DATA DEPENDENT: SCINQ’s NBA Rookie of the Half-Year Goes To…

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With the NBA season officially hitting the halfway point, we’ve decided to gather some information on how the top draft 2019 draft picks have fared after 48 games. The top performers should be considered the front-runners for the 2020 Rookie of the Year honor. While stats alone without context can be misleading — just take a look at the Niners-Chiefs Superbowl numbers and you’d think San Francisco won — the name of this blog is Data Dependent so we’ll just have to live and die with it.

Coming into the draft, it was a case of Zion Williamson followed by Ja Morant, and a significant drop-off to the rest. However, once the season rolled in and Williamson was still rehabing from a knee injury, Ja Morant’s stock rose. However, it was his on-court performance with the Memphis Grizzlies that really put the burners on his upward trajectory. A lot was expected from him and he’s exceeded expectations. Before the season, pundits insisted that for him to be in the running for ROY, he’d have to put up numbers in the neighborhood of Williamson. He’s held up his part of the bargain. It will be interesting to see how Zion responds.

At this point, it’s hard to adequately gauge Williamson in terms of pure numbers. Being injured for most of the first half of the season makes his game-play sample size miniscule. A few good games can inflate his stats. That being said, watching him play certainly satisfies the eye-ball test in terms of living up to the hype. His 10 game points total has been at the top of just about every sports pundits talking points today. (We’re taking the wait and see approach. Our biggest question is whether his knees can take the punishment of an entire season and whether he slims down a tad.)

A note about the numbers. They do not include Wednesday and Thursday games. Besides the usual points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game, we have relied on the subjective calculations that result in Player Impact Estimate (PIE) and ESPN’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER). The NBA defines PIE as

PIE measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in. PIE yields results which are comparable to other advanced statistics (e.g. PER) using a simple formula.

PIE is calculated as follows

(PTS + FGM + FTM – FGA – FTA + DREB + (.5 * OREB) + AST + STL + (.5 * BLK) – PF – TO) / (GmPTS + GmFGM + GmFTM – GmFGA – GmFTA + GmDREB + (.5 * GmOREB) + GmAST + GmSTL + (.5 * GmBLK) – GmPF – GmTO)

PER is another advanced basketball statistic created by ESPN’s John Hollinger. It takes into consideration

“accomplishments such as field goals, free throws, 3-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, and negative ones such as missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls.”

An important difference between PIE and PER is that the latter is a per-minute measurement and is pace-adjusted. For the nuts and bolts of calculating PER, check out the basketball-reference.com explainer.

So on to the Rooks.

NAME PPG REB AST PIE PER
Zion Williamson 19.8 7.5 2 13.6 22.5
Ja Morant 17.4 3.4 7 13.2 18.2
RJ Barrett 14 5.2 2.5 7.1 10.6
De’Andre Hunter 12.3 3.8 1.8 5.7 8.5
Darius Garland 12.4 2 3.7 5.6 8.5
Jarrett Culver 9.1 3.4 1.9 5.2 9.2
Coby White 11.2 3.4 2.3 7.6 10.1
Jaxson Hayes 8.1 4.4 1 9.8 18.3
Rui Hachimura 13.8 5.9 1.5 8.7 14.1
Cam Reddish 9.1 3.8 1.5 5 7.3

The following chart is a representation of the simple sum of the statistics. While it’s admittedly clumsy, it does provide some idea of how the players stack up against one another.

Five players stand out from the rest. Williamson, Morant, Barrett, Nachimura, and Hayes. A closer look at their numbers indicates Williamson and Morant lead all scorers; Morant ahead on assists; and Barrett and Hachimura neck-and-neck in rebounds. However, the statistics are flat and fail to capture the intangibles that occur during the course of a game.

Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating, however imperfect, still provides the most robust look at how individual’s perform within a team, against opponents, and how they compare to their peers. In terms of PER, Williamson, Morant, and Hayes are the top 3 with the first two being the clear front runners.

Based purely on PER, Williamson should be the favorite to win Rookie of the Half-Year by a comfortable but not large margin.

BUT…

It’s only right to toss in perhaps the most pertinent stat so far. Ja Morant has averaged 29.9 minutes over 48 games. Zion Williamson, on the other hand, has averaged 27.4 minutes in 10 games. It is a big difference. The Grizzly guard has produced consistently during the regular season grind. The Pelicans forward on the other hand is still practically running on adrenaline.

With that in mind, Scientific Inquirer’s half-season Rookie of the Year goes to Ja Morant. (And FWIW, Fanduel has Ja Morant (-700) the favorite to win the ROY over Williamson (+400) as of the All-Star Break.)

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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