Using math to determine the Portland Trail Blazers’ most valuable player

Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers have amassed some of the NBA’s top talent, but who is really the most valuable player on this squad?

What constitutes the make up of a most valuable player? Is it the best? The NBA clearly doesn’t seem to think so, seeing how a player like LeBron James only has four MVP awards.

Personally, I’d define value as the best bargain. Think of it as taking a trip down a basketball themed supermarket. Sure, Frosted Blakes (Griffin) may be some of the best cereal money can buy, but some Kuzma Krisps can occasionally be just as tasty at a much cheaper price tag.

That’s real value.

So using that train of thought, who would be the most valuable player on the Portland Trail Blazers? We decided to break out the calculator to pinpoint who’s giving Rip City so the best bang for their buck. But first, let’s set some parameters on this discussion.

We chose to use Value over Replacement Player (VORP) as our preferred advanced metric for this test because it factors in each players’ performance above replacement level per 100 possessions, prorated to an 82 game season to account for any injuries or missed games.

Here’s how they ranked out (according to VORP) in the end.

  • Damian Lillard: 5.4
  • Jusuf Nurkic: 3.5
  • CJ McCollum: 1.3
  • Hassan Whiteside: 1.2
  • Zach Collins: 0.7
  • Pau Gasol: 0.2
  • Skal Labissiere: 0.1

Nobody else posted a VORP greater than zero last year, so they will be excluded.

This helps us get a clearer picture of who’s really making the biggest on court difference, and therefore contributing tangible value to the team. As you can see, there’s a big discrepancy in each player’s on court contributions. Since the aim of this little experiment is to find the Blazers’ most valuable player, we will narrow down the field by removing anyone who failed to achieve a VORP of 0.5 or higher.

Fortunately, VORP also allows us to smoothly calculate the amount of regular season wins each player is responsible for. If you take a VORP score and multiply it by 2.7, you will get that player’s Estimated Wins Added (EWA). You can read more about what goes into these calculations and why it makes sense here.

  • Lillard: 14.58 EWA
    • Salary: $29,802,321
  • Nurkic: 9.45 EWA
    • Salary: $12,000,000
  • McCollum: 3.51 EWA
    • Salary: $27,556,959
  • Whiteside: 3.24 EWA
    • Salary: $27,093,018
  • Collins: 1.89 EWA
    • Salary: $4,240,200

When you look at things this way, it really helps put into context how much value each player is contributing in relation to their salary. Some players make a big difference in the win column while not receiving a fair cut of the pie, while others have been paid handsomely to consistently underperform.

Player Value Score (PVS)  is going to be the determining factor here, a statistic we named by using the information provided to us and giving it a makeover so the results here are simplistic and much easier to read. Here’s the formula used to calculate PVS:

PVS = (EWA / Salary) x 100

And with that, we can conclusively say which player on the Portland Trail Blazers is truly the most valuable. All of this information shows us which player on the current roster would be the most difficult to replace.

  1. Nurkic: 78.75 PVS
  2. Lillard: 48.9 PVS
  3. Collins: 44.6 PVS
  4. McCollum: 12.7 PVS
  5. Whiteside: 12.0 PVS

Next. Odds each fringe player makes the Blazers roster. dark

While Damian Lillard is pretty clearly the “best” player on the roster, but he’s also paid an exorbitant amount that would otherwise be used on other talent. Although he is one of the best basketball players on the planet, he does not outperform his contract enough to warrant the title of “most valuable”.

That designation goes to Jusuf Nurkic, who plays at an All-Star level despite being paid like a quality role player. He would without a doubt be the hardest player to replace if his contract was immediately terminated. Get well soon you big Bosnian Beast, Portland needs you.