This piece will look at some predictive indicators for Primary Initiators and what these indicators might mean for the 2017 NBA draft.
In past pieces, we’ve looked at Unassisted Shots (at the rim, from mid-range and from distance), Assist-To-Turnover Ratio, and the ratio of Assist Percentage to Usage Percentage as potential positive indicators. However, in this piece we’ll stick mostly per 40 stats. The reason being is that these stats allow us to look back through history and thus to draw from a larger sample. If we use per 40 stats (instead of advanced statistics) we aren’t limited to recent stars like Steph Curry and James Harden. We can also look at the college numbers of players like Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler and Scottie Pippen and use them to draw conclusions.
Indeed the group of players we’ll look at is intensive. Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, and Scottie Pippen, yes. Also Mark Price and Steve Nash. Kyle Lowry and Alvin Robertson. Jason Kidd. Gary Payton. John Stockton. Kenny Anderson. Chris Paul. Mike Conley. Allen Iverson. Terry Porter. Dwyane Wade. Anfernee Hardaway. Tim Hardaway. Okay you get the picture. We’re going to look at the college careers of a lot of players, and hopefully in them we’ll be able to find some patterns which will help us determine who from the 2017 draft might have a chance, even a small chance, of becoming a Primary Initiator.
Predictive Indicators of Initiators I: Finding Your Shot
The best statistical indicators for Point Guards (or Perimeter Initiators) can be separated into those that show the prospects ability to create (for himself and for others) and those that show the prospects awareness and ability to make intelligent decisions. Of course, there is overlap. After all, awareness and intelligence are parts of shot creation as well. Still, in order to simplify the task at hand, it is perhaps useful to conceive of these as separate attributes.
What we find if we do so is that the best initiators of the past almost always excel in college in one of two things. Either they are exceptional in their ability to create shots for themselves (and usually to score them efficiently) or they are exceptional in creating shots for others without turning the ball over. Or both. There is a third type, but we’ll get to that later. First, we’ll look at self creation.
Self-Creation As A Predictive Element For Initiators
1) First, please forgive my Steph Curry typos. He was 20 as junior, 19 as a sophomore and 18 as a freshman. Next, please notice that, at least in terms of offense, being able to create attempts was the single best indicator for Allen Iverson. At that, he was one of the best in history.
2) We will not see any seasons like the ones at the Top from the players in this year’s class. I’m talking about 23-plus True Shooting Attempts (“FGA + FTA x .44” will be referred to as True Shooting attempts from here on out) with 57 percent plus True Shooting. The kind of seasons we see from Wade, Curry, Payton, Aguirre and Allen, but make no mistake, that’s where Fultz and Monk would be headed if they stayed in school. Perhaps Dennis Smith, Jr. too.
Terence Davis, Donovan Mitchell, Dillon Brooks and Allonzo Trier are the best bets currently in college to eventually get there. The reason being that they will all possibly stay in school and none of them have much problem finding shots within the context of the offense.
We’ll see in a second that Terence Davis in particular is very underrated. He’s a 19 year old sophomore (younger than Brown) that looks bigger than Brown, has better athleticism than Brown (he’s faster with the ball in his hands), much better body control than Andrew Jones and is a hell of a lot better at creating shots for himself than either. (The reason for the latter is probably that Davis has a great first step, whereas these other players rarely beat guys off of one sudden movement.)
As none of them are particularly good bets to shoot the basketball, the love for Brown and Jones and the complete disregard for Davis is a position that is logically inconsistent.
3) Elite efficiency and shot creation are attributes we often see in future initiators. If you notice at the top, elite ability to create shots is often on its own a good indicator. Allen Iverson, Kenny Anderson, Ron Harper, Kemba Walker, Mitch Richmond, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony. These guys all turned out to be excellent offensive players despite being somewhat inefficient in college.
(Anderson was excellent to begin his career and then hit a wall. I’d guess, not knowing anything, he fell out of love with the game. Still a +4 OBPM peak is nothing to laugh at. All of these guys at leas hit that marker. Though it’s hard to tell how much that means because it’s why I picked them in the first place.)
