Sunday, January 30, 2011

Despite Carmelo Anthony, the Denver Nuggets are the Best Offensive Team

The Denver Nuggets have recently moved into the number one spot for true shooting percentage, which is field goal percentage adjusted for three pointers and free throws, at 57.4 percent and ahead of Boston's 57.1% and San Antonio's 56.5%. They're also the top team in terms of offensive efficiency. While this would normally not be newsworthy because Denver is known for its "high octane" offense, the team's leading scorer is having a terrible shooting year. Carmelo Anthony's true shooting percentage (TS) is a low 52.3%. To put this in perspective, there are 36 small forwards listed on ESPN's website as having a better TS. He is well below average in this respect.

So how well would the Nuggets be shooting without Carmelo, or at least a better year for him? I calculated that Denver's players besides Anthony are shooting 58.7%. This is a mark few teams have ever matched. The Suns' hit 59.0% a couple times last decade.

The Nuggets are accomplishing this due to the exploits of Nene and Afflalo, who are both shooting at a level that's hard to believe. Afflalo's shooting 64.4% because of his three point shooting, and Nene is at a remarkable 69.4%. He's making nearly two-thirds of his field goals and hitting 75% from the free throw line. According to, this is a historic mark because Artis Gilmore holds the record with a TS at 70.2%. However, Tyson Chandler is threatening the record too with a percentage of 73.2. Billups is once again excelling with a TS% of 61.9% and Ty Lawson is having a great year at 58.6.

While it's unwise to assume that Denver's other players, their non-stars, would be shooting that well without Carmelo because of the defensive attention he creates, it's probably a rare occurrence that the leading team in offensive efficiency has most of its shots taken by a player with a 52.3% true shooting percentage. Also, Carmelo isn't a great passer, so his reputation and defensive pressure aren't directly rewarding the team's other players. And if you do a rough adjustment of their offensive efficiency to find out how efficient the team is sans Melo, they would have a number around 112, which would put them in exclusive company and would challenge the Nash-era Suns and Mavs for the greatest offensive efficiency number relative to the league average.

A huge story right now is that Carmelo wants to leave, and that Denver should be pitied because of how they're losing a great talent, a guy who's starting on the all-star team. But the rest of the team's players are playing like one of the best offensive teams in history. And I don't think anyone is noticing.

2011 Western Conference All-star Starters

I'll continue from my earlier post with the starting guards for the 2011 all-star game for the west. A few quick notes: I don't care about how the ballots list the positions. While I use advanced statistics, I won't rely on them; I realize many have holes. Also, I want the team out there to have continuity with seasons past. Meaning, some stats and how guys are playing is fluky. Sometimes shots fall. The all-star tag will carry with a player forever. You have to make sure a guy deserves the award, and that it's not a fluke. As a last note, the stats are of January 29th, and thanks for the incredible basketball resources found from, and

Starting Point Guard

The depth of elite point guards is historically great. Chris Paul is carrying his team with ridiculously efficient numbers, Deron Williams is having perhaps his best season yet, Russell Westbrook broke out and had MVP whispers at the start of the year, and Tony Parker is play great for one of the best teams. The punch line? Steve Nash will likely miss the game despite playing as well as he did in his MVP seasons.

Tony Parker is guy you can throw out first. Compare his season to Chris Paul's. Can you say he's accomplished more for his team? Paul is a much more efficient scorer at 60.8% TS to Parker's 57.1, he's a supremely better passer, and even a more effective defender who gets his steals not by gambling in the passing lanes so much but by swiping the ball away from the guy in front of him. Tony's also only playing 32.9 minutes a game.

Now it's only down to Paul, Williams, Westbrook and Nash. We'll start with scoring, as it's probably the easiest facet of the game to analyze. But each guy has a vastly different offensive game. Steve Nash is leading the pack in TS% at an otherworldly 64.3%, which is good for seventh in the league. But no player ahead of him shoots as much as Nash. Shaq and Nene are the next largest pieces of their respective offensives, and it's not even close. Steve's usage rate is 24.4, but with the other players on his team this year he should probably be pulling the trigger more. Chris Paul, like Nash, is a reluctant but deadly efficient shooter, but his TS% is human at 60.8% and his usage rate is 22.5. Deron Williams is close behind at 60.2% and a higher 26.7. These three traditional points contrast with Russell Westbrook, who has a higher usage rate at 30.5 but a TS% of 53.5%.

