# Quantifying the most fun NBA players with (kinda) analytics

Can one quantify fun? Probably not, and if you could you definitely shouldn’t. Well, I tried anyway. I don’t know what happened, but it’s kinda cool.

“Why would someone do this?” one might ask. Analytics suck all the joy out of the game and reduce players to assets and odds, don’t they? Well, sure, but also no.

Honest question. What’s more fun than math? Before you answer, let me interrupt and say “nothing” on your behalf. Perfect. Since we agree math is the best, let’s start using math fun to quantify some other fun. In this situation the second, slightly lesser fun is basketball.

We all love basketball, right? The ball bounces, the players go whoosh and the numbers on the scoreboard go up. That’s addition, and addition is math.

Wow. What a rush. We live in the same world, you and I. This is the world of bask-o-math, and it’s super great.

With the help of other Back Steppers and the voting internet public, we decided to put together a thing to talk about fun basketball players using the magic of numbers. It required your help, and for that we thank you. You are all saints, especially you.

Using AllOurIdeas we decided to put together a system to compare how fun basketball players are. That “fun” could mean anything one decided — how fun they are to watch, how fun they are to root for, how fun they are to root against, how fun they are to have dinner with, etc. Fun fun fun.

The execution of this concept was very similar to how NBARank did their thing a few months back when NBA reporters/writers/whatevers pitted players against each other in one-on-one click combat to see who was better. I’d like to mention now I was not included in the NBARank process. Please fix this, whoever is responsible. I will find you.

After a few days of clicks, we had a reliable list. Here is the Top 10 of fun NBA players:

In a shocking result for people who think the sky isn’t blue and lite ranch tastes anything like real ranch, Giannis Antetokounmpo took the top spot. Just outside the top-10 is Ish Smith at No. 13. I thought that was important to note, and I’m right.

In total, over 3000 votes were cast on the 255 players included. There were a few notable omissions from that list (Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, all 14 of the Plumlees) due to some combination of oversight and their not standing out as enjoyable as I was constructing the original list. Were this poll to be redone (which I intend it to be), all active players would be included regardless of Plumlee genetics.

People at the top of the list generally corresponded to a high level of production, however there were a few notable exceptions. Mo Speights came in at No. 9 and J.R. Smith was all the way up to No. 6. On the other end of the spectrum, DeMarcus Cousins came in at No. 141 and Jeff Teague was all the way down at No. 233 of the 255 players in the survey. That was behind luminaries like Pascal Siakam and Henry Ellenson. I don’t know what’s up with that, but it happened. I blame Atlanta.

These numbers were fun enough in their own right, but why stop there when the number train can stretch its tracks all the way to infinity? I was interested in finding out if scores could correlate to position, so using 82games’ position tracker, I assigned each player as PG, SG, SF, PF, or C based on which position they played the most minutes in their most recent season. For 2017 rookies, I used their position as described on DraftExpress.

As such, these numbers happened:

People love point guards, people like power forwards, and their feelings on small forwards, shooting guards, and centers are generally interchangeable. With the shift to more scoring point guards like Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry, this sort of makes sense. Additionally, more shooting big men like Kristaps Porzingis and players like Kevin Durant sliding down to the 3 explains the power forward boost. Neat!

Some say the whole is more than the sum of its parts. I decided to disagree. We all have our favorite teams, but that often factors in things like lingering feelings toward the front office, or head coach, or their having signed Tony Allen away from you. I decided to add up the top players from each team and averaged them out to see how teams ranked in terms of total fun:

As it turns out, people love the Warriors. People love the Cavaliers. People love Giannis and whatever team he plays for. (I also love extra decimal points). It bodes well for the league the two teams with the most fun players are the ones who have met in the Finals these past few years. Let’s keep beating that horse until it’s severely dead.

I should have stopped there if I valued my own free time to any substantial extent, but I didn’t. I don’t. It seemed pretty clear based on the top spots and top teams that an individuals’ talent/output played a clear role in determining where they fell in the Funmbers. I wanted to know exactly what made the biggest difference and to what extent.

People love counting. Points going real high is one of the basic joys of basketball. It’d stand to reason that scoring points would influence on how fun a player is considered to be. I gathered points-per-game data from Basketball Reference and ranked each player from 1 to 255. I then plotted players’ points-per-game ranking against the rank in the fun poll. (Points per game was used as opposed to points-per-36 or per-100-possessions as per-game stats are the most commonly referenced stats in broadcasts, publications, etc. and therefore most likely to be commonly considered.)

Check that out. They’re correlated! How much one scores and how much one is liked are very much tied.

But scoring isn’t everything. There’s so much that goes into successful basketball, and some people do more other things than they do the point thing. Furthermore, counting stats means counting. Counting is math. Math is fun. We’ve discussed that already.

Unfortunately, the other counting stats had less correlation. In this comparison, points are king.

But what’s a king without a kingdom? Other things have to be factored in like water supply and true shooting percentage. If the teams winning a lot and making it to the Finals are the most likeable on average, then there has to be more to fun than just raw scoring numbers. After all, DeMar DeRozan was down at No. 96 in the likability rank. Harrison Barnes was No. 205.

Maybe advanced metrics would be able to give us a clearer picture. They mean to take more into account than PPG can offer. I again ranked players on the list from 1 to 255 in RPM, BPM, VORP, PER, Offensive BPM, and Offensive RPM and plotted them against their ranking in the fun poll. Offensive BPM and Offensive RPM were included because intuition told me they’d play a stronger role than defense would.

Next: 25-under-25 -- The best young players in the NBA

And what do you know, ORPM was the strongest indicator of any stat or metric tested.

Basically my point is people who say metrics have taken all the fun out of the game have it exactly wrong. People who understand Offensive RPM understand fun more than anyone else. The end.