The Rookie of the Year Debate

The guys at Wages of Wins recently posted about Kyrie Irving, who is potentially in the lead for the ROY award although he is not, according to WP, even the best rookie point guard this year.  That honor belongs to Ricky Rubio.  And there are a couple of other players who are more productive per minute, like Kawhi Leonard, Jon Leuer, and Enes Kanter.  It didn’t take long for this to get knocked in other arenas.  Given my recent penchant for looking at a variety of perspectives, I thought I would see if there’s any kind of consensus on who the rookie of the year should be.

First you obviously need to have some criteria about who the ROY should be.  It shouldn’t be, in my opinion, the guy with the most promise.  That would be some kind of ‘player of the future’ award.  But beyond that it seems like there are reasonable places where people could disagree.  For example, we could argue about the ‘best’ player, perhaps measured by per-minute productivity, versus the ‘most productive’ player, measured by total productivity.  I think both sides are plausible, but the ‘best’ player argument falls apart a bit if a guy barely plays.  So I’m only going to look at players who have at least 100 minutes this season as a minimum cutoff.

I picked 11 players who show up near the top of at least one list or another.  The table below has their minutes played, which is important if we’re interested in total production, and then their per-minute/100 possessions productivity according to a few different metrics.

The list is sorted by minutes played so far (according to bball reference; I don’t know if it updated from last night’s games or not).  But let’s take a quick walk-through.  According to Win Shares, the best rookies are Allen, Vucevic, and Ayon.   None of them have played a lot of minutes though, so the most productive rookies are Irving, Rubio, and Leuer.  PER would like to go with Ayon, Irving, and Leuer, with Irving, Rubio, and Brooks being the most productive.  ezPM counters with Brooks, Irving, and Rubio, although the order is Rubio, Irving, and Leonard when you add in minutes.  Similar to Win Shares, Wins Produced goes with Vucevic, Allen, and Ayon, although they don’t play enough.  The total wins leaders are Rubio, Leonard, and Irving.  Finally, RAPM has a top three of Rubio, Leuer, and Vucevic.  I believe the order for total production by RAPM would be Rubio, Leuer, and Vucevic as well.

One broad note: RAPM is far more negative about these rookies than any of the other metrics.  Only Rubio is above-average according to RAPM, and if -2 is a rough estimate of typical rookie quality, six of the eleven are there or worse.  PER is the next most negative, and it thinks that only three of the rookies are below average.  Win Shares and Wins Produced think that the whole group is above average except for Kemba Walker, while ezPM thinks they’re all above average except for Stiesma.  So there’s quite a disconnect between RAPM and the box score metrics.

Now to the ROY discussion.  If we’re interested in the ‘best’ player, the winner would appear to be Gustavo Ayon, followed by Nikola Vucevic and Jon Leuer.  None of these three appear at the top of the list for ezPM (although Ayon and Leuer score well there), but at least two appear on each other list.  However, these three haven’t played a lot of minutes, and thus they haven’t had a lot of time to be productive in an absolute sense.

When minutes played is incorporated, only Ricky Rubio appears on every list.  Rubio is also fourth by per-minute productivity.  Thus he might be the best pick overall.  Kyrie Irving does appear on most of the lists thanks to being third in minutes, but he is only sixth in per-minute production.  So depending on your viewpoint, he could be in the ROY competition or not.  Jon Leuer would be the other total-productivity option, even though he has only played about 300 minutes so far.

If you’d like to compare Rubio and Irving for yourself, the Wages of Wins article has a table with their stats or you can look at the bball reference comparison.  Irving is a better shooter and shoots more than Rubio, but Rubio has the advantage in rebounding, assists, steals, and presumably defense (going by defensive Win Shares and the RAPM defense component).  Rubio has also played about 200 minutes more than Irving, which will help his productivity claim if he keeps it up.

Assuming all these players keep up their performance, it’ll be tough to choose between them at the end of the year.  Guys like Ayon and Vucevic will be per-minute darlings who don’t see the court enough, Leuer will be stuck in the middle, and Rubio and Irving will be popular front-runners who get plenty of court time.  About the only thing it appears we can agree on is that Kemba Walker is likely terrible.  However, I find myself in the enviable position of not having to choose at all: I have both Rubio and Irving on my fantasy basketball team.


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12 Responses to The Rookie of the Year Debate

  1. EvanZ says:

    Nice article, Alex. WoW wouldn’t post my comment, but you probably know what I would have said over there.

    • Alex says:

      I think you might have been overstating things a bit at the board though. They just said Irving was outside of the top 4 by per-minute production, and finish by saying that Irving could still very well end up the best rookie. His ranking isn’t so different from ezPM, depending on where you set your minute cutoffs. And if you used total production, Irving would be third in WP and obviously in the hunt. I was a little surprised by the vitriol. Had you written the same article with the same standard, you would have told everyone to go home because MarShon Brooks is running away with it. I mean, those Rubio and Irving guys can only hope he stays injured for a while so they can catch up or have him fall off.

  2. Guy says:

    Does RAPM regress rookies heavily to a generic rookie value (presumably quite low)? That probably makes sense, but then we shouldn’t expect it ever to give you a good read on the best rookies this early in a season.

    Rubio’s strong rating in WP (and perhaps ezPM?) clearly has a lot to do with his impressive rebound totals. But I notice that Minn is getting rebounds at about the same level as last year, despite getting vastly more rebounds from the PG position. Perhaps Rubio is taking a lot of rebounds from Love (whose totals are down)? I don’t follow Minn — have there been other major personnel changes?

  3. wiLQ says:

    “Guys like Ayon […] will be per-minute darlings who don’t see the court enough”
    Here’s my question: why doesn’t he see the court enough?
    It’s not like Hornets are fighting for playoffs and there’s a possibility they found a gem!

    • Alex says:

      I have no idea. I have to admit I didn’t even know the guy’s name until I wrote the article. But you’re right; the Hornets don’t have much to risk by playing anyone at this point. Maybe their draft position?

  4. Bob says:

    I love using data and I don’t throw out information but I’m sorry, I was never sold on RAPM. It’s still a relatively new metric that isn’t as proven – WS and ASPM outperformed it in seasons as a predictive tool. WP get slammed alot by statheads (and some of it is justified, due to the attitude of Berri), but at least it’s a better retrodictive measurement. I still laugh whenever I look at the 10-year RAPM for the past decade and it lists Steve Nash as an average defender. Not with all the other measurements out there that suggest the contrary.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean don’t use RAPM, but it just shows that you use all the data together. And when you do, your ROY is between Irving and Rubio.

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