What the numbers are indicating is that Nash is an amazing shooter who should be a larger part of his team's offense, Chris Paul and Williams are very efficient but Deron has the advantage of taking more shots, and Westbrook is shooting poorly and way too often. Earlier in the season Westbrook was shooting at higher rates and people were wondering if he was the best point guard in the league, but I think that has passed. He's hurting his team by shooting too much. Looking at his stats from, he's shooting well enough inside at 55.5% but from ten feet and out he's hovering around 37% ... just like every other season. The difference this year is that his free throw percentage is up from around 80% to 85%, which is around Deron Williams' percentage. Paul and Nash are a level above near 90%.

Moving on from shooting, in comparing their passing skills there are some disparities. While Nash is an amazing passer, his numbers are inflated compared to Paul's because the Suns still play a bit fast while the Hornets are as slow as honey. And both guys are basically passing to a team of outcasts and hasbeen's. But Paul stands out because is turnover rate is a microscopic 9.1. Nash is at 12.8. Westbrook and Williams are at 11.5 and 11.0, respectively. Despite carrying an overachieving team, Paul is turning the ball over like a catch-and-shoot specialist, and since a turnover is effectively costing your team an average of 1.1 to 1..2 points, this is a very important skill. With Deron and Russell, I don't think we need to run through the numbers. Deron is a great passer but not on the level of Nash or Paul, while Russell is an improved passer but nothing special. His main skill is in penetration.

Defense can be a contentious topic because it's not easily quantifiable or obvious. But with these four guys, it's clear to see where they stand. Williams, Paul and Westbrook are plus defenders; Nash, while much maligned, is an adequate defender but needs help against lightning bug points, and in years past Marion would often get the nod. Williams' size and toughness are a huge help, while Paul's size isn't too much of an issue because he has amazingly quick hands and often leads the league in steals, so posting him up can be a challenge. Westbrook, however, has the chance to be great. His size and athleticism are at the top 10% each at his position, but he's still young and will often make mistakes.

There are a few more miscellaneous aspects of the game in which to compare the players. For rebounding, Westbrook is a Kidd-like rebounder with a rate of 8.3, which is leading the league for point guards, while the 175 pound Chris Paul is next in the group of four at 6.8. Chris Paul is leading the league with 2.6 steals, Westbrook following at 1.9, while Williams is at 1.2 and Nash is far behind at 0.6 per game. Another comparison, which is arguably the most important, is how much these guys play. Williams, Westbrook and Paul are fairly evenly spaced with 37.7, 36.3 and 35.2 minutes per game respectively. Nash, however, falls behind with his creaky back at 32.9 minutes a game. Additionally, he's missed a few games, while only Deron has missed one this season. Westbrook has yet to miss a game in his pro career.

I think this is where Nash can be eliminated, despite his domination on the offensive end of the court. He hasn't been on the court enough. Westbrook has the opposite problem -- he's on the court enough, but he's not a great passer like Nash, and his shooting is hurting his team. Even if he eliminated the outside jumper, he'd still be a liability because guys don't need to check him when he's outside.

Now it's down to Williams and Paul, and this time it's actually close. In earlier seasons, the media liked to make a story out of nothing: who was better, Deron Williams or Chris Paul? But Paul had two of the best seasons ever by a point guard back to back. He was basically the entire offense, and he was extremely efficient -- over ten assists a game with few turnovers, and high percentages on his shots. But last year, Deron was better because Chris was injured, and the injury has carried over into this season. Paul is having a great season, but not a historic one. The main difference is that he's shooting less often. Deron has closed the gap, but I believe Paul still has the edge. Two advanced statistics agree -- his PER is 25.7 and his WS/48 is 0.282, while Deon’s is at 23.1 and 0.185. Even after adjusting for minutes, Chris Paul is leading.

But those statistics only take into account box score numbers. There are a number of intangibles to consider, and I don't think Williams has any sizable advantage. Finally, consider this: New Orleans has a better record and a much better average margin of victory, despite a tougher schedule. Besides Paul, their next best player is who exactly? David West, a power forward with decent but not great shooting percentages and matador defense? Williams has Millsap ... and Al Jefferson. Chris Paul wins the starting spot here, but his injury concerns leave the door open for future discussions of best point guard in the league.

