One thing that has become abundantly clear as the Barometer is compiled every week is that in today's NBA, the exact definition of a big man isn't that easy to pin down. The best ones do a little bit of everything, and do it well. They also probably play more than one position. Old-school centers and power forwards -- with games built on low-block scoring, defending the rim and hitting the glass -- still exist to a degree and have plenty of value. However, teams may fill those various needs with players who aren't traditional big men.
Consider a stat that I built off play-by-play data from Synergy Sports Technology. Since you have to name a stat, I'll call it "NETPOST." This simply looks at the difference in points per play scored and those on post-ups.
The leader in NETPOST may surprise you: Pacers point guard George Hill. According to SST, Hill has scored 30 points on 28 post-ups, while allowing just four points on 13 plays on which he's attacked on the block. That translates to a NETPOST of plus-.764. The Pacers are a power post team, but they apparently do well with the finesse post as well.
Nos. 2 and 4 on the list aren't traditional bigs, either, though both have been featured prominently in the Barometer thanks to their teams' small-ball lineups: LeBron James (plus-.505) and Carmelo Anthony (plus-.443). In between, finally, is a conventional big in Washington's Nene, at plus-.494.
I'll be mixing in some more observations from NETPOST analysis in the rest of this week's Barometer. Details on how the Big Man Barometer is compiled can be found here.
Top 10 Big Man Performances
Week of Dec. 19-25. 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. Also included at the bottom are big man projections for next week.
- Kevin Love | Minnesota Timberwolves (.863)
When players return after missing a significant amount of time during the season, two common areas of rust are shooting touch and turnovers. When Love returned from his hand injury, it was his shooting that was slow to return. It's too early to say Love has found his range, as he's been alternating between good and awful shooting performances of late. None of it has affected his floor game, as he's put up supporting numbers at his usual MVP-caliber level.
- Robin Lopez | New Orleans Hornets (.852)
Lopez has suddenly taken on a larger share of the Hornets' scoring load, and he's done so with sterling efficiency. Last week, Lopez put up 56 points in three games and shot 67 percent. And that doesn't include Wednesday's game, in which he scored 29 points on 9 of 10 shooting against Orlando. For the season, Lopez is shooting 77 percent at the rim, which is 13 percent above league average. He still doesn't have much of a post game, but Lopez has become an excellent option on the pick-and-roll. Plus, he's the most efficient finisher of putbacks in the league, according to MySynergySports.com.
- LeBron James | Miami Heat (.836)
As mentioned, James ranks second in the league in NETPOST. There is a bit of a sample-size problem with that observation, but not one that leads to a false conclusion. At the offensive end, James has been credited with 73 points on 84 post-ups. That .879 points-per-play mark puts James in the 64th percentile, meaning that he's been better on the block than about two-thirds of the players in the league. On the defensive end, he's given up just .364 points per post-up, but that's come on just 11 plays. However, with James playing the 4 so much this season, it's the infrequency with which teams attack LeBron in the post that is so telling. Despite that fact that James has played out of position so often, his strength and athleticism has discouraged teams from trying to go at him on the low block.
4. Blake Griffin | Los Angeles Clippers (.803)
If all Griffin did was deadpan his way through commercials and fly through the air on dives to the hoop, his production would not be as elite as it is. His 156 points on post-ups are tied for fourth in the league and he's in the 80th percentile with .934 points per play. His per-play numbers defending the post are below average, but teams only go at him on the block once or twice a game. The problem is that you can't assign a true post defender to guard Griffin because almost all players fitting that description would be dominated out on the floor and (especially) in transition.
- Omer Asik | Houston Rockets (.796)
In a sense, Asik showed his old team, the Chicago Bulls, what's what with his breakout 20-point, 18-rebound Christmas performance. There was no real reason Asik would have been out for revenge -- he was treated very well by the organization, and even the Chicago media left him alone. His recent performance is about more than that game, as he collected three straight double-doubles last week, posting at least 14 points and 12 rebounds in each outing. Asik has become increasingly effective as a roll man, though he's still not much of a factor in the post. In fact, his .625 points per play on 32 post-ups this season put him in the 5th percentile in the league. Again, if you don't know how percentile works, that means on post-ups, Asik has been more efficient than just 5 percent of his NBA brethren.
