A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Archive for January 2014

Is Nik Stauskas a better NBA prospect than Andrew Wiggins?

with 5 comments

Andrew Wiggins has had a fine freshman season at Kansas, however Michigan’s Nik Stauskas has been the more dominant Canadian wing.

Yet this does not differ many from calling Wiggins the best long term prospect. Of course, there has been a long list of dominant college players who couldn’t repeat it in the pros. While on the other end, more enigmatic college players who went on to be stars. The lessons learned of Thomas Robinson getting picked ahead of Andre Drummond won’t be forgotten soon. My position is talent is the great determiner of who translates to the NBA.

But I am not convinced Wiggins is more talented than Stauskas. In fact I more strongly feel the opposite is true.

I have discussed numerous times on this blog the overlap between ballhandling and athleticism on the offensive end. Athleticism helps a player gain freedom of movement on the court. Usually most importantly, driving past defenders into the paint to gain efficient shots, draw fouls and collapse the defense. Ballhandling also helps this freedom of movement and driving game. There are other values to athleticism like finishing in the paint or defending and other values to ballhandling like taking care of the ball, however the connection is strong enough for me to place athleticism and ballhandling in the same category in my talent grading system. When a player such as Harrison Barnes or Ben McLemore struggles to handle the ball, on the offensive end they take the features of less athletic players. That is, becoming jumpshot orientated instead of driving to the basket. The flipside is players like James Harden and Kyrie Irving having elite talent driving to the basket that exceeds their very good athleticism. Their ballhandling helps them play like they are elite athletes for their position.

Because of this, I am not convinced Wiggins is a better NBA slasher than Stauskas. Wiggins is an elite athlete, but appears to be a flawed ballhandler which can cause him to struggle to get by opponents in the halfcourt. Stauskas is a good if unspectacular athlete, showing the first step and speed to get to the basket. However he adds to this very strong ballhandling skills. Because of this he succeeds driving to the basket. This is why despite Andrew Wiggins greater athleticism, Wiggins’ average of 7.7 free throw attempts per 40 minutes is marginally ahead of Stauskas’ 7.2.

Wiggins’ physical gifts however do make him a higher upside defender. Wiggins has the lateral mobility, length and feel for the game to be one of the best wing defenders in the league. Stauskas is not known for his play on that end, but many young players struggle defensively for reasons beyond lacking the tools for it. He has years to learn to be respectable or even above average defensively.

Both Wiggins and Stauskas are among the more fluid and natural wing players in the NCAA. Both play under control and smoothly. I personally rate Stauskas feel for the game as slightly higher, having an advanced sense of craftiness and ability to change pace and adjust off the dribble.

Stauskas is the more reliable shooting prospect of the two. Hitting 46.2% from 3 on an excellent 6.7 3 point attempts per 40 minutes, he is one of the NCAA’s signature shooters. He shows ability to shoot off the dribble in addition to spotting up. Stauskas also has a free throw percentage of 80.0% after 84.3% last year, which I consider as strong an indicator as NCAA 3 point shooting for perimeter mechanics translating to the pros. Finally with 4.4 assists per 40 minutes Stauskas has strong passing skills for a 2/3.

Wiggins is not a slouch as a shooter. At 36.6% from 3 on 4.5 3pt attempts per 40 minutes and 77.9% from the FT line, it is enough to have a high upside as a shooter. However, there is a sense of unpredictability with a shooter with Wiggins’ numbers. He could turn into a great shooter or he could turn into a mediocre one. The odds of Wiggins turning into a great shooter could be the same as Stauskas turning into an elite shooter. In addition to the passing I see reason to rate Stauskas talent as higher in this category, but Wiggins has shown enough to be promising from the outside.

Therefore here are my talent grades for Andrew Wiggins and Nik Stauskas with these grades

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Very good, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Weak, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

What the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent

Andrew Wiggins

Physical impact (Athleticism, ballhandling, size) talent grade – 7 / Very good

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 6 / Decent

Feel for the Game (Fluidity, change of pace, adjustment) talent grade – 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 21 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Nik Stauskas

Physical impact (Athleticism, ballhandling, size) talent grade – 7 / Very good

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 8 / Great

Feel for the Game (Fluidity, change of pace, adjustment) talent grade – 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 24 (Blue Chip starter to perennial all-star talent grade)

Andrew Wiggins is a very good wing prospect. I expect him to be a great defender in the pros, but I am not positive about his offensive game. The way players like Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala has helped teams win is what I would predict for Wiggins unless he becomes a dominant outside shooter.

