A statistical analysis: Who were the best rookies?


SoSH Member
Jan 26, 2017
I thought this might be of interest, as we’re in the doldrums between the Celtics playoff elimination and the draft. I crunched the per 36 minute data in 10 categories to try to figure out, statistically, who were the best rookies among those drafted in 2016. My sample consisted of 14 players: those drafted in the first 12 spots who made it onto the court, plus a few other players who did well their first year.

(As a point of curiosity: I initially did this because of the constant chatter that Jaylen stacks up poorly statistically to other rookies, so I was interested to see if that was actually true.)

This was the group:

Dragan Bender
Malcolm Brogdon
Jaylen Brown
Marquese Chriss
Kris Dunn
Juan Hernangomez
Buddy Hield
Brandon Ingram
Skal Labissiere
Thon Maker
Jamal Murray
Jakob Poeltl
Taurean Prince
Domantas Sabonis

Methodology: I collected points for 10 categories: field goal %, 3 point %, free throws attempted, free throw %, total rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers (the ordering was from least turnovers to most), and total points. Again, these are “per 36” numbers, so they should more or less even out differences in minutes played per game. A player received 14 points for being the best in a category, 13 points for second-best, etc. Whenever there was a tie, I averaged (e.g. if two players were tied for most rebounds, each would get 13.5 points).

So for example, here’s what the steals category looked like, after points were assigned (sorry, I couldn't find directions on how to make a table):

Kris Dunn -- 14
Taurean Prince -- 13
Malcolm Brogdon -- 12
Marquese Chriss -- 11
Juan Hernangomez -- 10
Jamal Murray -- 9
Jakob Poeltl -- 8
Skal Labissiere -- 6
Jaylen Brown -- 6
Domantas Sabonis -- 6
Brandon Ingram -- 4
Buddy Hield -- 3
Thon Maker -- 1.5
Dragan Bender -- 1.5

Then, after adding the points together for the 10 categories, I divided by 10 (in the case of Poeltl, who didn’t take any 3-point shots, I assigned him a “1” for this category, the worst, assuming he’s probably a pretty bad 3-point shooter – however, I also added a score in parenthesis next to his name that represents what he would be awarded if you disregarded the 3-point category and simply divided his total by nine – so pick whichever you think is most fair).

So I got a bunch of numbers that didn’t quite look right – the big men seemed to float toward the top (indicating this analysis tends to overrate rebounders and guys who don’t touch the ball a lot and thus aren’t likely to turn it over much). So, to be fairer, I separated out centers and power forwards from small forwards and guards (the list shows their position, according to the 2016 NBA draft Wikipedia page). That left me with what seemed like a rather interesting list (below, with some notes of interest appearing afterwards).

Some weaknesses: (1) These may not be the best stats, or most sophisticated. But I liked e.g. the category “# of free throws attempted per game” because * free throws are typically valuable as a high percentage shot * the fouls that cause free throws help put opposing players in foul trouble, altering their strategy * the fouls that cause free throws help put opposing teams in bonus penalty situations, which leads to more free throws. (2) No attempt was made to weight categories, or to eliminate any possible overlapping in what categories measure. (3) No adjustments were made for age.

A few quick observations:
* Bender (I know he was injured for a while and is young) was still surprisingly bad.
* Skal looked even better than I thought; Maker also did better than I would’ve guessed.
* Dunn was intriguing – very high steal rate and the highest score among the “small guys” on blocks, but was terrible in some offensive categories.
* Jaylen (the point of the exercise!) looked fine. He had mostly high-average scores, and was a fair bit better than Ingram, the only other pure small forward in this sample.

