A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Top 10 NBA Draft prospects – February 2016 update

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These rankings are based on my newly developed statistical system comparing prospects to the college performance of recent all-stars or strong starters. In my research I found using this system did a quality job when run over the last 5 drafts. In each category the prospect is compared to the median of these performances. For example if a prospect averages 4 steals, 4 blocks, 15 rebounds, 10 assists, 20 points, .65 Freshman TS and the average at his position was 2 steals, 2 blocks, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 10 points, .55 TS, the player’s performance would be 200% in steals, 200% in blocks, 300% in rebounds, 333% in assists, 200% in points and 118% in TS. I use the most recent season for older prospects except freshman points and TS%. I felt the impact of aging made too big an impact on scoring numbers to use the most recent number for older prospects. I used the positions listed on Draftexpress and for cross position players used the middle ground between those two positions for my category medians.

1. SF/PF Ben Simmons

2. PG Kris Dunn

Statistically these are the two players who stand out in my system, in comparisons to recents at their position they rate:

Simmons – 133% Steals, 71% Blocks, 125% Rebounds, 276% Assists, 125% Freshman Points, 103% Freshman TS%. Median: 125%

Dunn – 165% Steals, 300% Blocks, 132% Rebounds, 129% Assists, 56% Freshman Points, 85% Freshman TS%. Median: 130%

Simmons and Dunn have two of the best median %s of the last 5 drafts which I’ve tracked. Dunn’s steal and block rate is more dominant which is more important but Simmons is a special passer for his position and has a major advantage as a scorer to Dunn’s freshman rate.

The next question is whether their talent backs up the numbers. The answer looks to be yes. Both are projected top 5 picks in the NBA draft showing scouts confidence they can be all-stars. Simmons is a great athlete with solid length and strength. Dunn has good but not great explosiveness but more impressive size for his position and projects to penetrate well in the NBA. For both shooting is considered the weakness. Simmons rarely takes jumpers but shoots a better FT% than Dunn at 69.7% to 69.0. Dunn hits a respectable 37.2% from 3 after 35% last year but his form is considered questionable along with mediocre FT shooting. He clearly is not in the “broken” category of shooter however. Simmons draws more raves for his basketball IQ although Dunn’s strong assist rate is indicative of vision. It feels Simmons may have the edge as a talent but in Dunn there is enough tools to be a multiple time all-star.

3. PF Dragan Bender

On the surface Bender is having a disappointing season in Europe as he is not in the regular rotation of his team. However his numbers albeit over a small sample size may be more encouraging than it seems. Per 40 minutes Bender averages 1.6 steals, 2.3 blocks, 6.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 14.5 points, .57 TS%. Compared to the same PF median I use for NCAA players his %s are:

114% Steals, 111% Blocks, 50% Rebounds, 114% Assists, 76% Points, 90% TS%, Median: 101%

This is actually a very solid line especially against the presumed tougher European competition. As a comparison here is what Kristaps Porzingis did per 40 last year:

121% Steals, 90% Blocks, 67% Rebounds, 63% Assists, 107% Points, 92% TS%, Median: 91%

It bears mentioning Porzingis did this in twice the minutes per game, in twice the games played and drew real responsibility on his team. Nevertheless Bender is putting up numbers in some of the areas he is supposed to be best at in the defensive numbers steals and blocks and assists. He is shooting 40% from 3 which is encouraging for his stretch PF potential. A strategy I’ve experimented with is adding 10% to the Median of every European player to account for difficulty, if I did so Bender’s new rating of 111% would rank as one of the top 5 statistical performances in this class.

Scouts are enamoured with Bender’s talent due to his length, athleticism, feel, potential to hit the 3 and passing. He has the chance to be a hybrid of perimeter skills in a 7 foot body and replicate how prime Andrei Kirilenko’s game would have fit in the modern, smallball-centric NBA. As for whether I would rank over either Simmons or Dunn I chose not to pull the trigger on that. First because although Bender’s numbers are good, theirs are clearly better. Secondly Bender’s numbers have a small sample size problem and the lingering concern of why his coach isn’t acting like he’s a good player.

