Is The NBA’s Small-Ball Revolution About To End?

It’s rare in life that you can look back and identify the specific moment that marked the end of the way things were and the beginning of the way things are. That is not the case when it comes to the creation of the style of play that dominates the modern NBA, which now sees teams eschewing size advantages in favor of loading the floor with as much shooting as possible. It’s worth examining the origins of the small-ball revolution, even if there are indications that the trend may reverse itself — perhaps as soon as this season.

Though the seeds for this shift were planted by teams like the Houston Rockets of the mid-1990s, the Phoenix Suns of the 2000s and, particularly, the 2009 Orlando Magic, everything changed for good on May 13, 2012. During the Miami Heat’s 95-86 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals, Heat star Chris Bosh suffered an abdominal strain and was ruled out indefinitely.

To that point in both the regular season and the playoffs, the 6-foot-11 Bosh had played almost exclusively at power forward. He’d played 2,174 minutes combined regular season and postseason minutes, spending 1,901 of them (87.4 percent) next to one of Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, Ronny Turiaf, Dexter Pittman or Eddy Curry in the frontcourt.1 With Bosh sidelined for the remainder of that Pacers series and the first four games of the ensuing Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, however, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra slid the 6-foot-8 Shane Battier into the starting lineup in his place.

Battier had played just 3 percent of his regular-season minutes at power forward in 2011-12, per Basketball-Reference, but he remained in the role for the rest of Miami’s run to the 2012 title. Bosh returned at first as a reserve. But when he moved back into the starting lineup for Game 2 of the NBA Finals, it was as a center next to Battier and LeBron James in the frontcourt. With that group providing more space in which James and Dwyane Wade could operate, the Heat blitzed the Oklahoma City Thunder with four straight wins, capturing the first of two championships of the Big Three era.

After the Heat rode the same configuration to another championship in 2013, the NBA saw a massive drop in two-big lineup usage the following season. That trend may have steadily continued anyway, but it was hastened by the Golden State Warriors going even smaller, playing the 6-foot-7 Draymond Green at center in order to beat LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers teams. Pretty soon, damn near the whole league was reorienting around trying to compete with the Warriors’ Death Lineup.

Consider the following chart, which plots regular-season “two-big” lineup usage for each of the NBA’s 30 teams, as well as the league average, from the beginning of the Heat’s Big Three era through the just-completed 2018-19 campaign. See if you can identify the turning point; it should be pretty easy.2

Two-big lineup usage peaked at 58.8 percent of minutes leaguewide during the 2011-12 season, but the shift to small ball sliced that number in half within four seasons. Last season, two-big lineups played just 6.4 percent of regular-season minutes. During LeBron, Wade and Bosh’s second season together, 19 of the league’s 30 teams used two-big lineups at least 50 percent of the time. Last season, no team even crossed the 40 percent mark in two-big lineup minutes.

Such a stark trend might make it seem like we have reached a point of no return. But given several developments of this offseason’s free-agent period, it seems fair to wonder whether we may have actually passed Peak Small Ball and might be in for a reversal during the 2019-20 campaign.

The Philadelphia 76ers, for example, signed Celtics center Al Horford to a four-year deal, and presumably plan to play him as their primary power forward alongside Joel Embiid. Contrary to popular belief, the 6-foot-10 Horford has actually been a center for the majority of his career — he’s played 83 percent of his minutes at the position, per Basketball-Reference — but Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has said that he believes a desire to return to the power forward slot — where Horford played in college — factored into his decision.

Assuming Ainge is correct, Horford is not the only big who’s moved to a new team hoping to slide back to the four. New Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis expressed a firm desire to resume playing the four during his introductory press conference. According to Basketball-Reference, Davis has spent 55 percent of his career at center, peaking last season at 96 percent.

Other teams’ offseason moves indicate they could potentially lean into two-big lineups as well.

The Sacramento Kings signed centers Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes, who could potentially play either together or alongside Harry Giles. The Portland Trail Blazers let small-ball power forward Al-Farouq Aminu leave in free agency and traded combo forward Moe Harkless, at the same time adding former Heat center Hassan Whiteside to last season’s primary starter Jusuf Nurkić,3 and they seemingly plan to start former backup center Zach Collins at power forward.

The New York Knicks have Mitchell Robinson as their presumed starting center and should probably let 2018 lottery pick Kevin Knox play at least some of his minutes at power forward; but they still used a significant portion of their free-agent budget to sign non-shooting power forward Taj Gibson, as well as Bobby Portis, who in a 28-game stint with the Wizards last season played 77 percent of his minutes at center. Even the team’s most high-profile signing, Julius Randle, only started shooting threes last season, and he often gets treated by opposing defenses as a non-shooting big man.

The Indiana Pacers let power forward Thaddeus Young and small forward Bojan Bogdanovic leave in free agency, and plan to start backup center Domantas Sabonis at power forward next to Myles Turner, who has been the starting center since midway through his rookie season. Sabonis has played 79 percent of his minutes at center with the Pacers, per Basketball-Reference, but he was primarily a power forward both in college and during his rookie season with the Thunder. The Utah Jazz — previously among the heavier users of two-big looks — pivoted smaller by signing the aforementioned Bogdanovic, but in so doing sent Derrick Favors to the New Orleans Pelicans, where he could potentially play alongside either Jaxson Hayes or Jahlil Okafor when he’s not manning the pivot next to Zion Williamson.

Several additional teams may end up using two-big lineups more often due to other types of roster changes. The defending champion Toronto Raptors, after losing Kawhi Leonard to the L.A. Clippers, could use more of the Marc Gasol-Serge Ibaka frontcourt that worked so well for them in the playoffs. The Clippers figure to load-manage Leonard, as the Raptors did last season, but even when he’s in the lineup, it’s entirely possible we see Montrezl Harrell — who has played 83 percent of his career minutes at center, including 96 percent last season — playing the four next to Ivica Zubac. Even the Warriors — who took small-ball even further than the Big Three-era Heat — could end up using more two-big lineups featuring, say, Kevon Looney and free-agent signee Willie Cauley-Stein when Draymond Green has to rest, given that they lost Kevin Durant in free agency and traded away Andre Iguodala.

Already, that’s a significant portion of the league seemingly preparing to devote non-trivial minutes to two-big lineups. Not even mentioned are four of the seven squads that used two-big units at least 10 percent of the time last season, and could conceivably do so again. (They are the Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets, in addition to the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Pacers.) With multiple contenders in the East and West seemingly planning to use two-big lineups more often, it doesn’t appear as necessary for teams to ensure that they are well-equipped to go small against the very best opponents. Much of the league appears to have reacted by returning to the comfort of using size as an advantage.

NBA Free Agency Diary: Today’s NBA Superstars Won’t Stop Team-Hopping

Keep track of the chaotic NBA offseason with our Free Agency Diary.


Dear NBA Diary,

Remember when NBA players wearing different jerseys was new and novel? When you’d experiment with weird trades in NBA Live’s franchise mode, knowing that nothing so crazy as, I don’t know, Russell Westbrook in a Houston Rockets uniform or Kevin Durant as a Brooklyn Net would actually happen? And when the first wave of truly wild moves — such as LeBron James joining the Miami Heat in 2010 — did actually happen, do you remember the way our minds were blown as we imagined superstar combinations we’d never seen before?

All of that is old news in 2019, now that we’ve seen countless Big Threes and even Hamptons Fives. If James signing to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was groundbreaking and Durant joining the Golden State Warriors still managed to shock, we’re pretty desensitized to huge names heading for new places by now. Yes, Kawhi Leonard becoming an L.A. Clipper was a big story, but mostly because of what it means for next season’s championship chase — not because the idea of him in a different jersey was all that tough to comprehend. (We’d just finished watching the longtime Spur win a title in a Toronto Raptors jersey anyway.)

This is the era of player empowerment, as it’s recently been designated, and NBA players are placing a major premium on freedom of movement and choice of teammates. You can see this in the sheer number of different franchises for which top players suit up, relative to in the past. From the 1980s through the 2000s, a top 25 NBA player of a given decade (according to consensus Wins Created)1 played for 1.99 teams during a 10-year span, on average. During the 2010s, however, the average top 25 player has played for 2.76 teams. And that bump in franchises played for holds across most of the ranking slots from No. 1 to No. 25, if we plot them out in a chart:

Not every player has taken quite the same path as Dwight Howard, who ranks No. 18 in the 2010s and is now on his seventh team of the decade after being traded away from the Wizards this summer. But James, for instance, has played for three teams this decade — the Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers — while only one No. 1 player of the previous three decades — Kevin Garnett, who starred for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics during the 2000s — played for more than one team. The reality of today’s league is stars hop teams far more often than their counterparts did in earlier eras, controlling their own destinies rather than letting team executives slide them around like pawns on a chessboard.

It’s a trend NBA commissioner Adam Silver seems keenly aware of — if powerless to change, particularly with regard to the many deals that appeared to be made before the league’s mandated free-agency period was set to begin.

“My sense in the room today was, especially when it comes to free agency and the rules around it, that we’ve got work to do,” Silver told reporters last week, after the league’s board of governors meetings. “And as I said, it’s still the same principles of fair balance of power and a sense that it’s a level playing field. I think that’s what teams want to know. I think they’re put in difficult situations because when they’re sitting across from a player and whether it’s conversations that are happening earlier than they should or frankly things are being discussed that don’t fall squarely within the collective bargaining agreement, it puts teams in a very difficult position because they are reading or hearing that other teams are doing other things to compete.”

Even incentives put into place to theoretically curb player movement, such as larger maximum contracts (both in guaranteed length and total money) for players re-signing with their most recent teams, have failed to stop them from packing up and leaving town. Durant, for instance, left $57 million on the table to sign with Brooklyn rather than return to Golden State. Leonard gave up at least $80 million (!!) — if not even more — relative to what he could have gotten from a supermax deal with the Spurs, and about $30 million compared with what the Raptors could have given him by signing with the Clippers.

Today’s stars, as ESPN’s Rachel Nichols perfectly put it, can’t be bought. They’ve proven that they’re willing to give up mind-boggling sums of cash in order to make their own decisions.

Is all of this good for the league? Judging from the reaction on social media or in search traffic — where the NBA got playoff-level attention during the first week of July — the game’s popularity has seldom been higher, and the craziness of this offseason has only helped. I’ve said before that, if you view the modern NBA through a player-focused lens, it makes the most sense as a gigantic real-life soap opera. The concept of franchises is just incidental to all that, merely providing structure for the individual drama.

Of course, if you are a fan of a team, it hurts to see your favorite players leave. The Raptors did everything they possibly could to retain Leonard’s services, but they reportedly had practically no chance of re-signing him even as they were winning the title. Although the players should owe no loyalty to team owners (err, “governors”) beyond the contracts they sign, from a fan’s perspective it seems to make little sense to root for any specific NBA team. Even if a team is lucky enough to acquire a superstar, it’s far from guaranteed he would stay more than a season or two in today’s climate.

But the other side of that coin is that it’s more possible than ever for downtrodden teams to land a superstar in the first place. The Nets and Clippers have spent more of their histories as laughingstocks than contenders, particularly since both were seen as the “little brothers” in their markets (behind the Knicks — LOL — and Lakers). The franchises were not traditional free-agent destinations. But as stars become more focused on setting up the right situation for themselves and the players they want to play with, even teams without a history of snagging big-name players can make themselves an attractive option. It’s a different way of doing business — but in today’s era of superstar team-hopping, it might just be the new normal.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

NBA Free Agency Diary: The Rockets Don’t Have Superstar FOMO Anymore

Keep track of the chaotic NBA offseason with our Free Agency Diary.


Dear NBA Diary,

Time for a do-over. On Thursday morning, I wrote that the Houston Rockets would be just fine running things back with their existing core of James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela and company, despite the narrative that they were falling behind in the Western Conference’s superstar arms race.

Then Thursday night happened. Daryl Morey and the Rockets offered up what feels like the millionth earth-shattering transaction of the NBA summer by dealing Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook. Just like that, Houston had created an entirely new star combo in Harden and Westbrook — and we needed a new breakdown of their full-strength CARMELO rating:

Whoaaaa, look at this Rockets team now

Projected full-strength regular-season depth chart for the 2019-20 Houston Rockets, based on CARMELO plus/minus ratings

EXPECTED MINUTES PER GAME PLAYER RATING
PLAYER PG SG SF PF C TOTAL OFF. +/- DEF. +/- TOT. +/-
James Harden 8 25 4 0 0 37 +7.4 +0.9 +8.3
Russell Westbrook 31 5 0 0 0 36 +3.5 +0.5 +3.9
Clint Capela 0 0 0 2 29 31 -0.3 +2.3 +2.0
Eric Gordon 0 3 26 0 0 29 +1.1 -1.2 -0.1
PJ Tucker 0 0 3 25 0 28 -1.2 +1.1 -0.1
Austin Rivers 9 12 5 0 0 26 +0.1 -1.3 -1.2
Gerald Green 0 0 9 8 0 17 -0.7 -1.9 -2.6
Tyson Chandler 0 0 0 0 15 15 -2.9 +2.1 -0.9
Danuel House Jr. 0 3 1 10 0 14 +0.0 -0.4 -0.5
Deyonta Davis 0 0 0 1 4 5 -1.7 +1.0 -0.7
Isaiah Hartenstein 0 0 0 2 0 2 -1.7 +1.4 -0.3
Gary Clark 0 0 0 0 0 0 -1.9 -0.4 -2.3
Chris Chiozza 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.9 -1.6 -2.5
Michael Frazier 0 0 0 0 0 0 -1.6 -1.3 -2.9
Trevon Duval 0 0 0 0 0 0 -2.5 -1.4 -3.9
Chris Clemons 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.7 -1.0 -1.7
Team total 240 +6.8 +1.8 +8.4
Expected record: 58-24
CARMELO team rating: 1716

In the short term, this deal improves what was already a surprisingly strong-looking Rockets roster. Houston’s CARMELO rating was 1693 (good for a 56-win projection and a 19 percent championship probability) before the trade; now, that rating is 1716, to go with 58 projected wins and a 25 percent chance of winning the title. Morey paid two first-round picks (and two pick swaps) to make those marginal gains, but in a 2019-20 season that looks wide-open, every little bit could make all the difference.

Certainly, Westbrook (age 30) is younger than Paul (34) and projects to be better over the next few seasons, according to CARMELO’s wins above replacement metric, though he is coming off a worse season in 2018-19:

There are still plenty of questions about how the members of Houston’s new star pairing will coexist with each other. And the trade feels at least in part like a deal done just so the Rockets can say they made a big offseason splash on par with the West’s other heavy hitters. But it certainly further bolsters Houston’s case as the favorite in a loaded Western Conference.

UPDATE (July 12, 2019, 2:40 p.m.): This diary entry has been updated to reflect the signing of Tyson Chandler. Houston’s Elo didn’t change.

Check out our NBA player ratings.

A Better Way To Evaluate NBA Defense

Basketball, in some sense, is fundamentally a shooting game. Shooting isn’t the only important action that takes place on a basketball court, obviously. But if no one kept track of who was taking shots and making buckets, we’d have, at best, an extremely fuzzy impression of which players were actually any good, even if we had access to all their other statistics.

But believe it or not, this had long been the situation when it came to measuring player defense. There are individual defensive statistics such as rebounds and steals, of course. But there’s no direct measure of shooting defense (other than blocks, which account for a relatively small fraction of missed shots). If an opponent gets hot against your team and shoots 53 for 91 en route to scoring 130 points, we know your team defended poorly in the aggregate, but we don’t know which players to blame.

That is, until a few years ago, when the NBA started publishing data on opponents’ shooting. Last regular season, for example, NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert defended a league-high 1,426 shots, according to motion tracking data by Second Spectrum, which identifies the nearest defender on every field goal attempt. Opponents made only 45 percent of those field goal attempts, well below the roughly 49 percent that Second Spectrum estimates “should” have gone in against average defense for a given distance to the basket.

We’ve been obsessed with this opponents’ shooting data for a while, in part because it sometimes seemed to track closely with players who had stronger or weaker defensive reputations than you would infer from other advanced statistics such as Real Plus-Minus. Boston’s Kyrie Irving was regarded as a slightly above-average defender by RPM last year, for instance. But his opponents’ shooting data suggests he’s a big liability instead. On the other hand, Toronto’s Serge Ibaka was an excellent defender based on opponents’ shooting, whereas RPM regards him as just average.

