So this happened:
That's right. Jerry Steinberg, he of the rather well-done player rankings from the last few weeks, called me out in his final comments for a (it must be admitted) joke that I made taking umbrage with his rankings. I felt that our very own CJ Harris was perennially underrated by other non-Wake fanbases, and that he deserved recognition as one of the top two shooting guards in the ACC.
Naturally, I could not resist.
So, I came up with a semi-logical formula to predict performance by each and every ACC player for this upcoming season.
The good news? CJ Harris, is in fact a top 2 ACC shooting guard by my metric. Further, the ACC is absolutely STACKED at shooting guard next season (as well as slightly less stacked at small forward).
The bad news? Wake's shooting guards as a unit (factoring in CJ and Chase Fischer as his backup) actually placed FIFTH in the overall shooting guard rankings for next season. So... uh... I'll have some ketchup with that crow, Jerry.
The rankings plus more discussion after the jump...
The formula that I decided to use was based on an individual's Win Shares from the previous season (which can be found on the team pages at Sports-Reference), which measure individual performance largely free of team success.
So with the baseline established, the next step is how to adjust scores to account for incoming and outgoing players, as well as player development. What I came up with is just an arbitrary system based on my own logical shortcomings.
Player development: Each player gets a set increase (think of it as how much they are expected to improve) for each offseason. I decided that the increases should decrease as the player progresses under the old maxim that the biggest year for individual improvement is between freshman and sophomore years. As a result, last year's freshmen got 1.5 wins added to their score, last year's sophomores got 1.0 wins added, and last year's junior's got 0.5 added. Cumulatively, this means that by a senior you should be contributing at least 3.0 wins based on experience, which I found to be a somewhat accurate barometer of senior play.
Incoming players: This was tricky, and if the arbitrary player development measurements put you off, then you will despise this. Basically, there are two types of incoming players - freshmen and transfers. For transfers, and there is really one noteworthy one, I decided that a move from a grossly inferior league to the ACC was worth a mark down of 1.0 wins (with the development factor offsetting that to some degree). So congrats Logan Aronholt, this is pretty much the only time I hope to have to think about you in any particular detail.
For freshmen, I decided to use the admittedly imprecise high school rating system (as there was no previous college win shares baseline... duh). Basically, I decided that 5* players would receive 2.0 wins (being genuinely stellar players out of high school), 4* players would receive 1.0 win (being talented enough to be able to contribute), and 3* or lower players would receive 0.0 wins (as they will likely just be trying to hold their own in any minutes they receive). Coincidentally, of last year's freshmen class, of the 27 freshmen still on ACC rosters who played regularly last year, only 3 had win shares at 2.0 or higher (Alex Len with 2.7, James Michael McAdoo with 2.3, Shane Larkin with 2.0) which would indicate a solid starter contribution. About half (15 of 27) had win shares at 1.0 or higher, indicating role players. This ratio seems about right to me.
Outgoing players: Because there is a large amount of turnover on most rosters in any season, I figured that an increase in available minutes was worth a slot bump. Thus, any position on any team with a new starter got a 0.5 win bump.
For injured players, I took their play in their last season of play. For players that missed a significant portion of last season for reasons unlikely to be replicated (Alex Len's NCAA suspension, for instance), I prorated his win shares to predict for his entire season, then adjusted.
Now that's the formula as to how I predicted the upcoming season's win shares. To get a team's position ranking, I took the best player's score plus half of the second best player's score (starters matter more than backups, generally). For the big guy rankings, I combined the power forward and center lists, and took a team's top three players from either list.
So, example time: let's use the man in question, CJ Harris. Last year, CJ scored 4.1 win shares, good for second-best among then-junior shooting guards and second-best among all shooting guards. He gets a 0.5 win bump for developing from his junior to his senior year, so he's up to 4.6 win shares. He doesn't get any bonus for being a new starter because he's the incumbent. Thus, he projects to 4.6 win shares.
His backup, Chase Fischer, posted 0.7 win shares as a freshman last season. Factoring in the substantial 1.5 win shares increase from freshman to sophomore, and Chase projects at 2.2 win shares this season. However, only half of this counts to the team's positional ranking number, so Wake's shooting guards project to a total of 5.7 win shares next season.
Got it? Good, because I did most of this math at about 4 in the morning last night. While I can vouch that no alcohol or drugs were consumed, I cannot vouch as to my state of mind. If you find any mistakes (and I'm sure they exist), please let me know.
