A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

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

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