A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Thomas Robinson, Jonny Flynn and the cause/effect question of height and age

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Wizards v/s Timberwolves 03/05/11

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So far one of the most disappointing rookies from the 2012 draft is 5th overall pick Thomas Robinson. Robinson is putting up 4.5 points, 4.0 rebounds on 40.9% FG so far this season for a 9.3 PER and frankly hasn’t shown much of anything. Most worrisome is that he has yet to have standout game. His best performance of the season statistical is a 12 point, 4 rebound effort against Portland on November 13th. It is his only double digit scoring performance of the season. And compounding all this is that Robinson will be 22 a few months from now in March and was billed as a “NBA ready” performer, one would be near a finished product upon entering the NBA. It is less likely Robinson improves his skill level than younger players.

I am not going to declare Robinson a bust and future journeyman at this point, but if he ends up in that direction it will be easy to see what will blamed. One, that he is an undersized power forward at under 6’9 in shoes and once he entered the NBA against bigger, faster players, his physical advantages over peers that he had in the NCAA no longer existed. Second, that he was an older college player. Size and age are listed as two of the most common “red flags” for prospects. Many draft steals happen because teams passed on them specifically because they were a few inches short for their position or a junior/senior. Situations like Robinson’s are why undersized, older players continue to get passed on.

But what if these are just red herrings? Is it possible that Robinson would look just as bad if he was 6’11 and a 19 year old? Blaming Robinson’s age and height is the easy answer, but it’s not necessarily the correct one. Take two recent power forward steals in Kenneth Faried and Paul Millsap as comparisons. Both, like Robinson, were undersized power forwards (smaller than Robinson in fact) and both came out after 3-4 years in college. Yet their age and size didn’t hold them back. The real difference between Millsap/Faried and Robinson in my opinion is unrelated to age or height. I listed Robinson out of my top 20 prospects in June because I did not like his skill level or feel for the game. He has very weak touch finishing at the rim and an inconsistent jumpshot. He also displays many of the attributes I give to weak feel for the game – He plays “too fast”, often rushing plays out of control, giving himself little time for craftiness or adjustment. He has a rough, unnatural looking game instead of the smooth, controlled ones players with a strong feel have. On the other hand, Millsap has an excellent combination of skill around the basket and on the perimeter, with a very high IQ and feel for the game. Faried has much better touch than Robinson at the basket and a strong feel for the game, as well as freakish anticipation of rebounds. If these are the real reasons Robinson is struggling compared to Faried and Millsap, age and height are irrelevant. He’s simply not as talented a player in skill or mental talent.

Another good example of what I believe is the height and age red herring is Jonny Flynn. Jonny Flynn, a rare case of a top 10 pick out of the league 3 years after his draft in 2009 is a player who may historically be called a bust because of his height. While a very small PG, a PG in the same draft in Ty Lawson had almost identical physical features and made it as a legitimate starter. I believe Flynn failed for reasons unrelated to his height. He’s simply a poor basketball player. He had no jumpshot and little court vision or feel for the game. Lawson on the other hand is a much more skilled and intelligent player.

The other end of this is the amount of physically gifted players for their position who have failed. Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich are recent busts where height was not a problem for them, but lack of skills and feel was. Marcus Banks is a big, athletic PG who simply didn’t have the skills and vision to make it. It’s possible a taller Robinson is simply Jordan Hill and a taller Flynn is simply Marcus Banks.

I do think height and age is relevant to draft discussions. However in comparison to athleticism, strength, skills and intelligence, it may be a red herring in many cases to why a player failed. There are enough short players who’ve succeeded and tall players who’ve failed that it makes me wonder if correlation and causation is getting mixed up when an undersized player fails.

Written by jr.

January 1, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Posted in NBA Draft

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. Yeah, I think age and height are a mixed bag. Age seems to me to remind folk that the stand-out players are usually taken as early as possible in the modern era, which makes sense, but that hasn’t stopped a variety of overseas imports and seniors from coming into the league and contributing in one role or another. I think people tend to forget a little about the general nature of the draft and the tone of their draft slot versus what is a reasonable expectation to draw from something outside of the top 3 positions.

    Height is another one; we see shorter solid-bodies contributing at the 4 all the time. Faried, Reggie Evans, Kris Humphries, Danny Fortson back in the day, etc, etc, etc. It’s a more classic usage of the position, harkening back to the Paul Silas-type player. As long as you don’t expect them to be an offensive superstar or a wicked defensive anchor, those kinds of guys tend to screen like Mack trucks and use their girth to carve out space around the rim which helps enable them on the glass and allows them to be really strong contributors that way. I find this to be a symptom of the preconceptions people have over what is and is not a good player, failing to recognize the value of a roleplayer to one extent or another.

    PGs are tough to evaluate because the roles we choose for them differ so wildly. Generally speaking, though, it’s not height or age that are really the pointers here, but as you said: basketball awareness, athleticism, understanding of tempo, court vision, shooting ability… PGs are called upon to drive the offense in one way or another: optimally, with mid-level shooting volume, strong offensive efficiency and solid playmaking ability in whatever scheme a team happens to be using. Generally, can they run the PnR, can they isolate and score, can they push successfully in transition, what’s their shot selection like and so forth. Flynn, as you noted, is about as bright as Eric ‘SOUP’ Lindros, post-concussion, and that’s not really advantageous at one of the more cerebral positions out on the floor.


    January 9, 2013 at 12:27 pm

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