One last note: I tinkered to the best of my ability with players' positions. Not every team uses the traditional PG-SG-SF-PF-C lineup configuration; as a result, some players overlap at some positions. To amend this, I took the liberty of bumping players to similar positions (switching guard spots, switching wings between SG and SF, switching inside-out forwards between SF and PF). I did my best to try and capture each departing starter bonus, and I think I caught all of them. But the numbers may look weird to you for certain positions. If so, it's likely because a player got bumped to a different position based on team need.
POINT GUARD RANKINGS
Jerry's Rankings: 1) NC State; 2) Miami; 3) North Carolina; 4) Wake Forest; 5) Florida State; 6) Duke; 7) Virginia; 8) Virginia Tech; 9) Georgia Tech; 10) Maryland; 11) Boston College; 12) Clemson
Team Win Shares Projections: 1) NC State (6.0); 2) Virginia Tech (5.35); 3) tie - Florida State and Miami (3.5); 5) Virginia (3.3); 6) Duke (3.1); 7) Clemson(2.8); 8) Maryland (2.3); 9) Georgia Tech (2.25); 10) Boston College (2.0); 11) tie - North Carolina and Wake Forest (1.5)
Jerry's Top Players: 1) Lorenzo Brown (NC State); 2) Ian Miller (Florida State); 3) Shane Larkin (Miami)
Top Win Shares Projections: 1) Lorenzo Brown (NC State) - 5.5; 2) Erick Green (Virginia Tech) - 4.4; 3) Shane Larkin (Miami) - 3.5
- Hooooooooboy... where to begin. Let's start with the North Carolina/Wake dichotomy. On paper, these teams are each bringing in talented freshmen (Marcus Paige and Codi Miller-McIntyre, respectively - both top 100, 4* recruits) to take over the position. But freshmen, as mentioned above, rarely perform at a close-to-ACC-average standard their first year; rather they need to improve to it. This is the reason for the major drop for these programs in the projection: the talent may be there, but freshmen point guards typically don't fare well. Particularly for UNC, this is disconcerting, as Roy's teams thrive and die by the success of their point guard. Paige may prove to be excellent... but likely not without growing pains this season.
- No, I don't necessarily think Paige and Miller-McIntyre will be the worst two PGs in the ACC this season. However, I do think that expectations should be tampered for both of them. This rating seems to support that.
- Shane Larkin is an exception to the freshmen PG rule. Larkin had an excellent year last season (2.0 win shares), and gets a nice bump for his expected improvement. Jerry took a good amount of criticism for having several Miami players high, but Larkin appears to be right where he should be.
- Win Shares loves Erick Green. Jerry called him a do-everything guard, and he is that and more. I think Jerry whiffed on him. Look for Green to quietly contend for an all-ACC team berth at the end of the season.
- Overall, the ACC is weak in point guards this year. Only the three players above project at more than 3.0 win shares, which is the fewest of any position except center, which had a much more limited group (to the point that I had to lump it in with power forwards into a generic "bigs" category)
SHOOTING GUARD RANKINGS
Jerry's Rankings: 1) Duke; 2) Florida State; 3) Miami; 4) Wake Forest; 5) NC State; 6) Virginia; 7) North Carolina; 8) Maryland; 9) Georgia Tech; 10) Boston College; 11) Virginia Tech; 12) Clemson
Team Win Shares Projections: 1) North Carolina (5.65); 2) Duke (5.5); 3) tie - Florida State and Miami (5.3); 5) Wake Forest (5.2); 6) Virginia (3.9); 7) Virginia Tech (3.4); 8) Boston College (3.2); 9) Clemson (3.1); 10) tie - Maryland and NC State (2.5); 12) Georgia Tech (2.2)
Jerry's Top Players: 1) Michael Snaer (Florida State); 2) CJ Harris (Wake Forest); 3) Durand Scott (Miami)
Top Win Shares Projections: 1) Michael Snaer (Florida State) - 4.8; 3) CJ Harris (Wake Forest) - 4.6; 3) Dexter Strickland (North Carolina) - 4.3
- Let the record show that CJ Harris did make the top 2 and that Jerry had Wake close to properly rated, although it is admittedly close from 2) through 5) here.
- North Carolina's strong showing here rests on Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald, both of whom figure to be above-average players. In fact, while the Heels will be young at PG and in the frontcourt outside of McAdoo, their wing play should be absurdly good and easily the strength of the team.
