NBA teams normally have to worry about injuries or illness forcing players to the sidelines, but there’s a new issue to contend with as the league’s restart in Orlando looms. Several players, with possibly more on the way, have elected not to participate in the rest of the 2019-20 season for various reasons, ranging from health to social justice. The players have every right to make that choice, but it leaves their teams with questions about how to replace them.
With that in mind, we took a look at the players who have already opted out of competition in the bubble, and tried to figure out which players would be hardest and easiest to replace, statistically speaking. Since no single figure fully encapsulates a player’s impact, we took the average of the player’s rank in five stats designed to measure overall value: real plus-minus (RPM), box plus-minus (BPM), value over replacement player (VORP), win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) and player efficiency rating (PER).
That left each player with an overall “stat rank,” which gives you an idea of where they stand in comparison to the rest of the NBA. With this method, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo’s stat rank would be 1.2, whereas a relatively average player like James Ennis would have a stat rank of 305.8. That should give you a little bit of context for what these numbers mean, and how difficult the players will be to replace for the rest of the season. For good measure, we also looked at the team’s net rating with that player on and off the court this season.
*Stat rank averages RPM, BPM, VORP, WS/48, and PER
Stat rank: 395.4On/Off net rating: minus-7.6
On the surface it may seem like losing a wing playing over 20 minutes per game would be a harsh blow to the Nets, but Chandler has been pretty ineffective in his 35 games this season following a PED suspension to start the year. Brooklyn has been 7.6 points worse than their opponents per 100 possessions with Chandler on the court this season, so they might actually be better off divvying up his minutes among their other wings. This will also allow Nets coach Jacque Vaughn get more minutes out of the lineup of Spencer Dinwiddie (if he goes), Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince and Garrett Temple, which has a plus-11.6 net rating this season in 208 minutes.
Stat rank: 312.6On/Off net rating: plus-0.8
This is where stats seems to come up a bit short of contribution, as most would agree that Bradley opting out is a significant loss for the Lakers. The question is whether they can break even by giving his minutes to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and newly signed JR Smith. Bradley helps the Lakers positionally by defending opposing guards, which allows LeBron James to assume point guard duties on offense, and the team has been better defensively with Bradley on the court. The stats indicate Bradley’s absence won’t sway the Lakers’ title hopes one way or another, but given his playoff experience and basketball IQ, they’d certainly rather have him out there.
Stat rank: 308.4On/Off net rating: minus-2.6
Oladipo is perhaps the biggest name player to opt out thus far, and his case is a puzzling one. On one hand, he would have been more than capable of making a huge difference in the Pacers’ postseason. On the other hand, the evidence over the course of his 13 games with the team suggested he’s still far from being the All-Star fans have come to know and love in Indiana. Oladipo was clearly improving, but the Pacers were worse with him on the court and there’s no telling whether he would have improved enough by the start of the playoffs to make a significant impact. Unfortunately, we won’t get the chance to find out, and the Pacers — already thin in the backcourt after the loss of Jeremy Lamb — will have to lean on Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott to fill those wing minutes, with players like T.J. McConnell, Aaron Holiday and Edmond Sumner likely getting more run.
Stat rank: 292.4On/Off net rating: plus-0.6
A veteran defender, Sefolosha played just over 10 minutes per game for the Rockets this season and didn’t see the court in six of the team’s final seven games before the hiatus in March. He wasn’t a huge factor for the Rockets, even in their small-ball configurations, and they’ve already replaced him with Luc Mbah a Moute, whom our James Herbert says can make a huge impact on Houston’s defense despite not having played in an NBA game since October of 2018. It’s possible that the Rockets have actually upgraded by Sefolosha choosing to sit out.
Stat rank: 219.2On/Off net rating (with Blazers): plus-8
Ariza’s stat rank is skewed since he played half the season in Sacramento, where he was dreadful offensively. Since joining Portland in January, however, he’s been a key part of Portland’s thin wing rotation, so losing him makes the Blazers’ path to the postseason in Orlando that much harder. The Blazers were a plus-8 with Ariza on the court this season, and he was essential to one of the team’s best lineups (plus-5.6 net rating in 230 minutes) alongside Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside. Perhaps the worst part for the Blazers is that, already without Rodney Hood, they’ll be forced to play wings like Gary Trent Jr. and Nassir Little, who have not been great and don’t have a modicum of the playoff experience that Ariza possesses.
Stat rank: 135.8On/Off net rating (with Mavericks): minus-1.1
Cauley-Stein’s advanced metrics are pretty good, but that’s largely from his time playing a prominent role with the Warriors this season. Since joining Dallas he’s been in and out of the rotation, so his impact in Orlando likely would have been minimal. That being said, without Dwight Powell certain matchups will present a problem for the Mavericks, and it would have been nice to at least have the option of throwing Cauley-Stein out there for 8-10 minutes here and there to be a lob threat and rim-runner. As it stands, they’ll probably lean heavily on lineups with Kristaps Porzingis at center, which have been incredibly effective this season. So overall, not much of a loss here for the Mavs.
Stat rank: 115.6On/Off net rating: plus-7.3
The Wizards were equally terrible defensively with or without Bertans on the floor this season, but they turned into an offensive juggernaut during his minutes, scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions. Due to the volume and efficiency of his 3-point marksmanship, Bertans is ranked 23rd in ESPN’s real plus-minus, just ahead of All-Stars Rudy Gobert, Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum. The other advanced stats aren’t quite as friendly toward Bertans, but there’s absolutely no doubt that he is the most important player on the Wizards roster not named Bradley Beal. Without Bertans, the Wizards’ slim hopes of making the postseason dwindle even further.
Stat rank: 81.8On/Off net rating: minus-1.5
It may be slightly surprising that statistically Jordan is the most impactful player to opt out of Orlando so far — whether you agree with those stats is up to you. Jordan is in the top 60 this season in BPM, VORP, PER and WS/48, but falls all the way to 214th in real plus-minus, which seems like quite an outlier. The higher rankings are somewhat perplexing, however, when you see that the Nets have actually been 1.5 points per 100 possessions worse with Jordan on the court. He entered the starting lineup for the final two games before the shutdown — both wins — so the Nets have essentially lost their first-string center. Jordan was also a part of one of the team’s best lineups this season (plus-13.1 in 86 minutes), with Dinwiddie, Harris, Prince and Garrett Temple. Jarrett Allen will have to absorb more minutes, with more small-ball lineups likely on the way for Brooklyn.