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November 8, 2012
Big Man Barometer
Week Ending 11/6/12

by Bradford Doolittle

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The Barometer is rounding into regular season form as all components of the system are in place. Next week, we'll start keeping tally on the top performers for the season as a whole and track them against preseason projections. Other than that, everything in today's edition will be as such for the rest of the campaign. I'll also throw in an occasional extra nugget, when something interesting pops up.

The big difference in the process this week is that positional data has been calculated from the play-by-play of each game. Each player in the league is assigned a "true position" that is based on the last three years of positional data. For example, if Joe Johnson were to evenly split his time between shooting guard and small forward over a full season, his true position for that season would be 2.5, using the traditional method of numbering the positions 1 through 5. Tiny adjustments are made for height and body type to break any ties. Each player in the league has a unique true position rating.

After establishing those ratings, we move onto the play-by-play analysis. For each possession, the system looks at who is on the floor and ranks them 1 to 5 based on true position, and assigned their position for that possession accordingly. That way, if a team is playing two small forwards for example, the player with the higher true position will be designated as the power forward. If a coach is playing a five-guard lineup, which we'll never see now that Don Nelson is retired, then the guard with the highest true position rating will be tagged as the center. And so forth.

One offshoot of this process is we can easily glimpse at what teams are playing the biggest, or smallest as the case may be. Guess what team is playing the smallest in the NBA? I assume you got this straight off: It's the New York Knicks, who have been wildly successful using a lineup that I called for just last week. In that piece, I didn't give Mike Woodson enough credit for his ingenuity; I fully expected him to wedge a non-starting-caliber power forward into his lineup. Woodson has instead gone with the small group that has been sterling on both ends of the floor. The results have obviously been fantastic.

The Knicks' average True Position is 2.64. The league average is 2.91, which means the league is playing just a tad small. If traditional lineups were used exclusively, the average would be three. If it were playing bigger, the average would be greater than three. Eight teams are playing big, led by the Lakers with an average of 3.17, just a fraction bigger than Chicago. Joining the Knicks on the small end is 29th-ranked Cleveland. The Cavs aren't small because they are playing a stretch four. Instead, Byron Scott has gone with an undersized wing combo in Dion Waiters and Alonzo Gee.

We'll be tracking these numbers and these kinds of trends all season, so hope you like them.

The Explainer

The Big Man Barometer tracks the usage and performance of frontcourt players across the NBA, and forecasts how they're going to do in the coming week. Top performers from the last week are ranked by individual winning percentage, the rate stat component of WARP. Our exclusive schedule-adjusted projections use a combination of SCHOENE forecasts and season-to-date data. We'll be predicting the weekly numbers for NBA big men based on a Monday-to-Sunday schedule that should be compatible with the vast majority of weekly head-to-head fantasy leagues. By this method, SCHOENE is combined with actual results to product a new baseline forecast for each player. These are then adjusted for a player's upcoming opponents and how well those competitors have defended his position. The projections compiled in a module of NBAPET, my system for projecting, evaluating and tracking the league.

Top 10 Big Man Performances

(For the Week of Oct. 31 to Nov. 6; Players listed by winning percentage; Any player who played a total of at least 30 minutes at center or power forward last week is eligible for the rankings)

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets (.873): Before Davis was clocked in head by teammate Austin Rivers last week, he had played six quarters about as well as any rookie has played out of the gate in recent memory. Yesterday, I jumped on board with those suggesting that Davis spend plenty of time on the wing this season in order to speed up the development of his offensive game. It's happened already to a certain extent, which I wasn't aware of until I ran the play-by-play data. According to my true position system, Davis has played 8.8 of his 43.5 minutes at small forward.

2. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers (.834): Since we're only looking at the seven-day period ending Tuesday, this doesn't include Howard's season opener, when he went 3 for 14 from the line. Last week, he averaged 24.7 points in three games and made almost two-thirds of his free throws.

3. Jason Smith, New Orleans Hornets (.808): Smith filled in admirably in a bigger-than-usual role in the Hornets upset win at Chicago on Saturday. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and perhaps even more importantly with Davis absent, he aided a solid interior defense that helped shut down the rugged Bulls.


4. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat (.772): It was a pretty standard week for Bosh, who averaged 23.3 points in three games. More interestingly, Bosh was coded as a center for 87.1 of his 91.1 minutes for the week. The Heat's pace-and-space attack is being used on a near full-time basis, and its Offensive Rating this season could approach record levels.

5. Carl Landry, Golden State Warriors (.743): Because of the aforementioned mad scientist ways of Nelson, it's still easy to think small-ball when the Warriors are mentioned, but Mark Jackson is much more traditional in his lineup usage. Landry averaged 16.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in about 25 minutes of the bench last week, with about 60 percent of those minutes coming at out of position at center. That part of the reason Golden State's average true position (2.84, ranked 20th) is below the league average.

6. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets (.696): One of the reasons the Nuggets projected so well this season was because of a possible breakout season for McGee, whose early numbers justify the optimism. Despite that and the fact that Denver signed him to a huge contract during the summer, McGee came off the bench in all four of Denver's games last week and averaged just 17.5 minutes per game. That's not to call out George Karl -- the Nuggets have been 2.3 points per 100 possessions better with McGee on the bench. Think this doesn't add up? Welcome to the perplexing world of JaVale McGee.

7. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (.693): Gasol was as efficient as it gets last week, shooting 57 percent from the field and averaging 21 points, seven boards and six assists.

8. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks (.691): The great thing about the true position system is that it knows when a player is out of position. Of course, that may not be the case for Anthony. The evidence is mounting that 'Melo is a four, whether he likes it or not. If New York continues to play well, it will be very interesting to see what happens when Amar'e Stoudemire returns.

9. Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz (.679): Millsap has really developed into a well-rounded player, and that's evidence in his per-game averages last week: 13.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.8 blocks. Plus, he hit 5 of 6 from behind the arc. He's the most versatile player in Utah's crowded frontcourt, which makes his positional usage interesting to track. Last week, he played 8.3 minutes at small forward and all the rest at the four. That Millsap-at-three lineup that worked so well last season hasn't been as much on display now that Marvin Williams is with the Jazz.

10. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers (.674): Varejao is off to a great start, and this doesn't even include his 23-rebound performance on opening night. Last week, Varejao shot 71 percent from the field and averaged 12.3 rebounds.

Next five: Joakim Noah, .672; Spencer Hawes, .668; LeBron James, .664; Al Horford, .662; Taj Gibson, .640.

Three Bigs to Watch

Byron Mullens, Charlotte Bobcats: So far, Mike Dunlop has opted for big lineups and who can blame him considering Mullens' evolution from a soft center into a stretch four. Of course, Mullens has to make, not just take, those 3s. Last week he was 2 for 14. Next week, the Bobcats have games against Washington, Minnesota and Memphis, which combine to give Mullens a slight boost in his weekly projection. The quality of that forecast overall isn't going to jump up until he starts hitting those deep shots.

Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets: Speaking of shooting woes, Gallinari is 6 for 31 on a team that desperately needs his floor-spacing ability. He shows up in the Barometer because last week, he was coded as almost evenly splitting his time between the forward positions. Next week, the Nuggets face the Suns, Heat and Spurs, so this is the time for Gallo to turn it on.

Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves: Questions about whether Williams can play the three are currently moot. Right now, he just needs to prove he can play, period. With Kevin Love out, this is a golden opportunity for Williams to shine for a rising team. Last week, he ranked 82nd of the 106 big men that qualified for Barometer consideration. When Minnesota made its spirited comeback at Brooklyn, Williams was watching Dante Cunningham man his position and spark the rally.

Top 25 Big Man Projections

For 11/12-11/18

PLAYER           POS  GP    FG%    3M   REB   AST   STL    TO   BLK    PTS  SCORE
LeBron James      SF   4   .542   1.0   7.1   6.9   1.9   3.0   0.7   27.9   24.1
Dwight Howard      C   3   .603   0.0  12.8   1.8   1.4   2.8   2.2   20.6   18.2
Blake Griffin     PF   2   .550   0.1  10.1   3.4   0.9   2.3   0.5   20.3   16.5
LaMarcus Aldridge PF   4   .490   0.0   8.2   2.5   1.0   1.8   0.8   20.5   15.5
Carmelo Anthony   SF   4   .451   1.2   5.8   3.0   1.0   2.7   0.4   23.3   15.3
Josh Smith        PF   3   .476   0.3   9.6   4.5   1.5   2.4   1.5   17.4   15.2
Pau Gasol         PF   3   .527   0.1   8.7   3.5   0.5   1.7   1.3   16.3   14.8
Chris Bosh        PF   4   .518   0.1   8.5   1.9   0.8   1.9   0.8   18.6   14.7
Al Horford         C   3   .566   0.0   8.9   3.4   1.0   1.5   1.2   14.7   14.6
Brook Lopez        C   3   .492   0.0   6.7   2.1   0.7   2.0   1.5   18.8   14.1
Al Jefferson       C   4   .489   0.0   8.8   2.0   0.7   1.2   1.6   17.2   13.7
Greg Monroe        C   4   .527   0.0   9.2   2.3   1.4   1.9   0.7   14.7   13.2
Paul Millsap      PF   4   .507   0.1   7.7   2.5   1.5   1.7   1.0   15.4   12.9
Andrea Bargnani   PF   4   .443   1.4   5.0   1.7   0.6   2.0   0.7   20.8   12.8
DeMarcus Cousins   C   3   .475   0.0   9.6   2.5   1.4   2.8   0.8   16.8   12.6
David Lee         PF   3   .499   0.0   8.7   3.1   1.1   2.3   0.4   15.9   12.6
Amare Stoudemire  PF   4   .493   0.1   6.9   1.4   0.8   2.5   1.0   18.6   12.5
Anthony Davis     PF   3   .512   0.1   9.3   1.2   1.1   0.9   3.2   10.3   12.2
Joakim Noah        C   4   .515   0.0  10.2   2.7   0.7   1.7   1.4   11.8   12.1
Marc Gasol         C   3   .515   0.0   7.7   2.9   1.0   2.0   1.9   13.1   12.0
Ryan Anderson     PF   3   .421   3.0   6.9   1.1   0.8   1.2   0.6   15.6   11.9
Carlos Boozer     PF   4   .523   0.0   8.8   2.2   0.9   2.0   0.3   15.6   11.7
Marcin Gortat      C   4   .544   0.0   9.7   1.1   0.7   1.4   1.6   12.7   11.6
Zach Randolph     PF   3   .468   0.1   9.6   1.9   1.0   1.8   0.3   14.7   11.6
Kevin Garnett      C   5   .515   0.0   8.1   2.8   1.2   1.6   0.8   12.9   11.6

SCORE: average Hollinger's Game Score.

Check out our Pro Basketball Prospectus 2012-13 homepage for more details and to order our annual guide to the NBA, available now in both PDF and paperback format.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Follow Bradford Doolittle on Twitter.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Calling the Race (11/07)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Big Man Barometer (11/01)
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Premium Article Big Man Barometer (11/15)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Hornets (11/08)

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