Stuckey: Quantifying Zion’s Impact, And How I’m Betting Duke-North Carolina

Stuckey: Quantifying Zion’s Impact, And How I’m Betting Duke-North Carolina article feature image

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Zion Williamson

  • Zion Williamson returned for Duke on Thursday night and scored 29 points on 13-of-13 shooting from the field. He added 14 points and five steals.
  • Stuckey again attempts to quantify just how much Zion is worth to the point spread, and gives his take on tonight's Duke-UNC line.

As I said several times over the past few weeks, I thought oddsmakers and bettors were underestimating the value of Zion Williamson, refusing to believe one player could be worth so much to the spread in a college basketball player. But Zion is an anomaly.

His value was priced at around 5 points, which is historically high. I still think it’s too low.

I think he’s worth close to 7 points, which sounds crazy to say out loud. But this is the most dominant college basketball player we have seen in the modern era.

He’s elite in every single phase of the game and brings a physicality and swagger to the game that Duke sorely lacks without him.

And every time I watch him play — and especially after his almost-perfect performance in his first game back last night — I want to bump up his value even more.

Quantifying Zion’s Impact for Duke

I’ve already been over Zion’s historically great PER, which currently sits at 42.8. That’s on pace to shatter the current single-season PER record of 36.93, per Sports Reference (full data goes back to 1992-93 season).

Well, let’s look at another metric that paints the same picture. The Box Plus/Minus is an estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributes above a league-average player, translated to an average team.

Here is how Zion matches up with the current single season leaders in that category since 2010-11:

  • Zion Williamson (Duke, 2018-19): 21.8
  • Anthony Davis (Kentucky, 2011-12): 18.7
  • Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga, 2018-19): 18.6
  • Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky, 2014-15): 17.3
  • Victor Oladipo (Indiana, 2012-14): 17.0

Decent company. (How about Brandon Clarke, by the way? He deserves some love that he doesn’t get nationally.)

For reference, Dean Wade is an excellent college basketball player and essential to Kansas State’s success in making a run this year but his BPM is exactly half of Zion’s at 10.4.

How I’m Betting Tonight’s Duke-UNC Game

Remember, this Duke team was a 10-point favorite at home when it was assumed Zion would play for the first meeting in Cameron. I value Duke’s home-court at about 3.5 points, which means that line implied Duke was 6.5 points better on a neutral court. The line for today is -3.

Now, I thought that was a little high, and UNC has been adjusted upward since that blowout win. But after those adjustments, I would have made Duke a 1-point favorite in Chapel Hill for the rematch had Zion been in the lineup and healthy.

He wasn’t, so I made it Carolina about -6.

Well, Zion is clearly back after going 13-of-13 from the field with 29 points and 14 boards last night, so I still would have it at Duke -1 if they played in Chapel Hill. I’d worry some about his knee in a back-to-back, but Coach K didn’t restrict his minutes at all against Syracuse.

This one is on a neutral so after removing Carolina’s 3.5 point home-court advantage, I make Duke -4.5 tonight, which means -2.5 has some value. The Blue Devils are that much better than everyone with a healthy Zion because he is that good.

UNC swept Duke in the regular season for the first time in 10 years, but I don’t think the Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils three times.

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