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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

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