A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Is Nik Stauskas a better NBA prospect than Andrew Wiggins?

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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.

Written by jr.

January 31, 2014 at 12:35 pm

5 Responses

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  1. So with your system, how could you ever know you have made a mistake in overrating a player’s talent?


    February 8, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    • Well to put it simply I may see something in the NBA that causes me to re-evaluate them in a category. Clearly the skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) category is one where a player could eg become a great 3 point shooter when the signs weren’t there in college (ie check out Kyle Lowry’s freakish career, being a non-existent 3pt shooter in college and 4 years into his career and then blowing up by 13-14 to being one of the best shooters in the league. Lowry must have had the talent to be a great shooter all along, but it was “hidden”.) Chandler Parsons is another player (probably non-coincidentally with ties to Houston) who I would not have graded as a shooting talent in college who then become one of the best at the SF position.

      In my draft grades in 2013 https://asubstituteforwar.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/final-nba-draft-talent-grades-and-more-june-2013/ I introduced a “probability chart” with a rough estimate I gave myself of being x amount of points off on a grade based on how I would regrade them in a few years. So for example I estimated a 30% chance I would be “right on” with a grade, a 70% chance I would be within 1 up or 1 down, a 90% chance I would be within 2 up or 2 down, etc. Basically after the math, how it worked out is take a player who had a grade of 17, which is a borderline starter type of category and 2 points below my “blue chip starter” grade of 19. After the math I gave about a 15% estimate of that “17 grade” talent becoming a 19+ one. My “16 grade” players odds of hitting 19 or higher was 5%. So this would help account for the Lowry and Parsons situations. If they came out today with great feel for the game and decent physical impact tools, it is likely they would have a grade like 16 or 17 despite a 4 or 5 in the skill impact category. Therefore their success becoming true blue chippers would fall into that 5 to 15% category of longshot but not impossible. Or to give another example, I rated Nerlens Noel as a non top 30 talent last year, but if Noel comes into the league nailing the Serge Ibaka midrange jumpshot despite his college career, I still he can be a starting PF. But the probability of Noel doing this is probably around the same as Oladipo having a Parsons like surge as a perimeter shooter/scorer. Yet if Oladipo had this surge, instead of becoming a starting talent in Noel’s case, it would probably turn Oladipo into a “one of the best in the NBA” talents. With a great 3 point shooting game that guy would be unbelievable. And on the other end the “worst case scenario” skill wise, if Noel Vesely’s it skill wise, I personally think he’s going to be unplayable. If Oladipo never learns to hit a jumpshot I still rate him as a useful talent if not starter. Therefore when I rate Oladipo as a much better prospect than Noel, my justification is my talent system is saying a) Noel has higher odds of being a super bust, near non-existent for Oladipo barring enigma status, b) Oladipo has much stronger odds of being a “blue chip starter” if unspectacular, c) Oladipo has a puncher’s longshot chance to be a superstar. Despite all this Noel could surge as a shooter for his position and Oladipo could go in the worst case scenario direction, meaning Noel could be => better. But regardless of what happens I think Oladipo as of June 2013 is the way better pick, at least by the way I rate talent. If a team takes a player who needs everything to go right to be decent over a player who needs everything to go wrong to only be decent (not saying this is necessarily Oladipo and Noel), the former is not the right pick regardless of the results. The team just got lucky or are great at development. Whereas if they got equally lucky or developmentally successful with the player they passed on, they may have ended up with a prize 10x as big.

      As for grading wrongly, to give you an example of the 2012 and 2013 drafts Drummond is the player who’s grade I have changed the most on. Mostly because my methods by the 2012 draft were pretty unpolished (I had just come up with the system). At the time the obvious way to rate Drummond felt like to give him a supremely high physical tools score, but rate him as a rock bottom plug in skill level and basketball IQ/feel for the game. So like 11 physical+1 skill+3 feel. I figured out quickly during his rookie season these grades were bad. Drummond is not a skill-first player but his ability to catch/finish everything around the rim is a ‘skill’ not all Cs have (see: Vesely, Biyombo, Kwame). In addition Drummond is so huge, the backdown ability gained from this gives him some post ability even without the moves. So in my “skill impact (Shoot, post, pass)” category he’s more like a 4 or 5 to me now. As for whether I would’ve recognized this based on his UConn unskilled play, maybe not but it may have not mattered, because I now don’t go below a 3 or 4 in the skill category for any prospect, due to giving them the benefit of the doubt that this is a talent that can show up later. For example Nerlens Noel had no more skilled a college season than Drummond but I gave him a 4 in my grades last year.

      As for feel for the game in general my methods evaluating the category have grown a lot. Drummond playing “dumb” and “lost” at UConn but my feel for the game grading has little to do with that now. I now lean heavily on using fluidity, balance, change of pace, the “slow-mo” effect, and in general how natural an aesthetic the player has as a “tell” for feel for the game. I largely use two areas of the game to spot this, post ups are the easiest way and the second best is drives to the rim through traffic. I figure feel for the game spots up most in these because the player is most under duress and it’s the biggest opportunity for him to be rushed and out of control. So to be honest I usually just load up youtube clips and try to see as many drives to the rims or post ups as I can for a prospect. For Drummond when I go back to watch the UConn footage the same fluidity, balance and slow ease he’s shown at DET was all there. So I feel if he came out now I would be likely to rate him as above average in feel for the game. To use another 2013 draft comparison Anthony Bennett was a player many were critical of his awareness and instincts in college that I had rated as an 8 or 9 in feel for the game anyways based on the fluidity and ease of his drives and post up clips.

      Another 2012 player I feel I missed on was Lillard and this one is easy to explain, the Weber St. footage was so camcorder-centric that I was just all over the place grading his athleticism and feel for the game compared to what it really is. I now have a strategy to only use “TV cameras” to get an equal frame of reference judging athleticism and fluidity as NBA. Put a camera in the crowd and all of a sudden the way a player is moving looks different than it will in the NCAA or NBA.

      In general I do not pretend my system is going to be perfect, there is probably nuances of talent evaluation like shooting improvements that no system can perfectly catch. As I mentioned before I also feel there is enigmas in the NBA, even if only 5% of players become one, that’s enough to ruin talents. However I feel I am overwhelmingly on the right track compared to the hit and miss nature of the draft elsewhere


      February 8, 2014 at 11:42 pm

      • Julian, thanks a lot for your lengthy response, but I did ask about overrating specifically, because that’s where I have a hard time seeing how you could possibly be proven wrong. All your examples in your reply are where you underrated a guy.


        February 9, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      • Ok, well it’s mostly the reverse anyways, eg. overpredicting somebody’s shooting, thinking they are too athletic, etc. For example I rated Scott Machado top 5 in 2012 and while I still think he will be a solid player I think I rated him too high. I rated his feel for the game as 10/11 at the time based on his passing numbers, right now I would be more around 8 based on the fluidity driving, etc. method I use now. Also while athletic I may have not taken into account enough at the time how mediocre ballhandling could hurt his ability to drive. Finally while Machado can hit 3s both a midrange jumpshot and finishing at the rim has been poor so that somewhat accounts in my skill category. In addition he is not as skilled a passer as I thought he was after college. So my grade in June 2012 was probably around 6 physical 5 skill 10 feel, now it is like 5 physical 4 skill 8 feel


        February 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      • Or to put it another way, in the case of this Stauskas article. If Stauskas jumpshot fell apart didn’t translate to the pros at all for some reason, like 30<% 3pt, then obviously my ranking of him 1st would likely turn out incorrect


        February 9, 2014 at 8:14 pm

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