A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

2015 NBA Draft rankings!

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Here are my ratings for the 2015 draft. Note, the start of this post is going to be a whole lot of writing and explaining. If you just want to see the big board, scroll down until you find them.

Before starting I wanted to reiterate my goal with these ratings. I am trying to create a system that rates NBA draft prospects better than any other method. Over the years I have had people call me crazy when my rankings do not match conventional draft ratings. Well if you’re so certain the scouts know better than me, then the results should prove this right over time. I am doing this to test if I am correct. I cannot predict every prospect correctly. The goal is just to do better than anyone else can, just like the goal for a Vegas sharp is to hit on 57 or 58% of bets compared to 50% or less for the public.

I created the first version of system over 3 years ago when I hypothesized that the NBA does not evaluate skill and basketball IQ or “feel for the game” as ingrained talents enough. You will see every year how the players with athleticism or length for their position are called high upside prospects. The mentality was that physical tools cannot be taught but skills and IQ can. In reality many of the players who show special skills or IQ in college compared to their peers continue to have that advantage in the NBA. Every player can improve their skill level in the pros, but if a mediocre skill player in the NCAA has a chance to become slightly above average, a player already standing out in skill in the NCAA can improve just as much to become special in the NBA. As an example when looking at the top 2 in MVP voting this year in Stephen Curry and James Harden they seem solid examples of skills and feel for the game talent that can’t be taught anymore than the athleticism of a star like Russell Westbrook.

The sport that drafts the best of the major sports, the NHL, is also the one that understands this the best as they draft players rating skill and “hockey sense” as talents. As an example in the same year James Harden and Stephen Curry were drafted 3rd and 7th and were labelled as not having superstar upside, the NHL drafted John Tavares 1st over Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene despite Tavares having average speed and size and Hedman and Duchene having elite size/speed for a defenseman and elite speed for a forward respectively. Scouts at the time rated Tavares as having special skill and hockey sense talent to make up for lacking in size or speed compared to the others, and he has gone on to be a star by finishing top 3 in MVP voting for his second time this year.

Thus in my system I created a system grading talent as one third physical tools, one third skills and one third basketball IQ. However the results were mixed the first few years. One thing I learned is that athletic players who couldn’t dribble the ball had difficulty driving to the basket and using their physical tools. Thus I theorized that if ball-handling helps a player drive and create a greater impact of “motion” it should be grouped in the same category of athleticism, which also helps a player’s impact of motion-level. I realized that evaluating a player’s basketball IQ in college is hard because sometimes young players have the instincts to be smart NBA players but don’t show it in college. I found that evaluating them by their slippery craftiness and fluidity is a better way of showing their feel and instincts level, rather than their results. Finally over time it became clear to me that not every player reaches their talent and that if for example if a player is a senior and not dominating competition, or drawing major red flags by analytics regressions of players, it’s a sign they may not have what it takes to reach their talent at the NBA level.

Here is my method for how I rank every player. I use 5 models as I am unclear which one will be more successful. The first model is the talent grading method straight up, the 2nd uses conventional draft ratings as a weight, the 3rd uses PER for a player’s age as a weight and the 4th uses analytics. The 5th model is the first 4 models averaged to create one net ranking.

Model 1 – Rank their talent level using my system I have developed the last several years (“Traditional” talent grading model)

I split the player’s talent level into 3 categories:

Physical impact/motion talent level

I start with their athleticism or ballhandling skills and how much motion they affect the game with. It is hard to explain exactly the consistent visual clues I use for this, but they are consistent.

To give you an example in the case of D’Angelo Russell I give him a “6” in his combination of athleticism and ballhandling. I see slightly above average ability to drive to the basket, but not elite penetrating ability.

I then adjust his score by his length, strength level and lateral mobility. Russell is 6’5 but I care about length rather than the height of his head and he has a 6’9.75 wingspan. Average wingspan for a PG is around 6’5 and average wingspan for a SG is around 6’8, so if Russell plays PG where I project his game to fit best, he’ll have excellent length for a guard. His weight at 193 pounds is above rough average of 180 pounds for a PG. However Russell’s lateral mobility is a concern if he plays PG. Overall because of his length I am upgrading Russell’s grade in this category from 6 to 7. If he had better lateral mobility for a PG I may have given him an 8.

Skill impact talent level

The best way to describe what I am looking for is plays that can be described as “finesse”. All jumpshots fit into this category, whether spot up or off the dribble. Passing fits here. If post play is finesse-driven, this also fits here.

Russell’s case as a shooter is very good. He shot 41.1% from 3 as a freshman on 6.6 3pt attempts a game. Although his 3P% is nice, the volume is part of what makes that number impressive. His FT% however is only 75.6 FT% whereas I prefer elite shooting prospects to be over 80%. Russell isn’t just a shooter but one who can “create jumpers of the dribble” which makes me more encouraged about his talent scoring from the perimeter.

Russell also is a superb passer, perhaps the best in this class bar none. He has some skills scoring in the post.

If rating Russell just for his outside jumper I would rate him a 6. However other skills such as the ability to create jumpers off the dribble, passing skills and post skills makes me bump him up two grades to an 8.

Feel for the Game talent level

Rating players in this category is almost entirely visual techniques-driven based on their fluidity in plays like driving and post. Thus explaining to people how my ratings in this category are as consistent player to player as the other categories, has been the most difficult thing for people to accept. Over time I’ve become more conservative rating players too high or too low in this category and rate most between 6 and 8, thus the impact of this category can be more limited than in the other two where the difference between the highest scoring and lowest scoring can be wider. In this case my grade for Russell is an 8 as he more than passes the test for a strong feel for the game talent.

D’Angelo Russell’s combined grade is 23, which is tied for the highest grade I gave this year.

When ranking players in this model I use a few tiebreakers when they have the same grade. Because of the presumption skill can be improved more easier than physical tools or feel for the game, if having the same total grade, the higher ranked player is the one with the highest combined grade in the physical impact and feel for the game categories. If they have both the same total grade and the same combined physical impact and feel for the game, the player with the higher feel for the game ranks highest as there is still ways to improve in the physical impact category, such as improving ballhandling, or becoming stronger, or in the rare case growing longer arms. If players are tied in every way, they are given the same ranking.

Model 2 – In this model I take the above talent grades and I weight it by conventional draft scouting.

My method for this is simple. I take the player’s rank in my first model, then average it with where the player is ranked on Chad Ford’s top 100 big board on ESPN.com. The top 100 I used was as of June 18th. D’Angelo Russell ranked 2nd on the ESPN big board and tied for 1st in my talent model, therefore by averaging the two numbers his rating in this model is 1.5, which ranks 1st in this model.

Model 3 – PER for age weighted system

First, I rate a player’s production by college PER (via Draftexpress.com) using these benchmarks

Freshman – The player’s PER minus 22

Sophomore – The player’s PER minus 24

Junior – The player’s PER minus 26

Senior – The player’s PER minus 28

This is intended to reflect how player’s production is supposed to increase as they get older. As an example Karl Anthony-Towns PER of 31.6 is +9.6 over 22 but Frank Kaminsky’s PER of 34.9 is only +6.9 compared to the senior mark of 28, so even though Kaminsky had a higher PER because of the age benchmark Towns number is rated as more impressive. D’Angelo Russell had a PER of 26.8 which as a freshman made him a +4.8, compared to the freshman benchmark of 22.

I take this PER difference and add it to the player’s talent grade. So Russell’s since Russell is +4.8, after adding it to his talent rating of 23, his rating in this category is 27.8, which ranks 3rd for this class in this model.

For international players I give them a neutral grade. For example since Kristaps Porzingis talent grade is 19, this rating in the PER weighted model is 19. For the record there were 20 NCAA prospects with a positive PER above the following benchmarks for their age, so for international prospects it’s as if their PER was the equivalent of the 21st best performing NCAA prospects.

