A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Who will win 2014-2015 NBA rookie of the year?

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While I’m more attracted to picking out the long term success of an NBA player than their rookie seasons, this year I thought I’d take a stab at predicting Rookie of the Year:

First, let’s look at the last 10 rookies of the year:

2013-2014 – PG Michael Carter-Williams
2012-2013 – PG Damian Lillard
2011-2012 – PG Kyrie Irving
2010-2011 – PF Blake Griffin
2009-2010 – PG/SG Tyreke Evans
2008-2009 – PG Derrick Rose
2007-2008 – SF Kevin Durant
2006-2007 – PG Brandon Roy
2005-2006 – PG Chris Paul
2004-2005 – PF/C Emeka Okafor

How voters pick these winners isn’t a secret. Of the above 10 names, Okafor, Paul, Roy, Durant, Rose, Evans, Griffin, Irving, Lillard and Carter-Williams all led rookies in points per game, while Rose finished 2nd behind O.J. Mayo’s points per game in 2008. (Okafor tied with Ben Gordon at 15.1ppg, but my manual calculation has Okafor fractions ahead)

To put up a high points per game, players need the minutes and touches and to emerge as a team star quickly. Of course, talent and being a strong long term prospect is also a huge help.

First, here are the top 10 2014 draft picks on my mixed model draft board expected to have full NBA seasons next year:

2. SG Nik Stauskas
3. PF Julius Randle
4. PF Noah Vonleh
5. SG Jordan Adams
7. PF Jabari Parker
8. PG Shabazz Napier
10. SF Doug McDermott
12. PF Aaron Gordon
13. SF T.J. Warren
14. PG/SG Marcus Smart

(6. SG Bogdan Bogdanovic, 9. PF Dario Saric were removed because they will play overseas next season, 1. C Joel Embiid 11. SG Spencer Dinwiddie were removed due to injury)

Nerlens Noel and Nikola Mirotic are also eligible for rookie of the year next year, I’ll discuss them later in the post.

If I’m confident in my draft rankings I should believe one of those ten players will win rookie of the year, if a prospect from the 2014 draft wins. Here’s my ranking from 10 to 1 of those players, in order of how likely I feel they are to win.

“Forget about it”

10. PF Noah Vonleh

Vonleh will fight to get minutes over two young bigs in Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo, along with Marvin Williams who fills a veteran stretch PF need beside Al Jefferson. In addition the Hornets have their hands full with possession users in Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, Al Jefferson. This isn’t your rookie scoring leader.

9. PG Shabazz Napier

The Heat will still be committing a ton of possessions to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng, plus Napier has two PGs in front of him in Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, so he may not play period. Although he’s the type of shot creating, high possession-guard who’s done well in rookie seasons lately, only conceivable path for him to get into this race is if Wade’s season falls apart due to injury.

In reality Vonleh and Napier are worse than the 9th and 10th most likely rookie of the year winners, with other prospects like Dante Exum, Andrew Wiggins and Nerlens Noel having more friendly possession using situations.

“Probably too good of a team”

8. SG Jordan Adams

The Grizzlies need a player like Adams, who’s shooting and ability to drive to the basket is badly needed at SG or SF. With a very productive college career and nice summer league, it’s possible he jumps out to a high minutes per game role. With that said the Grizzlies offense will still look to Mike Conley, Jr., Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol first and Vince Carter could fill their offensive needs before Adams does. ROYs coming on great teams picking late in the 1st round just doesn’t happen.

7. SF Doug McDermott

Like the Grizzlies, the Bulls are a defense first team which allows an offensive upgrade to be important early. There’s also the unfortunate chance that Rose’s health could fall apart again, creating a vacuum for offensive usage. So McDermott could find himself important on the Bulls. But the most likely situation is he gets used as a spot up and spacing shooter early in his career like how the Bulls used to play Kyle Korver. McDermott would likely need to be more of a shot-creator to be the rookie scoring leader and rookie of the year.

“Right place, wrong player?”

