It’s official. After months of drama and speculation, Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio.
Russell Westbrook will never win an NBA title.
As takes go, this might be more mild than you first think. Westbrook is going to be 30 years old this season and the Golden State Warriors’ juggernaut continues to power on, in another Conference Finals, and with rumors of a Klay Thompson extension, showing they are prepared to plow into the luxury tax. Westbrook, though, will likely be in the top five of MVP voting once again, and is one of two players to ever average a triple double in a season (he’s now done it twice). He is a fascinating, polarizing character who challenges what the goals and expectations for an NBA team are supposed to be, and whether fans and front offices have prioritized their values in the “correct” way. What is the correct way?
After an amazing 2013-2014 season, the unbearably long offseason is finally coming to a close. There’s a lot to look forward to this year in the NBA, with superstars on new teams, contenders adding pieces, and more squads than ever with a chance to make noise. Let’s get started with my projected standings for the Eastern Conference, and analysis for the teams in it:
There is a lot of fret about the Kansas Jayhawks and their tournament hopes after the injury of Joel Embiid, especially after the recent hype around Embiid potentially being the #1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. This is no slight to Embiid, who is a great player, but the injury is being overhyped, because the Jayhawks’ best player is, far and away, Andrew Wiggins. How much better?
KenPom is one of my favorite sites, and overall it is the best advanced statistics site for college basketball on the internet. However, one important piece of information that slips past Ken Pomeroy’s stats system is Individual Defense. Offensively, Wiggins and Embiid are very similar players. Wiggins has a 113.9 ORating on a higher usage, but Embiid has a 112.2 ORating for himself, which is extremely impressive for a big man, especially a big man as raw as he is. Embiid’s insane block rate leads college basketball fans to believe that Embiid patrolling the center is the motor that makes Kansas’ defense go, but when you look a bit more into the stats, a different story is told.
Using data from GroupStats, (groupstats.wordpress.com), we can see the points per possession differences when each player is on and off the floor. When Joel Embiid is on the floor, Kansas outscores their opponents by .16 points per possession, a very strong number, and when he is off the floor Kansas outscores their opponents by .11 points per possession, or a .05 point benefit when he is on the floor. To put that number in comparison, Perry Ellis has a similar difference number at .04 PPP.
Now, lets get to Wiggins.
When Wiggins is on the floor, Kansas scores 1.18 Points per possession and gives up 1.00 Points per possession good for a PPP difference of .18. Now is where it gets good. When Wiggins is not on the floor, Kansas scores 1.08 points per possession and gives up 1.10 points per possession, good for a difference of -.02. Kansas is a whole 0.2 points per possession better when Wiggins is on the floor than when he is not! That is four times better than Embiid, and far and away the best of any Kansas starter. Lets put that .2 points per possession into context. This year, Kansas is averaging 68.3 possessions per game. So, for each game, Wiggins is giving a 13.66 point boost to the Jayhawks, compared to a 3.415 point boost from Embiid. 13.66 points is an absolutely insane number for one single player to be adding to a squad.
So, as we are going into the Oklahoma State – Kansas game that many, if not most, experts are Kansas to lose in mainly because of the lack of Embiid, lets remember that the key player for the Jayhawks isn’t the big Cameroonian. Its Wiggins. And he will be playing today. That might just be all Kansas needs.
by Robert Garcia, Northwestern University
*Editor’s Note: this article was written BEFORE Wiggins dropped 30 points and 8 rebounds in their victory over Oklahoma State.