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Archive for May 2014

How the Lakers can have a smart offseason

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Since Dr. Jerry Buss died, the Lakers have embodied the worst traits of the James Dolan era Knicks. They’ve gone after big names and big contracts and have dealt away picks instead of keeping them. They spend assets instead of collecting them.

If they continued down this route, their offseason will involve major spending or big name trading. Think signing Carmelo Anthony to a maximum contract when they don’t have the roster to win before he declines, or trading their draft pick for Rajon Rondo in hopes that’ll be enough to sign Kevin Love next summer. Dealing for aging stars or ones on short contracts, is a dangerous game that could set them back years.

Here’s the type of summer I’d recommend for the Lakers. It’s not as sexy, but it’s a smart move that fits the modern NBA landscape.

Say the Houston Rockets get their mitts on a major free agent like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. But to do it they need to clear capspace, by moving Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik’s contracts.

The Lakers are far under the cap and in a great position to take advantage of this. They also have the deepest pockets in the league, allowing them to barely blink at paying 30 million in real money for 16.8 million cap hit between Asik and Lin. The Rockets trade the Lakers Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and their 1st round pick next year, for a Lakers conditional 2nd round pick. This clears the Rockets enough capspace to sign Carmelo while keeping the rest of their starting lineup in Patrick Beverly, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard. Carmelo presumably have to take a discount on his first year salary compared to what the Knicks could offer, but would still be inked to a huge salary.

This puts the Lakers in a very nice position. Not only do they get talented young bigs in Terrence Jones who could break out on a new team, Donatas Motiejunas and a pick, but Lin and Asik are even good for their roster, filling a need at PG and C. If not extended, both Lin and Asik expire next summer, allowing the salary obligation to be as short lived as Utah taking Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson’s deals for a year.

Using their capspace to build their asset base like this, is the type of move the Lakers need to look at in the modern CBA model. The days of outspending everyone are gone and the other 29 teams are getting too smart. The Lakers can’t run from how small market teams succeed, they need to embrace it, then add their money advantages on top of this. They need to become basketball’s Boston Red Sox, who realized if they invested in prospects and analytics like small markets have no choice but to do, but then have more money and free agent allure than the rest of the league at the same time, they could be unstoppable. Likewise if the Lakers started hording young players and draft picks like the Thunder, when added to their historically massive star and free agent appeal, they combination could cream the league for decades to come again.

Written by jr.

May 28, 2014 at 11:07 pm

2014 NBA Draft Big Board – Late May/Early June update

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I have a much larger draft/talent grades big board coming up in a few weeks, including not only the players grades but a write-up for most prospects, NBA comparisons and star/starter/bench player/etc. “probability” grades for each one.

For now I will just post where my big board is at in minimalist form. As a reminder, grade 25 and up = Perennial all-star talent, 23-24 = Fringe Perennial all-star talent, 19-22 = Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18 = Fringe Blue Chip starter talent 14-16 = Rotation player talent, 13 and below = Fringe rotation player talent or worse. My current list is up to 72 prospects including virtually everyone I feel is relevant:

1. SG Bogdan Bogdanovic – 25
2. SG Nik Stauskas – 24
3. C Joel Embiid – 23

Because of Embiid’s health and Bogdanovic’s unclear buyout situation, I may call Stauskas most worth the 1st pick. Although Embiid’s two way talent at C is ultra-enticing, the value of a star perimeter talent should not be underestimated. It’s not about what position you play but how good you are at it. I rate Stauskas as the best offensive talent in the draft while Bogdanovic and Embiid have the size and lateral mobility to be more complete 2 way players.

4. PF Julius Randle – 22
5. PG Shabazz Napier – 22
6. SG Jordan Adams – 21
7. PF Adreian Payne – 21
8. SG Spencer Dinwiddie – 21

I’m fairly confident these are starting caliber players in the NBA, given health and enough minutes – and “once or twice” all-star appearances coming from this group would not surprise, if an all out star doesn’t emerge from it.

9. SG Dante Exum – 20
10. PF Jerami Grant – 20
11. SF Dario Saric – 20
12. PF Damien Inglis – 20
13. SG Zach LaVine – 20
14. C Isaiah Austin – 20
15. PF Jabari Parker – 20
16. PF Alec Brown – 20
17. SF Doug McDermott – 20

A lot of these prospects are showing more visible weaknesses such as skill level or physical tools limitations, nonetheless average or above average starter careers for them, are within reach. These prospects are not “out of danger” falling to a fringe starter type of career, nor is a more special career inconceivable.

18. PF Aaron Gordon – 19
19. PF Noah Vonleh – 19
20. SF Deandre Daniels – 19
21. PF T.J. Warren – 19
22. PG Russ Smith – 19
23. PF Kristaps Porzingis – 19
24. SF Cleanthony Early – 19
25. SG Markel Brown – 19
26. SG Rodney Hood – 19

The list of players I have rated as starting caliber talents is admittedly long, but in talented drafts like 2003 and 2008, the starter count went into the 20s.

