Usage Adjusted Rating, as I discussed previously, has Alternate Win Score (AWS) as its base. Alternate Win Score is a simple per minute measure of performance, which has proven to be the best linear weights metric for prediction across high continuity and low continuity contexts. High continuity contexts are situations where a team is the largely the same as it had been when the players compiled the statistics being used to make predictions. Low continuity contexts are the opposite. AWS, as Neil Paine has demonstrated, is the best linear weights metric for prediction when dealing with both of those situations. So how is Alternate Win Score defined?

AWS equals Points+0.7*(Offensive Rebounds)+0.3*(Defensive Rebounds)+Steals+0.5*(Blocks)+0.5*(Assists)-0.7*(FG missed)-(FG made)-0.35*(Free Throws Missed)-0.5*(Free Throws Made)-Turnovers -0.5*(Fouls Committed) all divided by Minutes Played.

I wanted to make some tweaks to this basic formula. Namely, I wanted to include a usage-efficiency tradeoff. As I mentioned in the previous post, APBRmetrics forum poster v-zero provided a way to do that. I incorporated his math into the formula for AWS and after some tweaking, I arrived at UAR.

About that tweaking. Some people have expressed interest in knowing exactly how I arrived at the numbers I came up with. So here goes. I broke AWS into two separate figures. The scoring (and offensive turnover) portion and the Non-Scoring aspect. The Non-Scoring portion of UAR simply is equal to .7*OREB+.3*DREB+Steals+.5*Blocks+.5*Assists-.5*Fouls Committed per pace adjusted 48 minutes.

Then I moved on to the Scoring portion of UAR, which includes turnovers because turnovers use a possession just the same as a shot attempt or free throw attempts, except turnovers obviously always result in 0 points. I calculated the league average for points per possession (PPP), using the simple formula for possessions (FGA+.44*FTA+TOV), and similarly calculated the league average for possessions per 48 minutes (USGper48), again using the simple possession definition. I then used the coefficients v-zero provided to create what I call average ScoreRating, which is simply 5*(PPP)+.076*(USGper48). For this season, thus far, the league average for that number has been roughly 6.2. Next I calculated the Score Rating for every player in the league and subtracted out the league average rate, so that if you’re an average scorer you break-even in Score Rating, if you’re above average you contribute a positive value through your combined scoring volume and efficiency whereas if you’re below average, you detract value from your team through your inability to score. I also had to multiply Score Rating by a coefficient in order to properly value scoring in UAR relative to the NonScoring parts of UAR. The Scoring Rating needed to be worth roughly 2.7 times the Non-Scoring Rating, based on some math resulting from the Four Factor weights discovered by Evan Zamir here. In order to get the scale right, the coefficient turned out to be roughly 2.4. This owed to the league average for Score Rating being 6.2 and the league average for Non-Score Rating being about 5.5. Then I set total league average UAR to 0.

These numbers change year over year but they are pretty consistently in this range. I then added the Scoring and Non-Scoring parts together to get UAR. The equation for this year basically looks like this:

UAR = (2.4*(5*(PPP)+.076(USGper48))+ (7*OREB+.3*DREB+Steals+.5*Blocks+.5*Assists-.5*Fouls Committed per pace adjusted 48 minutes)-((lg avg Score Rating)+(lg avg non-score Rating))

The numbers, as I said, vary year over year depending on what the average numbers league wide are.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Phoenix Suns

The Suns project to be our worst team in the Western Conference and after the trade of Marcin Gortat, possibly the worst team in the entire league. In the bid to capture the top odds for the 2014 draft’s first overall selection, the dumping of Marcin Gortat for Emeka Okafor’s contract and an additional 2014 first round pick represents a bit of a coup for the Suns. They were not going to be good this year, no matter what, but Gortat is an above average NBA center who figured to play a starter’s load of minutes for Phoenix. Instead, the Suns have traded him away for a player unlikely to play at all this year due to a scary neck injury and a possible second lottery pick in the best draft in ages. Great work by Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough. So how bad should the Suns be?

