for me to watch than this "All-Starless" group that constantly ran fast breaks and attacked the basket. They struggled to shoot and the defense was perhaps no more than average, but they could score in an exciting fashion.

Perhaps this sneaking fandom colored my hopes for them in the playoffs too much. Even with the injury to Danilo Gallinari, I thought that they could survive the first round and potentially make some waves against the Spurs in the second round. Instead, they find themselves down 3-1 in their series with Golden State while being completely flummoxed by the sweet-shooting ways of the Warriors. So what has been the problem?

Well, first of all, defense. Denver has allowed Golden State to post an offensive rating of 112.3, the best mark in the playoffs, while shooting 44 percent from three as a team. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller are ill-equipped to deal with Steph Curry through the myriad of screens that he utilizes and using Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala means a size mismatch elsewhere. It doesn't help that other players have stepped us for the Warriors such as Jarrett Jack, Klay Thompson, Carl Landry, and Harrison Barnes.

While giving up points may not come as a surprise, it turns out that Denver has not scored the ball like usual either. Their playoff offensive efficiency mark of 103.1 is well behind their regular season rating of 107.6. Their turnover rate has increased a little bit (up to 16.3 in the postseason as compared to 15.5 in the regular season) and this was evident in game 4. What really seems troubling is that they are attacking the basket less. During the regular season, Denver's relentless assault of the rim led to them taking 45.8 percent of their shots in the restricted area and 14.6 percent in the paint around that zone. The playoffs have seen that shift to 33.5 percent in the restricted area and 21.4 percent in the paint.

Analytically this is bad news as Denver is settling for less valuable shots and ones they weren't particularly good at to begin with. In my opinion, the injury to Kenneth Faried seems most alarming. He hasn't been able to bring the same manic style of play to the table that was representative of Denver's overall strategy. Faried is using far less possessions in the playoffs and his rebounding has dipped a little. The Nuggets will need his constant motion in order to inject some energy back into their play.

It's certainly not out of the question for Denver to come back and win this series. They will need to commit to a strategy on Curry (which they seem to be getting better at) and catch a few breaks (mainly Jack ceasing to hit every single shot). After all, this was a team that reeled off a 15-game win streak during the regular season, so a 3-gamer shouldn't seem that daunting. But the playoffs loom heavy in the lore of Denver and it might not be so easy to rewrite what seems like a finished story.

Friday, April 19, 2013

This Will Be Wrong

It's playoff time again, and since mine are the only opinions on the internet, I decided to roll out some predictions

Most of these are based on a model I built for a statistics class in college that I have tweaked since then. It's not necessarily the most complex thing in the world, but I still won't get too much into detail. Basically it uses some regressions, t-distributions, and probabilities in order to determine which team is better and how long a series is likely to last. That being said, on to the predictions.

East First Round
1. Miami v. 8. Milwaukee- Miami in 4
This is pretty easy. Milwaukee was the worst team to qualify for the playoffs and ranked 18th overall.

4. Brooklyn v. 5. Chicago- Chicago in 7
This was the hardest matchup. The model only gives Chicago a 51-49 edge in the series, so this one could easily go the Nets way. However, Brooklyn plays very slow and that only helps out a stingy Bulls' defense.

3. Indiana v. 6. Atlanta- Indiana in 5
It's a shame Atlanta couldn't have held on to the 5 seed, because they would have been favored to beat either Chicago or Brooklyn. Alas, they will run into a potentially underrated Pacers team.

2. New York v. 7. Boston- New York in 6
I know it seems volatile with the 3-point shooting and a tough Boston opponent, but I think the Knicks will pull it out.

West First Round
1. Oklahoma City v. 8. Houston- Oklahoma City in 5
The model saw this as a sweep, but I think Houston will be able to steal a game. Even 5 games feels too short with the quality of this Rockets team.

4. Los Angeles Clippers v. 5. Memphis- Los Angeles Clippers in 7
This will be an awesome rematch of last year. I was a little surprised that the Grizzlies came out as slightly overrated despite heavy factoring of certain defensive stats.

3. Denver v. 6. Golden State- Denver in 5
I watched a lot of Nuggets games and so I'm a little biased. The model had them slightly overrated, which I'm fine with due to the injuries (which weren't factored in). Still, the numbers had this as a sweep which I think was too optimistic. I still think Denver is able to put it away quickly.

