Eastern Conference Evaluations Via PER

Charlie Danoff

Reader, in my column this week, I will give you a gift. This gift, a relatively obscure NBA statistic called the Player Efficiency Rating (PER), is the ammunition needed to win any ridiculous pro basketball argument you may have in your life. I will use it to evaluate the top five teams in the East. I hope you will agree with me in assuming them to be Detroit (29-18), Washington (28-19), Chicago (28-21), Cleveland (27-21) and Miami (23-25). Although Miami has a poor record, they will be just fine, I promise. On a side note, I hope they win the Finals after not trying in the regular season.It gives hope to slackers and procrastinators everywhere.

Player Efficiency Rating (PER) was created by NBA statistical guru John Hollinger and it is defined as the “overall rating of a player’s per-minute statistical production.”I could go into the mathematics of it, but that’s a waste a time. However, you should know that the league average (i.e. average player) is 15.00 every season. The stat has its flaws in that it’s not really subtle or comprehensive enough to give perfect comparable numbers for different players, but it is one of the best stats available today.

Hollinger’s latest rankings have Dwyane Wade as tops among NBA starters in PER at 29.63. Teammate Shaquille O’Neal has missed all but nine games this year due to injury, but he is still a productive player. His PER was at 27.03 two seasons ago, a number which would be good enough for third best in the NBA this year, better than Tim Duncan’s PER of 25.57. So when I write that Miami will be fine, it is because they have not only the two best players in the conference, but two of the top ten players in the league.

The Detroit Pistons’ best players are their all-stars Chauncey Billups (22.63) and Richard Hamilton (20.21).Important to note is Rasheed Wallace’s disappointing year (15.37, just above average) and Webber’s good play since coming over from Philadelphia (19.82 with Detroit). The Wizards sport a three-headed attack of Gilbert Arenas (24.7), Caron Butler (20.11) and Antwan Jamison (19.07), but the team will struggle with Jamison out with a sprained knee. The Bulls top two players are Ben Gordon (19.3) and Luol Deng (18.79).Cleveland has LeBron James (24.15) and a bunch of overpaid stiffs.

It seems to be that Miami would be the overwhelming favorite if PER were the only determinant.Detroit and Washington have a couple of good players each, while the Bulls don’t have anyone with a PER above 20. Cleveland has LeBron James, but he does not have Shaq by his side.Even without Shaq for most of this year, Wade has a higher PER than James anyways.

PER is not a perfect way, nor is it even the best way, to predict future wins statistically. For example, Jeremy Richardson of the Hawks, a fringe NBA player who has only played eight minutes this season, has a higher PER (32.4) than Wade. Predicting wins is not possible anyways, that’s why the players play the games and why we watch. PER is, however, an excellent tool which can fuel any NBA argument and help people understand the league better.