The Suns, with their old roster when I first ran these numbers, looked to be a 29 win club, adjusted for league average to a 26 win team. That projection, though, was with Marcin Gortat, Caron Butler, Kendall Marshall, and Malcolm Lee on the team. All of those players have been sent away with nary an NBA player brought in to replace a one of them. That’s roughly 4 to 4.5 wins lost, by our estimation here. So look for the Suns to hover right around 21–22 wins- unless, of course, they go even more totally all-in on the tank and dump Goran Dragic in a deal for further future assets. Such a trade seems at least a 50/50 proposition and probably more likely than that to occur. McDonough has shown no interest in winning too many games this year and damaging his odds at maximum ping-pong balls in May’s draft lottery. It’s a strategy that seems fairly sound given the talent that is available in the top 5 picks of this year’s draft. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether it will work out, but the logic is sound and the plan has been well executed and that’s really all you can ask for from your team’s executives.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic this year have got promise and one of my favorite young players to enter the league in a while in Victor Oladipo. They also have a long way to go to be any sort of winning basketball club. Young players and thus young teams tend to struggle on the defensive end, and teams without an established star player to act as the center of the team’s solar system, allowing the lesser lights to settle into planetary rotation, tend to fall into offensive blackholes. The Magic tick both those boxes, and as a result, they probably won’t win very many games this year.

Relative to their likely low winning percentage, they should still be a fun watch, as Oladipo is the rare perimeter rookie who has the tools, determination, and awareness to make a positive impact on that end, and he has some playmaking ability on the other end. In addition, the continued development of Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic piling up double doubles is enough to make things interesting. So what do the numbers from Nathan Walker and my guesses on minutes suggest is a likely win total for this team?

After adjusting the projection for wider league context, the Magic look like a 25 win club. Not great, Bob! But this isn’t a team that’s interested in winning this year. Orlando is, as literally everyone you will read about this team will no doubt inform you, playing the long game. They’re adopting the rebuilding model of the former Sonics, now Thunder, along with fellow expected cellar-dweller, Philadelphia. No shame in that, really. They don’t have the means to go out and get much in the way of established veteran talent and the aforementioned trio of Oladipo, Harris, and Vucevic need developmental minutes. If Oladipo is as good as I think he will be and if the Magic are able to hit on their expected high draft pick in next year’s loaded draft, the future looks much brighter for Orlando than their record this year might otherwise indicate. This is a team that could be a sneaky fun League Pass team, if you’re into watching young players develop and get better, and just want to see Nik Vucevic grab ALL OF THE REBOUNDS.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings let their former rookie of the year, Tyreke Evans, leave in free agency. Despite losing Evans, though, the Kings had a pretty good offseason. How can I say that? Well, first, and most important, Sacramento got to keep its Kings, which was no sure thing. The threat of the team being stolen away from Sacramento and moved to, say, Seattle- who know a thing or twelve about stolen teams- was very, very real, so this offseason was a success if for no other reason than that the Kings remain Sacramento’s.

In addition, the Kings made some sneaky good moves. First, they were able to turn Evans’s departure into a sign and trade to land a quite useful player in point guard Greivis Vasquez. Then, the Kings were able to land a serviceable replacement for Evans’s wing slot by trading two second round picks for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Luc Richard is a disruptive defensive presence who struggled to convert inside last year, after a career of being pretty good at it. On the plus side, Mbah a Moute appears to have added some range to his arsenal as he hit 35%, right around league average, on his three point attempts, while firing one deep shot per 40 minutes. Previously, Mbah a Moute had been very reluctant to even try to shoot from outside, and seemingly for good reason, as he rarely made those shots when he did take them. All in all, Luc Richard is a pretty average wing, which is a pretty nice get for the relatively piddling price of two second round picks. The Kings must hope Mbah a Moute can return to the relatively strong finisher inside he has generally been, while retaining some of that added range to space the floor around center Demarcus Cousins. If he can do that, he might be even better than average, given how much he helps on the defensive end.

Finally, the Kings drafted Ben McLemore, who many scouts thought might be the best player in this year’s draft. I wasn’t as high on McLemore, simply because he didn’t do much statistically at Kansas that screamed dominant player, but he also wasn’t asked to do a whole lot and his own tendency to float was not sufficiently reined in by the Jayhawks’ coaching staff, so it’s tough to say just how good he will end up as a pro. In new coach Mike Malone, the Kings appear to have gotten a leader who will challenge McLemore to be the best version of himself on the court. McLemore will certainly be an interesting player to watch this season, to see which side of him wins out between his undeniable talent and his natural passivity on the court.

After adjusting for the projected league context, the Kings’ projected Net Rating is -3.45, which would make them a 32 win team. That’s not great, but considering the Kings won just 28 games last year and lost a player of Tyreke Evans’s talent, it would be impressive for the Kings to improve their record by 4 wins. Most of the heavy lifting will be done, according to xRAPM, by Boogie Cousins. He has far and away the highest projected xRAPM at +2.3 and he projects to play a fairly high number of minutes.