6. PF Aaron Gordon

Orlando is the type of young, expected to flounder team made for rookie of the years. But Gordon was known as one of the worst offensive players coming into this draft and in summer league was a raw project. Orlando also has another rookie in Elfrid Payton who’ll get the ball, along with other young players like Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris to feed. Even if Gordon has a surprisingly great rookie season it’s likely to look like either Kenneth Faried or Kawhi Leonard’s in 2011, both of whom lost to a classic high scoring rookie candidate in Kyrie Irving.

5. PG/SG Marcus Smart

Smart fits the profile of some rookie of the year guards lately, most notably, the defending belt holder Michael Carter-Williams who similarly was a big, defensive guard with shooting problems. If he can handle the possessions, Boston will give it to him, despite playing beside Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. It’s also conceivable Rondo is traded, opening up the minutes for Smart. Despite looking like Carter-Williams and Oladipo, there’s a difference between leading rookies in scoring in 2013-2014 and winning it in 2014-2015. There’s only so high Smart’s points per game will be this year especially if getting pushed out of position by Rajon Rondo for at least half the season. Furthermore Smart only ranked 14th on my mixed model big board so it’s already borderline whether I like him enough as a prospect to put him in the mix.

“The dark horse”

4. SF/PF T.J. Warren

The rarity of Warren’s 24.9ppg season in the NCAA for a major conference college sophomore was relatively understated and he continued to score at a similar per 36 minutes in summer league. Removing a 7 minute game, in the other 4 games he averaged 21.25 points in 29 minutes per game. Warren gets buckets.

With that said, he’s on my 13th on mixed model big board which is a little low to predict rookie of the year and the Suns aren’t chopped liver as a team. Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe presuming he’s still under contract long term or short term and Isaiah Thomas, will take a lot of scoring possessions. Although the Suns aren’t stacked at SF which seems Warren’s most likely position, a floor spacer like P.J. Tucker fits their progressive offensive style more than Warren. Warren’s lack of shooting is likely to bother the Suns as much as anyone, which is why it’s surprising they took him. It’ll still be hard for Warren get a big minutes and shots role immediately to lead rookies in scoring.

With that said, all Warren has done is prove he’s great at scoring compared to his peers and if Rookie of the Year almost solely gets voted on PPG, he’s worth the consideration.

“The favorites”

3. PF Jabari Parker

Parker is the Vegas-odds favorite to win rookie of the year. He has a history of high volume scoring in college and high school and Milwaukee is a perfect rookie of the year situation, as they’ll come into the year planning for Jabari to be their #1 possessions option and will give him all the minutes he can handle.

My only reservation is I like but don’t love his game as a prospect. I’m not sure how good his jumpshot or ability to drive will be immediately. The NBA is not the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago, if a rookie like Jabari takes too many low percentage midrange shots he’ll be benched or coached not to. It’s not a guarantee that just because Jabari can get many midrange shots off, that he’ll be allowed to shoot his way to rookie of the year numbers. In the modern NBA the high usage a player like Carmelo Anthony gets, is earned by having unique skills to create efficient shots at the rim or from 3 then complimenting that with midrange chucking.

Still, Jabari is still a good prospect ranking 7th on my mixed model big board and in the best situation of anyone to win this. Even if I believe his talent has more in common with Antoine Walker than Carmelo Anthony, that still puts rookie of the year on the table.

2. SG Nik Stauskas

Stauskas was ranked 2nd on my mixed model big board and was on my shortlist of star talents in the draft. He has the off the dribble skills that has led to multiple backcourt rookie of the year winners lately.

The biggest thing going against Stauskas is situation, as the Kings have DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay expected to shoot just about every time they touch it. Notably however Isaiah Thomas averaged over 21 points per game in all of December, January, February and March despite sharing the ball with Gay since his trade on December 9th. I suspect as long as Stauskas gets starter minutes at SG, the opportunity is there to put up rookie of the year scoring numbers. The only concern there is the Kings drafting Ben McLemore last year, however they may make up for that by playing McLemore at SF beside Stauskas at times and McLemore struggled enough as a rookie that minutes are not guaranteed this year.

Stauskas’ rookie of the year would likely be the modern equivalent’s of Brandon Roy on Portland in 2006-2007, managing to stand out despite Zach Randolph’s 23.6ppg in the front-court.