4) On this list, we do see a few exceptions to the rule. Guys who were very good but not quite elite at creating shots for themselves who also didn’t make them with incredible efficiency. Steve Nash was a 56% True Shooting guy as a 21 year old senior, Kawhi Leonard a 51% True Shooting guy as a 19 year old sophomore, Anfernee Hardaway a 53% guy as a 20 year old Freshman, Grant Hill a 54% guy as a senior.
These players all get pinged by at least one of the other indicators we’ll get to later in this piece. Those features are low turnovers, elite Assist-to-Turnover ratio and incredibly high Steals per 40. (Three plus.)
The ability to create shots to go along with one or two of these other features is sometimes an excellent indicator all on its own. In terms of this class, we’re talking about Markelle Fultz, Jawun Evans and Malik Monk, with Dillon Brooks (playing as a college PF) on the borderline. Though I get the feeling, we’ll be talking about Terence Davis in this group next year.
5) One major drawback of these numbers is we don’t get to see the percentage of a player’s shots which were unassisted. That’s something we can currently remedy. But rest assured, if a perimeter player is getting 20+ True Shooting Attempts a game, a decent amount of those shots are going to be unassisted. It’s virtually impossible for a player to do so otherwise. So we can assume, with a fair amount of certainty, that the ability to make these more difficult shots at decent rates are baked into these players percentages.
Self-Creation for Initiators 101: 2017 NBA Draft Class Edition
1) We see Fultz and Evans at the top of the list. Neither is particularly efficient. With Evans, this might be a problem as it relates to the fact his efficiency has tanked in conference versus superior athletes. (Thanks to Sports-Reference.com)
44% From Two and 29% from Three are simply just not very good numbers. We’re talking about the PG version of Kawhi Leonard’s college efficiency. If we watch the games, we can see that his size, coupled with a lack of elite leaping and elite mid-range game (36% on two-point jumpers) is likely going to cause some problems in terms of scoring at the next level. It already does in college. (Thanks to Julian Applebome and DraftExpress.)
This is an example of the kind of weakness I think it’s particularly important to note. That is, when a noted question mark (in this case, Jawun Evans’ size and lack of vertical explosion) displays itself as a weakness against lesser competition. When that’s the case, we can make an educated guess that the problem will persist against NBA caliber athletes as well.
2) On a related note, Josh Jackson’s lack of length being exposed in 1-on-1 match-ups on the defensive end is another example. It’s Josh Jackson’s lack of length which makes it impossible for him to both stop penetration and challenge jumpers against quick players, since he has to give a cushion that his short arms prevent him from closing.)
3) Still, if we are making an argument about Jawun Evans’ upside, it starts here. He’s not like Isaiah Thomas in that his body isn’t very powerful and he lacks vertical explosion. In his favor, he’s very much like Thomas in that he can seemingly get wherever he wants to on a college basketball court. (22.68 True Shooting Attempts per 40 is a lot.) Even when college defenders try to take away Evans’ right hand, which is a notable strength, I’m not sure they can.
I don’t think Evans is ever going to be great at finishing 0-3 feet in traffic. What he’ll need to learn is that Tony Parker skill of exactly when to pull up in that 3-10 feet range in order to get his floater over traffic. He’ll also need to improve his touch on that shot and from distance. Neither is out of the question right now.
4) Evans is unquestionably going to be an offense-for-defense trade. Right now, I don’t have him in the 1st, because everyone is still eligible. (And also, it’s likely I’m underrating him because draft boards made in March really aren’t very important, and there’s time to move things around.) Come draft time, after guys remove their names from consideration, it’s very likely I’ll have him in the Top 20 or 25. Evans has real upside to go along with his very real question marks.
By the numbers, Jawun Evans is Ty Lawson. Or at least he’s very similar to Ty Lawson, except with less Two-Point success. Ty Lawson (another super quick PG without lots of lift) was a very good offensive player, not even four years ago. Almost always a Top 10 to 15 guy on that side, and another PG who was underdrafted because he was small.
Ty Lawson was less inclined to shoot, turned the ball over slightly less and was much more efficient, mainly due to the fact that he shot incredibly high percentages from Two-Point Range. Those seem like major advantages over Jawun Evans profile. However, they are also possibly due to context.