Pick: Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets). Next in line: Deron Williams.

Starting Shooting Guard

This is supposed to be an easy win for Kobe, but most people are overlooking a couple key things. One, he's shooting the ball at a rate of 32.7, which is leading the league; and despite a recent torrid stretch he only has a TS% of 55.8%, which normally isn't bad (it's a bit above average) but his team has a lot of options like Gasol, Bynum and Odom, who are all shooting the game at much lower rates despite their great shooting numbers. Here's the second knock against Kobe -- he's only playing 33.2 minutes a game. His knee is ravaged, and as such he's not as valuable as he once was.

But the candidates out west aren't appetizing. Ginobili is having a great year (well, it's statistically similar to every year he's had) but he's playing less minutes at 31.5 a game. Kevin Martin is one of the league's best efficient scorers, but he's strangely only playing 31.2. Brandon Roy was destroyed by knee injuries. Monta Ellis is a selfish gunner who only impacts the game with his scoring, but his shooting percentages are sub-par. Does another point guard deserve the spot? Or a small forward? I don't think the situation is that poor where Durant or Deron Williams would be forced to the two spot. The next best candidate may actually be Eric Gordon, who's playing 37.8 minutes a game. He's shooting the ball well and often, and even plays great defense. But he has missed a few games with injuries.

So it's basically Kobe versus Manu versus Commissioner Gordon. Eric Gordon sticks out, and there are a few reasons why. He's an efficient scorer, but Manu is better and Kobe shoots more. He doesn't rebound like those two, and his defense, while good, still isn't near the hobbled Bryant. Advanced statistics show this too -- despite his huge lead in minutes, his Estimated Wins Added from PER and Win Shares is still behind Bryant and Manu (though it's mostly because he's missed games.)

In comparing Bryant and Ginobili, it's interesting to see how close they are, as Kobe's minutes edged is nullified by Ginobili's shooting efficiency. They are both dynamic scorers who can rebound, pass and shoot from anywhere on the court, though Bryant tends to believe a good shot is one where he's fading away with two defenders in his face.

But let's put these two in a real basketball context. Bryant probably shoots too much, but his TS% is about even with his team's and he's rarely turning the ball over despite all his shots and assists. He's a larger part of the offense than Manu, and this stems from the kernel of truth of why Ginobili will remain a rung below the best in the NBA -- he's an offensive star, but you can't run the team through him. He gets injured. He plays a low number of minutes. Kobe, however, will guard like crazy, and can carry his team through bad stretches. I think Kobe barely wins this starting spot on the all-star team. If Manu can match him in minutes, he'd probably deserve it. It's also interesting to note that Manu hasn't missed a game. This is a fluke, and I guarantee that he'll miss a key stretch of games in the latter half of the season.

Pick: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers). Next in line: Ginobili.

Starting Small Forward

This pick is easy until you include a couple of the power forwards who could conceivably play the 3-spot. Durant is a superior basketball player compared to Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo's only clear edge is rebounding, where he doesn't receive enough credit. He's rebounding like an average power forward despite being the focal point of the Nugget's offense and playing on a perimeter a lot. But both players derive their value from their scoring. They both shoot roughly the same number of shots where Anthony has a usage rate of 29.3 while Durant one of 28.4, but Durant has a TS% of 59.2% and Carmelo a terrible 52.3%. Basically, Durant is carrying his team offensively with a shooting efficiency that few can match, while Carmelo is taking shots away from other players who could probably do better than he has been. The strange part? Denver is leading the league with a 57.4% TS over Boston's 57.1%. (This is mostly because of Nene's amazing 69.4% TS, and great numbers from Billups, Afflalo and Lawson.) I wonder how well they'd do if Carmelo could hit the side of a blimp hanger.

Durant also matches or bests Carmelo in most other categories. Anthony's a lazy defender while Durant has made strides. Anthony is a great rebounder, but Durant is above average also. Both are sub-par passers. Anthony lets Billups lead the team; Durant has taken a leadership role. There is no way one could argue Carmelo should start over Durant. And a power forward like Nowitzki isn't justified here. Durant deserves to start.

Pick: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder). Next in line: probably one the many great power forwards

Starting Center

I'm skipping ahead to center because the power forward spot is crowded while center is wide open. Basically, whoever can justify being labeled a starting center is eliminated from the power forward competition and thus makes the selection easier.