Stauskas rates higher in my system. His ability to drive when added to perimeter shooting and feel, could make him a deadly all around force on the wing. I believe Stauskas can be the next James Harden or Manu Ginobili and I am leaning towards rating him 1st overall on my draft board.

Advertisements

Written by jr.

January 31, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Introducing the 95% theory

leave a comment »

Despite confidence in my talent grading system, not even if I rate the players talent in my 3 categories correctly, will it prove a perfect measure of a prospect.

Prospects are human beings and the NBA is a sport where psychological nuance matters. How hard an effort a player gives on and off the court clearly affects their career, as does other factors like confidence, or commitment to getting along with teammates on and off the court.

Up to this point my position has largely been to rate a player’s talent level and accept imperfection rating whether they’ll get there since it is too hard to know. When the media jumps on a prospect for not caring about the game or a lack of motor there’s as big a risk this ends up totally unfounded, such as for Andre Drummond coming out of Connecticut.

Nevertheless it creates a concern. For example I rated Anthony Bennett’s talent 1st in the 2013 draft, yet judging from his start there is a possibility he never makes it in the NBA. How is this conceivable? Because even the highest of talent is no guarantee. What if Bennett became one of the all time great headcases? A player with so much anxiety on the court that he fell below a “Mendoza line” of confidence, meaning any shot he took had his head so far in the way to be a disaster? In the case of something like this, Bennett’s mental affliction would be like Greg Oden’s blowing out his knees. And in the case of both talent evaluation would be made irrelevant.

Now in reality, I don’t consider there to be many enigmas in the league. My theory on why is this. I believe most are weeded out by the time of the draft. Professional athletes play at a level of physical conditioning foreign and above regular human beings, which means virtual everyone who gets high enough to be noticed by the NBA is already a physical workout obsessive. That’s before considering the skill level to make the NBA also typically needs a history of practicing hard every day by prospects. In regards to confidence and anxiety the same weeding out factor may occur. The prospect who’s a nervous wreck in game competitions, doesn’t make it to be one of the best 18-22 year old players in the world not in the NBA in the first place. His game will already have been affected. A pro sports league is largely reserved for freaks of the world in not only talent, but confidence and off the court commitment to their sport. Most of the players who are talented enough to be standout NBA starters but were too enigmatic to mentally, probably are not in the NBA – more likely they’re people who never decided to chase after the NBA job, instead going for a regular job or college degree.

However of course, enigmas sneak through. How many? I’ve decided a number I like is 5%, or 95% of players in the NBA once they get a foot in the door (the future of undrafted players becomes less clear to me) eventually reach their talent. At least by the way I measure it. In a 450 player league this would mean 22 enigmas, however if discounting players young enough to be underperforming because of developmental pains only, something like 15 of 300 “established” players is a more reasonable ratio.

Naming 15 enigmas is actually harder than it seems. Here is my best attempt:

Michael Beasley

One of the first names that come to mind. Boasts a rare combination of feel for the game and skill level for a PF and is an above average athlete. Enough to be a star PF, never gotten close.

Charlie Villaneuva

Andray Blatche

Hedo Turkoglu

I list these players together because all 3 have high skill level and feel for the game at their position to make up ok physical tools. Out of seemingly laziness, never have consistently played to their talent, albeit shown flashes.

Josh Smith

J.R. Smith

The Smith duo are both enigmas. Like the above players I rate them as having above average feel for the game, but they play a low IQ brand of shot selection due to non-basketball mental flaws.

Jeff Green

Rudy Gay

Both players are rock solid SFs and Gay has turned it on in Sacramento, yet remain frustrating. Both players have a high fluidity and feel for the game, while Gay has great athleticism/size and ok skill, Green has both good physical tools and skill. Neither are a chasm away from their talent like a Beasley but when comparing them to a more valuable SF like Luol Deng the difference is likely non-talent.

D.J. Augustin

Eric Maynor

Neither player are as widely adknowledged enigmas as the above, however my system rates them as better talents than they’ve shown. Augustin has the shooting ability and feel to be an established borderline starter/backup a la Jameer Nelson, while Maynor’s strong feel and adequate shooting and quickness should also make him a strong backup at the least. This season in Washington right when his talent should be blossoming, he’s been one of the worst players in the NBA.