27. SF K.J. McDaniels – 18
28. C Mitch McGary – 18
29. SF Andrew Wiggins – 18
30. PG Marcus Smart – 18
31. SG Roy Devyn Marble – 18
32. SG Jabari Brown – 18
33. PF Kyle Anderson – 18
34. SG Travis Bader – 18
35. SG Glenn Robinson III – 17
36. PF Clint Capela – 17
37. PG Jahii Carson – 17
38. PG Jordan Clarkson – 17
39. PG Deonte Burton – 17
40. C Jusuf Nurkic – 17
41. SG Semaj Christon – 17
42. SF Lamar Patterson – 17
43. SG Xavier Thames – 17
44. SG C.J. Wilcox – 17
45. SG P.J. Hairston – 17

Most of these players are interesting and can have unique physical, skill or mental talents, but the whole package does not blow me away. This is the part of the draft where who has the long career and rotation player, starts to depend more on opportunity and getting minutes to develop, as much as it does talent. It’s one thing to have the talent to be the 6th or 7th best player on a good team, but if it takes thousands of minutes of development to get to that level, some of these prospects may wash out in the process. A player like Nurkic is likely to have one of the 30 best careers in the draft because of the NBA’s sweet tooth for gigantic centers compared to some prospects like PGs Carson and Clarkson, for example. All of these prospects have a reasonable chance of breaking out to being true starters, because of the size of the group, surely a few will.

46. PF James Michael McAdoo – 16
47. PF Thanasis Antetokounmpo – 16
48. PG Vasilijie Micic – 16
49. PG Deandre Kane – 16
50. PG Tyler Ennis – 16
51. PF Patric Young – 16
52. PF Cory Jefferson -16
53. SF LaQuinton Ross – 16
54. SG Jordan McRae – 16
55. SG Gary Harris – 16
56. PG Bryce Cotton – 16
57. PG Elfrid Payton – 16
58. SF James Young – 16
59. PF Jarnell Stokes – 15
60. PF Johnny O’Bryant – 15
61. C Walter Tavares – 15
62. PG Scottie Wilbekin – 15

These guys aren’t total dregs, just mediocrity. The odds of these prospects becoming starters and blue chippers starts to get increasingly slim. There are some prospects in this group such as Ennis, Young, Harris for whom the lottery love affair with, I find relatively confusing.

63. SF Josh Huestis – 14
64. SF C.J. Fair – 14
65. PF Dwight Powell – 14
66. SG Joe Harris – 14
67. SG Nick Johnson – 14
68. C ALex Kirk – 14
69. SF Melvin Ejim – 13
70. PG Keith Appling – 13
71. PG Aaron Craft – 12
72. C Jordan Bachynski – 12

The end of the list starts to real real ugly, with most of these prospects unlikely to make a mark for talent and opportunity reasons.

Written by jr.

May 28, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Will the 76ers pass on Andrew Wiggins?

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Philadelphia may have fallen to the 3rd pick, but some Sixers fans are optimistic they can still draft Andrew Wiggins. Joel Embiid is the odds on favorite to be picked 1st by Cleveland, while Milwaukee has been linked to Jabari Parker and Dante Exum, leaving a strong possibility Wiggins is there at 3rd.

Wiggins to the Sixers has been a media favorite all season, due to his athleticism and fast break potential playing alongside Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and a league high pace.

However I see the possibility Wiggins falls to 3… and the Sixers pass on him. Why? It’s in the analytics. Sam Hinkie came from the Houston Rockets organization and has presumably been heavily adopting analytics running the team.

The question is whether he’ll use it to draft, since using stats-driven models, have an unproven track record so far. (I’d argue the Cavaliers out of nowhere picks of Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters were statistically driven, both rated very highly on John Hollinger’s draft rater and Hoopsanalyst.com, run by Ed Weiland who is a well known statistically driven draft blogger)

If they do, I believe Wiggins becomes a less likely pick. Analytics models often prioritize steals, blocks and rebounds as major indicators of success, where Wiggins production is only ok. To his credit, his age and Kansas’ level of competition, should play in his favor.

To help show the evidence for why the Sixers may be drafting with analytics, first, let’s look at the 2013 draft where they traded for Nerlens Noel when he fell to 6th pick and drafted Michael Carter-Williams 11th. First, here is the lottery picks in 2013 ordered by combined Blks+Stls per 40 minutes in their final college year, via Draftexpress.com:

Nerlens Noel – 8.1 (5.5 Blk, 2.6 Stl)
Steven Adams – 4.6
Michael Carter-Williams – 3.7 (0.5 Blk, 3.2 Stl)
Alex Len – 3.4
Otto Porter – 3.1
Cody Zeller – 3.1
Victor Oladipo – 3.0
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – 2.8
Anthony Bennett – 2.7
Kelly Olynyk – 2.7
Trey Burke – 2.4
Ben McLemore – 2.0
C.J. McCollum – 1.7
Shabazz Muhammad – 1.1

If Sixers were only drafting by steal and block rate for highly ranked players, a draft of Noel and Carter-Williams would make perfect sense. Steven Adams has the second highest total, which would have looked especially impressive as a younger player than Carter-Williams. But with the same position and style of play as Noel, he would have been a non-complimentary fit, thus the Sixers may have had Adams rated higher than Carter-Williams in a vacuum, but chose for fit. That’s not to say Adams was necessarily above Carter-Williams on their or others statistically driven teams’ big boards either, other categories like Carter-Williams’ high assist rate may have played out well.