It’s at this point that something about xRAPM as a stat should be pointed out- xRAPM uses boxscore stat based priors, but it also includes a prior for height on the defensive end, in order to increase predictive accuracy leaguewide. In general, this is a good thing to do, as big men tend to be much more important to team defense, so it’s unsurprising that adding a prior that grants big men proportionally more credit for positive offensive outcomes increases predictive accuracy. The problem occurs with big men who are decidedly bad defenders, so they get credit they don’t deserve. Boogie Cousins is just one such big man. Boogie is actually a double whammy of a problem for xRAPM. Cousins grabs a lot of defensive boxscore stats (read: defensive rebounds and blocked shots) and he’s very tall, as a result xRAPM thinks he’s a good defender– but he so, so isn’t. This almost certainly causes Cousins individually to be very overrated, but fortunately for the overall accuracy of the projections, the Kings return almost entirely the same roster with the exception of the previously mentioned Evans. If it were the case that Cousins was receiving defensive credit in xRAPM that Evans rightly deserved, it’s a very positive sign for the Kings that they acquired another strong wing defender, Mbah a Moute, to replace Evans in the rotation.

Jason Thompson returns as the starting 4 man alongside Cousins and should contribute well, too. It’s also possible that Thompson is a better defender than he’s been given credit for by xRAPM, due to playing with Cousins. But, because Thompson will be around again to play with Cousins, that shouldn’t effect the overall picture much. Finally, Former Mr. Irrelevant, the confusingly named Isaiah Thomas projects to be slightly above average. Thomas is a wonderful offensive dynamo, running as expert a pick and roll as you’ll find in the NBA. The averageness comes from his weakness on the defensive end. Most of Thomas’s defensive problems can be fairly attributed to his small stature. Thomas is simply too physically limited, both due to his height and his short wingspan, to help much on defense. He’s a good and useful player, though, and it’s a testament to his work ethic and skill that he has been able to make himself into a better player than the Kings’ lottery pick of Thomas’s draft class, Jimmer Fredette. Fredette’s also a pretty solid offensive player, but his defense makes Isaiah Thomas look like prime Gary Payton. Fredette is one of the absolute worst defensive players in the league. If he can get somewhere closer to average, he could really help the Kings, but these projections don’t see that happening. Ben McLemore projects to be an above replacement, but below average player, which is pretty average for a rookie, but if it happens that way, would surely represent a disappointment for the Kings. It is unsurprising, though, that a statistical projection would look harshly at McLemore’s only season at Kansas as he simply didn’t stand out.

The Kings have an interesting future with a new owner, a new face of the franchise, and a new, energetic head coach. This season is just the beginning of that future and there should be plenty of fun to be had, whether it’s the pure joy of watching little Isaiah Thomas run that pick and roll to perfection or the pure hilarity of watching Demarcus Cousins “try” to defend the opponent’s pick and roll. After facing an existential threat to their team, Kings fans have plenty to which to look forward.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Charlotte Bobcats

The Charlotte Bobcats got a bit better this offseason when they signed Al Jefferson. Big Al is no worldbeater, but he’s an above average player who commands a double team pretty much anytime he touches the ball on his beloved left block. He’s a good offensive player who struggles defensively due to his relative lack of lateral quickness. He blocks a lot of shots and grabs a lot of defensive rebounds, so he helps from time to time, but overall he hurts his teams defensively with his, frankly, woeful help defense. Modern NBA defenses simply require so much intelligent, agile help from the men manning the middle, and Al, despite his best efforts and his self-awareness about his defensive flaws, just can’t get things right on that end. All in all, though, Jefferson is a player worth having, especially for a team as bad as the Bobcats were last year and have been since they became a franchise. Charlotte also drafted Cody Zeller, a player who I liked a lot prior to this year’s draft and continue to like.

How much, based on the numbers, should we expect the Bobcats to improve with Big Al and Zeller on the roster?

After adjusting for the projected league-wide context, the Bobcats projected Net Rating is -3.44, which translates to approximately 32 wins. Thirty-two wins is not a season to write home about, but it would represent an 11 win improvement over last year’s Charlotte squad and 11 extra wins is something worth smiling over. Charlotte won’t be good, but they’ll be better.

