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Some thoughts on Al Jefferson and the Bobcats defense-driven improvement

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After finishing with one of the two worst records in the league last year, the Bobcats spent big on Al Jefferson (paying him 15 million a year) and are now cruising to a playoff spot on the back of his career best season.

However if the NBA was played on paper, there’d be reason to doubt Big Al is responsible for this impact. In 2012-2013 the Bobcats finished 28th in offense (ORTG) and 30th in defense (DRTG), in 2013-2014 they are 24th in offense and 8th in defense. Big Al is known as an offense-first player who’s a defensively liability at C. Furthermore while Jefferson is averaging 21.5ppg it’s on .529 TS, one of the big movement in analytics is to claim high volume, below average efficiency players, are overrated. So an analytics-first person may say Jefferson has not improved the Bobcats offense much because of his inefficiency, while the team’s leap forward is on defense where he’s not contributing outside of rebounding.

But a case can be made Al has an in-direct impact on the team’s defense. I’ve been of the opinion for a while, defense is connected to energy. Not every team can play as hard as they can at all times on defense. If they due it may lead to a woeful offense, such as most Larry Brown and Scott Skiles teams. A team like this year’s Pacers may be one who is playing so hard defensively it may cost them on the offensive end.

The argument for why Al helps the Bobcats may start with this concept. By the offense leaning so hard on Al Jefferson, the Bobcats may have more energy to put on defense, both mentally and physically. Players like Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson, Josh McRoberts, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Bismack Biyombo may have a greater defensive focus because Al is on the team.

That’s in addition to tangible ways for a team to build more defensively now that they have Al. Last year Ben Gordon and Byron Mullens, two of the worst defenders and lowest impact players in the league, may have been playing because the coach thought “someone has to take shots”, pushing him to give minutes to shot jackers who are efficiency and defensive sieves. Big Al filled that volume hole on his own, allowing them to play more defensively competent and efficient role players.

The Bobcats are 1st in defensive rebounding % in the league this year (after finishing 29th last year) but are only 27th in offensive rebounding % which is probably a sign of coaching strategy. The Bobcats may not be going for offensive rebounds because they want to guard in transition more, or they may just be exerting more energy on the defensive glass than the offensive glass. When the Bobcats were 18th in offensive rebounding and 29th in defensive rebounding last year, they may have been likewise strategically targeting offensive rebounds more.

All in all, I’m of the opinion that talent often finds a way to win to their talent level, if they are well coached and play together. The Bobcats paid the money to improve their talent level this summer and reaped the benefits, in one way or another. They have a team who’s very good at defense and with enough offensive liabilities that the team may fall apart on that end without Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson using so many possessions at an OK level. That tells me Walker and Jefferson are important to their success. Every team still has to score enough to win.

Of course none of this is a guarantee. It’s possible the immediate picture the stats provide are right and the Bobcats improvement comes from coaching, an improvement of other young players and getting rid of Gordon and Mullens. But I lean towards Big Al having as important a role in this team’s step forward as it seems.

Written by jr.

March 31, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Fivethirtyeight.com’s flaws so far

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The Fivethirtyeight.com site recently relaunched. With its connection to ESPN.com, it’s clear the site saw a chance to recreate Grantland’s success, with Nate Silver playing the Bill Simmons role as its creator and most read writer.

The site to me, has been a disappointment so far. Not to count it out. Like a basketball player or first time coach, it could very well break through its struggles and soon become great.

But so far there are problems, as have been noticed by others around the net. For an article priding itself on “Fox” like journalism using as much data as possible, the articles feel short with the evidence feeling awfully half baked. Sometimes relying on one or two research studies, which are never trustworthy on their own for sample size and possible confirmation bias by the researcher.

So what is going on here? I don’t doubt the work ethic or commitment to the site by Silver or its writers, many who have done greater work elsewhere.

On the surface, what it seems like to me is this. Fivethirtyeight.com looks like a site trying to be a “primer to understanding data” for those who are not used to it. In other words, instead of targeting at the heaviest of data and statistical nerds, they are targeting those who have a mild interest in statistics and showing them that it’s “fun and informative”.

The motive for this is clear. The number of people in the casually interested in data group far outweighs the already statistical nerds. By targeting the former they can reach a larger audience and become a more successful site.

But this is a delicate balance. By making an article more simplistic and mainstream-audience friendly, the writers may be leaving out crucial information to their subjects and not writing the best article they can. In other words, 538’s articles become poor man’s versions of what could’ve been great articles. They just feel incomplete.

Ultimately this will be a hard problem for Fivethirtyeight to fix, but many talented people and thinkers are involved in the site including Silver himself, so they have a chance. The site’s goals may not be the same as Grantland’s. Grantland has a commitment to well presented, through articles, that both challenge the reader but speak in a genuine, sincere tone. So far Fivethirtyeight isn’t even a shadow of Grantland’s quality.

Written by jr.

March 27, 2014 at 11:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Should Luke Babbitt scare teams about Doug McDermott?

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Creighton’s Doug McDermott is the likely player of the year winner in college, however despite his all-time great NCAA career, there are skeptics about whether he’ll make it in the NBA. Some see a starter, some see washout to a European league as his outcome.

One thing that’s scaring people, is McDermott’s similarities with Luke Babbitt. At about the same size and athleticism as McDermott, Babbitt’s perimeter shooting skills and high feel for the game were not enough to keep him in the league his first go around with Portland. He’s currently playing for the Pelicans after a stint overseas.