So this year, we decided to evaluate the opponents’ shooting data in a more comprehensive way and incorporate it into our projection system, CARMELO. Just as CARMELO is a goofy backronym (Career-Arc Regression Model Estimator with Local Optimization) that honors one of our favorite players, Carmelo Anthony, we decided to give our new defensive rating a player-centric name, this time in honor of the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green, who has long been one of the best players in basketball by opponent shooting. So our new rating is called DRAYMOND, which stands for….

Defensive

Rating

Accounting for

Yielding

Minimal

Openness by

Nearest

Defender

🙄

All right, so the acronym may or may not catch on. But it does get at one essential discovery we made in playing around with the opponents’ shooting data: the idea of minimizing openness. The main goal of shooting defense, especially in today’s spacing-centric, ball-movement-forward offensive era, is really to minimize the chance of an open shot.

So when I cited Gobert’s numbers earlier in this article, for instance, the most impressive part was not that opponents shot poorly against him, although that helped the Jazz, of course. Rather, it was that he was the nearest defender on so many shots: about 26 shots per 100 possessions that he was on the floor last year1 as compared with a league average of about 17 shots defended per 100 possessions. By contrast, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook — whom DRAYMOND regards as being vastly overrated by other defensive metrics — was the nearest defender on only 12 shots per 100 possessions. Some of this has to do with Westbrook’s and Gobert’s respective positions — centers naturally defend more shots than guards do, a factor that DRAYMOND corrects for (see below). But even accounting for that, it’s clear that some players are much more impactful defenders than others.

I’m sure you’re curious to see some data, but first, an explanation of how DRAYMOND is calculated. We’ll keep it pretty brief.

As I mentioned above, what we’re really interested in is how much value a defender provides relative to an open shot. That is to say, we generally don’t want to punish a player for happening to be the nearest defender according to the Second Spectrum data. Some defense is generally better than none; if Player X hadn’t defended the shot, it’s possible that no one else would have.2

Through trial and error, we found that DRAYMOND performs best3 if you assume that shooting percentages on open shots are about 8 percentage points higher than against average defense. For instance, if a certain type of above-the-break 3-pointer is made 34 percent of the time against average defense, we’d expect it to go in about 42 percent of the time if it was truly open.

This allows us to calculate an initial score that we call RAW_DRAYMOND. For example, if a player faced 100 2-point shots and allowed 46 of them to go in when you’d expect 56 percent of them to be converted if wide open, that player prevented …

(.56-.46) x 100 x 2 = 20

… about 20 points from being scored with his defense. (Obviously, this player could have provided additional value based on his defense against 3-point shots. Indeed, since 3-point shots are worth more than 2-pointers — hashtag #math — players who are effective at defending threes are especially rewarded by DRAYMOND.)

However, there are several adjustments we need to make in getting from RAW_DRAYMOND to regular DRAYMOND:

  • Since DRAYMOND is based on both regular-season and playoff data, we adjust for the fact that defenders face slightly tougher shooters on average in the playoffs.
  • We divide RAW_DRAYMOND by the number of possessions that the player was on the floor, so that DRAYMOND (like RPM and most other NBA stats) is a rate statistic rather than a counting statistic.
  • We adjust the number of shots defended based on a player’s position. The average point guard and shooting guard defends about 15 shots per 100 possessions, the average small forward defends about 16 shots, the average power forward 19 shots, and the average center 22 shots.4 This somewhat equalizes defensive value over the five positions. Even so, bigs are generally the most valuable defenders in basketball according to DRAYMOND, as they are under most other advanced statistics.
  • Finally, we subtract the value of league-average shooting defense per possession from each player’s score. Thus, like RPM and Box Plus/Minus (BPM), the statistics that CARMELO has traditionally used to make its projections, DRAYMOND is a plus-minus statistic measured per 100 possessions, where a score of 0 represents average defense.

Among players who have played at least 10,000 possessions over the past six seasons (the NBA’s opponents’ shooting data goes back to 2013-14), the top defender according to DRAYMOND is … Draymond Green, who has provided the Warriors with +3.2 points per 100 possessions of defensive value based on his scoring defense alone, not counting all of the other ways (e.g., steals) that he produces defensive value. Green is followed on the list by a fairly star-studded cast of defenders: Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis (!), Rudy Gobert, Tim Duncan, Andre Roberson and Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the worst-rated defender over the past six seasons according to DRAYMOND is Rajon Rondo.

The best defender according to DRAYMOND is Draymond

NBA players by DRAYMOND* defensive ratings, based on opponents’ shooting data in the regular season and playoffs, with a minimum of 10,000 possessions played since 2013-14

Player Possessions played DRAYMOND RATING
Draymond Green 38,282 +3.16
Joel Embiid 11,766 +2.95
Kristaps Porzingis 11,714 +2.57
Rudy Gobert 24,889 +2.40
Tim Duncan 14,218 +2.20
Andre Roberson 15,147 +2.06
Anthony Davis 30,484 +2.05
Andrew Bogut 13,887 +2.01
Roy Hibbert 14,695 +1.92
Josh Smith 13,122 +1.90
Hassan Whiteside 18,508 +1.87
Derrick Favors 24,324 +1.86
Myles Turner 17,509 +1.73
Aron Baynes 14,484 +1.71
Joakim Noah 15,511 +1.60
Brook Lopez 25,200 +1.60
Timofey Mozgov 14,696 +1.57
Luc Mbah a Moute 16,502 +1.56
Serge Ibaka 32,865 +1.54
Kyle O’Quinn 11,843 +1.52
Montrezl Harrell 11,001 +1.44
Kevin Durant 35,683 +1.44
Robin Lopez 25,657 +1.43
Al Horford 30,395 +1.41
David West 17,671 +1.40
Clint Capela 18,110 +1.39
Pau Gasol 23,255 +1.38
James Johnson 17,746 +1.33
Josh Richardson 17,276 +1.28
LaMarcus Aldridge 33,382 +1.27
Dewayne Dedmon 13,581 +1.25
Jaylen Brown 13,507 +1.25
Jusuf Nurkic 15,099 +1.24
Giannis Antetokounmpo 33,511 +1.23
Nemanja Bjelica 11,568 +1.15
John Henson 15,221 +1.14
Danny Green 28,467 +1.12
Kosta Koufos 15,534 +1.11
Jerami Grant 20,433 +1.10
Ben Simmons 13,358 +1.10
Steven Adams 28,973 +1.09
Tyler Zeller 11,412 +1.09
Mike Dunleavy 12,931 +1.08
Klay Thompson 41,713 +1.05
Tony Allen 14,520 +1.04
Miles Plumlee 11,556 +1.04
DeMarcus Cousins 24,075 +1.00
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 17,801 +0.99
Justise Winslow 14,191 +0.97
Raymond Felton 16,949 +0.97
Taj Gibson 26,231 +0.96
DeAndre Jordan 34,072 +0.96
Thabo Sefolosha 16,186 +0.95
Kawhi Leonard 27,674 +0.88
Ian Mahinmi 14,184 +0.88
Pascal Siakam 12,798 +0.88
Solomon Hill 14,891 +0.87
Jonas Valanciunas 23,901 +0.85
Marcin Gortat 28,529 +0.84
Kemba Walker 33,021 +0.81
Jrue Holiday 25,597 +0.80
Shaun Livingston 21,495 +0.79
Spencer Hawes 11,803 +0.78
Bismack Biyombo 17,520 +0.78
Maurice Harkless 20,198 +0.77
Wilson Chandler 21,126 +0.76
Amir Johnson 20,436 +0.75
Trevor Booker 16,039 +0.72
Cody Zeller 17,321 +0.72
Alex Len 17,616 +0.71
Marc Gasol 30,496 +0.71
David Lee 12,774 +0.67
George Hill 26,013 +0.64
Langston Galloway 15,734 +0.62
Quincy Acy 10,497 +0.61
Evan Turner 27,518 +0.61
Dwight Powell 12,343 +0.59
Paul Pierce 12,678 +0.59
Cory Joseph 23,771 +0.57
Nikola Mirotic 18,138 +0.57
Jimmy Butler 32,597 +0.54
Jayson Tatum 12,138 +0.53
James Harden 40,828 +0.52
Nerlens Noel 14,418 +0.51
Noah Vonleh 11,214 +0.47
Derrick Rose 17,293 +0.47
Patrick Patterson 21,197 +0.47
Jeremy Lin 18,390 +0.46
Dion Waiters 21,066 +0.45
Domantas Sabonis 11,443 +0.44
Ed Davis 17,428 +0.43
Jared Dudley 18,767 +0.42
Goran Dragic 28,790 +0.41
Aaron Gordon 20,045 +0.40
Marreese Speights 11,425 +0.40
Paul Millsap 30,217 +0.39
CJ McCollum 28,793 +0.38
Justin Holiday 16,591 +0.38
Eric Bledsoe 26,635 +0.36
Tristan Thompson 27,936 +0.36
Jared Sullinger 11,886 +0.35
Trey Lyles 10,302 +0.34
Paul George 32,598 +0.33
Allen Crabbe 18,711 +0.33
Lance Thomas 12,142 +0.32
Gerald Henderson 16,500 +0.31
Tyler Johnson 15,111 +0.30
DeMarre Carroll 26,019 +0.29
Stephen Curry 39,307 +0.27
Mike Conley 23,955 +0.23
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 12,081 +0.21
Mason Plumlee 22,777 +0.21
Dwight Howard 24,588 +0.20
LeBron James 39,997 +0.19
Rudy Gay 24,069 +0.19
JaMychal Green 14,173 +0.18
Patrick Beverley 22,626 +0.17
Blake Griffin 29,325 +0.16
Nikola Vucevic 26,406 +0.16
Damian Lillard 38,628 +0.16
Jae Crowder 27,620 +0.16
Matthew Dellavedova 18,129 +0.16
Kent Bazemore 22,184 +0.16
Mario Chalmers 15,652 +0.15
Luol Deng 18,725 +0.15
Jonas Jerebko 15,123 +0.14
Markieff Morris 26,032 +0.12
Andre Iguodala 29,712 +0.11
Omer Asik 10,195 +0.11
JJ Redick 29,725 +0.10
Anthony Tolliver 17,263 +0.08
Manu Ginobili 16,974 +0.08
Dwyane Wade 25,627 +0.08
PJ Tucker 32,880 +0.08
Austin Rivers 23,087 +0.07
Spencer Dinwiddie 13,248 +0.07
John Wall 31,634 +0.07
Karl-Anthony Towns 23,043 +0.07
Ish Smith 19,446 +0.07
Wesley Matthews 30,095 +0.06
Jeremy Lamb 18,210 +0.06
Chris Bosh 12,709 +0.06
Marvin Williams 25,849 +0.06
Kyle Anderson 12,802 +0.05
Jason Smith 11,230 +0.05
Donovan Mitchell 12,171 +0.04
Isaiah Thomas 23,565 +0.04
Al-Farouq Aminu 26,956 +0.03
CJ Miles 17,938 +0.03
Terry Rozier 13,805 +0.03
Kyle Lowry 35,784 +0.02
Marcus Morris 28,223 +0.02
Reggie Bullock 10,929 +0.01
Gerald Green 18,429 +0.00
Dario Saric 14,499 +0.00
Andre Drummond 31,709 +0.00
Marcus Smart 22,997 +0.00
Terrence Jones 12,064 +0.00
Kelly Olynyk 20,609 -0.01
Brandon Bass 12,616 -0.02
Courtney Lee 25,321 -0.02
Khris Middleton 30,940 -0.03
Jerian Grant 10,248 -0.03
Terrence Ross 23,139 -0.03
Nene 16,100 -0.03
T.J. McConnell 15,302 -0.03
Michael Carter-Williams 17,756 -0.03
Boris Diaw 15,683 -0.04
Jarrett Jack 14,572 -0.05
Malcolm Brogdon 12,073 -0.06
Kyle Kuzma 10,183 -0.06
Mike Muscala 10,947 -0.07
Brandon Ingram 12,815 -0.07
Robert Covington 21,084 -0.07
Vince Carter 18,232 -0.09
Tyson Chandler 18,693 -0.09
Meyers Leonard 10,837 -0.10
Matt Barnes 18,283 -0.10
Tony Snell 20,715 -0.13
Jeff Teague 29,994 -0.13
Nicolas Batum 31,707 -0.13
Bradley Beal 34,063 -0.14
Al Jefferson 14,574 -0.15
Garrett Temple 18,146 -0.15
Aaron Brooks 11,764 -0.17
Iman Shumpert 20,064 -0.17
Willie Cauley-Stein 14,903 -0.17
Enes Kanter 24,020 -0.18
Joe Harris 13,015 -0.19
Bobby Portis 10,791 -0.20
Hollis Thompson 13,414 -0.21
Wesley Johnson 19,012 -0.22
Thaddeus Young 31,870 -0.22
Mirza Teletovic 11,261 -0.22
Jeff Green 28,433 -0.23
Gordon Hayward 26,388 -0.23
Kevin Love 28,026 -0.24
Stanley Johnson 12,913 -0.25
Omri Casspi 13,641 -0.25
Luis Scola 11,128 -0.26
Eric Gordon 28,024 -0.26
Harrison Barnes 33,280 -0.28
Kyle Korver 28,624 -0.28
Nikola Jokic 19,092 -0.29
Devin Harris 15,894 -0.29
Victor Oladipo 28,135 -0.29
Deron Williams 17,520 -0.31
Tobias Harris 31,349 -0.31
Monta Ellis 22,806 -0.32
Jerryd Bayless 13,461 -0.32
Randy Foye 13,985 -0.32
Jason Terry 13,194 -0.32
Dennis Schroder 23,921 -0.33
Zaza Pachulia 17,765 -0.33
Mike Scott 15,790 -0.34
Richard Jefferson 14,457 -0.35
Trey Burke 17,019 -0.36
Dirk Nowitzki 24,696 -0.37
Joe Ingles 22,212 -0.37
Ian Clark 10,859 -0.39
Chandler Parsons 18,098 -0.40
Isaiah Canaan 10,149 -0.40
Tyreke Evans 18,965 -0.40
Ersan Ilyasova 21,881 -0.41
Jordan Hill 10,087 -0.45
Darren Collison 25,990 -0.46
Jodie Meeks 12,673 -0.47
E’Twaun Moore 19,870 -0.48
Larry Nance Jr. 12,949 -0.49
Shelvin Mack 15,274 -0.49
Shane Larkin 10,117 -0.49
Patty Mills 23,097 -0.51
Joe Johnson 25,036 -0.52
Tim Hardaway Jr. 22,178 -0.52
Ryan Anderson 18,873 -0.52
Lance Stephenson 20,349 -0.52
Norman Powell 10,579 -0.53
Kyle Singler 11,355 -0.53
Will Barton 20,048 -0.54
Avery Bradley 26,335 -0.54
T.J. Warren 15,353 -0.55
Tony Parker 22,184 -0.55
Mario Hezonja 10,871 -0.56
Greg Monroe 21,907 -0.56
Nik Stauskas 13,971 -0.56
Danilo Gallinari 17,302 -0.57
Jon Leuer 10,751 -0.57
Chris Paul 31,344 -0.58
James Ennis III 12,375 -0.59
Carmelo Anthony 24,805 -0.59
Andrew Wiggins 29,659 -0.60
Taurean Prince 11,091 -0.62
Rodney Hood 19,067 -0.62
Ramon Sessions 13,288 -0.62
Rodney Stuckey 11,918 -0.63
Gary Harris 19,416 -0.64
JR Smith 25,891 -0.64
Channing Frye 16,675 -0.65
Corey Brewer 21,400 -0.67
Reggie Jackson 25,636 -0.67
Wayne Ellington 17,863 -0.68
Frank Kaminsky 13,278 -0.69
Arron Afflalo 19,467 -0.71
Julius Randle 18,720 -0.72
Doug McDermott 14,334 -0.74
Bojan Bogdanovic 24,638 -0.74
Elfrid Payton 21,014 -0.78
Buddy Hield 13,734 -0.78
Jamal Murray 15,101 -0.79
Brandon Knight 16,757 -0.80
Devin Booker 19,065 -0.80
Lou Williams 26,587 -0.81
Gorgui Dieng 21,118 -0.82
Kenneth Faried 17,635 -0.82
Derrick Williams 11,367 -0.83
Zach Randolph 21,896 -0.84
DeMar DeRozan 36,103 -0.85
Evan Fournier 25,823 -0.85
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 29,067 -0.88
D’Angelo Russell 16,686 -0.90
Emmanuel Mudiay 13,309 -0.90
Ben McLemore 17,957 -0.94
Norris Cole 11,175 -0.97
Jameer Nelson 15,646 -0.97
Kyrie Irving 31,938 -0.99
Ricky Rubio 26,045 -0.99
Jordan Clarkson 22,324 -1.03
Otto Porter Jr. 24,148 -1.03
Russell Westbrook 35,302 -1.04
Jonathon Simmons 11,869 -1.05
Kelly Oubre Jr. 14,377 -1.08
Brandon Jennings 14,286 -1.16
Dante Cunningham 19,597 -1.17
Anthony Morrow 10,184 -1.18
Marco Belinelli 23,994 -1.19
D.J. Augustin 22,122 -1.22
Jabari Parker 15,480 -1.24
Trevor Ariza 37,477 -1.25
J.J. Barea 16,230 -1.25
Nick Young 14,675 -1.26
Jamal Crawford 25,169 -1.28
Ty Lawson 17,022 -1.31
Zach LaVine 17,990 -1.36
Alec Burks 14,268 -1.49
Jose Calderon 16,539 -1.54
Rajon Rondo 22,941 -1.55

* Defensive Rating Accounting for Yielding Minimal Openness by Nearest Defender

And here’s the data for last season (2018-19), with a minimum of 2,000 possessions defended. The Jazz’s Derrick Favors was the top defender, followed by the Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, while the Cavaliers’ Collin Sexton was the worst defender in the league.