1. PF Julius Randle

I’m leaning towards Randle as my favorite right now. He ranks 3rd on my mixed model board for both talent and production reasons and the Lakers are the type of bad team who should breed the minutes and touches for a rookie of the year winner. Although Randle has to compete with other natural 4s like Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, realistically if Randle’s rookie of the year train starts rolling, I expect he’ll become the overwhelming priority of those players. It doesn’t hurt that the Lakers are a high profile media team for whom any young star is likely to his profile blown up, especially a high school lauded, Kentucky prospect who made the national title game. Randle appears to have the physical and mental maturity to produce early as well.

Randle’s chances at ROY are probably better the worse Kobe’s condition is next year, as it would allow him to take a bigger role in the offense. And I’m fading Kobe’s performance next year, I just think a 19th season coming off major injuries is too much to come back from and expect another healthy 27ppg+ season.

Now as I’ve said, I don’t believe these are truly the top 10 candidates for rookie of the year next season, so it’s worth covering a few more names:

PF/C Nikola Mirotic

Mirotic’s talent level seems very impressive, enough to be top 10 compared to 2014 prospects. However the Bulls situation likely plays against him even more than for McDermott. Getting past Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson in the rotation enough to have rookie of the year caliber points per game, is unlikely. The transition from Europe to the NBA can also sometimes include a slow first year.

SF Andrew Wiggins

The #1 pick gets a more rookie of the year favorable situation in Minnesota than Cleveland, however he ranks 19th on my mixed model board which is stretching it for candidates. His rawness as a ballhandler is likely to hurt his chances to create enough to put high scoring numbers, likely to play off the ball in transition and take spot up shots more early. And the Wolves aren’t chopped liver. Nik Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Thaddeus Young If the Timberwolves make the rumored Anthony Bennett for Young trade, should still lead the way for the Wolves. It doesn’t seem like Flip Saunders is the most “play the youngins” friendly coach either. Wiggins being in the top 5 or 6 leading scorers next year wouldn’t shock me, but I don’t see him leading in PPG

PG/SG Dante Exum

Exum ranked 16th on my mixed model big board, not far off from players who made the above list like Smart and Warren. He’s a dribble-first guard on a bad team which usually is an encouraging sign for ROY. However Trey Burke and Alec Burks are also guards who like the ball in their hands, with the latter’s similarity to Exum being particularly problematic for Exum’s chances. Hayward also should once again be their #1 option on the perimeter. If Exum’s rookie season goes well I suspect it looks like Giannis Antetokounmpo’s, where he excites more than puts up gaudy numbers.

PF/C Nerlens Noel

My private re-grading of the 2013 draft would rank Noel 17th if he came out in the 2014 draft. That’s worth fringe consideration and the Sixers are of course, the ultimate rookie of the year opportunity, giving players both heavy possessions and a high pace statistically.

Still, it’s clear you need to lead rookies in scoring to expect to win this award and I just don’t see Noel clearing that bar. Even 15 points per game feelsa lot to ask of Noel and I suspect the rookie of the year will average higher than that.

PG Elfrid Payton and SG Jordan McRae

Payton ranks 42nd and McRae 35th on my mixed model board, so I would consider it a failure on my point if either won rookie of the year. Nevertheless I thought they deserved mention for opportunity alone. Payton has starting PG position handed to him on a poor Orlando team. I’ve also got my eye on McRae who despite getting picked in the late 50s, averaged over 20 points per game in summer league for Philadelphia, who’s summer league team looks a lot like their regular season team in quality, so the odds of him using a surprisingly high of FGA per game this year seem solid to me.

For fun as a comparison, here are the current Bovada odds listed for Rookie of the Year, as of August 19th 2014:

Jabari Parker: 3-1
Andrew Wiggins: 5-1
Nerlens Noel: 15-2
Julius Randle: 15-2
Doug McDermott 10-1
Dante Exum: 12-1
Marcus Smart: 12-1
Elfrid Payton: 14-1
Gary Harris: 20-1
Shabazz Napier: 20-1
Nik Stauskas: 20-1
T.J. Warren: 20-1
Jordan Adams: 33-1
P.J. Hairston: 33-1
Adreian Payne: 33-1
James Young: 33-1
Kyle Anderson: 40-1
Joel Embiid: 50-1
Mitch McGary: 50-1

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Written by jr.