A first thing to consider is while Babbitt had a great shooting profile coming out of college, McDermott’s is a little better. While McDermott is no guarantee to be an even more deadly shooter than Babbitt in the NBA, at best he can be a Kyle Korver like savant hitting shots. At worst he could actually be worse than Babbitt at outside shooting.

Secondly, a crucial key with Babbitt is it’s not over for him. Babbitt has only played 1670 minutes in the NBA, 266 with the Pelicans. That would rank 5th in this year’s rookie class behind Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke, Ben McLemore. He is still just 24. I tend to consider 6,000-8,000 minutes as a good benchmark for when a player starts entering “It’s time to start showing your talent” mode. Babbitt is not CLOSE to that point in minutes played. Inexperience made Babbitt a worse decision maker on offense and defense than he would be if a veteran with over 10,000 minutes played. Which pushed him from a player just good enough to contribute, to a player just bad enough to not contribute. Even if Babbitt got to 7,000 or 8,000 minutes and was struggling, it would be possible he’s an enigma not reaching his talent, due to mental flaws McDermott shouldn’t be expected to have.

Then consider how the Blazers were trying Babbitt as a small forward for the first 2 years of his career, accounting for about half his minutes so far. So his reps at power forward are especially small.

With that said, there is a reason why Babbitt played so little his first 3 seasons in Portland. When a player is struggling, how long a leash a player is given is likely connected to how much they believe in his upside, or the return on their investment. Nobody had any doubts that Babbitt had less than a star’s upside due to athletic limitations. If the Blazers developed him for 6,000+ minutes plus, they may have only had a player worth 5 or 6 million a year – easily replaceable in free agency. This still has value as a young, average player can become a trade chip (see Houston drafting Chase Budinger in the 2nd round and eventually trading him for a top 20 pick), but not every team may take this asset based approach.

Thus that is a major concern with Doug McDermott’s career. If his shooting goes the right direction (elite instead of good/great) he has the talent to be a very good bench lower level starter or standout 6th man. If his shooting is a little worse than elite and inexperience causes mistakes when he’s younger, he may fall out of a rotation and struggle to work his way back in, stuck on his team that doesn’t see the point in giving years of minutes to a player just to see him turn into a 6th or 7th man.. Most seem to feel McDermott has a limited upside. And although this fact tends to missed, as is the case with virtually all players who have a limited upside, that goes hand in hand with having a high bust potential as well for the team who takes him. Even if 27 year old McDermott is a good contributor, if he’s on his 3rd team by then, it didn’t work out for the team who took him. That would be partly on them for misevaluating his talent, but nevertheless. If McDermott has an OK upside and a high risk factor, it’s hard to justify taking him in the lottery.

Analyzing some undrafted prospects who’s talent I rated highly

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Nearing 2 years since I developed my talent grading system, it is still early to compare the results to how the NBA drafted and whether I reached my goal out of outdoing them. But it’s not too early to look hard at some over or underperforming prospects.

As I have mentioned on a few occasions, I consider 2012 to be a trial year. Between then and the 2013 draft I polished up my grading methods and categories a lot. I haven’t given up hope that my order will outperform the real 2012 draft’s order, but it won’t blow the real way the NBA picked the players out of the water, I feel I can say now. I am more confident about my 2013 big board, albeit I also corrected a few things since then, making 2014 likely even better.

If one wanted to criticize my draft rankings so far, they may start with 3 undrafted seniors I posted in my top 10 talents – PG Scott Machado in 2012 (#4) and PFs Kenny Kadji (#3) and PF Jackie Carmichael (#10) in 2013.

One would think these 3 prospects would be a good test case for my system. If they went on to be NBA starters, it would go a long way to proving I am correct.

None of the 3 have performed as well as I hoped. In the D League they are treading water.  Machado since his trade to Idaho is averaging 9.9  points, 4.4 assists, 1.6 rebounds in 23.3 minutes per game (.56 TS), with similar stats in his previous D League stops. Kadji is averaging 6.2 points, 3.5 rebounds in 14.2 minutes per game (.48 TS). Carmichael is averaging 9.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.5 blocks in 24.1 minutes per game (.52 TS).

Does this mean I was wrong to call them starting talents? Not necessarily. It’s conceivable starting talents could be performing no better than they have.

What makes the statistical dominance of some players in the D League fascinating, is it on paper should be a step up from the NCAA. Not only is the talent level higher, but more importantly, it’s a league made of physically mature men. Yet judging from the results of NBA caliber NCAA prospects who go to the D League within a year, it’s easier to statistically dominate the D League.

Of course, the reason for this is the D League is about individual statistics, not team wins. Therefore defense is typically ignored and sharing the ball on offense is a struggle.

So why aren’t Machado, Kadji, Carmichael taking advantage of these defense-less conditions?

First, note that a reason for NBA assignees dominating the D League, may be in part because they are NBA assignees. Not only due to huge minutes played (sometimes breaking 40 a game), but the team giving the ball to this “big fish in a small pond”. In a league about individual stat-padding, maybe what matters is who’s getting the ball the most with his teammates clearing out of the way for him. Machado, Kadji, Carmichael are more likely to get “lost in the shuffle” of shot attempts than NBA assignees.