The best DRAYMOND defenders of 2018-19

NBA players by DRAYMOND* defensive ratings, based on opponents’ shooting data in the regular season and playoffs, with a minimum of 2,000 possessions played in 2018-19

Player Possessions played DRAYMOND RATING
Derrick Favors 4,036 +3.74
Mitchell Robinson 2,882 +3.32
Derrick Jones Jr. 2,389 +3.10
Jusuf Nurkic 4,212 +3.03
Maxi Kleber 3,168 +2.94
Hassan Whiteside 3,490 +2.89
Rudy Gobert 5,786 +2.82
Kevon Looney 4,145 +2.72
Serge Ibaka 5,258 +2.63
Richaun Holmes 2,558 +2.54
Brook Lopez 6,040 +2.53
Myles Turner 4,656 +2.43
Ivica Zubac 2,365 +2.43
Joel Embiid 5,419 +2.40
Robin Lopez 3,387 +2.35
Torrey Craig 3,798 +2.33
Jonas Valanciunas 2,345 +2.25
Evan Turner 3,896 +2.23
Bruce Brown 3,135 +2.21
James Johnson 2,419 +2.19
Aron Baynes 2,033 +2.17
JaVale McGee 3,690 +2.17
Nerlens Noel 2,437 +2.15
Giannis Antetokounmpo 6,339 +2.13
Shabazz Napier 2,193 +1.92
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 2,511 +1.92
Pat Connaughton 3,493 +1.90
Montrezl Harrell 5,060 +1.82
LaMarcus Aldridge 6,012 +1.82
Draymond Green 6,260 +1.76
Nemanja Bjelica 3,950 +1.76
Derrick White 3,964 +1.74
Josh Hart 3,796 +1.72
Wes Iwundu 2,757 +1.69
Pascal Siakam 7,195 +1.65
Cody Zeller 2,639 +1.64
Jahlil Okafor 2,039 +1.52
Jaren Jackson Jr. 3,076 +1.51
Kyle Anderson 2,606 +1.50
Gary Harris 4,427 +1.42
Jared Dudley 2,749 +1.40
James Harden 6,754 +1.40
Mason Plumlee 4,086 +1.33
Dorian Finney-Smith 4,200 +1.31
Jayson Tatum 5,809 +1.26
Patrick Beverley 5,029 +1.25
Eric Bledsoe 5,900 +1.23
Al Horford 4,834 +1.18
Jaylen Brown 4,698 +1.18
Anthony Davis 4,014 +1.15
Dennis Smith Jr. 3,200 +1.15
Brandon Ingram 3,850 +1.15
Clint Capela 5,313 +1.13
Cory Joseph 4,489 +1.13
Thon Maker 2,220 +1.11
Dwight Powell 3,524 +1.10
Allen Crabbe 2,444 +1.09
Seth Curry 3,615 +1.03
Andre Drummond 5,709 +1.01
Lonzo Ball 3,122 +1.00
Ben Simmons 6,761 +0.97
D.J. Wilson 2,055 +0.96
Kevin Durant 6,753 +0.94
Markieff Morris 2,863 +0.94
Nikola Vucevic 5,515 +0.94
John Collins 4,039 +0.88
Shaquille Harrison 3,032 +0.88
Malcolm Brogdon 4,463 +0.88
Nikola Jokic 6,263 +0.87
Jarrett Allen 4,774 +0.87
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 5,090 +0.87
PJ Tucker 6,632 +0.85
DeAndre Jordan 4,300 +0.83
Juancho Hernangomez 2,863 +0.83
Klay Thompson 7,394 +0.80
Steven Adams 6,187 +0.78
Spencer Dinwiddie 4,395 +0.77
Dewayne Dedmon 3,516 +0.76
Royce O’Neale 3,884 +0.75
Marc Gasol 6,448 +0.74
Gordon Hayward 4,582 +0.74
Bam Adebayo 4,006 +0.73
Norman Powell 3,207 +0.71
CJ McCollum 6,340 +0.70
Darius Miller 3,861 +0.70
Jerami Grant 6,093 +0.70
Rudy Gay 4,216 +0.69
Robert Covington 2,548 +0.69
George Hill 3,632 +0.69
Maurice Harkless 3,833 +0.66
Wendell Carter Jr. 2,311 +0.65
Trey Lyles 2,390 +0.64
Jakob Poeltl 3,061 +0.64
Mike Muscala 2,889 +0.64
Jimmy Butler 5,562 +0.62
T.J. McConnell 3,358 +0.62
Nicolas Batum 4,923 +0.62
Kemba Walker 5,962 +0.62
Deandre Ayton 4,645 +0.62
Jonathan Isaac 4,456 +0.61
Paul Millsap 4,866 +0.59
Kyle Lowry 6,510 +0.57
Trey Burke 2,387 +0.57
Josh Jackson 4,267 +0.56
Karl-Anthony Towns 5,392 +0.53
Andre Iguodala 4,742 +0.52
Zach Collins 3,419 +0.49
Emmanuel Mudiay 3,418 +0.48
Eric Gordon 5,347 +0.45
Delon Wright 3,611 +0.43
Avery Bradley 4,044 +0.42
Damian Lillard 7,338 +0.40
Alex Len 3,489 +0.40
LeBron James 4,228 +0.40
Danuel House Jr. 2,369 +0.40
Nikola Mirotic 3,444 +0.39
Ish Smith 2,763 +0.39
Mike Conley 4,816 +0.38
Tyreke Evans 3,134 +0.35
Dwyane Wade 4,006 +0.34
Jae Crowder 4,940 +0.34
Daniel Theis 2,061 +0.34
D’Angelo Russell 5,600 +0.33
Justin Holiday 5,432 +0.31
Terry Rozier 4,133 +0.30
Rodions Kurucs 3,041 +0.28
Derrick Rose 3,020 +0.27
Kawhi Leonard 6,178 +0.25
Langston Galloway 3,888 +0.24
Jrue Holiday 5,233 +0.24
Larry Nance Jr. 3,684 +0.23
Elfrid Payton 2,778 +0.23
Ed Davis 3,157 +0.23
Domantas Sabonis 4,021 +0.22
Thomas Bryant 3,241 +0.17
Josh Richardson 5,296 +0.16
Andrew Wiggins 5,400 +0.14
Davis Bertans 3,653 +0.12
Rodney Hood 4,642 +0.12
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 2,847 +0.11
Goran Dragic 2,134 +0.11
Tony Snell 2,947 +0.11
Austin Rivers 4,753 +0.11
Dario Saric 4,371 +0.11
Paul George 6,639 +0.09
Kenrich Williams 2,390 +0.09
Noah Vonleh 3,662 +0.08
Danny Green 6,093 +0.08
Fred VanVleet 4,882 +0.08
Shaun Livingston 2,710 +0.08
Rodney McGruder 3,272 +0.03
Joe Harris 5,271 +0.02
Wayne Ellington 2,965 +0.02
Enes Kanter 4,397 +0.01
Marcus Smart 4,760 -0.01
Cheick Diallo 2,016 -0.02
Landry Shamet 4,303 -0.05
OG Anunoby 2,920 -0.05
Aaron Gordon 5,817 -0.06
Jeff Teague 2,695 -0.07
Thaddeus Young 5,391 -0.08
Justin Jackson 3,505 -0.16
Tyler Johnson 3,241 -0.17
De’Aaron Fox 5,626 -0.17
Khris Middleton 6,334 -0.19
Ersan Ilyasova 3,315 -0.20
Kelly Olynyk 3,795 -0.21
Buddy Hield 5,744 -0.22
Alfonzo McKinnie 2,709 -0.22
Tobias Harris 6,998 -0.24
Ryan Arcidiacono 4,105 -0.25
Kyle Kuzma 5,063 -0.25
Jake Layman 2,861 -0.25
Tristan Thompson 2,445 -0.25
Sterling Brown 2,651 -0.29
Marvin Bagley III 3,418 -0.30
Garrett Temple 4,386 -0.31
Bojan Bogdanovic 5,659 -0.32
David Nwaba 2,034 -0.32
Mike Scott 3,520 -0.32
Marcus Morris 5,009 -0.33
Terrance Ferguson 4,504 -0.33
Wilson Chandler 2,670 -0.33
Willie Cauley-Stein 4,851 -0.37
Dion Waiters 2,334 -0.38
Jordan Clarkson 4,606 -0.40
Jabari Parker 3,713 -0.40
Anthony Tolliver 2,328 -0.40
Justise Winslow 4,093 -0.41
Julius Randle 4,889 -0.41
De’Anthony Melton 2,112 -0.41
Stephen Curry 6,852 -0.42
Dennis Schroder 5,385 -0.42
Kris Dunn 2,898 -0.42
Harrison Barnes 5,415 -0.42
Ante Zizic 2,259 -0.44
JJ Redick 6,068 -0.44
Doug McDermott 2,906 -0.45
Taj Gibson 3,607 -0.47
Bogdan Bogdanovic 4,205 -0.48
Jamal Murray 6,100 -0.53
DeMarre Carroll 3,942 -0.54
Stanley Johnson 2,607 -0.54
Marco Belinelli 4,179 -0.55
Jonas Jerebko 2,863 -0.56
Kelly Oubre Jr. 4,215 -0.56
Evan Fournier 5,642 -0.56
Gorgui Dieng 2,247 -0.59
Blake Griffin 5,538 -0.61
Monte Morris 4,561 -0.62
Danilo Gallinari 4,818 -0.65
JaMychal Green 3,244 -0.66
Jeff Green 4,501 -0.67
Jonathon Simmons 2,408 -0.79
Bradley Beal 6,505 -0.80
Luka Doncic 4,912 -0.81
Lauri Markkanen 3,496 -0.81
Iman Shumpert 3,455 -0.83
Zach LaVine 4,547 -0.83
Russell Westbrook 6,193 -0.84
Tony Parker 2,145 -0.85
Devin Harris 2,267 -0.85
Elie Okobo 2,040 -0.85
Reggie Bullock 3,974 -0.86
Chris Paul 4,743 -0.89
Allonzo Trier 3,104 -0.90
John Wall 2,404 -0.91
Yogi Ferrell 2,330 -0.92
Al-Farouq Aminu 5,689 -0.92
Devin Booker 4,792 -0.93
Jeremy Lamb 4,710 -0.93
Jalen Brunson 3,346 -0.94
DeMar DeRozan 6,023 -0.96
Patty Mills 4,431 -0.96
Caris LeVert 2,593 -0.97
Mikal Bridges 5,176 -0.98
Jerian Grant 2,016 -0.99
DeAndre’ Bembry 4,311 -1.00
Will Barton 3,155 -1.00
Vince Carter 2,998 -1.00
Wesley Matthews 4,656 -1.01
Kyrie Irving 5,434 -1.01
Alec Burks 2,874 -1.06
Tomas Satoransky 4,634 -1.07
Kent Bazemore 3,658 -1.07
Donovan Mitchell 5,923 -1.08
Cedi Osman 5,021 -1.10
Otto Porter Jr. 3,634 -1.14
Terrence Ross 4,804 -1.14
Taurean Prince 3,462 -1.14
Tim Hardaway Jr. 4,345 -1.16
Joe Ingles 5,832 -1.17
Lance Stephenson 2,511 -1.20
Luke Kennard 3,218 -1.21
Mario Hezonja 2,549 -1.22
Marvin Williams 4,467 -1.22
Miles Bridges 3,625 -1.35
Damyean Dotson 4,241 -1.36
Kevin Knox 4,596 -1.42
Gerald Green 3,324 -1.43
E’Twaun Moore 3,187 -1.44
Darren Collison 4,693 -1.44
Ricky Rubio 4,414 -1.44
Josh Okogie 3,830 -1.45
Wayne Selden 3,048 -1.49
Bobby Portis 2,773 -1.50
Lou Williams 4,812 -1.67
Shelvin Mack 2,577 -1.69
D.J. Augustin 4,990 -1.77
Rajon Rondo 2,992 -1.79
Tyus Jones 3,348 -1.79
Reggie Jackson 4,971 -1.82
Bryn Forbes 5,200 -1.82
Trae Young 5,570 -1.83
Victor Oladipo 2,362 -1.84
Malik Beasley 4,532 -1.88
Ian Clark 2,165 -1.95
Jeremy Lin 3,270 -1.96
Malik Monk 2,703 -1.98
Frank Jackson 2,628 -2.10
Quinn Cook 2,649 -2.11
Nik Stauskas 2,164 -2.23
T.J. Warren 2,895 -2.27
Kyle Korver 2,966 -2.29
Meyers Leonard 2,212 -2.31
Jamal Crawford 2,647 -2.40
Kevin Huerter 4,544 -2.46
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 4,447 -2.49
James Ennis III 3,105 -2.68
Tim Frazier 2,554 -3.01
Trevor Ariza 4,997 -3.25
Collin Sexton 5,374 -3.59

* Defensive Rating Accounting for Yielding Minimal Openness by Nearest Defender

You can download a complete set of DRAYMOND data dating back to 2013-14 at this link.

But does DRAYMOND measure something that’s actually meaningful? To test this — and I have to apologize because there are a lot of similarly named statistics here with confusing acronyms — we regressed DRAYMOND and defensive BPM5 against five-year defensive Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM). What the hell does that mean? BPM is based on conventional box score statistics — most importantly rebounds, blocks and steals for the purposes of measuring defense. DRAYMOND is based on opponents’ shooting. RAPM, meanwhile, measures how much better or worse a team plays when a player is on or off the floor. In the long run, RAPM is basically6 the “right” way to measure player value, since it can account for all the direct and indirect contributions a player makes that may or may not have a corresponding statistic attached to them. In the short run and even the medium run, however (remember all that misleading data people cited about how the Warriors were so good without Kevin Durant?), RAPM can be extremely noisy. So RAPM is great if you’re looking back over a five-year sample, as we’re doing here, but on-court/off-court statistics need to be treated with extreme caution over small samples.

In any event, what we found is that BPM and DRAYMOND basically do equally well in predicting long-term RAPM. What that means is that the opponents’ shooting data is basically as powerful as all box score defensive statistics combined in predicting how much value a player’s defense truly has over the long run.