Model 4 – Analytics weighted model

There have been some successful attempts to use analytics to rate draft prospects in recent years that use a regression to determine factors like steal rate, block rate, rebounding, age, conference, are important to predicting draft success. The system that has garnered the most attention is the “EWP” model by Layne Vashro or VJL on some forums. I asked him last year whether I could use his EWP in one of my models and he agreed, therefore my system is this:

I start with his EWP ratings top 70 posted here http://apbr.org/metrics/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=8904&start=45  and I add the player’s EWP to the player’s talent rating.

D’Angelo Russell has a class leading rating of 11.7 EWP, which when added to his talent rating of 23 is 34.7, which ranks 1st in this model.

On the EWP post, international players are not ranked. For international prospects I went to Kevin Pelton’s who’s translations are considered the best out there. I compared Pelton’s WARP in this post http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/draft2015/insider/story/_/id/12921781/kevin-pelton-statistical-big-board-20-nba-2015-draft

… to EWP by averaging the 1st, 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th and 30th players on each board. From this I decided to multiply an international player’s WARP by 2.5 to get a fair equivalent of the ranking on EWP. For example Kristaps Porzingis’s 3.3 WARP in Pelton’s system multiplied by 2.5 translates to 8.25 EWP, which would have ranked 5th on that list.

Model 5 – Mixed Model

Finally, to rank players in an overall big board, I add all these models together by adding together the ratings on all their models. This is the format that dictates my big board in this post.

D’Angelo Russell ranked tied for 1st in the traditional talent grading model, 1st on the ESPN weighted model, 3rd in the PER weighted model and 1st in the analytics/APBR weighted model. His average ranking is 1.5, his highest ranking is 1 and his lowest ranking is 3rd.

If players are tied in the average for mixed model, I broke the tie according to who rated higher in the talent model (Model 1).

When reading these rankings remember that they are all weighted by my talent grading method which is supposed to the thing making these rankings unique from the others. For example A player can have a top 10 rating on the EWP model and still rank out of the top 20 in the APBR model if his talent grading started low enough. The rankings in my models are not reflective of where they rank via ESPN’s big board, PER for their age or APBR as all the models are dictated by talent.

I have 64 prospects on my list. Their ranking by the mixed model:

1. PG D’Angelo Russell

Traditional model (T-1), ESPN weighted model (1) PER weighted model (3), APBR weighted model (1). Average: 1.75. Highest: 1, Lowest: 4

2. C Jahlil Okafor

Traditional model (4), ESPN weighted model (T-2), PER weighted model  (2), APBR weighted model  (3). Average: 2.75. Highest: 2, Lowest: 4

3. C Karl-Anthony Towns

Traditional model  (T-6), ESPN weighted model  (T-2), PER weighted  model (1), APBR weighted model  (2). Average: 2.75. Highest: 1, Lowest: 6

The story for these players is surprisingly similar. All 3 have an excellent feel for the game and not elite athletes. Russell has enough speed and ballhandling to drive into the paint at a decent level. Okafor and Towns are grounded players but I see more mobility from Okafor with some quickness driving past bigs, running in transition and lifting for alley oops. All 3 prospects are blessed with excellent length and strength for their position.

Russell had an excellent combination of 3P% and 3pt shooting for a young guard. His FT% is only in the 70s which draws a little doubt about whether he will be elite as a shooter. More elite is his passing which is one of the best in the draft. Okafor is a very skilled post player and finisher however his low FT% and lack of outside jumpers this year could make him a near the rim player only. In the modern spacing-centric NBA this is a large weakness. Towns has a better chance at shooting from the outside at least from midrange if not from 3 both by having a FT% over 80% and a history of perimeter shooting in high school.

Despite Okafor having enough more lenght and size than Towns, Towns clearly had the better defensive season. The question is whether this is due to NCAA contextual reasons or reasons that will continue to the NBA. Towns played on a deeper team where he could play aggressively on defense while Okafor had to conserve fouls to stay on the floor for offensive reasons. Once in the NBA will Okafor’s defensive effort improve to match his great tools on that end?

What seals the deal for these 3 prospects is how complete their resumes are. All 3 are rated as top 5 prospects by conventional scouts, have excellent PER for their age and are rated as elite players by analytics. When added to their talent level everything is pointing towards them being sure things to be at least good players in the NBA with star potential.

Subjectively even though he does not rank 1st by my system I may still take Towns of this 3 if given the choice. My system relies on using college numbers and conventional draft rating to help determine whether a player will rate their talent. By these numbers Okafor and Russell rate as well as Towns. However by the eye test it felt like Towns was a more physical player than the other 2. He relished in putting his body into the opponent making their knees buckle on defense and playing hard defense. Okafor and Russell’s games were more finesse driven and Okafor’s body was not in as strong as shape. To me it feels like Towns may be the most likely to reach his talent for reasons that don’t show up in these numbers, especially when compared to Okafor.

For player comparisons I like healthy Deron Williams for D’Angelo Russell as a big, smooth guard who can pass and shoot. Karl-Anthony Towns is like Al Horford in Derrick Favors body which could be an elite player. If you squint hard enough you can see Tim Duncan in Okafor if he improves defensively but perhaps a bigger Zach Randolph is a more reasonable comparison.

4. PG Delon Wright

Traditional model (3), ESPN weighted  model (8), PER weighted model  (9), APBR weighted  model (4). Average: 6.0. Highest: 3, Lowest: 9

Wright is the only prospect after Russell, Okafor and Towns who ranks top 10 in all my models. He rates for me as one of the most talented prospects in the draft. Although not an elite athlete he has enough to drive to the basket, strong length for his position, a great feel, the ability to shoot from the outside and strong passing ability. His all around play could give him all-star potential in the NBA like how a player such as Mike Conley, Jr. or Kyle Lowry has impressed across the board.

The knock on Wright is he is 23 years old already. But his statistical production was so good in college that he managed to rate as a top 10 prospect on analytics boards which dock a player heavily for age and also rated positively in my personal PER by age system which also makes it harder to look good as a player gets older. Although Wright’s age can’t be ignored there have been all-star successes drafted old in recent years. Both his game and stats point towards a breakout candidate like this in Wright.

 5. PG Emmanuel Mudiay

Traditional model (T-11), ESPN weighted model  (4), PER weighted model  (T-14), APBR weighted model  (7). Average: 9.0. Highest: 4, Lowest: 14

6. PG Cameron Payne

Traditional model (T-9), ESPN weighted model (5), PER weighted model  (5), APBR weighted model  (19). Average: 9.5. Highest: 5, Lowest: 19

7. PF Frank Kaminsky

Traditional model  (T-19), ESPN weighted model  (T-12), PER weighted model  (4), APBR weighted model  (5). Average: 10. Highest: 4, Lowest: 19

8. SF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Traditional model  (7), ESPN weighted model  (9), PER weighted model  (18), APBR weighted model  (9). Average: 10.75. Highest: 7, Lowest: 18

These players all perform excellently on some models and not as impressively on others. Emmanuel Mudiay has an impressive combination of size, speed and passing ability for a point guard that should make him a good bet to start in the NBA. Conventional scouts are high on him as well, rating him as a top 5 caliber pick. Although he played in China and it his hard to judge his numbers, Kevin Pelton’s method for NBA to China translation rated Mudiay as having performed strongly for his age.

Mudiay’s weakness is his shooting ability and although a good athlete, he is not as elite of one as players like John Wall and Russell Westbrook. Eric Bledsoe’s penetration-driven game in the NBA is one Mudiay can aspire to.

Frank Kaminsky rated the lowest of these players in my talent grading, as despite his high skill level and feel his tools on the defensive end will hurt him. He is a good ball-handler but with his average athleticism should still be a perimeter oriented player. He is a good shooter but not an elite one for a big man, although his passing skills for a PF or C are special. He is rated as a mid-lotto prospect and not a potential star by conventional scouts. However the numbers play in his favor. He put up an elite PER for his age and analytics support him as a top 7 or 8 prospect in the draft. Kaminsky is not perfect but has the offensive skills to be a starting PF or C.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a great defensive talent. Of him, Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson is the one with the major length with a 7’2 wingspan. He has strong lateral quickness and a quality feel. Hollis-Jefferson has the ability to drive to the basket and although he has been scouted as a poor shooter, by hitting over 70% from the FT line it helps show his shot mechanics aren’t broken. Kawhi Leonard dropping in the draft because of a supposed broken jumpshot is a sign not to pick Hollis-Jefferson too low. For a sophomore Hollis-Jefferson did not have an impressive PER because of his scoring in the NCAA, however because of rebounding and steals he was rated as a lottery caliber prospect by APBR.