The conventional candidates here include Duncan, who's playing better than people think; Nene, as mentioned above is scoring so efficiently that the difference between him and the amazing Nash is the difference between Boston's TS% and New Jersey's; Tyson Chandler, who's certainly playing well but his limited offensive game and low minutes put him out of the running; and Bynum, whose defense is worthy of starting but has played few minutes. All four seven-footers are playing 30 minutes or less a game. The next best candidates are Nowitzki, who's at least tall enough to play center; Gasol, who's actually played most of his minutes at the pivot; Randolph, who weighs enough but doesn't protect the rim; and Aldridge, who shares the court a lot with Cunningham and can be considered a center sometimes.

From that last above, it's obvious who the best players are. Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki are a class above the rest. They're both international big men who bring as much skill to a seven-foot frame as anyone in the game (or even the history of the game.) They're both having great years, and I think I'll keep the decision process simple. Gasol actually plays the center spot. Four of the top five rotation combinations include Odom and Gasol as the biggest guys on the court for the Lakers, and Pau is clearly acting as the center. Nowitzki shares the court with Chandler or Haywood, and he also does less center duties -- rebounding, protecting the rim, etc.

Pick: Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers). Next in line: *crickets*

Starting Power Forward

I guess I'll begin with a giant list of the candidates in alphabetical order. LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Paul Millsap, Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom, Zach Randolph, Luis Scola, and David West. I'll toss out the obvious ones. Scola's been playing well, but his TS% is 53.6, he's playing 33.1 minutes a game and he plays no defense. The Ice-Cream Man is gone. David West is a fine power forward who's having arguably his best season yet. But a devil's advocate would point out that his only strength lies in scoring, and he's not even at an elite level there. He's gone. Millsap finally gets the Jazz 4-spot all to himself, but like Boozer before him he doesn't play much defense, his rebounding is merely average, and compared to the other power forwards his shooting isn't impressive. Goodbye. Zach Randolph is clearing the boards as well as he clears his plate, but again his defense is shoddy and his aim isn't so true (53.1% TS.) He's gone. Aldridge is underrated in that he can play huge minutes for a big guy without any ill effects and he rarely gets injured, but he doesn't rebound and his TS% is still low at 53.0. Better luck next year. Tim Duncan is more of a center, but he's had a huge impact on the court. He's eliminated, however, because his minutes are a career low. Goodbye Timmah!

Who we're left with is Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and Dirk Nowitzki. If you include Pau Gasol (my starting center) then you have a group of four guys who are racially "white" in different respects. Love is American, Dirk is German, Pau is Spanish and Blake is half-white, half-black. I understand that point out race today is basically racism, but I thought it was interesting to note.

Moving on, these three guys present a quandary. Any time you try to eliminate one, the entire deck of reason falls apart. Picking out one guy is tough. Start with defense. No guy is known for defense, but Love probably gets the most hate in this respect. Nowitzki, however, is a quietly decent defender for a power forward. Blake the Flying Griffin is arguably as poor as Kevin Love in defense, and historically rookies have a hard time adjusting to the league. Love has had the advantage of a couple years learning how to defend NBA players. As for rebounding, Kevin's lead isn't as large as one would think. The T'Wolves are a surprisingly fast paced team, and Love's rebound rate is only 23.5. (Only is relative to the media attention surrounding him; that's still an outstanding rate.) Griffin is at 20.0, while Dirk is far behind at 11.7. And strangely enough, Nowitzki leads the three in blocked shots per game at 0.7. Blake has 0.6 per game and Love only 0.3. These guys aren't protecting the rim, basically.

Offense is where we can eliminate the Winged Griffin. His TS% is only 55.4, despite all the dunks but partly because he's a bad free throw shooter at 61.5%. He's a large part of the offense with a 26.0 usage rate compared to Kevin's 21.9, but when you factor in Love's passing the advantage is clear. Blake isn't out there for his defense, and his offense needs refinement.