We also found, however, that BPM and DRAYMOND are largely not redundant with one another. Blocks, steals and rebounds, which BPM captures, are certainly valuable things, and DRAYMOND does not purport to measure those. But they are also not especially good proxies for shooting defense. There are some players such as Green and Gobert who are even better defenders than you’d gather from their box score stats, even though those stats are pretty good. But there are others like Trevor Ariza, who gets lots of steals but has been rated poorly by DRAYMOND in recent seasons. That doesn’t mean that Ariza is a poor defender, just that you need to take the good (steals) with the bad (allows opponents to convert field goals at a high rate) when evaluating him.

Let’s conclude with a list of players who are most affected, positively or negatively, by the incorporation of DRAYMOND. The table below compares our old CARMELO defensive ratings, which were based on a mix of two-thirds RPM and one-third BPM, to our new version, which still uses these statistics but also uses DRAYMOND.7 Here are the old and new defensive ratings for everyone with at least 10,000 possessions played since 2013-14.

Which players’ defense had been underrated or overrated?

Change in CARMELO defensive ratings since 2013-14 after incorporating DRAYMOND*, for players with a minimum of 10,000 possessions

CARMELO DEFENSIVE RATING
Player Old (based on RPM and BPM) New (incorporating DRAYMOND) Net Change
Kristaps Porzingis +1.50 +2.65 +1.15
Joel Embiid +3.16 +4.17 +1.01
Nemanja Bjelica +0.86 +1.68 +0.82
Josh Smith +1.60 +2.39 +0.80
Brook Lopez +1.22 +2.00 +0.78
Timofey Mozgov +1.38 +2.11 +0.72
Anthony Davis +2.85 +3.56 +0.71
Kemba Walker -0.80 -0.10 +0.70
Aron Baynes +1.82 +2.49 +0.66
Draymond Green +4.43 +5.09 +0.66
Isaiah Thomas -2.62 -1.99 +0.63
Luc Mbah a Moute +1.59 +2.21 +0.62
Raymond Felton -0.74 -0.13 +0.61
Montrezl Harrell -0.05 +0.56 +0.61
Derrick Favors +2.03 +2.63 +0.61
Wilson Chandler -0.75 -0.15 +0.60
Andre Roberson +2.47 +3.07 +0.60
Jaylen Brown +0.11 +0.71 +0.60
Dewayne Dedmon +2.04 +2.62 +0.59
Klay Thompson -0.91 -0.34 +0.57
Tyler Zeller +0.62 +1.19 +0.57
Matthew Dellavedova -1.16 -0.60 +0.56
Jerami Grant +0.27 +0.82 +0.55
Jrue Holiday +0.72 +1.25 +0.54
Langston Galloway -0.81 -0.30 +0.51
Mirza Teletovic -1.67 -1.20 +0.47
Kevin Durant +0.57 +1.03 +0.46
Jeremy Lin -0.41 +0.04 +0.45
Robin Lopez +1.24 +1.68 +0.44
Mike Conley -0.38 +0.06 +0.44
LaMarcus Aldridge +1.19 +1.62 +0.43
Rudy Gobert +4.66 +5.09 +0.43
Derrick Rose -2.11 -1.68 +0.43
Kosta Koufos +1.57 +1.99 +0.42
JJ Redick -1.66 -1.25 +0.41
Quincy Acy -0.21 +0.19 +0.39
Serge Ibaka +1.53 +1.92 +0.39
Gerald Green -1.82 -1.44 +0.38
Myles Turner +2.35 +2.72 +0.37
Roy Hibbert +2.34 +2.71 +0.36
Clint Capela +2.18 +2.54 +0.36
Trey Burke -2.72 -2.36 +0.36
Spencer Hawes +0.77 +1.12 +0.36
Eric Gordon -1.76 -1.41 +0.35
Isaiah Canaan -2.13 -1.79 +0.34
Jonas Valanciunas +0.57 +0.91 +0.34
Hassan Whiteside +2.74 +3.08 +0.34
Alex Len +1.05 +1.38 +0.33
Josh Richardson +0.43 +0.75 +0.32
Goran Dragic -0.92 -0.61 +0.32
James Harden -0.33 -0.02 +0.31
Anthony Tolliver -0.28 +0.02 +0.31
Hollis Thompson -2.08 -1.77 +0.31
Bradley Beal -0.95 -0.64 +0.30
Trey Lyles -0.46 -0.16 +0.30
Miles Plumlee +0.85 +1.15 +0.30
CJ McCollum -1.18 -0.89 +0.29
Dion Waiters -1.16 -0.87 +0.29
James Johnson +1.49 +1.78 +0.29
Mike Dunleavy +0.89 +1.17 +0.29
Tim Duncan +4.86 +5.14 +0.28
Ryan Anderson -1.85 -1.57 +0.28
Mario Chalmers +0.25 +0.53 +0.28
Lance Thomas -1.01 -0.75 +0.26
Jarrett Jack -1.23 -0.98 +0.25
Paul Pierce +0.83 +1.08 +0.25
Aaron Gordon +0.27 +0.52 +0.25
Devin Booker -2.76 -2.51 +0.25
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist +1.66 +1.91 +0.25
Andrew Wiggins -2.06 -1.82 +0.24
Marreese Speights -0.54 -0.31 +0.23
Spencer Dinwiddie -1.30 -1.07 +0.23
CJ Miles -0.86 -0.63 +0.23
Taj Gibson +1.23 +1.45 +0.22
Ish Smith -0.57 -0.35 +0.22
Al Horford +2.23 +2.45 +0.22
Reggie Bullock -0.91 -0.69 +0.22
Dwight Powell +1.04 +1.26 +0.22
Jeff Teague -0.75 -0.53 +0.22
Austin Rivers -1.70 -1.49 +0.21
Cory Joseph -0.15 +0.06 +0.21
Terrence Ross -1.48 -1.27 +0.20
Steven Adams +1.61 +1.81 +0.19
Jared Dudley +0.88 +1.07 +0.19
Dennis Schroder -2.10 -1.91 +0.19
Justin Holiday -0.09 +0.09 +0.18
Damian Lillard -1.27 -1.08 +0.18
Jeff Green -0.99 -0.81 +0.18
Lou Williams -2.83 -2.64 +0.18
Jerian Grant -0.75 -0.57 +0.18
Patrick Patterson +0.14 +0.31 +0.18
Deron Williams -0.92 -0.74 +0.17
Vince Carter +0.26 +0.44 +0.17
John Wall +0.10 +0.27 +0.17
Eric Bledsoe +0.81 +0.98 +0.17
Marcin Gortat +2.26 +2.42 +0.16
Tim Hardaway Jr. -2.23 -2.07 +0.16
Allen Crabbe -1.50 -1.34 +0.16
Gerald Henderson -0.76 -0.60 +0.15
George Hill +0.38 +0.53 +0.15
Jason Smith -0.44 -0.30 +0.15
Jodie Meeks -1.90 -1.75 +0.15
Giannis Antetokounmpo +1.80 +1.94 +0.14
Nikola Mirotic +0.79 +0.93 +0.14
Jeremy Lamb -0.32 -0.18 +0.13
Solomon Hill +0.29 +0.42 +0.13
Devin Harris -0.80 -0.67 +0.13
Jason Terry -0.54 -0.42 +0.12
Brandon Knight -2.13 -2.01 +0.12
Danny Green +2.20 +2.32 +0.12
Chris Bosh +1.14 +1.25 +0.12
John Henson +1.31 +1.42 +0.12
Rudy Gay +0.31 +0.42 +0.11
Jordan Clarkson -2.79 -2.68 +0.11
Wesley Matthews -0.46 -0.35 +0.11
DeMarcus Cousins +2.58 +2.68 +0.10
Trevor Booker +0.47 +0.57 +0.10
Evan Turner -0.14 -0.04 +0.10
Domantas Sabonis +0.93 +1.03 +0.09
Bojan Bogdanovic -2.29 -2.20 +0.09
Aaron Brooks -2.47 -2.38 +0.09
Markieff Morris +0.76 +0.85 +0.09
Kyle Kuzma -1.15 -1.07 +0.08
Bobby Portis -1.45 -1.37 +0.08
Donovan Mitchell +0.26 +0.34 +0.08
Kyle O’Quinn +2.12 +2.20 +0.08
JaMychal Green -0.39 -0.32 +0.07
Karl-Anthony Towns +0.31 +0.38 +0.07
Stephen Curry +0.33 +0.39 +0.06
Darren Collison -1.34 -1.28 +0.06
Marcus Morris -0.48 -0.42 +0.06
Khris Middleton -0.17 -0.11 +0.06
Brandon Ingram -1.01 -0.95 +0.06
Pau Gasol +2.16 +2.21 +0.05
Jared Sullinger +1.24 +1.29 +0.05
DeMarre Carroll +0.58 +0.63 +0.05
Danilo Gallinari -0.44 -0.40 +0.05
Nick Young -2.61 -2.56 +0.05
Brandon Bass -0.13 -0.08 +0.04
Ramon Sessions -1.74 -1.70 +0.03
Tony Allen +2.82 +2.86 +0.03
Enes Kanter -1.59 -1.55 +0.03
Shaun Livingston +0.18 +0.21 +0.03
Paul George +1.30 +1.32 +0.03
Mike Scott -1.18 -1.15 +0.03
Buddy Hield -1.61 -1.59 +0.02
Evan Fournier -1.48 -1.45 +0.02
Wayne Ellington -1.29 -1.27 +0.02
Jerryd Bayless -1.88 -1.86 +0.02
Tristan Thompson +0.17 +0.19 +0.02
Maurice Harkless +0.41 +0.42 +0.02
Randy Foye -1.05 -1.04 +0.02
Jonas Jerebko +0.23 +0.24 +0.02
Joe Harris -1.57 -1.56 +0.01
Nik Stauskas -2.08 -2.07 +0.01
Jae Crowder +0.38 +0.39 +0.01
Malcolm Brogdon -0.63 -0.62 +0.00
Dario Saric -0.80 -0.79 +0.00
Dirk Nowitzki +0.06 +0.05 +0.00
Shane Larkin -1.12 -1.12 -0.01
Kevin Love +1.16 +1.15 -0.01
T.J. Warren -1.66 -1.67 -0.01
Luol Deng +0.57 +0.56 -0.01
Richard Jefferson -0.76 -0.77 -0.01
J.J. Barea -2.39 -2.41 -0.01
Kyle Lowry +0.89 +0.88 -0.01
Kyle Korver +0.20 +0.19 -0.02
Zach LaVine -2.74 -2.76 -0.02
Kawhi Leonard +2.28 +2.25 -0.03
Courtney Lee -0.71 -0.75 -0.03
Noah Vonleh +0.95 +0.91 -0.04
Jimmy Butler +1.32 +1.28 -0.04
Omri Casspi -0.11 -0.15 -0.05
Dwyane Wade -0.55 -0.60 -0.05
Bismack Biyombo +1.46 +1.40 -0.06
Shelvin Mack -1.28 -1.34 -0.06
Tony Parker -1.44 -1.50 -0.06
Cody Zeller +2.11 +2.05 -0.06
Jusuf Nurkic +3.25 +3.18 -0.06
Jamal Murray -1.66 -1.72 -0.07
Garrett Temple +0.35 +0.28 -0.07
Marvin Williams +0.59 +0.52 -0.07
Patty Mills -1.01 -1.08 -0.07
Tyler Johnson -0.24 -0.31 -0.07
Justise Winslow +1.41 +1.34 -0.07
Reggie Jackson -1.15 -1.23 -0.07
Tobias Harris -0.40 -0.47 -0.07
David West +2.61 +2.53 -0.08
Amir Johnson +2.46 +2.38 -0.08
Rodney Hood -1.25 -1.34 -0.09
Brandon Jennings -2.44 -2.53 -0.09
Thabo Sefolosha +2.21 +2.12 -0.09
Pascal Siakam +1.64 +1.55 -0.09
Patrick Beverley +0.93 +0.83 -0.09
Gary Harris -0.94 -1.04 -0.09
Jameer Nelson -1.84 -1.93 -0.10
Manu Ginobili +0.71 +0.61 -0.10
Victor Oladipo +0.85 +0.75 -0.10
Jayson Tatum +1.44 +1.34 -0.10
David Lee +1.29 +1.19 -0.10
Tyreke Evans -0.64 -0.74 -0.10
Kent Bazemore +0.31 +0.21 -0.11
Michael Carter-Williams +0.23 +0.12 -0.11
Joe Johnson -0.91 -1.02 -0.11
Ian Clark -1.99 -2.10 -0.11
Tony Snell -0.85 -0.97 -0.11
Doug McDermott -2.42 -2.53 -0.11
Carmelo Anthony -1.31 -1.43 -0.11
Nikola Vucevic +1.83 +1.71 -0.12
Arron Afflalo -2.24 -2.36 -0.12
Meyers Leonard -0.31 -0.43 -0.12
D.J. Augustin -2.33 -2.45 -0.12
Kyle Singler -0.50 -0.64 -0.14
Marc Gasol +2.49 +2.36 -0.14
Taurean Prince -0.69 -0.83 -0.14
Gordon Hayward -0.11 -0.25 -0.15
Rodney Stuckey -1.33 -1.47 -0.15
T.J. McConnell -0.40 -0.55 -0.15
LeBron James +1.74 +1.58 -0.15
Channing Frye +0.26 +0.10 -0.16
Mario Hezonja -1.07 -1.23 -0.16
Emmanuel Mudiay -2.25 -2.41 -0.17
Will Barton -0.98 -1.15 -0.17
Blake Griffin +0.97 +0.80 -0.17
Ersan Ilyasova -0.23 -0.40 -0.17
Thaddeus Young +1.19 +1.01 -0.18
Mike Muscala +0.58 +0.40 -0.18
Avery Bradley -0.62 -0.80 -0.18
Kelly Olynyk +0.90 +0.71 -0.18
Monta Ellis -0.39 -0.58 -0.19
Ben McLemore -1.15 -1.34 -0.19
Anthony Morrow -1.67 -1.86 -0.19
D’Angelo Russell -1.66 -1.86 -0.20
Omer Asik +1.87 +1.67 -0.20
Ben Simmons +1.70 +1.49 -0.21
Harrison Barnes -0.33 -0.54 -0.21
Norris Cole -1.61 -1.83 -0.21
JR Smith -0.99 -1.21 -0.22
Matt Barnes +0.57 +0.34 -0.23
Ian Mahinmi +3.03 +2.80 -0.23
DeAndre Jordan +3.11 +2.87 -0.24
Tyson Chandler +2.47 +2.23 -0.24
Jon Leuer +0.39 +0.15 -0.24
Derrick Williams -2.07 -2.32 -0.25
Andrew Bogut +5.17 +4.92 -0.25
Ed Davis +1.71 +1.46 -0.25
PJ Tucker +1.23 +0.98 -0.25
Frank Kaminsky -0.74 -1.00 -0.25
Terry Rozier +0.09 -0.17 -0.26
Robert Covington +2.35 +2.08 -0.26
Jordan Hill -0.25 -0.52 -0.27
E’Twaun Moore -1.25 -1.53 -0.28
Nene +2.73 +2.44 -0.29
Jamal Crawford -3.25 -3.54 -0.29
Chandler Parsons -0.00 -0.30 -0.30
Elfrid Payton -0.35 -0.65 -0.30
Joakim Noah +3.28 +2.97 -0.30
Marco Belinelli -2.47 -2.78 -0.31
Corey Brewer -0.16 -0.46 -0.31
Stanley Johnson +0.55 +0.25 -0.31
Paul Millsap +2.64 +2.32 -0.32
Iman Shumpert +0.80 +0.48 -0.32
Willie Cauley-Stein +1.24 +0.92 -0.32
Julius Randle -0.62 -0.94 -0.33
James Ennis III -0.28 -0.62 -0.34
Dwight Howard +2.46 +2.12 -0.34
Joe Ingles +0.83 +0.48 -0.35
Marcus Smart +1.11 +0.76 -0.35
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson +1.15 +0.80 -0.35
Kelly Oubre Jr. -0.95 -1.30 -0.35
Ty Lawson -1.62 -1.98 -0.36
Terrence Jones -0.56 -0.93 -0.37
Nicolas Batum +0.15 -0.22 -0.37
Boris Diaw +0.73 +0.35 -0.37
Kyrie Irving -1.42 -1.79 -0.37
DeMar DeRozan -1.15 -1.55 -0.39
Norman Powell -0.51 -0.92 -0.41
Wesley Johnson +0.67 +0.26 -0.41
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope -0.38 -0.80 -0.42
Ricky Rubio +1.32 +0.89 -0.42
Al-Farouq Aminu +1.91 +1.49 -0.43
Chris Paul +1.46 +1.03 -0.43
Andre Drummond +1.84 +1.40 -0.44
Luis Scola +0.30 -0.15 -0.45
Al Jefferson +0.90 +0.45 -0.46
Zach Randolph +0.12 -0.34 -0.46
Larry Nance Jr. +2.01 +1.54 -0.46
Nerlens Noel +3.36 +2.89 -0.47
Mason Plumlee +1.40 +0.93 -0.47
Jose Calderon -1.67 -2.14 -0.48
Greg Monroe +0.81 +0.32 -0.50
Kenneth Faried -0.30 -0.82 -0.52
Jabari Parker -1.46 -1.99 -0.53
Nikola Jokic +2.62 +2.08 -0.53
Jonathon Simmons -0.92 -1.47 -0.55
Alec Burks -1.50 -2.08 -0.58
Lance Stephenson -0.53 -1.13 -0.59
Andre Iguodala +1.89 +1.27 -0.61
Gorgui Dieng +1.66 +1.03 -0.62
Otto Porter Jr. +0.78 +0.15 -0.63
Zaza Pachulia +2.47 +1.74 -0.72
Trevor Ariza +0.78 +0.03 -0.75
Kyle Anderson +2.91 +2.14 -0.77
Dante Cunningham -0.05 -0.85 -0.80
Rajon Rondo -0.21 -1.17 -0.95
Russell Westbrook +1.16 +0.02 -1.14

* Defensive Rating Accounting for Yielding Minimal Openness by Nearest Defender

These are some pretty interesting lists. Porzingis, Embiid, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant are among the players whose defense had been most underrated by BPM and RPM. There’s also new Boston Celtics point guard Kemba Walker and, in something of a surprise, former Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, who still rates as a pretty terrible defender, just not quite as terrible as before when you incorporate his DRAYMOND data. The most overrated defenders include players such as Westbrook, Rondo, Ariza, Otto Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic.