After all, Ty Lawson had six teammates who were future NBA players. I’m talking about Danny Green, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyler Zeller and Larry Drew II. (Zeller played very minor minutes.) Whereas Jawun Evans might have none. It’s quite possible that Evans Two-Point Percentages would tick up if he was allowed to be more selective. Though it’s impossible to know for sure. After all, quite a lot of Lawson’s UNC offense came in transition or semi-transition where Jawun Evans also excels.
5) Speaking of Ty Lawson, the 2009 draft presents several good lessons about the draft. Almost all of the good players that came out of that draft were Point Guards. That’s with the exception of Blake Griffin, DeMar DeRozan, Danny Green, DeMarre Carroll, Taj Gibson and Wesley Matthews. Danny Green was cut, ended up in Europe and the NBADL before sticking with the Spurs. Carroll took three or four teams to be successful. Wesley Matthews was undrafted.
Who were the Point Guards? I’m talking about Curry, Harden, Lawson, Rubio, Teague, Holiday, Beverley, Jennings, Collison, Calathes.
6) Minnesota was criticized in this draft for drafting three Point Guards. However, that was the wrong criticism. They should have been criticized instead for passing on Curry in order to take Johnny Flynn. (Okay, they might have gotten that criticism at the time.) And then for trading the wrong Point Guard in Ty Lawson.
Could it have worked? On offense, of course. Steph Curry already plays alongside several non-scoring Point Guards in Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston and very effectively. One of the keys, that Curry is every bit as good off-the-ball as he is on it.
Defensively, it would perhaps have left a lot to desire. But Minnesota would also have had a lot more flexibility moving forward. The reason being that they would have players on their roster that were worth something in trades. Ty Lawson was worth a 1st Round pick to Houston, even after a horrendous season. Ricky Rubio likely would have been worth quite a lot more in a trade three or four years ago before he signed his current contract. Which leads us to the first of this draft’s lessons.
7) Best Player Available is always a good strategy. That is not mutually exclusive from drafting for fit. A player might be the best player available precisely because he has skills that fit, like passing, shooting, dribbling and playing defense. Though as this point relates to the 2009 draft, the players who could pass, dribble and shoot were basically all Point Guards. Thus, passing on a Point Guard was probably not going to land you a good player. That is, unless you were smart enough to draft Wesley Matthews. (Danny Green and DeMarre Carroll were just not yet ready.)
Secondly, patience. Most players are not on superstar timelines, even the superstars. That is, they take time. Even non-rookies. We’re often talking to age 25 or 26, even for eventual all-star caliber players. I’m mostly referring to Danny Green here, whose put up some +4 and +5 seasons as a 3&D player, but I’m also talking about DeMar DeRozan (overrated perhaps but he’s grown into a very good regular season offensive player), Patrick Beverley (another 3&D wizard who got seasoning in Europe), and even Steph Curry, who was in his Age 24 season before becoming truly elite. (How many of you were ready to give up on him because of his ankles?)
Thirdly, we don’t know shit. Blake Griffin was supposedly the no brainer out of that draft class. He’s definitely no better than the 3rd player out of this draft class. Beyond that we suck at evaluating seniors. Probably because our bias prevents us from seeing their good qualities and probably because some of almost any players success is related to luck.
Fourthly, Point Guards and Initiators run the league. With 3&D players and defensive Centers coming in somewhere behind them. And that’s going to be the case until they move the three-point line back (which they should do) and maybe even after that.
Fifthly, we talk a lot about 3&D as a useful archetype. If it was so easy to find 3&D players, all the best ones wouldn’t have come out of a single draft eight years ago. Not every supposed Two-Way Wing is going to develop. And whether one player ends up better than another player really comes down to development.
Sixthly, opportunity is important. Danny Green, Wesley Matthews, Patrick Beverley and DeMarre Carroll all could have ended up out of the league. It’s easy to imagine how this could have happened. Player goes to Europe, gets paid, never comes back. Then we wouldn’t be talking about one of the deepest drafts of all time. Instead, we’d be talking about a draft that was rather thin after the Top 20 and about how all of the good players were Point Guards.
