A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Joel Embiid, Julius Randle and the valuing of length and strength

leave a comment »

Joel Embiid is expected to be drafted 1st or 2nd overall, while Randle is mocked at the 5th to 7th picks. These prospects have more in common than you may think. Both were rated as top 5 but not top 2 prospects coming into this college season, then had productive seasons on high profile college programs. Both have above average athleticism driving to the basket or playing above the rim, but not elite. Both have impress lateral mobility for their position. Both have fluidity and feel for the game. Both put up impress rebounding statistics this year. Both have standout footwork in the post, signifying back to the basket potential.

Where does Embiid separate himself? By conventional wisdom, it’s his length and position. Embiid reportedly measured at 7’1 in shoes, 7‘5.75 wingspan and 9‘5.5 standing reach at a workout, after missing the draft combine. The average NBA C judging by the Draftexpress combine database, is around 6’11 in shoes, 7’3 wingspan and 9’2 standing reach.

However these measurements were not as official as at the draft combine. Here are Embiid, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins comparisons of their workout and Hoop Summit measurements:

Embiid (Hoop Summit 2013): 7’0 in shoes, 7’5 wingspan, standing reach not measured

Embiid (workout): 7’1 in shoes, 7‘5.75 wingspan, 9‘5.5 standing reach.

Parker (Hoop Summit 2013): 6’8 in shoes, 7’0 wingspan, 8’8 standing reach

Parker (workout): 6’9 in shoes, 6‘11.75 wingspan, 8‘11.5 standing reach

Wiggins (Hoop Summit 2013): 6’8 in shoes, 7’0 wingspan, standing reach not measured

Wiggins (workout): 6‘8.75 in shoes, 7’0 wingspan, 8’11 standing reach

Judging by all three players measuring higher in shoes than at the Hoop Summit and how far up Parker’s standing reach leaped, I think it’s fair to treat Embiid’s 9‘5.5 standing reach estimate as overstated. A still well above average standing reach like 9‘3.5-9‘4.5 is more likely than 9‘5.5

Julius Randle measured 6’9 in shoes, 7’0 wingspan and 8‘9.5 standing reach. The average measurements for PF is around 6‘9.5 in shoes, 7’1 wingspan and 8’11 standing reach. Therefore Randle’s length disadvantage for a PF is about the same as Embiid’s advantage at C.

But their bodies are shaped differently in another way. Randle’s strength is one of his biggest advantages at PF, while Embiid is comparatively slender for a C. Randle measured 250 pounds at the combine, compared to average PF weight of 232. Embiid was 240 pounds at the Hoop Summit the last time he measured, compared to average C weight of 247 pounds. The differential in strength becomes more significant when realizing Embiid’s height for a C is taller than Randle’s vs the average PF, meaning Randle’s strength is more compact for his height than Embiid. Weight is not a perfect way to measure strength, but the eye test backs up Randle’s frame for his position is stronger than Embiid’s, especially in the lower body.

In a way, Embiid and Randle just have inverse physical tools. Similar athleticism, but Embiid has length substituted for Randle’s strength and vice-versa. Thus when judging Embiid vs Randle, we have a clash between the value of length and strength. Length has long been beloved among NBA teams by allowing a big to be a shotblocker/defensive anchor, considered a key on a championship team. But are we sure that length is more important than equal amounts of strength in the modern NBA?

For example, here are the top 20 PFs or Cs last season and my approximation descriptions of their strength and length level for their position:

1. PF Lebron James (29.90 PER): Solid length, Elite strength
2. PF Kevin Love (26.97): Below average length, Elite strength
3. PF Anthony Davis (26.54): Elite length, Below average strength
4. C DeMarcus Cousins (26.18): Elite length, Elite strength
5. C Brook Lopez (25.50): Elite length, solid strength
6. PF Carmelo Anthony (24.50): Solid length, Elite strength
7. PF Blake Griffin (23.98): Below average length, Elite strength
8. PF Dirk Nowitzki (23.68): Elite length, Solid strength
9. C Brandan Wright (23.60): Solid length, Below average strength
10. C Al Jefferson (22.75): Solid length, Elite strength
11. C Andre Drummond (22.65): Elite length, Elite strength
12. C Al Horford (22.08): Below average length, Great strength
13. PF LaMarcus Aldridge (21.84): Great length, Solid strength
14. C Tim Duncan (21.40): Elite length, Elite strength
15. C Dwight Howard (21.36): Elite length, Elite strength
16. C Nikola Pekovic (20.72): Solid length, Elite strength
17. C Joakim Noah (20.06): Below average length, Below average strength
18. PF Kenneth Faried (19.9): Solid length, Below average strength
19. PF Paul Millsap (19.83): Below average length, Great strength
20. PF Serge Ibaka (19.66): Elite length, Solid strength

Here are 10 other former all-star bigs I thought deserved mention:

