This week ESPN updated its RPM rankings for the first time in the young season, and the ratings were very kind to the Mavs’ starting frontcourt of Dirk Nowitzki and Zaza Pachulia.
RPM is an estimate of a player’s on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential across 100 offensive and defensive possessions. It takes into account a player’s teammates, the opponent, and some other factors. The formula is fairly complicated, but you can find more information about it here. ESPN updates the numbers nightly, once all the games are completed.
Nowitzki places fourth among all NBA power forwards in RPM at 3.79, behind only Golden State’s Draymond Green, Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, and Cleveland’s Kevin Love. He ranks ahead of the likes of Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, and some of the other excellent big men in the NBA.
Not surprisingly, most of Nowitzki’s value comes on the offensive side of the ball. He ranks third in the NBA in Offensive RPM, or ORPM, behind only Griffin and Bosh. That should shock no one, as Nowitzki’s 52.7 field goal and 51.0 three-point percentages are both career-highs, as are his 59.6 eFG and 63.3 true shooting percentages. In addition, he’s been worth .213 win shares per 48 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference, the exact same number as his 2010-11 season.
Even if he cools off as the season wears on, his RPM shouldn’t change too much. The Mavericks have always been better offensively with Nowitzki on the floor, mostly because he’s a terrific individual talent. Even if he regresses to being a 40 percent three-point shooter, he’d still be among the most efficient players in the NBA. That’s how good of a start he’s gotten off to.
At 3.48, Pachulia is behind only San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, L.A.’s DeAndre Jordan, and Detroit’s Andre Drummond. The center has been a bit of a revelation in Dallas, as his play has vastly outperformed what many fans probably expected from him after the Mavs quietly acquired him this offseason via trade with Milwaukee. It should be noted, however, that Pachulia ranked second in RPM among all centers last season despite playing just 23.7 minutes per game and starting only 45 games for the upstart Bucks.
Pachulia’s value with Milwaukee, though, came mostly on the defensive side of the ball. With Dallas he’s getting it done on both ends, ranking second in ORPM after ranking just fifth last season. He’s scoring 10.4 points per game, his highest total since the 2006-07 season, and he’s already notched nine double-doubles — about one every other game. Dallas even runs offense through the center at the elbow, giving him the space and freedom to deliver backdoor passes to cutting guards or to perimeter shooters. He’s averaging 2.2 assists per game this season.
Other notable Mavs on the list are Dwight Powell, who’s 17th among all power forwards, and Wesley Matthews, 28th among shooting guards. As his minutes go up (and his shooting percentages will as well) his number will climb. Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams will move up the table as well — once Williams becomes more comfortable in the offense and when Parsons returns to playing significant minutes. Last season, for example, Parsons finished 8th among all small forwards.