Bruin Sports Analytics
Finding the All-NBA Average Team of 2019-2020
By: Franklin Liang
If the NBA is one big show, then its superstars are the main actors. We gravitate towards their talent, highlights, and accolades because greatness is simply second nature to them. If I said, “LeBron James,” you’d probably tell me, “3-time champ, 4-time MVP, and arguable GOAT” before I could blink.
We can’t help but categorize players: the best ball-handlers, the best centers, the best playmakers—you name it. It also works the other way around; we often analyze the worst defenders, 3-pt shooters, and free agency contracts.
A name will pop into our heads when we think of the best or worst of players, but things are less clear as we inch closer and closer to the middle of the spectrum. As sports fans, we spend so much time debating about the best players dominating the game and the worst players needing to step it up that we scarcely appreciate the players who simply play their role.
In terms of performance, they’re the average, the ordinary that complements the extraordinary. These players won’t be making the ESPN headlines on a night-to-night basis, but they support the superstars and balance out the team. They represent what any player of their position should contribute to their team. A star can’t lead the show without the supporting cast. Let’s find the average production of each position and the closest player that fits that mold.
Average Stats by Position
In order to qualify, a player must play more than both the average games played and minutes played for their position. Players that played multiple positions would divide their production amongst their multiple positions, and could only qualify as the average player of the position they most commonly played. For example, Marcus Morris played 19 games as a power forward and 43 games as a small forward. His stats would filter into their respective position’s averages, but he could only qualify as the average small forward if selected.
After gathering all of the data for the 2019-20 season, I averaged the stats of 529 different NBA players by position to find the average points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals for each position. Figure 1 displays all of the average data in a table, and Figure 2 visualizes that data in a grouped bar graph.
Per Figure 1, the point guards and shooting guards produce more points and assists per game as the primary playmakers. Conversely, the two front-court positions boast more rebounds and blocks per game as the interior presence. Small forwards are in the middle for every statistic except points per game. Figure 2 clearly highlights these disparities amongst the different positions in their average statistical production.
Finding the Most Average Players by Position
Referring back to Figure 1, I subtracted each and every player’s stats (PS) from their positional averages (PA) to find the residual difference between the actual stats and the average stats. I then divided that difference by the average stats to determine the value of the residual as a percentage of the average stats (RPAS). This also makes each statistic dimensionless so I summed the RPAS for points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks and divided by 5 to find the average RPAS (ARPAS) for each player.
Finding the minimum ARPAS for each position provides us with the player with the smallest deviation from their position’s average statistics. Figure 3 displays the most average player for each position for the 2019-20 season:
Center: Daniel Theis
Power Forward: Dorian Finney-Smith
Small Forward: De’Andre Hunter
Shooting Guard: Duncan Robinson
Point Guard: Markelle Fultz
These players also satisfied the conditions of playing more average games and minutes than their positional averages. Figure 4 visualizes each player’s basic production in a grouped bar graph.
Runner-ups for each position include:
Center: Derrick Favors
Power Forward: Kyle Kuzma
Small Forward: Glenn Robinson III
Shooting Guard: Gary Harris
Point Guard: Goran Dragić
According to Figure 3, most of the five players’ basic production only deviates from their position’s average stat line by at most 1.0 unit. The only exceptions are De’Andre Hunter averaging 2.4 more points per game, Dorian Finney-Smith averaging 2.0 more rebounds per game, and Duncan Robinson averaging 2.2 more points per game. On the other hand, all of Daniel Theis’ stats are within 0.5 units of the average center’s stats, and Markelle Fultz’s stats are within 0.7 units of the average point guard’s stats.
The starting center for the Boston Celtics, Daniel Theis is by no means the star player of the Celtics, but he’s a valuable rebounder and shot-blocker on defense. As the sixth leading scorer for the team, he can shoulder a small portion of the offensive load as someone who scores primarily off of cutting to the basket for an easy dunk. He may not be a member of the Celtics’ core, but his value as a rim protector and defensive presence was sorely missed when he went down with injuries.
As a small-ball power forward for the Dallas Mavericks, Dorian Finney-Smith uses his long frame and athleticism to defend the perimeter. He serves as a jack-of-all-trades player who can score a few points, grab some rebounds, and make a few assists. He still needs to improve his outside shooting to provide the Mavericks with another offensive threat, but he can do a little bit of everything on the court.
Fresh off his rookie season for the Atlanta Hawks, the 4th pick of the 2019 draft demonstrated his upside as a wing defender. With his long frame, Hunter excels in using his size to post up against smaller opponents to score near the rim. As a young player, he still needs to develop more offensive tools to become a more dynamic player alongside Trae Young, but he’s done more than enough to demonstrate his star potential in his very first season.
Duncan Robinson thrives in his niche role as a catch-and-shoot player for the Miami Heat. With Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragić running the offense, Robinson provides the team with much needed space across the court as a 3-pt threat. He’s slowly developed into one of the NBA’s most accurate shooters. However, Robinson needs to improve his defensive awareness to help his team on defense.
Markelle Fultz has found stability in his career as the Orlando Magic’s starting point guard. The former 1st pick of the 2017 draft hasn’t become the player everyone expected, but he does everything a point guard should do. A solid scorer and passer, Fultz uses his court vision to make plays for both himself and the rest of the team. However, his shooting needs more work if he wants to provide his team with a more diverse playbook.
Based on the data, the five aforementioned players most closely resemble the average production at their respective positions. Of course, this doesn’t account for advanced stats such as win shares or RPM that might tell otherwise. Even height and age might change the selection as players like 22-year old De’Andre Hunter would most likely not be the small forward selection as the average small forward is roughly 25 years old. In addition, this is a snapshot of time that only focuses on their 2019-20 season performance, not their whole career. All of these players are still below 30 years old and can still grow and improve their skills.
The five players’ statistical performances for the season match their team role and the expectations for their position. Theis and Hunter are defensive specialists that lack the offensive tools to play on their own. Robinson is the archetypical catch-and-shoot player that every modern NBA team wants, but his defensive skills leave much to be desired. Finney-Smith can contribute everywhere on the court, but doesn’t necessarily excel in anything. Fultz can score and pass like any point guard should, but he still needs to improve his all-around game to compete with other top point guards.
These players represent the average player for their respective positions, equipped with certain strengths and weaknesses that are representative of their position. They might not be the MVP candidates that we’re used to seeing, but they’re the benchmark that every player should be striving to accomplish. Front-court players should aim to dominate the boards and protect the rim. Backcourt players should prioritize scoring and making plays for the rest of the team. In an era driven by stars, it’s important to remember that basketball is a team sport. Winning doesn’t come from individual performance; it comes from playing your role—for the team.