Revisiting Peak Performance Level

Just beyond the 1/4 mark into the 2013-2014 season, let’s take a look at the players who stand poised to hit PPL for the first time, repeat the achievement, or drop from the ranks of the game’s elite.   For those who inexplicably missed the threshold column, take a quick read here, and consider the basic framework of PPL:

Peak Performance Level Requirements:  At least 65 games, 35 mpg., and a PER of 22.00.

Last Year’s List: Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, James Harden (*If we round up, Wade and Westbrook make it too. Parker and CP3 came up a little short on the minutes, while Brook Lopez, Tim Duncan, and Amare played considerably too little to qualify.  Kyrie, Steph, Blake and Anthony Davis just missed the PER threshold.)

This Year’s 1/4 Mark Qualifiers

Stalwarts:

Lebron, KD, Carmelo and Harden have thus far turned in quite similar performances to keep them among the game’s most impactful players.  There are no caveats with Lebron and KD, whereas the Knicks dismal record and Harden’s inexplicable lackadaisical effort on D mark asterisks next to each of their names subject to removal as the games play out.

Let's pretend that Harden is Kobe and plays defense.

Let’s pretend that Harden is Kobe and plays defense.

Newcomers:

Kevin Love, Paul George, Steph Curry, and LeMarcus Aldridge not only qualify, but appear to have staying power.  Each, with varying degrees ofimpact, has discernibly improved his game.  Most notably, Paul George is proving that last year’s conference finals were a harbinger of great things to come rather than a well-timed hot streak.   To give credit where credit is due, he clearly made good use of the summer and has vaulted himself squarely within the league’s top five players, a clear-cut second to only Lebron. (If you’re feeling generous, you could also credit this writer for ranking him #10 - as opposed to #13 or #25, as ESPN and SI rated him, respectively – even if that now feels a bit low.)

Good enough to get his own picture.

Good enough to get his own picture.

Less surprising, but hardly less stellar, Kevin Love’s performance merits inclusion in the MVP conversation, so long as its not an altogether serious conversation.  After a summer of turmoil, Aldridge looks reborn surrounded by a much improved supporting cast on a quasi-legitimate contender in Portland. (I love this Blazers team, but I need a larger sample to legitimize what’s been a great start.)  Lastly, Curry’s continued where he left off before injuring his ankle  (again) in the San Antonio series.  Keep those wrapped up Steph, because I can’t see anything but the 65 game requirement keeping him off this year’s list of the elite.

It almost feels wrong to exclude  Anthony Davis from the list.  Before injury, he looked like a sure fire top 10 player, closer to the top than the bottom of that list.  He’s a tick short on the minutes, which I’d have bet he’d have made up, but missed are now more likely to cause AD to fall just short for a second straight season. By the way, if we’re drafting franchise cornerstones for the next ten years, doesn’t he have to be on top?  This feels like another column unto itself, but here’s my best guess for how the first 10 picks of that hypothetical draft would play out (assuming college players are available):

(1) Anthony Davis, (2) Lebron - Still, (3) Paul George, (4) Kevin Durant (5) James Harden (6) Russel Westbrook (7) Jabari Parker, (8) Andre Drummond, (9) Andrew Wiggins, (10) John Wall.

I don’t feel especially confident about #4-#10, and obviously, there’s no way to measure the list’s accuracy.  One thing’s for sure, it ain’t easy to crack. Which brings me to our next just missed guys in Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins.  With another 2 mpg., Drummond’s on the list.  He’s putting up some downright frightening numbers on a team that lacks an established playmaker to get him the ball in optimal position.   At just 30 mpg., Cousins is further away.  Foul trouble’s a factor, but there’s no other reason he shouldn’t be playing 35-38 mpg.

A few point guards our on the precipice of PPL too.   Any discussion of the NBA’s best is incomplete without mentioning Chris Paul.  And for all intents and purposes, he’s there at 34.9 mpg, which suggests that Doc Rivers will play him enough to qualify this year.   Surprisingly, Ty Lawson’s nearly as close at 34.6 mpg.   Let’s see if he keeps that up.  Conversely, John Wall plays often enough, but not quite well enough.  With a PER of 20.90, don’t be surprised to see him crack the list by season’s end.

Stock Down

Kobe Bryant’s the only player from last year’s list not to qualify this year.  And the games 19 games he missed ensure that no matter his performance through the larger part of the season, he’ll be sure to miss the cut.   Frankly, I suspect that even had he returned earlier, he’d have come up shy of the 35 mpg. mark (although with D’Antoni at the helm, that’s no given).   What’ll be more interesting to discern is whether Kobe can sharpen his game sufficiently to reach the 22.00 PER mark again.   That’d be a helluva feet — one that I certainly wouldn’t bet the house on, but would hardly feel comfortable betting against.

"What's PPL?"

“What’s PPL?”

Among those who did not crack last year’s list, Tony, Timmy, Wade and Westbrook have slipped the most.  Returning from injury, Westbrook boast’s the best chance to reverse his fortunes.  While Wade looks rejuvenated when he plays, he’s now on the Popovich Plan, which generally extinguishes any hopes of hitting PPL.

2 responses

  1. Cool metric much easier to understand for people like me that are math challenged. Wonder if you’ve thought about revising the minutes level down so as to pick up some guys like CP3 who are just barely missing.

    • Hey Darren, thanks for the props. No doubt the 35 min. threshold is somewhat arbitrary. There’s nothing more magic about 35 than 34 or 33. Then again, you have to draw the line somewhere, and any number would be vulnerable to the same criticism. Nearly every year, we have someone like Jordan Hill, Andre Blatche, or Brandon Wright, who, while efficient in their time on the court, clearly would see some diminishing returns with more time on the court. Perhaps more obviously, doing something well for 20 minutes simply is not as impactful as doing it well for 40 minutes.

      It’s definitely tough to exclude a guy like Paul, who’s certainly playing at an elite level, but my sympathy is limited by the fact that even Shaq played 40 + mpg. during his prime (37 in 2002-2003, when we began tracking PER). There’s no getting around the fact that CP3’s PER of 27 in 34 minutes is less valuable than Kobe’s 2003 PER of 27 in 41 minutes. That’s a 20% delta in court time, and thus a significantly different contribution.

      Nonetheless, we do seem to be witnessing a trend of decreased minutes for elite players. To the extent that continues, it’ll be worthwhile to revisit the threshold for PPL.

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