- Remember how I said that PG was weak this year in the ACC? The opposite is true of shooting guard. Eight players project at 3.0 win shares or more. In particular, the rising senior class is strong, with five players who had at least 3.3 win shares last season. It could've been more, but I swapped Scott Wood to SF because NC State is thin up front.
- Pretty clear delineation between the have's and have-not's at this position.
SMALL FORWARD RANKINGS
Jerry's Rankings: 1) NC State; 2) Wake Forest; 3) Miami; 4) North Carolina; 5) Duke; 6) Florida State; 7) Virginia; 8) Maryland; 9) Virginia Tech; 10) Boston College; 11) Clemson; 12) Georgia Tech
Team Win Shares Projections: 1) North Carolina (6.5); 2) Virginia (5.8); 3) NC State (5.7); 4) Virginia Tech (4.8); 5) Wake Forest (4.7); 6) Miami (4.35); 7) Boston College (3.3); 8) Duke (3.2); 9) Maryland (3.0); 10) Clemson (2.4); 11) tie - Georgia Tech and Florida State (1.5)
Jerry's Top Players: 1) Travis McKie (Wake Forest); 2) Scott Wood (NC State); 3) Reggie Bullock (North Carolina)
Top Win Shares Projections: 1) Joe Harris (Virginia) - 5.3; 2) Scott Wood (NC State) - 5.2; 3) Jarell Eddie (Virginia Tech) - 4.8
- Major discrepancies here. Virginia surges largely based on Joe Harris, who quietly had a breakout season last year in the shadow of Mike Scott. North Carolina again ranks well because of depth; both Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston should be above-average player. Bullock could be an all-ACC player by the end of the season. I think Jerry just missed on Jarell Eddie; he's one of the two most important returning players for Virginia Tech and has a good track record of success.
- Ladies and gentlemen, Scott Wood! Wood is one of those players that stat heads gush over. I made a case for him as a short-list contender for ACC PoY last March based on his efficiency margins. Before you scoff, Wood had a ridiculous 128.0 offensive rating, by far the best of any starting player in the conference. His contributions are supported by his equally high win shares. In fact, I'm kinda hoping he replaces CJ Leslie as the NC State ACC PoY candidate - both are deserving, but Scott Wood never gets hyped for anything (except maybe free throw shooting). I vacillated back and forth between putting Wood here or at SG, but it works out better for the Wolfpack if he's here.
- Poor Travis McKie. He's the anti-Scott Wood. Observers note his hustle and all-around game, but he's a decidedly good-not-great player when it comes to advanced stats. It pains me to say this, but I think he's probably accurately slotted as the fourth- or fifth-best small forward in the conference.
- This is the other position of strength for the ACC this season. While not as strong as SG, it still features six players projecting at 3.0 or more win shares.
COMBINED BIG GUY RANKINGS
Jerry's Rankings: 1) Miami; 2) NC State; 3) North Carolina; 4) Maryland; 5) Duke; 6) Georgia Tech; 7) Florida State; 8) Virginia; 9) Clemson; 10) Wake Forest; 11) Boston College; 12) Virginia Tech
Team Win Shares Projections: 1) Duke (11.9); 2) Miami (10.9); 3) Georgia Tech (10.8); 4) NC State (10.3); 5) Clemson (8.9); 6) Virginia (8.7); 7) Maryland (7.5); 8) Boston College (7.0); 9) North Carolina (6.8); 10) Virginia Tech (6.5); 11) Florida State (4.2); 12) Wake Forest (2.5)
Jerry's Top Players: 1) Reggie Johnson (Miami); 2) CJ Leslie (NC State); 3) Kenny Kadji (Miami); 4) James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina); 5) Mason Plumlee (Duke); 6) Richard Howell (NC State)
Top Win Shares Projections: 1) CJ Leslie (NC State) - 6.0; 2) Mason Plumlee (Duke) - 5.4; 3) Kenny Kadji (Miami) 4.8; 4) Ryan Kelly (Duke) 4.5); 5) tie - Daniel Miller (Georgia Tech) and Richard Howell (NC State) - 4.3
- I think CJ Leslie has to be considered your preseason ACC PoY favorite. Between the coming-back-to-school narrative and the fact that, hey, he actually looks to be the best player in the conference (and plays for the preseason favorite... more on that in a minute), easy prediction right there.
