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The curious case of Kenny Kadji

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I didn’t find it a huge surprise when Kenny Kadji wasn’t drafted last night. Unlike Scott Machado last year, Kadji was not mocked often in the top 60.

So Julien, how can you justify putting an undrafted player 2nd on your big board?

Why Kadji didn’t get drafted is relatively straight forward. He’s 25 and last year he put up 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in 29.1 minutes per game, for a 21.8 PER, comparatively meek for college prospects. I assume most teams figured a 25 year old college player must be dominant at that age to warrant consideration.

The Kadji scenario is interesting because it gets to the heart of talent vs production in the NCAA. Kadji is nearly a man without weaknesses as a talent, even by more traditional methods than mine of evaluating it. Size and length is typically obsessed over by teams and the fans/media and Kadji checks out fine there, as a 6’10 PF with a long 7’3 wingspan, with a strong frame weighing at 242. Kadji is also a good athlete, showing burst attacking the rim off the dribble finishing strong above the rim with multiple highlight reel dunks. For physical tools, Kadji clearly looks the NBA part. His skill game is even better for a big. Taking 3.7 3pters a game at 35.1%, his range gives him a clear rare skill talent for a 6’10+ PF/C. His skill also didn’t end there, also showing ability creating in the post once establishing position with his body vs younger opponents. Along with that, he had ballhandling helping him get to the basket in the halfcourt and even running a few coast to coast fastbreaks as well. Finally, Kadji also has a good IQ, with smooth instincts and defensive rotations and seemingly a high character.

With physical tools up to the part, skill and IQ, the talent is quite clear for me. Other stretch bigs like Grant Jerrett, Ryan Kelly, Erik Murphy and Deshaun Thomas were drafted last night with subpar physical tools, just because of their shooting skill. So a PF who also had physical tools, should’ve looked pretty good. If removing the age and statistics, there’s little in terms of physical talents, skills or instincts to pick at with Kadji.

Compare Kadji to 4th overall pick Cody Zeller in tool by tool. Cody is two inches taller as a true 7 footer in shoes, but his 6’10 wingspan is a full 5 inches shorter than Kadji’s. Kadji’s body is also more physically developed. Kadji to me showed more athletic burst attacking the basket and playing above it. Zeller had an outstanding combine athletically, but most understand that is inferior to measuring in-game athleticism, where Zeller is just decent. Kadji has a more developed skill game than Zeller, with 3 point range to Zeller’s mostly just finishing around the rim. Kadji has no worse of instincts than Zeller. As a whole I can’t see much of an argument for more pure talent in Zeller than Kadji. I’d give the edge to Kadji as the wider, longer, more athletic and more skilled big.

What it really comes down to is production. Zeller came into the NCAA as a 19 year old freshman already breaking 30 PER, superstar production. Kadji is a worse player as a 25 year old than Zeller was at a 19 year old, so the logic is Kadji must be worse.

To me, college is a different game. Aside from rule changes like the longer shotclock and no 3 in the key, the systems and strategies are vastly different. Skillsets are used differently in college than the NBA. The distribution of who has a high usage is unrecognizable. It’s clear that translating production from the NCAA to the NBA is a haphazard game at best. The biggest reason why is the game is just too different and requires too different areas of aptitude.

I don’t know why Kadji didn’t dominate college as a 25 year old. But I’m not going to hold it against him, or judge him as a lesser talent for it. Consider this theory: Because he barely played his first two seasons and then sat out a year to transfer, before his last two breakout ones at Miami, Kadji has only played 2395 minutes in college total. How does that compare to other 1st round bigs? Zeller has 2087 in his 2 years at Indiana, Jeff Withey played 2319 over 4 years at Kansas, Kelly Olynyk played 1735 at Gonzaga, Gorgui Dieng played 2789 over 3 years at Louisville, Alex Len played 1470. Some older prospects like Brandon Davies and Richard Howell have played over 3000 minutes in college. I’d also assume that with the potential exception of Dieng, Kadji played less valuable developmental minutes before his college career than any of these players, considering he didn’t come to the US from Cameroon until 20. Kadji has also shown that his age doesn’t limit his development. He’s made great strides a shooter in his later years, both at the 3pt line and from FT. Is it possible that age is a red herring and what really matters for development is minutes and reps?

