Hard Foul, Hard Times?
Analyzing the NERD effects of potential absences for James Harden and Metta World Peace.
The guys from numberFire have been bringing us the NERD Team and NERD Player rankings all season long, harnessing the power of algorithmic modeling to better understand sports. The numberFire Efficiency Rating Derivative (NERD) better evaluates every player and team in the NBA using offensive and defensive efficiency numbers. With the post-season about to kick off, the NERD experts are bringing us more analysis—this time in evaluating two Western Conference contenders that could both be without key pieces following Metta World Peace’s brutal elbow to the head of James Harden, concussing OKC’s Sixth Man and putting the Playoff availability of MWP in serious jeopardy.
by numberFire / @numberFire
After his vicious elbow to the head of James Harden on Sunday, the biggest question for the Los Angeles Lakers is just how long will they be without Metta World Peace. More importantly, though, what kind of an effect will World Peace’s probable absence due to suspension have on the Lakers heading into the Playoffs? If he is to miss significant playing time, the increase in minutes is likely to be shared by Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks, who stepped up huge on Sunday in the Lakers 18-point second-half comeback.
Metta World Peace is in the midst of his second lowest “usage” season—an immediate effect of playing with a high-usage guy like Kobe—but rather than improving offensively (as most players do when taking fewer, and thus typically higher quality shots), he has stayed unwavering in his mediocrity. The one positive of his offensive game is his ability to limit turnovers. World Peace turns the ball over on only 11.8% of possessions, a better rate than everyone on the Lakers with at least 400 minutes except for Kobe. But obviously, World Peace is better-known for his quirky personality and stifling defense.
MWP leads the Lakers in steal rate at 2.2%, which measures the percentage of opponent possessions on which he registers a steal. There is good news for Laker fans, though—both Ebanks and Barnes have respectable steal rates at 1.6% and 1.3% respectively, and with Barnes playing increased minutes, the Lakers offense will get a healthy boost in production. Barnes, who uses 16.4% of the Lakers’ possessions while on the floor (just 0.8% more than Metta World Peace), scores 1.12 points per possession—significantly better than World Peace’s 1.02. Ebanks, on the other hand, has been a liability on the offensive end, scoring just 0.94 points per possession. Take that with a grain of salt, though, as he has not seen significant playing time yet in his career.
All told, what does that mean for the Lakers’ chances in the Playoffs? According to our projections, the Lakers currently have about a 1.9% chance of winning the NBA Finals, with the heavy favorites being the Bulls, Heat, Thunder and Spurs. The loss of World Peace may actually be a blessing, giving Barnes added time and increasing the Lakers’ overall production. Barnes has been the third-most efficient player on the Lakers this year, registering a nERD (numberFire Efficiency Rating Derivative) rating of 3.8. This means, if he played at the same level on a League-average team, that team would finish an estimated 3.8 games over .500 for the year. World Peace, on the other hand, grades out to a -2.4. With World Peace out, the Lakers’ statistical chances to win the finals actually increase, but only to 2.0%.
The bigger loss, however, is to Oklahoma City. James Harden is having an All-Star caliber year and will be a shoo-in for the Sixth Man of The Year award. Harden ranks No. 6 in the League in overall efficiency, posting a nERD rating of 14.7. The third-year man out of Arizona State is scoring a ridiculous 1.25 points per possession while using over 20% of the Thunder’s possessions. Only two other players in the League can say the same: Chris Paul and Manu Ginobili. What is most impressive about Harden is his 66.0% true shooting percentage, which includes free throws and factors in the added value of three-pointers (which, to state the obvious, are worth more than a regular field goal). That makes Harden No. 4 in the league from a shooting efficiency standpoint and No. 2 among players with at least 1,000 minutes played.
If Harden misses time, it will be a significant blow to the Thunder offense. His loss will likely result in increased playing time for Thabo Sefolosha, Daequan Cook, and former Laker Derek Fisher. All three are mediocre players offensively, and although Daequan Cook had a fantastic 2010-11 campaign, scoring 1.22 points per possession (almost entirely on three-point shooting), he is having a rocky follow-up season. Don’t look for any of them to step up with the second unit offensively. Rather, it will mean an increased load for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook—two guys who can handle the added possessions.
The loss of Harden would immediately make the San Antonio Spurs the favorite to win the West, but don’t count out a Harden-less Thunder team. The Thunder’s chances of winning the NBA Title would drop from 18.5% to about 15% depending on how much time Harden misses. With two of the top offensive players in the game, including the reigning two-time NBA scoring champion, it goes without saying that the Thunder are still a team no one wants to face come May.
numberFire is a sports analytics platform that uses algorithmic modeling to better understand sports. Follow Nik Bonaddio at @numberfire, and Keith Goldner at @drivebyfootball. Check out numberFire on Facebook.