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The Top Game Changers of the 2016-2017 Season (So Far!)

Today I'm going to go over the biggest Game Changers (so far) of the 2016-2017 NBA season. As a reminder, I consider a "Game Changer" to be a player whose performance is such that if you replaced them with an average player in a game, the outcome would have changed. For this, we use the Points over Par metric. As a reminder, this is the margin we'd expect a team of average players (and our player) to beat an opposing team of all average players by. It is basically the Wins Produced formula adjusted to point margin. With that in mind, here we go!

The All-Winning Game Changers - LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, JaMychal Green

Let's start with players that were the difference makers for their team without ever costing their teams a game. The top three players in this category are LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, and JaMychal Green with five games each.

LeBron James

Game MP Points (TS%) TRB (ORB) AST TOV STL BLK PF PoP
12/10 (CHO 116-105) 42.5 44 (78.7%) 9 (1) 10 5 3 1 3 13.8
11/15 (TOR 121-117) 38.1 28 (72.2%) 9 (0) 14 5 1 0 2 9.1
12/5 (@TOR 116-112) 42 34 (56.7%) 8 (3) 7 1 2 0 2 6.5
11/27 (@PHI 112-108) 41.5 26 (56.6%) 10 (2) 13 5 1 0 0 5.3
11/5 (@PHI 102-101) 35.9 25 (47.9%) 8 (1) 14 5 2 0 1 2.5

LeBron has been key on both sides of the spectrum. He helped the Cavs squeak three close wins against the top of the East in Charlotte and Toronto. He also helped keep the Cavs from embarrassing losses to the 76ers. Is it really a surprise that LeBron James is a difference maker?

Tristan Thompson

Game MP Points (TS%) TRB (ORB) AST TOV STL BLK PF PoP
11/3 (BOS 128-122) 31.1 15 (85.6%) 14 (4) 1 0 1 3 1 10.5
10/28 (@TOR 94-91) 36.5 11 (93.5%) 10 (3) 1 0 0 1 1 8.6
11/15 (TOR 121-117) 29.8 15 (88.9%) 11 (3) 0 1 0 1 2 5.7
11/5 (@PHI 102-101) 29.6 7 (50.9%) 13 (6) 0 0 0 2 2 5.4
12/5 (@TOR 116-112) 28.9 6 (51%) 14 (4) 1 1 0 2 1 4.3

Tristan is just like LeBron in helping the Cavs keep the Celtics and Raptors at bay while also preventing a sad loss to the 76ers. It is worth noting that both LeBron James and Tristan Thompson were difference makers in three overlapping games. Shocker, sometimes close wins need multiple star performances!

JaMychal Green

Game MP Points (TS%) TRB (ORB) AST TOV STL BLK PF PoP
11/2 (NOP 89-83) 30.7 21 (87.5%) 6 (2) 2 1 1 0 4 10
11/23 (@PHI 104-99) 33.9 10 (72.7%) 11 (3) 1 1 0 1 3 6
12/3 (LAL 103-100) 34.2 16 (57.6%) 13 (7) 1 0 0 3 3 4.5
12/1 (LAL 95-94) 27 8 (82%) 7 (0) 3 0 2 0 5 4.5
11/26 (@MIA 110-107) 33.2 12 (87.2%) 7 (1) 1 0 1 1 3 3.4

JaMychal amused me on this list as his overall performance is basically average (as of when I wrote this article) That said, he's been huge to the Grizzlies win-loss column. It's worth noting the Grizzlies are in the playoff race in part because they're outperforming their expected wins by several games. Part of this is thanks to winning close games, which they can thank JaMychal for!

Game Changers - Net Positive Winners, but a Mixed Bag - Alex Len and Damian Lillard

Regarding the most games that would have been losses without their stars, both Damian Lillard and Alex Len racked up more than our first list (six wins total). That said, both Damian Lillard and Alex Len had two games each where they played so bad their teams would have preferred they had taken the night off. Here's a rundown.