Cases such as Thompson and Westbrook are interesting because the conventional wisdom has been way off from where the advanced metrics have them. RPM and BPM say that Westbrook is the much better defensive player, when a lot of NBA general managers might prefer Thompson or at least would regard it as close. But Thompson is a good defender according to DRAYMOND, whereas Westbrook is a wretched one, which closes at least some of the gap. Undoubtedly, there are even better ways to use opponents’ shooting data than what we’ve established with DRAYMOND, but the data ought to be a central part of the conversation about player defense going forward.

Check out our NBA player ratings.

Where Does This Summer’s NBA Free-Agent Class Rank?

NBA fans (and general managers) have had the summer of 2019 circled on their calendars for a very long time. With names like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving available via free agency — plus the inevitable Anthony Davis trade having already gone down earlier in the month — the sheer amount of star power potentially swapping teams this offseason could reshape the league for years to come.

But is this the most star-studded free-agent summer in recent memory?

It depends on how we look at things.

To calculate the value of every player in each free-agent class since 2010 — the year LeBron James’s “Decision” kicked off our current era of free-agency mania1 — I’m combining three widely used metrics (Value Over Replacement Player, Win Shares and Estimated Wins Added) into a consensus measure of Wins Created, all scaled to an 82-game season. In terms of total Wins Created over the previous three seasons, this year’s top free agents are Durant (39.9), Butler (37.8) and Irving (34.0), who contribute to a three-year total of 1,354.5 Wins Created across all of the 2019 free agents.

Who are the most productive free agents of the summer?

Top 2019 NBA free agents, ranked by Wins Created* over the previous three seasons

Wins Created
Rk Player Age Old Team 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 Total
1 Kevin Durant 31 GS 14.0 12.9 12.9 39.9
2 Jimmy Butler 30 PHI 17.8 11.0 9.1 37.8
3 Kyrie Irving 27 BOS 9.9 11.4 12.7 34.0
4 Kemba Walker 29 CHA 11.4 10.9 11.3 33.7
5 Kawhi Leonard 28 TOR 17.0 1.2 11.0 29.1
6 DeAndre Jordan 31 NY 12.0 8.9 7.8 28.7
7 Al Horford 33 BOS 8.2 9.8 9.4 27.4
8 Nikola Vucevic 29 ORL 6.0 6.0 14.7 26.7
9 Marc Gasol 35 TOR 10.9 6.7 8.5 26.2
10 DeMarcus Cousins 29 GS 13.8 8.4 3.1 25.3
11 Thaddeus Young 31 IND 5.9 7.0 8.7 21.6
12 Tobias Harris 27 PHI 7.4 7.1 7.2 21.6
13 Brook Lopez 31 MIL 7.2 4.2 7.8 19.2
14 Julius Randle 25 NO 4.6 6.6 6.9 18.0
15 Paul Millsap 34 DEN 8.4 2.8 6.4 17.7
16 Enes Kanter 27 POR 3.9 7.7 5.8 17.4
17 Darren Collison 32 IND 3.0 7.3 6.4 16.8
18 Trevor Ariza 34 WAS 7.1 5.7 3.6 16.4
19 Ricky Rubio 29 UTA 6.3 6.3 3.5 16.1
20 Danny Green 32 TOR 4.8 3.9 7.2 15.8

* Based on a blend of Value Over Replacement Player, Win Shares and Estimated Wins Added. Age as of Feb. 1, 2020.

Source: Basketball-Reference.com, Spotrac

Among free-agent classes since 2010, only the 2015 group — which contained James (who re-signed with the Cavaliers after initially rejoining them the previous summer), Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan (whose free-agency saga that year is worthy of its own post), Paul Millsap, Tim Duncan, Kevin Love and Leonard — ranked higher than 2019 by that metric:2

Which free-agent class had the most total production?

Best free agency classes since 2010, based on the total Wins Created* by free-agent players in the preceding three seasons

Summer Best players (by 3-year Wins Created) Overall Total WC
2015 L. James • M. Gasol • D. Jordan 1365.1
2019 K. Durant • J. Butler • K. Irving 1354.5
2013 C. Paul • D. Howard • P. Millsap 1232.1
2017 S. Curry • K. Lowry • K. Durant 1200.6
2010 L. James • D. Wade • D. Nowitzki 1187.1
2012 T. Duncan • D. Williams • G. Wallace 1181.7
2016 L. James • K. Durant • N. Batum 1169.8
2014 L. James • C. Anthony • K. Lowry 1048.0
2018 L. James • K. Durant • C. Paul 1037.7
2011 T. Duncan • N. Hilario • R. Allen 887.8

* Based on a blend of Value Over Replacement Player, Win Shares and Estimated Wins Added.

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

The 2019 class’s ranking is also hampered by Leonard’s nearly season-long absence in 2017-18, when the then-Spurs forward generated just 1.2 wins in nine games. Had Leonard played to his average over the preceding three seasons and created 14.8 wins that year, his three-year total would have been 42.7 — tops in the class, and good enough to boost 2019 to No. 1 on our class rankings over 2015. (But then again, how much else about the league would be different today if Leonard hadn’t suffered that quad injury — the management of which led to a rift with San Antonio, a trade to Toronto and ultimately an NBA championship?)

The summer of 2019 also rises up the ranks to No. 1 if we include Davis as a de facto free agent. (Yes, he went to the Lakers via trade, but Davis’s departure from New Orleans was all but assured, and he was often listed among the offseason’s biggest prizes.) When Davis’s three-year value is included among the rest of the free agents, 2019 pulls ahead of 2015 with a total haul of 1396.4 Wins Created by available players over the previous three seasons.

But strictly in terms of top free-agent talent, this year’s class isn’t quite on the same level as other years. Durant’s 39.9 Wins Created over the previous three years ranks third-lowest among leaders for the 10 years we looked at, ahead of only the 2011 and 2012 free-agent groups (both headlined by Duncan). It’s a far cry from James hitting the 2010 market with a class-high 81.8 Wins Created for the last three seasons under his belt. If we look only at the totals of the Top 10 players available, the 2010 class ranks No. 1, thanks to a ridiculously stacked set of Hall of Famers that included James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen.

Though this year’s crop has plenty of big names, none of them are coming off performances quite as prodigious as James and Wade had in the years leading up to 2010. (Among the top five, Kemba Walker, at No. 4, comes closest to matching his counterpart from that year, Pierce; Walker generated 33.7 wins over the past three seasons, while Pierce had 33.8 from 2008 through 2010.) But the 2019 free-agent class makes up for its perhaps surprising lack of production at the top with sheer depth:

The next tier of free agents — aka the Khris Middletons and Brook Lopezes of the world — might not contain the sexiest names, but it does offer better-than-usual options to teams who strike out on the biggest free agents. And that’s also true even further down the rankings: An unusual number of players up for free agency this summer (101, to be exact) produced at least five wins over the preceding three seasons, compared with an average of 76 players per season in the nine years leading up to 2019.

Of course, the next handful of championships will still probably hinge on the destinations of Durant, Leonard, Butler and the rest of the biggest names on the list. But if this summer’s free-agent class does end up going down among the best of the decade, it should be just as much on the strength of its lesser stars as its top-line players.

Can We Just Let One Season End Before Predicting The Next?

In the last couple of weeks, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Milwaukee Bucks both earned themselves a dubious honor. Each was crowned a champion … of next season’s betting odds. (Congrats! That and $2.45 will get you a large10 coffee at Starbucks.) According to data provided to FiveThirtyEight by the betting sites SportsBetting.ag and BetOnline.ag, Tampa Bay was installed as 8-to-1 favorites to win the 2020 Stanley Cup within hours of the St. Louis Blues winning the 2019 Stanley Cup, while the Bucks were made 9-to-2 favorites for next year’s NBA title before the confetti even settled on the Toronto Raptors’ 2019 victory.

It’s all part of a movement toward increased focus on next year’s potential winners, practically before the current champs can even be entered into the record books. “The day-after, next-year title odds have certainly become a big deal in our industry,” said Scott Cooley, a spokesman for the two oddsmakers above. “We started doing them with the online books maybe six to seven years ago, and Vegas has caught on over the last couple of years.”

The media has hopped on the trend as well in recent years. ESPN reported on the 2020 NBA favorite picks in the betting markets roughly 17 hours after the Raptors’ Game 6 win over the Golden State Warriors ended,11 and often the reports will come even sooner after the championship than that. Speculation about the next champ can practically bump the current champ out of the news cycle.

Those two kinds of teams — current champs and speculative future champs — overlap surprisingly infrequently, depending on the sport. In the data we analyzed, which covers the four major men’s pro leagues going back to either 2009 (for the NBA, MLB and NFL) or 2010 (NHL), the just-crowned champion was installed as the following season’s favorite 17 times in 45 chances (38 percent). Six of the 12 defending NBA champs since 2009 were in that category, which makes sense for a sport in which previous postseason success plays a disproportionate role in the championship hunt. By comparison, the defending Super Bowl winner was instantly named the next NFL favorite just three times in 11 chances over the same span, a number that includes the current Patriots, who are fresh off a win in Super Bowl LIII.

The Pats are perennial next-day picks, gaining that distinction seven times in the 11 NFL seasons we looked at, including 2019. (That’s sort of what happens when you maintain the top dynasty in the history of football, if not all of pro sports.) But even the Patriots have failed to convert those next-day titles into real ones with some regularity: They won as favorites in 2016 and 2018, but lost in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2017. That’s not too surprising — if we look at the history of next-day favorites, they lose far more often than they win (because even the favorite is typically an underdog against the field):

How often have next-day favorites won?

Eventual championship status for teams named next-day favorites according to the betting markets

NHL NBA
Season Team Won? Team Won?
2020 Lightning ? Bucks ?
2019 Lightning Warriors
2018 Penguins Warriors ✔
2017 Penguins ✔ Warriors ✔
2016 Blackhawks Cavaliers ✔
2015 Blackhawks ✔ Heat
2014 Penguins Heat
2013 Penguins Heat ✔
2012 Canucks Heat ✔
2011 Blackhawks Heat
2010 Red Wings Lakers ✔
2009 Celtics
NFL MLB
Season Team Won? Team Won?
2020
2019 Patriots ? Astros, Red Sox ?
2018 Patriots ✔ Astros
2017 Patriots Cubs
2016 Panthers, Patriots*, Seahawks ✔ Cubs ✔
2015 Seahawks Dodgers, Nationals
2014 Seahawks Dodgers
2013 49ers, Broncos Tigers
2012 Patriots Phillies
2011 Patriots Phillies
2010 Colts Yankees
2009 Patriots Yankees ✔

* The Patriots were NFL co-favorites in 2016 and won the Super Bowl.

Sources: SPORTSBETTING.AG, BETONLINE.AG

A new champion doesn’t always get very much respect from the oddsmakers in the immediate wake of its victory. The Raptors, for instance, opened the 2020 championship betting at fourth in the NBA (8-to-1 odds), while the Blues started 2020 in a tie for fifth in the NHL (12-to-1 odds) right after hoisting the Cup. Most of the time, however, the champs stay pretty close to the top of the sport. Only five of the 45 new champs we looked at fell out of the top five for their league when looking ahead to the following season: The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies (sixth looking ahead to 2009), the 2015 Denver Broncos (seventh for 2016), the 2018 Washington Capitals (eighth for 2019), the 2011 New York Giants (eighth for 2012) and the 2012 Baltimore Ravens (13th for 2013).

Number of champions in the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL with a certain ranking in the next-day betting odds for the following season, since 2009

Rank Count
1st 17
2nd 12
3rd 5
4th 2
5th 4
6th 1
7th 1
8th 2
9th 0
10th 0
11th 0
12th 0
13th 1

Sources: SPORTSBETTING.AG, BETONLINE.AG

This summer was actually an unusual moment in that regard, between the NBA and NHL. It was the first time in our data where both leagues’ champions opened in fourth place or worse in the next season’s odds at the same time. This is perhaps because both the Raptors and Blues were first-time champions in their respective sports, and each was a relative surprise champion as well (the Blues began the season as the 19th-ranked betting choice, 40-to-1 to win it all, while the Raptors were ninth with 60-to-1 title odds).

This isn’t the first time the books have shown an affinity for a team — like, say, the Lightning — whose previous season didn’t end in glorious fashion. But that doesn’t happen very often. Granting that some sports’ playoff structures don’t feature rounds of equivalent size before their playoff quarterfinals,12 Tampa Bay joined the 2012 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2010 Miami Heat as the only teams in our sample to exit in the first round of the NBA or NHL playoffs and then immediately become championship favorites the day after the playoffs ended. (And that Heat team comes with a special disclaimer we’ll talk about later.)

Number of next-day betting odds favorites in the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL that finished the previous playoffs a given number of rounds from the championship, since 2009

Rounds From Championship Count
0 16
1 12
2 9
3 6
4 3

Sources: SPORTSBETTING.AG, BETONLINE.AG

More than half of the freshly minted next-day favorites in our sample had either just won (35 percent) or lost (26 percent) in their sport’s championship round. So it’s pretty unusual to see a team such as the Lightning flame out in the playoffs and then immediately be named favorites for the following season. Then again, Tampa Bay had been named next-day favorites going into the 2018-19 season as well (after losing a tough seven-game conference final to the eventual-champ Capitals), then proceeded to rattle off one of the most dominant regular seasons in hockey history before falling flat in one of the game’s most epic playoff disappointments. The 2019 NHL playoffs were a chaotic mess anyway — the eventual champs fired their coach midseason and were playoff longshots for most of the regular season — so it might have been the perfect mix of factors to elevate a team back to favorite status despite a postseason flop.

These next-day odds can change pretty quickly anyway. Although the Bucks were technically 2020 favorites in the moments after Toronto won it all, the Los Angeles Lakers usurped that distinction just a day later, being installed as 7-to-2 favorites after trading for former Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis. It was a pretty remarkable leap to the top of the heap, given that LeBron James and LA didn’t even make the playoffs the previous season. (None of the next-day favorites we’ve been looking at in this data set could say that.)

