. This is what happens when you let stats get in the way of what your eyes see and things you can't measure. Faried above Aldridge? I think this guy is valuing fantasy sports above reality but is flat out ranking bigs for this season in this manner. Move Anderson down to around 9-10 or less and everybody else up a spot. Flip Aldridge for Faried.... let Davis play a freaking NBA game before declaring him the 7th best big in basketball.
The NBA has forever been known as a league of giants. In a general sense, that hasn't changed.
The average height for an American male adult is about 5-foot-10. In the NBA universe, that height is an aberration. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the average height in the league has rounded off at 6-foot-7 in each of the past 32 seasons. Just 25 players 5-foot-10 or under have appeared in a game during that span. What is the percentile rank of the height of a 6-foot-7 American male? Beats me. Every chart I could find cuts off at 6-foot-4, which in itself tells you something. These "bigs" represent just about the top 2-3 percent of all of us, but an unusual, yet still minuscule, portion of those people are playing professional basketball.
So yes, the NBA is a giant's league. But it might be getting smaller. The traditional big man has seen his importance reduced over the years, and a trio of trends point to this conclusion:
1. The advent of the 3-point line
2. The evolution of positionless lineups (i.e., the 2011-12 Miami Heat)
3. The NBA's crackdown on hand checking
And yet, NBA fans continue to be fascinated by the physical marvels and production of bigs. They are able to score and dominate a game and still play a crucial role in rim protection and rebounding.
Thus, we bring you The Big Man Barometer. Each week, we'll be tracking how big men are used across the league and measuring their production. Using NBAPET, my system for evaluating and tracking the league, we'll monitor the lineups coaches are using on a possession-by-possession basis and ranking the players in the "big" positions that we've always called center and power forward. And with the advent of "positionless" lineups, in any given week, some players might be "big" one week, and not the next. So the barometer will be fluid and could feature new names every week.
Our system will measure the production of players only when they play the 4 or 5, which means that LeBron James and any other small-ball candidate can slip into the rankings. The rankings will be based on each player's wins above replacement player (WARP) over the previous seven days while playing the 4 or 5, and will also incorporate a clutch factor using a basketball version of win probability added.
In addition to ranking the results of the past week, we'll also be projecting the next week going forward, which will be of interest to our fantasy-basketball-playing readers. These rankings will forecast weekly production based on quality of opponents and other scheduling factors.
Today, though, we'll keep it simple, more like a season preview. Using the SCHOENE projections from Pro Basketball Prospectus 2012-13, we'll rank the top 10 big men going into the season based on each player's base position. This will leave out James and other guys who are small in no other way but in an NBA context, but only for now. Then we'll spotlight three big guys who will be in action during the season's first two nights. The Big Man Barometer will run each Thursday.
So here are the projected top 10 big men for 2012-13:
1. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers (15.2 projected WARP)
The game's best big man is a traditional center with decidedly nontraditional athletic ability. Now Howard is in new environs and it will be fascinating to see the effect the Lakers' star-studded cast has on his numbers. He will also still be nursing his back, on which he underwent surgery this past offseason. But he has looked solid in preseason appearances.
2. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves (14.2 projected WARP)
In today's NBA, it's vital even in traditional lineups that one of your big men can knock down face-up jumpers. Love, of course, offers that with an excellent 3-point shot, plus the killer added value of premier offensive rebounding. This will probably be the only time we see Love on the barometer until after he heals from his hand injury in six to eight weeks.
3. Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Hornets (13.8 projected WARP)
Anderson's numbers have been tethered to Howard, and because of that, his projection is exaggerated. Still, in many ways Anderson has come to typify what coaches seek in a modern-day 4: 3-point shooting and defensive rebounding. However, it's left to be seen whether Anderson can do what he did in Orlando without Howard. Or was it that Anderson opened up the lane for Howard?
4. Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers (12.8 projected WARP)
The mobility required of current centers is an offshoot of the preponderance of pick-and-roll basketball and it applies to both ends of the floor. Bynum has that plus a back-to-the-basket skill set that is a throwback. As the featured player in Philly, Bynum will offer the old-school brand of inside-out basketball. It looks unlikely Bynum will be ready for the start of the season, but when he returns, he should make an instant impact on the Sixers.
5. Blake Griffin, Clippers (12.3 projected WARP)
Once upon a time, power forwards were either low-usage, dirty-work players such as Marc Iavaroni and Kurt Rambis, or more skilled musclemen such as Buck Williams, Truck Robinson and Karl Malone. Now you have Blake Griffin, who jumps like Jordan in his prime and gets down the floor as quickly as any player in the game. His lone weakness remains his poor free throw shooting.
6. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks (11.1 projected WARP)
Smith is a hybrid player who can swing between any of the three frontline positions. He's never developed the face-up game that would mark him as a true stretch player, though that's never stopped him from trying. Still, Smith offers a complete set of skills, with rebounding numbers that go up annually and elite weakside shot-blocking.
7. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets (10.9 projected WARP)
We may not have seen an impact defender with more upside on the other end of the floor since Tim Duncan. We have to remind ourselves that not only is Davis entering what once would have been his sophomore year in college, but he's just three years removed from being a 6-foot-2 guard. Davis is now a power forward on paper, but it will be fascinating to see how his position evolves as Hornets coach Monty Williams learns to fit players around him.
8. Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons (10.7 projected WARP)
A center during his first two years, Monroe is being transitioned to the power forward spot. That evolution may be gradual due to the construction of the 4-heavy Pistons roster, but the additions of Andre Drummond and Viacheslav Kravtsov portend this shift. With his excellent playmaking skills, Monroe isn't unlike top power forwards of the past two decades such as Kevin Garnett and Chris Webber. It's unlikely that he's ever going to be a stretch guy, however, which means that the Pistons are always going to lean on traditional lineups with him around.
9. Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets (9.1 projected WARP)
Faried is not a floor spacer, but he shows how elite skill sets always find a way onto the floor no matter what positional trends might be around the league. His stat line generates a list of comparable players that include a lot of centers, Howard being one of them. However, he's 6-foot-8 and has the mobility to guard stretch 4s while still being one of the top offensive rebounders in the league.
10. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers (9.0 projected WARP)
Aldridge has developed into one of the top offensive big men in the league, adding both usage and efficiency to his game on an annual basis. His numbers are very similar to those of Chris Bosh, only Aldridge is more efficient. With the Trail Blazers fielding an extremely young, transitional roster this season, it will be interesting to see if Aldridge becomes more of a volume scorer.
Bradford Doolittle is an author for Basketball Prospectus. Follow him on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.