Perhaps the NBA will get this right. Maybe he won’t be the capable shooter I expect, or he won’t have the ability to attack the basket off the dribble, or make other physical-orientated plays, instead settling as a pure stretch big. Perhaps his instincts are more flawed than I believe. Maybe there’s something wrong Kadji’s motor or confidence that leads to his lack of production.

But for the most part, I believe in talent – and that a big, strong PF who can shoot from the rim, handle and play in the post, has the athleticism to drive and play above the rim – and who has good instincts and feel, has to the tools to not only stick in the NBA, but start and stand out. I believe success in the NBA is relatively simple, you need physical tools, skills and instincts in some combination. Usually it’s difficult for most to evaluate which strengths in those areas cover up weaknesses, but for a player where everything looks like a strength and nothing looks like a clear weakness, it’s not hard to see success. The Cavaliers picked up Kadji early this morning and combined with Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev, I believe they may have found 3 more important prospects than either Dion Waiters or Tristan Thompson going forward, presuming they don’t pull a Danny Green on Kadji by cutting him too early.

Written by jr.

June 28, 2013 at 5:04 pm

My 2013 NBA mock draft (June 2013)

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Here is my mock draft for fun:

1. Cleveland Cavaliers – PF Nerlens Noel: Ignore the Alex Len talk because Cleveland is an advanced metrics first drafting team, which likely rules Len out for his all time poor steal rate, whereas Noel and Porter are tops for nearly all stat-guys. I’m convinced the Cavaliers don’t take Len just like was convinced they’d pass on Harrison Barnes last year. This impassioned case for Noel is relevant because he ranked Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters 2nd in their draft years. With the Cavs having options at SF like Paul Pierce and Shawn Marion as well, I’ll lean narrowly towards them taking Noel in hopes of a long term star.

2. Orlando Magic – SG Victor Oladipo: I’m not sure what to make of the Eric Bledsoe rumors since I thought Rob Hennigan’s tell was feel for the game heavy players, which isn’t Bledsoe’s strength. Nevertheless Oladipo is a fit for the Magic whether my belief they specifically target smooth feel friendly players, is true or not. Oladipo gives them all-star upside and character at the 2 guard spot.

3. Washington Wizards – SF Otto Porter: Washington seems invested in making the playoffs next year. Porter fills a hole as starting SF immediately, in between Wall, Beal, Nene and Okafor. He provides a long term complimentary fit to their backcourt.

4. Charlotte Bobcats – PF Anthony Bennett: A fit for the Bobcats because of his high offensive upside, something desperately needed in Charlotte.

5. Phoenix Suns – PG Trey Burke: Although the Suns may need to move some pieces with Goran Dragic and Kendall Marshall on the team, Burke fits Ryan McDonaugh’s advanced stats history and gives them a new face of the franchise and offensive centerpoint, something they need.

6. New Orleans Pelicans – C Alex Len: Hard to see Len falling past here, giving Anthony Davis a long term center partner to help him out on both ends.

7. Sacramento Kings – SG Ben McLemore: I have no idea where the Kings are going, but McLemore is the type of off ball, complimentary scorer they’ve lacked lately. He’s the anti-Tyreke Evans.

8. Detroit Pistons – SF Sergey Karasev: Karasev fills a need for Detroit, giving them a shooter and creator on the wings for their big heavy lineup.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves – PG/SG C.J. McCollum: The Timberwolves are likely looking to fill a need for shooting. McCollum makes a nice fit beside Rubio at the 2, potentially switching defensive assignments.

10. Portland Trailblazers – PF/C Cody Zeller: Zeller gives the Blazers big man depth at PF/C, potential important if they’re looking at a Lamarcus Aldridge trade as a possibility soon

11. Philadelphia 76ers – C Steven Adams: Adams gives the 76ers either a starting C replacement for Andrew Bynum, or insurance for his health

12. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Toronto) – SF Giannis Antetokounmpo: I’ve had a feeling for a while Oklahoma City will go international stash to save salary and luxury tax. They can hope to bring Giannis over in a few years as a Toni Kukoc equivalent.

13. Dallas Mavericks – PG Dennis Schroeder: The Mavericks also appear to lean international stash for cap reasons. Schroeder fits that bill and is a high upside prospect at a needed position.

