After developing our advanced offensive indicators for involvement, contribution and efficiency, we had to wait for a couple of years to start observing changes over time; since certain advanced stats, such as advanced passing and hustle stats included in the calculations, were only available from the 2017 season on.
In this blog post, we are visually presenting Direct Offensive Contribution and Direct Offensive Efficiency stats for the most elite NBA players, i.e. those named to the All-NBA 1st or 2nd Teams in either 2017, 2018 or 2019 and with complete advanced offensive stats (condition: qualified) for those seasons. Kawhi Leonard and Isaiah Thomas were, therefore, excluded from the analysis. All stats for all qualified NBA players are now available at the New NBA Advanced Offensive Statistics page.
After having a closer look at this chart, one can quickly realize how certain changes in players’ offensive games over time are not fully captured in their per game or advanced stats, such as PER. Some of the changes we see above, are consistent with the eye-test. For example, some argue that LeBron James’s offensive game has not declined. Yet, although he is still elite in terms of his production, his efficiency was much lower in 2019 compared to 2017, especially if we look at the centiles for all qualified players (see below DOE numbers, about 90th centile in 2017, but 65th in 2019). Some of this decline could be contributed to changing teams, since a similar drop happened in the first seasons after he joined the Heat and rejoined the Cavaliers.
As we can see, two players stand out more than any other player: Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Westbrook is consistently the least efficient player out of all elite players, while his production has been declining over time and has reached LeBron’s, Gianis’s and Jokic’s level in 2019. James Harden, on the other hand, is consistently the most productive offensive player in the NBA, together with Westbrook and LeBron (in 2017 and 2018), with above average but not quite elite efficiency.
There are three main types of changes observed: (1) a decline: LeBron (mostly in efficiency), Westbrook (mostly in contribution), (2) an improvement: Embiid, Aldridge (in both), Anthony Davis and Kyrie (efficiency), Jokic (just contribution, unchanged efficiency), (3) minor changes: Lillard, as well as Curry and Durant – those two are consistently elite in both regards – offensive efficiency and contribution.
Last but not least, there are a couple of things worth mentioning regarding the 2019 NBA MVP who will be announced tomorrow. First of all, our 2017 and 2018 analyses revealed that the Regular Season MVP awards have, historically, been won on the offensive end. From that perspective, it is surprising to see Paul George being named one of the three finalists for the award after the Thunder had a 0.598 WIN% season. His offensive stats were comparable to DeMar Derozan’s in 2019, LaMarcus Aldridge’s in 2018 or slightly worse than Damian Lillard’s in 2017 and 2018. Moreover, this year Nikola Jokic had the most comparable offensive season to Giannis. At the same time, Curry, Durant, Kyrie, Lillard, and Davis (or even Towns, Beal, Vucevic or Walker) all had better 2019 seasons from both offensive contribution and efficiency perspectives. Does it mean that defense is (finally) becoming a factor in the NBA MVP race?!