2. San Antonio v. 7. Los Angeles Lakers- San Antonio in 4
Does this make me a hater? Maybe a sweep is too much, but there are bound to be a couple in the early rounds and this one was one of the more likely four-gamers.

East Semifinals
1. Miami v. 5. Chicago- Miami in 5
This was predicted as a sweep, but I cannot see Chicago going down in 4 games, especially not after how hard they played the Heat during the regular season.

2. New York v. 3. Indiana- Indiana in 6
The Pacers are just too good at taking away what teams do well and if the 3-point line is choked off, I'm not sure the Knicks can score enough.

West Semifinals
1. Oklahoma City v. 4. Los Angeles Clippers- Oklahoma City in 6
Honestly, 6 games feels like one too many.

2. San Antonio v. 3. Denver- San Antonio in 7
This will be a very fun series to watch with two incredibly potent offenses. It kills me to see Denver's run end here because I am a believer, but the Spurs are disciplined defensively and won't get rattled by Denver's frantic pace.

East Finals
1. Miami v. 3. Indiana- Miami in 6
The model gives Miami a 32% chance of not losing a game until the NBA Finals. Again, I think that's too optimistic and I think the Pacers are bound to take at least one game. Alas, Miami was far and away the best team in the East and will look to defend its title.

West Finals
1. Oklahoma City v. 2. San Antonio- Oklahoma City in 6
They figured the Spurs out last year and were ranked as the best team in league based on my numbers. Should be another entertaining series, but ultimately frustrating for the Spurs.

NBA Finals
1. Oklahoma City v. 1. Miami- Oklahoma City in 6
Ok, so the purpose of the model isn't to be overly clever and these were the two best teams this year. A rematch may not be exciting based on variety, but I think we will see some really good basketball between the league's two best players.

Potential Upsets
As a bonus I'll leave with two potential upset candidates for series. The first is Boston over New York in the first round. The model saw the Celtics as severely underrated and if the 3's aren't falling this could end up being another disappointing season for the Knicks. The other potential upset is Denver over San Antonio in the West Semifinals. The model says San Antonio is favored to win 64% of the time, one of the lower figures on the board.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Prince

The Milwaukee Bucks are currently the number 8 seeded team in the Eastern Conference. This assures them a playoff spot and the chance to sacrifice themselves in front of the mighty Miami Heat as LeBron and company coast towards their shot at the second title. Inevitable futility awaits the Bucks.

It's hard to argue that Milwaukee has much of a shot, but they do possess one thing that no other team does that could at least make things interesting. This is the 6-foot-8, Cameroonian force of defensive nature that is Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Luc flies under the radar mainly due to the fact that his offensive game is limited, but he's one of the better overall defenders the league has.

We'll start with the negatives. Mbah a Moute averages about 12.2 points per 40 minutes and shoots a 41/35.7/58.5 line while doing so. He's been a so-so rebounder this year and is a little turnover prone for a guy who isn't setting up much offense. These struggles on the offensive end keep him off the floor as Luc is only averaging 24.4 minutes per game. With a Milwaukee team that is 22nd in offensive efficiency, its hard to rail against the decision to try to garner a few more points while Luc sits.

Now to the good news. Mbah a Moute is an absolute terror on defense. From a subjective standpoint, he has an excellent ability to stay in front of the ball on the perimeter while not giving up too much strength if taken to the block. His awareness is also very good and is often in the right position to help on defense if a teammate needs it (and Jennings and Ellis usually do).

The numbers back him up as well. According to Synergy, Luc gives up 0.76 points per possession when he is defending. This ranks 36th overall among all players. He's also the 13th best when guarding the pick-and-roll ball handler, 22nd when defending post-ups, and the very best at eliminating shots off screens, only giving up 0.39 points per possession in these cases while opponents shoot just 16 percent. The 82games numbers like him, too, as he limits opposing 3s to an 8.6 PER. Of the three best defensive line-ups that the Bucks have played significant minutes this year, Mbah a Moute is a prominent member of two.

Nobody can truly be expected to stop LeBron James. He just doesn't have bad games anymore. However, if there's anyone who may be able to get in James' way long enough for the rest of his team to pick up the slack, it's Mbah a Moute. In Milwaukee's only win over the Heat, James still played impeccably, dropping 26 points on 11-20 shooting with 6 boards and 7 assists. However, he did cough the ball up 6 times and Mbah a Moute was able to pour in 19 points of his own while logging a plus-19 for the game.

