With the highly anticipated 73rd NBA season now being chronologically closer to us than the Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals, it’s time to hand out the final batch of accolades for the 2017-18 season – the 1st All-NBA Average Team.
You might remember Joe Harris winning the elusive 2017-18 Most Average Player award earlier this year. To become eligible for adding that trophy to his display case, Harris had to fulfill a wide array of statistical, analytical and eye-test requirements. The same formula will now be applied to determine who the most mediocre players are at their respective positions.
This is now the fourth year since the inception of the Most Average Lineup award. The selection process remained identical during that entire span, and since the method yielded pretty consistent results in terms of pure numbers so far, it shall remain unchanged in this rendition as well.
The first step of the process is determining the average values for five main statistical categories by using the median function on the ESPN’s leaderboard featuring players who participated in 70% of available games. Of course, unlike in Harris’ case when the analysis was based on the pool containing all qualified NBA players, five different leaderboards for five different positions will be used. The average values established using that procedure will provide the initial framework, or rather the prototype of the average player for each position.
The next step is finding players who are the closest to fitting into the average player mold. Once the best available candidates are found, they will be compared in terms of advanced stats and the eye-test, where having no extraordinary characteristics is positively valued.
So, without further ado, here are the last season’s most average players for each position, along with the data for previous seasons.
Average Point Guard
The nominees: De’Aaron Fox, Ish Smith
Both the Kings’ rookie point guard and the Pistons’ established veteran came incredibly close to the perfect average point guard in terms of basic stats. Fox and Smith posted the exact required assist average, and the deviations in terms of points and rebounds were minimal, with Smith gaining a slight advantage.
Here are some of the important numbers in chart form below:
Since that tiny advantage could not be considered the decisive factor, their respective Player Efficiency Rating for the previous season was consulted. For those who are not aware, PER is calibrated each season so that its average value is precisely 15.0.
Considering that Smith’s PER of 15.4 is much closer to the average threshold than Fox’s 11.2, it becomes clear that the 8-year veteran has a significantly better case for the label of the average point guard. Even common sense supports that decision, since Fox was still a rookie last season and wasn’t able to play fully to his strengths yet, while Smith is a 30-year old who has been considered a solid sixth/seventh man material throughout his whole career, which is exactly what is required in this context.
The 2017-18 Average Point Guard: Ish Smith
Average Shooting Guard
The nominees: Tyler Johnson, Courtney Lee, Marco Belinelli
The average shooting guard has apparently evolved into a more proficient scorer than in the past years, and the three final candidates reflect that. Johnson and Belinelli are known as strong, albeit streaky scorers, and Lee, who was the average shooting guard two years ago, has always been a reliable 3-and-D option.
Again, here is some important data by way of a chart from basketball reference:
In terms of basic stats, all three would be a justified selection for the middle-of-the-pack shooting guard. Not even PER helps break the three-way tie, since all three guys were pretty much identical in terms of efficiency last season. Looking at the Box Plus/Minus, however, shows that while Lee and Belinelli were net positives on offense and negatives on defense, Johnson was average at both ends of the floor.
Finally, other than perhaps his athleticism, Johnson doesn’t really stand out on the field in any other aspect. He doesn’t particularly hurt the Heat chances of winning on any given night, but is also not that impactful of a factor on the court. The only thing that could bother the Heat fans in this case is the fact that their front office is paying $19 million for nothing more than an average shooting guard.
The 2017-18 Average Shooting Guard: Tyler Johnson
Average Small Forward
The nominees: Dillon Brooks, Mario Hezonja, Jeff Green, Jae Crowder
There has been plenty of small forwards last season who neither thrilled their respective fanbases nor overly disappointed them. The two young guns, Brooks and Hezonja, had relatively promising, but not particularly strong years, while the two veterans, who were both on the Cavaliers roster at the start of the season, had pretty mediocre years – at least within the context of their careers.
While the basic statlines of the entire quartet support their candidacy for the average small forward, advanced parameters don’t favor two of the four players. Both Brooks, who was a rookie, and Crowder, who switched teams mid-season, were too far removed from the average values in terms of PER and BPM to be considered as valid average small forwards.
Among the remaining two candidates, the PER definitely favors Green, who finished the season with an efficiency rating of 14.8. Hezonja is, however, much closer to the typical small forward in terms of BPM, and also gains an edge in all the basic categories. Furthermore, Hezonja spent more time at the small forward position than Green who often filled in as a power forward, thus making Hezonja a clear-cut option for receiving the most average SF ribbon.
The 2017-18 Average Small Forward: Mario Hezonja
Average Power Forward
The nominees: Ersan Ilyasova, Trey Lyles, Marvin Williams
Ilyasova, Lyles and Williams are the three players who are the most viable options for getting their first most average team selections. In this case, the basic stats clearly favor Ilyasova, since he is the closest to fitting the mold of the average power forward in terms of points, rebounds and assists.
The next step, i.e. analysis of advanced stats, also strongly suggests that Ilyasova is the perfect choice for the title of the most average power forward. His PER of 14.6 and BPM of 0.1 are extremely close to the league-wide average values, which, coupled with his advantage in the basic stats department, puts him clearly ahead of the Hornets’ and the Nuggets’ big men.
After all, utilizing bigs who can stretch the floor with their soft touch, rather than fielding physical forwards who mostly reside in the paint, has recently become one of the most prominent trends, and Ilyasova as the average power forward clearly reflects that trend.
The 2017-18 Average Power Forward: Ersan Ilyasova
The nominees: Larry Nance Jr., Jarrett Allen, John Henson, Dwight Powell
After being titled the average center for two out of past three season, Robin Lopez is finally not even in the race this season. There are, however, four centers who may be considered average, at least in terms of their baseline numbers. At a first glance, neither of the four had a particularly outstanding season.
Big man chart:
Comparing their average stats to the stats of the average center, it seems as though Nance Jr. and Powell have the best case for getting away with it this season. Surprisingly though, both were far from being mediocre this season, at least from an advanced analytics standpoint. Powell and Nance Jr. posted a PER of 18.8 and 20.2 respectively, which put them both in the Top 50 players of the last season according to that metric.
With Allen and Henson, the situation was much closer, but Henson was more convincing in converging towards an average center in all categories than Allen was. Again, Henson seems like a solid choice since he was not a player who either greatly influenced the Bucks’ chances in a positive or a negative manner last season. He scored around the rim at a respectable clip, grabbed some rebounds, blocked some shots; exactly what you would expect from a center that is not a franchise player.
The 2017-18 Average Center: John Henson
Smith, Johnson, Hezonja, Ilyasova, Henson – this lineup definitely doesn’t ooze greatness; if we’re being honest, that starting five is sentenced to a tanking season from its very beginning. In a league that is so evidently driven by starpower, a team exclusively made up of average players is bound for failure, which is the likely destiny of this group.
Keep in mind, this team represents the average of all players in the league, not just the starters. Setting high expectations therefore wouldn’t be a smart move in the first place. After all, expecting a lineup composed of worst starters / best sixth men of their respective teams to consistently perform at the highest level is downright delusional.
However, if you add two or three stars to that team, they suddenly don’t look to shabby. Guys who know their roles and offer a balanced brand of offense and defense would provide a respectable support for the centerpieces carrying the team.
While the average players might be considered the foundation of the league, the stars are what the ultimate success of a team depends on. There have been just a few exceptions to that rule throughout NBA history, and this objectively unimpressive 1st All-NBA Average Team further confirms that premise.