Jamal Crawford

Crawford is a player who’s had a rock solid career, however I personally see the talent to have been a consistent star. Crawford was one of the league’s best shooters, had an above average feel and despite average athleticism, had the ballhandling to get into the paint.

Andrea Bargnani

Bargnani is a player I almost left off the list, because due to feel for the game problems I feel his struggles are more explainable by talent than others do. However between his demeanor and shooting falling apart in recent years, he’s a player who carries himself so much like an underperforming one, that it feels fair to put him on. At the least, Bargnani does not help teams win games like his talent should.

Danny Green

Green is a player who’s barely played 5000 minutes in the regular season and postseason, so it may not be fair to put him on this list yet. But in his 5th season when he should be breaking out, he’s taken a step back statistically. His shooting, great feel and size/athleticism combo despite ballhandling issues, gives him the talent to be a top 10 SG in the NBA. Green is also a player who struggled to find a place early in his career due to an enigmatic work ethic, he’s admitted.

Andrew Bynum

Bynum is a player who for a handful of years with the Lakers, was reaching his talent level. At this point obviously, that is no longer the case for enigmatic reasons.

Carmelo Anthony

Deron Williams

It may not be fair to put these two players on the list considering they still peaked at a top 10, superstar level. However I hardly been impressed by their demeanor or physical conditioning and they typically carry themselves in an enigmatic way. It’s conceivable that as great of players they were, they could still be underperformers – if they had the talent to do what Kevin Durant and Chris Paul have done.

That’s 16 names, with a few players like Green, Anthony and Williams being somewhat of stretches.

Mind you, this doesn’t include younger players who may eventually be on this list. Here is my case for enigma “candidates”:

Anthony Bennett

Clearly deserves the mention for how he’s started. Bennett is blessed with the strong athleticism, feel and perimeter skills to be a star PF.
Derrick Williams

Patrick Patterson

Earl Clark

Both Williams and Patterson have the perimeter skill, feel and enough athleticism to be above average or top 10 starters in my opinion. Their production so far has been mediocre albeit Patterson is starting to shine in Toronto.

Clark has been in the league long enough to make the non-young player list, however he’s actually played less minutes than either Williams or Patterson, therefore it’s conceivable he is as much prospect. Like them for a PF he has intriguing perimeter skill, feel and athleticism.

Jimmer Fredette

Jan Vesely

Jimmer is a player I’ve listed numerous times as one I’m impressed by, with elite shooting and feel and more respectable athleticism/speed than his reputation.

Vesely has athleticism and feel, while his skill problems are a major concern. I’m not incredibly high on Vesely, but I do feel he can mark out a place in the league as a backup big man and this season he’s begun to get there.

Harrison Barnes

Something of a younger Jeff Green or Rudy Gay, Barnes has strong feel and perimeter skill for a SF and elite size/athleticism despite ballhandling issues, but continues to frustrate in Golden State

Dion Waiters

Waiters ability to drive to the basket, his feel and coming along shooting make him a high upside SG, however there’s a risk he’s a selfish jerk of a teammate it would appear

Meyers Leonard

Scott Machado

Kenny Kadji

Jeremy Lamb

These are players that I ranked top 5 in the 2012 and 2013 drafts who’ve yet to produce at that level yet, therefore I may as well list them. Meyers has perimeter jumpshot and athleticism for a 7 footer enough to be a top 10-15 C, while Machado has fine athleticism, feel and a passable jumper to be a starter. The two remind me of Marcin Gortat and Kyle Lowry respectively in talent. Lamb has elite feel, perimeter skill and is a good physical talent. Kadji has perimeter skills and feel for a power forward.

Kadji appears to be the most worrisome of the four. Not only due to question marks regarding the opportunity an undrafted player like Kadji or Machado gets compared to a lottery pick like Leonard or Lamb, but a German team cut him after a few weeks apparently because of his attitude. The coach even lambasting him by saying to paraphrase “To us when a player is talented it is isn’t just from the neck down”. It’s hard to tell how serious his misgivings were, it could have simply been a minor mistake breaking a rule about partying or drinking or involving a girl, but nevertheless it’s not a great sign for his commitment to reaching his talent in the NBA.

