This is a follow-up to our previous post on the top player for each Eastern Conference team so far this year. Again, the primary statistical resources used were basketball-reference.com (for PER and Win Shares), 82games.com (for opponent PER and Net +/-), and godismyjudgeok.com (for ASPM and VORP).
Dallas Mavericks (O.J. Mayo): Not a lot has gone right for the Mavs this year, but their decision to sign Mayo for the cut-rate price of $8.2 million over two years is looking very prudent. Relegated to a peripheral role in his last two seasons in Memphis, the fifth-year guard, who only turned 25 this season, is enjoying his finest season as a pro for the Mavs while leading the team in both minutes (35.8 per game) and scoring (17.8 ppg). Mayo’s underrated ball-handling and playmaking (19.9 AST%) have come in handy on a roster without a pass-first point guard, while only 7 qualifying players can match his elite shooting splits from the line (.856 FT%) and beyond the arc (.413 3p%). Darren Collison (4.1 WS) edges Mayo (3.8) in Win Shares, but Mayo gets the nod here for shouldering the bulk of the team’s offensive load under tough circumstances.
Denver Nuggets (Kenneth Faried): Denver didn’t really get rolling until after the new year, as its main offensive weapons in Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari each struggled to find their shot against a tough early schedule. Faried, however, has been one of the most dependable big men in the league, tying for fifth among all power forwards with 23 double doubles while pacing the Nuggets in Win Shares (5.8) and VORP (2.99).
Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry): David Lee may have been the Warriors’ lone All-Star selection, but Curry’s 2012-2013 could make a more lasting imprint – no player in league history has ever taken so many 3’s (7.0 3PA/G) at such an effective clip (.445 3P%). That unique skill is what makes Curry special, but he also shored up his weaker points, like his ball handling and decision making (13.3 TOV%, top 10 among starting point guards), and continues to show steady improvement defensively, allowing a 16.3 PER from opposing point guards. His 4.07 VORP tops the Warriors’ roster while ranking 11th-highest league-wide.
Houston Rockets (James Harden): Harden’s per-possession stats in OKC hinted that he could be The Man on a less star-studded roster, but you never really know how a player will handle that responsibility until actually tasked with it. Fortunately for the Rockets, Harden has proved every bit the superstar, placing 4th in the NBA in Win Shares (8.5) as Houston has jumped from 12th in the NBA in offensive efficiency last year to 4th this season.
Los Angeles Clippers (Chris Paul): Nobody outside of LeBron James and Kevin Durant is playing better ball this year than Chris Paul, who ranks just behind that duo in Win Shares (8.8) and PER (26.2). Blake Griffin (7.7 WS, 8th in the League) has made noticeable strides this season, but Paul’s two stints on the injured list this year should leave no question as to who’s driving the Clips’ success. In the 44 games with Paul in the lineup, they’ve posted a .733 Win Percentage (33-12), while they are just a .500 club (6-6) without him.
Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant): Remember when the big question mark about the 2012-2013 Lakers was how Kobe would react to a new, diminished role? Certainly seems like a long time ago now. Kobe has been the team’s one reliable star, posting 7.2 WS, good for 8th in the league (Dwight Howard is 2nd on the team at 4.7), in an NBA-leading 2,105 minutes. It might be largely wasted on a 26-29 team, but after seeing his performance slip by every metric last year, Kobe is on pace for the 3rd-best true shooting percentage (.564) and 2nd-highest assist percentage (27.7) of his 17-season career.
Memphis Grizzlies (Marc Gasol): It’s been a breakout year for the younger Gasol, who currently leads the ambitious Grizzlies in both Win Shares (7.1) and VORP (3.79). The last line of the league’s 2nd-best defense, Gasol is cementing his reputation as one of the best low-post defenders in the league while also leading all centers in AST% (17.7) and FT% (.873).