Cameron Payne is a quality all around PG prospect. His great feel and playmaking skills should make him a good game manager in the NBA. He has decent but not exemplary athleticism but his length helps give him appealing physical tools in the NBA. He shot a good 3 pt% on a high volume and shot FTs in the high 70s, which isn’t an elite college shooting season but is enough to translate to the NBA. Cameron Payne isn’t a “wow” talent in any area but has a complete combination of size, speed, shooting and passing that can make him a starter. Payne played in a mid-major conference which helps and hurts him in the models. The lower level of competition allowed him to put up a stronger performance in PER for his age but his poorer rating in the analytics models is in large part due to docking him for playing in a lesser conference.

9. C Guillermo Hernangomez

Traditional model  (T-9), ESPN weighted model  (T-18), PER weighted model  (12), APBR weighted model  (12). Average: 12.75. Highest: 9, Lowest: 18

10. SF Mario Hezonja

Traditional model (T-16), ESPN weighted model (7), PER weighted model  (15), APBR weighted model  (15). Average: 13.25. Highest: 7, Lowest: 16

11. C Willie Cauley-Stein

Traditional model (13), ESPN/DX weighted model  (6), PER weighted model  (26), APBR weighted model  (10). Average: 14.0. Highest: 6, Lowest: 26

Guillermo Hernangomez rates as one of the most underrated prospects in the draft. Hernangomez plays on the same team as Kristaps Porzingis and is as productive albeit at an older age. He has impressive strength level for a center and quality length. He has a smooth, fluid feel that allows him to play in the post. Although not a high flying athlete I believe his mobility is underrated as he can drive to the rim off pick and rolls. I can even see some Marc Gasol in Hernangomez’s game because his physical dimensions and natural feel. Herangomez rates as a 1st round prospect on Pelton’s WARP list. His ranking in conventional wisdom is his weakness, as he is currently projected as a fringe 1st rounder. Other than that he looks like a starting caliber talent in the NBA.

Hezonja has quality size and speed driving to the basket and a good, but not great outside jumpshooting career so far. He has a quality feel and craftiness. Although having the talent to be a starting player Hezonja’s production was not elite, still playing as a role player on his European team and rating out of Kevin Pelton’s top 20 in his European translation. Conventional scouts are high on him and he should get the opportunity to succeed in the NBA. Hezonja has a chance to be a Danillo Gallinari type asset in the NBA.

Willie Cauley-Stein’s size, athleticism and elite lateral mobility should make him a good bet to start in the NBA. With the need for defensive centers a team will find a place for him. His PER for his age was unimpressive in part because of his scoring and partly because his rebounding was good but not elite for his physical tools. His average strength for a big man could hurt him on the boards. Analytics rate him as a lottery caliber prospect. Although he rates low on one of my models, I still have a hard time seeing Cauley-Stein having a worse career than Samuel Dalembert had.

12. PG Joseph Young

Traditional model (1), ESPN weighted model (T-10), PER weighted model (25), APBR weighted model (20). Average: 14.0. Highest: 1, Lowest: 25

Believe it or not Joseph Young rated as tied for 1st bar in my talent model. He rated as one of the best shooters in the draft, with a great feel for the game, the speed/ballhandling to drive to the basket and his length/strength was no worse than average for his position. If a young player this would be the recipe for a star.

Ok, but things have changed compared to the first few years of my model. I now take into account numbers more and Young’s case begins to fall apart there. He is a senior with non-elite PER for his age for such a high talent and his analytics rating lists him as barely draftable. Conventional scouts also see him as a borderline 1st round prospect. So when those are taking the together the odds are unlikely Young becomes a star. Still he may be worth the longshot puncher’s bet to beat the odds. Not to mention even if he doesn’t become a star he still may leverage his shooting, feel and speed into becoming a quality contributor in the NBA like a Leandro Barbosa or Lou Williams scorer.

13. SF Sam Dekker

Traditional model (14), ESPN weighted model (10), PER weighted model (16), APBR weighted model (19). Average: 14.75. Highest: 10, Lowest: 19

14. PF Bobby Portis

Traditional (T-19), ESPN weighted (T-14), PER weighted (T-6), APBR weighted (28). Average: 16.75. Highest: 6, Lowest; 28.

15. PF Kristaps Porzingis

Traditional (30), ESPN weighted (12), PER weighted (T-19), APBR weighted (6). Average: 16.75. Highest: 6, Lowest: 30

Dekker has a quality combination of speed and size for a wing that could make him a two way player. He 3s in college at an average rate and barely broke 70% from the FT line so his jumpshot is a question mark but is not broken. Dekker also has an excellent feel and craftiness. The success of a player like DeMarre Carroll is something Dekker can aspire too. Dekker’s production by PER and APBR rating, are average for his age, but worth enough to back up his place as a top 20 caliber prospect.

Portis has underwhelming athleticism for a power forward, but has a skilled perimeter game for a 4 and a great feel. How to judge his numbers is difficult. On one hand by PER he had a superb NCAA season, but for a reason I don’t fully understand, his APBR rating was quite poor and outside of the top 30 in the EWP model. He is considered a player who plays with an elite motor and work ethic which should help him contribute in the NBA and has a possible chance of breaking out like David West.

Porzingis has impressive length, lateral ability and athleticism for a 7 footer however his body strength is concerning and could lead him to struggle in the post and on the boards. He is a skilled but not elite outside shooter. Porzingis feel for the game did not impress me as often he looked mechanical instead of fluid and crafty. Another concern I have about Porzingis is that the more perimeter oriented a big man is, the more like a perimeter player ball-handling skills are required to drive into the paint and take advantage of their speed. This need for ballhandling from a perimeter player has kept some big men draft picks in the past like Derrick Williams, Anthony Bennett and Andrea Bargnani to the perimeter.

Pelton rates Porzingis as an elite prospect, as a productive 19 year old at a high level in Europe. His production in Europe should at least guarantee a stable NBA career even in worst case scenario instead of a “full Yi Jianlian/Jan Vesely”. If Porzingis disappoints as a top 4 I could still see him putting up solid advanced numbers like Jonas Valanciunas has in a slightly underwhelming career so far.

16. C Robert Upshaw

Traditional (T-11), ESPN weighted (T-27), PER weighted (T-6), APBR weighted (27). Average: 17.75. Highest: 6, Lowest: 27

17. PF Myles Turner

Traditional (T-28), ESPN weighted (17), PER weighted (10), APBR weighted (16). Average: 17.75. Highest: 10, Lowest: 28

Upshaw is a hard prospect to rate for multiple reasons. His size, above the rim athleticism, feel and college production would normally make him a lotto caliber prospect however substance abuse red flags makes him a risk to take, much like Royce White’s mental health red flags in his career. Upshaw’s red flags are reflected in how he rated lower in conventional scouting than he would normally would and also I believe the minimal games he played this year hurt him in EWP analytics rating where he rated as a non 1st round prospect. Overall it’s hard to tell where to take Upshaw without having more information about his personal life but if he gets his head on track he could be a top 10 player in the draft and longtime starter as a rebounding, shotblocking and at the rim finisher at center. Upshaw’s red flags makes him risky, but his game would otherwise be less risky than a lot of prospects since it’s hard for a center with his likely defensive skills to not be a starter. So some of his riskiness is cancelled out.

I struggle with Turner’s limited athleticism and body, although he has a good midrange jumpshot, feel and length for his position though doesn’t appear to be as strong in either of those areas as Bobby Portis. Both his PER for his age and analytics play favorably for him. Conventional scouts like him but are concerned about him reaching his talent level instead of being an enigma. Turner is an interesting prospect as he has defensive potential and could hit an outside jumper.