4. SF Brandon Ingram

Here is how Ingram’s stats match up at SF:

74% Steals, 190% Blocks, 80% Rebounds, 88% Assists, 125% Freshman Points, 107% Freshman TS, Median: 98%

This is a good but not fabulous performance. There are a number of NCAA prospects after Simmons and Dunn who post a higher Median %. But talent can be given a bone here. Ingram is widely considered a top 3 talent in the draft due to his length, athleticism, ball handling, shooting and feel. He has a chance to be picked 1st. Considering he still does solid statistically headlined by his shotblocking and scoring he doesn’t need to be dropped too far. Nevertheless I don’t consider him a can’t miss prospect due to the difference between B grade and A grade stats along with a particular concern I have that he only shoots 67.9% FT for a player who’s shooting excellence and floor spreading is considered a major selling point compared to Simmons and Dunn.

5. SG Furkan Korkmaz

Here is Korkmaz’s numbers compared to the NCAA SG benchmark:

11% Steals, 120% Blocks, 74% Rebounds, 93% Assists, 96% Points, 112% TS%, Median: 94%

Like Bender it’s worthwhile to compare him to a similar prospect in last year’s draft, Mario Hezonja:

94% Steals, 60% Blocks, 75% Rebounds, 104% Assists, 92% Points, 98% TS%, Median: 93%

The Median method doesn’t reflect how low Korkmaz’s steal rate is, but these numbers are also over a small sample size.

Korkmaz is a good athlete at SG, who can shoot from the outside and pass the ball. He’s not as unique a prospect as the unicorn like Bender, but there may be more of a guarantee he fits what his position asks for.

6. PF Marquese Chriss

Chriss is a prospect who I hadn’t been as tuned into until his numbers jumped out at me:

114% Steals, 119% Blocks, 68% Rebounds, 88% Assists, 113% Freshman points, 95% Freshman TS%, Median: 104%

Chris being above median in steal and block is important and he has a strong scoring rate. He looks to be an athletic PF with inside skills and an outside jumper. Here is what Chad Ford wrote about Chriss in his lack mock draft, where he was picked 25th:

“The Raptors could use a power forward and Masai Ujiri is a known gambler.

There’s enormous talent in Chriss. He’s athletic and long, and when he gets it going, he’s a threat inside and outside. But he’s also raw and inconsistent. Teams will have to be patient with him.”

This paints the picture of Chriss as a stud talent who isn’t higher on the draft board because of his lack of production in the NCAA.

But by my system this isn’t true. By Median %, Chriss ranks in my top 10 most productive NCAA prospects. So this makes Chriss a compelling pick. Instead of a high upside talent who’s numbers make him a gamble, he’s a high upside talent who’s numbers are on his side. Not many can deliver on both talent and numbers like this.

7. C Zhou Qi

Zhou is one of the more interesting talents in the draft. He is a 7’2 skinny big man with a 7’6 wingspan, has solid mobility and can hit perimeter jumpshots. However he is not an easy prospect to rate statistically. These are his CBA stats compared to NCAA Cs:

109% Steals, 137% Blocks, 92% Rebounds, 79% Assists, 110% Freshman points (*using his first season in the CBA), 129% Freshman TS%. Median: 109%

This is an excellent performance, mixing steal and block rate with high volume, efficient scoring. However is it easier or harder to put up statistics in the CBA than the NCAA? For example Emmanuel Mudiay last year was about as impressive as Zhou is now, finishing at 110% Median using this method last year. While Mudiay’s efficiency has been poor as a rookie many are encouraged by what he’s showing and teams would not be able to trade for him with the 8th pick in this draft. To make another comparison if I took current, 31 year old Yi Jianlian’s stats and plugged it against the same benchmarks I used for Zhou, his median would be 98%. Take away the points per minute category where the older Yi has been giving more responsibility in the offense and averages 28.5 points per 40 minutes, and there would be an even bigger advantage favouring Zhou.

