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November 15, 2012
Big Man Barometer
Week Ending 11/13/12

by Bradford Doolittle

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For the first time last week, we tallied up the performances of all the power forwards and centers across the league and ranked them using season-to-date WARP. The seasonal rankings will obviously be far less fluid than the weekly rankings, which are based on just the past seven days. The initial rankings were notable for one name on the list, and one that isn't.

The missing name was Carmelo Anthony, who had played power forward for about 72 percent of his minutes during New York's five-game winning streak to start the season. Clearly Anthony has been a big part of the Knicks' fast start. He's used 34.1 percent of the Knicks' possession while on the floor, making him the highest-volume offensive player in the league. So how does he miss the top 10? Well, that's primarily a result of the fact that New York has played just five games. WARP is function of both efficiency and playing time, and through no fault of his own Anthony hasn't logged as much time as other top players around the league.

The most surprising name in the season rankings is Kevin Durant. The threshold to be eligible for the season list is 30 minutes per week at either power forward or center, and Durant just sneaks in with 60.1 minutes as a four thus far. That's just under of a fifth of his court time. Oklahoma City's true position average pegs the Thunder as the 11th biggest team in the league, but when Scott Brooks goes small, it's Durant that changes positions, whether it's next to Serge Ibaka or Kendrick Perkins.

The Explainer

The Big Man Barometer tracks the usage and performance of frontcourt players across the NBA, and forecasts how they're going to do in the coming week. Top performers from the last week are ranked by individual winning percentage, the rate stat component of WARP. Seasonal rankings are based on WARP. Our exclusive schedule-adjusted projections use a combination of SCHOENE forecasts and season-to-date data. We'll be predicting the weekly numbers for NBA big men based on a Monday-to-Sunday schedule that should be compatible with the vast majority of weekly head-to-head fantasy leagues. By this method, SCHOENE is combined with actual results to product a new baseline forecast for each player. These are then adjusted for a player's upcoming opponents and how well those competitors have defended his position. The projections compiled in a module of NBAPET, my system for projecting, evaluating and tracking the league.

Top 10 Big Man Performances

(For the Week of Nov. 7 to Nov. 13; Players listed by winning percentage; Any player who played a total of at least 30 minutes at center or power forward last week is eligible for the rankings)

1. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (.892)

The emergence of Jordan is as big of a reason as any why the Clippers have exceeded expectations that were pretty high to begin with. Jordan was simply fantastic in a week, highlighted by putting up 20 points, 11 boards and four blocks against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. The next night, Jordan scored 20 against Portland and in the two games combined, he shot 18 of 22 from the floor. Even more impressive for Jordan was that after missing his first six free throws this season, he made 7 of 9 from the line last week. For the season, he's shooting 71.4 percent from the floor. Sure, most of that is at the rim on dunks, but he's also hit 6 of 7 on shots between 5 to 9 feet, according NBA.com/stats. He's simply getting better.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat (.875)

No matter what is going on around him, James just brings it every night. He's scored at least 20 points in every game this season and made at least half his shots in each game except one, when he went 8 for 17. He's reached double digits in rebounding in six of Miami's first eight games. Right now, he's averaging 9.4 rebounds per game. He's never averaged as many as eight, so it's clear James isn't shirking that aspect of playing power forward. His rebound percentages are at career-high levels at both ends of the floor. James is playing every bit as well as in his most recent MVP season of 2011-12.

3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets (.856)

Davis got into just one game last week after missing time with a concussion, but he logged 37 minutes in that game to qualify for the Barometer leaderboard. He showed no ill effects of that blow from the elbow of teammate Austin Rivers, putting 23 points, 11 boards and five blocks against Charlotte. Think Bobcats fans were having flashbacks to lottery night, when they hoped the reward for a 7-59 nightmare would be the chance to draft Davis?

4. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (.850)

Drummond has played with much more activity and confidence than anyone could have thought in the early going, though Lawrence Frank failed to use him for more than 22 minutes in any of Detroit's eight losses to start the season. For any Pistons fans wary of drafting a seemingly raw UConn big man, consider this: Drummond's 22 points against Oklahoma City last week was 12 more than Hasheem Thabeet has ever scored in an NBA game. The Pistons have been 4.8 points per 100 possessions less bad with Drummond on the floor, though surprisingly that's been primarily due to the offensive lift Drummond has provided. Can a full-time pairing of Drummond and Greg Monroe in the Detroit frontcourt be far off?

5. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (.791)

Duncan provided ample evidence of his rejuvenation in back-to-back road games last week at Sacramento and Portland. Against the Kings, Duncan had 23 points on 9 of 12 shooting, 12 boards and four blocks. The next night, he shot 7 of 12 against the Blazers and tallied 22 points, nine boards and three blocks. On a per-minute basis, Duncan is scoring more than he has in five years. Even more startling is what Duncan is doing on the other end. His block percentage thus far is the highest of his 16-year career. That's just not supposed to happen.

6. Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Hornets (.759)

Anderson had the best game so far for the Hornets, scoring 25 points and hitting five 3-pointers in a win over Charlotte. Davis also had a big game and the ability of those two to share the floor and play off each other had to be excited for New Orleans fans. However, it wasn't a matter of Davis or Anderson sliding over to the three. The pair shared the frontcourt minutes with Robin Lopez and Jason Smith in largely traditional configurations.

7. Dorell Wright, Philadelphia 76ers (.754)

The Sixers have scrambled for scoring this season and the notion that Philadelphia was going to be one of the league's biggest teams is currently forgotten. With Andrew Bynum out and Spencer Hawes and LaVoy Allen coming off the bench, the Sixers have played smaller than all but New York and Cleveland in the early going. That's not just because of Thaddeus Young's presence in the starting lineup, either. Last week, Wright played more than a third of his minutes as a stretch four and was even coded as playing center for two minutes of one game. Whatever Wright played, he did it well, scoring 51 points in four games and hitting 12 3-pointers and picking up 11 steals on the other end.

8. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat (.741)

Bosh had a particularly active week. Not only did he score 22 or more points in three of his four games, but he did it as more than a jump shooter. Bosh averaged seven foul shots per game last week. The work close to the basket resulted in more offensive boards than normal, a high shooting percentage and excellent bottom-line efficiency.

9. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers (.723)

Varejao is having an unbelievable season so far, ranking eighth among all players in WARP to start the season. He put up the league's most eye-popping stat line of the season on Tuesday, especially when you consider he was the one doing it. Varejao had 35 points on 16 of 21 shooting and grabbed 18 rebounds against Brooklyn in a performance that ought to permanently validate Brook Lopez's performance as a bad defensive center. The 16 field goals were six more than Varejao had ever made in a game, and he got all but two of those shots right at the rim. However, to mention Lopez is not to sell short Varejao's overall season to date. He's shooting 61 percent from the floor and his scoring average of 15.9 in more than five points above his previous career best. He's also the best percentage rebounder in the league so far.

10. Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz (.702)

Millsap capped a solid week with a great performance in a win at Toronto, scoring 34 points on 11 of 16 shooting. We've started to see more of the big lineup that the Jazz used so effectively late season, with Millsap playing the three. He played 23 minutes at the position last week and for the season, he's logged 12.5 percent of his time there. Utah has outscored opponents by 24 points per 100 possessions with Millsap playing three. He's not in danger of losing his Barometer any time soon, but it's a trend worth watching.

Season to Date

(Players listed by WARP, minimum 60 minutes played at power forward or center)

What is this, 2002? Have you seen Tim Duncan play this year? Duncan has been the best pure big man in the league so far this season. In our first season rankings, Duncan logs in at No. 3 behind a pair of elite small forwards who have spent a fair bit of time out of position in small lineups. It looks like Durant will skirt in and out of these rankings all season, depending matchups that dictate just how often Brooks plays small. However, James is a strong bet to top these rankings all season unless the Heat's defensive issues prompt Erick Spoelstra to abandon the pace-and-space plan altogether.

1. LeBron James, Miami Heat (2.55)
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (2.11)
3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (1.77)
4. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat (1.76)
5. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers (1.65)
6. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls (1.62)
7. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (1.61)
8. Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz (1.56)
9. Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets (1.16)
10. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder (1.01)

Three Bigs to Watch This Week

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

Davis has four games next week, including back-to-back contests against New York and Indiana that will provide two unique challenges. Against the Knicks, Davis will at times find himself matched up with Anthony and from that we may get our first indicators of just how much positional versatility lies ahead in Davis' future. Can the rookie be the antidote to the Knicks' small lineup? Indiana has a traditional lineup and Davis will be tasked with defending the rugged David West. Later in the week, Davis will go against Phoenix and Denver.

Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls

Boozer has struggled out of the gate, wilting from the challenge of stepping up his production to help compensate for Derrick Rose's absence. Instead, it's been Joakim Noah who has become more effective on offense, with much of the Bulls' halfcourt action running through Noah in the high post rather than Boozer on the low block. Boozer's poor shooting has been at the root of the trouble -- he had just a .483 true shooting percentage through Tuesday -- leaving him with about a sixth of the Noah's WARP (1.62 to 0.25) and less value than even that of reserve teammate Jimmy Butler.

Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves

One player who has stepped up play in the face of injured teammates is Pekovic, whose interior scoring has been a big reason Minnesota has been able to tread water with Kevin Love on the sideline. Pekovic is second on the team to Derrick Williams in usage rate and he's been very efficient, with a .575 true shooting percentage. Pekovic isn't a great defensive center, which limits him to about 30 minutes per game. Minnesota's three opponents next week -- Denver, Portland and Golden State -- lack top interior scoring, so Pekovic's minutes and production could be at an apex.

Top 25 Big Man Projections

(Forecast for 11/19-11/25, all players who qualified for this week's Barometer rankings)

PLAYER           POS  GP    FG%    3M   REB   AST   STL    TO   BLK    PTS  SCORE
LeBron James      SF   2   .548   1.0   7.6   7.3   1.9   3.4   0.7   28.6   24.8
Kevin Durant      SF   3   .467   2.3   7.4   3.6   1.5   3.2   1.0   28.3   21.1
Dwight Howard      C   4   .598   0.0  12.9   1.9   1.5   3.0   2.1   20.2   18.0
Blake Griffin     PF   4   .560   0.1  10.0   3.7   0.9   2.4   0.5   21.1   17.2
LaMarcus Aldridge PF   3   .492   0.1   8.1   2.2   1.0   1.8   0.7   21.8   16.2
Carmelo Anthony   SF   4   .443   1.1   5.9   3.1   1.2   2.4   0.4   22.5   15.3
Josh Smith        PF   4   .481   0.4   9.4   3.7   1.5   2.3   1.6   17.5   15.0
Brook Lopez        C   4   .514   0.0   6.9   2.3   0.7   1.9   1.4   18.5   14.6
Pau  Gasol        PF   4   .522   0.0   8.8   3.6   0.6   1.7   1.3   15.8   14.6
Al Horford         C   4   .572   0.0   8.7   2.8   1.0   1.4   1.2   14.8   14.4
Chris Bosh        PF   2   .491   0.1   8.5   2.1   0.9   1.9   0.7   18.2   14.3
Al Jefferson       C   3   .489   0.0   9.1   2.2   0.8   1.3   1.7   17.5   14.1
DeMarcus Cousins   C   3   .477   0.0  10.0   2.4   1.4   2.6   1.0   18.4   14.1
Marc Gasol         C   2   .527   0.0   8.5   3.3   1.0   1.9   2.0   13.9   13.4
Paul Millsap      PF   3   .506   0.1   7.9   2.7   1.6   1.8   1.0   15.7   13.4
Greg Monroe        C   3   .531   0.0   9.2   2.0   1.5   2.0   0.6   15.3   13.4
David Lee         PF   4   .509   0.0   8.9   2.9   1.1   2.2   0.4   16.6   13.2
Zach Randolph     PF   2   .479   0.1  10.5   2.2   1.0   1.7   0.3   15.7   13.0
Ryan Anderson     PF   4   .422   3.3   6.8   1.0   0.9   1.2   0.6   17.1   12.7
Danilo Gallinari  SF   4   .419   1.9   4.4   2.2   1.0   1.4   0.6   16.4   12.6

SCORE: average Hollinger's Game Score.

Check out our Pro Basketball Prospectus 2012-13 homepage for more details and to order our annual guide to the NBA, available now in both PDF and paperback format.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Follow Bradford Doolittle on Twitter.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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