The NBA is doing something a little different with their rookie/sophomore game this year, which is let two ‘General Managers’ pick the teams. Those GMs happened to be Shaq and Charles Barkley, two guys who presumably know something about basketball. This is mostly an interesting situation to me because we get to see, in a very obvious manner, how two well-informed people rate basketball talent. In previous years, it was just rookies versus sophomores. In the ‘big boy’ All Star game, players were chosen by fans and then just filled in by coaches with odd restraints like giving players positions and breaking them up by conference. I didn’t catch the actual draft, but I don’t think any of that played a role here. Let’s see what we can find out.
Age: generally speaking, it’s better to have the sophomores. They are 8-4 in the challenge, and should be expected to be better simply due to an extra year of age and experience. So simply at that level, a GM would do best to avoid rookies. Looking at the rosters, Shaq took five rookies and Chuck took four. Shaq’s rookies were further down in his choices though (4,5,7,8, and 9) than Chuck’s (1,3,5, and 10), and Shaq got Blake Griffin, who was drafted in 2009 and has seen an extra year of basketball in person (potentially offset by Tiago Splitter, who was drafted in 2007 but played overseas). So let’s call this a wash.
Position: Shaq apparently doesn’t believe in needing a big line-up. He has Blake Griffin, Markieff Morris, Tristan Thompson, and Greg Monroe. After that he doesn’t even have much by the way of small forwards, with only perhaps Landry Field typically filling that role. The other five guys are all guards. Chuck is similarly thin up front with only DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams (who might be also be a small forward), Tiaggo Splitter, and Kawhi Leonard. He has a couple of middle options though, with Paul George, MarShon Brooks, Evan Turner, and Gordon Hayward all able to play the 2 or 3 (at least according to Yahoo fantasy sports). That leaves only two players clearly at guard, but both are points: John Wall and Kyrie Irving.
So despite a few other options for big men (Enes Kanter, Gustavo Ayon, Kenneth Faried, Jon Leuer, and Bismack Biyombo just to name some who’ve gotten playing time), neither Shaq nor Chuck (big men themselves) felt like they needed many in the game. Shaq went with a very guard-heavy line-up whereas Chuck went with more of a perimeter-based line-up. I’m going to give the edge to Chuck simply because Shaq’s team won’t be able to run out some combinations of his players, whereas Chuck should be ok as long as Wall and Irving sub more or less only for each other.
Draft position: The average draft position for Chuck’s team is 9.8, and he nabbed both of the last number 1 picks. Shaq’s average is 12.7, and that excludes the undrafted Jeremy Lin. Of course, draft position doesn’t mean much of anything; it’s really about making sure that your good players get on the court regardless of where they were drafted. So no real advantages here, but let’s give Shaq credit for moving a little bit away from the hype.
Actual performance: Ah, here we are. So who might we think will actually win? As a first pass, let’s look at the average productivity for the teams overall. Chuck’s team wins according to Wins Produced fairly handily, .126 to .085. RAPM respectfully disagrees and has Shaq’s team ahead -1.23 to -1.49; Shaq also has four above-average players compared to Chuck’s one (in contrast, WP48 says that Chuck only has two below-average players, and Shaq has five above-average players). And to round things out, Win Shares has Shaq’s team at a nearly-average .092 and Chuck’s team at just above with .106. So with two votes in favor to one vote against, it looks like Chuck’s team might have the better quality.
Another way to look at it is to break the players out into positions and guess how much they might play. As we saw under the position section this is a little tough, but I made a run at it by assuming things like Wall and Irving would split 48 minutes for Chuck, Monroe and Morris would split minutes for Shaq, and so on. For players that I think would be the more popular of the options (only a couple situations), I gave them a 30/18 split and others just went with 24/24. This takes into account the reality of having to respect positions a bit (although to be fair it’s an All Star game; Shaq could roll out Lin, Rubio, Cole, Knight, and Griffin if he felt like it). Then I multiplied their productivity by the minutes played and added things up. The results roughly mirror the team averages; Chuck wins WP by a decent amount and Win Shares by a lesser amount, and Shaq wins RAPM.
So, who ya got? I don’t see advantages either way by age/experience or draft position; I think Chuck’s team might be a little more flexible when it comes to position assignments. Two of three reasonable metrics give the edge to Chuck as well, but the differences are relatively small. Hopefully it’ll be a fun game overall, but I probably won’t catch it. The All-Star games remind me of a bad pick-up game on speed, so I usually stick to the skills competition.