There’s another way in which they could be even better and that’s if they simply don’t play Ben Gordon, who projects to be absolutely terrible next season after several seasons of being awful. If GM Rich Cho is able to find a taker for Gordon’s hefty expiring contract and the team is able to simply play Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist more minutes, they could even climb as high as 36–38 wins. For the long-term health of the franchise, though, shooting for a few extra wins at the cost of reduced lottery odds in the mythical 2014 draft seems unwise. It will be interesting to see which way Charlotte decides to go. Given that they have already chosen to try to get better by signing Jefferson, that might indicate they will go all in on winning as many games as they can. It would be hard to fault them for wanting to win as many games as they can, given how bad they have been the last two years, but if they can resist the urge to squeak out 4 or 5 extra wins, they might be rewarded in the draft lottery.

Charlotte has a near handful of projected above average players, namely: Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo, and Al Jefferson. Cody Zeller also projects to be nearly average as a rookie, according to the Hickory-High rookie projections, which is really pretty great for a rookie. There are no stars on this club, which is the primary reason they won’t win a lot of games, but there’s a lot of slightly above, slightly below, and right at average talent. It’s a team that will probably look great some nights, when Kemba’s hitting his jumpers, Jefferson’s working at the peak of his post powers, and Kidd-Gilchrist is slashing and dunking and hounding the opponent’s best wing, and there will be other nights where they can’t throw it into the ocean and their spacing issues come home to roost. They’ll be better, though, and that’s not nothing. Enjoy the ride this year, Charlotte; maybe that franchise savior is just around the corner in next year’s draft and, hey, now he might actually have a decent supporting cast to join.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz won 43 games last year, which — in a stacked Western Conference — got them the privilege of finishing 9th, missing out on the playoffs, and placed them in the no man’s land of the late lottery. This offseason, the Jazz allowed their best player, along with another of their better ones to leave for nothing in return. I’m speaking, of course, about Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, respectively. Millsap went to Atlanta where he figures to make it back to the playoffs. Jefferson, bizarrely, was able to grab more years and money per year than Millsap, despite Millsap’s overall superiority. Jefferson, though, will have to accept not making the playoffs this year, and the strong possibility that he won’t see the postseason at all in the 3 years he’s now signed to play for Charlotte. The Jazz weren’t interested in committing the sums of money needed to retain either player, especially when the ceiling of that team was the Western Conference playoff bubble.

Utah also, understandably, wanted to use this year as an opportunity to find out exactly what they have in their young big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, whose minutes were limited playing behind Millsap and Jefferson. The Jazz also declined to use their cap space to sign any free agents, instead opting to acquire assets to rent their cap space to the Golden State Warriors. The result is that the Jazz should be a fair bit worse on the court this year but have a clear plan for escaping their current state of non-contention. The plan is clearly to develop their young talent and acquire assets and then use that talent and those assets to form a group worth betting on. In the meantime, though, just how bad should we expect the Jazz to be- by the numbers?

After adjusting for next year’s projected league context, the Jazz’s projected Net Rating is -3.05. Such a projected Net Rating would make them, roughly, a 33 win team. It should come as no surprise, but Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and, rising star on the wing Gordon Hayward figure to do most of the heavy lifting for next year’s Jazz. Alec Burks figures to be a slightly below average, but well above replacement option at guard, but it remains to be seen whether Tyrone Corbin plays him the minutes he deserves. I’ve projected Burks to get less minutes than his relative talent on the team would suggest is optimal, but Coach Corbin has generally not played him as much as he deserves, surely much to the consternation of Utah faithful.

I’ve also projected rookie point guard Trey Burke to play quite a few minutes, as I suspect that the use of a lottery pick to draft him and the Jazz’s complete organizational lack of incentive or desire to win games this season make betting on Burke to play a lot of minutes a good idea. Burke figures to be solid for a rookie, with a projected -1.7 xRAPM, he should be solidly above replacement level. As a starting point guard, this year’s iteration of Burke will likely leave something to be desired, but this is a year for learning on the job and I expect Trey will eventually be a pretty good player.

The Jazz will be bad this year, but they should be a fun watch, especially for hoop heads who enjoy watching guys as they progress from prospect to their fully-formed, best selves. The Jazz feature players in various states of development, but most of them are closer to the prospect end of that particular spectrum. That reality will lead to some inevitably ugly basketball, but the talent level that Favors, Kanter, Hayward, Burke, and Burks possess should lead to some genuinely fun basketball at times. For now, those fun moments and the knowledge of the plan in place will have to be enough for Jazz fans.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Philadelphia 76ers

Projecting the 2013–14 Sixers is a nightmare. The Philadelphia squad looks, quite clearly, to be tanking the season. Nearly all of the players on their roster are being thrown into roles for which they are terribly ill-suited. Thaddeus Young: Best player on an NBA team? James Anderson: anything more than on an off-the-bench guard? Michael Carter-Williams: starting point-guard in the NBA? These are not questions that any of these players should be asked to answer, but the Sixers aren’t trying to win and here we are.