Does any of this mean much? No, probably not. But in an Eastern Conference playoffs that seems ceremonial at this point, it would be nice to see the game's most elite player go against one of its elite defenders.

Monday, March 18, 2013

More on College

I know, I know. I did it again. But this time of year it's hard to not think a little bit about amateur basketball.

Anyway, do you remember that time in "Moneyball" when guys figured out that the Pythagorean theorem can be applied to baseball and the quality of teams? Or as Joe Morgan and Lionel Hollins remember it, nerds doing nerd stuff.

Well, that was pretty cool and it outlined the fact that run/point differential is actually a really awesome way to tell how good a team is because wins and losses are binary and clunky as far as analytics goes. With basketball, it's better to take this even one step further and apply it to your differential in efficiency (Net Rating). This basically lets you know per 100 possessions how good a team is at scoring and preventing points. Pretty simple, but damn it when did the A's win any World Series, am I right?!

Now, obviously this isn't a perfect system anyway and there's tons of noise in the college basketball realm. Teams don't play remotely the same schedules across the NCAA and there's only 30 games so the samples might be a little on the small side. Still, when tasked with trying to determine who's good or not, I'll take my only slightly informed method over "well, I just don't think this team is that good" or "I hate Duke."

So I ran the numbers with a weighting for strength of schedule in a very crude facsimile of an NBA playoff system I use (the one that had the 2010 Finals as Suns/Magic, oh what could have been!) and here's what I got.

Over Rated Teams

Saint Louis (4-seed)
I feel like they'll be one of these darling picks to make some noise. However, they had a pretty average offense and a bad strength of schedule. Look for Oklahoma State to bounce them in round 2.

Kansas State (4-seed)
Trend alert! The committee made some interesting 4-seed picks. Their non-conference strength of schedule was pretty hilarious and they're not a particularly great defensive team. Wisconsin will probably have no trouble with them.

Temple (9-seed)
Yikes on bikes! They were the 63rd best overall team by my calculations and played some atrocious defense. NC State will beat them in the first round.

Memphis (6-seed)
They were 52nd in my rankings hanging out around California and La Salle. Their record looked alright, but I think St. Mary's will upset them in the first round (though St. Mary's will be doing a lot of travel, going to Dayton and then Detroit, so it might be a wash)

Under Rated Teams

Pittsburgh (8-seed)
Pitt is number 13 overall in my ranks and should handle Wichita St. pretty easily. If I had to predict an early exit for a number 1 seed, I'd pick Pitt over Gonzaga. I don't think it will happen, but Pitt deserved a little better than this draw.

Minnesota (11-seed)
The Gophers can laugh all the way to the bank with the UCLA draw (the Bruins are overrated, but not heinously). If only Florida (3rd overall) weren't waiting in round 2.

St. Mary's (11-seed)
As discussed above with Memphis, I think St. Mary's will win their play-in game and get to The Palace to face Memphis. The only thing that will hold them back from being the second 11-seed upset will be the distance they have to travel.

Colorado St. (8-seed)
This could also be Missouri (the Rams 1st round opponent, making that game a hard call) or UNC. But I went to Duke, so deal with it Tar Heels. But yeah, CSU is probably a pretty alright team.

Preliminary Final Four Picks
Louisville (Champion)
Ohio St.
Florida
Indiana (Runner-Up)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Let's Talk About The Kids

I'm mostly a human professional basketball guy, but I did once attend college and therefore sometimes watch a little amateur hoops. Player of the Year discussions are always interesting because there are a wide range of factors affecting the consideration. Some guys have really great years, but unfortunately they play at South Dakota State and thus they level of competition isn't quite as high. Even when guys play in good conferences they often have few common opponents with another top-level player.

That being said, after looking at some numbers I decided to weigh in on how I would vote for Player of the Year. It certainly sucks for guys like Nate Wolters, but I didn't really consider guys who dominated weak competition. I know it's not necessarily their fault, but in an already watered-down level, picking on the little guys just isn't fair. I considered individual production and value added through playing time and defensive impact.

Here's my ballot:

3. Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Green was certainly a good scorer, putting up 25.1 points per 36 minutes. He got fouled a bunch (0.50 Free Throw Rate) and shot pretty damn well from the floor. Unfortunately, that's about all he did. His 3.8 assists per 36 is fine and he didn't give it away (.08 Turnover Rate), but if he got it, he was shooting it. Very good year for a guy on a bad team.

2. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
This guy was kind of a beast. He posted a 24.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes and true shot 71 percent! He was also able to get fouled a good deal and shot an impressive (for a 7-footer) 78.5 percent from the line. Olynyk had some turnover troubles, but also posted 1.6 blocks per 36 on the 12th most efficient defense. He would be first if only he had played more. For some reason he only played 25.7 minutes per game (fouls don't seem to have been an issue, though he fouled out against Kansas St. in 19 minutes) and missed the first 3 games of the season completely. Playing really well is awesome, but you need to have the minutes load to go with it.

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Dude was insane. He threw up a 26.5 points per 36 minutes on 69 percent True Shooting, while also grabbing 8.6 boards per 36. He wasn't a foul drawing machine, but he shot 49.7 percent from three on over 4 attempts per game. Basically if you give him the ball, he's going to score it. McDermott doesn't stand out defensively numbers-wise or visually (I actually did see some of Creighton this year), but the offense was so devastating in the 1067 minutes he played that he edges out a pretty good crop of college performances.

This post is in honor of Derrick Williams' Second-Team All-American finish in what was the most insanely efficient college season I have witnessed. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nuggets at Blazers: The Denver Express

Few teams are as highly dedicated to their offensive philosophy than the Denver Nuggets. George Karl's team is absolutely plugged in to a system that is based on constant fast breaking and attacking the basket. Unfortunately for the Portland Trailblazers, they were unable to prohibit Denver from playing exactly that style when they came to the Rose Garden Wednesday night.

The Nuggets play at the league's second-fastest pace, producing 97.5 possessions per game, and it is evident from their never-ending desire to run fast breaks off of opponent missed baskets and turnovers. With one of the fastest end-to-end point guards and a bevy of transition finishers, they are well equipped to turn games into track meets. Denver is also committed to driving to the rim as much as possible and Karl says that he wants to have 80 possessions per game that result in someone driving toward the paint. This clearly shows as 41.4% of their shots come directly at the rim, by far the highest figure in the league. Denver also generates tons of free throws from this strategy (30.5 Free Throw Rate, tied for 5th in the league), another high-value aspect of their offensive scheme.

Denver had little trouble implementing their game plan in last night's game as 29 of their 39 first-half shots came in the paint while they shot 59% from the field. Portland, in return, shot just 38%. The Nuggets also had 17 free throws on their 39 field goal attempts. The Blazers were kept afloat by a tenacious performance by J.J. Hickson, who grabbed 4 offensive boards and drew 7 free throws on his way to 14 first half points.

Portland ran into problems in the 2nd and 3rd quarters as they attempted to run alongside the Nuggets. The Blazers aren't a particularly fast-paced team and creating more possessions favors the superior offensive team, which proved to be the Nuggets. This was most evident on a wild Lillard drive that led to an Iguodala steal and monster dunk. When Portland tempered their offense and ran their high pick-and-roll sets with Lillard or post-ups for Aldridge, they seemed much more comfortable generating shots. Late in the 3rd they were able to regain the lead after calming the tempo.

A rash of 4th quarter Portland turnovers allowed Denver to continue racking up easy points as the game came down to the wire. Late, and with the game tied at 106, the Nuggets gave the ball to Andre Miller for a post-up against J.J. Hickson. While most point guard on center post-ups don't yield many baskets, Miller used some savvy footwork to get a scoop shot and take the lead. After a couple of trips to the line for Denver and a Lillard 3-pointer, LaMarcus Aldridge had a chance to tie the game with a last second shot, much like the one he took to beat Dallas earlier this year. This one clanked off the rim, however, and Denver was able to hold on to the road victory.

Denver was led by Ty Lawson's 30 points with Iguodala, despite continuing to launch some ugly jumpers, adding 29. Lillard was the high scorer for the Blazers with 26 points including 4-6 on 3-pointers. Aldridge contributed 22 points while Hickson gathered another double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds.

Despite the loss, Portland can be encouraged by the play of Meyers Leonard. The Illinois rookie scored 13 points off the bench on 4-7 shooting and went 5-5 from the line, all this on the night of his 21st birthday. And many more.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ranking the Rising Stars

The Rising Stars Challenge (formerly the Rookie-Sophomore game) features 20 prospects from across the league. Here are my rankings of the players involved.

Edit: I left off two players on the original post. 