14. Utah Jazz – PF Kelly Olynyk: Olynyk’s spacing and feel, makes him a nice long term fit beside the bulking post players Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors

15. Milwaukee Bucks – PG Michael Carter-Williams: Carter-Williams has serious top 8 pick potential in this draft, so if he falls this far the Bucks may like adding him as a Brandon Jennings replacement at PG

16. Boston Celtics – SG/SF Jamaal Franklin: Franklin’s physical talents and instincts, gives the Celtics some upside as they look towards a new era

17. Atlanta Hawks – SF Shabazz Muhammad: The Hawks don’t have a lot going on at the wings right now, Shabazz gives them a scorer to fill minutes

18. Atlanta Hawks – C Gorgui Dieng: If they go wing with one pick, taking a center who can finally move Horford to PF, seems natural with the other one.

19. Cleveland Cavaliers – SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Caldwell-Pope is another advanced metrics favorite, fitting Cleveland and giving them depth on the wings

20. Chicago Bulls – C Jeff Withey: This has felt the natural landing spot for Withey for some time, filling the Omer Asik role behind Joakim Noah

21. Utah Jazz – PG Erick Green: Green gives the Jazz a potential starting PG, with shooting skill and feel.

22. Brooklyn Nets – C Mason Plumlee: The Nets feel like a team looking for an older college player under the guise of “NBA ready”, Plumlee filling a role as energy rebounder for them

23. Indiana Pacers – SG/SF Tony Snell: A contending team like Indiana can always use another shooter and floor spacer with defensive potential

24. New York Knicks – PF/C Lucas Nogueira: Nogueira provides some needed athletic depth at a big man spot.

25. Los Angeles Clippers – SG/SF Reggie Bullock: Like the Pacers’ Snell pick, the Clippers make this pick to find shooting and spacing who can play

26. Minnesota Timberwolves – C Rudy Gobert: If drafting wing early, Gobert gives them a backup C which is another need

27. Denver Nuggets – PF C.J. Leslie: Leslie’s athleticism fits Denver’s typical high paced style of play, well.

28. San Antonio Spurs – C Mike Muscala: Muscala’s elite feel for the game fits the Spurs’ history well. A player whom nobody will be surprised if he’s a steal, but will somehow fall this far anyways, which is a typical draft night for the Spurs

29. Oklahoma City Thunder – C Bojan Dubjlevic: Another international stash for the Thunder, they could use Bojan’s floor spacing in a few years.

30. Phoenix Suns (from Miami Heat) – PF Tony Mitchell: After drafting wing early, the Suns look for a previously highly touted SF/PF with athleticism in Mitchell

31. Cleveland Cavaliers – C Colton Iverson: Cleveland hopes to get a rotation backup C out of the big, reliable Iverson

32. Oklahoma City Thunder – SG/SG Glen Rice, Jr.: Rice, Jr.’s experience in the D League and with the longer 3 point line, may give him a chance at playing this year for the Thunder

33. Cleveland Cavaliers – PG Lorenzo Brown: Trying to find PG depth behind Kyrie Irving who has been injury prone, is a respectable idea

34. Houston Rockets – PF/C Ryan Kelly: Houston is no stranger to 3 point shooting bigs, the spacing fitting their advanced metrics heavy system

35. Philadelphia 76ers – SG Allen Crabbe: Another team looking for a shooter to shore up their wings

36. Sacramento Kings – SG Tim Hardaway, Jr.: Hardaway is the type of reliable wing who doesn’t need a lot of shots, that the Kings have lacked lately

37. Detroit Pistons – PG Ray McCallum: Drafting a PG here is a fit for Detroit, grabbing a local prospect is perfect for them

38. Washington Wizards – PG Shane Larkin: Larkin is a nice speedy compliment behind John Wall

39. Portland Trailblazers – PF Jackie Carmichael: Carmichael adds another tough depth prospect to Portland’s frontcourt

40. Portland Trailblazers – PG Isaiah Canaan: Trying to get a backup PG behind Damian Lillard, why not?

41. Memphis Grizzlies – PF Andre Roberson: Roberson is an advanced stats favorite, fits the John Hollinger Grizzlies era

42. Philadelphia 76ers – SG Ricardo Ledo: Ledo has some buzz, though I expect he’d go higher if not for character concerns

43. Milwaukee Bucks – SF Solomon Hill: The Bucks are the greatest 2nd round drafting team by far, so I’ll give them a pick I’d call a steal at this range.