- Miami doesn't fare quite as well here as Jerry predicts. Specifically, he appears to have placed his faith in an in-shape and perpetually healthy Reggie Johnson; as much as I like Reggie, I don't see him defying his recent history. Kenny Kadji, however, remains a beast.
- At the same time, Jerry underrates Duke. Specifically, it's easy to ignore that Ryan Kelly was Duke's best player for good stretches of last season. We both expect a big season from Mason Plumlee (and I will hate him for it, since he's the holder of My Least Favorite Current Duke Player honor for another season). Oh, and we finally get to see Plumlee v.3.0 this season too. Huzzah.
- Daniel Miller was quietly either the best of second best pure center in the ACC last season (depending on how you qualify Mason Plumlee), and looks to continue that this season. He might inherit the mantle of "Most Underrated Player" from Scott Wood this year.
- Biiiiiiiiiiiig discrepancy on North Carolina here. Jerry places more faith in James Michael McAdoo than the projections do, and he's the only returning player with any experience. On top of that, Roy hasn't done his usual smash and grab job on McD's All-American's... both of the incoming Tar Heel bigs are 4* recruits ranked around 50 or so.
- Another big discrepancy on Florida State. The only returning big is Okaro White, who I considered slotting at SF. Outside of him, they have unproven, unheralded big guys. Could Kiel Turpin be the next Alex Len? Sure, I suppose. But I wouldn't bet on it. Also, Kiel Turpin sounds like a deep-sea fish of some sort.
- For us Wake fans:
OVERALL TEAM RANKINGS
Win Shares Projections: 1) NC State (25.3); 2) Miami (24.05); 3) Duke (23.7); 4) Virginia (21.7); 5) North Carolina (20.45); 6) Virginia Tech (20.05); 7) Clemson (17.2); 8) Georgia Tech (16.75); 9) Boston College (15.5); 10) Maryland (15.3); 11) Florida State (14.5); 12) Wake Forest (13.9)
- As mentioned, NC State is the early favorite here. However, they seem rather thin to me; I think they will realistically go 7 deep, with only 2 bigs. To me, they are one or two rotation bigs (not stars, but role players) short of being a legitimate national title contender. A team that has frontcourt offense should be able to get either Leslie or Howell into foul trouble and then go to town. Now which ACC teams are capable of that. Hmm... how about...
- Miami!?! Out of frickin' nowhere! I think you can go ahead and pencil in Jim Larranaga for ACC CoY this year - this has all the hallmarks of a successful, experienced team that isn't getting a lot of preseason hype. They look to be pretty solid at most positions and have decent depth. They also have the interior offense to punish the other top ACC teams, which appear to be thin up front.
- I know the assumption is that Duke and North Carolina will reload every year with more blue chip talent, but only Duke has that this year (and not on the inside, where redshirts Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee are the only real options behind Mason Plumlee - Ryan Kelly is still something of a string bean). North Carolina had a good recruiting class by most standards, but not their's. No transcendent players this time around. Given all the Heels lost, this should be a season of rude awakenings for the wine-and-cheese Heels patrons as they slum temporarily with the rest of the ACC proletariat (read: everyone in the ACC not named Duke).
- Florida State. Um... wow? Looking at their team on paper, one fully comes to grips as to how gutted this team is from last year's. The 'Noles return less than half of their total minutes played from last year, second least in the conference (ahead only of North Carolina). This projection doesn't factor in Leonard Hamilton being able to coach his normally stifling defense, so they'll likely exceed the abysmal bigs win shares projection by a bit even with no-names. Also, Kiel Turpin. Heh.
- Virginia Tech surprises me, given their general exodus after the firing of Greenberg this offseason. Still, they have two all-ACC caliber players in Green and Eddie, and a decent to sneaky-good cast of big guys. They could be a surprise team.
- Let's offer a prop bet: first ACC coach to get fired. You can take Jeff Bzdelik or the field. Easy question, right? Well, the scuttlebutt around the Wake boards is that Bzdelik's contract is up at the end of the year, so Wake doesn't have to fire him to get rid of him. So the bet is essentially whether Wake will fire him mid-season (or extend him and then fire him... if this happens I will do more than write my own set of rankings, Ron Wellman). Still might not be a bad idea to see what the odds being offered are..
Please feel free to leave comments below. If you have questions about specific players, I'll be happy to address them. If you want to disparage my methodology or looks, that's okay too.