"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The National Player of the Year Metric

Markus Howard, National PORPAGATU! Champ | Photo by Brian Fluharty - USA Today

In terms of advanced stats, the general consensus is that Ken Pomeroy's website is king. But while I'm a huge fan of kenpom.com, if you are looking for the National Player of the Year, the site to go to is that of Bart Torvik.

On barttorvik.com, players are sorted by PORPAGATU!, and no metric has been more accurate in picking NPOY winners than that one. If your response to hearing PORPAGATU is "God bless you" you can find a more detailed description at Big Ten Geeks. For a basic definition, PORPAGATU! translates to "Points Over Replacement Per Adjusted Game At That Usage!" with the exclamation point included to reinforce how much more difficult it is to produce high levels of efficiency at high usage rates. Essentially, it's the basketball equivalent of WAR, the baseball metric for Wins Above Replacement. It tells you how much better (or worse) a given player is than if you put the average player in their position and asked them to replicate their usage.

To first determine why PORPAGATU! is such a crucial metric when evaluating the National Player of the Year race, let's look at the history of the NPOY winners since the metric came into use in 2008. In the table, I will shorten PORPAGATU! to "P" to make it easier to read.

Player P Score P Rank Usage Year
Zion Williamson 6.9 1st 28.2 2018-19
Jalen Brunson 6.4 2nd 26.1 2017-18
Frank Mason III 6.9 1st 25.5 2016-17
Buddy Hield 6.8 1st 28.4 2015-16
Frank Kaminsky 7.4 1st 28.1 2014-15
Doug McDermott 7.5 1st 32.8 2013-14
Trey Burke 7.3 2nd 28.9 2012-13
Anthony Davis 6.1 7th 19.1 2011-12
Jimmer Fredette 7.4 3rd 36.6 2010-11
Evan Turner 6.2 4th 34.5 2009-10
Blake Griffin 6.4 5th 31.1 2008-09
Tyler Hansbrough 6.8 3rd 26.6 2007-08

Looking at that, it should be pretty easy to see why I refer to PORPAGATU! as the NPOY Metric. Five of the last six NPOY winners ranked 1st nationally in PORPAGATU! All of the past seven winners were ranked no lower than 2nd in the nation.There is simply no single metric that is better at predicting the NPOY winner.

The highest PORPAGATU! ranked player on a single-digit seed has won
7 straight NPOY awards | Photo by Jeff Hanisch - USA Today 

In the history of the ranking, no one has won NPOY with a PORPAGATU! score below 6.1 or a ranking worse than 7th. So how do this year's NPOY candidates stack up? Let's take a look:

Player School P Score P Rank Usage
Markus Howard Marquette 6.7 1st 37.9
Payton Pritchard Oregon 6.4 2nd 28.1
Luka Garza Iowa 6.1 4th 30.3
Devon Dotson Kansas 5.7 6th 27.2
Malachi Flynn San Diego State 5.4 15th 25.6
Jordan Nwora Louisville 5.2 18th 26.5
Obi Toppin Dayton 5.2 19th 25.7
Cassius Winston Michigan State 5.1 23rd 30.2
Myles Powell Seton Hall 4.7 44th 33.7
Vernon Carey Jr Duke 4.3 68th 30.3

Looking at this list, a few things immediately become evident. It's clear there are only three players can even make a case for the NPOY award: Markus Howard, Payton Pritchard, and Luka Garza. Anyone outside of those three would be historically bad NPOY choices. While it could be argued that NPOY is about a combination of individual merit and team success, it is also the award that goes to a player who can be agreed on as one of the best in the country. It feels like a pretty tough sell to argue 15th ranked Malachi Flynn, much less someone outside the top-20.

It's also worth considering the factors surrounding the NPOY winners in the past 7 years that wasn't the PORPAGATU! king. The 2013 leader was Erick Green, who played for a 13-19 Virginia Tech team that missed the tournament, which opened the door for PORPAGATU! #2 Tre Burke. The 2018 leader was Trae Young, who fell out of favor during a six game losing streak that dropped Oklahoma to a 10-seed and allowed Jalen Brunson to win the award. In the past 7 years, the highest rated PORPAGATU! player in the country that played on a single-digit seed won the NPOY award. Every single time.