Kevin Love, however, has become a great shooter. His free throw percentage is higher than Dirk's (87.8 to 87.2) although Dirk gets to the line more often. But Love's three-point numbers are even better. He's at 44.4% for the year with 3.1 attempts versus Dirk's 38.9% and 2.6 attempts a game. But those numbers are a bit fluky, and I'd expect some regression to the mean where the two are more evenly comparable. But Dirk doesn't live by the three. He sets up near the free-throw line, and drains in mid-range shots with high accuracy and gets to the rim where for his career he's probably the best seven-footer ever. Actually, he is the best seven-foot shooter ever. No candidates are close. This is where Dirk has a huge advantage. He's a much larger part of the Mav's offense, and he's extremely efficient. He has better percentages and a much lower turnover rate (10.0 to 8.7.)

But the caveat is that Dirk has missed a few games. You can't be valuable without being on the court. The Mavs have struggled without him, but some argue that you can't derive value out of a player missing time. However, it drives home a major point -- the Mavs are a great team because of Dirk, and the T'Wolves are terrible even though Kevin Love is out there every game playing large minutes. I think the "good stats on a bad team" argument for excluding players like him is shortsighted, but with the right information you can figure out which guy is a star on a terrible team and which guy is throwing up huge stats but keeping his team from success. In Love's case, his rebounding is overblown and his defense is poor. He's playing next a guy who can't rebound in Milicic, the home-town stat recorder is giving him dubious rebounds, he can be seen in highlights stealing the rebound away from his own teammates, and his rate isn't even that spectacular. (Camby is tied with him, and Reggie Evans was putting up a historic rebound rate of 26.3 to Love's 23.5 before he got injured.) Love's adjusted 2 year plus/minus is underwhelming too at +0.72. Dirk? +10.15. Since both standard error's are around 3.5, I'd say it's very likely adjusted plus/minus shows Dirk is the best player. (I used two-year plus/minus because one year has such a large error.)

What makes Dirk a great player is the notes he doesn't play -- he doesn't turn the ball over (ever), he doesn't miss free throws, he doesn't make bad defensive plays, he doesn't get in foul trouble, and he doesn't miss shots even when contested. He also doesn't miss games, and that's where the recent stretch of absences can be partially excused. It was an aberration. He hadn't missed more than 6 games in nearly a decade until this year. And this year it's only 9. He's amazingly consistent, and will likely end up north of 30,000 career points. Dirk is the pick because his value on the court is MVP-worthy.

Pick: Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks). Next in line: Kevin Love.

So it's:

Chris Paul

Kobe Bryant

Kevin Durant

Dirk Nowitzki

Pau Gasol


Derrick Rose

Dwyane Wade

Lebron James

Amare Stoudemire

Dwight Howard

Not bad. The point of this is to pick the best starting line-ups for each conference. You want the team to be impressive and seemingly unbeatable. Unfortunately, in the real world Anthony is starting and Yao could be replaced by an idiotic pick like Mo Williams was a couple years ago. Let's hope someone deserving like Pau gets it instead of a quote unquote real center like Chandler or Kaman last year.

Friday, January 21, 2011

2011 Eastern Conference All-star Starters


I'm going to plan my own all-star team partly because I'm often bewildered by some of the recent selections (Chris Kaman, Mo Williams, Jamaal Magloire, et al.) It's also a medium in which to compare star players who play the same position. I'm going to start in the east where both the starters and the bench players are easier to pick. (The starters are mostly obvious picks, while the bench is easier because the east isn't as deep as the west.) I'll ignore the actual ballot given out by the league because of how limiting it is. In particular, the center nominees for the west are ghastly.

Here's another problem I have with past all-star selections. The point is to take the league's best players and put them in a game to play each other, but the media and the coaches continue to emphasize "winning," as if a single player is solely responsible for his team's success. People say, Someone has to get the numbers on a bad team. What makes a bad team bad, and a bad player bad, is the inability to compile the numbers (scoring, rebounding, assists, etc.) effectively. It is possible for a good player to be on a bad or middling team, like Garnett's Timberwolves or Nash on this year's Suns, when the rest of the team is terrible. It takes an awesome talent, like LeBron James, to carry a bad team. With the availability of games on TV and the internet, video clips and analysis everywhere, and miles of statistical data on players, we should be able to differentiate between poor players putting up stats on a bad team and all-star caliber players stuck on a lousy one. In fact, for the media members paid to "analyze" basketball on major networks, this is basically their job.

