Second-Tier Universe Cup Part 4

Article length: about 1,700 words.


Read up on part 1part 2, and part 3. Let’s keep the ball rolling.

 Paul George 2015-16

Notable Accolades: Regular Season – All-NBA 3rd Team, All-Defense 2nd Team, All-Star, 6th in Total Three-Pointers, 6th in Total Free Throws, 6th in Total Steals, 7th in Total Points, 7th in DWS, and 10th in DBPM,

Playoffs – 2nd in Points Per Game, 3rd in Free Throw Percentage, 3rd in PER, 1st in WS/48, 4th in BPM, T-1st OBPM,

Regular Season/ Playoffs Stats

basketball reference

basketball reference

Regular Season/ Playoff Advanced Stats

basketball reference

basketball reference

Okay, I’ll be open with my biases: I’m a huge LeBron fan. Because of that, I’ve watched an absurd amount of Cavs/Heat/Cavs games throughout the years while rooting against whomever LeBron’s team has played (except for the Bucks). Paul George (and the Pacers) was one of the teams I most feared. His emersion in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals revealed a young superstar who was absolutely not afraid of the moment. In his first game against the reigning champion Heat, Paul George dropped 27 (25 in the second half and overtime) including the ridiculous game-tying three in regulation, and the almost game winning free throws in overtime (we’ll chalk up his defensive overplay on James to George’s youth).


A year later, George meets the Heatles again in the ECF, and he once again brought his A-game. The Pacers only pushed the Heat to six games this year, but with their season on the line in Game 5, George electrified the home crowd with a 37 point (21 in the 4th quarter) and 6 steal performance. Dude was stripping players at half court, picking off passes on the perimeter, and flat out nailing jumpers over the likes of LeBron and Wade.

Here we have a superstar in the making losing two years in a row to the best player in the league while (kinda) matching his output. I’ve written about why I like players suffering defeat before tasting victory, so of course, this was George’s time. Wrong. After the 2014 ECF, George broke his leg trying out for Team USA, Lance bolted for Charlotte, David West started his ring chasing tour, and Hibbert left for the Lakers. When George started the 2015-16 season, his once great, grit-and-grind Pacers had been reduced to George Hill, Monta Ellis, and the rook Myles Turner AKA not a team that’s going to the ECF anytime soon.

And this is why I chose the 2015-16 version of George. He not only suffered defeat at the hands of LeBron, but he also spent the year before wondering if his career was over and if he’d ever be a part of a championship contender again. He learned that he still had the physical tools and skills to dominate, but now he had two ECF trips under his belt. He may have lost an inch or two off his vertical, and he might have been a quarter-step slower, but his numbers and shooting percentages didn’t reflect that. His advanced defensive numbers showed a slip, but we have to remember that he was no longer playing with Hibbert mountain behind him (who was a ridiculously underrated rim protector in his own right).

George convinced me of all this after his seven-game series against the Raptors. His 7th-seeded, 45-win Pacers went toe-to-toe with the 2nd-seeded, 56-win Raptors, and George, like everyone else watching, knew the pressure was on the Raptors after their catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Wizards and Paul “I Called Game” Pierce. George smelled blood, and he delivered by helping to shut down DeRozan and exploding offensively. He was simply the best player in the entire first round. Here are his numbers compared to Lowry’s and DeRozan’s:

DeRozan 17.9 31.9 16.7 87.2
Lowry 13.9 31.6 16.3 71.8
George 27.3 45.4 41.9 95.3

Okay, I’m about to throw some numbers at you, so stay patient for a moment. The following is a chart of all three players’ On/Off numbers followed by another chart that shows each of their Net Ratings

On the Court: ORTG On the Court: DRTG Off the Court: ORTG Off the Court: DRTG
DeRozan 107.1 104.1 106.7 99.2
Lowry 108.6 102.6 102.9 102.9
George 109.8 96.6 81.1 109.5

“On the Court: ORTG” means the number of points per 100 possessions a team scores while a player is on the court (the higher the better).

“On the Court: DRTG” is the number of points per 100 possessions a team’s opponent scores (the lower the better).

“Off the Court: ORTG” is the number of points per 100 possessions a team scores while a player is off the court (great players should cause their teams to score more while on the court).

“Off the court: DRTG” is the number of points per 100 possessions a team’s opponent scores while a player is off the court (great players should cause their team’s opponents to score less while on the court).

On the Court: Net Rating Off the Court: Net Rating Total Net Rating
DeRozan 3 7.5 -4.5
Lowry 6 0 6
George 13.2 -28.4 41.6

“On the Court: Net Rating” is how many more points per 100 possessions a team scores than its an opponent when a specific player is on the court (the higher the better).

“Off the Court: Net Rating” is how many more points per 100 possessions a team scores than its opponent when a specific player is off the court (a low number, such as a negative number, shows a team plays poorly when that player is off the court).

“Total Net Rating” is how many points per 100 possessions a team scores when a specific player is on the court rather than off the court (the higher the better).

