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Plus or Minus: Greg Monroe's defense and Michael Carter-Williams' offense (?!) highlight first round of ESPN RPM ratings

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN released its first iteration of its Real Plus-Minus data (RPM) on Tuesday, providing our first chance this year to see (and endlessly debate) how the model rates the Bucks' players on both ends.

As we've discussed previously, RPM attempts to quantify the impact of a player on his team's offense and defense through a complex regression model that takes plus-minus data and then controls for teammates, opposing players, game situation and a host of other factors. It's admittedly a black box, but one that's less biased than traditional plus-minus metrics. For more background, you can check out what we wrote about the Bucks' final 14/15 plus-minus numbers here, and Austin Clemens has an excellent primer on adjusted plus-minus metrics at Nylon Calculus.

To give you a sense of how all the numbers compare thus far, I've put together a table showing player RPM data as well as their on-court, off-court and net data below as of November 24. Note that these numbers are all in points per 100 possession terms and likely still rather noisy, though ESPN unfortunately doesn't provide standard error terms as part of its regression analysis. Suffice to say there's a reason they only release this data after a month of games have been played, and even that number is a rather small sample, especially for players who don't play major minutes. So if you think a player's number doesn't "look right," start by looking at how the Bucks have fared with him on and off the court and that should provide you a strong hint.

The most notable conclusion from both the RPM and raw plus-minus data is that Greg Monroe has been essential to the Bucks' success thus far, reflecting both his own contributions and (in the case of the raw data) the struggles of John Henson and Miles Plumlee as his backups. Monroe and RPM darling Khris Middleton are the only Bucks with positive ratings by RPM standards, with Monroe the clear leader with +1.40 defensive rating and +2.13 overall rating. The latter might surprise many, though Monroe was also a good defender by RPM standards last season (+2.29) and the Bucks have been dramatically worse defensively with him on the bench so far. He's not Larry Sanders or even Zaza Pachulia, but whether looking at the raw or adjusted data, it doesn't look like Monroe is the reason for the Bucks' defensive struggles.

Interestingly, the player with the highest offensive RPM is none other than Michael Carter-Williams (+1.01!), a particularly surprising result given the Bucks haven't been a complete disaster with him off the court (104 points/100 with him on, 100 with him off). If I had to guess, this is probably reflective of the fact that MCW missed games against relatively weaker competition (Philly, Brooklyn, Denver and the Knicks) in which the Bucks didn't exactly light it up offensively, while MCW has been solid against the Bucks' tougher opponents (RPM adjusts for that sort of thing). Still, it's somewhat ironic considering that MCW looked poor by RPM standards last year despite the Bucks playing very well with him on the court (+6.8 points/100).

Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo don't fare too well by RPM standards at this point, though for very different reasons. The Bucks simply haven't been good with Giannis on the court thus far, and (weirdly) the Bucks have played their best defense when he's been on the bench (104.7 pts/100 on bench, 109.1 on court). Parker has been the opposite -- he has a clearly negative offensive RPM and a slightly positive defensive RPM, reflective of the fact that he has the best on-court defensive rating of any Buck to date (98.4). Still, RPM doesn't seem to be buying the idea of Jabari being a good defender just yet, as he leads the Bucks in raw plus-minus (+5.3 pts/100) but is only middle of the pack by RPM estimates. The fact that RPM uses prior data as a baseline is also a factor here -- Jabari was an utter trainwreck by RPM measures last year (-2.66), so the fact that he's a positive at all is a good sign.

Also noteworthy is Johnny O'Bryant, whose RPM numbers run entirely counter to his raw on/off numbers. Curiously, he has one of the Bucks' worst on-court defensive ratings (109.3) but the best on-court offensive rating on the roster (109.0). Yet while the Bucks have been defensively terrible with JOB, his DRPM is an encouraging +0.42 while his ORPM is a not-so-pleasant  -1.91. That seems a more intuitive result than his raw numbers, though considering he was arguably the worst player in the league last year (-6.24), anything close to average represents good progress.

On the downside, Greivis Vasquez stacks up as the worst Buck who's actually played meaningful minutes, rating as a huge minus defensively (-2.91) and a clear negative offensively as well (-1.90). Rashad Vaughn is even worse in both departments, but at least he has the excuse of being a rookie who's barely played.