So if a “95% rule” approach was true, what would it mean? In my 2013 draft I used these probabilities for my talent grades being incorrect, due to changes such as shooting differences, athleticism being hidden at a young age, etc.

Within 0 points of the above talent grades (rounded, as is for all these numbers) – 30%
Within +1 or -1 – 70% (+1: 20%, -1: 20%)
Within +2 or -2 – 90% (+2: 10%, -2: 10%)
Within +3 or -3 – 97% (+3: 3.5%, -3: 3.5%)
Within +4 or -4 – 99% (+4: 1%, -4: 1%)
Within +5 or -5 – 99.5%+ (+5: 0.5%, -5: 0.5%)

Using this for example Anthony Bennett had an overall grade of 25 to top the class, but with the above probabilities it spelled out like this:

65% Perennial all-star talent (25+)
95% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent (23-24)
99.5%+ Blue Chip starter talent (19+)

Likewise my 2nd highest group of players at grade 22 Kelly Olynyk, Kenny Kadji, Dennis Schroeder’s probabilities worked out to this

Grade of 22 (Kelly Olynyk, Kenny Kadji, Dennis Schroeder)
5% Perennial all-star talent (25+)
35% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent (23+)
98.5% Blue Chip starter talent (19+)
99.5%+ Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent (17+)

The 3rd highest group of players at grade 21 were Victor Oladipo, Alex Len, C.J. McCollum

Grade of 21 (Victor Oladipo, Alex Len, C.J. McCollum)

1.5% Perennial all-star talent (25+)
15% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent
 (23+)
95% Blue Chip starter talent
 (19+)
99.5% Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent (17+)
99.5%+ Rotation player talent

However this is all only measuring talent, not the odds of them reaching it or not. For example even if I said Bennett was a virtual lock to have starting talent, it doesn’t mean he was a lock to reach this talent. But if adding in a rough 95% probability of a drafted player reaching their talent, then my new estimates would be:

Anthony Bennett

62% Perennial all-star
90% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star
95% Blue Chip starter
95% Rotation player

Kelly Olynyk and Dennis Schroeder:

5% Perennial all-star
33% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star
93.5% Blue Chip starter
95% Rotation player

Victor Oladipo, Alex Len, C.J. McCollum

1.5% Perennial all-star talent
14% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star
90% Blue Chip starter
94% Rotation player to Blue Chip starter
95% Rotation player

However, in reality there was probably reason to believe before the draft a Bennett or Schroeder had a higher chance at being an enigma than a player with the competitive streak in college of Victor Oladipo. But I feel more comfortable using the 95% rule for everyone.

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers even if we could say there was only a 5% chance of the PF they took 1st overall falling short of being a starter and good player, it’s early enough to panic about whether they hit that 5% like a dart on a bullseye.

Written by jr.

January 18, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Rating Giannis Antetokounmpo’s talent level (+Thoughts on the Anthony Bennett Hindenburg disaster)

with one comment

In a rookie class where most players have fallen between mediocre and poor production, Giannis Antetokounmpo is providing some of the most optimism. Many are now saying they’d take Giannis 1st in the draft, or believe he has the most potential.

How does my talent grading system rate “The Greek Freak”?

In my Physical impact (Athleticism, ballhandling, size) talent category Giannis rates well. Admittedly I rated him too low in this category before the draft, mostly due to lack of quality footage of him outside of a televised Greek all-star game. Giannis has been more athletically explosive and fast than I graded at the time, which in addition to gifted ballhandling skills gives him slashing upside offensively. He is also extremely long for a small forward having even grown a few inches since the draft. It is possible his growth caused the extra athletic explosiveness he is showing now, perhaps he is able to take longer strides or the muscles in his legs were altered. While I’m split on how to rate hand size as importance, Giannis’ are so abnormally big it becomes hard to ignore. These large hands should help him rebound and steal the ball.

Giannis also rates strongly in my Feel for the Game talent category. He’s a very fluid, natural player and has shown signs of playing in control offensively already, in addition to defensive anticipation.

Where Giannis rates weakest is in my Skill Impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent category. He is hitting a mediocre 31.4% from the 3 point line and making 0.6 3s per 36 minutes, in addition to an average 72.9% from the FT line. He was not known as a shooter or perimeter scorer coming into the league. He has the height to be a post player but not the strength yet. Giannis is young enough to improve his finesse game, however right now it does not appear to be any sort of strength for him.

