A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Some early thoughts on the rookies

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Clearly a few weeks into the season is a small sample size to judge players. However I wanted to give a few sparse thoughts on the rookies along with notable 2nd year players.

Aaron Gordon is my biggest winner of the first few weeks. Not only is his per minute production the best of an underperforming class with a 15.6 PER, but he’s hit 4 of 8 from the 3pt line and 10 of 13 from the FT line. Gordon went 16 for 45 fro 35.6% from 3 at Arizona, however at the time I deemed his 42.2% from the FT line as more indicative of having a poor skill level outside of the rim. If having only Kenneth Faried and Andre Drummond type of range, this would have limited some of his upside despite an otherwise wonderful combination of athleticism, feel for the game and passing skill. However if Gordon is for real as at least a wide open jump shooter it could open up his game and move the comparison from a Faried type in the paint banger, to potentially a Andre Iguodala-like well rounded small forward or even Shawn Marion in best case scenario. If the Magic decide to up his minutes to over 25 per game he could also still find himself in the rookie of the year race.

The Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic looks like a solid pro. Although older than the rest of his class some other European transfers needed time to transfer well. So this doesn’t mean he’s a finished product. Bojan is hitting 35.5% from 3 on 3.9 attempts a game and improving in the area quickly by hitting 7 of 15 3s in his last 4 games. He appears to have a steady and intelligent, smooth game, not seeming out of place averaging 29.4 minutes per game which leads all rookies. While he’ll likely never be a slasher, he continues to hit 3s and play smart he could end up starting in various teams in the NBA for a long time.

Andrew Wiggins would win Rookie of the Year if the season ended today, with his 11.3 points per game leading the class, defensive contributions and the high profile benefit of a #1 pick. He hasn’t alleviated my concerns about his ability to penetrate like a star, however his jumpshot has been impressive both from midrange and 3 with a 48.1% mark from 16-23 feet and 55.6% from the 3pt line. However both his college career and 62.5% from the FT line so far in the NBA claim a regression is coming in those areas.

Jabari Parker is worrisome. He is only hitting 25% from 3 and 26.7% from 16-23 feet which together with limited ball handling skills continues to make his “ultra-skilled” college reputation a house of cards. His defense has also been porous. However his size and craftiness combination has still allowed him to put points on the board and rebound solidly. Presuming his shooting picks up and Wiggins’ shooting regresses, Jabari is probably still in line to lead rookies in scoring and win Rookie of the Year in the end. Long term I’d still like to see him be a floor spacing PF more than a SF with size and post potential. Small forwards who stopped the ball to post up smaller defenders, shoot midrange shots and give up speed on the defensive end, were in vogue in the 1980s but rapidly going the way of MTV’s music videos in the modern NBA.

Nik Stauskas has been one of the least productive rookies statistically with a 3.7 PER. This is due to only hitting 27.3% from the 3pt line thus far and how limited his role in Sacramento’s offense has been outside of spot up 3s, with 2.4 of his 3.8 attempts a game coming from 3pt. While it’s concerning to see anyone this unproductive to start, Stauskas’ resume as a 3pt shooter is strong enough that one shouldn’t be too stressed about him clicking in from long range yet. To give a few examples of early strugglers who turned it around, Bradley Beal’s season 3P% was only 26.8% at the end of December of his rookie year and Kevin Martin was a non threat from 3 his entire rookie season. Both droughts were on a far greater sample size than Nik’s troubles from 3 so far. Most were more concerned about Stauskas supplemented his shooting game with other skills and in those areas he’s had a respectable start. Having seen most of his minutes so far, he hasn’t looked out of place defensively, moving better than most expected in lateral defense but getting into some trouble with fouls and physically stronger opponents like others rookies. He’s made some impressive passes and the times he has driven to the rim looked fine aesthetically to me.

Like Stauskas, Doug McDermott has struggled to a 8.54 PER because of only hitting 29.4% from 3 on 1.9 attempts a game and how 3pt shot-orientated his role with the Bulls is. But over time this skill should translate better and his defense has been more competent than expected it would appear.

Nerlens Noel started relatively impressively this season with a combination of scoring, blocks and steals, but Philadelphia moving him from power forward to center has hurt his productivity. Noel is closer in weight to a small forward than a center, so physically it’s a hard task to put him at the 5 right now. He’s showing some worrisome “bad hands” signs which has been tough for other big man prospects to overcome in the past. However if defensively impactful enough at the 4 or 5, Noel can be a long term starter in the league.

Elfrid Payton’s poor shooting numbers are worrisome considering the starting role and touches Orlando has given him, were everything he needed to make a Michael Carter-Williams like rookie of the year run. Payton has a nice feel for the game and defensive potential, however I had concerns about his skill level at PG. Not just his shooting ability and touch at the rim but whether his ball handling would limit his driving to the basket. He’ll either have to improve his skills or become an aces passing+defense point guard.

K.J. McDaniels has had a solid start offensively by hitting 40% of his 3s on 2.8 attempts a game. While a small sample size considering his high defensive potential, his upside as a “3+D” player in the NBA looks solid. If he keeps this up, when he becomes a free agent next summer teams could be thinking Wes Matthews, who Portland was able to sign after just his rookie season for 5 years, 34 million.

A few thoughts on 2nd year players:

I rated Kelly Olynyk and Dennis Schroeder top 5 in the 2013 draft and their strong play so far has made me encouraged about those rankings. Although I don’t expect them to keep up over 20 PER production this season, Olynyk’s skill level for a 5 and Schroeder’s penetration ability for a PG make them potential all-star talents. Gorgui Dieng who rated in the top 10 of my rankings has also been one of the most productive 2nd year players to start the season. Anthony Bennett is also showing signs of life, even if he is getting “Flipped off” by Flip Saunders telling him he’s not allowed to take 3s. Bennett has instead been taking 2s as close to the 3pt line without taking them, as anyone in the league. This reliance on the extra long 2 could lead to an unfortunate shooting % over the season, but his career in the long term shouldn’t be damaged too much, even if it takes a 2nd coach or team to tap into his 3pt shooting potential.

I do not feel my 2013 rankings are perfect as I have a few seniors who didn’t make it like Kenny Kadji and Jackie Carmichael rated highly, in the 2014 draft these players would have been filtered out with my other models incorporating college statistics or conventional draft rankings. I also feel Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke will end up having standout impressive careers than I thought at the time, the latter once his jumpshooting gets more back in order than it has been this season. However if players like Bennett, Olynyk, Schroeder, Dieng, etc. do well, I’ll be satisfied with the ratings that draft at least proving “something is here”, even if imperfect.

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Written by jr.

November 15, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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