20. Tyler Zeller, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Zeller has had a rough go so far. He's shooting 41% from the floor and has generally been a below-average rebounding center. On defense he looks lost and has gotten beaten up by opposing centers. He's big and can run the floor, which are nice traits, but so far he's done little to turn those into on-court value.

19. Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards
What's there to say about a shooter who can't really shoot. Beal is a catch-and-shoot specialist (almost 70% of his makes are assisted) who has a line of 38.8/36.7/81.3. His best stretch has come playing with Wall, so perhaps having his starting point guard around will help, but as of now he's shooting like Chris Duhon without adding much elsewhere.

18. Brandon Knight, PG, Detroit Pistons
Knight has some defensive value and range on the jumper, but overall he shoots 40.6% and is a bad finisher. Subjectively, he doesn't seem to be that talented of a passer from the point. If he can space the floor when the Pistons run plays through Monroe he'll be able to stay on the court, but I'm not sure if he should be a starter long term.

17. Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Waiters is shooting atrociously (37.8/32.4/78.4) and is not going to the line that much for a slasher-type. Only 39.9% of his baskets are assisted, though, meaning he's not really spotting up. This is good because he takes almost a third of his shots at the rim. However, it also means he wants to isolate a lot and his assist rate shows it. Surprisingly he hasn't had too much trouble with turnovers. Defensively, the Cavs are better without him, but there's hope with the amount of athleticism he's shown.

16. Isaiah Thomas, PG, Sacramento Kings
Thomas is a gem considering where he was drafted. Often the only member of the Kings who seems to get it, he certainly should be playing much more than Aaron Brooks. He's small, but very quick and is able to get to the basket where he shoots an incredible 73%. Thomas is probably more of a good shooter than great (30.6% on 3's this year as opposed to 38.1% last year), but can set up enough offense on a team full of black holes. Defensively, he gets beat up a little due to size, but isn't particularly terrible. Coming from a last overall pick, this is found money for a team that desperately needs it.

15. Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors
Barnes appears to be average at a lot of things so far. With Curry, Thompson, and Lee around him his usage isn't very high, but he is definitely trying to get to the rim when he has the ball, which is good. The Warriors can live with his 43.8/38.1/70.7 shooting (though next to Curry it makes him look like Josh Smith). He's gotten beat up defensively so far, especially against smaller, quicker guys, but hasn't completely killed Golden State when he's on the floor.

14. Alexey Shved, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Shved isn't that hard to spell or pronounce, but I've heard many announcing crews mess it up including one guy who insisted that the "v" was somehow silent. Whatever you want to call him, he's shown that he isn't the one dimensional bomber from the Olympics. In fact, Shved has had a rough time with his stroke (49.8 TS%, 31.5% from 3), but has made up for it with his ability to pass. Though wirey, Shved is able to penetrate and seems to have great vision and feel which has led to a lot of nice set-ups and an assist rate of 25.8. Subjectively his defense has been pretty good and the numbers back it up. He's surrendered just an 11.8 PER against other shooting guards despite weighing about 38 pounds.

13. Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves
I'm as big of a Ricky fan as you can find, but it's hard to rank anybody shooting 30.9% overall (!) any higher. The passing skill is elite and incredibly entertaining, but with it comes a healthy turnover rate, though that's something you can live with from the guy who creates your best looks. Bottom line, he has to make a few more shots to justify time on the floor. The defense is still pretty good, though the knee might be holding him back a little. Regardless, he's still getting his hands on 2.8 steals per 40 minutes. Rubio has only appeared in 19 games, so perhaps as the season progresses he'll get back into game shape and look more like the magician we've seen in the past.

12. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors
Thompson has absolutely burst into flames in Curry's short absence. So why isn't he higher? Well, he shoots. A lot. But otherwise he doesn't stand out. Obviously 38.8% from 3 and 88.8% from the line are very good, but he doesn't rebound all that well for a 6'7" guard and doesn't particularly set up offense when he draws attention like Curry. He's fit well into Mark Jackson's defensive scheme and has held his own, but will have to diversify his skills a little bit for when he can't find shots.

11. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Charlotte Bobcats
MKG doesn't get quite the attention he deserves due to the fact that he's in Charlotte, but man is he fun to watch. He's a beastly rebounder from the wing and is already starting to wreak some havoc defensively with his steal, block, and charge rates all above average. The jumper is brutal to watch, but it hardly matters as 54% of his attempts come at the rim where he is a good finisher.

10. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs
Choosing between the next two guys was killer. Leonard is a great rebounder and the Spurs' stopper who also has a TS% of 60.3. Basically the only knock on him is how low-usage he is on a team that so clearly defines its roles. As the Spurs get older we'll likely get to see more from him and my bet is that it will be pretty great.

9. Chandler Parsons, SF, Houston Rockets
"Chandler Bang" has been a revelation this year and is one of the best values as far as contracts go. He shoots 46.2/36.5/76.7 which is respectable and never seems to force shots. He's smooth off the dribble and runs the floor really well. He also is a deft passer with an assist rate of 19.09, well above-average for a forward. He's more of an average rebounder and defender, but has shown the ability to defend good opposing wing players.

8. Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic
Vucevic is an absolute monster of a rebounder with a defensive rebound rate of 27. While he isn't the strongest individual defender, simply taking away second opportunities from the opposition at this rate has huge value. Offensively he has some touch on the jumper and shoot 51.5% from the floor, but isn't necessarily a go-to option.

7. Tristan Thompson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Losing Anderson Varejao was tough, but it allowed Thompson to step up and show that he really can play. He's got a solid frame and rebounds well, especially offensively (13.6 offensive rebound rate, league average for forwards is 6.8). He's a fine athlete, but not particularly explosive and often gets lost in traffic. The good news is he's getting fouled much more (.35 FTA/FGA). He shoots 62.4% from the line, so he still leaves something to be desired, but he's improving rapidly. Defensively, he's over-matched if he has to play center, but holds his own against other 4s.

6. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trailblazers
This kid is an assassin. Nothing about the professional game phases him and he's ready to take any shot at any time. He reminds me a little of Kyrie Irving in that he's looking for his own offense first, but he's done that pretty effectively so far. His TS% of 53.7 is pretty good and there's no doubt he has range on the jumper. Again, his assist rate numbers aren't off the charts, but he's done fine without running into turnover troubles (which can't be said for the Blazers' backups). He's got a good bit to learn defensively, but the Blazers are 5.1 points better with him on the court than when he sits.

5. Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Bobcats
I'm starting to come around on Walker. I wasn't a huge fan in college and remained skeptical last season, but he seems to be putting it together. His speed and scoring ability are real assets and while he's not a great shooter overall (52.2 TS%), he gets fouled at a decent rate for a guard. His turnover rate is very good this year and he sets up a lot of offense. Walker gets his hands on a lot of steals, but the individual defense still isn't great as he gives up some size and can look apathetic, but he's valuable enough on offense to pick up that slack.

4. Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons
Am I getting carried away? Maybe, but this kid has been beastly in limited minutes. Drummond only plays about 20 minutes per game, but really makes the most of them as the Pistons are 5 points better when he's on the court than off it. He's a low usage offensive player, but shoots 60.2% from the field, a lot of these shots coming on some spectacular dunks. His rebound rates are elite even among centers and he's able to protect the rim and block shots. The free throw shooting is rough to say the very least, but the fact that this guy fell to 9th last year is the surprise of the draft.

3. Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Hornets
Davis obviously has elite defensive potential, but I've been very impressed with his maturity offensively. He shoots 52.8% form the field and 72% from the line with a free throw rate of 0.33. He's an amazing finisher at the rim and equally great from 3-9 feet, a distance where many players struggle. Davis is rebounding very well and racking up solid block, steal, and charge numbers. The stats on his individual defense suggest he's going through rookie struggles, but has been a very valuable player for New Orleans from day one.

2. Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets
Faried's energy borders on manic and allows him to be an elite level rebounder. The 13.8 offensive rebound rate is especially crazy (6.9 is average for the league's forwards) and allows him to continually throw in put-backs and shoot 55.2% from the field while taking almost 6 shots per game at the rim (68% of his shots come from there). He's also a terror in transition who will put up some electrifying dunks. Defensively he's pretty good, but isn't any sort of stopper and is a little undersized, but few can keep up with his level of intensity and it is really fun to watch.

1. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
He is absolutely incredible. What more is there to say? He made the actual All-Star game and is putting himself in the category of the league's elite point guards. Irving is one of the best shooters in the game right now and can finish at the rim with either hand. He controls pretty much every offensive possession when he's on the court, but still manages a ridiculous 57.3 TS% while averaging 27 points per 40 minutes.  He's a good passer, but certainly looks to score first and has done so while keeping his turnover rate below league average for guards. His defense is coming along, but we'll still mostly look the other way for now because of just how insanely effective he is on offense.