C Pau Gasol (19.34): Elite length, Below average strength
PF David Lee (19.21): Solid length, solid strength
C Chris Bosh (19.11): Solid length, Below average strength
PF Zach Randolph (18.37): Below average length, elite strength
C Marc Gasol (18.27): Elite length, elite strength
PF David West (17.55): Solid length, elite strength
C Tyson Chandler (16.48): Elite length, Below average strength
C Andrew Bynum (15.25): Elite length, elite strength
C Roy Hibbert (13.54): Elite length, elite strength
C Kevin Garnett (13.35): Elite length, solid strength

Of those 30 players, there are 11 I listed as having more length than strength in Davis, Lopez, Nowitzki, Wright, Aldridge, Faried, Ibaka, Pau Gasol, Bosh, Chandler, Garnett. There are 10 players I listed as having more strength than length in Lebron, Love, Anthony, Griffin, Jefferson, Horford, Pekovic, Millsap, Randolph, West. There are 9 I gave about the same of each length and strength, good or bad, in Cousins, Drummond, Duncan, Howard, Noah, Lee, Marc Gasol, Bynum, Hibbert.

If one removes Lebron and Carmelo from the list as they were natural perimeter players and remove Wright because of his limited minutes-driven dubious inclusion, it leaves 10 length over strength players on the list and 8 strength over length ones.

Positionally, 13 of the 30 players are PF and 17 are C, however I’d claim 18 of the players (Love, Davis, Griffin, Nowitzki, Wright, Horford, Aldridge, Duncan, Faried, Millsap, Ibaka, Pau Gasol, Lee, Bosh, Randolph, West, Garnett) were drafted as PFs more than C.

Overall, I don’t see a reason to think length is a more valuable attribute than strength for big men in today’s game. Although length gives bigs a key skill in shotblocking, many of the most productive bigs in the game have had strength as their meal ticket instead of length, perhaps due to an inherent offensive advantage to strength compared to length. The “model” elite big men comes in various forms. Some great bigs like Davis, Lopez have more in common with Embiid than Randle, but others like Love and Griffin share a greater resemblance to Randle of the two. If accounting for the possibility Randle’s game doesn’t translate due to length but Embiid’s does, one also to consider the possibility Randle’s back to the basket game offense and rebounding translates better than Embiid’s because the latter can’t hold position as strongly due to his body.

As for the value of playing C, of the 8 last playoff teams (Miami, Brooklyn, Washington, Indiana, San Antonio, Portland, Oklahoma City, L.A. Clippers), here is how their starting bigs ranked in PER:

1. MIA PF Lebron James (29.40) (*Heat best player)
2. LAC PF Blake Griffin (23.98) (*Clippers 1st/2nd best player)
3. POR PF LaMarcus Aldridge (21.84) (*Blazers 1st/2nd best player)
4. SAS PF Tim Duncan (21.4) (*Spurs 1st/2nd best player)
5. OKC PF Serge Ibaka (19.66) (*Thunder 3rd best player)
6. MIA C Chris Bosh (19.11) (*Heat 3rd best player)
7. LAC C Deandre Jordan (18.19) (*Clippers 3rd best player)
8. POR C Robin Lopez (17.68) (*Blazers 3rd-5th best player)
9. IND PF David West (17.55) (*Pacers 2nd-4th best player)
10. BKN PF Paul Pierce (16.81) (*Nets 1st-3rd best player)
11. WAS PF Nene (16.67) (*Wizards 1st-4th best player)
12. SAS C Tiago Splitter (16.58) (*Spurs 4th-5th best player)
13. WAS C Marcin Gortat (17.66) (*Wizards 3rd-5th best player)
14. IND C Roy Hibbert (13.54) (*Pacers 2nd-5th best player)
15. BKN C Kevin Garnett (13.35) (*Nets 4th-5th best player)
16. OKC C Kendrick Perkins (6.32) (*Bottom 5 OKC player)

While PER is not the end-all for rating players and some players aren’t at their true position (ie James is an original SF, Duncan is effectively a C playing out of position, Bosh a PF playing out of position), certainly the message is clear. It’s not necessarily true that PFs are more important to contending caliber teams than C, but the assumption Cs are more important than PF, should be doubted. At least in 2014, power forwards are leading the teams and are more often top 2 players on the team. At the same time, more of the less important bigs on these teams are Cs.

I currently have Embiid 3rd and Randle 4th on my talent big board. Embiid may very well have a better career than Randle. There is many variables other than length or strength that will go into the success of either including athleticism, skill level, feel, or effort level where Embiid is as impressive as Randle if not more. But I don’t feel Embiid’s style of prospect being a long C instead of a shorter, strong PF is an advantage that will create this separation. Usually it’s not about what type of prospect you are, just how close you are to perfecting that style. Randle may very well end up better for his style of player, than Embiid for his.

Advertisements

Written by jr.

June 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: