Statistician Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight website focuses mostly advanced statistics and projections, and today they debuted a new metric for predicting the production of NBA players, dubbed "CARMELO." All the data used to calculate CARMELO is described here, but the statistic aims to "identify similar players throughout NBA history and use them to develop a probabilistic forecast of what a current NBA player's future might look like."
D'Angelo Russell's potential ceiling has been the most hotly debated topic among Los Angeles Lakers fans since the team decided to use the second overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft to select the freshman point guard out of Ohio State ahead of Duke's Jahlil Okafor, whom many thought was the safer pick as well as a natural fit to be the Lakers' next great big man in a long line of productive seven-footers. When the Lakers selected Russell, it was reported that they thought he showed the most superstar potential among the choices available to them. For what it's worth, CARMELO agrees with the Lakers' evaluation, projecting Russell (5.01) to average more wins above replacement than Okafor (3.3)over the next seven years:
While it is certainly fun to try and judge both of these guys now, even with FiveThirtyEight's pedigree, it is important to remember that these numbers are just projections based on past performance of other similar players, and will not be perfect predictors of the future. Still, it might be worth considering that Russell could be more of a sure thing than a lot of prognosticators seem to think.
Speaking of rankings, Kobe Bryant recently expressed his lack of concern with ESPN (FiveThirtyEight's parent entity) ranking him 93rd among all NBA players. Which is good, because he ranked even less favorably in CARMELO:
Again, this ranking factors in the past to predict the future. In this case, CARMELO is comparing Kobe to similarly aged players, and generally 37-year olds are not very good NBA players. Look at the comparisons:
CARMELO is also taking into account Bryant's most recent 2014-15 season, in which he shot 37.3% from the field with a ridiculous usage rate of 34.9, the fourth-highest of his career. With more talented teammates this season, and more importantly teammates he has went out of his way to publicly praise and defer to, he should be more efficient than his statistical history might lead some to believe. It seems that rather than projecting, we will have to see how things bear out on the court.