Some weeks ago I googled a question that I thought would have an easy answer: all things being equal, which position should you draft? Which is the best position to build around?
I couldn't find a single article from a reputable source dealing with this specific question, so I put matters in my own hands. First I found this reddit guy who pulled together an "Average per 36 min stats for each position chart". Sadly the chart is full of counting stats, and we don't know if it's accurate or if it includes one or several seasons of data. But it does include TS, so let's check the averages: PG 52.30%, SG 53.75%, SF 53.23%, PF 54.10%, C 54.44%. And while counting stats don't mean much by themselves, let's give a quick look at points per 36 mins: PG 15.7, SG 15.3, SF 13.7, PF 15.4, C 14.1.
With SFs leading the NBA in scoring and efficiency these past seasons, it was shocking to find out it was the position which scored the fewest points while doing it inefficiently. The reality is SF is just top heavy, if you want high volume high efficiency players you have Lebron, Durant, and that's it.
Power forwards came out as the winners to me, being a close second in both points and TS%. I think these two stats are relevant because in the end, to win an NBA championship you need a go-to guy to score a lot of points in an efficient way. Every single finals MVP is the guy who score the most points, and you want to score those points by taking the fewer shots possible. Rebounds, assists, and defense are fine, but in the end the game is won by the team that score more points.
Then I found this amazing chart from this website which shows the average player efficiency rating (PER) of players who averaged at least 10 minutes at each age, separated by their primary position, since 1990:
If we focus on the "prime" years (23/32) we can see PF is by far the best ranked position, with PG being second.
In the graph you can appreciate the steep learning curve for PGs and how Cs production tend to go down with age. The peak in the end means that probably only the best players continue playing after 33, although old SF and SG are pretty much useless after that age.
But of course, as we all know, PER is not the absolute stat. As this random guy states after a good research (you should all read):
PER gives far more credence to players who dominate the ball, and tend to shoot the ball a lot, or set up other players, while shooting a low %. The most obvious examples would be Monta Ellis, Tyreke Evans, Kemba Walker, John Wall, or Jamal Crawford, and/or poor rebounding big men who don't shoot particularly well, such as Chris Kamen and Demarcus Cousins.
WS gives far more credit to players who are very efficient shooters, ie take shots they have a high probability of making, and as such do not shoot as often, are very good 3 point shooters, and players who rebound very well. Some examples would be
Also, while averages are good indicatives, we really should be looking at elite players. So I checked the past five seasons to see who were the top 10 players in Win Shares, PER and TS, and of course, which position they played. I only considered players playing more than 40 games and averaging more than 30 minutes per game. There wasn’t an option to filter low scoring guys, so the TS bit may not be very accurate as Tyson Chandler and Vuc came up, and I don’t think anyone is drafting those two to be their main offensive go-to guy. Anyway, I pulled up these numbers:
As you can see PF wins again in both WS and PER, while PG and SG are non existent in WS; with PG doing better in PER probably, as stated above, because PER benefits ball dominant players thar are better passers than shooters. SG came up last in both categories, and C was way better at WS thatn at PER. SF was in the middle, but really it was just James and Durant coming up again and again.
PFs did struggle to reach the top 10 in TS where SF clearly wins. Odd enough Shooting Guards are not that good at shooting.
Finally I found this other reserach by basketball reference, were they search for "how many championships were won by teams whose best player was a PG, SG, etc." There are four categories: Best players by WS and best player by Hollinger’s Game Score (not PER!) in regular season (RS), and best by WS and PER but just counting the playoffs (PO)
Jordan, Kobe and Wade made SGs look really good, and Point Guards played a big role in the 80s. But if you look to the 1999/2009 stats you can see PFs are more dominant and there are almost no PGs, barring Detroit’s bizarre championship team which really had no true "best player". There are no SFs; Lebron which won after this study was made, was the first SF to lead a team to a title since 1984.
So after all this, which position should you build around? There’s really no clear answer, but data tends to suggest this:
1) Small Forwards and Shooting Guards did pretty bad in almost all researches, it was definitely a trend. But they did lead their teams to several championships. It seems wings are pretty black and white positions, you are either drafting a hall of famer, or a role player.
2) Point Guards got mixed results, they didn’t rank high as Win Share leaders, they did quite well in most studies, but they came up short in winning championships. Bulls, Lakers, Heat, didn’t need PGs to win several titles. Orlando got to the finasl with Redick and Turkoglu playing having heavy PG duties. Billups only averaged 16.9 points and 5.7 assists the year they won it all, those are mediocre numbers for an AllStar PG and shows it was more a team effort thatn Billups carrying them. Tony Parker? I can give you that one, but really he is a SG that plays PG because he is to small top play SG. So while PGs will put up good numbers, I wouldn’t build around them because it seems they don’t win you championships.
3) Bigs: Centers and Specially Power Forwards fared well in almost all studies, It must be noted though, that since Shaq left the Lakers no C lead his team to a title. So I think I am sticking with Power Forwards. Tim Duncan, Nowitzky, Garnett, maybe even Gasol, lead several teams with different styles of play to titles. Power Forwards are the complete opposite of wings. While the charts show that wings are either great or below average, PFs seem to be consistently good. If you don’t draft a HOF wing then you are probably drafting a below average NBA player. Meanwhile if your PF is not a HOF there are still plenty of chances he will be an above average player. I do think that wings have a higher ceiling than PFs. The best PF is probably not such a good scorer (see the top-10 TS chart) and not as dominant as the flashier wings. They fly under the radar, but they get the job done.
Anyway, this is just the beginning, you probably have your own stats to share, and a different analysis of the researches. So what do you think, based on facts, which is the best position to build around?