The trouble is, when projecting future performance in xRAPM, most players tend to occupy similar roles from year to year and thus it’s much more likely that their rating by xRAPM- or any flavor of adjusted-plus minus, for that matter- will look pretty close to the prior year, but when you ask players to do radically more than they have traditionally been asked to do, then their overall impact is very likely to suffer. As a result of this, I would take the win projection that Nathan Walker’s numbers with my minutes estimates produce (shown below) with a giant helping- like a dried up ocean’s worth- of salt. Additionally, the Sixers weird roster construction inevitably throws off what would be more accurate wins projections for the rest of the league. As a result, at the end of all my projections, I will probably write a post with my own subjective- but informed by the stats — guesses as to where teams will come out in terms of records next year. In any event, what do the (probably very wrong) numbers look like?

After adjusting for the wider league context, the Sixers’ projected Net Rating is -3.22, rather than the -2.11 shown above. A -3.22 Net Rating results in a projected 32 win team. Frankly, I would be shocked if the Sixers were able to win even half that many games. It seems that Vegas agrees with my subjective assessment, as the Over/Under for this year’s Philly squad is set at 16.5 wins.

The reason the Sixers rate out so well in this analysis is that they have a team full of guys that in their prior, less demanding roles were fully capable of being replacement level or above. These Sixers have very few players who would have projected as sub-replacement level, had they stayed in their prior roles, and their rookies, Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel- both of whom will likely be expected to play heavy minutes — actually project to be near average level players. Oh, and Thad Young, as it turns out, is pretty darn good, though certainly not someone you’d want as your best player. It’s worth watching whether xRAPM’s relative love for this Sixers team is as off as Vegas, the rest of the basketball-watching world, and I, subjectively, think it is. I’ll also be watching to see if the Sixers trade Thaddeus Young, in order to go with the full-on, totally unabashed tank.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Portland Trailblazers

The Portland Trailblazers got better this summer. They added a solid defensive center to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge, in Robin Lopez. They snagged a talented, if unproductive, young big man to back up Aldridge, in Thomas Robinson and they grabbed solid swingman Dorell Wright. Finally, they drafted C.J. McCollum and signed Mo Williams- because they want to have ALL of the small combo guardy point guards. Basically, the Blazers improved their bench, which was terrible, to the point where it is downright serviceable now. How good should we expect the Blazers to be next year, then, based on the Walker numbers and my minutes estimates?

Portland’s projected Net Rating, adjusted for context, is -1.39, which would make them a 37 win team. This projection would place them at 11th in the Western Conference, though the difference between Portland’s projected 37 wins and the 42 projected wins of the 7th and 8th rated teams is marginal, so Portland’s improved bench has put them firmly on the Western conference’s playoff bubble. It will be interesting to see whether they can make it in to the postseason, and whether merely qualifying for late April play will be enough to satisfy LaMarcus Aldridge’s allegedly professed desire to play for a better team.

Speaking of Aldridge, he projects, unsurprisingly, to be the Blazers’ best player, by far. Dame Lillard should continue to be quite solid as a second year player. C.J. McCollum, Mo Williams, and Thomas Robinson — mentioned earlier — all project to be replacement level or worse, although they will still be an improvement over last year’s downright terrible bench crew. Robin Lopez should be very helpful. I’ve projected him for only 1900 minutes, but really, the Blazers ought to play him more. He’s much better than any other option they have at center. It’s a possibility that playing a 7 footer too many minutes could be dangerous for health reasons- just ask Joakim Noah’s busted up feet — but Lopez played over 2100 minutes last year with no problems. He could certainly stand to play a few more minutes per game over the 26 minutes a night he played last season. I’d recommend that he play 30 minutes a night. It might only change their projection by one win over the course of the 82 game season, but given that these Blazers are right on the bubble of the playoffs, one extra win could be hugely important.

The Blazers also have to hope that the talent that made Thomas Robinson a top 5 draft pick shows out next year and his projected xRAPM of -2.3 is an underestimate of what he’ll produce for Portland next year. Portland’s probably not the best bet to make the playoffs next year, but there’s reason for hope and maybe that’s enough. What do you think, Blazers fans?

Image via Wikimedia Commons.