Minnesota Timberwolves (Andrei Kirilenko): This could have been a very ugly year in Minnesota, but Kirilenko has kept the Wolves competitive with an all-action display on both ends of the court. Only Kevin Durant can match his averages in blocks, rebounds, assists, and steals. Picking up right where he left off after a one-year stint in Moscow, Kirilenko also leads Minnesota in TS% (.598), Win Shares (4.5), and ASPM (2.55).
New Orleans Hornets (Ryan Anderson): Entering the season, there was some debate about whether Anderson could be as effective without Dwight Howard sucking in defenses. He’s currently at career highs for 3PA/G (7.3) and 3p% (.396), so it’s pretty clear at this point that his game translates to any situation with a ball, a basket, and defenders hopelessly trying to get a hand in the face of the 6’10” forward. Anderson’s rare ability to stretch the floor again ranks him among the NBA leaders in Offensive Rating (116), and while he doesn’t offer much versatility, he’s the best weapon the Hornets have until Anthony Davis realizes his massive potential.
Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant): Only once in league history has a player matched Durant’s current scoring average (29.0) and his 50/40/90 FG%/3p%/FT% splits – Larry Bird, 25 years ago. Russell Westbrook has stepped up his playmaking this year to fill the void left by James Harden, but Durant is having a season for the history books and it would take a colossal second half from LeBron James to keep the league MVP trophy out of his hands.
Phoenix Suns (Goran Dragic): These are dark days for the Suns, but it helps that Dragic is fun to watch. Enjoying the first consistent starting gig of his career, the fifth-year guard has been steady if unspectacular at the point and currently ranks 13th in the NBA in assists per game. He paces Phoenix in Win Shares (4.0) and VORP (2.46), which really isn’t saying much, but he’s a piece worth keeping as they try to add more talent to their roster.
Portland Trail Blazers (Nicolas Batum): There’s no disputing LaMarcus Aldridge‘s standing as one of the top bigs in the game, but Batum’s versatility would make him more difficult to replace. After never averaging even 2 assists a game before this year, Batum has been given more authority on offense this season and has answered with a career-best 4.9 assists per outing to match his career highs in points per game (15.3) and rebounds per game (5.9). Where he really excels, however, is on the defensive end, where he’s tasked with the Blazers’ toughest assignment and routinely locks down point guards, shooting guards, and forwards alike. Opposing small forwards are posting an anemic 12.4 PER against him this season. Though he sits behind Aldridge (5.3) and J.J. Hickson (5.1) in Win Shares, other metrics rate Batum far higher – Kevin Pelton’s WARP actually values him as better than a max player.
Sacramento Kings (DeMarcus Cousins): It’s been an up and down year for the talented 22-year-old, who has actually slipped back by most metrics after an impressive sophomore year. Still, he remains the Kings’ best chance at relevance, both now and going forward, as there simply aren’t many players who come through the league that can dominate the glass like Boogie – his TRB% has ranked in the top 20 leaguewide each season he’s been in the NBA. His 17.0 AST% also ranks third-highest among all centers.
San Antonio Spurs (Tony Parker): It’s taken a team effort to get the Spurs to their league-leading 44-12 record, as they currently have 4 players in the top 10 leaguewide in WS/48. But Parker deserves singling out – as well as all-NBA consideration – for his best season to date. His 8.8 Win Shares lead the Spurs and place him 5th in the league while putting him on pace to smash his previous career high of 9.6. Most eye-popping is his .539 FG%, which would be the highest by a point guard since John Stockton if he can keep it up.
Utah Jazz (Paul Millsap): Through trade rumors and dips in his playing time, Millsap just does what he does. He and Al Jefferson are neck in neck in terms of Win Shares (Millsap: 5.7, Jefferson: 5.6) and VORP (Jefferson: 3.31, Millsap: 3.11), but Millsap gets the edge here for holding opposing 4’s to a 16.5 PER while Jefferson surrenders an 18.9 against other centers.
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