A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Two breakout players for whom I’m not drinking the kool-aid: Eric Bledsoe and Tristan Thompson

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Wizards v/s Clippers 03/12/11

Wizards v/s Clippers 03/12/11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve followed this blog you know that I have my own talent evaluation system, based on grading players 1/3 on tools that physically impact the game, 1/3 tools that impact the game through a skill level (mostly shooting) and 1/3 what is commonly referred to as feel for the game, a relative but not duplicate of basketball IQ. (The problem with using “basketball IQ” is that players with a strong feel for the game may play stupid for reasons that aren’t related to talent – instead originating from character flaws like selfishness, nerves, etc. Feel for the Game is a slightly more innate and talent based term)

If I’m correct, I should be able to use this talent evaluating system to pick out the “small sample size tricksters”. Over the years there’s been plenty of players who’ve “broken out” and put up near star numbers, but only for a short period of time. Eventually a combination of natural regression and teams’ scouting catches up to them and they fall back to being the frustrating players they were before. Most players can play well for a time, but much less can keep it up consistently.

This year there are two players that have played great in bursts statistically, who don’t pass the sniff test to me: Eric Bledsoe and Tristan Thompson. Bledsoe came flying out of the gate over the 20 PER mark, while he’s slowed down since then his overall stats of 18.3 PER and 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per 36 minutes, is excellent for a 3rd year guard who just turned 23. After flatlining for the frst season and a half of his career, Tristan Thompson averaged 15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds a game in January, extremely impressive for a player who’s just 21. Enough for many to say he may go 2nd in the 2011 draft if redone today. Both players have people whispering about all-star upside. After all, if they’re impressive this much at a young age, they can only go up from here right? Not so fast. While it’s more fun to believe every player and high draft pick is a star in the making, the reality is the majority of them don’t break free of the peloton.

Breaking them down, first off both grade well in regards to physically impacting plays. Bledsoe is a marvel of a physical talent, with an elite combination of blinding speed and hulking strength, allowing him to get to the rim at will and allowing him to disrupt the game defensively. If he’s not in Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and John Wall’s class in regards to making plays with his physical tools for a PG (He lacks their size), he’s just a step behind. Tristan on the other hand has excellent explosiveness for a big man, allowing him to attack the basket. While playing C as he has since Anderson Varejao went down, he gives up size but contains speed that’s even harder to stop by the competition. Tristan isn’t amazing at physical impact talent like Bledsoe is, but we’ll call him above average at either PF or C.

What I don’t like about either player is their feel for the game. Bledsoe is one of those players who seems like he’s playing “too fast”, exploding with a head of steam to the basket without the control to probe the game or make decisions on the fly. Bledsoe is like a bucking horse that’s hard to reel in, which draws comparisons to Russell Westbrook – another player who’s feel for the game I consider below average for the point guard position. Tristan Thompson likewise is rough around the edges for a big man. He often can look robotic and stiff and rough around the edges, instead of a natural and smooth player on the offensive end. Both players make reading and probing the game look hard instead of easy.

That leaves plays created by skill. Eric Bledsoe was awful shooting the ball his first two seasons in the league, but has improved this year under the tutelage of Chris Paul. His 3pt shooting of 36.4% is average instead of poor, albeit it’s on a small sample size of 44 attempts this year. He still lacks a midrange game, with hoopdata indicating he’s shooting 26.0% from 16-23 feet and 36.4% from 10-15 feet. Most encouraging is his FT% jumping to 81.3%, though once again a sample size of 96 attempts is rather small. Bledsoe is certainly not a player that is trusting as a shooter or jumpshot creator from midrange or from 3 and is likely left open for most of his 3pt attempts. He looks to be headed to somewhere between average and below average for plays created by skill for a PG, in my opinion. As for Thompson, while lacks ability in the post or shooting range, he does have superb hands and an array of ways to finish around the basket and is an impressive ballhandler for a big man. I would say Tristan Thompson’s skill level is around average for a power forward, but above average for a center.

Considering this, it’s hard for me to justify grading them as all-star talents. On my scale of 1 to 11 (with 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 as possible grades), I would give Bledsoe a grade of 9 in physical impact talent, 3 in skill impact talent and 3 in feel for the game based on the above analysis, for an overall grade of 15, which grades out as a relevant career, but only a borderline starting caliber player. Scores of about 19 and above is what I consider “blue chip” starting caliber players, while scores of around 23 and above is when players become perennial all-star caliber talents. Bledsoe’s best chance to be a break through to that blue chip starter to all-star caliber range is for his shooting and perimeter skill game to take great leaps forward, to where it’s decidedly a weapon. When added to his amazing athleticism, this would make him a vicious combination of slashing and perimeter shooting, enough to be a near star even with an underwhelming feel for the game. Russell Westbrook would be the model to follow for Bledsoe here. I do not like Westbrook’s feel for the game any more than Bledsoe’s, but the combination of his all time great physical tools for his position and respectable shooting stroke still make him a blue chip player. The player who’s career Bledsoe might end up resembling most is Devin Harris, who like him was a supersub on an elite team while in Dallas, before going to his own squad in New Jersey. Harris actually a spectacular all-star season his first year in New Jersey, but both his dramatic fall-off since and my personal evaluation of his talent tell me that year was somewhat of a fluke, probably let on by teams not catching up scouting report wise to him yet. Harris to me has an unimpressive feel for the game and inconsistent perimeter skill level, so despite a dynamic ability to penetrate and attack the basket, in my opinion it’s not enough.

My grades for Tristan Thompson assuming his long term position is PF, is 7 in physical impact talent, 5 in skill impact talent and 3 in feel for the game. (At center he has a more impressive skill level but gives a bit back physically.) Like Bledsoe this gives him a grade of 15, making him a useful talent but not a standout starter or all-star. Like Bledsoe if he has any chance of breaking out to that blue chipper status, it’s if his skill game can make a huge leap upward for the position, which would happen with Tristan developing a Carlos Boozer-like perimeter jumpshot and skill game. My guess though is Tristan ends up having a career resembling Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries, energy big men who’s athleticism and decent ability to score (both have better jumpshots than Tristan is likely to develop, but Tristan has better touch and ball-handling) helped them carve out nice careers, but as players more suited to be a signature backup big man on a great team.

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Written by jr.

February 2, 2013 at 4:17 am

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