The Trending Hornets series evaluates the career trajectories of Charlotte’s players based on two advanced stats - Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) - as provided by Basketball Reference.
PER measures per-minute production standardized such as the league average is 15. A PER above 15 means a player contributed above league average. As a frame of reference, among this year’s PER leaders the Top 60 rated somewhere between 17.7 and 31.3.
VORP is a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement level player. A VORP of 1.2 means the team was 1.2 points better off per 100 possessions with this player on the floor versus a league average player. Among this year’s VORP leaders the Top 60 rated somewhere between 1.6 and 8.6.
This week we will look at the trajectory of new arrival Wes Iwundu.
Career trend overview
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Wes Iwundu had one of the worst seasons among all NBA players last year when viewed through the lens of advanced stats. His PER of 4.3 was the lowest among the 362 players who played at least 500 minutes last year. Just let that sink in - he ranked dead last among all 362 players who were on the floor as much as he was.
His VORP wasn’t much better. His -0.6 in this category was tied for 510th of 540 qualifying players.
In fairness to Iwundu I decided to look at one more data point, ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus, to see if maybe his game just didn’t translate with PER and VORP last year. Unfortunately, Real Plus/Minus tells the same story. His -3.96 RPM ranked No. 526 of 534 players. No matter what advanced stats I look at, Wes Iwundu had one of the statistically worst seasons of any NBA player last year.
Now, the 6-foot-6 forward’s 2020-21 season needs to be put in context. It was a year of constant change. He was originally drafted in 2017 in the second round, No. 33 overall, by the Orlando Magic. Iwundu spent his first three seasons with the Magic and showed steady progress each year, though even after his third season he was still well below league averages in PER (10.3) and VORP (-0.2).
Before the 2020-21 season he signed with the Dallas Mavericks and spent 23 games in Dallas before being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for 18 games. Over 41 games with two teams last year he averaged a sporadic 13.1 minutes per game. As a result, his progress in the advanced metrics department fell off a cliff.
Through four NBA seasons Iwundu has averaged 16.8 minutes over 223 games and produced averages of 4.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 0.4 assists. Throughout his career he has shot just 40.7% from the field and 28.6% from the 3-point line. That, my friends, is the production of a player who has spent four years well below a league-average 15.0 PER and has never been above replacement level in VORP.
What this means for the Hornets
The Hornets acquired Iwundu from the Pelicans in the Devonte’ Graham trade in which Charlotte also received a protected 2022 first-round pick, the draft rights to Tyler Harvey, and cash considerations.
It will be interesting to see if Iwundu latches on in Charlotte or not. He’ll turn 27 in December and has yet to make an impact in the NBA. At this point he probably is what he is. Playing time at the forward spot in Charlotte will be sparse once Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr., Miles Bridges, and PJ Washington get their minutes. Jalen McDaniels and Cody Martin have history with coach James Borrego and his system which likely gives them a leg up over Iwundu.
The Hornets hope is that Iwundu’s 2020-21 season was an aberration, that he produced some of the worst advanced stats in the entire league as he bounced around two different teams, systems, and coaching staffs. Charlotte could need more wing depth this upcoming season given the injury histories of both Hayward and Oubre. If either of them misses time again, at least Iwundu has experience.
But unless Wes Iwundu somehow makes an unexpected leap in his fifth NBA season, he’s probably on the outside looking in as he joins his fourth team in three seasons.