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NBA AM: Does Playing 82 Games Really Matter?

Do we make too much out of the value of an 82-game player? You would be surprised how few player log a full season.

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Is 82 Games A Meaningful Measurement?:  There is almost no debating that the NBA’s 82-game regular season is long. Between back-to-backs, long travel days and late night arrivals, it’s a wonder that players can survive it and be at the top of their game.

A lot has been made in the last few days over comments made by Bulls’ star Derrick Rose, who admitted that he was sitting out games not just to recover from his current ankle injuries, but that he was also thinking about quality of life after basketball in not pushing himself to be on the court when maybe he wasn’t ready.

“I’m thinking about long term,” Rose said to Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com. “I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball. Having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to. I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past. [I’m] just learning and being smart.”

While these comments took on a life of their own as others applied their judgments to them, the truth is Rose isn’t just thinking about life after basketball, he is thinking about the short term too: being available in the postseason and able to help his team contend for a championship – things he hasn’t been able to do for the last two years.

The comments clearly weren’t what fans wanted to hear and if most players were honest about the topic, more players than not would tell you they think about the long-term damage they do to their bodies every day, especially after coming off an injury when they have to have surgeries and face their own mortality.

The truth of the NBA is that a lot of teams don’t value players that can play all 82 games like they used to. In fact a lot of teams want guys that are a little banged up to sit. They’d rather have the backup guy who is closer to 100 percent be on the floor gaining trust and experience than pushing a guy that is maybe 75-85 percent and risking a small injury becoming a major one. A lot of that mindset comes from rosters having more depth, an understanding that all the mileage adds up and that a break is good for the recovery process.

If you look back to the 2013-14 NBA season, only 29 players logged 82 games (Ramon Sessions, due to a trade, logged 83 games). Of those 29 players, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis were not among them. Does that make them any less valuable?

In 2012-13 there were just 28 players that played 82 games, and again the five aforementioned stars were not among them. Are they damaged goods? Should teams simply give up on them because they didn’t log 82 games?

Not sure anyone is going to take that stance on those players just because they missed a game here or a game there.

There is no doubting that there is more public scrutiny on Rose because he missed two years to knee injuries. However, trying to measure or discredit Rose because he is sitting out a game here and there to stay healthy and at 100 percent isn’t out of the norm. In fact, it is the norm in the NBA, in an increasing fashion.

His comments to the media likely didn’t help his cause, as there is a perception that Rose could have played last season and opted not to, and these comments sort of reinforce that he may have doubts about his own durability. But can you really blame him? Rose missed two seasons and endured hours upon hours of grueling medical procedures and rehab. Getting the trust in your body back isn’t always easy; letting go of the fears that players face every time they step on the floor is often the most difficult part of coming back from an injury.

Before we go crushing Rose over some badly placed comments, keep a few things in mind: More players than not don’t log 82 games. Teams don’t value 82-game players like they used to and making sure you are 100 percent is every player’s responsibility to their team and their teammates, because while 82 games is a grind, every one of those games usually ends up meaning something at the end of the season.

Is Anthony Davis The Best Player In The NBA?:  In the statistical age of sports, the holy grail is being able to define things down to a single number that establishes an accurate representation of how good a player really is.

No one has that stat. A lot of people have tried to develop one. There are likely some big brained math geeks working on a formula or algorithm right now. Some of the advanced stats we talk about now are better predictors than others. Some add more value to the equation than others, but none of them solve the problem completely.

Celtic’s president Danny Ainge once joked that while he loved advanced stats and seeing what the numbers reveal, no one could produce a stat that accurately valued what Kevin Garnett meant to a team. This is one of the biggest flaws in statistical review of a player. The numbers don’t tell the entire story and they really can’t, but what they can be is an additional tool.

In scouting circles there is a concept called the “Eye Test” – does the guy look the part? When you watch him play, does he look like he knows what he’s doing? The test is fundamentally flawed; just because it looks good, does not always mean it is good. The argument of “just look at the tape” doesn’t tell the whole story, and what we have now is the ability to combine the test with mountains of data to reinforce what we see.

Rocket’s GM Daryl Morey is often labeled as a stats guy and portrayed as someone selecting talent based off a spreadsheet. The truth of the matter is Morey is as active in watching players play as he is at crunching the numbers they produce.

So what does all this have to do with the Pelicans’ big man?

Average PER Ranking

Player PER
Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL  15.58
Randy Foye, DEN  15.57
Goran Dragic, PHX  15.53
Tyreke Evans, NO  15.27
Robbie Hummel, MIN  15.22
Paul Pierce, WSH  15.11
Kris Humphries, WSH  15.06
Brandon Bass, BOS  15.01
Cole Aldrich, NY  15.00

PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is a commonly used stat. It takes into account a large swath of details including pace of game, the impact guys with limited minutes make. It is a level baseline in which to compare players. It has its flaws for sure, but it’s a pretty solid predictor. A PER of 15 means you are an average player, and for the most part of you look at the players floating around the 15 PER mark right now, you’d agree they are average to slightly above average NBA players, or are at least playing like one right now.

It’s important not to confuse future ability, with current production. Most people who watch Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo play can see his potential to be a very special player. However, PER isn’t trying to predict what you’ll be in the future, it’s measuring what you are doing right now.

There are always a few outliers in PER especially when the sample size is small, because a bench guy that goes off for an uncharacteristic night is going to skew the stats. That is not unique to PER. Points per game gets skewed when you have only played a small handful of games. Lance Stephenson is currently the ninth leading rebounder in the NBA, with 10.9 boards per game. He’ll settle down to earth as the season progresses.

So again, what does all this have to do with Davis?

All-Time PER Leaders

RK  Player  PER  Season
1  Wilt Chamberlain*  31.82  1962-63
2  Wilt Chamberlain*  31.74  1961-62
3  Michael Jordan*  31.71  1987-88
4  LeBron James  31.67  2008-09
5  Michael Jordan*  31.63  1990-91
The highest recorded PER’s in a single season is a who’s who of the best players to have ever logged time in the NBA. Wilt Chamberlain holds the record at 31.82 back in 1962-63. He logged the second best season a year prior with 31.74 in 1961-62. Michael Jordan logged a 31.71 in 1987-88, while LeBron James logged his best regular season PER in 2008-09 with a 31.67. For most of that season James looked like he was going to shatter Chamberlain’s records, at times during the season having a PER almost at 40.

Current Top Ten PER

RK  Player  PER
1  Anthony Davis, NO  35.33
2  Brandan Wright, DAL  27.05
3  DeMarcus Cousins, SAC  26.95
4  Dirk Nowitzki, DAL  26.61
5  Stephen Curry, GS  26.55
6  Isaiah Thomas, PHX  26.28
7  James Harden, HOU  25.52
8  Chris Bosh, MIA  24.55
9  Dwight Howard, HOU  24.45
10  Dennis Schroder, ATL  24.37

This becomes relevant when you look at Davis who is averaging 24.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game. He is shooting a scorching .548 from the field and poking away 2.3 steals per contest. His .766 free throw percentage drags his numbers down a little, but is still sporting an impressive 35.33 PER so far on the season.

Now we are talking about a seven game sample, so it’s very possible Davis’ number drop down, because most of the players who logged impressive PER’s started out much higher than they finished. That said, PER has been a pretty good indicator of who is having a great season, and seven games in, Davis is logging a whopper of a campaign.

When you look at the other PER leaders, Davis is having far and away the best season of anyone in the NBA right now. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain it.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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