Rules and Guidelines

I have a few rules and guidelines I'll try to follow. The first is what should an all-star be. What I'm thinking of is basically the MVP award -- I'm looking for player value. One problem is what to do with player minutes. Should players be punished for averaging only, say, 30 minutes a game? I say they should, because it's part of their value. Duncan is a great player, but you can no longer play him heavy minutes because of his age and injury history. The same thing applies to injuries. While missing a couple games is excusable, if you're missing a large chunk of the first half of the season you probably don't deserve the spot as much as a similar player who hasn't missed a game does.

But I'll still focus on how good the player is. I like to think of the all-star game as a place to showcase the most devastating team you can create. Sure there are no key role players, but it's one game where you can see the best players throughout the league. For example, at the crowded forward positions in the west there will have to be some tough choices made. Nowitzki has missed a few games, but he's playing so well on the court that a few games missed shouldn't derail his chances. His overall season contributions are down, but his worth and skill are so high when playing that it would be a mistake to let a lesser player who hasn't been injured have his spot. It's a delicate balance between judging player worth from production when on the court versus minutes played.

The analysis will be partly based on advanced metrics. Some people abhor this new generation of statistics, but some kind of statistic will be used when a person is judging players, and advanced metrics give a more accurate representation of reality than box score stats. I've heavily used websites like hoopdata, basketballvalue and basketball-reference in my selections. I also reference stats like TS (true-shooting percentage), assist rate, PER, etc.

For reference:

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on a superfluous pseudo-election in which millionaires play a meaningless game in winter:

Starting Point guard:

This is basically Rose versus Rondo. Some may argue for Raymond Felton, so perhaps he should be included in the discussion. In comparing the three players, Rondo is by far the best passer and Felton is ahead of Rose due to a superior assist rate and conventional analysis (watching the players.) For shooting efficiency, all three have middling rates. Rose leads with a 54.3% TS, then Felton with 53.5% and Rondo closely behind at 53.3%. But their shooting has very different contexts. Rose is the entire Bulls' offense with a high usage rate of 30.6%. The question is how much should he shoot. His team's TS is 53.6%, so maybe his ballhogging is not a detriment to the team, but you can't use his teammates' shooting woes to frame the argument that he's a good shooter. Great shooters put up high shooting efficiencies even with terrible shooters. Rose cannot be excused.

As a segue, Rondo is the opposite -- a terrible shooter on a team with outstanding shooters, which include four players with over 20,000 points for their careers, and the soon to be crowned career three point field goal leader. He's asked to pass, not shoot. Felton is leading a D'Antoni offensive powerhouse, and he's asked to distribute and spread the floor. Comparing the three players, Rose as a scorer is clearly superior because of how much he's asked to do and what he's accomplished. He's outstanding at driving to the basket, and he's now a decent outside shooter (37% from three) and foul shooter (80%). However, he is being compared to players with middling efficiency who are not asked to lead their teams in scoring.

An often overlooked part of the game is defense, and this is where the analysis gets interesting. Rondo and Felton are two of the best defenders at the point guard position, while Rose has made strides to become passable at best. It should be noted that Rose is playing huge minutes for arguably the league's best defensive team, although the shooting guard he plays beside is usually a defensive role player. Rondo at times plays like the best defensive point guard in the league.

Moving forward, here's a way to eliminate Felton. Is there anything he does better than Rose or Rondo? It's not passing, defense or driving. He's a better foul shooter at 87% to Rose's 80%, and he's probably a better outside shooter though he's slumped with his three-point percentage down to 34, but his TS% is lower than Rose's. I think the analysis can move on without Felton because there's no way to argue he's a superior player.

Let's look at what the advanced metrics state. According to Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Rose leads at 23.01 and Rondo follows with 19.60. Taking into account minutes, Rose's Estimated Wins Added is 9.5 while Rondo is at 4.8 since he missed a long stretch of games. PER rewards a player for shooting more often, which helps Rose. Using Win Shares, Rose again leads at 0.188 per 48 minutes for a total of 6.2 Win Shares, while Rondo is behind at 0.163 per 48 minutes with a total of 3.8 Win Shares. Win Shares do not reward a player for shooting often; it rewards a player for shooting effectively. Even with that, Rose has a clear lead.

For adjusted +/- scores, Rose has a huge +/- at 13.43 for this year and a two year +/- score of 1.19. Note that the error for the +/- score for Rose this year is 11.68 because +/- needs a huge data set to be relevant. Rondo is again trailing with a 1 year +/- of 2.64 and a 2 year of 0.34. These stats are supporting the conventional wisdom that Rose is better, although people have been saying this since Rose has been a rookie. They've been saying he's an elite player for so long that they're finally right.