But that’s nothing compared with the summer of 2010, when the oddsmakers avoided officially releasing the next-day NBA odds altogether. We included their first batch of odds in the calculation above — hence the Heat’s jump to No. 1 for 2011 — but those numbers were actually released after free agency had begun. Although the 2010 season ended on June 17, odds for 2011 weren’t posted until July 9 because of the uncertainty around LeBron’s free-agency “Decision.” Considering that this summer may rival 2010 in terms of the amount of NBA talent on the move, it’s not impossible that the 2020 favorite in the NBA betting markets will shift again in the next few weeks.

The era of immediate speculation does nothing to help temper the expectations placed on teams who are “supposed” to win. For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers — who haven’t won a World Series since 1988 — have been named next-day favorites twice in the past six seasons (in 2014 and 2015) and have never ranked lower than third place in the next-day odds over that span. With each passing instance of an on-paper championship (and no real one), a team’s disappointment comes even more into focus.

But the trend of impatiently looking ahead to next season doesn’t seem like it will let up anytime soon. As the lines begin to blur between one season’s end and the next one’s beginning — particularly given the way fans consume sports now and how the media covers it — there’s too much interest in far-off futures odds for anyone to ignore them. So that means we’re in store for plenty more speculative champions being crowned, even if the actual ones aren’t finished celebrating yet.

Playoff Kawhi Leonard Is The New Playoff LeBron James

This year’s NBA postseason has been a striking reminder of the difference between regular season and playoff basketball, particularly with respect to individual performance. The three finalists for the MVP award — James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George — all failed to match their production from the regular season in this year’s playoffs. On the other end of the spectrum is Kawhi Leonard, who after “load-managing” his way through the regular season, is now considered one of, if not the, best basketball players alive and has the Toronto Raptors one win away from their first NBA championship. (That win could come Thursday night in Game 6 in Oakland.)

Before this year, LeBron James was the often-cited case of the rare player who took his already outstanding game to an even higher level in the playoffs. But during this year’s postseason, it’s Leonard, the two-way force of nature, who has become the go-to example of a player who seemingly flips a switch and magically turns into a better version of himself once the playoffs start.

During the regular season, Leonard posted a +5.0 box plus/minus (BPM), a catch-all stat designed to capture a player’s all-around impact. Leonard’s regular season BPM was 15th best in the league. But in the playoffs, Leonard’s BPM has risen to +9.0, tied for second-best among all postseason players.

It’s rare to see a player of Leonard’s stature lift his BPM at all in the playoffs. Of the 15 players that had a regular season BPM of +5.0 or better,1 only Leonard and Nikola Jokic increased their output in the playoffs. It’s even rarer to see someone as productive as Leonard lift his BPM by as much as he did.

Leonard’s BPM playoff bump — +4 — is tied for the 16th largest increase since the NBA-ABA merger among players that logged at least 2,000 regular season minutes and 500 playoff minutes in a single year. Some other players to increase their BPM by at least 4.0 points include Hakeem Olajuwon during the 1997 playoffs, Tim Duncan during his 2003 title run and LeBron James during his 2016 title run, to name a few.

And this isn’t anything new for Leonard: He’s been upping his game in the postseason ever since he came into the league as a role player with the San Antonio Spurs.

Below is a similar chart to the first, but this time we’re looking at career performance — comparing a player’s career average BPM in the regular season to their career average BPM in the playoffs since the merger in 1977. (In order to make sure our sample consists of players who played often in both the regular season and deep into the playoffs, each player’s career average BPM has been weighted by both their minutes played in the regular season and playoffs.2 This gives us a better representative sample of players to compare Leonard’s career against.)

Most of the players that have a similar career BPM in the regular season to Leonard are right at or just below the dotted line, meaning they either get worse during the playoffs or at best they don’t improve. The few players who buck that trend include Michael Jordan, LeBron, Olajuwon and Leonard himself. Each of these players consistently dominated the league in the regular season and even more so in the playoffs.

The players with the biggest difference between their regular season and playoff career BPM tend to be toward the middle of the pack in regular season BPM for the simple reason that the lower a player’s regular season number, the more room they have to improve their playoff production. Still, despite having one of the higher career BPMs in the regular season, Leonard ranks sixth on the list. The players in front of him are Isiah Thomas (the Pistons legend, not the other more recent one), Draymond Green, Rajon “Playoff” Rondo, Derek Fisher and Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry. Those are the type of guys Green was referring to when he talked about the difference between 82-game players and 16-game players.

Kawhi steps up his numbers in the postseason

Biggest average change in Box Plus/Minus (BPM) between the playoffs and regular season, among NBA players with at least 10,000 regular season and 2,500 playoff minutes since 1977

Reg. Season Playoffs
Player Minutes BPM Minutes BPM Diff.
Isiah Thomas 35,516 +2.8 4,216 +6.4 +3.6
Draymond Green 14,979 +3.8 4,332 +6.5 +2.7
Rajon Rondo 26,119 +2.4 3,944 +4.6 +2.2
Robert Horry 27,069 +2.8 6,823 +4.8 +2.0
Derek Fisher 32,719 -0.8 6,856 +1.1 +1.9
Kawhi Leonard 14,404 +5.7 3,806 +7.4 +1.8
Boris Diaw 28,768 +1.1 3,144 +2.8 +1.7
Ron Harper 31,199 +2.2 3,000 +3.8 +1.6
Hakeem Olajuwon 44,222 +5.4 5,749 +7.1 +1.6
Michael Cooper 23,635 +1.1 4,744 +2.7 +1.6
Vinnie Johnson 24,308 +0.0 2,671 +1.6 +1.5
Michael Jordan 41,011 +8.7 7,474 +10.2 +1.5
Bryon Russell 19,805 +2.4 3,081 +3.8 +1.4
LeBron James 46,235 +9.7 10,049 +11.1 +1.4
Tayshaun Prince 31,576 +1.1 4,977 +2.4 +1.3

Career regular season and playoff BPM averages are weighted so as to give more importance to seasons where a player logged many minutes in both the regular season and playoffs

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

Regardless of whether the Raptors ultimately finish off the Golden State Warriors and win the NBA title, Leonard’s performance this postseason will instill dread in opposing fan bases of “Playoff Kawhi” for years to come. Leonard wasn’t kidding when he referred to the 82 games during the regular season as “practice” and that the “playoffs is when it’s time to lace them up.”

Neil Paine contributed to this article.

Does Toronto’s Game 1 Win Spell Doom For The Warriors?

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): One game into the NBA Finals, and #WarriorsIn4 is already over. But what a first game! The Toronto Raptors led for most of the contest but weren’t able to put away the Golden State Warriors until the very end.

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): I’m gonna be honest. I was second screening Game 1 because my eyes were glued to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I learned some new words that I’m gonna try to sneak in here, so you all better have your dictionaries ready — I’m about to drop some 🔥

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Omg, Tony

sara.ziegler: Tony

Though, I’m not gonna lie, I turned to that after the game was over.

neil: Fortunately, the NBA can’t declare an eight-way tie for the championship. (Sorry, Celtics.)

sara.ziegler: Chris, you’re in Toronto right now. What was the game like up close?

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): The atmosphere was incredible, and loud — both during the game and then pretty wild after. The fans here are insane.

I think the game was what we hoped it would be, after years of watching relatively uncompetitive series with a team that couldn’t defend Golden State well enough. The Raptors’ defense is no joke, and it challenged the Warriors all game long. Toronto presents real problems for a club missing someone like Kevin Durant.

neil: Yeah, Chris, this was the Warriors’ 20th-worst shooting game of the season by effective field-goal percentage. They still managed to get to the line, but they had a lot of turnovers, and Toronto held the non-Steph Curry scorers mostly in check. Fred VanVleet even did an admirable job keeping Curry from truly exploding.

chris.herring: The Warriors shot 23 percent on contested shots last night, the worst mark they’ve had in a playoff game in the Steve Kerr era, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group.

neil: And you have to think that Durant — one of the best tough-shot makers in history — would have boosted that some.

chris.herring: Yeah. I’m really curious as to where Curry is going to have problems with VanVleet — we mentioned in our preview that he’d done very little scoring this season — averaging just 10 points per 100 possessions when VanVleet is the man defending him. That continued last night.

sara.ziegler: FiveThirtyEight’s most valuable player (valuable in the most literal sense), Pascal Siakam had an amazing NBA Finals debut, scoring 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting. How surprised were you at how well he played?

tchow: You could say Siakam was shining bright like a pendeloque last night.

neil: LOL

Our model definitely thinks highly of Siakam as a player, but I’m not going to say I saw him scoring 30+ going in. He had 32 points on 82 percent shooting!!! That’s the fourth-best shooting percentage in a 30-plus-point finals game EVER, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

chris.herring: The Warriors got a lot of questions here about Siakam after last night’s performance. Draymond Green said it’s clear that Siakam is “a guy” now — meaning that we might not have treated him as a difference-maker before, but we sure as hell will now.

sara.ziegler: He’s a ⭐ now.

chris.herring: Golden State basically acknowledged leaving certain guys open to begin the game in hopes of taking away Kawhi Leonard. That process worked, in a way. Leonard wasn’t efficient.

But as a result, everyone else — particularly Siakam and Marc Gasol, who played brilliantly — got going. Danny Green was also himself again. And Golden State was never able to turn off that faucet.

neil: Siakam might be a problem for the Warriors going forward. They didn’t have many good options to stop him. He scored 16 directly on Draymond. He also showcased his dangerous range as a 3-point shooter when rotations broke down or he trailed the play.

chris.herring: I understand why GSW was willing to take that gamble with Siakam. He’s become very good from the corners but is right around 30 percent — if not worse — from above the arc. The real issue was letting him get whatever he wanted in transition. He was 5 of 5 in transition and hit 11 shots in a row at one point — the longest streak in a finals game over the last 20 years. As good as he is, that simply can’t happen in a game like that if you’re the Warriors.

Golden State gave credit to Siakam but also largely chalked the game up to them not having seen this Raptors club before. They hadn’t played since early December, and Toronto has added Gasol, while Kawhi obviously took turns in and out of the lineup to rest.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, no one was expecting this from Siakam, so game-planning it would have been tricky.

chris.herring: I feel like I should get my apology in now.

Although I don’t know if I’m apologizing to a person or an algorithm.

neil: Or are you apologizing directly to CARMELO Anthony? Lol.

chris.herring: Our model narrowly had Toronto winning this series. I ruled that possibility out pretty swiftly last week.

But Thursday’s game was enough for me to think that their defense is good enough to win the series — particularly if Durant doesn’t return, and perhaps even if Durant is back but doesn’t jell right away after the long layoff.

neil: I wanted to go back to what you said about loading up to stop Kawhi. Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala did a good job limiting his efficiency, although it seems like that played a little into Toronto’s hands. Jackie MacMullan had a great reaction story about just how many other efficient options the Raptors have now if a team tries to focus too much on Kawhi.

Only two of the seven Raptors who played at least 10 minutes averaged fewer than 1.2 points per individual possession, according to Basketball-Reference. (For reference, the Warriors as a team averaged 1.17 points per possession in the game.)

sara.ziegler: And even with Kawhi bottled up, he still scored 23.

neil: And! I worry about Iguodala’s health after he came up limping late. He did the bulk of the job guarding Leonard.

tchow: So far, it looks like he’ll be OK, though.

chris.herring: Yeah. That was the one other concern we mentioned in the preview: While the Warriors clearly could use Durant on offense, their defense becomes really, really thin on the wings without him. Especially if Iguodala is hurt or isn’t himself. This is now the second time he’s been banged up — he didn’t play in Game 4 against the Blazers, either.

Speaking of Durant: The Raptors’ starting front court outscored Golden State’s 75-18.

neil: 👀

sara.ziegler: Wow

How much of a problem is that for the Warriors? If there’s no scoring help for Steph and Klay?

neil: Certainly Draymond wasn’t much of a factor. Yes, he got the rare 10-10-10 triple double, but he also shot 2 of 9 from the floor and was a minus-8.

chris.herring: They’re now 29-2 when he records a triple-double.

neil: And both losses have come this postseason.

chris.herring: I think what we saw yesterday is this: The Warriors, without KD, don’t have anyone who can shoot outside of Curry and Thompson.

sara.ziegler: That seems … bad.

chris.herring: I think Quinn Cook is probably the most reliable guy outside of those two.

neil: How weird is it to think about the Warriors not having enough shooting?

chris.herring: That’s where Durant’s ability to get his own shot comes in handy. He forces enough defensive attention to where he can play other guys open. Generally speaking, Steph often commands a second defender’s attention, so that’s enough to get someone else open and get the ball moving. It’s a tougher task when the other team can guard him and everyone else straight up.

sara.ziegler: And Klay doesn’t really create his own shots.

chris.herring: We haven’t talked much about DeMarcus Cousins’s return, but that’s both the blessing and the curse of having him

You hope he can create an occasional double-team. But by the same token, his spot could have been used on a guard — and I think some people were of that opinion when they first got him: that the Warriors might have been better served by having another shooter.

neil: Yeah, I thought the Warriors might go smaller and take somebody like Gasol out of the game, but either Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell played most of the game, and Gasol logged nearly 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Cousins played eight minutes and didn’t really do much of note.

chris.herring: He looked a little rusty, but he made a few really nice passes.

It’s tough to get your first playing time in weeks and weeks at this level, in the finals. Same may be true of Durant, honestly, if and when he comes back.

tchow: It feels like it might be too soon to judge Cousins, but this is the problem of reintroducing someone like him back into the lineup during the finals.

chris.herring: Exactly.

neil: And that might be one of the ways our model was overrating the Warriors. It considered him one of the biggest talents of the series, which is true, but didn’t factor in the injury comeback.

chris.herring: Not to mention the fact that Golden State has been better with Cousins off the court this season.

Albeit with Durant playing more often than not.

tchow: Yeah, Neil, it probably did overrate the Warriors because of his return. He ranked as the fifth most valuable player (behind Curry, Durant, Leonard and Lowry) according to our projections.

neil: And at full health, that might be true in terms of skills. But that was a lot to expect with him easing back into playing.

sara.ziegler: While Cousins did play a bit, the other injured Warrior was spotted high-fiving teammates behind the scenes. What did you make of Durant traveling with the team?

neil: It has to be an encouraging sign for his chances of returning sooner rather than later, right?

sara.ziegler: Is there a chance he plays in Game 2?

chris.herring: No, it sounds like he won’t. Kerr was pretty firm about him needing to practice before having a chance to play.

They’ll have another two practices — today and again on Saturday — before Game 2. But it doesn’t sound like he’ll be ready to practice here in Toronto before they suit up again Sunday.

neil: The good thing about the finals is the sheer gap in days between games.

Game 1 on a Thursday — Game 2 … all the way on Sunday.

sara.ziegler: He has at least resumed “basketball activities,” which is my favorite phrase in all of basketball.

neil: That reminds me, I need to go to the gym and “resume basketball activities” as well.

sara.ziegler: 🤣

So what do the Warriors need do to even the series?

neil: Well, it seems obvious that Siakam won’t be down for 30+ again, so they have that going for them.

chris.herring: Be a little less focused on stopping Kawhi to make sure that the other Raptors don’t overtake Jurassic Park again.

And they have to slow Toronto down in transition, where the Raptors can be wildly efficient.

It’s more of a question as to what they do differently on offense. But getting more stops and creating more opportunities to get out and run off those misses will ease some of that concern, I’d think.

neil: Yeah, and that probably played a part in Toronto’s 24-17 disparity on fast-break points as well. Not enough stops turning into chances the other way.

tchow: They have to play with rhathymia. (Am I using that right?) Just be the fun-loving Warriors we know.

sara.ziegler: LOL

tchow: I also agree with Neil in that the Warriors could afford to play smaller and get Gasol out of the game. He’s been solid all playoffs like an imbirussú for the Raptors. Otherwise, the Raptors could embarrass you again. Calembour intended.

(OK, now I’m just forcing it.)

neil: Tony, you’re banned from watching the spelling bee at work ever again.

chris.herring: It’s a lot tougher for the Warriors to dictate the tempo without Durant. Playing smaller alone doesn’t get it done if you don’t have enough shooting to force the Raptors to come out and guard you on the perimeter.

sara.ziegler: It’s interesting to me, too, that Kyle Lowry didn’t add much on offense again. He had as many field goals as charges forced. If he heats up, that’s a different wrinkle for Toronto.

neil: Lowry continued his trend of being associated with strong Raptors play (+11) despite garbage individual stats.

chris.herring: Frankly, if they’re getting what they got from everyone else — Green, Gasol and Siakam — they don’t need Lowry to do anything but bring energy. He had massive moments in that last series, and he’s always going to give you what he has on defense.

