I knew early that 2007-08 would be a rough year for the Diamond Rating.
The Diamond Rating is a method created by my former colleague Kevin Boom to identify players whose performance exceeds their minutes played. The method works with any system that rates players on a per-minute basis, here R, by the following formula.
R * (40 - MPG) + (R - LeagueAverageR) * MPG
Last year, I looked back on the past performance of the Diamond Rating method and then used it--with a few caveats--to identify the top 10 players going into the 2007-08 campaign. It makes no sense to include players who average more than 30 minutes per game, since they are already playing starters' minutes. I also eliminate players with fewer than 250 minutes because their statistics are too unreliable. From there, I have cut down to a list of players with the potential to break out with increased minutes by removing players older than 27 or with more than five years in the league (though, with Dikembe Mutombo out of the league at the moment, that's no longer a major concern).
Even when I wrote last year's column, it was apparent that the group might not produce a number of breakout players because so many were blocked by veteran starters. That scenario came to pass; while Jose Calderon took advantage of the chance to seize the starting job when T.J. Ford was injured, Josh Boone maintained his play while doubling his minutes and Ronny Turiaf and Leon Powe stepped up their games at different points of the season, few of the players ended up playing many more minutes.
There's still time for young players like Tyrus Thomas to take the next step, and at some point Paul Millsap will find a larger role befitting his abilities. Still, the top-rated players by the Diamond Rating going into the 2008-09 season will hope for more immediate success. Let's take a look.
Nick Fazekas, Denver - 24.2 (10.3 mpg, .634 Win%). At 260 minutes, Fazekas barely snuck over the minutes bar. His high rating owes disproportionately to 57.1 percent shooting that is unlikely to be maintained. Still, I can't understand why Fazekas had to settle for a training-camp invite from a Nuggets team that has only one open spot at best with several tough competitors for it. (In fairness, Fazekas may have preferred a shot at playing in his home state.) I don't think it's an extreme stat-geek position to think Fazekas is a useful NBA player; after a great career at Nevada he was the fourth pick of last year's second round, and he did nothing when he got a chance to play with the L.A. Clippers to indicate that he was overdrafted.
Amir Johnson, Detroit - 23.5 (12.4 mpg, .643 Win%). At 20 in his third season, Johnson got a chance to play spot minutes off the bench and averaged 11.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and a ridiculous 4.3 blocks per 40 minutes. Now, Johnson's time has arrived. He has been starting in the preseason and has a chance to win the job when the games count. With more minutes against tougher competition (one study showed him playing far and away the easiest group of opponents in the league) Johnson's freakish per-minute hustle numbers figure to go down slightly along with his 7.4 rebounds per 40 minutes; he'll still be an athletic presence on the defensive end of the floor who can finish on offense.
Leon Powe, Boston - 21.0 (14.4 mpg, .626 Win%). Powe's moment in the sun came in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, when he scored 21 points on 6-for-7 shooting in fewer than 15 minutes of action. At this point, that's a typical Powe performance. With Kevin Garnett anchoring the frontcourt in Boston and Kendrick Perkins alongside him as the starter, Powe finds himself fighting for minutes with fellow youngster Glen Davis. Unlike many undersized big guys off the bench, Powe--a huge star at California despite multiple knee surgeries--has some star potential if he gets a better chance. This year, he'll have to settle for eating into some of the minutes James Posey played in small lineups last year.
Carl Landry, Houston - 19.6 (16.9 mpg, .627 Win%). The Rockets acquiring the first pick of the second round and using it on Landry opened eyes during the 2007 NBA Draft. A few months later, it became apparent Daryl Morey and company in Houston had made a brilliant pick. As John Hollinger breaks down in Landry's player profile, his season owed in part to phenomenal inside shooting that will be tough to duplicate. I disagree with Hollinger about Landry's college stats, which came out very well by my methods. Landry is unlikely to become more than a role player, but what a role player he is.
Brandan Wright, Golden State - 19.2 (9.9 mpg, .559 Win%). For a lottery pick, Wright barely played as a rookie, averaging 9.9 minutes per game. When he did get a chance, however, Wright was effective in large part thanks to 55.4 percent shooting from the field. Given that Wright was a 64.6 percent shooter in his lone season at North Carolina, that doesn't seem like a fluke. With time and experience, Wright's defensive ability and awareness will improve to complement his incredible finishing ability.
Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers - 15.7 (28.8 mpg, .698 Win%). Bynum is certainly a stretch for this list, having started 25 of his 35 games last season and played nearly 30 minutes per night. His potential is obviously immense. At this point, the only thing that can hold Bynum back is complications with his return from his patella subluxation and the knee surgery he ultimately underwent for it.
Julian Wright, New Orleans - 15.6 (11.2 mpg, .517 Win%). The other rookie Wright was one guy on this list whose name surprised me; I didn't realize he had played so well. In particular, I was surprised by Wright's high-percentage shooting--53.3 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from downtown. While the latter mark in particular will be hard to duplicate, Wright's talent is obvious. Now the question (besides a sprained ankle suffered in Tuesday's preseason game) is how he fits into a Hornets rotation that now includes the similar Posey. In the long term, Wright's development is well on track.
Trevor Ariza, L.A. Lakers - 15.4 (15.7 mpg, .551 Win%). The numbers are in wholehearted support of Phil Jackson's experimentation with Ariza as a starter. He rates particularly well at the defensive end, having come up with steals on a strong 2.5 percent of defensive possessions. The big concern with Ariza as a starter is that he does not space the floor particularly well on a team with players who command double-teams. Starter or no, Ariza will surely see somewhat more time this season.
Ike Diogu, Portland - 15.2 (10.3 mpg, .505 Win%). Diogu is the kind of guy who will likely end up on the fringes of these kinds of lists year-in and year-out because of his unique skill set. Diogu is a skilled offensive player despite being short. That hurts him far more at the defensive end of the court, which makes teams reluctant to give him the kind of regular minutes his numbers say he deserves. Someday Diogu might find the right fit, but it's unlikely to come in Portland's crowded frontcourt barring heavy injuries. (By the way, while we're talking short but stout big men with impressive per-minute numbers, what is APBRmetrician fave Michael Sweetney up to these days? According to fellow Sweetney fan BlogABull (from Sam Smith), even the Players Association couldn't track him down last year.)
T.J. Ford, Indiana - 15.1 (23.5 mpg, .621 Win%). Now it is Ford who is the (ex-)Toronto point guard who shows up on the list; he technically meets all of the qualifications as a four-year vet at age 26 who played well under the minutes-per-game threshold. Obviously Ford has played heavy minutes in the past and is likely to again after being dealt to the Pacers, where his addition represents a major upgrade at the point. Ford suffered with the Raptors by comparison to Calderon, and barring injury it will be interesting to see how his reputation improves in Indiana.