Now, here’s the 2013 lottery picks sorted by combined Blks+Stls+Rebs+Asts per 40 minutes. Notably, this list will favor big men, as the trade-off of assists to rebounds from small players to big players, is unequal in the latter’s favor.

Nerlens Noel – 22.0 (5.5 Blk, 2.6 Stl, 11.9 Reb, 2.0 Ast)
Michael Carter-Williams 17.5 (0.5 Blk, 3.2 Stl, 5.5 Reb, 8.3 Ast)
Alex Len – 16.8
Steven Adams – 16.5
Kelly Olynyk – 16.2
Cody Zeller – 15.8
Anthony Bennett – 15.7
Otto Porter – 14.7
Trey Burke – 13.5
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – 13.2
Victor Oladipo – 11.4
Ben McLemore – 10.9
C.J. McCollum – 9.6
Shabazz Muhammad – 9.0

Noel and Carter-Williams blow past their big men and guard peers respectively by this measure.

To point out, this all may be a coincidence. Noel and Carter-Williams were mostly considered “Best Player Available” by at 6 and 11 conventional, non-statistical draft methods as well. However, considering Sam Hinkie’s Rockets analytics background, there stands at least a solid chance analytics affected their picks and going out of their way to trade for Noel. If so, let’s look at what it could predict for the Sixers 2014 draft. First, combined Blk+Stl per 40. I included the NCAA players rated in the top 14 on Draftexpress.com’s top 100, along with Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson who are known as analytics-favorites this year:

Joel Embiid – 6.0 (4.5 Blk, 1.5 Stl)
Marcus Smart – 4.2 (0.7 Blk, 3.5 Stl)
Jordan Adams – 3.7 (0.2 Blk, 3.5 Stl)
Noah Vonleh – 3.4 (2.1 Blk, 1.3 Stl)
Jabari Parker – 3.0 (1.6 Blk, 1.4 Stl)
Kyle Anderson – 3.0 (0.9 Blk, 2.1 Stl)
Gary Harris – 2.7
Andrew Wiggins – 2.6 (1.2 Blk, 1.4 Stl)
Tyler Ennis – 2.6
Aaron Gordon – 2.4 (1.3 Blk, 1.1 Stl)
Julius Randle – 1.6 (1.0 Blk, 0.6 Stl)
Nik Stauskas – 0.9
Doug McDermott – 0.5

Now, here is Blk+Stl+Reb+Ast per 40 for these players:

Joel Embiid – 22.3 (4.5 Blk, 1.5 Stl, 14.0 Reb, 2.3 Ast)
Kyle Anderson – 21.3 (0.9 Blk, 2.1 Stl, 10.5 Reb, 7.8 Ast)
Noah Vonleh – 17.9 (2.1 Blk, 1.3 Stl, 13.6 Reb, 0.9 Ast)
Marcus Smart – 17.2 (0.7 Blk, 3.5 Stl, 7.2 Reb, 5.8 Ast)
Julius Randle – 16.9 (1.0 Blk, 0.6 Stl, 13.5 Reb, 1.8 Ast)
Jabari Parker – 15.9 (1.6 Blk, 1.4 Stl, 11.4 Reb, 1.5 Ast)
Aaron Gordon – 15.1 (1.3 Blk, 1.1 Stl, 10.2 Reb, 2.5 Ast)
Jordan Adams – 13.9 (0.2 Blk, 3.5 Stl, 7.1 Reb, 3.1 Ast)
Tyler Ennis – 12.6
Andrew Wiggins – 11.6 (1.2 Blk, 1.4 Stl, 7.1 Reb, 1.9 Ast)
Gary Harris – 11.0
Doug McDermott – 10.7
Nik Stauskas – 7.9

Why Embiid, Smart, Adams and Anderson do well in analytics-driven draft raters is easy to see. Embiid, Smart and Adams have the highest Stl+Blk rate of this group, while although Anderson trails in that department his massive rebounding (10.5 per 40) and assist (7.8 per 40) combination make up for it. Considering his position compared to Noel and Embiid, his Blk+Stl+Reb+Ast is arguably the most prolific the last 2 drafts.

Overall, if the Sixers chose Noel and Carter-Williams because of analytics, there’s a great chance they have Wiggins outside of their top 3 since he performs mediocre at best on the above lists. So who would they pick ahead?