Secondly, the real reason Machado, Kadji, Carmichael went undrafted, is how look it took them to emerge – all taking until their senior season to hit the NBA radar. If they had emerged as the great talents on their team in their freshmen, sophomore, or junior seasons, they’d have more likely built draft buzz. That these players blended in instead of individually showing out most of their college careers, may be connected to their average D League statistics. Some players may not be built to put up star statistics in the D League. To give you an example, Dominic McGuire is turning 29 this year and has played 342 Gs in the NBA, finding end of the bench roles as a defender and rebounder. Since going to the D League this year he’s averaged 13.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists in 32.5 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, this production is not really better than Machado, Kadji or Carmichael. Now mind you, McGuire wasn’t the type of player who’d meet my lottery rankings of those 3 prospects, but it shows not every NBA player automatically goes nuts in the D League. Thus an explanation could be these Machado, Kadji, Carmichael could be showing their NBA talent if they were in the NBA, such as 1st round picks – that the more system orientated, role player friendly systems, would work well for them. It’s possible that if Carmichael had been given the minutes and expectations Cody Zeller did as the 4th overall pick for the Bobcats, he may have played equally well or better. But if Zeller was in his place in the D League, he may have dominated it to 20/10+ rates. While it’s hard to say for sure, it’s possible Zeller could be more suited to dominate the D League but not any more suited to play well in the NBA.

Another explanation could be they are enigmas, in the D League or the NBA. My system rates talent but of course not every player is guaranteed to reach it. It may be players who get to be undrafted seniors, are the most at risk to not be reaching their talent. What makes this interesting is none of Machado, Kadji or Carmichael show the personalities of enigmas, in fact Machado and Carmichael seem particularly tough and driven to make it. But this may not be all that goes into an enigma. For example, even a tough and hard working prospect, could be sunk by confidence. It’s conceivable when they put a shot up, there’s a shadow of doubt throwing it off that NBA players just don’t have.

Finally another explanation for their struggles of course, could be that I was just wrong to be so high on their talent. If they continue to not make the NBA, I’ll do my best to see if there’s a way to improve the system to “catch” what went wrong with Machado, Kadji or Carmichael. As a recap, here’s a simplified version of what I see talent-wise in all 3 players:

PG Scott Machado

– NBA caliber physical tools: Average length, above average frame/strength, average to above average first step, below average lateral mobility.

Spot-up 3 pt shooter. Hitting 43%+ from 3 for Idaho, albeit struggled for Santa Cruz to start the year (but was coming off injury) and similarly inconsistent 3pt shooting year last season. Not as strong a midrange shooter or touch at the basket.

Great feel for the game/fluidity

Ideally in the NBA, Machado would be a “game manager” who could both hit spot up 3s and drive to the basket when given the opportunity, even if non-elite at both skills. Probably not much of a defender, but this is typically an afterthought at PG. A PG with decent physical tools with feel and 3pt shooting, should be NBA material.

PF Jackie Carmichael

NBA caliber physical tools. Average length, but great frame/strength. Can play above the rim a bit but overall an average athlete. Decent lateral mobility, was a great defender in college.

Has some skills. Great touch at the basket finishing and catching, can hit the 10-15 shot a bit, has some post skills and turnarounds. Struggled at the FT line in college, but hitting over 70% in the D League.

Above average feel for the game. Shows fluidity and craftiness.

Carmichael’s strength with reasonable athleticism/length, touch at the basket and from midrange and feel for the game, should make him an easy role player NBA talent. He’s been a great rebounder in both college and the D League, so that would also give him a role. A two way player like Taj Gibson may be someone for Carmichael to aim for if he made the NBA, or possibility even Carlos Boozer and David West.

PF Kenny Kadji

NBA caliber physical tools. Above average length, decent strength and athletic explosiveness. Decent lateral mobility.

3 point shooter in college. Takes 3s in the D League, but the % has been inconsistent. Some NCAA players need a year to translate to NBA range, mind you. Even 20 foot range would be rare for a PF/C. Enough of a ballhandler to drive to the basket off the dribble. Some post skill.

Above average fluidity and feel.

This is the guy I consider the no-brainer NBA starting talent of these 3. Not only are stretch bigs a commodity in the NBA, but most lack Kadji’s other gifts – the length, strength and athleticism to defend and the explosiveness/ballhandling to drive to the basket. This driving ability when added to his shooting, makes him even more of a mismatch. Kadji’s rebounding was a weakness in college, but has improved to 8.9 per 36 minutes in the D League, more in line with his physical tools.

I don’t consider the reason these guys are NBA talents to be complicated. All have NBA caliber physical tools, all have NBA caliber instincts/feel and from a skills perspective, all can do somewhere between a few things (in Machado and Carmichael’s case) and a lot (in Kadji’s case). Guys with NBA caliber physical tools with mental and skill talents should be able to cut it in the NBA. There’s no real reason to doubt them from a talent perspective really, just from a “Well they didn’t dominate in college until they had an age advantage and now they’re not in the D League, so they must not have it”. Which may be a valid concern after all. If these players don’t make it to the NBA, whether it’s because of lack of opportunity or because they are flawed prospects – it’d certainly make me more skeptical going forward of senior prospects who are barely on the NBA radar. To consider them dangers of not reaching their talent, whether it’s because they can’t or because the NBA won’t give them the chance. Either way I may place an asterisk next to these prospects saying I am unsure about their futures, as I am now about Machado, Kadji and Carmichael.

Written by jr.

March 21, 2014 at 3:49 am

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

2014 NBA Draft Talent rankings – March update

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Here’s my first talent big board for the 2014 draft. For a review of my talent grading methodology, click here. A few more notes:

– Since my system ranks talent, players are not guaranteed to reach their talent level. However, I consider the NBA exceptional at developing players to reach their talent level, with a limited number of enigmas in the NBA by my system. By the time a player reaches say, 6,000-8,000 regular season NBA minutes, they should be showing the signs of their talent level. I estimate about 5% of the 300 or so out of 450 players who have played long enough to no longer be called prospects, are enigmatic/not reaching their talent.