I apologize about that dictionary tangent, but it’s all important to understand before you can really appreciate how valuable and dominant George was during that series. That’s the mark of a player that knows how to ramp up the intensity when his team needs it, and with his prior playoff experience, defensive prowess, and ability to spot-up, George is the exact sort of player the team needs.

Here’s how his theoretical skillset breaks down:

Playmaking Scoring Defense Rebounding
George 5 6 8 6

Let’s move on to our next team member.

Peja Stojakovic 2003-04

Notable Accolades: Regular Season – All-NBA 2nd Team, 4th in MVP Voting, All-Star, 1st in Total Three-Pointers, 2nd in Total Points, 6th in Three-Point Percentage, 8th in Total Free Throws, 1st in Free Throw Percentage, 2nd in TS%, 2nd in EFG%, 5th in Offensive Rating, 1st in OWS, 2nd in WS, 8th in WS/48, 4th in OBPM, and 9th in VORP.

Playoffs – [Crickets]

Regular Season/ Playoff Stats

basketball reference.PNG

basketball reference

Regular Season/ Playoff Advanced Stats

basketball reference

basketball reference

Since basketball is a constantly evolving game, it’s common to see players who would be more successful in today’s game as opposed to their own time (Andrei Kirilenko, Shawn Marion), and star players who wouldn’t fair as well in today’s game (Elton Brand, Jerry Stackhouse). Stojakovic falls squarely in the first category. While playing next to Divac and Webber, Peja primarily played the small forward position with lateral quickness that didn’t allow him to defend other small forwards that well. In today’s league, he would’ve slotted perfectly into the power forward position while being able to play the small forward position if needed.

Most people remember Ray Allen for revolutionizing the three-pointer during Reggie Miller’s decline, but it would be a disservice to Peja to not keep him in the same conversation as Allen. The below scatter plot shows the top-20 players by total three-pointers made during the 2003-04 season. The X-Axis shows the total threes made while the Y-Axis shows that player’s three-point percentage.


You see that dot in the upper right-hand corner? The one that blew away the competition in both total threes and three-point percentage? Yeah, that’s Peja. Comparing his numbers to 2016-17’s top three-point shooters, his 240 threes would’ve ranked 6th (tied with Kemba Walker) and his 43.3% would’ve ranked 1st (out of the top-20). Essentially, his combination of size and shooting was way beyond his time.

On top of his transcendent three-point shooting ability, he was quite adept at drawing fouls where he was 8th in the league in total free throws while leading the league in free throw percentage. Remember that he accomplished all this while scoring the second most points in a league that had prime Duncan, Pierce, Allen, Kobe, Iverson, and Garnett! One big reason for this is that he thrived in Rick Adelman’s motion offense that really laid the groundwork for the likes of the modern-day Warriors. None of Divac, Webber, Stojakovic, Christie, or Bibby needed to pound the ball, so their combined basketball IQs lifted each other to greater heights.

But let’s address the elephant in the room: Peja’s playoff performance that season was terrible. Rick Fox alluded to Peja’s playoff struggles here, and he seems to be implying that Peja doesn’t “have it” when it comes to playoff performances. I think there’s more to it. First of all, with Webber going down early in the season with an injury, Peja carried much of the offensive load by averaging over 40 minutes a game during the season and playing at least 45 minutes in half of the Kings’ playoff games. Secondly, Chris Webber’s return drove a wedge into the Kings’ chemistry. He would say things like “This is still my team” and freeze out Peja in some offensive sets. In the Hardwood Paroxysm article I linked above, it states the following:

If there wasn’t a rift between Webber and Stojakovic, they surely fooled everyone watching the games. Webber actively ignored Peja during key junctures, looking away from a cutting Stojakovic to turn and call for an isolation jumper.

– Hardwood Paroxysm, “The Lost Season, Peja Stojakovic, 03-04,” 2012

Look no further than the Kings dropping from the 1st seed to the 5th seed and going 11-12 after Webber’s return. Under a less corrosive environment, I have no doubt that Peja would thrive throughout both the regular season and playoffs.

With all this in mind, Peja’s theoretical skillset is as follows:

Playmaking Scoring Defense Rebounding
Peja 6 8 4 6

Some may disagree with how high his playmaking ability is, but if a significant offensive player can thrive in a system based on ball movement, then I consider them a playmaker in the sense that they are an effective “Cog” (see my theoretical series to understand what this means). Also, Peja is the owner of one of the greatest assists in NBA history.

All right, we have seven players selected, so if you’ve stuck with me this long, hold on for another five players. Then we can move on to the next exciting section: analyzing this team.

All stats from basketball, and nbawowy.



3 thoughts on “Second-Tier Universe Cup Part 4

  1. Pingback: Second-Tier Universe Cup Part 5 | nbacademic

  2. Pingback: Second-Tier Universe Cup Part 6: Concluding the Roster | nbacademic

  3. Pingback: Second-Tier Universe Cup Part 7: The Coach, Team Strategy, and Defending the Cuts | nbacademic

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