Up and Down: Player Improvement and Regression by BPM

Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /
Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

“Skinny” Kyle Lowry has been lighting it up this season. This we could have expected somewhat – based on his age, skill set, and prior seasons, I projected his Box Plus Minus (BPM) contributions to jump from +3.6 per 100 to +4.1 per 100 this year. But with career highs in scoring, (21.1 points per 36) efficiency, (TS% of .587) block% (1.3), along with his 2nd-best ever Steal% (3.8), Kyle Lowry has trounced his projections with a Box Plus Minus of +9.0. His Value Over Replacement Player (VORP)[1. This is BPM’s measure of TOTAL contribution to a team’s Point Differential per 100 possessions] of 1.8 translates to about 4.9 Wins Above Replacement already in just 18 games, wedged between Curry/Westbrook and LeBron/Kawhi.

Here’s each team’s biggest gainers and losers by BPM minus my projection (minimum 200 minutes played)[2. Also note that for all these charts any rookie appearance is based on a BPM estimate via Kevin Ferrigan’s RAPM projections].

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Believe it or not, there are a couple other players whose box-score contributions have exceeded my model’s projections more than Lowry’s: Hassan Whiteside and Paul George. Paul George’s case is pretty easy: my model unfairly regressed him to the mean based on only 91 minutes played in 2014-2015[3. I am going to fix this next season]. Whiteside’s is a little more based in reality: BPM saw a “mostly-defense player”[4. And the box-score is extremely limited at doing even that] anchoring the…uh… 26th-best defense in the league. But currently allowing just 97.9 points per 100, Miami has taken a quantum leap to the 2nd-best defense in the league! Combine that with his NBA-leading (and mind-boggling) block percentage of 12.5%, and BPM feels a little more comfortable “divvying out” points to Whiteside.

Here’s the full top 25:

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Holy Tyler Johnson![5. My only NBA player that I can call a friend-of-a-friend / acquaintance-of-an-acquaintance] Speaking of exclamations…here’s the bottom 25.

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We can expect players to regress to the mean somewhat, especially since my projections are for the end of the season numbers. So don’t be surprised if your least/most favorite player on this list trends a little toward the “Projection” column. But we can easily eyeball what players have under or over-performed early in the season by using BPM.