Marcus Smart – With the 3rd highest Blk+Stl rate of the last 2 drafts behind Noel and Adams, he also out-rebounds Wiggins (7.2 per 40 minutes to 7.1) despite playing PG, it would make sense if he was ahead on their board. Carter-Williams and Smart is a weird offensive fit as ball dominant PGs who struggle to shoot, which is a problem when analytics universally favors spacing as crucial. But positionally Smart could be envisioned as SG of the future and PHI could be in love with the defensive potential of Carter-Williams, Smart and Noel playing together, or see the rebounding ability of their backcourt as a fastbreak machine. They could also have confidence that shooting coaches to improve their range, like the Rockets helped prospects like Chandler Parsons and Kyle Lowry in the past who weren’t expected to be good shooters in college or early in their careers, but are now outstanding 3pt shooters for their position.

Jabari Parker – It’s unclear whether Parker would be available at 3, but he fits a statistically driven team’s profile more than Wiggins. His Blk+Stl of 3.0 is solid and he has a strong 11.4 rebounds per 40 minutes, while his youth helps his stats. Jabari would also fit their lineup needs precisely, giving the floor spacing PF Nerlens Noel needs to play with, PHI would also use Parker’s impressive transition ballhandling skills.

Noah Vonleh – Vonleh rates well on both the Blk+Stl and Blk+Stl+Reb+Ast charts, with his 13.6 rebs per 40 rating as one of the draft’s best. He has the ability to stretch the floor beside Noel and Carter-Williams while playing defenese, which could be a combo an analytics team covets. Like Parker and Wiggins youth would make his stats look especially impressive to the Sixers draft model.

Less likely picks:

Dante Exum – I doubt the Sixers would use his Australian or FIBA statistics to make this pick, but they may feel willing to take the shot on his raw tools and upside. But his long term role and fit would be similar enough to Smart, that I suspect they’d just take the numbers-favorite Smart of the two. Exum’s best chance may be if the Sixers aren’t so much using statistics to make the pick, but are using them to decide who not to pick – which could still knock Wiggins out of contention, but leave Exum in it.

Julius Randle – Randle’s Blk+Stl+Reb+Ast is pretty strong thanks to his rebounding (13.5 per 40), but his 0.6 stls per 40 which has made him somewhat of an analytics target this year would likely knock him out of contention.

Aaron Gordon – Although his athleticism and ballhandling would fit the Sixers pace, his Blk+Stl and Blk+Stl+Reb+Ast aren’t as impressive as some other prospects on the above list, so I suspect they like him but won’t have him 3rd.

As for Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, if the Sixers take a player like Smart or Vonleh 3rd overall, it makes the most sense Adams or Anderson is where they go with the 10th pick.

There’s another scenario and that’s for the Sixers to trade from their pick, either up or down. If the Sixers are in love with Joel Embiid and an Embiid/Noel frontcourt they could make a strong offer to move up, even going as far to offer their 10th pick to do so. Or they could move back from #3, taking advantage of other teams rating Wiggins, Parker or Exum higher than they do. This could allow them to take 2 of Smart, Adams and Anderson while getting value back

Finally, you may be asking “Hasn’t it already been leaked months ago that the Sixers are in love with Wiggins and were tanking for him?” Although those rumors have been around of Philly’s Wiggins connection, information like that is also worth taking with a grain of salt as a potential smokescreen. In fact it makes sense how if the Sixers real guy was Joel Embiid, they’d have the motive to beef up Wiggins draft stock by leaking their interest, hoping a team takes Wiggins ahead of Embiid and drops him to them.

None of this may be true admittedly, as it’s based off a speculative connection between Sam Hinkie’s analytics reputation and the Noel and Carter-Williams picks. But because of their analytics lean, I’m inching towards the Sixers coming out of this draft with a combination like Marcus Smart and Kyle Anderson.

Written by jr.

May 25, 2014 at 4:44 pm

James Harden sucks at defense, does it have to stay that way?

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“James Harden sucks at defense” became a meme near the end of this season, thanks to a handful of long youtube videos showing his lowlights over the year. On his worst plays Harden isn’t just bad, but an embarrassment, often standing in the middle of nowhere and making his team play 4 on 5 defensively. He was giving no fucks.

However, what’s interesting of course, is Harden on paper should not be a defensive sieve. He’s one of the biggest SGs in the league in length and strength, has adequate lateral mobility and his feel for the game is strong, which should allow him to read defensive plays well. This is compounded by how in Oklahoma City Harden was quickly emerging as one of their better defenders before the trade, enough to defend Lebron James at times in the 2012 Finals.