44. Dallas Mavericks – SG Archie Goodwin: Dallas tries an upside move, taking the hype athletic Goodwin PG Pierre Jackson

45. Portland Trailblazers – PF Kenny Kadji: After drafting guads with the last 2 seconds, a big pick seems fair

46. Utah Jazz – SG Alex Abrines: The Jazz have had a solid history with high IQ international players

47. Atlanta Hawks – PF Grant Jerrett: Jerrett has a solid chance of making it long term in the NBA if he can hit 3s, even if he does little else

48. Los Angeles Lakers – PG Myck Kabongo: The Lakers could use a young point guard with upside

49. Chicago Bulls – PF Erik Murphy The Bulls have had a need for a 3pt shooting PF for years

50. Atlanta Hawks – C Trevor Mbakwe: Mbakwe’s athleticism and energy makes him a solid bet to stick off the bench

51. Orlando Magic – PF Brandon Davies: Davies has one of the best feel for the games in the draft, making him an ideal Magic fit

52. Minnesota Timberwolves – SF James Ennis: Another shooter for the Timberwolves

53. Indiana Pacers – PG Nate Wolters: A young PG is a nice fit for the Pacers, Wolters great value this low

54. Washington Wizards – PF Livio Jean-Charles: I expect the Wizards to go Euro stash with this pick if they keep it

55. Memphis Grizzlies – PG Pierre Jackson: Drafting a PG with a solid chance at playing backup in the league for a long time, is a solid move

56. Detroit Pistons – SG B.J. Young: High value here, Young’s ability to get to the rim gives him a potential long career

57. Phoenix Suns – PG/SG: Nemanja Nedovic: A probably Euro stash, like Young, Nedovic’s athleticism gives him some potential in the NBA

58. San Antonio Spurs – PG Matthew Dellavedova: Dellavedova’s feel and skill fits the Spurs. Expect them to stash him in Europe for years first.

59. Minnesota Timberwolves – PF Richard Howell: Howell gives the Timberwolves from big man depth

60. Memphis Grizzlies –  PF Arsalan Kazemi: How about another advanced statistics favorite for the Grizzlies.

Written by jr.

June 26, 2013 at 10:07 am

Posted in Basketball

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From the bad coaching files: Scott Brooks leaving Thabo Sefolosha in

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Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach...

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

If you were watching Game 4 of the Dallas-Oklahoma City series last night, you saw one of the biggest 4th quarter collapses in NBA Playoff history. The Thunder were leading by 15 with under 5 minutes left and lost in overtime.

The turning point was James Harden fouling out, of which Dallas went on a 17-2 run immediately following. But for me what really sunk the Thunder was Scott Brooks. Specifically, Brooks leaving Thabo Sefolosha in the game the entire last 5 minutes and overtime.

If you’ve watched the Thunder regularly, you’ll have seen the team strugging offensively with Sefolosha is in the game. The concept is simple – Since Sefolosha is a virtual non offensive threat, the man defending him usually leaves him to go play a free safety role on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Compounding this, since the C position is usually played by Kendrick Perkins or Nick Collision, the Thunder are left playing virtually 3 on 5 with Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka. When 2 of 5 defenders are free to double team without repurcussions, it makes the offense disastrous. Read the rest of this entry »

Flop and Punishment; Adapt or Suffer

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During the game Saturday night, James Harden executed a flop to perfection against Tyson Chandler. He bumped into Chandler, and then when Chandler reacted by putting his arms up, Harden flopped at a point where Chandler’s elbows protruded maximally. Worked like a charm, Chandler got whistled for a technical.

Among the television announcers, Jeff Van Gundy talked about how they need to fine players for such flops, while Mark Jackson said you can’t fine a guy for trying to help his team.

I can’t think of a finer scenario for a meditation on flopping and rule making.

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We never have proof, but we do have evidence: On Howard vs James

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The talented Ethan Sherwood Strauss over at Hoopspeak just wrote a piece on the “dirty little secret” about Dwight Howard‘s MVP candidacy relative to LeBron James:

My suspicion is that story plays a role here, too. While many metrics-oriented writers have no issue with the Decision, they’re realists about what that does to LeBron’s MVP chances. Also, the Heat did not help his case by ducking preseason expectations. So it makes sense to back the politician, er, player who can win.

But, some stat-steeped writers just plain prefer Dwight Howard as an MVP. The oft-cited reason is “defense,” and Howard is great at it. Orlando is a top defensive unit, despite carrying some doughy sieves (I call them “funnel cakes”) on the roster.