18. PF Christian Wood

Traditional (T-19), ESPN weighted (T-27), PER weighted (12), APBR weighted (14). Average: 15.5. Highest: 12, Lowest: 19

Wood is not an elite athlete but has what would be great length at a stretch power forward and would be elite length for a small forward. Although he is thin with the way the game is going I suspect a skilled 3 pt shooting power forward is his future. He is a solid not great 3pt shooter, but for the PF position that is still quality skills for the NCAA. Wood reminds me of a Rashard Lewis-like, skinny, skilled, long power forward and could be a draft steal based on talent. Wood rates as a lotto caliber prospect by analytics and had impressive PER for his age. Something about him is driving conventional scouts away from him as he is now projected to fall to the 2nd round, so perhaps he is considered an enigma by those who look closer. In general he looks like he could be a steal if he falls that far with both talent and production playing his way.

19. PG Corey Hawkins

Traditional (5), ESPN weighted (41), PER weighted (8), APBR weighted (26). Average: 20.0. Highest: 5, Lowest: 41

20. PG Jerian Grant

Traditional (T-16), ESPN weighted (T-16), PER weighted (29), APBR weighted (21). Average: 20.5. Highest: 16, Lowest: 29

21. SF Stanley Johnson

Traditional (T-34), ESPN weighted (T-19), PER weighted (22), APBR weighted (11). Average: 21.5. Highest: 11, Lowest: 34

Like Joe Young, Corey Hawkins is an unheralded guard who rated very high in my talent grading with great perimeter shooting ability, size for a point guard, feel for the game and a decent ability to drive. However for an old player in a poor conference, while his production by PER was solid, it wasn’t so dominant as a player like Damian Lillard. This is part of the reason why he rates so poorly by conventional scouts and by analytics which knock players for conference and age. At the same time with his skill and physical tools he could break out to a solid career.

Jerian Grant is the definition of a “solid, but unspectacular prospect”. He has decent size, athleticism and skills for a point guard, however his production gets less impressive when taking into account his older age compared to competition. Conventional scouts also appear to be taking a “he’s fine, but nothing spectacular” position with him.

Stanley Johnson has impressive size for a small forward however I am concerned about the combination of his speed and ballhandling keeping him to the perimeter in the NBA. His shooting is average for a wing prospect and he has a quality but not elite feel for the game. His length and lateral mobility is good for a wing but not elite as elite as a prospect like Hollis-Jefferson. Overall one has to be concerned about him having the shooting and ballhandling skills to start in the NBA if his defense isn’t special Johnson. is rated as a top 10 prospect by conventional scouts and rated top 5 on the analytics rating EWP which helps his case to reach whatever talent he has and become an NBA rotation player.

22. PG Andrew Harrison

Traditional (8), ESPN weighted (T-19), PER weighted (T-44), APBR weighted (T-22). Average: 23.25. Highest: 8, Lowest: 44

23. PG Tyus Jones

Traditional (T-28), ESPN weighted (T-24), PER weighted (T-29), APBR weighted (13). Average: 23.5. Highest: 13, Lowest: 29

Harrison and Jones are to an extent inverses of each other. Harrison’s production in NCAA was undeniably brutal however the talent level is still there. He is a big guard with the speed to the drive, some craftiness and fluidity and had a quite solid combination of 3pt shooting and FT% in college. He is worth the pick as a longshot chance of reaching his talent as a star or finding a way off the bench.

Jones case is more about numbers than talent. Doesn’t have impressive size or ability to drive to the basket, but has quality shooting and feel for the game. By PER his season was only solid for his age, but rates as a top 10 prospect on analytics boards. He is a player long raved about his work ethic and leadership so he may be a good bet to reach whatever talent he has in the NBA, even if just as as solid backup.

24. PF Richaun Holmes

Traditional (T-24), ESPN weighted (T-33), PER weighted (11), APBR weighted (T-32). Average: 25.0. Highest: 13, Lowest: 29

25. SF Justise Winslow

Traditional (T-41), ESPN weighted (T-21), PER weighted (T-31), APBR weighted (8). Average: 25.25. Highest: 8, Lowest: 29

Winslow ranking this low may may be one of the bigger head turners on this list. In his favor analytics love him and rank him as a top 3 or 4 prospect in the draft. Conventional scouts rate him as a top 7 or 8 prospect. The word about Winslow’s work ethic is incredible and he improved over the course of the season. If taking the second half of the season he may have made him perform better on the PER and APBR models to rate higher on this list. Winslow is a great bet to reach whichever talent level he has.

My issues is with talent level. First of all, his 64% FT and poor midrange shooting numbers makes me discount his over 40% 3pt shooting as meaningful as the FT shooting is more reflective of mechanics that could hurt him in the NBA. As a defensive prospect while he has great strength his wingspan is average for a small forward which makes him less special on that end. I am also not blown away by his athleticism. Although a smooth player I didn’t see great explosiveness driving past opponents to the rim and his speed on defense looked good but not special. My concern with Winslow is offensively he will struggle without the ballhandling ability to drive well or perimeter shooting and defensively he will be fine but not enough of an elite talent to make up for it. Still, if he develops a good outside shot he has a chance to be a quality two way player. Winslow rating this low does mean he can’t become a lottery caliber prospect in this draft just that I rate his chances as a lower than players in front of him. Considering unlike some of the other prospects ahead of him he ranks as high as 8th on one of my models this also helps his case.

Richaun Holmes is a very productive player for his age by PER however he did it in a weak enough conference to make his analytics rating worse.  and has a solid perimeter skill level and feel for a likely NBA PF. For a power forward he shows decent potential as a midrange shooter and solid feel, though I didn’t see great separation athletically.

26. PF Trey Lyles

Traditional (T-24), ESPN weighted (T-14), PER weighted (T-34), APBR weighted (T-32). Average: 26.0. Highest: 14, Lowest: 34

27. SF Kelly Oubre

Traditional (T-34), ESPN weighted (T-21), PER weighted (32), APBR weighted (21). Average: 27.0. Highest: 21, Lowest: 32

28. PF Montrezl Harrell

Traditional (T-22), ESPN weighted (T-22), PER weighted (T-34), APBR weighted (35). Average: 28.0. Highest: 22, Lowest: 35

29. SF Justin Anderson

Traditional (27), ESPN weighted (26), PER weighted (T-37), APBR weighted (T-23). Average: 28.25. Highest: 23, Lowest: 37

30. PG Oliver Hanlan

Traditional (T-16), ESPN weighted (T-24), PER weighted (41), APBR weighted (34). Average: 28.75. Highest: 16, Lowest: 41

Trey Lyles is mocked top 10 in the draft by conventional drafts however I have some problems with his talent level. Although a fluid and smart player, I don’t see a lot of athletic separation or ballhandling ability for a perimeter player and his outside jumper needs a lot of work. He feels like he could be stuck between positions and not skilled enough to play a small forward and a softer small 4 who’s not a true perimeter shooter. His numbers for a freshman at Kentucky were underwhelming as well.

Kelly Oubre has impressive length and fluidity for a small forward, however I don’t see a lot of speed or ballhandling. His outside shooting and feel is fine, but not elite. He is rated as a project by conventional scouts and has average numbers by PER for a freshman but was liked by analytics. Harrell is an old prospect without impressive numbers either by traditional or analytics metrics although he has some athleticism and some signs of a perimeter jumper. I was not the most impressed by Justin Anderson’s feel or his ballhandling skills to drive, though he has a chance to be an athletic shooter.

Hanlan rated as the top talent of this group for me with the ability to penetrate, shoot from the outside and solid feel. However his mediocre production for his age and his rating by conventional scouts make him less less likely to success.

31. PF Kevon Looney

Traditional (T-44), ESPN weighted (T-29), PER weighted (33), APBR weighted (17). Average:. 30.75 Highest: 17 , Lowest: 44

32. SG Aaron Harrison

Traditional (15), ESPN weighted (42), PER weighted (T-49), APBR weighted (T-21). Average:. 31.75, Highest: 15 Lowest: 49

Looney rates as a top 20 prospect in the APBR weighted model because he rated top 10 in the EWP rating, which makes him an interesting prospect although I am not as impressed by his combination of shooting or ballhandling skills and athleticism.

