As the season has come to a close, there is discussion over who has been the “most valuable” player on the roster. Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo are likely the three players that come to mind. Jacque Vaughn will not name one — as you would expect — when he was asked about this past weekend:
“I’m not sure if you can,” Vaughn said when asked if Vucevic was the team’s most indispensable player. “I think for our team where we are , everybody is needed. I will never put it on his hands as far as our success is concerned. At the same time that we had different times out over the course of the year, we need everybody.”
That is the truth considering the Magic have the third worst record in the league and a growing, burgeoning roster with players short on experience. The margin for error is often pretty small and depth is at a premium with players still trying to figure out who they are. These are typical themes we have talked about all season.
What we can add now, thanks to ESPN trotting out its new player impact metric Real +/-, is a number to show who has made the most impact to team success with the Magic. This statistic tries to take account for the advantages and disadvantages of playing with certain players, against certain lineups from the opponent and the effects of each possession. It is hardly a perfect metric — and has some flaws in its creation as Kyle Wagner of Regressing explains.
What can be interesting about this number is that it can tell us who impacts his team most particularly as it goes to his teammates. For example, Nick Collison has the sixth best RPM in the league whereas Kendrick Perkins is DEAD LAST. Collison pretty much replaces Perkins in the starting lineup so it is clear to see why there is such a dramatic change with Collison in the game as opposed to Perkins.
So what does this tell us about the Magic?
The first thing it tells us is that Jameer Nelson is still valuable to the Magic (in the present) especially on the offensive end. He leads the team in RPG at +0.71. That is 126th best in the NBA. Obviously the Magic, being a losing team, are not going to have a very high +/- simply because wins are so rare. So take those numbers with a grain of salt.
Take a look at the full table from ESPN.com of Magic players:
Looking deeper into these numbers some interesting trends develop.
First, Real +/- is not tied to wins above replacement (WAR), which is a measure of how many wins a player would statistically contribute to a team above a replacement level, or average player. That tends to fluctuate widely. Nelson still has the most WAR on the team, but Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris seem to have worse Real +/- yet better WAR.
The next thing is how poor Arron Afflalo rates in this category. Some of this might be attributable to playing against the best lineups and players the opponent has to offer. His defensive aptitude has been tested in recent years. He has a reputation as a defensive player and that has carried him through most of his career. The perception and the numbers do not seem to match.
And despite Afflalo’s near All-Star turn, these numbers seem to suggest that Afflalo is a below-average player. Certainly below replacement level. That is a scary proposition.
This is not entirely Arron’s fault. Afflalo is playing a role he is not really suited for. He is better off as a third or fourth option or sixth man on a good team rather than the top player on a bad team. He is getting his numbers, but clearly would be more effective being used another way.
Nikola Vucevic’s impact on defense should be noted too. Of the Magic’s regular players listed in the table above, Vucevic has the top defensive Real +/- on the team. Vucevic’s defense has improved this year. But it is hard to say he is the best defender on the team right now. He certainly is getting there and the team is better defensively when he is on the floor. That is what this stat shows.
This is an interesting new metric. As Wagner explains, it seems to be debate ammunition more than anything. But, as we can see, it does tell us some things about the Magic’s roster and how players are fitting together.
These stats do not really define players, they just add information to support observations on the court.