It also helps a ton that VanVleet can stay attached to Curry so well in the minutes that Lowry is taking a breather.

tchow: VanVleet was draped over Curry like a ferraiolone and actually guarded Curry for more possessions than Lowry in the end (33 possession vs. 16).

chris.herring: O_______o

neil: I’ve come around on this, Tony, and I applaud your spelling work here.

👏 👏 👏 👏

tchow: Can we all pretend to be a marmennill for a minute? What do you think is going to happen now? Do the Warriors still three-peat? Do the Raptors pull this off?

sara.ziegler: Our model (which accepts Chris’s apology) now has the Raptors at 63 percent to win it all. That feels right to me.

chris.herring: The Raptors are the lone team that the Warriors haven’t beaten this season, and they have now won all three matchups against Golden State. I expect Golden State to respond. But stuff will get SO interesting if Toronto takes Game 2 as well.

neil: 63 percent kinda makes more sense than our pre-series projection, to be honest. Home teams that win Game 1 of the NBA Finals win the series 78 percent of the time, historically. So this suggests that Toronto has far less of a talent edge than the typical home team that takes a 1-0 finals lead. Which is definitely true.

tchow: This is anecdotal, but I was chatting with my cousin who lives in Toronto during last night’s game, and he said: “There’s just one guy outside our building somewhere screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘Let’s go, Raptors, over and over.” I can’t imagine what that guy will scream if the Raptors pull this off. That city is gonna be WILD.

neil: I love seeing how excited Toronto fans are. (Drake aside.) Nav Bhatia was going nuts trying to distract Warrior free-throw shooters.

chris.herring: I decided to walk home last night, about 35 minutes to my hotel. These two people were shouting “Let’s go, Raptors!” for entire blocks. I thought it was a crowd of people, and it was actually just those two guys.

But between that, and all the car horns going off last night, people are on a noisy cloud here right now. Sort of how Milwaukee was to begin the last series. So we’ll see how it plays out.

tchow: The city is gonna be as loud as a large flock of emberizines.


From ABC News:
Raptors, Warriors to face off in NBA Finals Game 1


Check out our latest NBA predictions.

It Turns Out The Vintage Warriors Are Still Pretty Good At Basketball

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): The NBA conference finals are just three games old, but we’ve already seen two of the most entertaining games of the entire playoffs.

After Golden State easily dispatched Portland in Game 1 in the West, Milwaukee needed a furious comeback to take down Toronto in the East’s first game. And then came Thursday night, when the Trail Blazers led the Warriors by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, but Golden State used a 27-8 run to get back into the game. The teams traded leads down the stretch, but the Warriors prevailed.

Let’s start with the Golden State-Portland series. What have you made of these first two games?

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): The “Warriors are better without Kevin Durant” crowd has gotten REALLY loud.

I’m not stupid enough to say they’re better without KD, but I can see the argument being made that they might be more fun to watch?

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Tony, that feels like a way to rationalize the idea that KD will feel dejected or something by the Warriors because they can win without him so he’ll have to come to the Knicks.

sara.ziegler: LOL

tchow: I’m still auditioning for my Knicks GM job, Nate.

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): I think they are more fun to watch this way, for sure. It’s a good reminder of what they were before Durant ever signed with them. The up-tempo, heavy ball-movement, “we can be down by 15, but still come back to beat you” Warriors.

I think Portland losing on Thursday was pretty brutal. It’s sounding more and more like Durant won’t be back in the conference finals, and a win would have gone a long way toward making this a series again. It’s hard to imagine them winning four of the next five.

tchow: You’re not kidding about the heavy ball movement, Chris. Per Second Spectrum, the Warriors have averaged 42 more passes per 100 possessions when KD was not on the floor during these playoffs.

natesilver: I guess the question is whether the Warriors could win grind-it-out, slower-paced, half-court-type games at the same rate without KD.

chris.herring: And that’s the thing. When the Warriors play that way, it’s changing the pace of the game. If you have a game with fewer possessions, I’d venture to guess it leaves things to random chance more often and helps the underdog.

Kind of why Virginia was seen as vulnerable in the NCAA Tournament for so long. (A loss to UMBC helps with that, too.)

natesilver: Beating Portland twice at home is just not all that rigorous a test, however.

tchow: That’s important to keep in mind. All the Warriors did was hold home court.

chris.herring: It may not be. But the Blazers played really well on Thursday, and then that third quarter happened. I just think we’re used to these sorts of onslaughts at this point.

tchow: Yeah, even with that scoreline at halftime, after the first three minutes of the third quarter, I think all of us kinda went, “Oh, the Warriors are winning this.”

natesilver: The Game 6 closeout against Houston, in a game where the Rockets played pretty well, was impressive. But I’m still not sure I really have a great sense for how Golden State is going to match up with Milwaukee or Toronto, with or without KD.

sara.ziegler: A Portland win would have completely changed the tone of this series. And it was close to happening — even after the Warriors stormed back!

natesilver: “Were the Blazers actually close to winning or was it all just an illusion” is a fun epistemological question. I mean, obviously, a win probability model or whatever would have them ahead for a lot of the game. But the Warriors have made SO many third-quarter comebacks over the years that I just don’t really know.

sara.ziegler: When the Blazers were up 8 with 4:28 left, I thought they could really win it.

Silly me.

chris.herring: I grow somewhat tired of the Curry vs. Curry storyline at times. But it was pretty awesome to see Seth play so well last night, and to try to get into his brother’s head at one point.

Crazy to think that, if Pau Gasol were healthy, there would be two sets of brothers playing against each other this round.

tchow: That’s very interesting. I’m kinda loving the Curry vs. Curry storyline. It’s pretty cool IMO to have siblings play against each other at such high stakes.

I found myself pingponging between “Where’s Steph? OK, where’s Seth now?” when they were both on the court.

chris.herring: I like the storyline. I just think it’s being milked pretty heavily in terms of showing their parents in the crowd, that’s all. But Seth was huge last night.

I think the challenge for Portland is that there’s a lot of “your turn, my turn” from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. McCollum owned the first half, and then Dame got hot in the second half.

And it kind of feels like they may need more of a balance, or another huge bench performance from someone, to get over this hump.

natesilver: What if Seth Curry woke up one day and had Steph Curry’s skills, and vice versa? That feels like a weird/bad movie plot.

tchow: “Freaky Friday 2”

natesilver: Would the Blazers play McCollum at the 3 or something? It would be a really weird team.

chris.herring: I already feel like it’s a weird team as is.

Credit to them for adjusting heavily after how bad Game 1 was.

tchow: You knew they had to do something about that pick-and-roll defense.

chris.herring: Enes Kanter was back at the free-throw line in Game 1 and then moved much farther up to contain their pick and rolls in Game 2. That made Golden State’s looks far more challenging, which you almost have to do in order to have a chance.

sara.ziegler: The Blazers didn’t get much on offense from Kanter on Thursday, though. What was going on there?

chris.herring: His impact is going to be a bit less on a night where they shoot as well as they did from three. Because he doesn’t get any offensive rebounds that way.

But also, when he’s playing so much higher up on D, it probably wears him down a bit.

Not to mention the fact that he’s fasting during daylight hours, which seems like such a tough thing to do during such a high-stakes series.

sara.ziegler: That does seem brutal.

chris.herring: Now THAT storyline I find fascinating.

sara.ziegler: I can barely edit when I’m hungry. Can’t imagine trying to play basketball at the highest level!

natesilver: If I fasted during daylight hours, I don’t think I could even do a Slack chat, let alone play in an NBA game.

sara.ziegler: Haha

tchow: Muslim soccer players do it all the time! (during Ramadan)

It is pretty cool the Blazers have three Muslim players on the roster (Kanter, Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu).

chris.herring: Hakeem Olajuwon did it as well, and apparently Kanter reached out to him to figure out what all he did to maintain his game during that stretch of the postseason.

natesilver: I didn’t realize that the dates of Ramadan shift around a lot from year to year. It doesn’t always coincide with the playoffs.

sara.ziegler: What, if anything, can the Blazers do to turn the tide as the series heads back to Portland?

chris.herring: I think it goes without saying that they did enough to win Thursday.

You’d imagine they can control the tempo better at home than they did at Oracle, where the Warriors play extremely fast and in transition during those ridiculous comebacks. I think maybe Terry Stotts would call timeout when he feels one of those runs coming on. And they need to clean up some mistakes, in terms of fouling and taking care of the ball. Andre Iguodala made a great steal on Lillard on the final play, and Lillard had that pretty brutal foul on Steph while he was shooting a three late.

tchow: I’m actually not sure what else they can do. They played well on Thursday and still lost. I feel for Portland fans, I really do. But our predictions give them a 6 percent chance of making it to the finals which seems … high?

chris.herring: Realistically, unless Golden State has another major injury, that was probably it. I don’t see a whole lot of adjustments for a scenario where you were in control most of the game. You just have to finish the game. Period.

natesilver: I guess the one piece of good news for Portland is that it’s not obvious that KD’s going to play any time soon.

tchow: Chris mentioned that they needed another huge bench performance to have a chance, but both Rodney Hood and Seth Curry had pretty decent games. I don’t know where else it could come from. Zach Collins?

sara.ziegler: Meyers Leonard! He had a pretty good game.

chris.herring: Collins had five fouls in eight minutes yesterday, somehow. Leonard was impactful, though.

tchow: Yeah, some of those Collins fouls were bad fouls, too.

chris.herring: That’s why it’s hard to see Portland doing this: Everything seems really scattered right now.

Also, props to Draymond Green for raising his game to a ridiculous level lately. You can’t mention the Warriors looking like the Warriors of old without talking about how incredible he’s been on both ends.

natesilver: Maybe Draymond secretly hates KD and so ups his effort level when KD is out?

sara.ziegler: LOL. I kind of want that to be true. Since the NBA is just a soap opera, at its core.

tchow: “The Plays of Our Lives”

I’m sorry.

sara.ziegler: OMG, yes.

Moving on to the East: Chris, you wrote after Game 1 that the Raptors would likely be kicking themselves for letting that get away from them. How important was that outcome to the series?

chris.herring: Not nearly as much of a killer as Game 2 for Portland. But still potentially big.

There’s that saying that a series hasn’t begun until a road team wins a game. And on some level, that may be true. I just think that if you’re going to beat Milwaukee, it makes sense to grab the winnable game when it’s there. And the Bucks played really poorly in some regards, yet they still won. They are a complete team, whereas the Raptors look very stilted on offense at times.

And it’s part of why I continue to like Milwaukee’s chances of winning this whole thing.

tchow: It’s been really impressive seeing how well the Bucks have continued to play when Giannis Antetokounmpo is not on the floor.

natesilver: The thing I’d hate if I were a Raptors fan is that I felt like my team played pretty well in Game 1, and it still wasn’t enough. Obviously, not everything was perfect — the cold shooting in the fourth quarter — but it felt like a relatively fair contest.

chris.herring: Yeah. I guess there are two ways to view it:

1) Lowry is probably never going to shoot like that again.

2) There’s probably no way they’ll ever get less of a contribution from the rest of the team than they did in Game 1.

tchow: 3) Brook Lopez will not have a game like that again.

sara.ziegler: Lopez was EVERYWHERE.

chris.herring: I’m not completely sure about No. 3! If Toronto doesn’t go smaller, the Raptors are going to have to sacrifice something defensively. I don’t know that he’ll have almost 30 again, but the Raps are going to dare Brook and guys like him to prove they can make that shot as opposed to letting Giannis run wild in the paint.

That’s the risk.

sara.ziegler: To your second point, Chris, you can’t imagine a scenario happening again where no Raptor aside from Lowry makes a single shot in an entire quarter.

chris.herring: Yeah, those stats — 0 for 15 aside from Lowry in the fourth, and 1 for 23 in the second half outside of Lowry and Leonard — were some of the more insane ones I’ve ever seen.

And the one second-half basket that someone else made was a buzzer-beating 3 by Pascal Siakam in the third! One he wouldn’t have even taken if not for how much time was left.

tchow: The last time Lopez had a double-double while scoring more than 20 points was … one second, I’m still scrolling up on Basketball-Reference.

sara.ziegler: LOL

chris.herring: That part is true. But him scoring a bunch wouldn’t shock me based on how they’re defending him. Brook isn’t the biggest rebounder, in part because he’s more concerned with boxing out and making sure a teammate collects the miss. (But also, their minutes are longer in the playoffs, meaning he’ll have more chances.)

tchow: Found it! Nov. 3, 2017, when he was on the Lakers. And it was the Lopez revenge game because they played the Nets.

chris.herring: Remember: Milwaukee was 11 of 44 from three! That’s 25 percent. So the Bucks left a ton of points on the table. And many of them were wide-open shots.

As I was saying, I think Toronto may want to consider playing a little smaller. That would potentially crank up the tempo to a level Lopez isn’t comfortable with, and potentially give him more defensive responsibility, to where he has to come out farther to defend.

natesilver: I dunno, I feel weird about slicing-and-dicing the Raptors’ shooting stats into so many little pieces. Overall, they shot 15 of 42 on threes, which is pretty average/good.

chris.herring: Lowry was 7 of 9 by himself!

natesilver: They didn’t shoot great on twos, but a lot of teams don’t do that well against MIlwaukee. They made 85 percent of their free throws.

chris.herring: The other Raptors will likely shoot better. But Milwaukee did plenty to make Kawhi Leonard get his points. This team is really great at pushing star scorers to drive with their weaker hand.

tchow: Sixers should take note. Too soon?

sara.ziegler: LOL

chris.herring: The statistics illustrated that in Game 1. Leonard drove 15 times, and 11 of them were to his left. During the season, he drove to his right a little more than 57 percent of the time.

sara.ziegler: That seems to be a huge focus for the Bucks — and it looks like it’s paying off. But again, the Raptors almost stole Game 1. It would be huge for them to get Game 2 tonight.

chris.herring: Agreed.

While I still think Milwaukee is clearly the stronger team in this matchup, I wouldn’t be foolish enough to say that Toronto is out of this, regardless of what happens tonight. This is a more evenly matched set of opponents than with Portland and Golden State, clearly.

sara.ziegler: So let’s end on some soft predictions. How long will each series go?

tchow: I’m predicting a gentleman’s sweep for the Western Conference finals.

natesilver: Yeah, five games seems like the smartest bet.

sara.ziegler: It would be only fair to the Curry parents.

tchow: I believe Dame and CJ can do enough to get at least one win in Portland.

chris.herring: Agreed on the West.

In the East, I’ll go six, with the Bucks winning. Though if Milwaukee wins tonight, I wouldn’t be shocked if they closed it in five.

natesilver: I’m going to go seven games for the East. Despite what I said earlier about Game 1 being a bearish indicator for Toronto, I still think they’re a liiiiiiittttle underrated, and Nick Nurse probably has more ways to make adjustments than Mike Budenholzer does.

tchow: I think it’ll be Bucks in six, too.

natesilver: I have a hot take.

sara.ziegler: 🔥

natesilver: Steve Kerr’s comments about Kevin Durant’s injury sound fairly ominous.

WHAT IF DURANT HAS PLAYED HIS LAST GAME FOR THE WARRIORS?!?!?

sara.ziegler: Oooooooh

tchow: * searches in google * Durant Knicks jersey

chris.herring: That doesn’t sound as crazy to me as some people might think.

If it’s a more serious strain, and it’s closer to a month than it is a one-week or two-week injury, then the NBA Finals or the middle of the finals would be more realistic for him.

