Power Level Over 9000: Foreign Leagues and Player Values

It can be extremely difficult to evaluate players in foreign leagues. The competition level and playing style of different leagues can distort player value and performances in unexpected ways.

One great example is Lester Hudson, who was the CBA MVP for the past two seasons (2014 and 2015) and has just been bounced out of the NBA yet again by the Clippers. Though his 2016 return to China might largely be a financial decision (reportedly offered a $2M contract[1]), he's repeatedly been unable to establish himself in the NBA, where he's played a grand total of 57 games and 594 mins over 4 seasons with 5 different teams.

Here's a quick glance at his 2015 CBA stats:

    50 gp
    41.5 mpg
    64.1 TS%
    0.31 FTr
    27.1 AST%
    10.6 TOV%
    3.9 STL%
    29.3 USG%
    135.6 ORtg

What do those numbers really mean though?

Transposed to the NBA, that's essentially Stephen Curry's MVP season (except, trading off Curry's playmaking for Hudson's scoring). Clearly Hudson is not Curry, he's simply the Curry of the CBA. And apparently the CBA sucks so much that their best player is worth only 5 games and 56 minutes in the NBA [2]. Maybe.

Really, this just goes to show that comparing players within leagues isn't all that helpful for evaluating how impactful they can be in the NBA.

Therefore, one step toward translating and contextualizing players from other leagues is to better understand the leagues as a whole.

With only 4 seasons of high-level data, it's difficult to draw any serious conclusions. However, it's evident that the NBA-DL is played at a breakneck pace, far outdistancing the other leagues in possessions used per 48min games. Since 2012, the NBA-DL has further quickened its pace too, from 95 to 100 poss. There's the CBA in second place, also seeing an uptick in pace over the 4 seasons. Then there's the rest, whose paces remained relatively stable over the 4 seasons at ~85 poss.

Pace does not seem to indicate much when it comes to points-per-possession (PPP). The CBA is the distinct PPP leader and experienced a sharp spike in 2015 to an absurd 1.17 PPP. Either CBA players are unbelievably gifted offensive talents (Dirk Nowitzki clones everywhere), or there's straight up no defense being played (seemingly more likely). There is a clear skew in the league towards offense, either reinforced by overall playing philosophy or player abilities.

The Italian Lega A had a steep TS% drop off in 2015, going from the best to nearly worst TS% league in one season. From what I can see, there were no significant rule changes or key changes in players/teams. The Greek HEBA is also downward trending in TS%, while its pace and PPP remain relatively stable.

Seeing all of this still doesn't predict how Hudson would have translated from the CBA to NBA, but it's a step forward knowing that the CBA juices up players' offensive stats. His power level might be over 9000 but so is everyone else's.

[1] $2M is much more than Hudson's vet minimum and slightly less than the room exception. That $2M salary presumably goes much farther in China, considering the cost of living and after income taxes. Furthermore, the CBA season is much shorter with a 34-game regular season. Before he joined the Clippers for their own post-season push, Hudson and his CBA team advanced to the championship round, and he still played only 50 games.

[2] Hudson's 2015 NBA stats

    5 gp
    11.2 mpg
    57.1 TS%
    0.29 FTr
    12.6 AST%
    16.0 TOV%
    5.4 STL%
    15.1 USG%
    108.0 ORtg


© 2015