There's a lot of talk about Grady Eifert. There's even a school in Indiana that's turned the forward into something of an idea:
On-air announcers are submitting the possibility that Eifert is the true MVP of the Purdue Boilermakers. And hey, good for Grady. He seems to play hard, and frequently finds himself in the right spot.
But come on.
Now, before we get to the meat, I want to be clear I'm not taking shots at Grady. He is not stumping for Player of the Year honors, or talking up his game at every opportunity. None of this attention appears to be at his urging. But I do think the effusive praise about a former walk-on is misaligned with reality, and it might be because it's a fun narrative that people want to believe in. OK, all that said...
Eifert has indeed been insanely efficient for Purdue this season. His eFG stands at 71.9. He rebounds well for a guard, so-so for a forward, passes well, has low turnovers, and plays some defense. All good. But Eifert is a Small Usage Baller. A SUB. His conference play usage rate stands at about 11 percent. The "average" usage is 20 percent (5 guys on the floor, after all). Commentators frequently suggest that Eifert does the little things that do not show up in the box score, but I think the biggest thing that does not show up in the box score is drawing attention. A player that soaks up defensive attention allows his teammates to roam freely to open space. Put differently, if Carsen Edwards were not consuming 34 percent of Purdue's possessions while on the floor, Eifert probably is not shooting 48 percent on his 3-point attempts.
And it's my position that players like Edwards are rarer and much more valuable than players like Eifert. Edwards is having a poor shooting campaign in Big Ten play this year, but still has overall efficiency right at 100. Other players that can pull off such a high usage (30 percent or higher) feat include Ethan Happ, Cassius Winston (who has very high efficiency at the high usage), Nick Ward, and James Palmer. Of those, only Winston and Ward have efficiencies over 100 (they also have the lowest usage numbers—imagine that). And between those two, Ward has been on the court roughly half the time. So, Player of the Year should be a slam dunk.
On the efficiency side, Eifert does lead the Big Ten with a 150 Offensive Rating. But, Brevin Pritzl is on his heels with a 145.3, and there's not a lot of MVP talk around him. And then you have players like Jon Teske and Xavier Tillman, who are not only offensively efficient, but at usage levels approaching "normal" and who play a bit of defense, to put it mildly.
Now, some basketball nerds who I would otherwise see eye to eye with might spit back the fact that Grady Eifert ranks second in Adjusted PORPAGATU!. I think that's good information, but it probably means it's time to take another look at that stat, which has already been through a couple of revisions since its inception. You cannot convince me that Grady Eifert is just as good as Carsen Edwards offensively, and better than Ethan Happ. We know the former because of how often Purdue looks to Edwards to shoot relative to Eifert. The latter because I do not think professional teams are looking at Eifert as seriously as they are looking at Happ.
Josh Gasser and Chasson Randle were both senior combo guards with an identical Adjusted PORPAGATU! in 2015. Gasser plays in what's definitely not the best league in Europe. Randle plays 15 minutes a game in the NBA. Remember Brady Heslip? Same aPORPAGATU! as Shabazz Napier in 2014 (again, both seniors). Heslip plays in Turkey, Napier plays in Brooklyn. Jon Diebler was a second round draft pick after posting the same aPORPAGATU! as Jimmer Fredette. He never played a game, however. Fredette ended up with 235 under his time in the NBA.
In fact, of the top-25 aPORPAGATU! players with a Usage below 15 since the 07-08 season, it appears that the only guys that ever played in an NBA game were
- Josh Harrellson, who had to share shots on a Kentucky team with Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, and Darius Miller; and
- Marshall Plumlee, who hunted shots alongside Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram, and Luke Kennard (also, his name is "Plumlee").
That's it. Combined, those two played 1,110 NBA minutes. Shabazz Napier has played 4,596 NBA minutes (and counting). It's not that every high-usage, high aPORPAGATU! player is a lock for the NBA. But if you were to draft a team of high aPORPAGATU! players at a 15 Usage or below, and also draft a team with an equivalent aPORPAGATU! consisting of players at a 30 Usage and above, there's no question that Team High Usage would obliterate Team Efficiency. You can have Plumlee and Diebler, I'll happily take Steph Curry and Kemba Walker.
Eifert is still a quality player, the best low-usage player in college basketball. But that's a very important qualifier, and one not taken seriously enough.