I’m not sure how much to trust his numbers but he’s talented and producing about as well as you could hope for right now. Considering most prospects after him are flawed in one way or another, I am fine rating him this high.

8. SG Ron Baker

Yes, that Ron Baker. Here are his numbers:

117% Steals, 140% Blocks, 86% Reb, 139% Assists, 79% Freshman Points, 104% Freshman TS%, Median: 114%

His Median % ranks 3rd among NCAA prospects behind Simmons and Dunn. Now there are caveats of course. He does this in a mid-major drawing some doubt about his numbers and he’s considered by scouts to have mediocre athleticism driving to the basket and defensively.

This concerns are enough to make me rank him 9th instead of 3rd, but I decided to only drop a strong statistical performer this far. First off, when it comes to mid-major prospects as they are two successes lately on the perimeter I thought I’d list Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum’s numbers to see how they compare:

Damian Lillard

74% Steals, 100% Blocks, 102% Rebounds, 73% Assists, 104% Freshman Points, 101% Freshman TS%, Median: 101%

C.J. McCollum (listed as a PG/SG before his draft, so his comparisons are PG and SG’s averaged)

88% Steals, 100% Blocks, 107% Rebounds, 84% Assists, 150% Freshman Points, 103% Freshman TS%, Median: 103%

So while a small sample size of two players, that McCollum and Lillard didn’t perform unreasonably well is a his a sign not to flip too much about the mid-major effect on statistics in this system. Baker’s production could be for real, or at least close enough.

As for whether his talent level will hold him back. That remains to be seen but in my old system I used the guideline that talent is two thirds skill and basketball IQ. Baker may not be an exceptional athlete but the ability to shoot, pass and have a feel for the game is talent that other athletes may lack. Likewise from the tape I’ve seen it seems like Baker’s athleticism is more “just average” than an unplayably form of poor. His impressive steal and block numbers may be a testament to that. Based on his production, skill and IQ I’m willing to put him here.

9. PF Henry Ellenson

Here is Ellenson’s statistics:

79% Steals, 105% Blocks, 96% Rebounds, 114% Assists, 104% Freshman Points, 83% Freshman TS%, Median: 100%

Ellenson isn’t spectacular in any categories, but his solid block, assists and points rate are enough to give him as impressive a statistical performance. He is a good athlete at the 4 and is known as an especially skilled big man who can shoot from the outside and pass.

For his skill level ome comparisons have bene made between Ellenson and Kevin Love. Love performed worse in the steal and block categories than Ellenson but better in every other category. This is reflective that Ellenson is likely not as skilled as Love, but could be more athletically driven.

There are players more talented than Ellenson in this draft and better statistical performers. But some of the talented players do not put up the numbers he does and some of the statistical performers don’t check out as talents. Putting up a solid B level case in both makes him a good prospect.

10. PG Melo Trimble 

Trimble averages:

70% Steals, 100% Blocks, 68% Rebounds, 105% Assists, 129% Freshman Points, 115 Freshman TS%, Median: 102%

Trimble is something of the PG version of Ellenson and I consider them close to tied in my rankings. He is not top of the class in either talent or statline but is promising by having a quality enough showing on both. Trimble has only average speed and size for his position but his combination of shooting, passing and feel is known as excellent and is talent. His ball handling should help him drive to the rim. Statistically his excellent scoring volume and efficiency as a freshman helps as does his above average passing. A lot of signs are here for a smart, skilled starting PG in the NBA.

Next 10: Buddy Hield, David Walker, Timothe Luwawu, Troy Williams, Taurean Prince, Patrick McCaw, Ivicia Zubac, Monte Morris, Tyler Lydon, Jaylen Brown

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Written by jr.

February 10, 2016 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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