But if the finals aren’t competitive …

natesilver: So Knicks fans should be rooting for a Warriors sweep?

chris.herring: I don’t know. It would be really interesting. If the Warriors win easily without him, it would be weird for him to stay if he wants validation. If the Warriors LOSE, it gets interesting. Because, obviously, the last time the Warriors lost, he went and signed with them.

tchow: I just really want Curry to win his first finals MVP trophy.

sara.ziegler: Would THAT push KD to the Knicks?

natesilver: I think the BEST-case scenario for the Knicks would be if the Warriors are like up 3-1 over Milwaukee in the finals, and then KD comes back and they LOSE.

tchow: grinchgrin.gif

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How The Draft Lottery Reshaped The NBA Landscape

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): So we just witnessed what our friend Zach Lowe called the “wildest lottery ever.” The Zion-Williamson-to-the-Knicks (or its less-heralded cousin, Zion-to-the-Lakers) hype train gained a ton of steam when both teams were revealed to be in the Top 4 … and then it crashed and burned on live TV as the Lakers ended up at No. 4 and the Knicks at No. 3.

Guys, take me through each of your experiences and emotions as you saw what unfolded.

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): I think we saw right away how crazy this new lottery system has the potential to be. By flattening out the worst teams’ odds of winning, you get a higher probability of something like last night playing out. It was insane at the actual lottery here in Chicago. There were these enormous gasps when they announced that the Bulls were going to pick seventh, the Suns were going to pick sixth, and the Cavs were going to choose fifth.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I was at a fairly nice Italian restaurant with a friend who doesn’t really like basketball, and I made him pull out his phone along with my phone just so we could see who had the faster livestream. Unfortunately, this restaurant had a lot of wood paneling or something that was causing the signal to be pretty weak. Anyway, the livestream cut out right when it looked like the Knicks might be shut out of the Top 4 entirely, then it came back on and they were in the Top 4, and then right after that they got the No. 3 pick. As dumb as it sounds, the experience of having my expectations lowered made the No. 3 pick seem a lot better as a quasi-Knicks fan.

Also, we ordered pasta for dessert, which people should try.

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): My fingers and toes were crossed from the time Boston’s 14th pick was announced. I started jumping up and down on my couch and screaming sometime between Phoenix’s sixth pick reveal and Cleveland’s fifth. There was a moment during that window that I thought 14 percent really meant something like 98 percent, and I was ready to buy my Zion Knicks jersey.

chris.herring: Hahahahaha. Brutal.

neil: Our colleague Chad Matlin had a great experience as well that he granted me permission to share:

“a small anecdote from brooklyn last night: I’m walking home from dinner down Flatbush Ave and a man appears half a block behind me and starts violently screaming something, but I can’t quite make out what. he keeps screaming. I only catch snippets. “FUCKING!!!” “ALL!!!” “LOSING!“”” this goes on for 90 seconds as he crosses street aimlessly, screaming the same thing over and over. I finally piece it together: “ALL THAT FUCKING LOSING FOR NOTHING!!”

And that’s when I found out the Knicks didn’t win the lottery.”

Suffice to say, emotions were running high here in New York.

chris.herring: LMAO

natesilver: I had run the numbers beforehand, and the No. 3 pick — in a draft where there’s a clear drop-off between Nos. 3 and 4 — is slightly above the expected value for the Knicks pick. Even if you think Zion is going to be reaaaaaaaaaaaly good, a 14 percent chance just isn’t that high.

chris.herring: On some level, the lottery process and unveiling is really, really challenging for the average person — even for me — to follow along with if you aren’t focused on a single team and where they’re ending up.

tchow: Yeah, Chris, in the hysteria last night, the graphics on TV really played a trick on me: They had the Top 4 picks in individual blocks on top, while 5 through 14 were listed below as they were revealing the picks. As the blocks were getting filled in, you saw the Lakers, then the Grizzlies and then the Pelicans, and I went, “Holy shit, we got No. 1!”

chris.herring: One team being slotted lower than you expect is useful information, but it’s hard to know exactly who it benefits until there are only two or three teams left.

Rachel Nichols was explaining it in real time, but it still takes a hot second or two to register what it all means, because of the pick swaps and protections, etc.

neil: It’s kind of incredible that so many of us devote time to watching the unveiling of the results of pingpong balls based on probabilities, which each have obscure caveats (protections, etc), and it actually makes for compelling TV. The NBA is amazing.

natesilver: Maybe they should reveal it one pick per day at a time over the course of the playoffs, sort of like an advent calendar.

Think of all the opportunities for #content.

chris.herring: I’m still kind of shocked that New Orleans ended up getting it. Makes a huge difference for them going forward. All this time, analysts were suggesting that they make a deal with the team that wins the lottery for Anthony Davis. Now they have the No. 1 pick AND Anthony Davis.

neil: And David Griffin said their big priority is convincing AD to stay now. Is that feasible?

chris.herring: It doesn’t seem the most feasible to me. You’d love for him to change his tune on that, but reports suggest that he won’t. It’s incredibly risky to gamble on the hunch that he will.

natesilver: I think Zion might make it more likely that AD is traded, if anything

Because now the franchise has something to play for and sell hope/tickets for, even without AD. So any scenario where they’re just being super stubborn and desperate is probably off the table.

chris.herring: You don’t know whether Zion alone would be enough for them to make a huge jump in the next year, which is what you’d need to feel better about letting Davis test free agency.

natesilver: New Orleans was one of just three teams to win the lottery that was neither undeserving, nor boring, nor annoying. So that was a win in my book.

tchow: Nate, I disagree with so much of that Venn diagram.

natesilver: Haha

neil: As an Atlantan who also once worked for the Hawks, I guess I’ll take “basically OK.”

chris.herring: Neil, I’m sure die-hard Hawks fans were disappointed last night. Basketball people seem to universally feel that would’ve been his best fit.

Did you all see the video of Williamson hitting the Hawks logo twice before the lottery began?

neil: SO many people were looking at that!

tchow: It must have meant something!

neil: NBA conspiracies are the best.

chris.herring: It seemed that might have been his preference.

tchow: Can you imagine all the “it’s rigged” people if the Hawks did end up getting No. 1 after the logo double tap?

chris.herring: Can’t remember too many people WANTING to go to Atlanta, but I actually hoped he’d end up there after that.

neil: 😢

tchow: Zion with Trae Young is really intriguing.

But if we’re playing alternate universes and what-ifs, can we play “what if Zion did go to the Knicks?” Neil thinks owner James Dolan would have somehow messed it up anyway. I disagree.

neil: Right, my take was always that he should be happy he didn’t go to the Knicks. Everything that franchise touches goes to ruin.

tchow: But he could have changed that, Neil!

chris.herring: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was reporting pretty adamantly that the Knicks wouldn’t have traded him. So it seems like they would have moved forward with him, and then gone into free agency shooting for the stars.

natesilver: I think it would have been dumb to trade him. Like, more dumb than people realize. When you consider the contracts, and that the Pelicans don’t rally have much leverage, I think you can even argue that Zion straight up is TOO MUCH for AD, without all the other assets that the Knicks were likely to have to throw into the deal. But, anyway, I guess we don’t have to worry about that now.

chris.herring: I agree. You’re going to want and need cost-controlled contracts for when you get other stars, anyway. Having Zion would allow you to do that.

tchow: Is it wrong of me to think that this is even more proof that the lottery was rigged? Like, the results were so much the complete opposite of what you thought a “rigged” one would look like that it’s almost too opposite. Am I making sense? Like, the results seemed to be what someone would produce to prove that something wasn’t rigged when it actually was.

natesilver: Tony I think you’re overthinking this just a liiiiiiiiiiiiittle bit.

chris.herring: LOL

neil: Of course, they did invite some of this rigging speculation by having Patrick “Frozen Envelope” Ewing there to represent the Knicks.

chris.herring: As someone who’s been in the room, it’s not rigged. They go to great lengths to let people watch it. And make the actual process available on YouTube shortly after.

I think the variance is going to be really wild going forward because of how they’ve flattened out the odds for the worst few teams, though. And honestly, it will make it more fun and heartbreaking.

tchow: I know it’s not rigged. But……

Just kidding

neil: But yeah Chris, I wanted to ask about that. Did we see the death of tanking last night?

Look at how much the results at the top differed from the ranking in order of worst records:

natesilver: I mean, that’s how the system is supposed to work, right?

neil: Well, I’ve always thought these tanking teams underestimated the luck involved in the lottery. Even under the old system.

chris.herring: Last night’s outcome was probably about as solid as you could hope for from the league’s perspective if that’s the message you wanted to send. That being awful gives you a better chance but by no means guarantees you the very best — or even second-best — pick.

tchow: Big win for Mr. Silver. (Adam, not Nate.)

natesilver: And it’s not like the Knicks were categorically different than the Cavs, Suns or Bulls. They were just better at tanking. No. 3 is a comparatively good result vs. the rest of that group.

BTW, someone should check the lottery ball codes to see what the results would have been under last year’s system.

neil: Yeah, it’s weird to think of the Knicks as “winners” last night. But things could have been worse.

chris.herring: The Knicks were the only team with the best lottery odds that didn’t fall out of the top four!

natesilver: I really don’t get the losers talk, and I think it goes to show how people’s intuitions about probability aren’t very good.

tchow: 14 percent means 100 percent, Nate!

natesilver: People were treating it like 60 percent or something, I swear.

neil: Knick fans’ expectations are always out of whack with reality, though… (This is a franchise that wins like the Mets but acts like it has the pedigree of the Yankees.)

tchow: Neil, this is an NBA chat.

chris.herring: I’m on record saying that I feel like the average Knick fan expects bad things to happen.

neil: Maybe it’s more the New York media than rank-and-file fans, Chris.

natesilver: This does leave open at least the tantalizing possibility of trading for Anthony Davis. If the Knicks do want to make a play for AD, this is one of the better scenarios for them. There’s no one who can trade Zion to the Pels since they already have him! The No. 3 pick is probably comparable to the best single asset that the Celtics and Lakers can offer. And if the Knicks get Kyrie Irving, maybe the Celtics don’t even try to get AD anyway.

The Lakers do have the No. 4 pick, but at least based on the scouting consensus, there’s a big drop-off between 3 and 4. We’ll see if the Pelicans agree with that or not.

chris.herring: I honestly don’t have a sense of what the Pelicans would prefer at this point.

The Celtics would obviously be in play, based on their young talent and the draft picks they have. The Knicks just got the No. 3 pick and have two picks they got from Dallas in the Porzingis trade. Though those picks could end up being lower-end ones, depending on how the Mavericks are in the future. And then there are the Lakers, who just landed the No. 4 pick, plus all the guys they reportedly offered in February for Davis already.

So it’s a combination of which players the Pelicans like, plus how they value the notion of future picks that would likely be lower in the draft, as opposed to higher ones they could make use of right now.

natesilver: 🔥 Fun hot take: RJ Barrett could be the new Carmelo Anthony. High-volume, medium efficiency, good rebounder, mediocre effort on defense despite good athleticism. 🔥

tchow: Looking at the different mock drafts, it does seem like there is a consensus on Top 3 (Zion, Ja, RJ in that order) and the fourth pick is immediately where you start seeing disagreements.

neil: Which I think speaks to how few truly elite picks are in this draft class, Tony.

chris.herring: Totally agreed.

neil: But the Lakers can’t complain too much. They only had the 11th-best odds going on, so even moving up to fourth in a three-star draft is something.

chris.herring: On Tuesday I walked past Gar Forman, from the Bulls’ front office, and he had a pretty grim look on his face after the team finished No. 7. Thought it was noteworthy that the Bulls’ John Paxson all but acknowledged that with a pick that low, the team was more likely to trade for a veteran as opposed to making it work with a rookie.

It’s far more of a crapshoot outside of the Top 3.

natesilver: We do know that the Pelicans didn’t like the Lakers’ pu pu platter back in February. And that was before Brandon Ingram’s DVT diagnosis. Although also before David Griffin took over, so maybe not as relevant now.

chris.herring: There are a lot of options now for New Orleans. A lot of people were wondering out loud, too, whether getting Williamson might make the Pelicans more likely to find a deal for point guard Jrue Holiday, who could help a ton of teams as well.

tchow: Chris, Paxson also had another pretty optimistic outlook on the results that I hadn’t thought of last night:

chris.herring: Yeah, that quote infuriated Bulls fans here. It read like something out of The Onion.

tchow: LOL

neil: Do the Pels have more or less leverage in an AD trade now than they did at the deadline?

natesilver: Weirdly, they have less, because there’s no one who can trade them Zion!

chris.herring: Exactly. Likely less leverage but more flexibility in terms of the path they take, since they can feel pretty comfortable about building their future around him.

natesilver: Are people too confident that Memphis will take Ja Morant and not RJ Barrett? They both have one glaring flaw (Morant: defense, Barrett: shooting), and historically, you’d rather go with the guy who can fix his shooting than a guy who is probably too undersized to ever be a great defender. Barrett’s also almost a year younger.

Just to show how much a year can matter, compare Morant’s stats this year vs. last year:

neil: And how does either affect where Mike Conley goes? They were shopping him pretty aggressively at the deadline but didn’t find the right deal.

natesilver: I don’t think Memphis has any business keeping Conley either way.

chris.herring: I’m interested in that question, too.

natesilver: And I’m not sure it affects their pick much. If you want Ja, you can keep him and use Conley as a mentor if you want.

chris.herring: Memphis is one of the smaller markets in the league, and because of that, I think they maybe hold on to players a year or two longer than they should. Perhaps because of the ties those fans feel to certain players.

Morant is seemingly good enough where you draft him and then figure out the answer to that question with Conley later.

natesilver: The Grizzlies have historically been a bit allergic to high-usage-rate guys, and both Barrett and Morant use a lot of possessions, so in some ways neither one feels like a natural Grizzly.

chris.herring: Morant is a great passer, too, though, and averaged a double-double with assists. So I’d hope they make an exception in this case.

tchow: If I were the Grizzlies, I’d take RJ.

chris.herring: Wow. Knick fans would love if you became the Grizzlies’ GM.

natesilver: The thing that’s really hard to project with Barrett is his defense. A lot of the comparables are pretty unflattering because people want to typecast him as Andrew Wiggins 2.0, maybe just because they’re both Canadian. But Wiggins was thought of as a guy who was going to be a plus defender, and he’s been pretty darn terrible instead. If Barrett’s a good defender, though, you start getting into a whole different set of comps, more along the lines of Jimmy Butler (if he tamps down the usage rate a bit) or Victor Oladipo.

neil: Just goes to show how much defense — which I think can go overlooked for prospects at times (and is difficult to predict out of college) — can really alter a player’s pro trajectory. This, from ESPN’s mock draft on Barrett, sounds like it’s ripped out of the Wiggins scouting report: “he wasn’t the defender his physical tools suggest he should have been.”

chris.herring: In fairness, Morant’s defense isn’t all that great, either. That’s part of what makes the No. 1 pick so easy, among other things.

natesilver: Barrett was a much better rebounder, which counts for something. A much better and more active passer. And he was using a ton of possessions, which sometimes yields lower effort on defense. And Duke played a very tough schedule.

I don’t know. If Barrett had shot 38 percent from three instead of 31 percent, I think people would be talking about him and Williamson like it’s … I don’t know, the Kevin Durant/Greg Oden draft or something. And of course, you can’t just disregard the difference between 38 percent and 31 percent. But he’s a pretty spectacular prospect if he learns how to shoot.

chris.herring: It’s so hard to tell in college. The shooting is somewhat predictive. But even if he had shot 38 percent this year, I think there would be room to ask whether it was completely real.

I remember Justise Winslow shooting a pretty healthy percentage from out there during his lone year at Duke, but so many of the makes came with Jahlil Okafor being doubled in the post, which left Winslow wide-open a lot of the time. And then he initially struggled from three once he came into the league, which was what many folks predicted.

natesilver: The low free-throw percentage is troubling for Barrett.

Like, Jayson Tatum — a guy who’s been a much better 3-point shooter as a pro than people thought — shot free throws pretty darned well in college. Barrett didn’t.

chris.herring: Completely agreed. That tends to have solid predictive value.

neil: It’s also worth remembering that Barrett was actually the No. 1 prospect in that star-studded class going into their freshman seasons. But I’ve seen studies that indicate the weight given to even one year of college should far outweigh our priors for prospects coming out of high school.

tchow: This chat is just becoming a conversation about how Duke players perform in the NBA.

chris.herring: Seems fair to me:

tchow: Out of RJ, Zion, Winslow and Tatum, who is the most likely to also believe the Earth is flat?

natesilver: New Orleans is extremely flat, so I’m guessing it will be Zion after a few years.

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