So what’s going on here? Why is James Harden now the abomination of the league on defense? My guess is it’s energy. In his 3rd OKC season he averaged 31.4 minutes per game, while he’s been at 38 minutes or higher both his Houston seasons. Harden does not strike me as a specimen conditioning wise and it’s no secret he enjoys nightlife, which could play into having less than perfect energy level. What’s more is Harden’s ratio of driving to the rim vs athleticism is as lopsided as any player’s I’ve seen. Harden drives to the rim and free throw line as much as anyone in the league, despite being a good, but not dynamic athlete. His ballhandling and first step help him do this. Most other players who drive as regularly as him, are freaks of nature like Dwyane Wade and Lebron James athletically. This style of play in addition to the minutes played, may cause him to burn energy faster. Compare him to Paul George, who is the anti James Harden in regards to his athleticism and driving. George is one of the best athletes in the game, but is average at driving to the basket because of ballhandling problems. This may leave more of his athletic energy for the defensive end of the floor, where he plays at a defensive player of the year level.

How does one fix this? The first clear cut fix to reduce his minutes. If anything Harden’s less than perfect physical condition and driving heavy style of game, which also makes him a risk to get banged up, make him a candidate to specifically play less than the standard 35-36 minutes, let alone more. With the Spurs leading the way for reducing minutes this year, there’s nothing wrong with Harden playing an effective 32 or 33 per game. Secondly, Houston may want to free up some energy by taking Harden off the ball. Although he’s not used to this, as a great 3 point shooter one would think in time, he could learn to spot up and space the floor. At the least, it’d make him a diversion while players like Lin and Beverly drive to the basket. One could also try playing Harden at small forward more often with two ballhandlers in the backcourt.

It bears mentioning that with the cost of Harden’s defense there may be a reward coming with it. Harden’s offensive production is absolutely enormous, an ultra efficient 25 points a game while being his team’s best playmaker, gave him the 3rd best offensive season on paper this year behind Lebron and Durant. If one reduced his minutes and increased his defensive responsibility, his offensive volume and efficiency could be reduced.

If Harden is not capable of putting up both the offensive statistics he did the last 2 years while playing more defense, it may be simply a matter of talent. We know Harden is a fantastic talent, but we don’t know if he’s a talent on the tier of some of the legends of this era like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul. There may be one tier below that he presides in. Or he could make a big leap from year 5 to year 7-9 and become one of our great stars. How young the 2009 draft trio of Harden, Blake Griffin and Stephen Curry is, has been understated. Some players have hit their peak by their 5th season, but others have not. As a recent example Durant’s 5th season was his 2011-2012 Finals year, but by his regular season in his MVP 7th year, was clearly a different animal. Kevin Garnett in his 5th season in 1999-2000 was a phenomenal player, but by his 9th season in 2003-2004 season, he was spectacular at an even different level. If James Harden and the Rockets commit themselves to maximizing his career, by a season like his 8th or 9th, he could still be the MVP of the league, since his offensive statistics are already better than many MVP seasons.

Written by jr.

May 23, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Bogdan Bogdanovic: Similar to Joe Johnson?

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Bogdan Bogdanovic is currently rated in my top 3 talents in the 2014 draft. Why do I rate him as a potential star?

A comparison to Joe Johnson show how his upside is high

Feel for the Game

What I rate as Bogdanovic’s greatest strength is also one of Johnson’s. He has an exceptional feel. I use fluidity, balance and how “easy” the game looks to a player, to help me rate feel for the game. The difference between players I rate a very good grade of 7-8 in the category or an elite one like 9 or 10, is the former look fluid when they drive to the basket or in the post. Whereas elite ones have this fluidity jump off the page in nearly every play they make.

Observe this clip by Bogdanovic:

To me the fluidity and balance he shows in this clip is outstanding and in the league of Dario Saric and Kyle Anderson, the most masterful feel for the game talents in this draft. Bogdanovic is a prospect where seeing the feel for the game is easy.

Physical tools

Bogdanovic’s physical tools can be compared to Johnson. The closest update Draftexpress.com has for now is a 2010 Eurocamp measurement when he was 17, but Bogdanovic still measured out at 6‘6.35 in shoes with 6’11 wingspan and 8‘8.33 standing reach, excellent length for a SG. He weighed 200 pounds at the time but can presume he’s gained more weight since then. Judging from photos and videos his frame is impressive.

Joe Johnson was never the most athletic wing at his position, however he had enough speed that when added to strong ballhandling skills, he could drive to the basket at a slightly above average level. I believe Bogdanovic’s ability to drive could be similar or close to it.

Johnson has typically been a strong perimeter defender, due to having the lateral mobility when added to his length, strength and feel to excel. I’m impressed by Bogdanovic’s lateral mobility as well. Check the “lateral quickness” section and further defensive sections to help show this starting at 1:21 in this clip:

I see length, strength and lateral mobility as making up for other holes physically. If you take a player who has average offensive athleticism, but make him strong, long and laterally mobile, instead of an average physical talent he becomes well above average. Some prospects like Johnson, Kawhi Leonard, Luol Deng really benefit from this. This could be the case for Bogdan despite not having all the speed in the world driving to the basket.