– Therefore if the NBA does not draft one of these players, or takes them in the 2nd round but doesn’t believe in them, I am more in the dark about whether they reach their talent level. Years down the road I may be able to speak with more confidence about the chance of an undrafted player breaking in the NBA and reaching their talent. For now there’s a possibility an undrafted player has a much higher chance of never reaching their talent than players who are drafted and developed by NBA teams. That and these players may going undrafted in the first place because they are enigmas – such as seniors who are not dominant statistically.

– As talent rankings, factors like health, effort level on/off the court, buyout concerns for international players, etc. are not taken into the account in these rankings.

I tried to include as many prospects in ESPN and Draftexpress.com’s 1st round mocks I felt comfortable ranking, as well as other prospects if relevant. I have 36 of those players rated on this list. Last year by June my list of rated players was over 60 players long. If I am unsure about a player’s position, whatever position I rate their talent higher in, is what I choose

To recap in my 3 categories for the players positions Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent, Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent, Feel for the Game talent, here are the grade meanings:

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

When players have the same total grade, I order them for now according to the combined physical motion/impact and feel for the game grade. If those are tied, I give the edge to the higher feel for the game. This is because I see feel for the game as most static, followed by the physical impact, followed by the skill impact.

The rankings:

1. C Joel Embiid

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 7 / Very good

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade – 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 23 (Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent)

No argument from me about the most talented prospect in the draft. In addition to the special fluidity and feel shows, when added to his lateral mobility and length, it makes his defensive potential aces. He shows signs of a post and perimeter shooting game. For a weakness he is not an explosive athlete. Embiid is a two way star at best and is the closest to a locked starter if he stays healthy. For the most part, there aren’t enough Cs in the league for Embiid to not start.

2. SG Nik Stauskas

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 6 / Decent

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 22 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Perhaps the best offensive talent in the draft. In addition to his perimeter shooting skills (8 in the skill impact category could very well end up too conservative), Stauskas is such a good ball-handler for  a SG, it allows him to be a driving threat despite decent, not exemplary explosiveness. He also shows great fluidity and craftiness. Many are concerned about his defense and his lateral mobility indeed is unimpressive, but I see no reason why he can’t be an average defender, considering positional intelligence is as important as physical talent on that end. In the NBA plus defense is not a requirement to be a star player, if one provides enough offense.

3. PF Noah Vonleh

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 5 / Average

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade – 9 / Elite

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

4. PF Julius Randle

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8 / Great

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

5. SG Jordan Adams

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 6 / Decent

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

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

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

Vonleh and Randle are the first two of a strong power forward class. Both with outstanding strength, Randle is the more athletic player, while Vonleh is longer. Both have a fluid feel and craftiness, Vonleh’s even better than Randle’s. The trick for both is adding the perimeter shot. They’ve both shown enough to me in both perimeter attempts and FT shooting, to make me believe they will be mid-range jumpshooters in the pros. When added to their strength, feel and touch at the rim, it should be enough to be starting 4s.

Adams is a very similar prospect to Stauskas. He can shoot, has an above average feel for the game and has the ballhandling and enough athleticism to drive. I see Stauskas as the better handler and more explosive off the dribble, but Adams to have better lateral mobility and strength.

6. PF Aaron Gordon

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 8 / Great

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade – 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

7. PG Marcus Smart

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

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade – 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

8. PG Jahii Carson

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 8 / Great

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade – 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

9. SF K.J. McDaniels

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade- 5 / Average

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

10. SF Mario Hezonja

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 7 / Very good

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

11. PF Adreian Payne

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 6 / Decent

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 6 / Decent

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

12. PF Jabari Parker

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 3 / Weak

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

13. SF Rodney Hood

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 3 / Weak

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

14. SG Bogdan Bogdanovic

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 4 / Lacking

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 20 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Gordon, Smart and Carson are intriguing talents. Gordon and Carson are two of the best athletes in the draft. Smart is not as athletic as them, but has great height and strength for his position. When added to above average feel/fluidity for all 3, the only difference between them and star talents is skill. Gordon is an all-around mess in that area, a grade of 4 admittedly is giving him the benefit of the doubt the can improve to OK. Smart and Carson are unreliable outside shooters. Still, they’re talented enough to be good players even with below average skill games – and great players if they make great leaps in the area.

Parker, Hood and Bogdanovic are somewhat on the opposite end. They have great perimeter skill and feel for the game, but do not show an explosive ability to attack the basket or physically impact the game, in addition to likely defensive concerns. Still, there is typically a place in starting lineups and the “blue chip” core for outside shooting and feel at a terrific level.

Hezonja and Payne somewhat bridge the above two gaps. They have athleticism and perimeter skill, but neither at an elite level. (Notably, including Hezonja here is almost pointless – by most accounts, there is almost no way he declares for this draft). McDaniels combination of feel, size and lateral mobility make him an excellent defensive prospect, while offensively he has 3 point range, even if not a slasher.

15. PG Jordan Clarkson

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade – 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 19 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

16. SG Semaj Christon

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 7 / Very good

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade – 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 19 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

17. PF Dario Saric

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 2 / Very poor

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade – 10 / Incredible

Total talent grade: 19 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Like Marcus Smart, Clarkson has an impressive combination of size and feel. While not a great athlete his ballhandling skills helps him drive. His 3 point shooting is unreliable, but the tools are there to be a rock solid, two way PG in a game manager role. Semaj Christon can slash and has feel, but on the wing to really break out needs better outside shooting. Saric is unique in he’s the only player I have a perfect 10 grade given to in this draft, with an amazing feel for the game. He is however unexplosive and undersized for his likely position at PF, with signs of a perimeter jumpshot, though not enough to bank on. His potential as a post up threat looks legitimate.

18. PF Clint Capela

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 8 / Great

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade – 6 / Decent

Total talent grade: 18 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent)

19. PG Dante Exum

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average (???)

Feel for the Game talent grade – 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 18 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

20. SF Andrew Wiggins

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 7 / Very good

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade – 6 / Decent

Total talent grade: 18 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

21. PG Deonte Burton

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 8 / Great

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade – 5 / Average

Total talent grade: 18 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

22. SF Kyle Anderson

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 3 / Weak

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 18 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

23. SG Gary Harris

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 4 / Lacking

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade – 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 18 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

24. SG P.J. Hairston

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade- 3 / Weak

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 18 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

25. PF Doug McDermott

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade:  1 / Awful

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 9 / Elite

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 18 (Rotation player to Blue chip starter talent grade)

This is where the depth of the 2014 draft starts to shine, as I still consider these prospects to still be pretty good, potential starters. Of the group Capela and Burton have my highest physical impact score, both imposing their explosiveness on the competition in a terrific way. Anderson leads the way in feel for the game, garnering the nickname “slo-mo” for his smooth, crafty style. Harris and Hairston have “3 and D” potential for their outside shooting, feel and enough size, but may not attack the basket in the NBA offensively. McDermott is an absolutely elite outside shooter for a PF (a case can be made for deserving of the second 10 in the class, after Saric’s feel for the game) with a great feel for the game, but provides nothing in the physical impact category. And in the group is Wiggins and Exum, currently mocked as top 5 picks. I’ve made my reservations about Wiggins known multiple times, such as in this post. As for Dante Exum, when looking at the only footage I trust of him in the Nike Hoop Summit game (because of its filming on TV cameras), I did not see as explosive an athlete as his reputation. He is also a hard player to peg in the skill impact category. The word seemingly, is outside shooting is a weakness more than a strength. Overall for these prospects, their strengths are either not big enough strengths, or their weaknesses are too big of ones, to rate higher.

26. PF T.J. Warren

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade: – 2 / Very poor

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade – 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 17 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

The huge amount of 18 grade players, left only one in the 17 group. Warren will likely have to cut it as a stretch 4 in the NBA, where his outside shooting will likely be a strength instead of a weakness at SF. With his feel that may get him minutes, albeit physically he’ll be at a disadvantage, as neither explosive or big. His best chance to start is to become a great 3 point shooter.

27. SF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade: 5 / Average

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade – 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 16 (Rotation player talent grade)

28. C Willie Cauley-Stein

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade: – 8 / Great

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade – 4 / Lacking

Total talent grade: 16 (Rotation player talent grade)

29. SF Sam Dekker

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 3 / Weak

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade – 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 16 (Rotation player talent grade)

30. SG Wayne Selden, Jr.

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 4 / Lacking

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade – 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 16 (Rotation player talent grade)

31. PG Tyler Ennis

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 2 / Very poor

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade – 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 16 (Rotation player talent grade)

32. SF James Young

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 5 / Average

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade – 6 / Decent

Total talent grade: 16 (Rotation player talent grade)

33. SG Zach Lavine

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 2 / Very poor

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 16 (Rotation player talent grade)

These are players for whom where they get drafted and to who, likely will determine whether they can stick as energy guys, shooters or game managers off the bench. At absolute best case scenario, largely in the skill development department, they could make a run at starting.

34. C Jusef Nurkic

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 6 / Decent

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

Feel for the Game talent grade – 3 / Weak

Total talent grade: 15 (Rotation player talent grade)

35. SF Jerami Grant

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade – 3 / Weak

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade – 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 14 (Rotation player talent grade)

36. PF Montrezl Harrell

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade: – 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade – 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade – 4 / Lacking

Total talent grade: 14 (Rotation player talent grade)

These players look like 2nd round caliber prospects. Nurkic is the latest international C to have a flawed, stiff feel for the game, which it would be hard to get past with his average athleticism. Grant is not really gifted either driving to the basket or shooting. Harrell is an athlete without much size, skill or feel or his position.

Written by jr.

March 14, 2014 at 6:30 am

Evaluating the Andrew Wiggins and Paul George comparison

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Although as I predicted going into the year Andrew Wiggins has not been as exemplary a prospect as expected, he is still in the mix for the 1st or 2nd pick.

One of the players Wiggins is compared to is Paul George, who has become one of the superstars in the NBA.

Is a Paul George and Andrew Wiggins comparison justified?

First, what both George and Wiggins share is excellent lateral mobility. This has helped George become one of the best wing defenders in the league, while Wiggins is expected to become a great defender in the NBA.

Like George, Wiggins is not as explosive attacking off the dribble as his side to side athleticism. Part of this is flawed ball-handling skills for both players, in George’s case an adequate first step more than elite. Wiggins may have a better first step, but I do not see Dwyane Wade in that area either.

So this combination of lateral athleticism, forward athleticism and ballhandling, draws George comparisons. However, there are other strengths I see in George I don’t see as strongly in Wiggins:

To start, George is a taller, longer player than Wiggins is and his strength level has filled out nicely. Wiggins remains skinny, albeit he has time to build his strength, or even grow taller like George did after his draft.

More importantly, George has become a terrific shooter for a small forward. He hits 37.1% of his 3s on 6.3 attempts a game this season, with an 87.0% FT. He has also excelled as a midrange jumpshooter this year.

