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Introducing NBA Projections

By Brian Kotloff | November 21, 2014

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With the 2014-15 NBA D-League season officially underway, the newest group of players are beginning (or continuing) their quest to make it to the game’s greatest league — the National Basketball Association.

With direct affiliation with NBA teams, the NBA D-League is the best place for players to showcase their talents for NBA scouts and team executives as many NBA D-League teams run similar offensive and defensive systems as their NBA counterparts.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that a player averaging 30 points in the NBA D-League can replicate that level of production at the NBA level. Jumping from the minor league to the show brings with it a huge jump in competition as well as a reduction in playing time.

If only there was a way to project how an NBA D-League player would perform at the NBA level. Well, now there is, with the introduction of NBA Projections based on NBA D-League stats.

The NBA Projections — derived using insights from SAP and by running complex formulas through the Hana tool — are vital in evaluating NBA D-League players for a potential call-up to the NBA as they estimate a player’s production in the NBA based on how they have performed in its official minor league.

Before we get into the formulas and the math behind all of this, we need to make note of some key differences between the NBA and the NBA D-League. Looking at last season, we can see that NBA D-League games were played at a much faster pace, which resulted in inflated statistics compared to the average NBA game.

PACE
NBA Average Pace: 96.33
NBADL Average Pace: 103.1
Pace is defined as the number of possessions per 48 minutes

SCORING
NBA Average PPG: 101.0
NBADL Average PPG: 109.4

Not only does an NBA D-League player have to adjust to the increase in competition and overall talent level of the NBA, but the game itself is also played differently. It’s not quite the difference between playing pick-up ball versus a professional game, but with fewer possessions there are fewer opportunities to score, rebound, assist and more.

This difference is pace is accounted for in the projections, as is the issue of playing time. A player on the cusp of a call-up is most likely playing 30-plus minutes a night in the NBA D-League. However, once that call-up happens, that same player will most likely be on an NBA bench and playing far fewer minutes as they transition from the star of a NBA D-League team to a role player on an NBA team. To account for this dramatic change in minutes played, all NBA projections are done a per 36 minute basis.

So how are the projections made? Let’s walk through the process step by step.

    1. The player’s per 36 minute NBA D-League stats must be pace adjusted to the NBA D-League league average.
    2. The pace-adjusted stats are then plugged into the projection formulas in the following categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage.
    3. Running the player’s pace-adjusted per 36 minute NBA D-League stats through the formulas above provides the NBA projected stats (also per 36 minutes) for that player using the NBA average pace.
    4. In order to see how a player would project to a specific NBA team, another pace adjustment needs to be made — from the NBA league average pace to the team-specific pace. When viewing the NBA D-League player’s NBA Projections, you can see projections for the average NBA team as well as all 30 teams.

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One final important note to keep in mind. Since these projections have launched at the start of the 2014-15 season, we do not have sufficient data to work with from the current season. The projections are currently using data from the 2013-14 NBA D-League season and will continue to do so for the short term. Once a player has played 240 minutes in the 2014-15 season, his projections will then be based on this current season and update throughout the remainder of the season.

Here is how you can find all of this new data.

A new NBA Projections tab has been added to all NBA D-League player profile pages and provides the information described and illustrated above.

NBA Projections also have their own destination on the site, which allows you to compare the projections for all NBA D-League players and sort the data in all categories — both on the NBA D-League and Projection level.

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Also from this page, you can filter the data by NBA D-League team and/or by NBA team.

For example, this page will show you player projections for all NBA D-League players for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And this page will filter those player projections down to show only players currently playing on the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s NBA D-League affiliate.

These new NBA Projections provides yet another tool in evaluating the talented players in the NBA D-League as they try to work their way up to an NBA roster. And once they get there, these projections will give us a realistic expectation of the impact they can have at the next level.