Seventhly, in a deep draft, it’s safe to assume that your 3&D players will end up being somewhere between the 4th and 14th best players out of the draft. If you pick Danny Green or Wesley Matthews top 5 and have patience, that’s not necessarily a bad return. You also didn’t draft Steph Curry. In another year it might be Tony Parker. These players run the league. And both took their careers to places that hardly anyone would predict possible at the time of the draft.
I don’t know if we should call this atypical development. I do know that all those “safe” Wings don’t hold a candle to the value of a truly great Point Guard, that being athletic, competitive and intelligent sometimes aren’t enough (Terrence Williams flamed out pretty hard despite being more laterally explosive and probably a better passer than Josh Jackson), and that the qualities that go into making a truly great 3&D player (let’s say not Otto Porter but Shane Battier or Danny Green or Wesley Matthews) are often still somewhat mysterious to us.
6) Okay, so a moment ago we were talking about Jawun Evans. I know I just drew attention to a few reasons why Isaiah Thomas isn’t a good comparison, but I should point out that Isaiah Thomas shot 47.5% from two as a Freshman and 48.6% as a sophomore. He’s not shooting 51% from Two in the NBA. He was a pretty darn good offensive player in the NBA when he was shooting 46% from Two in 2014-15 and 2015-15 as well.
Predicting precise player improvements in specific areas isn’t possible, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing it is. We also shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing precisely how valuable a player will be if he doesn’t make all such improvements.
As it relates to Jawun Evans, I bet becoming more comfortable at finding and taking three-pointers (Thomas has shot between 6 and 9 3PA per 36 in his seasons with Boston) is way more important to his future value than his Two-Point percentages and finishing at the rim. But I could easily be wrong there. Maybe he gets way better 3-10 feet and solves the problem a different way. Or maybe he does both, in which case Evans is going to be a hugely valuable offensive player.
7) Let’s talk more about Markelle Fultz. It’s possible that his efficiency numbers be explained by the fact that he’s 18 years old. That’s the first thing. Secondly, his ability to get shots up has actually been better in conference.
In conference play, Fultz is up to 23.8 True Shooting Attempts per 40, with no notable decrease in his ability to make shots from any range. 48% From Two. 38% From Three. When we consider that Fultz’s lack of quality teammates provides him with less than ideal space to create for himself, these numbers are perhaps even more impressive. (Fultz’s teammates also arguably make it more difficult for him to wrack up assist numbers, since these teammates likely aren’t great at converting such opportunities.)
That 23.8 number would place him smack dab in between Carmelo Anthony/Kevin Durant and Allen Iverson, in terms of ability to get up shots as a Freshman. Seasons and partial seasons like this don’t happen often for players this young.
Basically, it’s difficult to imagine Fultz not being very good on offense. A +4.5 to +6 OBPM peak would be a fairly reasonable (and somewhat conservative) guess. In the scenario that Fultz commits to playing defense and can add value there (he’s definitely athletic enough to do so) it’s difficult not to imagine him as a Top 10 player. It’s only that I have questions about his in-game intensity, competitiveness and desire to play defense that keeps me from making Fultz the clear cut number one.
Being excellent on defense is a lot about the desire to be excellent there.
8) Next are the cases of players who don’t interest me as much for a variety of reasons. PJ Dozier and Michael Weathers are spectacularly inefficient. Peter Jok and James Blackmon, Jr. play absolutely no defense and lack athleticism.
I do like Sindarius Thornwell but not because he’s going to initiate much at the next level. (Dude defends.) Dillon Brooks is somewhat interesting, but he’s not athletic. It’s difficult to bet on players like these moving forward. At least as initiators.
9) Just judging by this metric, Malik Monk and Terence Davis are among the most interesting players on this list. Athletic 19 year olds who can find shots whenever they want to do so. Along with Lonzo Ball’s passing ability and Markelle Fultz’s handle+athletic fluidity, Malik Monk’s jump shooting is probably the most elite skill in this class. As I’ve said before, it’s the kind of skill, when coupled with athleticism, that can allow a player’s game to grow in unexpected ways.
