ESPN finally released their Real Plus-Minus statistics for the 2018-19 NBA season on Monday, and Chicago Bulls fans are probably going to wish they didn’t.
But before wading through the muck, let’s define what RPM is really quick:
Drawing on advanced statistical modeling techniques (and the analytical wizardry of RPM developer Jeremias Engelmann, formerly of the Phoenix Suns), the metric isolates the unique plus-minus impact of each NBA player by adjusting for the effects of each teammate and opposing player.
The RPM model sifts through more than 230,000 possessions each NBA season to tease apart the “real” plus-minus effects attributable to each player, employing techniques similar to those used by scientific researchers when they need to model the effects of numerous variables at the same time.
RPM estimates how many points each player adds or subtracts, on average, to his team’s net scoring margin for each 100 possessions played. The RPM model also yields separate ratings for the player’s impact on both ends of the court: offensive RPM (ORPM) and defensive RPM (DRPM).
Added our guy Stephen Noh:
Before you @ me that RPM is dumb, here's my response. RPM is the best public all-in-one metric we have. It's not perfect and there are for sure things it gets wrong. It also fluctuates a lot early in the season. But it's a useful guide for ballparking player impact.— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) November 19, 2018
For starters, Jabari Parker ranks dead last. Like no exaggeration. He has the 430th-ranked RPM (-5.23) out of 430 players. Yikes.
Antonio Blakeney (422nd), Chandler Hutchison (392nd), Robin Lopez (381st), Cameron Payne (369th), Zach LaVine (367th), and Cristiano Felicio (346th) aren’t much better.
Surprisingly, Justin Holiday leads the Bulls in RPM (62nd; 1.31 RPM). The savvy veteran is the team’s best 3-point shooter (career-high 40 percent) and is probably the Bulls’ best perimeter defender with Kris Dunn out. The second-best Bulls player in this category is Ryan Arcidiacono. These two also lead the Bulls in Offensive Real Plus-Minus, with Holiday grading out as a top-40 player in the NBA based on this statistic.
Holiday has started all 17 games and Arcidiacono has had a key role this season, so it’s not like they are feasting against third-stringers in garbage time either. Holiday is a solid veteran and Arcidiacono has exceeded all expectations this season, but when those two guys (role players) are leading the way in RPM, that is why the Bulls are 4-13 and staring down the barrel of another tank season.
The individual Defensive Real Plus-Minuses (similar idea of using very fancy math to determine how many points a player adds or subtracts defensively) for the Bulls actually aren’t as bad as you’d think given that Chicago has the sixth-worst defensive rating in the NBA (110.9) this season.
Blakeney (429th), LaVine (427th), and Parker (415th) are way in the back. But, five Bulls players are in the top half of the NBA in this statistic and have a positive DRPM (Wendell Carter Jr., Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, Chandler Hutchison, and Shaquille Harrison).
Really, all of these stats confirm what we already know. The Bulls aren’t very good this season, and they might actually end up tanking worse than last year without actually making a conscious effort to do so.