August 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Will you be making a post about the 2013 re-grade? If not, could you at least share same of the changes you made?

    Gavolt

    August 19, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    • I probably will post an article at some point. I was a little conscience of not spending enough time re-grading them, along with the fact that I know it won’t convince anyone that it’s not driven by confirmation bias.

      Guess it can’t hurt, my top 10 right now which I did by recreating my 2014 predictions as much as I could (so all the same models, then averaged to a mixed model as the best ranking) 1 Burke 2 Oladipo 3 Olynyk 4 Schroeder 5 Bennett 6 MCW 7 McCollum 8 Noel 9 Len 10 Zeller and where those players would rank if they were in the 2014 draft on my mixed model – Burke #2, Oladipo #3, Olynyk #7, Schroeder #8, Bennett #8, Carter-Williams #8, McCollum #8, Noel #17, Len #17, Zeller #18. However I tried to restrict myself just to information available before the draft (as if they were coming out now) so of that group the guy who’s really affected is Schroeder who shot 40% 3pt and 84% FT his last year in Germany which is what I used in the above rankings, but we know now his jumper looked more like a Rondo as a rookie, so his rating is a little inflated. Also for eg I used Giannis length before his draft, when taking into account growing a little more it might get him into the top 10 (he’s currently 11). The players I re-graded were Bennett, Oladipo, Porter, Zeller, Len, Noel, McLemore, Caldwell-Pope, Burke, McCollum, Carter-Williams, Adams, Olynyk, Shabazz, Giannis, Schroeder, Dieng, Hardaway Jr, Plumlee, Withey, Kadji. I thought this covered the bases for players either picked high enough, ranked high enough on my list in 2013 or relevant enough as rookies, to be worth it.

      So to cover some of the biggest jumps

      Burke (originally #14) – He did better in my physical impact category for the same reason guys like Stauskas and Bogdanovic rated surprisingly well in the category in 2014. Although not giving the appearance of an elite athlete, he penetrates and gets behind the defense at a + level in the way I look for in perimeter players, probably due to ballhandling skills. Burke being undersized is a myth (He’s size is almost perfectly average in all of height with shoes, wingspan and weight) which is something I knew in 2013 as well. This is in addition to the fact that Burke rated extremely well in my non talent grade models, as a top 10 pick with a high PER for his age and pretty impressive analytics scores. I see him as the most complete prospect in the last two drafts when considering Embiid’s health, Stauskas not looking as good in either college production or analytics and Bogdanovic likewise having production/age question marks beside his talent level.

      MCW (originally #33) – Obviously one of my biggest regrets, again it’s from the physical impact change for perimeter players, MCW rates as just about the best penetrator in the class which is surprising considering he doesn’t look like an elite athlete or ballhandler on paper, but it must be the ballhandling. MCW’s PER for his age in college was pretty weak but the combination of being a lotto pick and good analytics scores helps make up for it.

      Kadji (originally #3) – I still think he has starter caliber talent but a model taking into account draft position, PER for his age and analytics are an obvious disaster for him, so it bumps him down to bubble 1st caliber. The opposite of him is Noel who’s talent level doesn’t rate much better to me than in 2013 when I put it out of the top 30, but Noel’s combination of draft position, PER for his age and especially analytics where he rates bananas well, plays really well for him so it moves up back into favorable position

      I’m a little concerned by the fact that Adams and Plumlee still rate as 2nd round caliber prospects right now even though they did pretty good as rookies in limited minutes. It makes me wonder if my system has a problem rating big guys who play next to the basket all game on both ends and whether toughness takes a bigger portion compared to talent for that role, but will have to look into it later. 2014 didn’t have that many interesting C prospects after Embiid anyways so hopefully it doesn’t hurt those rankings.

      Overall considering 4 of my top 5 (Bennett, Olynyk, Schroeder, Oladipo) and two more in the top 10 (McCollum and Len) remain the same on my June 2013 list and the one I just posted, I’m still pretty confident in my circa June 2013 predictions getting “results” and proving my system’s validity

      julienrodger

      August 20, 2014 at 12:28 pm


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