Dwight’s defense is laudable, though I ask: Is there really a way for us to know if he’s defensively better than LeBron? While center is probably a more important position on that end, James can play multiple positions. LeBron’s defensive plus-minus exceeds Dwight’s which could mean a whole lot and could mean absolutely nothing. And, how much of Orlando’s stingy success is attributable to Stan Van Gundy’s team principles? Scott Skiles seems to always turn lackluster rosters into rabid rim shrinkers. Coaching could trump talent when it comes to cohesive basket prevention. Choosing Howard on the basis of his defensive superiority is fraught with subjective judgments, even if the goal is to better appreciate winning basketball.

I think he hit upon something key with his general thesis. There is absolutely a tendency for people to use defense as a black box trump card. Of course I can’t just leave it at that: The reality is that that we can’t really even prove Dwight over Derrick Rose or anyone else either. We have no method of measuring a player’s impact with absolute certainty. That may seem like I’m be ridiculously cautious, but the truth is that every single person involved in this analysis is supplying a layer of causal narrative on top of observations and stats, which is something I elaborated on last week here. We do however, have evidence that we can use supporting the “Dwight’s better on defense” argument:

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Written by Matt Johnson

April 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm

The Nash Disequilibrium, or Why I Use +/- Statistics

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I felt the need to write this as a result of the article I wrote on Kobe Bryant and his adjusted +/- statistics this season. That article showed my perspective as someone who uses these stats – this one gets into why one should use them.

I’m a math kind a guy. I’ve been making statistical rankings of basketball players and other such trivia for forever. When the internet was first reaching prominence, many did see how they would use it, though they actually did end up using it obviously. I was dying for it though from the start. To have access to data like basketball-reference.com has is like a geek nirvana for me.

Now, I always knew that in basketball, the stats didn’t cover everything, but I always figured that what they missed was relatively small and not ridiculously biased. And then in ’04-05, I found myself utterly fascinated by the Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash. Every metric I’d ever come up with or ever seen said that Nash wasn’t the best player on that team, but my common sense just found this absurd. He was the one directing that offense, not the scorers. The team had launched forward far beyond what anyone expected because of an improvement in team offense that was completely unbelievable, and the team had made but one major change and one other major decision: Sign Nash, and put the ball & decision making in his hands.

And Now for Something Completely Different

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Written by Matt Johnson

March 26, 2011 at 12:04 am

Kobe Theory: Adventures in Distorted Probability

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kb_0563cf

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We saw some fantastic, hard-hitting articles this week about Kobe Bryant‘s clutch reputation. I’ll go over them briefly, and then just talk about what people’s perceptions say about people in general, and running a basketball team specifically.

Henry Abbott at ESPN’s TrueHoop does a great job of just summarizing the fact that despite Kobe‘s reputation as the ultimate clutch performer, all the evidence says this is not the case.

Kelly Dwyer at Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie shows some moxie in making clear that he’s quite comfortable saying that if NBA GM’s don’t see the problem with Kobe’s stats, then the GM’s are in the wrong.

Zach Lowe at SI’s The Point Forward chimes in, but also emphasizes the larger trend that NBA offenses in general do terrible in the clutch. Scoring at far lower rates than they do in the rest of the game.

All very cool stuff. Here’s the most telling fact as I see it: People who reject the numbers here do it by dismissing statistics as not being as valid as what they see, which is an argument that often has merit, but is not valid at all here. So, Why isn’t it valid? and Why are people like this? Read the rest of this entry »

What I love about the game of basketball

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While I am a sports nut across the board, it’s not a coincidence that this blog is starting at the start of basketball season.  Basketball’s my favorite sport, and obviously I’m far from alone.  Being one of the Big 3 sports in the US says there’s something special about the sport, but when you also consider that basketball has translated better worldwide than football or baseball, and that normal people actually play more basketball than those other sports, it becomes more impressive.

To me the coolest factoid about basketball though is simply that it’s often the favorite sport of professional athletes in OTHER sports.  Joe Montana prefers basketball to football for crying out loud.

What makes the sport so great?

Well I’ll start with the practical.  All you need is a ball and a hoop and you’ve got a game.  In the city there are courts everywhere, and elsewhere you can put up a hoop over garage/barn/whatever without too much difficulty.  Other sports don’t have that flexibility to them.  Soccer’s great if you’ve got some space to work with, but not so good in the city.  Baseball can technically be adapted to stripped down version in the city, but you’re always in danger of losing that ball and then the game’s over.  Football?  Don’t be ridiculous.

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Written by Matt Johnson

October 22, 2010 at 7:45 am

Posted in Basketball

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