Here are my grades for Giannis based on these ratings:

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Very good, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Weak, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

What the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent

Giannis grades:

Physical impact (Athleticism, Ballhandling, Size) talent grade: 8

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 5

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8

Total talent grade: 21 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

With the adjustment I used at the time of the 2013 draft (giving a slightly higher weighting to feel for the game, then physical impact, then skill impact in that order, due to descending level of how static/easy to predict I feel each talent category is), Giannis’ score would have ranked 5th in my talent rankings tied with Victor Oladipo and behind Anthony Bennett, Kelly Olynyk, Kenny Kadji, Dennis Schroeder. But close enough to the non-Bennett prospects to make it a near wash for 2nd. Like Oladipo, Giannis has sky high potential in the areas of attacking the basket and defense, but his upside may have a ceiling if he does not become more skilled on the perimeter. (On that note, for the same lack of footage reasons as Giannis I have a different rating of Schroeder than I did before the draft. Schroeder’s shooting has been worse than I thought, but his feel for the game better – the difference ends up a wash. I now see him as having the same strengths and weaknesses as Giannis and Oladipo, with elite physical tools and feel for the game for his position but a huge question mark as a perimeter skill player)

Other players I would compare Giannis to include Kawhi Leonard, Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala. All of whom like Giannis have impressive size and athleticism and great feel for the game, but are not truly natural perimeter scorers and finesse players. Some have compared Giannis to Paul George and Kevin Durant because of his physical tools, but George and Durant showed standout shooting talent in college and early in their careers. For Giannis to have similar upside he’d need to change the face of his shooting/skill game entirely. Whether a player can develop this much is up to interpretation, but personally I consider it quite unlikely.

I consider it defendable to take Giannis before all the other 2013 prospects if given teh choice, depending on the confidence one has in developing his skills and with the understandable apprehension about Anthony Bennett’s play so far. How do I feel about Bennett’s epic disaster of a rookie season? From a talent grading perspective I haven’t seen any reasons to make a major change. He is not hitting his perimeter shots, but taking them with such frequency, that one has to believe he makes them enough in practice (where he reportedly plays great) for the Cavs to believe they’ll start going in. Other than that he has the same combination of athleticism, strength, ballhandling and fluidity, that when added to perimeter skills, are the tools of a star. I consider the two ways for a player to be a star talent is to be above average in all 3 of my physical impact (Athleticism, ballhandling, size), skill impact (Shoot, post, pass), and feel for the game categories, or to have incredible/transcendent ability in at least one to make up for average or worse talent in another. For example Lamarcus Aldridge and James Harden are two stars who are above average in all three of my categories, while Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook have a combination of transcendent talents (Love’s feel for the game/skill impact, Westbrook’s physical impact) and no more than average ones (Love’s physical impact, Westbrook’s feel for the game). In this class I see Bennett as easily the best example of an “above average in all three” prospect, while my next highest prospects have holes. Schroeder, Oladipo, Giannis have everything but shooting, Olynyk and Kadji have average at best physical talents. Nobody is transcendent in a category based on what I can see, the closest are Nerlens Noel physically and Otto Porter’s feel for the game but Noel’s weak skill level/feel for the game and Porter’s weak athleticism is enough that I don’t see them as likely stars.

The concern with Bennett isn’t talent, it’s reaching his talent. It’s conceivable, even if a stretch, that Bennett ends up with a “broken confidence” complex that does to his career what Greg Oden’s knees did to his. Now there’s been so little prospects where confidence has been a long term problem after they settle into the league, that it’s hard to treat it as a major concern. But most prospects weren’t taken with the pressure of a #1 pick either. There’s also Bennett’s physical conditioning which wasn’t great even at UNLV and his shoulder surgery threw it way off, but with no bad words about his work ethic, I suspect that will get better by next season.. Overall, I’d say the odds are in favor of Bennett eventually hitting or nearing his talent level whatever it is, eventually. Whether it happens on the Cavaliers or not. I understand why some would choose otherwise, but because of the difference between a star and a great starter, I still wouldn’t blink taking Bennett before the other 2013 prospects available.

Written by jr.

January 4, 2014 at 7:44 pm