Like his twin Aaron Harrison had very poor production and is rated as a fringe draftable prospect, but I like his talent as an athletic, big guard who projects to shoot in the NBA.

33. C Chris McCullough

Traditional (T-34), ESPN weighted (T-29), PER weighted (48), APBR weighted (T-29). Average: 35.0. Highest: 29, Lowest: 48

34. PG Tyler Harvey

Traditional (31), ESPN weighted (45), PER weighted (23), APBR weighted (42). Average: 35.25. Highest: 23, Lowest: 45

35. C Dakari Johnson

Traditional (T-32), ESPN weighted (T-31), PER weighted (42), APBR weighted (37). Average: 35.5, Highest: 31, Lowest: 42

36. PF Arturas Gudaitis

Traditional (T-34), ESPN weighted (50), PER weighted (27), APBR weighted (36). Average: 36.75, Highest: 27, Lowest: 50

37. PF Aaron White

Traditional (40), ESPN weighted (51), PER weighted (17), APBR weighted (39). Average: 36.75, Highest: 17, Lowest: 51

38. C Cliff Alexander

Traditional (43), ESPN weighted (T-43), PER weighted (24), APBR weighted (46). Average: 39.0 Highest: 24.0, Lowest: 46

39. SG Michael Frazier II

Traditional (T-24), ESPN weighted (37), PER weighted (T-60), APBR weighted (T-37). Average: 39.5. Highest: 24, Lowest: 60

40. PF Rakeem Christmas

Traditional (T-32), ESPN weighted (T-33), PER weighted (40), APBR weighted (T-53). Average: 39.5, Highest: 32, Lowest: 53

A player that intrigues me in this group is Tyler Harvey as I believe he is the best shooter in the draft bar none. Not only are his 3P%, 3PA and FT% numbers the best when taken together, but visually he is taking shots off the dribble in the tightest of space in a “Steph Curry” like way. He has no defensive position and is not a great penetrator, but on shooting alone is worth paying attention to. Michael Frazier II also could rate as a great shooter as Pelton did a regression ranking him as the best shooter ahead of Harvey, although his system used multiple college seasons.

Chris McCullough has intriguing feels and skills, although in a skill body. Aaron White is an impressive athlete with outside shooting and passing, though poor size for a PF. Dakari Johnson and Cliff Alexander have a chance to make it based on being a big, warm body alone. Arturas Gudaitis is an athlete with some skill, though could use more strength and length. Production and analytics don’t help these prospects but they do have intriguing talent level and are worth a puncher’s chance.

41. SG Norman Powell

Traditional (23), ESPN weighted (38), PER weighted (63), APBR weighted (41). Average:. 41.25, Highest: 23, Lowest: 63

42. SF R.J. Hunter

Traditional (T-49), ESPN weighted (T-35), PER weighted (38), APBR weighted (47). Average:. 42.25, Highest: 35, Lowest: 49

43. PG Terry Rozier

Traditional (T-44), ESPN weighted (T-35), PER weighted (47), APBR weighted (52). Average:. 44.5, Highest: 35, Lowest: 52

44. SG Devin Booker

Traditional (52), ESPN weighted (T-31), PER weighted (55), APBR weighted (T-42). Average:. 45.0, Highest: 31, Lowest: 55

Booker and Hunter are two players rated high in the draft who rank out of the top 40 here based on poor rating in my talent system. Both are good shooters but not elite enough to carry them to a high ranking alone. Nothing else looks impressive to me about them, with weak defensive tools and ability to drive and their numbers don’t back up their case. They have a chance to make it based on opportunity and shooting, but if they are merely decent shooters isn’t of great, they could also flame out.

The rest of my rated prospects:

45. SG Cedi Osman

Traditional (53), ESPN weighted (46), PER weighted (44), APBR weighted (41). Average:. 46.0, Highest: 41, Lowest: 53

46. SG Tyler Haws

Traditional (T-38), ESPN weighted (60), PER weighted (28), APBR weighted (60). Average:. 46.5, Highest: 28, Lowest: 60

47. PF Jarell Martin

Traditional (48), ESPN weighted (T-39), PER weighted (T-52), APBR weighted (T-50). Average:. 47.25, Highest: 39, Lowest: 52

48. PF Jordan Mickey

Traditional (T-44), ESPN weighted (T-48), PER weighted (51), APBR weighted (T-53). Average:. 49.0, Highest: 51, Lowest: 53

49. SG J.P. Tokoto

Traditional (T-41), ESPN weighted (47), PER weighted (68), APBR weighted (42). Average:. 49.5, Highest: 41, Lowest: 68

50. PF Jonathan Holmes

Traditional (T-38), ESPN weighted (T-48), PER weighted (64), APBR weighted (T-49). Average:. 49.75, Highest: 38, Lowest: 64

51. PF Vince Hunter

Traditional (59), ESPN weighted (53), PER weighted (T-34), APBR weighted (T-53). Average:. 49.75, Highest: 34, Lowest: 59

52. SG Rashad Vaughn

Traditional (58), ESPN weighted (T-39), PER weighted (T-49), APBR weighted (58). Average:. 51.0, Highest: 39, Lowest: 58

53. PG T.J. McConnell

Traditional (T-44), ESPN weighted (58), PER weighted (59), APBR weighted (T-48). Average:. 52.25, Highest: 44, Lowest: 59

54. PG Guo Ailun

Traditional (T-54), ESPN weighted (63), PER weighted (T-44), APBR weighted (T-53). Average:. 53.5, Highest: 44 , Lowest: 63

55. SF Pat Connaughton

Traditional (T-49), ESPN weighted (T-51), PER weighted (67), APBR weighted (T-48). Average:. 53.75, Highest: 48, Lowest: 67

56. SF Anthony Brown

Traditional (51), ESPN weighted (T-43), PER weighted (66), APBR weighted (T-59). Average:. 54.75, Highest: 43, Lowest: 66

57. C Mouhammadou Jaiteh

Traditional (60), ESPN weighted (54), PER weighted (53), APBR weighted (T-62). Average:. 57.25. Highest: 53, Lowest: 62

58. C Alan Williams

Traditional (T-61), ESPN weighted (59), PER weighted (T-42), APBR weighted (67). Average:. 57.25, Highest: 42, Lowest: 67

59. SG Michael Qualls

Traditional (T-54), ESPN weighted (57), PER weighted (T-60), APBR weighted (T-62). Average:. 58.25, Highest: 54, Lowest: 62

60. C Nikola Milutoniv

Traditional (T-61), ESPN weighted (55), PER weighted (53), APBR weighted (68). Average:. 59.25, Highest: 53, Lowest: 68

61. SG D.J. Newbill

Traditional (56), ESPN weighted (62), PER weighted (T-60), APBR weighted (65). Average:. 60.75, Highest: 56, Lowest: 65

62. SF Terran Petteway

Traditional (57), ESPN weighted (56), PER weighted (65), APBR weighted (66). Average:. 61.0 Highest: 57, Lowest: 66

63. SG Daniel Diez

Traditional (64), ESPN weighted (61), PER weighted (57), APBR weighted (T-62). Average:. 61.0, Highest: 57, Lowest: 64

64. SF Shawn Dawson

Traditional (63), ESPN weighted (64), PER weighted (57), APBR weighted (T-62). Average:. 61.5, Highest: 57, Lowest: 64

If a player is not listed here, I didn’t feel comfortable rating him – rather than rating him and deeming him not worthy of top 64. I tried to rate all the relevant prospects I could.

Written by julienrodger

June 21, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Hornets-Clippers Lance Stephenson trade confuses me

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The Clippers and Hornets made a trade to send Lance Stephenson to L.A. for Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes.

On the surface the reasoning is straight forward. The Clippers needed athletic talent on the wing and the Hornets needed to get rid of Lance Stephenson who had been a cancer for them.