Skill level

This is a major sticking point for whether Bogdanovic has the upside to be as good as Joe Johnson. Bogdanovic made strides as a shooter this year hitting 37.0% from 3 on 5.9 attempts a game in the Euroleague. However, a few areas of concern is that he only hit 75.4% from the FT line, which is a % that typically makes me rate NCAA prospects a non-shoo in outside shooter. His 3 point %s in previous seasons were also not as strong.

With that said. It’s hard to fake 37% on nearly 6 attempts a game in the best non-NBA competition in the world. Like the NCAA 3 point like the Euroleague’s 3 is not as far out, however it’s closer. The NBA 3 point line’s arc radius is 23 feet 9 inches, the Euroleague’s is 22 feet 1 inch and the NCAA’s is 20 feet 9 inches. Overall I’m more inclined to trust a Euroleague player’s 3pt% than an NCAA player’s.

Joe Johnson’s skill level of course extends past 3 point shooting. He is a tremendous midrange shooter and post creator, while being one of the best passing SGs or SFs in the league. Bogdanovic has the chance to get there as a passer, averaging 3.7 assists in 31.4 minutes in the Euroleague and I read recently he filled in at point guard for a stretch of his season. From December 5th to the end of the season, he averaged 4.4 assists a game.

His midrange and post skill is a bigger question mark. His height and potential strength advantage over SGs would help, however it’s unclear whether he is just very good at creating and shooting from midrange, or shooting jumpshots off the dribble. Certainly his 3 point stroke should give him the potential to add the mid-game, but I’ve learned 3 point shooting and midrange ability do not always align in linear ways. For example James Harden is great at hitting 3s but not the midrange, while Demar Derozan is the opposite. Right now Bogdanovic’s skill game is more reminiscent of Harden’s than Joe Johnson, as an outside shooter and passer more than an in between player.

Notably, Bogdanovic has enough length where if he can’t use his size at the 2 guard spot to improve his game effectively, he may be better served as a SF in the modern NBA. At SF good 3 point shooting and passing is slightly more rare, while his lateral mobility, already seemingly good for a 2 guard, would be even more exceptional at the 3.

While I don’t feel Bogdanovic’s skill is as strong as some prospects in this class, such as say Nik Stauskas, he still projects to have 3 point range, passing skill and potentially the size to post up 2 guards. Thus he rates as an above average skill talent SG or SF  for me.

Overall

Bogdan Bogdanovic and Joe Johnson are not clones and he is not a sure thing to be a all-star like Joe. I feel Bogdanovic’s feel for the game, length and lateral mobility is more impressive than Johnson’s, but Johnson’s strength and skill level thanks to his in between game is superior. However I hope this post made it more clear how a prospect considered a role player to most on other draft boards, could be rated as a star or near it on my board. Bogdanovic’s elite feel for the game and great size for a 2 guard, is a rare and sought after combination on the wing. He has enough speed and athleticism to be average to above average getting to the basket and splitting the defense, along with the lateral mobility, length and feel to be a plus defender, if not outstanding one. Finally the signs are there from a skill perspective, as a good 3 point shooter who can pass. It’s conceivable his perimeter scoring game disappoints, but it’s also conceivable I understated him in the area and he becomes as good a shooter and passer out there as Johnson and Harden have been, which could really put him over as a star. When added together at least a heavy chunk of what has made Joe Johnson, James Harden, Paul Pierce great, could apply to Bogdanovic.

Written by jr.

May 16, 2014 at 9:33 am

Hey Jabari, Sorry

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Jabari Parker is considered a surefire top 3 pick and possible #1 overall. Currently he rates outside of my top 10 talents in the draft. I wanted to dig deeper into my reservations with how he is getting rated by conventional wisdom

Consider this article on ESPN.com between Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton. Ford starts the article stating:

Jabari Parker is such an interesting player from a draft perspective. He clearly looks to be the most NBA-ready of the players on our Big Board. His offensive game seems like it will obviously translate. Everyone uses words such as “NBA-ready” and “low-risk” when describing Jabari.

Ford is giving a brief on why teams like Jabari. He is considered a lock to score well in the NBA and quickly, to the point where Ford uses the word “obvious” multiple times. The conventional wisdom viewpoint of Jabari is while players like Andrew Wiggins have a higher upside, with Parker you know what you are getting. A high volume, go-to scorer thanks to his size and polish on the perimeter.

There is of course, no meat in this analysis as to why he’s so NBA ready and low risk. I don’t mean to bag on Chad Ford because he deserves his paycheque. He is a talented writer and entertainer on a website motivated to drive traffic to draft articles. Criticizing him for not rating prospects right, is like judging a charismatic news anchor for not understanding the economy.

This article from mid-April from the Bucks sbnation blog BrewHoop, gives a clearer idea for the “why” in the Jabari is safe analysis:

Jabari Parker

What does he bring? Polish and skill. An NBA-ready body and style of play. A great locker room presence and coachability. All things Milwaukee could definitely use. Parker might be the player most capable of instantly improving the fortunes of the club that drafts him, which may or may not hold some allure to Milwaukee’s new owners. But the most enticing thing Parker brings to the table is his shot creation. He’s got the sort of “something from nothing” skill that separates the elite players from the rabble.