It's also worth noting the importance of the "At That Usage!" portion of the metric. Remember, the higher the player usage, the harder that player is to replace. So while Payton Pritchard and Luka Garza are having nice seasons and would be difficult to replace, it is far easier to replace a player with their usage rates than a player like Howard who is carrying a bigger load for his team, commanding more defensive attention, and still managing to be more valuable than any other player in the country.

Fellow Marquette blog Paint Touches noted on Twitter yesterday "it feels like Markus hasn't really been himself the last month or so" with a link to the recent PORPAGATU! chart. One of the great things about Bart Torvik's website is the ability to focus in on exact portions of the season. Here are the PORPAGATU! rankings for the country from January 12 to February 12:

PORPAGATU! standings from January 12, 2020 to February 12, 2020

Over the past 7 games for Marquette, Markus Howard is playing at a level that exceeds that of any player in the history of the PORPAGATU! measurement. Not only that, but none of the other NPOY favorites have even been ranked in the top-10 over that span (Garza is closest at 12th). What Howard is doing borders on unbelievable, and he's posted those numbers while "only" posting 40+ points once in that span (admittedly, as many times as the rest of the NPOY field has posted 40+ combined).

I mentioned in the scoring article that Howard commanded more defensive attention than any other NPOY candidate. It's time for the evidence to prove that. This next PORPAGATU! table looks at the "next best" players on each of the teams with NPOY candidates. After all, winning is easier when you have multiple stars. Here are PORPAGATU! scores of the 2nd ranked player on each NPOY candidate's team (or in one case...the 1st ranked player).

Player School P Score Usage
Jalen Crutcher Dayton 4.8 21.9
Joe Wieskamp Iowa 4.4 20.9
Tre Jones Duke 4.3 24.6
Xavier Tillman Michigan State 4.3 21.8
Chris Duarte Oregon 4.1 23.4
Udoka Azubuike Kansas 3.8 21.9
Dwayne Sutton Louisville 3.8 14.7
Quincy McKnight Seton Hall 3.7 21.7
Matt Mitchell San Diego State 3.4 23.5
Sacar Anim Marquette 2.6 19.6

The first thing I notice is that Tre Jones has the same P Score as Carey, so if you aren't even clearly the best player on your team, how are you in the NPOY race? Regardless, every team has at least one player besides their NPOY candidate who has a higher PORPAGATU! than Marquette's second best player, Sacar Anim. If you dig into the barttorvik.com database, you will find that in actuality, every team here except Seton Hall has TWO players who have a higher PORPAGATU! than Anim.

Sacar Anim's 2.7 PORPAGATU! is the lowest for NPOY sidekicks | Photo from Marquette Athletics

Not only is Markus Howard clearly the best NPOY candidate based on the best predictive NPOY metric, but he is performing at this level without the complementary production level the lesser NPOY candidates have. While guys like Anim, Brendan Bailey, and Koby McEwen have been able to step up at times in isolated games, Howard simply does not have the level of a consistent complementary performer that every other NPOY candidate has.

When one considers the value Howard brings compared to everyone else mentioned for the NPOY award, there's simply no comparison. Howard is not only the most valuable player in the country, he's performing as such without the level of contributions from teammates that other candidates receive on a nightly basis. In addition to that, as conference play heats up, Howard is playing at a level no other player has been able to sustain over the course of a season. This year, he's the only player in the nation who can be mentioned in the same breath as players like Zion Williamson, Frank Mason, and Buddy Hield while keeping a straight face. There are certainly some other good players out there, but in a year when the consensus is that college basketball is down, there is only one truly elite player worthy of National Player of the Year, and that player is Markus Howard of Marquette.

TL;DR Version:

  • Howard's 6.7 PORPAGATU! score leads the country; the PORPAGATU! leader has won 5 of the last 6 NPOY awards.
  • The top PORPAGATU! ranked player for a single-digit seed has won NPOY for 7 straight years.
  • No one has ever won NPOY with a PORPAGATU! score lower than 6.1 or ranked lower than 7th; Howard, Payton Pritchard, and Luka Garza are the only players to meet that criteria.
  • Howard's 8.3 PORPAGATU! score over the past month is higher than the highest full-season rating in history and represents the only NPOY candidate listed in the top-10 in that span.
  • Sacar Anim's 2.6 PORPAGATU! is the lowest of the "next best" player on any NPOY candidate's team & every team except Seton Hall has multiple supporting cast players with PORPAGATU! scores higher than Anim.

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