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Stat of the Week: ESPN’s RPM marks for the Denver Nuggets

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Happy RPM Day!

Yesterday was “RPM Day” for NBA Twitter, a holiday for NBA analytics nerds.

RPM stands for Real Plus-Minus, an advanced metric created by Jeremias Engelmann of ESPN and designed to evaluate every player in the NBA on impact for their respective teams. Here is the definition for RPM and RPM Wins respectively, taken from the glossary of ESPN’s RPM page.

RPM: Player’s estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions. RPM takes into account teammates, opponents and additional factors

WINS: ”RPM Wins” provide an estimate of the number of wins each player has contributed to his team’s win total on the season. RPM Wins include the player’s Real Plus-Minus and his number of possessions played.

The exact formula utilized to calculate RPM is private, but the formula is vetted by some of the best statistical minds in sports, accounting for different statistics a player accumulates, whether that player is in a good position to succeed, and much more.

So, how did the Nuggets players do?

Most of the Denver Nuggets have performed well statistically this year.

A few notes

  • Marked on the table are a player’s Offensive RPM, Defensive RPM, RPM, RPM Rank versus the rest of the NBA, RPM Wins accumulated, and Wins Rank versus the rest of the NBA.
  • Replacement level for RPM is similar to Box Plus-Minus at roughly -2.0.
  • RPM is calculated across multiple years and weighted on previous seasons as well.
  • Reserves in the top 100 of RPM and/or RPM Wins are notable, even in the early stages of the season.
  • Only 14 Nuggets players have logged minutes thus far.

Five Observations

Nikola Jokic remains far and away the best player on the team.

Despite some recent games in which the team hasn’t played well with Nikola Jokic on the floor, the Serbian Center is once again a plus-minus megalord. Sitting at a +6.38 mark behind only Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies, Jokic has slightly improved over last season’s +5.97 mark. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Jokic currently leads the league in Box Plus-Minus at +10.8, and his combination of usage and efficiency as a scorer, playmaking as Denver’s de facto creator, and rebounding as a standard center pair nicely to maximize box score metrics. He may never crack the +6.73 mark from a historically efficient 2016-17 season, but his improved defense has certainly made for a fun conversation.

Paul Millsap’s offensive marks have steadily declined

Coming in with a -0.16 ORPM, Denver’s starting power forward’s mark sticks out for a starter that shares the court with Nikola Jokic for most of his minutes. Averaging a career low in points and minutes since over a decade ago, Millsap’s transition from focal point to complementary option has fully taken hold. Playing less with the ball in his hands than in previous seasons has put Millsap in a precarious position. Head coach Michael Malone has elected to close some games recently with Juancho Hernangomez or Trey Lyles at power forward next to Nikola Jokic. While Millsap’s general defensive acumen cannot be matched by Denver’s other options at the position, it will be interesting to see whether Denver elects to finish games with more offense on the floor, especially when behind in close games.

RPM numbers for Jamal Murray and Monte Morris reflect an interesting dilemma

A year ago, during Murray’s first full season as a starter, he finished with a +0.29 RPM, anchored by a sterling +2.62 ORPM mark. In 2018-19, his ORPM of +0.89 reflects a sizable step back. One of the reasons is his own struggles — a drop in efficiency (52.7 TS%) will do that. Another reason is improved play from Denver’s backup point guard position. Monte Morris has stepped into an important role for the Nuggets this year. Thought to be a placeholder for newly signed free agent Isaiah Thomas, Morris has outperformed that standard. With a +1.25 ORPM mark of his own, it should be no surprise that Denver’s offense runs just as smoothly with Denver’s backup point guard on the floor.

Monte Morris has proven himself very valuable in Denver’s point guard rotation.

It’s no secret that Monte Morris has been great for the Nuggets this year. By limiting his own mistakes and setting up the players around him, Morris has proven to be just what the Nuggets have needed. On a large sample size with Morris on the floor while Murray sits, the Nuggets have flourished to the tune of a +9.1 Net Rating. Whether this says more about Morris, more about Murray, or means nothing at all remains clear. Suffice to say, some Nuggets fans are interested in seeing how the team would look with Monte Morris running the show in the starting five.

Torrey Craig and Malik Beasley have had the most negative impact

While Craig is Denver’s only wing to post a positive DRPM, the ORPM sticks out like a sore thumb. His -2.30 mark ranks 392nd out of 430 total players. While it was unfair to blame the offensive struggles entirely on Craig given the shooting struggles Denver’s entire roster has had so far, Craig’s presence certainly didn’t help. Over 50 percent of Craig’s field goal attempts came from beyond the arc, yet the wing is shooting just 19.2 percent on those opportunities.

Beasley is perhaps the more surprising inclusion on the negative side. RPM has a tendency to underrate shooting guards in Beasley’s narrow role. His job is to shoot when he’s open, take advantage of limited opportunities, play solid positional defense, and attack in transition. Still, Beasley hasn’t quite found his outside shot consistently, and he does little of anything else to move the numbers in either direction. Denver’s a good defensive team when Beasley’s on the floor, but it’s hard to assign him too much credit for those five man units. It will be interesting to see whether Beasley’s numbers improve or decline as the season wears on.

The Nuggets are starved for depth

After cutting Torrey Craig out of the rotation, the Nuggets play nine players consistently. Given the current injuries on the roster, it’s hard to know how Denver would survive if they sustained any more (knocking on all of the wood in the universe). As Adam Mares pointed out on his Monday edition of Locked On Nuggets, Gary Harris is visibly limping on some plays. Nikola Jokic scared every Nuggets fan when he slipped against New Orleans. There are surely bumps and bruises behind the scenes that other players may need to rest eventually.

With Will Barton, Isaiah Thomas, Michael Porter Jr., and Jarred Vanderbilt sidelined, the other three players on Denver’s roster are Tyler Lydon, Thomas Welsh, and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell. The trust level for Michael Malone cannot be very high if any of those players is required to play sizable minutes, so here’s to Denver getting healthy again and giving their regulars the rest they need.