LeBron, Kobe, Dirk, Nash, or Shaq?

How does one even begin to compare point guards to centers to power forwards? The Player Efficiency Rating (PER) developed by John Hollinger to compare basketball players’ impacts based on the amount of time they play. The equation “sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.”

PER accounts for

  • the amount of time each player is on the court,
  • the team’s pace, so players on slow-paced teams aren’t penalized by scoring fewer points per minute, for example,
  • a league-wide average of 15,
  • a number of different ways a player can make an impact, such as points scored, free throws, rebounds, and assists.

What is interesting is that PER can be used to compare players in different positions (e.g., centers to guards), unlike other metrics such as the quarterback rating for football. So it can actually compare apples to oranges! I tip my hat to PER. Hollinger writes:

Bear in mind that this rating is not the final, once-and-for-all answer for a player’s accomplishments during the season. This is especially true for players — such as Bruce Bowen and Jason Collins — who are defensive specialists but don’t get many blocks or steals.

Like any formula for capturing performance, PER doesn’t capture the intangibles such as leadership, clutch performance, and the “It factor,” but it’s nifty nonetheless. And it appears to be much better than alternative ranking systems (that don’t try to compare players of different positions).

FYI, the NBA playoffs are underway. Yeah, I didn’t notice either.

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