Conventional analysis also says Rose has a lead. The problem with Rondo is how bad of a shooter he is. On a team like the Celtics he can get away with this, and his passing and ballhawking skills also are enough to make him an elite player. You can make the case that it's the same for playing bad defense, that it's tough for a team to hide a terrible defender, but Rose has turned a corner in that respect. I feel that they're both equal in their worth because they provide different skills and weaknesses, and it's hard to tell what's really more valuable. Advanced stats say Rose has been better, but I think a tie-breaker is needed. Rondo missed 11 games where he left his team a hole at the 1-spot. It's a tough call, but I think you can also use Rondo's injury to say that Rose is deserving of the all-star starting job because he's given more to his team.

Pick: Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls). Next in line: Rajon Rondo.

Starting Shooting Guard:

This one is easy. Is there anyone who can even approach Dwyane Wade? Ray Allen is shooting spectacularly well, but he's nearly a one-dimensional player now. Wade impacts the game in virtually every capacity: defense, scoring, rebounding, passing, shot-blocking, etc. Joe Johnson does a lot for his team, but his TS% is 51.7 and the one advantage that you could argue (passing) is too small to mean much of anything. And there's no one else worthy of a discussion.

Pick: Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat). Next in line: Ray Allen, Joe Johnson.

Starting Small Forward:

This one is even easier. I can't imagine even in a LeBron off-year that anyone is close. The Cavs won 61 games last year and 66 the year before, but after one major player change they're on track for 15, 20 at the most. That guy must be one valuable player. The only other guy having an all-star type season is Paul Pierce because of his efficient shooting, role on the offense and tough defense, but there's no way you could argue Paul has been better.

Pick: LeBron James (Miami Heat). Next in line: Paul Pierce.

Starting Power Forward

Most people see this as Amare's spot while Garnett deserves serious consideration, and I think they're right. Carlos Boozer has missed a ton of games, and his numbers overstate his value because his defense (besides rebounds, steals and blocks) is poor. Chris Bosh has been underwhelming this year, and it can't be blamed on a lack of touches -- his rebounding rate is down to 13.5 from a high of 17.7 last year. Amare is shooting much more often with a higher TS%. Josh Smith has poor shooting efficiency numbers, and Garnett is a much better defender despite his age. So it comes down to Amare and Garnett. Amare is the star of a New York squad with big scoring numbers and improved defense, while Garnett is an unselfish vital piece of a much better team. However, Garnett is averaging only 31.6 minutes a game while Amare is playing 37.2 -- a huge number for a big man. Although it would be an interesting analysis to compare Garnett's impact versus Amare's, the minutes are enough to end the discussion.

Pick: Amare Stoudemire (New York Knicks). Next in line: Kevin Garnett.

Starting Center

This one is a blowout, but it's not as large as one would suspect. Howard is dominating with his defense, and finally has a real post game and a bank shot. But Al Horford is having an excellent year as an undersized center who sometimes plays power forward. No other center is playing as well since Bogut missed some games and came back a terrible shooter with a TS percentage under 50. Bogut's value lies in his defense, but Howard is also a great defender who provides a lot on offense. What Al Horford is doing well this year is rebounding and scoring efficiently with a tiny turnover rate. His usage rate of 19.2 isn't very big considering his TS% is essentially the same as Howard's at 59.7, because Dwight is a larger part of the offense with a usage rate of 24.8.

However, Horford is likely extremely lucky on his jump shots. He's hitting 57% of his 16 to 23 footers, which is a percentage only an elite shooter like Nash could maintain. His 7.7 turnover rate is also a bit lucky. It's something only a spot up shooter could do. Even with all that luck, his PER of 22.62 is below Howard's 24.44, although he has a Win Score per 48 minutes of 0.218 and Howard has one of 0.204. But those metrics have their flaws and only point out their box score statistics aren't too dissimilar. Given Howard's defense and Horford's unlikely shooting percentages and turnover rate, Dwight Howard is an easy pick here.

Pick: Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic). Next in line: Al Horford.

I'll showcase my western starters as soon as I can write out cogent arguments for the tough picks for starting point guard and power forward.