But the details get more confusing the more I look at it. First on the Hornets end the reports are they are unlikely to keep Matt Barnes as his contract is only 1 million guaranteed if waived before July 1st, otherwise will be on the books for 3.5 million. If true the net result of this deal is effectively the Hornets just taking Spencer Hawes contract. With a team option after next season Lance Stephenson effectively was an expiring and if the Hornets wanted them off their team so bad they didn’t need to find someone to take his contract, they could have just waived him. The difference between waiving him and this deal will end up being the Hornets getting Spencer Hawes if the Hornets also cut Matt Barnes.

Ok, cool, I guess. Hawes has a 3 year, 17.3 million contract which looked like a horrible mistake by the Clippers after one year. But sometimes taking on talented players on bad contracts can work out for a team. Hawes does fill a need for outside shooting on the Hornets. On a weirdness scale “We want Spencer Hawes” rates low compared to some of the other details of this trade. For the Hornets, the more inexplicable decision is deciding they don’t want Matt Barnes for 3.5 million a year instead of 1 million if waived, a player who started on a far better team than the Hornets last year and would fill a need as a shooter. Especially considering that by taking Spencer Hawes contract they showed they don’t have the highest standards for “veteran help”.

What I understand less though is why Matt Barnes even in this trade from the Clippers end. Matt Barnes was the only playable small forward on the lineup, their most passable wing defender and fit well offensively with the ability to hit open 3s. Losing him hurts the Clippers who now have nilch at small forward. Barnes wasn’t in the trade because the Hornets want him, if it is true they plan to release him or trade him somewhere else. Barnes wasn’t in the trade because it was the only way to make salaries match either. A combination of Hawes and one of Lester Hudson, Jordan Farmar or C.J. Wilcox depending on what the Hornets were looking for in return, would have allowed the Clippers to take Stephenson’s salary. Farmer has the biggest salary at 2 million which shouldn’t look that scary to a team like the Hornets that just decided they want Spencer Hawes for over 5 million. Wilcox could have given the Hornets a recent 1st rounder drafted for shooting ability, presumably more valuable to them than a Matt Barnes they don’t want. Hudson was a 1 mil contract, just like Barnes guarantee next year.

Why would the Clippers just treat Matt Barnes like pointless salary filler? This is a player who started and mattered for them next year at a position of weakness. And how is Barnes still valued as dirt enough to be given away by a team and not wanted over just a few million by a lottery team? He is not world beater but in the modern NBA a competent defender who can hit 3s and who has contributed to winning teams should be drawing more interest than this as a solid league average contributor. Matt Barnes has made less than 20 million in his entire 12 year career in a league that has seen Travis Outlaw make 35 million on a single 5 year contract, among similar deals to players like Drew Gooden or John Salmons. Perhaps he’s done it to himself with antics behind the scenes but the chronic undervaluing of a wing player that has been at least an average player if not better for a lot his career is bizarre.

Somehow, after Matt Barnes started on a contending team and Spencer Hawes made more money to be unproductive enough to not play, we had a trade where simultaneously one team said “We want Spencer Hawes” and both teams said “We don’t want Matt Barnes”.

Written by julienrodger

June 17, 2015 at 10:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Cavaliers and breaking the Warriors offense

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The Cavaliers are up 2-1 on the Warriors in the NBA Finals. I did not see it coming. Coming into the series I figured the matchup favored the Warriors, a team who had put up a historically great regular season and didn’t even need it. Golden State had the personnel to defend Lebron by sticking Andre Iguodala on him man to man and then having Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut to play help defense behind him. Neither Green or Bogut would have to leave the paint with Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov’s lack of floor spacing. By limiting Lebron’s efficiency, it would submarine the Cavaliers to offensive levels too low to compete with the dynamite Warriors offense.

Yet despite some offensive struggles, the story through two games for the Cavaliers is their defense dominating the Warriors offense.

How did this happen?

Normally you’d venture with the Warriors passing talents and floor spacing, even a strong defense like the Cavaliers wouldn’t be able to stop the ball from finding open shooters. Remember the 2011 Mavericks ball movement and shooters nullifying the Heat’s excellent athletic defense?  But problem is that shooters like Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala aren’t sticking the open shots when they get them. The Cavaliers are guarding Curry and Klay Thompson with excellent defensive attention and leaving other shooters open, but those shooters are not making shots. Stephen Curry’s 3pt shots are off the dribble and difficult, but he has been making those all year, so his cold streak is as explicable.

Except even if the shots are technically open, there’s a way the Cavaliers have contributed to the Warriors missing those shots they normally make. The Cavaliers are playing some of the most physically punishing defense since the peak of Ben Wallace-Rasheed Wallace Pistons years. Dellavedova is bothering Curry with the contact he’s putting on him off the ball. Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala when they’re on the floor have to defend Lebron James who’s game this series has been centered around bruising most play. Draymond Green is facing one of the most physical PFs and rebounders in the league in Tristan Thompson.

Is this why they’re missing open shots? By taking physical punishment they’re not used to, it could be affecting how their body feels and how much legs they have when taking jumpers. It affects the rhythm they are used to. The Warriors are used to taking jumpshots in games that are music, not a boxing fight.

With that said it’s possible the Warriors become used to shooting against the Cavaliers more as the series goes on. They eventually figured out how to play the Grizzlies when falling down 2-1 in round 2. During his first title run in 2011-2012, Lebron’s Heat fell down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers and their physically punishing frontline, before proving they were the better team by winning the next 3 games. The good news for the Warriors is that considering they have competitive in all 3 games as is, if they can get their jumpshots to fall like they are used to, they could really take over the series.

Written by julienrodger

June 10, 2015 at 10:37 pm

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If the Cavaliers win the title, they should be glad the Kevin Love trade happened

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The Cavaliers are 3 wins away from winning the NBA Championship and now have home court advantage in the Finals. Considering the underwhelming talent level of their supporting cast it would be an amazing upset but elite defense and one of the best players of all time is a hard combination to beat.

If they win, I’m sure some people will jump on the narrative the Kevin Love trade wasn’t necessary to win the title and thus trading away a #1 pick in Andrew Wiggins was for naught.

However the Love trade will still have been important to the Cavaliers championship by the role it played in a sequence of events leading to the rest of the Cavs roster.

Let’s say the Cavaliers decide after draft night Andrew Wiggins is untouchable. Presumably he will be groomed as the shooting guard of the future beside James. This has a few effects beginning with the arc of Dion Waiters, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith’s Cavaliers careers. First, because Andrew Wiggins could be slotted in as the starting SG in this place the Cavaliers may have been more motivated to trade Waiters in the summer. Secondly without a trade for Kevin Love, the Cavaliers may have felt they needed more veteran and win-now talent around Lebron, motivated by the same incentive that made deal Wiggins for Love. This is another reason why Dion Waiters along with Anthony Bennett may have been dealt quickly allowing the Cavaliers to build around Lebron, Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson and then win-now veterans. Tristan Thompson’s connection with Lebron’s agent Rich Paul I assume keeps him on the Cavaliers.

Furthermore, even if the Cavaliers kept Dion Waiters until halfway through the season, acquiring Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith may not have happened. The Cavaliers targeted Iman Shumpert because of a desperate need for athletic defense at shooting guard. With an athletic guard in Wiggins on the team, Shumpert may not have been the type of player they were looking for. If the Cavaliers did get both Shumpert and J.R. Smith for Waiters, fitting all of Wiggins, Shumpert and Smith in the lineup may have required Shumpert to be the backup PG, Wiggins the starting SG and Smith the backup SG and this also could’ve affected the Cavaliers playoff run if it pushed Dellavedova out of the rotation.

Timofey Mozgov’s path to the Cavaliers is also altered. Aside from the pick the Cavaliers acquired for Waiters helping them get Mozgov, understanding how turning down a Kevin Love trade could have pushed Mozgov away from the Cavaliers roots back to the summer. Kevin Love’s salary was 4.6 million more than Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett combined in that trade. However the difference that largely matters is the 10.2 million difference between Love and Wiggins. Like Waiters, Bennett’s contract would be expendable if the Cavaliers found the right free agent signing. Let’s say for example the Cavaliers target Pau Gasol who signed for a contract starting at 7.1 million with Chicago. Between the extra salary space saved by not trading for Love and trading Waiters or Bennett, they land Gasol. Now they have Andrew Wiggins and Pau Gasol. This sounds like a great scenario for the Cavaliers as Gasol had nearly as good a season as Kevin Love and they didn’t trade their shiny #1 pick to get him. But with Pau on the team they may not have targeted Timofey Mozgov to fill their hole for a starting C.

