Pelton mail: Do Brandon Ingram's big minutes help his development?

From ESPN - January 14, 2018

This week's mailbag features your questions on yearly player development, the NBA schedule and more.

You can tweet your questions using the hashtag #peltonmailbag or email them to

"I know that younger vs. older is better when projecting players on their first contract. But how does accrued playing time play into projections? For example, if you ... compare a player who came in two years ago as a 19-year-old vs. a 21-year-old rookie. Let's say a player like Brandon Ingram, who has already played 3,500 minutes in the league at age 20. Do you still project Ingram as a 'young player' with more space to improve than a 21-year-old rookie? Does it matter that the Ingram-type already has a body of work, and does that body of work adjust projections?"

-- Alejandro Yegros

My player projections rely exclusively on age without consideration for experience, because I have found no improvement in terms of predicting development when experience is factored in. If you run a regression on players with at least 500 minutes played both seasons, adding experience does not improve the correlation with change in their player win percentage (the per-minute version of my wins above replacement player metric, akin to PER) at all as compared to just considering age.

However, looking at it that way does seem to have obscured one key caveat. I took a slightly different view in response to your question, sorting players by both their age and experience. Here's how that looks for players ages 20 through 24:

There does seem to be a consistent effect in which players improve more between their first and second seasons than players of the same age with more experience. On average, rookies tend to improve twice as much as second-year players of the same age.

Beyond that, however, the effect is lost. And when we are talking about predicting long-term development for a 20-year-old player, that single season of development is relatively unimportant. So I see little reason to discount the expected improvement a player like Ingram would make relatively to a less experienced player of the same age will make.

"Fact or fiction: A year from now, Zach LaVine will be deemed a better player than Wiggins. The answer is I do not know, and that's not a good sign for Andrew Wiggins at this point. Ask Pelton that one."

-- Brian Windhorst

Though he did not use the hashtag, my ESPN colleague had a question for me in this week's 5-on-5 on the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder in response to a question about whether Wiggins has lived up to his forthcoming max extension.

LaVine, who made his season debut and Chicago Bulls debut Saturday night, has the chance to become a go-to scorer after trading Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns as teammates for Chicago's less talented starting five.

Offensively, that could work quite well. In Minnesota, LaVine showed the ability to create his own shot when those teammates were off the court, averaging 21.3 points per 36 minutes in those situations with adequate .520 true shooting, according to LaVine's strong 3-point shooting allows him to remain efficient even if he's forced to take more difficult shots off the dribble, in addition to the 3s.

The issues are twofold. First, there's the matter of defense. LaVine's minus-2.4 defensive rating per 100 possessions by ESPN's real plus-minus dropped his rating nearly to replacement level last season. That's unlikely to improve after coming back from a torn ACL. And as I noted on Twitter earlier this week, the history of players returning from ACL injuries suggests LaVine will probably be a less accurate shooter than usual for the remainder of this season.


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