- Kosta Koufos | Denver Nuggets (.763)
We've been trumpeting JaVale McGee's per-minute numbers in this space all season, but the guy starting ahead of him finally makes an appearance on our weekly leaderboard. Koufos doesn't have a NETPOST rating because I set a minimum of 25 offensive plays to qualify. The Nuggets have gone to Koufos on post-ups just 12 times this season, which tells you a lot about how he's been used. Opponents have gone at him on the block 88 times, and the .716 points per play he's allowed on those would slot him at a very impressive 73rd percentile. Koufos lacks McGee's elite athleticism, and that probably results in him being underrated as a defender. Not only is Koufos solid against post-ups, but he ranks eighth in the league in shot-block percentage.
- Greg Smith | Houston Rockets (.759)
Smith's efficiency has made him a Barometer fixture. Last week, with Asik playing so well, he played a total of just 43 minutes in three games. During that time, he made 12 of 14 from the field. For the season, Smith is averaging 20 points, 11.8 rebounds and two blocks per 40 minutes while shooting 64.5 percent. He and Asik complement each other well and give the Rockets one of the best center tandems in the NBA. While Asik is in the first year of a three-year contract, Smith has a team-friendly, non-guaranteed deal for 2013-14, and then will hit restricted free agency. So it'll be quite some time before the Rockets have to worry about the center position.
- Andre Drummond | Detroit Pistons (.743)
The regular appearances by reserves like Smith, Drummond and McGee have been one of the more interesting aspects of putting together these ratings each week. In each of these cases, if you look strictly at per-minute production, you might be inclined to argue that their roles need to be greatly expanded. In each case, once you go to the lineup data, you discover why their collective efficiency has been regulated to smaller roles. In Drummond's case, he's averaging 14 points, 14.5 boards and 3.3 blocks per 40 minutes. Those are impressive stats. The Pistons also have been 6.8 points per 100 possessions better when Drummond is on the floor, albeit often against other reserves. As a result, the answer to the question about whether the Pistons should play Drummond or Greg Monroe has become increasingly clear: Both should play.
- Greg Monroe | Detroit Pistons (.739)
Speaking of Monroe, he's put up fewer WARP than Drummond (3.2 to 2.9) despite playing almost 15 minutes more per game. Monroe is well off his preseason forecast, mostly due to a severe decline in shooting percentages. Monroe is shooting just 33 percent away from the hoop this season, and almost half his shots have come in those zones. He shot 40 percent away from the hoop last season, which is borderline acceptable. It will be Monroe's ability to improve his midrange efficiency that will eventually allow him to share the court with Drummond. Monroe is already there in terms of his excellent playmaking abilities from the high post and elbow.
- Jermaine O'Neal | Phoenix Suns (.715)
Here's a blast from the past. O'Neal is averaging 17 points, 10.8 rebounds and an eye-popping 3.7 blocks while getting about 16 minutes per night for Phoenix. His NETPOST of plus-.169 puts him in the 74th percentile, with a defensive component in the 81st percentile. All of this sounds like a former All-Star who could be very valuable to a contender in a bench role. That would mark him as an excellent trade candidate for the woeful Suns, and O'Neal is on a veteran's minimum deal that wouldn't make a team sweat the finances by acquiring him. That doesn't mean that the Suns will deal O'Neal, because that would make sense -- and this franchise has done little since the end of last season that fits that description.
Three to watch
Roy Hibbert | Indiana Pacers
Just three players -- Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson and David West -- have gotten more post opportunities than Hibbert. He's averaging .704 points on those plays, which slots miserably in the 16th percentile. Hibbert's post defense is in the 42nd percentile. There are a few reasons why the Pacers have fallen short of expectations this season, but the biggest one can be found right in the middle.
Nikola Pekovic | Minnesota Timberwolves
Pekovic is another center who fares poorly in the post, though he's very effective when rolling to the basket. Pekovic is in the 26th percentile offensively on the block, making him a poor option to dump the ball down into. Love is better, ranking in the 63rd percentile despite his early season shooting problems. It would be great to see Pekovic develop his back-to-the-basket game, because doing so would maximize the fit and versatility between him and Love.
Kenneth Faried | Denver Nuggets
Faried does a lot of things well, but it's no surprise that scoring in the post isn't one of them. More problematic is his post defense; despite playing alongside an excellent weakside shot-blocker pretty much the entire time he's on the floor, Faried has been targeted on post-ups 79 times and is allowing just shy of one point per play. That puts him in the 12th percentile, and is part of the reason why the Nuggets have struggled on the defensive end this season.
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I whole heartedlly disagree with this joker,,WTF with the Love love all the damn time