How bad do the Bucks need him? So so so much. Milwaukee put up some strong offensive numbers in the second half of last season, but it was painfully obvious that the Bucks need more guys who can initiate sets and create decent shots for teammates. Parker is a guy who can do that. He’d take a ton of pressure off Milwaukee’s primary ball handlers, allowing everybody to better fill the roles they can excel in. Brandon Knight could become more of a shooter. Giannis could become more of a playmaker. And Ilyasova could be more of a trade chip.

This makes the conventional wisdom picture on Parker clearer. Part of the reason why Parker is considered a surefire good NBA scorer, because he can “create his own shot”. Based on doing just this in college, Parker’s fans envision giving him the ball in the mid-post area, allowing him to back down opponents for a turnaround jumper, or facing up to create space off the dribble to have an open shot over defenders. This is the advantage of size and polished skill. Although Jabari may not be the most efficient scorer, it’s expected he’ll get his 20 a game by this ability to create offense himself. Like Carmelo.

In the ESPN article again Pelton’s initial response to Ford helps back this “creating offense” perspective statistically:

Right now, Parker’s most elite skill is his ability to create shots. He used 32.7 percent of Duke’s possessions this year, putting him in the top 25 nationally and far ahead of other top freshmen like Wiggins (26.3 percent), Embiid (23.4 percent) and Julius Randle (25.4 percent). In my database, just five freshmen who have entered the draft have had a higher translated usage rate: Michael Beasley, Kevin Durant, Tyreke Evans, Kris Humphries and O.J. Mayo.

In the context of that large role, Parker’s efficiency was decent. He’s not yet a great 3-point shooter (35.8 percent) and was only decent inside the arc (50.4 percent), but among the group of high-usage one-and-done players, only Beasley was notably more efficient in college. In time, I think Parker will grow into a high-usage, high-efficiency player, not unlike his most similar statistical comparison: Carmelo Anthony.

Of course, “creating your own shot” in the NBA has a different meaning than it did for teams 10-15 years ago and beyond. Getting your shot off in any form has become less valued, getting good shots at the rim, free throw line or from 3 has become more valued. Creating mid-range shots is less valued, because many teams now leave the mid-range area open, baiting teams to take them.

That’s not to say isolation mid-range scoring, lacks value. The ability for a player to create his own offense from mid-range, can be a back breaker for a defense if they’d otherwise defended the play well. When shots from 3 and at the rim aren’t available, the post-fueled mid-range creating players like Joe Johnson and Carmelo can provide, becomes a good bailout option. If they can create a shot going in 40% of the time, while the opponent in the same situation has to throw up a shot going in 25% of the time, it can be a game breaking advantage – especially in the tighter defended playoffs.

The question is whether this is enough to draft Jabari top 3. Part of the reason it’s arguably not is in the numbers. League average efficiency is around .54 true shooting % (TS), while even the great mid-range shooters, are typically around 40-45% (Carmelo: .447 eFG from 16-23 feet). True shooting % under .50 tends to get frowned upon as a sign the player should shoot less. Carmelo’s true shooting percentage is .56. Paul George, another high volume mid-range shooter, hits .55 TS despite .397 eFG from 16-23 feet. The reason they are still above average efficiency players, is they still take 3s, get to the rim and get to the free throw line enough to make up for it. Teams aren’t just giving them the ball to take mid-range shots. Their responsibility is primarily creating the shots at the rim, from free throw line and from 3, then that responsibility extends to taking mid-range shots when the team is out of options. Take away the driving and outside shooting and it’s not just that they become less efficient, but they wouldn’t remain high volume players either. Their teams would take the ball out of their hands and give it to better drivers and outside shooters. Taking way their driving and outside shooting doesn’t make them high volume inefficient players, it just makes them lower volume players.

Melo and George’s ability to create mid-range shots is valued, but it’s one piece of a larger puzzle. They wouldn’t be offensive stars without the tools to drive and shoot 3s first and foremost.

My larger point is this. For Jabari to be a “safe” NBA scorer, it’s not just about the tools to put up a lot of shots, particularly from mid-range. It depends on a combination of his 3 point jumpshot, his midrange scoring ability and his tools driving to the rim translating. The moment one takes away 3 point shooting or driving to the rim, he becomes a less “safe” prospect offensively, if not altogether risky. Without the driving and shooting tools in his repertoire, he wouldn’t get the trust from his team or touches to be one of the league’s high volume scorers. He would just get buried and become another guy.

The question after this is, how well will Jabari shoot and drive to the rim? His upside in the latter appears to be limited by lack of strong athleticism. Although Parker handles well in transition, when looking at his games/clips, I didn’t see separation on the perimeter off the dribble.

