There is more to looking back at projections than just figuring out where you were right and wrong. Statistical projections help us set baselines for a reasonable expectation of team and player performance. When you check in on those forecasts in progress, you're able to spot the kind of overachievers and underachievers that are the usual subjects of projections versus production. At the same time, you can look for certain markers that suggest whether a player is likely to maintain his new level of performance.
Given a large enough sample, one can almost bank on a "return to normalcy" in certain categories. For example, you'll find players who are shooting outrageously high (or low) percentages from 3-point range. As those players keep shooting, they will tend to move toward their career accuracy in that category, bringing their overall performance closer to their projection. We're going to look at three players today from this perspective. Two can expect their performances to normalize over the season's final weeks, one for the better, and the other for the worse. Finally, we'll identify one player performing at an unforeseen level of play who is likely to maintain his new standard.
SCHOENE, our projection system, forecasts a full suite of our favorite metrics, but the bottom-line number to watch is WARP (wins above replacement player), which measures how many more wins a player adds to his team's total than a freely available guy plucked off the scrap heap. While no single number can capture everything that happens in an interdynamic team sport like hoops, WARP points you in the right direction. When you see a WARP number that surprises you -- and remember, we know when to be surprised because we've predicted all these WARP scores -- the next step is to ask why. All the WARP numbers you see in this article have been prorated to 82 games, just to give the results an air of normalcy in this decidedly abnormal NBA season.
Headed for a fall
We've been clamoring for Anderson to get more playing time for a couple of years, and his improved numbers this season are partially explained by his increase from 22 to 31 minutes per night -- but only partially. Anderson, just 23 years old, has matured physically, allowing him to become more than just a spot-up big man. He's become a beast on the offensive boards, draws more fouls and has held up better defensively. These are improvements that you'd expect Anderson to maintain. In fact, if Dwight Howard is traded, look for a spike in Anderson's defensive rebound rate.
Still, while we had Anderson pegged as a very good player (9.8 WARP), the 16.7 prorated WARP he's on pace for places him fifth in the league. As good as Anderson is, he's not at that level. His numbers are in part propped up by his 43.4 percentage from 3-point range, which ranks just outside the top 10 in the league. Anderson is an excellent long-range shooter, but ordinarily you'd expect that figure to move toward his career mark of 39.3 percent. That said, Anderson has been remarkably consistent this season, so you never know. But if Orlando trades Howard, Anderson's number of clean looks is going to be drastically reduced.