A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Drafting Skal Labissiere in the lottery is (probably) a bad idea

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After being ranked #1 over Ben Simmons by Draftexpress before the season, Skal’s season went as badly as it could but based on his athleticism, length and potential to shoot has maintained enough pedigree to be projected as a fringe top 10 pick.

While everyone should agree there’s a chance Skal is out of the league in 3 or 4 years, the thought is the way to win is to draft stars so the risk is worth it especially in a league increasingly moving towards defensive anchors who shoot 3s.

I’m not buying it.

To start with the statistical warning signs, here’s a sample of the best PFs of this generation: Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Lamarcus Aldridge, Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap, Carlos Boozer, David West. In their draft year the lowest steal rate of the group is Love’s 0.9 per 40 minutes. Skal had 0.6. The lowest rebound of the group is Aldridge’s 10.9 per 40. Skal did 8.0. The lowest assist rate is Aldridge’s 0.6, an anomaly considering 2nd lowest is Boozer’s 1.2. Skal did 0.8. The lowest TS% of the group is Green’s .54, with nobody else below .59. Skal did .54. Skal was ranked 7th in WS on his own team. Every one of those PFs were 1st on their team.

For Skal to become a star he has to become a statistical anomaly compared to recent PFs by having the lowest steal and rebound bar none of the group, tying for the lowest TS% and having an assist rate far below everyone but one player. In addition to being the worst player of the group in college by miles and away.

Can Skal become a star – Sure. A sample size of 9 PFs doesn’t mean that the 10th can’t follow a pathway totally unique to them and aberrations happen. Andre Drummond is the best parable for Skal as a player considered a soft under performer and risky at the time. Compared to DeMarcus Cousins, Al Horford, Brook Lopez, Deandre Jordan, Karl-Anthony Towns, Joakim Noah, UConn Drummond has the lowest assist, points and TS% rate. To use an example at another position, if compared to a list of James Harden, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, C.J. McCollum, Wesley Matthews, Kevin Martin, Brandon Roy, DeMar Derozan at USC would have the lowest steal and assist rate of the group outright and tied for the lowest blocks. Both showed sometimes taking an athletic project works out. Zach LaVine was 6th on his team in Win Shares, and would ranked last on that SG list in rebounds and blocks. While not a star yet, Minnesota is happy with their pick so far.

Here’s the problem: Skal having some fractional chance of breaking the statistical odds to become a star doesn’t separate him from the alternatives at his pick as much as it seems.  Picks like Skal get made as if it’s a league where half the stars in the league were Derozan and Drummond athletic projects, while every team who takes an old polished prospect pays the price of never getting one. That just isn’t the case. The list of college projects who became all-stars almost ends at Derozan and Drummond (who aren’t even THAT amazing, by the way). Meanwhile take a look at the top 10 in MVP voting this year:

Stephen Curry – 7th pick in a then considered weak draft. Older but productive prospect with average physical tools.

Kawhi Leonard – 15th pick in a then considered weak draft, expected to be a defensive role player due to lack of shooting and creating ability

Lebron James – 1st overall, Expected to be the heir of the league since high school

Russell Westbrook – 4th pick in a great draft, success story for the raw athletic tools pick.

Kevin Durant – 2nd pick, expected superstar after all time freshman season

Chris Paul – 4th pick, size and personality scared some teams off but in contention for 1st pick and not a surprise he became a star

Draymond Green – 35th pick, great college season but old and considered low upside due to physical tools

Damian Lillard – 6th pick, older prospect from a small conference, although picked to have all-star upside at the time

James Harden – 3rd pick in a weak draft at the time, with considered average athleticism, not expected to have the upside he’s on on to have

Kyle Lowry – 24th pick, expected to be a defense first player

Some of the top rated stars in the league who didn’t finish top 10:

Anthony Davis – 1st overall pick, expected superstar

Klay Thompson – 11th pick in a rated weak draft, older prospect expected to shoot and defend but has beaten expectations

Jimmy Butler – 30th pick, old polished wing not expected to be elite on either end

Paul George – 10th pick, toolsy athletic shooting and defender, although productive on his small conference team

DeMarcus Cousins – 5th pick, considered a superstar talent but mental loose cannon

Blake Griffin – 1st pick, considered star upside

None of those players were the type of ultra project that Skal or LaVine were. Westbrook and George are two nice examples of toolsy upside picks that worked, but didn’t reach Skal’s statistical nadirs.

But even when counting them, they’re outnumbered by low upside draftees that became stars: Curry, Kawhi, Draymond, Klay, Lowry, etc.

What this suggests it that sure Skal may be the next Derozan or Drummond, but does he have a better chance at that then Taurean Prince, older defensive with with multiple solid offensive skills but no elite one, being the next Jimmy Butler who fell to 30th for the same reasons? Would Wade Baldwin being a star be more surprising than Kawhi was at the time? Baldwin has the length of a SF (6’11 wingspan) and weight of a SG (202 pounds) and has some holes in his offensive game, while Kawhi had the length of a center (7’3 wingspan) and weight of a PF (227 pounds) and had some holes.

You can do this for most prospects in the 1st round. What it reveals is that the idea that only Skal has all-star upside and everyone else is capped out a role player is a house of cards. The evidence against it is simply comparing the lengthy list of all-stars who started out in the shoes of mid-late 1sts like Baldwin, Prince, Domantas Sabonis, etc. with productive college careers but rated by scouts as having middling upside, vs the amount who started out in the shoes of Skal of weak production that went on to do become a star. There’s been too many breakout stars from the former type of group compared to the latter, to act like Skal is the only one who has a pathway to stardom in front of them. The opposite is closer to being true. Based on the statistical record, while it could happen, a project of Skal’s status becoming a star would be more unique and more of an aberration than a player like Baldwin. There’s a reason why Skal’s Win Shares rank compared to his team, steals, rebounds, assists, TS% looks so bad compared to Davis, Griffin, Bosh, Green, Love, Aldridge, Favors, Millsap, Boozer, West. Because of none of those PFs were a project like him in college. That shows why Skal would be following a rare pathway to being a star PF.

 

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Written by jr.

June 9, 2016 at 5:06 pm

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