Top 5 NBA players to make biggest leap revealed — Celtics have potential superstar lurking

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 10.17.36 PM

While sports analytics is a polarizing subject for some — mainly the older generation, it is certainly growing in popularity. And while baseball has led the way in the analytical, basketball has made a huge jump with nearly every team have an analytics department. Christ, even the New York Knicks under the archaic leadership of Phil Jackson have a scout named as the director of the analytical department.

With that said, FiveThirtyEight‘s CARMELO system has its positives and negatives, but is a useful tool for observation player’s projected seasons via histograms and other mathematic measurements. All of which leads us to next year’s revealing of the top five players projected to make the biggest WAR (Wins Above Replacement) jump.

And you might be surprised of some players that made and missed the list.

CARMELO projects Smart to have the fifth-biggest leap in WAR among all NBA players next year. He trails only Anthony Davis (plus-3.7), Kristaps Porzingis(plus-3.1), Kyrie Irving (plus-2.8), and Andrew Wiggins (plus-2.8).

Keep in mind that this isn’t the top five highest WAR, but the biggest projected leap from last year’s WAR to this next season’s WAR. Interestingly Karl-Anthony Towns isn’t among the top five expected to make the biggest leap from last year to this year. Also, Kyrie Irving is going to keep getting better.

However, the addition of Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart to the top-five projected biggest leap list is somewhat surprising. Not because Smart isn’t a talented, young player, but you’d think there would be plenty of other players that have a higher potential WAR jump than the defensive-minded guard.

In addition, the CARMELO system is prediction a lofty statement that Smart could be a superstar on the horizon for the Boston Celtics.

FiveThirtyEight released updated CARMELO player projections last week, and it was hard not to notice the glitzy prediction for third-year guard Marcus Smart.

CARMELO didn’t just predict a monster leap for Smart this season; it pegged him a “future All-Star” with a value of $156.5 million over the next five seasons. After Smart produced 2.5 Wins Above Replacement last season, CARMELO projects him to more than double that total this season (5.1) and suggests he’ll make a pronounced offensive leap that will raise his on-court value to $26.2 million this season (he’ll actually earn just $3.6 million on his rookie-scale deal).

To put Smart’s CARMELO projection in perspective, Thomas owned a 7.3 WAR last season and is projected to drop to 4.9 this year. Jae Crowder, maybe Boston’s closest thing to an All-Star behind Thomas last season, posted a 6.1 WAR last year and is projected to dip to 4.5. Of players currently on the Celtics’ roster for the 2016-17 season, only newcomer Horford (8.9 WAR last season) is projected to have a higher WAR than Smart this year (Horford is projected at 5.7).

CARMELO acknowledges a high volatility with Smart. At one extreme, he’s a fringe rotation player with offensive struggles that make him a liability. At the other, however, it projects Smart with a WAR as high as plus-9.9 (or one win below the 10.9 WAR projection for the much-desired Kevin Durant). Regardless, even Smart’s mean projection of 5.1 WAR is just south of summer rumor favorite Blake Griffin, who is projected at 5.9.

Of course its important to remember that these are just predictions based on stats. It’s worth noting, however, that many of these statistical analytic systems are successful in finding trends, comparisons and projections in a plethora of different categories related to basketball.

Just don’t forget about the eye test either…