How does college Wiggins compare to college George as a shooter? As a freshman George hit 44.7% from 3 on 4.1 attempts a game, but only 69.7% from the FT line. As a sophomore his 3P% dropped to 35.3%, but the other indicators greatly improved. His 3 point attempts per game jumped to 5.8 and his FT% 90.9%. George was known as a slick shooting prospect coming out of Fresno St.

Wiggins this season is 34.5% from 3 on 3.6 attempts a game and 76.5% from the FT line. These numbers are perfectly respectable, especially compared to freshman George. But one has to be careful assuming that just because X became a great shooter after his freshman season, it doesn’t mean Y will. What Wiggins 3P%, 3 point attempts volume and FT% all tell me is he has the chance to be a great shooter, but he also has the chance to not be much of a 3 point shooter at all.

But perhaps the biggest difference is Paul George is one of the most fluid players in the NBA, with a truly exceptional feel for the game. Everything George does is controlled, smooth and at an extra gear of craftiness offensively than his opponent. These instincts are also as big a reason as his physical tools for his defensive excellence. Feel for the Game is where I feel misrated Wiggins most coming into the season. I do not see the special fluidity or control a player like George shows.

Personally, the philosophy that has driven most of my draft analysis, is the theory that 2/3s of talent level isn’t physical tools. Paul George is a player who still looks impressive in the non physical 2/3s, due to his shooting skill and feel for the game. Without any physical advantages he may still be Mike Miller-like. When I look at Andrew Wiggins I am not as impressed in the non physical tools 2/3s of the game.

And in addition, in the 1/3 of physical tools, I wouldn’t call him a transcendent force either. I do not see him as his position’s equivalent to college Andre Drummond, John Wall, or Blake Griffin, for example. For a player who’s vertical leaping skills have been so lauded, he’s been surprisingly tame exploding around the rim. Nor has his speed off the dribble blown away the NCAA. At some point one has to ask whether his reputation as a few times a generation athletic force, is built on past reputation or present evidence. Furthermore what many of the most physically gifted prospects lately such as the before-mentioned Drummond or Wall had, is uniquely bulky body strength for their position for their explosiveness, which Wiggins is a less special physical force without. Note that I rate strength as no less important than height/wingspan, whereas the media is typically far more skeptical of prospects who lack the latter. Wiggins is a good physical talent, but good will not be enough if his skill level and feel for the game remain as underwhelming as it looks.

Written by jr.

March 10, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Stop comparing prospects to Michael Beasley!

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One of my pet peeves when reading NBA Draft posts, is how often Michael Beasley is used as a comparison and cautionary tale for prospects. Beasley being a bust at 2nd overall in 2008, is used as a comparison for why Small Forward-Power Forward tweeners, or 6’8-ish power forwards who play on the perimeter may bust. Prospects such as Anthony Bennett last year or Jabari Parker this year or Derrick Williams from a few drafts ago, fall under this category. The logic is these players may not have the size to play power forward or footspeed to play small forward, so they can’t find a role.

Now regardless of whether these concerns are founded (My perspective isn’t so much that these tweener prospects are without risk, but what some people miss is that every other type of prospect can be equally risky), the use of Beasley specifically does not seem justified to me.

It is true that Beasley’s lack of footspeed at small forward and short height at power forward may have contributed to his failure, but overall he is a unique prospect in how enigmatic his personality is. All word about his work ethic/conditioning is porous, being a player who for all we know, cares more about Skittles, weed and Ingmar Bergman movies than becoming the best basketball player he can. Beasley’s checking into rehab for psychological issues like depression in addition to drugs a few years ago is a red flag to say the least for a professional basketball player. Beasley is no less than the NBA’s biggest enigma.

Beasley is an exception among professional basketball players or sports athletes in general. The vast majority of players are killing machines, both in physical conditioning and confidence in themselves. The ones that aren’t, virtually never make it to NBA consideration in the first place.

In short, the odds Michael Beasley is a bust because of his enigmatic personality and not because of his talent or style of play, is high. In a way, comparing him to future small forward/power forwards, is as useful as comparing future 7 foot mammoth athletes to Greg Oden. Just as Oden’s knees give him an unique reason for not reaching his talent, as does Beasley’s enigmatic head. In both cases, a part of their body was not up to the standards of health the NBA requires to succeed.

It’s not a guarantee that Beasley failed just because he’s an enigma off the court. But all that’s needed is enough of a probability he did. If we are open to the possibility that Beasley had the talent to make multiple all-star games but never reached it, when it comes to discussing a player like Jabari Parker who should have none of these enigma concerns, comparing Michael Beasley to him becomes all but useless. Or to put it another way, Beasley’s enigmatic personality becomes the ultimate “confounding variable”, making it difficult to say with confidence that being a tweener is an explanation for his failure.

Written by jr.

March 6, 2014 at 2:59 pm

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Review of talent grading methods

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Before getting into my draft grades for 2014 prospects, I’d like to review how I grade each category. First, my grades are from 1 to 11 in 3 categories: Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent, Skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent and Feel for the Game talent. The grades go by this rubric:

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

Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade:

This is the one category my methods for grading has changed since the 2013 draft. When looking at my grades in that draft and what I have seen so far in the NBA, it’s largely in this category I regret some grades. For example, I graded Anthony Bennett 9, Kelly Olynyk 6, Alex Len 7, CJ McCollum 5, Trey Burke 4 in the category. All of those I would now rate as at least 2 points lower. I also rated Giannis Antetokounmpo a 4 in the category, which looks 2 or 3 points too low. On the whole, despite these corrections and others, unlike 2012 where admittedly I made major mistakes grading players such as Andre Drummond and Damian Lillard and do not expect to outperform the NBA, despite a few mistakes here and there I expect my 2013 order despite imperfections to perform better than the way the NBA really drafted the players – especially since I am quite critical of the way the NBA picked players. I am very happy with how my grades in the skill impact and feel for the game categories have panned out so far in the NBA, so I should be in range of what I predicted. But am eager to do better in the 2014 draft.

It took me some time to settle on a consistent way to grade each of the elements of this category against each other. How to rate a tall player who struggles with athleticism and ballhandling, or an athletic player without ballhandling, for example. Here is how I do it now:

I begin by evaluating how they break through the defense at the “point of attack” on offense, which typically comes through a combination of first step athleticism and ballhandling. Being able to drive past defenders and the opponent is huge for a player’s offensive game and “physically impacting the game”, by typically allowing a player to drive to the basket. I thus give a player a beginning grade covering their explosiveness and ballhandling together. After I get this “primary grade”, I then adjust it according to their size (including both length and strength) and their lateral quickness, which finds most use defensively.

For example, I will rate C.J. McCollum this way. McCollum was a hard player for me to evaluate in this category last year for multiple reasons. First is I wasn’t sure whether to rate him as a PG or SG, where he’d be at a size disadvantage. At the time I chose PG, but I will now side with SG based on Portland’s long term role for him there. Secondly, he had little explosiveness but was a very tricky ballhandler.

When looking at his “point of attack” driving in clips like this

Despite his ballhandling I don’t see much burst from McCollum at “point of attack”. I will rate him as a 3 to begin, thus. Before adjusting for size and lateral quickness. He is short for a shooting guard, without more than average strength for the position and does not appear to have lateral quickness. So I will adjust him down to a 2, not downgrading him more from a reservation about going all the way to 1 except for the absolute most unable talents in the category.

What about the rest of his talent? CJ’s college career and start to the NBA season shows an impressive outside shooting resume, while his feel for the game is terrific. Giving him a grade like 8 in the skill impact category and 9 in feel for the game would make his overall grade 19, which isn’t as high as I originally rated him (21) but is enough to pass “blue chip starter” threshold makes a productive, if unspectacular season unlikely as a smart outside shooting role player. But if his shooting goes downhill, he may find himself more of a irrelevant role player.

To recap

Primary grade (Explosiveness+Ballhandling): 3

Size: -1

Lateral quickness: /

Final Physical motion/impact (Explosiveness, ballhandling, size, lateral quickness) talent grade: 2 (Very poor)

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade

Grading this category has become relatively straight forward to me. Internally, like the physical impact category, I use a primary grade-secondary grade system.

I come up with a baseline grade by evaluating their shooting “range”. For a PG, SG, or SF, to get a high grade like 8 or higher, they have to be a great 3 point shooter, with both % and volume. It’s usually relatively simple to see the scale of 3 point shooting skill for perimeter cases. In some cases, such as Demar Derozan’s mid-range jumpshot or Tony Parker’s finishing in the paint, there are other ways to give players credit for “shooting” that goes beyond 3 point range. For PFs and Cs since shooting range is more rare, a terrific midrange jumpshooter without 3 point range, still rates high compared to his position. For example even though his shooting range is less than theirs, Lamarcus Aldridge gets as much credit as a shooter as Wes Matthews and Nic Batum in my system, since his midrange jumpshooting for a power forward is as rare as 3 point shooting for a SG or SF.

For college prospects, it can be difficult to rate players just by 3 point shooting, because of small sample size. If a player takes 120 3s over the entire NCAA season, 48 for 120 is 40% and 36 for 120 is 30%. The difference between a poor and great shooting season is a little slim and suspect to chance. Thus there are two other factors I use. A major one is free throw %, as most great shooters in the NBA are matched by the mechanics to be elite free throw shooters. For legitimately great shooting 3 point prospects, I usually look for a FT% of at least 80%, over 85% is especially rare and special. A prospect who hits 42% from 3 and 75% from the FT line worries me, for example. He may become a great 3 point shooter, but he may not as well. Some prospects like Wes Johnson, Xavier Henry, Adam Morrison lately have been drafted to be sharpshooters, despite a FT in the 70s. That also made me concerned about Otto Porter and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s shooting last year, both in the 70s for FT. For prospects like that, I typically give them a grade like 6 in the category, representing a conservative approach to their shooting talent. Another indicator of NBA shooting skill is volume of 3 point attempts. While I consider 3pt and FTs %s to be the most important, it makes one more comfortable to see a player having the confidence to put up a ton of 3s, instead of just taking them when wide open. Paul George is a good example of the power of FT and volume as indicators. In his sophomore season in college at Fresno St., he hit only a mediocre 35.3% from 3, but did it on 5.75 3 point attempts a game and a 90.9% mark from the FT line. Those were two important reasons to believe in him as a shooter. As for PFs and Cs who are evaluated as midrange jumpshooters in the NBA, the benchmark for FT% I look to see is more like over 70%, albeit mid to high 60% is not too bad either.

After evaluating them as a shooter, I adjust upward if they show special post or passing skill. However, I don’t lower a player’s grade if they lack post or passing skills. It is possible for a player to be near perfectly graded in the category as a whole without them. For example, I’m not going to downgrade Stephen Curry’s skill impact talent for not posting up, or Dirk Nowitzki’s for lacking standout passing skills. Their shooting skill (along with passing for Curry and post skills for Dirk) is enough to make them perfect for their positions without it.

To give an example of grading in this category, here is how I would rate Kelly Olynyk from last year’s draft:

Olynyk did not have true 3 point range in college, hitting 30% on less than 1 attempt a game (9 for 30). However that’s better than most PF or Cs will perform from 3pt. In addition, he was a strong midrange jumpshooter. He hit 77.6% from the FT line his junior season, which is well above average for a big. Overall, it’s enough for me to rate him a 7 in the category as a baseline grade, with the assumption he would have a midrange jumpshot in the pros, if not more.

Olynyk made some passes in college, but at 1.7 assists per game, it’s not enough for me to adjust his grade (yet). Nor did his post ability stand out enough. So I left him at a 7.

To recap:

Primary grade (Shooting range): 7

Post up skills: /

Passing skills: /

Final skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 7

It may turn out that this grade is too low. Olynyk is 20 for 68 from 3pt (29.4%) in 48 Gs which isn’t elite, but for a prospect adjusting to a longer NBA line, none too shabby. He is also over 80% from the FT line on a small sample size. Olynyk with good to great 3 point shooting eventually would be worth 8 or 9 in the category, considering the rarity of 3 point shooting bigs. This would help balance out grading him too high in the physical impact category.

Feel for the Game

This category is perhaps where I lose people the most, but is actually the easiest for me to grade by this point. I’ve broken it down to identifying feel for the game in two areas – Driving to the rim through traffic or posting up. Thus I can watch a video (X scores Y points) and only pay attention to the plays doing one of those two things. I figure in both cases, the player is under physical duress and is under danger of being “rushed” by the players around him. Therefore his feel has a place to shine.

When judging drives or post up, I look for who is the most fluid, balanced and poised. Often with players who have a high feel for the game, there is a “slo-mo” effect, where they make the game look slower for them than everyone else. (Kyle Anderson at UCLA, who’s feel for the game is one of the best in the class, literally has been given the nickname Slo-Mo).

Most tend to identify feel for the game most when it is elite. When asking what makes a player like Andre Miller, Tony Parker or Paul Pierce great, most would be able to call upon feel for the game as their gift. In this draft, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Tyler Ennis, Kyle Anderson, Dario Saric are all receiving credit for their special feel. What gets lost is the talent’s importance for everyone else. Recognizing who lacks it and who has it in above average, but not elite rates.

To give a visual example of feel for the game, here is 3 clips:

First is Russell Westbrook, who I would rate as having below average feel for the game. He drives at :20, :35, :57, 1:05, 1:16, 2:28, 3:00, 3:18 and posts up at 1:12, 1:40

Now compare the “smoothness” and balance on his drives or lack thereof, to Damian Lillard, who I would rate as above average in feel for the game but not elite. He drives at :32, 1:00, 1:19, 1:50.

A major difference I see between the Lillard and Westbrook drives in addition to greater control, is Lillard has a greater ability to “change pace” according to the situation, this adjustment catching defenders off balance.

I am not sure if everyone will be able to see this immediately. It may be hard for some to remove themselves from the perception of Westbrook’s assist per game numbers and overall competence, to see him rating below Lillard in this category. Here is another example of a player I would rate as “below average” in feel for the game

Here is a similar example using centers, first Jonas Valanciunas who I rate as below average feel for the game. He posts up at 0:54, 1:05, 2:58,

Now here is Andre Drummond, who I would rate as above average but not elite. He posts up at :41, :53, 1:02, 2:17

Even if one doesn’t see the difference between those pairs, then the difference between Westbrook or Valanciunas and the following ELITE feel for the game players, is unmistakable:

Here is Tony Parker, who drives at :07, :11, :16, :40, 1:45, but with players at this level of feel for the game, one doesn’t need to look at just the drives, it shows up in everything he does as an aesthetically pleasing, slippery, artistic type of play

Here is Andre Miller, a gold standard for feel for the game and the “slo-mo” effect. He posts up or drives at :18, :51, :56, 1:00, 1:05, 1:28, 1:35, 1:57, 2:09, 2:14, 2:25, 2:48, 3:13

In Miler and Parker, the change of pace and slipperiness Lillard started to show in his clip, gets taken to another level entirely

Here’s Roy Hibbert, who has elite feel for the game for a C. He posts up at 0:01, :50, 1:17, 1:33, 2:06, 2:16, 2:47,

Marc Gasol is another center with elite feel for the game. He posts up at :32, 1:04, 1:22, 1:33, but his feel is largely impossible to miss in the other plays as well

So at the least, we know that players like Miller, Parker, Hibbert, Gasol have a special fluidity, control and pace to their game, that would supercharge any players talent level. And we can ask “how much does player X have of that?” Personally, I feel I am confident in grading between 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10/11. What I am not as good at admittedly, is seeing the difference between 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I know when players don’t appear to have feel for the game, but struggle consistently rating how little they have of it. Part of this is that the number of players with low feel for the game is much smaller than above average. This is because it’s evidently harder to become an NBA caliber talent without it. It’s the same reason why such a high proportion of players in the NBA are good to great athletes. To make it into a rotation with subpar athleticism requires relatively rare skill level and feel for the game. For that reason you will likely rarely see me rate a player below a 4 or 5 in feel for the game.

Let’s look at a player from last year’s draft, Victor Oladipo. He drives at :10, :27, 1:34, 2:51, 3:12, 3:23, 3:33, 3:54

Oladipo certainly shows a lot of what the above average feel for the game players have, in terms of fluidity, ability to change pace and balance. Personally because I have been doing this for a while, I have a specific grade that comes to mind after seeing the above drives – and that grade is 8. Just below the elite feel perimeter players like Miller and Parker showed and probably below C.J. McCollum’s in this clip, but above Lillard.

Written by jr.

March 4, 2014 at 4:28 pm