A starting lineup of Kyrie, Wiggins, Lebron, Thompson and Pau likely makes the Finals in the East. However it’s not the same team. With a teenager and an old slowing center in the starting lineup their defensive identity changes. If they the Cavaliers go on to beat the Warriors with defensive guile, rebounding and glue it becomes a different series. Although they potentially could win the title, we don’t know if they would have.

There were other free agent options than Gasol, of course. Luol Deng signed for a 9.7 million starting lineup for Miami which could have been an option for Cleveland and allowing Lebron to stay at power forward in Cleveland. This may have led them to still trading for Timofey Mozgov halfway through the year, however by playing Lebron at the 4, the combination of Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov playing together may not have played together as often in the playoffs and altered their run. Another scenario is the Cavaliers picking up Thaddeus Young who the 76ers were shopping at the time. A trade such as Bennett for Young was possible at the time. Although this would have been a quality pick up it would have again hurt Thompson and Mozgov’s success starting together in the playoffs. Again, it is a different team. The personality of defense, rebounding and underdog heart the Cavaliers have built their run on is potentially not the same.

There’s one more critical reason how the Kevin Love trade would have played a role in the Cavaliers championship. The side benefit of trading for a star player like Kevin Love is that the rest of the league has one less Kevin Love. What makes this especially relevant is that the Bulls and Warriors were two of the other teams involved in Love trade offers. The Bulls reportedly were offering a deal like Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott for him. The Warriors were offering David Lee and Harrison Barnes. If Love ended up on one of those teams it likely alters the Cavaliers path to the title. Going through the Bulls in the East would have likely been necessary for the Cavaliers and the Warriors would have had a loaded team in in the West and likely made the Finals. Notably the deal could have also made the Bulls or Warriors worse if Jimmy Butler or Draymond Green were eventually added to those deals, just as the Cavaliers eventually had to include Andrew Wiggins. Nevertheless it’s a variable that has to be accounted for that could alter the Cavs playoff run.

It should be mentioned that this is all assuming that Lebron returns with or without the Kevin Love trade, although some theorize Lebron required the assurance the Love trade would happen before he signed.

I’m not saying the Cavaliers couldn’t win the title this season by keeping Andrew Wiggins and setting off a different chain of events. Just that if they do go on to win, all of the chain of events leading them to having this roster where it all came together, would have been important to the final result. The Love trade is part of that sequence. LeBron is not such a good player that you can say he would win with anyone. The Cavaliers learned that by not winning the title the first 7 seasons in the league and the Heat lost in the Finals twice with two other Hall of Famers on the team. If the Cavs go on to win the supporting cast’s scrappy contributions and having “the right players” will have been important.

Written by julienrodger

June 8, 2015 at 1:32 pm

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What does losing Bill Simmons cost ESPN?

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ESPN made headline news by announcing Bill Simmons won’t be back when his contract expires this fires. From the abruptness of the announcement and its timing after Simmons discussed Roger Goodell on the Dan Patrick Show it has the feeling of a pseudo-firing.

In reaction some sites have pointed out the lack of revenue Simmons provides to Grantland for a salary like 5 million a year. Grantland focuses on column quality rather than revenue-centric clickbait and its podcast popularity is difficult to monetize.

But this may not capture all the financial value Simmons brings to Grantland. Compare ESPN to a Vegas casino. Simmons and Grantland are like the entertainment act. Think Celine Dion or Cirque de Soleil. While these casino’s shows may make solid ticket gate, the combined revenue of the gambling games, the hotel and food/beverage presumably dwarf the revenue the casinos make from its acts. Likewise where ESPN really makes its money is television subscriptions and ads, followed by the digital ad traffic from ESPN.com, a leading source for checking sports, breaking news and highlights.

Yet judging the value of the casino’s entertainment like Cirque de Soleil isn’t just about the gate. All the revenue is connected. A customer could spend $200 on the entertainment and $1000 on the gambling, hotel rooms and food. The entertainment’s value is bringing a customer into the casino to spend money on everything else, not just what they spend on the tickets.

Likewise the value of a Simmons fan is not just the direct traffic on his articles and podcasts. ESPN’s revenue is connected. Almost every Simmons fan is going to need other services to meet their sports needs, from checking scores and news to choosing sports television products. A Simmons fan has bought into the ESPN product and has it reaffirmed through articles, podcasts and tweets that they are the #1 sports empire to align themselves with. This indirectly could lead to them choosing ESPN as their site to check scores and news or their channel to watch television sports products on. The popularity of a writer like Simmons increases the brand popularity of ESPN. Increasing the brand popularity of ESPN has benefits across the board including more revenue-friendly areas than Grantland, such as television and homepage digital ads.

ESPN will continue to sell itself as the #1 sports brand in the world without Simmons and Grantland will continue to have popular writers other than him. But where the damage may be is where he goes next. Simmons on Fox Sports or Yahoo Sports changes their reputation and brand-noticeability level. The most popular sports writer and podcaster in the country on another site means ESPN’s brand has less legs to stand on when calling themselves the #1 and only sports choice. This will be made more true if other Grantland writers follow him to his next site or if he has the power to quality writing hires like he did running Grantland. ESPN isn’t going to sweat the hit in article and podcast traffic, but if Simmons shifts momentum to a competitor the real cost could the entire brand taking a hit, including the television and home website revenue.

Written by julienrodger

May 14, 2015 at 12:55 pm

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DeMar Derozan vs. Terrence Ross and evaluating wings in the modern era

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DeMar Derozan and Terrence Ross are believed to be in a different place as Raptors. Derozan is a cornerstone of the franchise after making the all-star team in 2013-2014 and leading them statistically in the playoffs. Ross has been inconsistent statistically and now in trade rumours. Some believe trading Ross for a veteran SF is the best way for the Raptors to come closer to legitimate contention.

Under conventional wisdom Derozan being considered the “keeper” of these two would not be debated.  However I believe the case for keeping Terrence Ross of the two is legitimate.

DeMar Derozan is averaging 18.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game to 10.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists for Terrence Ross. However Derozan’s .49 TS% and 102 ORTG show he is inefficient at scoring and using possessions. Ross at .521 TS% and 104 ORTG is mediocre efficiency.  The difference between them in efficiency is compounded by Derozan using many more possessions than Ross. A standard possessions calculation of (FGA + .44*FTA + 2.1) has Derozan at 20.8 possessions per game to 10.7 possessions for Ross. Derozan’s inefficiency is a bigger problem not only because of a lower TS% and ORTG but because he uses more possessions at this negative rate.

There are two ways to defend Derozan’s stats. First is that he had a significantly bigger season last year at 22.7 points per game, .532 TS% and 110 ORTG whereas this season he’s had to work his way back from injury. However his November statistics before his injury of 19.7 points on .503 TS% and 104 ORTG are still a decline from his rate last season. In addition the rest of Derozan’s career reflect output closer to this season than 2013-2014. In his 2nd, 3rd and 4th season preceding his all-star year, he averaged between 16.7 and 18.1 points per game and between 100 and 106 ORTG. The larger sample size suggests his all-star 5th season could end up the outlier.

The second way to defend his statistics is to claim a high volume scorer takes pressure off his teammates. The Raptors having high volume guards like Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan and Lou Williams, allows players like Patrick Patterson, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, James Johnson to take a lower volume of shots but covert them at an excellent efficiency. If forced into facing the full attention of the defense it’s likely players like Patterson, Johnson, Valanciunas and Johnson would be forced into taking more heavily guarded shots and their efficiency would fall. In addition to this during Derozan’s injury the Raptors had a heavy slide on the defensive end. This suggests Derozan’s high volume usage taking pressure off his teammates offensively could help them conserve more energy for the defensive end. Therefore it can be argued the real value of Derozan’s season as a high volume scorer who takes pressure off his teammates is not captured in statistics.