Damian Lillard

Game MP Points (TS%) TRB (ORB) AST TOV STL BLK PF PoP
11/13 (DEN 112-105) 33.2 32 (65%) 8 (2) 6 1 4 0 0 15
11/4 (@DAL 105-95) 37 42 (86.9%) 4 (0) 4 1 0 0 4 14.7
10/25 (UTA 113-104) 35.4 39 (81.4%) 9 (1) 6 4 0 0 3 11.2
10/29 (@DEN 115-113) 41.4 37 (63.4%) 5 (1) 7 5 3 1 2 7.3
12/5 (@CHI 112-110) 34.4 30 (57.3%) 4 (0) 7 0 2 2 2 5.7
11/11 (SAC 122-120) 42.4 36 (78.4%) 1 (0) 7 5 0 0 1 4.4
12/8 (@MEM 86-88) 36.2 19 (45.1%) 3 (1) 2 1 1 0 5 -3.1
11/2 (@PHO 115-118) 39.9 27 (51.1%) 5 (0) 5 2 1 0 5 -4.5

Lillard's a scorer, and when he's on boy do his opponents feel the burn (in particular, my Nuggets!) Of course, Lillard has had a few games where his shot wasn't sinking and where Lillard was a bit foul happy. Regardless, Lillard is playing great, unlike the rest of the Blazers.

Alex Len

Game MP Points (TS%) TRB (ORB) AST TOV STL BLK PF PoP
11/2 (POR 118-115) 21.4 18 (71.2%) 6 (4) 1 0 0 3 2 8
11/9 (DET 107-100) 37.1 16 (63.3%) 14 (1) 0 0 3 1 3 7.3
11/23 (@ORL 92-87) 34.9 17 (67.2%) 12 (4) 0 3 0 2 2 5.1
12/9 (@LAL 119-115) 34.1 14 (59.5%) 13 (5) 2 1 0 5 4 4.8
11/30 (ATL 109-107) 23.2 6 (75%) 9 (4) 0 2 1 2 3 4.1
11/4 (@NOP 112-111) 14.8 4 (41%) 10 (3) 1 1 0 0 3 1.7
12/11 (NOP 119-120) 15.3 6 (39.3%) 4 (1) 1 0 0 1 4 -3
10/28 (@OKC 110-113) 14.2 3 (30.7%) 0 (0) 0 1 0 1 4 -6

Len is a lot like JaMychal Green, a mostly mediocre player that's been a key player in a few games. I will give Len major props for making such a big different in under twenty-four minutes multiple times, including an impressive close win against the Blazers.

Get off the Court! Emmanual Mudiay

This entire category goes to one player. Mudiay hasn't been crucial in any Nuggets win but has been a big part of why they lost five games.

Emmanual Mudiay

Game MP Points (TS%) TRB (ORB) AST TOV STL BLK PF PoP
11/8 (@MEM 107-108) 35.8 23 (66.1%) 4 (0) 7 7 0 0 4 -2.6
10/31 (@TOR 102-105) 32.9 16 (42.6%) 6 (1) 4 2 0 1 1 -3.8
10/29 (POR 113-115) 38.3 21 (46.4%) 7 (0) 4 5 3 0 3 -4.3
12/7 (@BKN 111-116) 18.3 6 (25.5%) 2 (1) 1 0 0 0 1 -6.8
11/13 (@POR 105-112) 29.5 8 (23.7%) 2 (0) 0 2 0 0 2 -14.3

Mudiay has no business taking over ten shots a game. He is off to the worst scoring performance in NBA history. He's also turnover prone. These two factors make him ill-suited to be a point guard. Here we are, and the Nuggets have felt the pain. What's sad is one of Mudiay's games he actually shot well but still hurt his team with seven turnovers and four personal fouls! It is fair to note that Mudiay hasn't been the only player that played horribly in all of these Nuggets losses. In four of these games, had another Nugget been average, they could have won. The Nuggets have several flaws this season; Mudiay is just currently the worst one.


Just as a last note, a lot of why players are "Game Changers" has to do with both their team mates and who they play against. That said, it's still fun to zoom in on which players are helping their teams in close wins and losses.

Can we get a collective shout-out to the three Jazz players averaging ~20 mpg and seriously negative PoP48's?
Is there a way to see this data on our own for any player any game?
Where does Giannis stack up? Bucks seem like a 2-3 man team right now.
This is an analytics question which is more important shooting at a high percentage of getting to the free throw a lot of times? The reason I'm asking is Bryan has tweeted before that derozan's hot shooting streak from the midrange has now regressed but then there are people who claim that shooting regression does not matter since the raptors get to the free throw line anyway, so which is which?
TS% is what matters. Shooting at a high percentage and lots of free throws both contribute to high TS%, but the high TS% is what actually matters.
BlueSun, there's supposed to be, but it doesn't work.
BlueSun, there's supposed to be, but it doesn't work.
DeRozan is still having an above average year (even though he's overpaid).

It's more that he's not Jordan (the article I was responding to), and Lowry, Valanciunas, and Ross are more responsible for the Raptors playing well right now.

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