10) As for Terence Davis, he’s had several lottery-level performances, including this game vs. LSU. (33 Points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals against only 2 turnovers. Five or six jump shots, including a step-back three and several others that were off-the-dribble. He’s #3 in the highlight video.)
11) Here are Davis’s top 16 scoring games this season.
Keeping in mind he’s 6’4″ and 19 years old, this is a lottery type performance in half the games he’s played this year.
29 points per 40, 56 % shooting (72% from two, 38% from three), 9.4 rebounds per 40, 3 assists per 40, 1.8 steals per 40.
He’s not perfect. South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida owned him this year, but my guess is that he’s in for a huge junior season. All he has to do is continuing developing, stop fouling quite as much, and string together a few of these performances against the better teams he’ll face. That might sound like a tall task. But it also doesn’t seem out of line with Davis’s development curve. He’ll also have the advantage of continuing to learn vs. college players, whereas the players whom he should be considered against (the lottery guys or right beneath) will all be making a leap for which none of them are quite prepared.
12) Has anyone else noticed it takes the rookies from recent drafts a lot longer to get good than the rookies that were drafted in the early oughts? Yes, the previous generation was really good, but there also might be a fundamental problem with players entering college at older and older ages. Perhaps always being the fastest, the biggest and the strongest at every level they play slows their development. It’s a good reason to bet on Markelle Fultz (whose far younger than most of his brethren), on Lonzo Ball (who didn’t play AAU ball and has shown only but a few signs of struggle in college), Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox (who will likely still be the fastest player, even at the NBA level).
They aren’t the only ones of course. But they are probably the three players with the highest upside.
13) I’m looking forward to Fox and Monk vs. Wichita St. It’ll be interesting to see how Marshall decides to defense them. He’s got four athletic defenders with some length in Markis McDuffie, Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly and Daishon Smith, but Connor Frankamp and Landry Shamet are perhaps Wichita State’s most important offensive players and neither probably has the foot speed to stay with either Kentucky player.
14) To get further examine the discussion of Fultz vs. Ball vs. Fox vs. Monk, I’ll be writing a piece at some point examining Lonzo Ball as a Shooting Guard (or really as a true Combo-Guard), and why that move might not just be best for him but for his team’s offensive effectiveness.
I’ll lay out the general argument as it concerns individual statistics. Most people assume that Lonzo Ball will be low Usage going forward. If you’re projecting him to possibly play off-ball, there’s not necessarily a reason to think that’s going to be the case, since the offense and his movement off ball will find him avenues to open jump shots. Such a move would lower Ball’s Assist Percentage, but he’s such a good passer that he still might be a Top 5-8 guy in the league in terms of creating shots for others. It’s also very unlikely he turns the ball over a lot when receiving the ball in such advantageous positions.
The much more interesting argument, however, has nothing to do with individual statistics or metrics. It’s about how getting extra dribblers/passers/shooters on the court is almost always what leads to elite offensive effectiveness.
Such effectiveness is almost always about more than individual brilliance. Lonzo Ball’s height and skill package potentially allows for that. In the same way that Larry Bird’s height and skill allowed him to play next to Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson. Or how Lebron James height and skill allows him to play next to Kyrie Irving, how Kawhi Leonard’s height and skill allows him to play next to Tony Parker, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili, how Draymond Green’s ability to play up with his passing ability allows Golden State to have any number of line-up combinations.
15) Nikola Jokic will be perhaps the ultimate player of this type, since his height and skill, allows him to potentially play alongside with four highly skilled smaller players. It’s still a question as to if his defense will allow him to be truly elite, but Denver, if they do their job, should be able to build the best offense in the league. That kind of offensive player at the Center position is just a major advantage. Next to Jokic, Jamal Murray’s game makes sense in a way it wouldn’t probably anywhere else in the league.
Context is important. And it’s beyond just giving certain players the chance to succeed. For non-elite players, it’s a lot about one’s teammates and the coaches strategy putting the player into situations to succeed. I wrote a lot of negative things about Jamal Murray last year. I’m glad he’s going to be successful, and perhaps extremely successful at that. The thing with a player like Murray on Denver is that ultimately they still may have to trade him. Murray’s inability to play defense is only going to compound Jokic’s weakness in the same area.
That was my whole point about Hield and Murray last year. That they are going to be more valuable as trade chips than as players. It was not that I didn’t think they were potentially decent players. In regards to Hield, his selection has already fulfilled its purpose. If Denver is to take the step towards being a champion, it’s likely they’ll have to potentially make a similar move with Murray.
It’s the success or failure of that move which will decide if Murray was a better choice than trading down or out of the draft. (Denver would look pretty darn good right now with George Hill.)
16) Back to the numbers. De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. are very good at getting their own shots for Freshman. Especially Fox, considering he rarely shoots from distance. His ability to find shots within 18 feet is special. It’s just somewhat covered up by the fact that he’s had real problems scoring from 18 feet and out.
Fox’s speed: To reiterate, that’s an elite skill. (The table is also a week old and using Pace Adjusted stats whenever possible, so not for the older players. If you used Fox’s current numbers without adjustment, he’d be at nearly 20 True Shooting Attempts per 40.
Statistically, his current numbers (TS% also up to 54.5%) would place him right with Mark Price in terms of the ability to get up shots at a young age and efficiency. And that’s keeping in mind, that the three point is actually currently hurting, not helping his overall numbers, as is the case with many other players.
17) The best players in the NBA (Curry, Paul, Lebron, Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Kawhi, Draymond, Lowry, Giannis, Jokic to name a few) all have some outlier trait or group of traits that make them special. When drafting for upside, a good question to ask is, “Considering size, does this player have any outlier skills or traits?” Or to rephrase, “What skill or athletic trait makes this player potentially an outlier?”
In the case of most players, the answer is almost always, “I don’t know, he’ll probably need Otto Porter-like shooting improvement, and even then that’s unlikely to get him there, since he doesn’t really play defense or do anything else.”
That’s not the case for Fultz, Ball and Fox. Because of all his ability to find shots vs. anyone, it’s not the case for Monk, though he’s still going to have to shoot as well as Otto Porter, but on high volume, to reach his upside potential. It’s the ability to achieve shot volume, along with shooting success, that’s perhaps going to lead to passing lanes opening up for Monk that just aren’t there for other players. We’ve already started to see signs of this development in college basketball.
18) If you want some numbers that show how special Fox and Monk are in terms of finding his shot, look here.
Thanks to hoop-math.com we can see that both Fox and Monk make a lot of their own offense. Each have made well over 100 unassisted shots on the year, and the year is not over. Fox in particular lives at the rim. 97 unassisted makes already. Given that he makes three such shots a game, he’ll finish with at least 100 such makes, and it’s possible he’ll get to 115 or 120. He’s a Freshman!!!
19) As for Monk, I’m guessing D’Angelo Russell’s shot chart looks a lot like Monk’s if he plays next to a player like Fox at Ohio State and not Shannon Scott. Nothing against Shannon Scott. Great college player, but he’s not De’Aaron Fox as a Point Guard or a penetrator.
Everyone’s gripe about Monk is “He doesn’t do anything else but shoot. He won’t be anything if his shooting fails.” As we can see with D’Angelo Russell, this is a true story. It’s a true story for ANYONE who doesn’t figure to bring lots of value on defense, even guys like Russell who did lots of other things in college.
Russell’s been a barely positive offensive player despite averaging 6.3 Assists per 36 minutes. Not remotely the kind of player you can survive with at a guard position and be competitive in today’s game. The reason why? He shoots the ball a shit-ton off the dribble but not very effectively. (41.3% eFG% on pull-ups.) On top of that, as we might have expected based on his college numbers, he still doesn’t get to the rim.
Russell still might end up shooting well. I don’t know. No one does. Though at shooting guard, I’d bet on it, since he actually makes catch-and-shoot attempts. (57.9% eFG% which is on pace to one day be elite.)
That’s not really the point. The point is about how Russell in the end really isn’t all that different a prospect from Malik Monk. If they are going to be a highly effective player in the league, a top 15 overall player, it’s going to be about how good they are at pull-up jump shooting. All those other skills are incidental to that one.
No matter how many regressions we’re going through, if the player isn’t bringing lots of value on defense, they better be scoring efficiently on offense, or be Russell Westbrook or Jason Kidd. There’s not a lot of gray area here. “Is there a way, considering volume, to project the player to score with efficiency?” is the operative question for players who figure not only to be High Usage, but net negatives on defense. Period. End of story.
This question clearly separates a player like Fultz from a guy like Dennis Smith, Jr. However, the more interesting question is how it helps us decide between Malik Monk and Dennis Smith, Jr. Not only do I think Monk is a significantly better and more engaged defender than Smith, the answer to this question seems pretty easy as well.
20) We’re not searching for average players. We’re not merely looking to beat the average against the NBA. We’re looking for outliers. It’s finding outliers like Curry or James or Kawhi or Green that lead to teams winning lots and lots of games and potentially competing for championships.
There’s a good argument that Smith, Jr. is more likely to be an average player than Monk. However, there’s basically no argument that he’s more likely to be an outstanding one.
21) Back to De’Aaron Fox:
Tony Parker was not identical to Fox as a young player, but if you want a comparison to De’Aaron Fox that might be somewhat useful, Parker is a good place to begin.
People forget that Tony Parker couldn’t shoot very well when he came into the league. Even the the 3-Point number is misleading here. Tony Parker’s had 5 seasons below 30%, including one at 26% and another at 23%. The latter one happened only six years ago in a season the Spurs went to the Conference Finals.
Also, he hasn’t taken more than 70 three-pointers in a season in a decade. Getting to the rim and scoring from 3-1o feet was truly his bread and butter. It’s likely the best version of De’Aaron Fox looks a lot like that version of Tony Parker. Though there’s perhaps even more upside. The reason being that Fox has a much better chance to play defense and Fox probably has a somewhat more advanced feel for passing at the same age, especially in terms of advancing the ball in transition.
22) Judging solely by one’s ability to create individual offense, the other interesting players on this list are Allonzo Trier, Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure). Adams isn’t an elite athlete which is why he doesn’t have much draft hype. As for Allonzo Trier, I’d guess the shortened season is keeping people from realizing how good he’s been on offense. He’s exceptional in terms of his ability to find shots and convert them.
He’s producing like Frank Mason, except at 6’4″. If Frank Mason was 6’4″, there’s no way he’s not a lottery pick. Unlike Mason, Trier isn’t all that fast, but he’s that level of scorer against college players. And he’s a good decision maker as well. I don’t understand why he’s not on the first round radar.
23) Donovan Mitchell and Josh Jackson are two players who show reasonably well here. However, I’m skeptical about both of them. One reason, they can find ways to get shots at the college level, but they aren’t exactly elite in terms of this skill. 18-19 True Shooting Attempts per 40 minutes is very good for a 20 year old. It’s not great, especially when it’s not accompanied by elite efficiency. (Which is reason number two.)
24) I also question how much of Jackson’s offense is because he gets to play at PF, against lesser athletes, and in a scheme that provides him ready made straight line drives.
25) Lastly, there’s Donovan Mitchell’s lack of creation for others, and Josh Jackson’s high turnovers. (At least against creation numbers.) However, if I had to bet on one player as initiator over the other, it would probably be Mitchell. The biggest offensive hole in his game is his lack of touch from 3-10 feet (or that he can’t get all the way to the rim).
I don’t think he’ll improve at getting all the way to the basket, but it’s highly possible he improves his touch on floaters and flip shots. And that could entirely change the type of player he is. Mitchell also hits two of our other predictors (low turnovers, high steals).
Low Turnovers As a Predictor of Initiators
1) If you want predictors for Jimmy Butler besides athleticism and heuristics like player up a position or two in college (Power Forward/Center at 6’8″ on defense) while also occasionally initiating offense, there are four places to look: 1) Unassisted offense at multiple levels. Jimmy Butler generated a lot of his own looks at the rim and from mid-range and succeeded in making them. 2) Extremely high Free Throw Rate. (Around .9 in both his junior and senior years if we just consider the ratio of FTA to 2PA. 3) Extremely high assist rate consider how low his Usage was. (12.5% vs. 20.7%.) 4) Extremely low turnovers.