How about his outside shooting? Parker hit 35.8% from the shorter NCAA 3pt line, which is solid for a freshman. His 3 point volume of 3.0 3PA a game and his free throw percentage of 74.8% FT are both respectable. Jabari did enough to prove he could be a good shooter. But he didn’t separate himself from NCAA peers in shooting stroke like other prospects such as Nik Stauskas or Shabazz Napier did. Here’s something worrying for Jabari: In his first 3 games of the season, he went 11 for 16 from 3. As he went 38 for 106 from 3 for the season, it means his last 32 games of the year he shot 27 for 90 from 3, just 30% on 2.8 attempts a game. That so much of how we feel about a prospect’s shooting ability can be affected by 3 games, is a sign of why trusting 3P% alone can be scary and why I favor also looking at volume and FT%. Parker did not have a better 3 point shooting or free throw shooting season than Andrew Wiggins, who’s future as a perimeter scorer is considered a more risky proposition.

Carmelo Anthony is not just a great mid-range creator. He’s a great 3 point shooter and he has a dynamic first step to drive to the rim and draw fouls. The size and feel for the game that Jabari shares with Carmelo, may be less than half of what makes Carmelo such a talented player. If in the other half including areas like athleticism and outside shooting they are incomparable players, the comparison does not hold too valid.

The “disappointment to bust” version of Jabari would likely begin with in inability to drive to the rim or shoot 3s, which in combination with defensive inabilities, could be devastating for the team who takes him top 3. That’s not to say he’ll be a bust. The better a 3 point shooter he becomes, the closer to stardom he’ll get. But he also has a low floor. That should not be ignored.

Written by jr.

May 13, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Is the NBA worse at evaluating prospects than results suggest?

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While the NBA can often miss on high lottery picks, the consensus opinion is the “grouping” of prospects is relatively well done. Meaning it’s very rare for a starter or rotation player to not be a 1st rounder. And almost all all-stars and especially superstars are picked in the top 10.

So on the surface, it would starter and all-star talents don’t slip past the collective wisdom of the group. This is contrast to sports like the NFL, NBA, MLB where stars fall outside of the 1st round more regularly.

However, here’s something to remember: Because the NBA allows prospects to return to school and choose to declare as a freshman, sophomores, juniors, seniors, talented prospects may not declare until they’re projected to be picked high enough in the draft to be worth it.

In other words, how high the NBA projects a player’s draft ranking, is a huge factor in whether he’s in the draft to be selected. So a major reason many starter and all-star talents don’t fall to the 2nd round or go undrafted, may be that they don’t stay in the draft if they’re projected lowly. These talented prospects then have the chance to stay in college enough for their talent to shine as juniors or seniors, allowing them to get picked high and deserving of their talent. If star talents don’t stay in the draft if they’re rated in the 2nd round, the NBA can’t miss on them in the 1st round. Many are either rated in the top 20 or hope for better luck the next season.

The NHL drafts everyone at high school graduation age (around 18) and then teams send them to the minor leagues until they’re physically ready. The MLB system is similar. If NBA teams did this, successful older prospects like Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Victor Oladipo, Kenneth Faried, David West, among others, may not have been on the radar enough to even be 1st round picks, or in some cases even 2nd round picks. Although in the present system if the NBA extended the draft to 5 or 6 rounds it would lead to very few starting caliber talents, if they drafted everyone at 18 and had 5 or 6 rounds, it’d more likely to be full of steals like Lillard and Curry in later rounds.

There is a 2nd reason the NBA’s results may mask their drafting ability, which I’ve discussed recently. The players who get picked higher in the draft, also get believed in more. This increases their chance of getting thousands of minutes early in their career to mark out their place and gives them extra chances on 2nd or 3rd teams if they fail the first time. A prospect picked in the lottery may be given 5,000 minutes+ until the NBA knows they aren’t talented enough to be worth it. A prospect picked in the 2nd round may not get more than a few hundred minutes, or be forced to cut it in the D League. If the 2nd round prospect still has starter or all-star talent, he should still shine enough in these opportunities to make it, but where this weeding process may really have an effect is on bench players. There may have been tons of 2nd round and undrafted players over the years who were 5,000-10,000 minutes of development away from being a 7th or 8th man. But if this is all the talent teams saw in him, chances are they wouldn’t be too excited to spend all this resource (time) on a limited return on investment. Whereas an equally talented top 10 pick may only have 7th or 8th man talent, but the team who drafts him sees a starter or all-star in him. So they develop him for years under the impression they’ll get a big return on investment and even if they were wrong about this, the player still ends up getting the time to be a 7th or 8th man for the next decade. This is in addition to the fact that 1st round prospects get guaranteed contracts and are in the NBA 2 years at minimum, at least 3 in all but rare cases. If forced to pay them, teams may as well develop them to see what they have. All in all, it seems more likely 1st round and lottery prospects become rotation players than 2nd round/undrafted players of equal talent, due to just opportunity and being pushed into success by their teams.

Written by jr.

May 9, 2014 at 11:58 am

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

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