However although Terrence Ross is not a high volume scorer who takes pressure off his teammates, Ross has a different advantage over Derozan. Derozan is a poor 3 point shooter at 21.4% on 1.4 attempts a game while Ross shoots 36.8% from 3 on a team leading 4.7 attempts a game. Ross came into the league known as a shooting specialist and in his sophomore season averaged 39.5% from 3 on 5.0 attempts a game to help establish his reputation. Therefore the respect for Terrence Ross from 3 point range makes him a floor spacer and dragging a defender out to the 3 point line should help the Raptors score on drives or on the paint. Furthermore because he takes less shots this should help the Raptors ball movement to the open man more than Derozan who more deliberately needs more plays designed around his isolation skills.

Both Derozan and Ross has a “secondary” value of either volume scoring or floor spacing that makes their teammates more efficient. There isn’t a conclusive way to determine which one is more valuable. However I do believe the “primary” value of Ross using 10 possessions a game at a league average efficiency is more valuable than Derozan using 20 possessions a game at a clearly below average efficiency, therefore to me Ross has something of a head start before deciding whether their volume scoring or spacing is more valuable.

There are other ways to impact the game. Both are similar rebounders with Derozan averaging 4.6 total rebounds per 36 minutes to 4.4 for Ross and defensively they are hard to pick out. Ross has faster feet as the more dynamic athlete however Derozan has a strength advantage and plays a steadier, headier game on defense. Derozan is more experienced therefore if he has a defensive advantage right now Ross could catch up in a few years. Derozan is a quality passer at 3.5 assists per per 36 minutes to 1.3 for Ross, however Derozan turns the ball over 2.3 times per 36 minutes to 1.2 for Ross. In the stat ORTG where Ross had an edge at 104 to Derozan’s 102 assists and turnovers were accounted for in overall possession efficiency.

I do not know whether Terrence Ross is a better player than Derozan right now because I can’t quantify the value of their spacing and volume scoring against each other. But I believe there is at least a strong case that Ross is as valuable or more. It isn’t a “no brainer” in favour of Derozan.

If one rated them as close in current production, what could settle it is their salary situation. Derozan is very likely to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016. He has a player option for the 2016-2017 season for his 10.1 million salary, which is a bargain now before considering the salary cap is likely to explode in the summer of 2016 because of the new TV deal. This will lead to a surplus of capspace that most teams can’t spend all on quality players and thus a bidding war for players in demand like Derozan. If Derozan becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016 he could very well get a max deal breaking 20 million a season that summer. Furthermore the Raptors all but can’t extend him this summer. Derozan is limited to a 107.5% raise of his 10.1 million salary, which only amounts to 10.9 million. Considering what a raise he is due in 2016 it doesn’t make sense for him to even consider this extension.

Terrence Ross would be a restricted free agent in 2016 if not extended by then. Like Derozan the new TV deal could lead to an inflated contract for him. However although the league is becoming more analytics friendly and wise to the value of floor spacers, I have a hard time believing he’d demand the size of contract that an established all-star with a high points per game like Derozan would. Secondly the odds of the Raptors extending Ross this summer are higher. Although he may want to wait until 2016 to try for a large offer sheet he could also opt for the security of a sizeable post-rookie deal as a player who’s struggled to find his statistical footmark so far. Utah shocked everyone last summer when they gave Alec Burks a 10.5 million a season, 4 years/42 million contract. They were banking on both his improvement and 10 million a year looking like 7 or 8 million a year does now once the new TV deal kicks in. If the Raptors offer Terrence Ross a similar 10 or 11 million a year extension under the same presumption of paying for improvement and paying a new TV deal price it may be hard for him to turn down. This is in addition to the advantage of if Ross gets to the summer of 2016 unsigned, the Raptors will have the ability to match any offer sheet for him.

When considering these salary reasons and considering he is the younger/more inexperienced player, of the two I would keep Terrence Ross over DeMar Derozan.

Written by julienrodger

February 16, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins and the new reality of rookie statistics

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For the second straight year the rookie class is deathly short of players doing anything statistically. There are only 2 rookies who have played over 300 minutes who have a PER above league average 15 (Nikola Mirotic and Jusuf Nurkic) and only 3 players with the same minutes qualification over league average .100 WS/48 (Nikola Mirotic, Aaron Gordon, Tarik Black). Although injuries are to blame, the 2014 class also came in with more expectations than 2013 and many players are simply under-performing.

Part of the two year slump may be structural. Take the case of Marcus Smart. Smart has impressed those watching closely. He is already producing defensively and is shooting over 35% from 3 on a high volume of 5.6 attempts per 36 minutes. His efficiency is above league average at 106 ORTG which looks even better compared to almost all the other rookies who are playing inefficient. For this Smart is tied for the lead in total Win Shares in his class with Jabari Parker.

However Smart is still just taking 5.7 shots a game and averaging 6.6 points. He only has one game where he scored over 15 points this season which makes it hard to garner major attention compared to a player like Andrew Wiggins who is averaging over 15 points a game and has more 20 point games than Smart has 10 point games. On NBA.com’s last rookie ladder Smart ranked just 7th.

But what makes Smart hard to compare to the rookie of the year lock Wiggins is what’s being asked of them. It’s fair to say Flip Saunders and Brad Stevens are operating from different generations of coaching philosophy. Minnesota is one of the last teams building their offensive and defensive strategies around taking and defending midrange jumpers and giving up the 3 more often to do so. The Celtics under Stevens have moved towards a more progressive style of play built more than Minnesota around using and defending the 3 point shot. Here is the distribution of shots for each player this season:

Marcus Smart (194 total FGA)

At rim – 26 (13.4%)

3- <10 ft – 14 (7.2%)

10- <16 ft – 12 (6.1%)

16- < 3pt – 16 (8.2%)

3pt – 126 (64.9%)

Andrew Wiggins (650 total FGA)

At rim – 191 (29.3%)

3- <10 ft – 120 (18.5%)

10- <16 ft – 105 (16.1%)

16- <3pt – 144 (22.1%)

3pt – 90 (13.8%)

What one can’t take away from Wiggins is he drives to the basket more than Smart does. For this he also gets to free throw line 4.7 times per 36 minutes to Smart’s 2.2.

However after that what we see is a fascinating difference in how they are used that perfectly represents the old school vs new school thinking. Brad Stevens has Smart being used as a “3s and defense” role player and avoiding the midrange shot while Wiggins game is predicated more from midrange. Smart takes nearly 7.9 3s for every 16-23 foot 2 point jumper while Wiggins takes a little over .6 3s for every 16-23 foot jumper.

In Utah Dante Exum’s statistics have been poor compared to Smart’s but the story of how Quin Snyder is using him is the same. On the season he has taken 25 shots from 16-23 ft (10.7% of his 233 total FGA) and 144 shots from 3 (61.8% of his total FGA).

Getting to the big picture, more rookies being used in an analytics-driven “defense and spacing” era may be a cause of the last two rookie classes struggling statistically. If Smart came into the league 10 or 15 years ago he would have likely played for an old school coach more akin to Flip Saunders. This coach may have looked at his Celtics roster and decided the #1 thing they need is a scorer who can “create his own shot” and someone who can take over at the end of this games. This could have conceivably greatly altered a rookie season like Marcus Smart, favouring a higher points per game thanks to getting the green light to take midrange shots instead of entirely avoid them as he’s doing now. In addition to this, this style of play would have been a more direct transition from a prospect like Smart’s game in college and high school. Players like Smart and Wiggins have taking a high volume of shots and treated like “the man” their entire life. Thus in the old days instead of a Marcus Smart having to transition from a ball dominant player to an off ball shooter as players like him and Exum have to do now, they could have largely taken his style of play from the NCAA and used it as is in the NBA. This transition to a new style of play could partly be an explanation why it’s not just that many rookies are being used as off ball, 3s/defense/at the rim specialists, but why most have been quite poor at performing as those specialists. If rookies now more regularly have to learn a new style of play it would make sense the learning curve suddenly becomes more deadly.

Written by julienrodger

February 5, 2015 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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