Skal Labissiere (PF/C) -- 9.75
Thon Maker (PF) -- 9.15
Juan Hernangomez (SF/PF) -- 8.95
Marquese Chriss (PF) -- 8.25
Taurean Prince (PF) -- 8.1
Jakob Poeltl (C) -- 7.5 (8.22)
Domantas Sabonis (PF/C) -- 6.15
Dragan Bender (PF/C) -- 4.1

Malcolm Brogdon (SG/PG) -- 8.55
Jaylen Brown (SF) -- 7.85
Jamal Murray (SG/PG) -- 7.6
Buddy Hield (SG) -- 7.25
Brandon Ingram (SF) -- 6.45
Kris Dunn (PG) -- 5.35

NOTES (showing where players ranked in the list of 14 relative to others)
Skal Labissiere -- best or second-best on fg%, # of free throws attempted, total points
Thon Maker -- best on blocks, turnovers
Juan Hernangomez -- best or second-best on 3p%, turnovers
Marquese Chriss -- second-best on # of free throws attempted; tied for second-worst on assists
Taurean Prince -- second-best on steals
Jakob Poeltl -- worst on assists and second-worst on ft%; best on fg%
Domantas Sabonis -- third-worst on fg%, # of free throws attempted
Dragan Bender -- worst or tied for worst in four categories: steals, ft%, fg%, # of free throws attempted
Malcolm Brogdon -- best on assists and second-best on ft%, 3p%
Jaylen Brown -- fifth-best on turnovers, fg%; fourth-worst on blocks
Jamal Murray -- best on ft% with .883; second-worst on rebounds, turnovers
Buddy Hield -- third-worst on steals; third-best on 3p%, ft%
Brandon Ingram -- tied for third-best on # of free throws attempted; fourth-worst on steals, rebounds, ft% and 3p%
Kris Dunn -- best on steals and second-best on assists, but worst on turnovers, total points and second-worst on fg%


simpering whimperer
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jul 31, 2002
So I just want you to know. First, thanks for taking the time. Even though it does not always stand up to statistical rigor, I do find ordinal rankings to contain some interesting information.

That said, everything you are trying to capture here is kind of included in BPM (and PER, and Win Shares), though instead of using raw numbers it uses percentages where it can. You can read about BPM here. And of course it is not perfect, none of these things are. And, like everything, though the stat uses minutes, as a regression based statistic, the margin of error goes way way up when you are talking about very small numbers of minutes (e.g. Demetrius Jackson was the highest performing 2016 draftee...in 17 minutes). I'll use a cutoff of 600 minutes here though I think maybe it should be closer to 1000.

1. Brogdon, -0.5
2. Poeltl, -0.6
3. LeVert, -1.1
4. Siakim, -1.1
5. Hernangomez, -1.3
6. Chriss, -1.6
7. McKaw, -1.7
8. Dunn, -2.2
9. Prince, -2.3
10. Zubac, -2.5
11. Murray, -2.6
12. Labissierre, -2.6
13. Hield, -2.8
14. Valentine, -2.8
15. Ingram, -3.8
16. Brown, -4.0
17. Luwawu, -4.0
18. Ulis, -4.0
19. Sabonis, -4.9
20. Whitehead, -4.9

Note that this is not a statistic that would be used for projections, only of what happened.

FTR, Brown ranks 8th of this group in Win Shares, 10th in WS/48, and 18th in VORP. And it's not just minutes, he ranked 8th in those.

Most of this is wrapped up in the things we already know about Brown - low steals, high TO rate.


SoSH Member
Jan 26, 2017
smastroyin, thanks, and I'll take a look at those measures. My measurement may kind of mimic BPM in some ways, but I just checked and Poeltl, LeVert, and Siakam, who are surprisingly high on this list, wouldn't be that high on my list. BPM seems to generate an odd list, just judging on assessment of talent, because it seems to value the three aforementioned players more than Murray, Hield, Ingram, Brown, and Skal unless I'm misreading. That seems odd and counterintuitive, especially since most redrafts show these players all as going in the top seven or so, whereas none show Poeltl, LeVert and Siakam that high (none that I've seen anyway).

Just FYI on Brown: I found actually his steal rate was middle-low -- not as terrible as it's sometimes portrayed (at least in the group of 14 I looked at). Also his turnover rate was actually better than average (as in, lower than average). But this advanced metric may be looking at things in some different way. Anyway, I appreciate your dropping in these other measures. I think at the end of the day though you're right -- everything is going to be flawed to some degree.