2) 1.4 and 1.6 Turnovers per 40 are just crazy numbers for a guy who was actually dribbling a fair amount and shooting around 300-400 shots per year. There’s a number of pretty solid indicators in Butler’s favor, but this is the one that is basically an outlier.
3) As you can see, Vince Carter is another guy who was just an incredibly low turnover guy. Carmelo Anthony, Clyde Drexler, Ray Allen too. None of them are high assist guys, but they all became at least decently proficient passers at the next level. Low turnovers is a potentially majorly positive indicator, at least when it’s accompanied by high usage.
4) This is where Josh Jackson’s profile as a potential high-level initiator pretty much falls apart. He does hit many of the heuristics that would allow us to consider it. Eye-test athleticism. Playing up a level on defense (college PF) while occasionally initiating offense. A decent amount of self-creation and success, at least at the rim and from the mid-range, but there’s a couple of areas that should indicate to us he’s not quite Jimmy Butler as an athlete (much lower Ftr despite new freedom of movement rules) and not quite Jimmy Butler as a potential playmaker (3.6 turnovers per 40 including 5.7 turnovers per 40 in conference).
5) Of course there’s Mark Aguirre and Paul Pierce at the bottom of the list with similar turnover numbers. But I’ll remind you that both of these players had elite self-creation+efficiency seasons by the time they completed their Age-20 seasons. And Josh Jackson is essentially an age-20 player right now.
That’s to say, it’s not impossible for Josh Jackson. It’s a pretty low-end of the spectrum bet, especially considering that his release gives him trouble when pressured by even college level defenders.
Low Turnovers For Initiators 101: 2017 NBA Draft Class Edition
1) Monte Morris at the top is no surprise, nor is the fact that many of the other guys are Point Guards.
2) I’ll spare you my “Holy Shit, Monte Morris Is Awesome” soapbox until the next section going over Assist-to-Turnover Rate. But Holy Shit, Monte Morris is awesome!
3) I won’t go over all the PG either. They are going to hit a lot of these indicators on the principle that they are Point Guards, and we’re going to have a fair amount of time to talk about them later. The players I do want to point out are the non-Point Guards who do well here. I’m talking about Malik Monk, Allonzo Trier, Theo Pinson, Shake Milton, Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges.
4) I’d say that Josh Hart has a very low chance of being a creator at the next level due to his athleticism. I’d say the same goes for Mikal Bridges in terms of his lack of suddenness with the ball + his timidity. That leaves one college SG sized like a NBA PG (Monk) and three NBA Wing-types: Trier, Pinson, Milton.
5) If you notice, Monk and Trier also did very well in terms of the ability to find shots at the college level and make them efficiently. Their offense is a legitimate weapon at the college level + they don’t turn the ball over. That’s a good combination in terms of believing they might have some potential to initiate moving forward.
6) Pinson is the guy who ticks a lot of Jimmy Butler boxes. Athletic 6’6″ player who plays up on defense while occasionally initiating on offense. Very high Assist Rate (26%) compared to Usage (15%), very low turnovers. The only problem? He can’t score. Jimmy Butler might have had a questionable jumper in college, but he could really score. (Butler had a 53% eFG% for his career. Pinson is sub-40%.)
Not scoring at the college level for a Wing, that’s okay. Not scoring at the NBA level, that’s a real problem.
7) Pinson’s inability to defend is actually another box that he doesn’t tick, which may say something about his offensive potential. Being able to really guard not only says something about desire and competitiveness, but has underlying implications about the way a player is athletic (can he move his feet, is he sudden over short bursts) and also intuitive intelligence (does he react quickly, does he take proper angles) which is why it’s important to note the ways in which a player is successful on defense.
Watching defense is not just about projecting defense. It’s sometimes about projecting offensive ability as well. And that fact has implications for pretty much everyone in the draft. To what extent depends on the player and their offensive gifts.
8) Milton is not super athletic, but he’s reasonably skilled. His self-creation actually isn’t great, but the fact that he shows up here, is a decent-to-good bet to shoot 3-Pointers and plays defense says a lot about his Two-Way Potential at the NBA level. Josh Hart may end up a better player than Milton, but Milton is taller (6’7″ at last measurement), longer (7’0″ Wingspan), a far better creator for his teammates (5.5 Assists per 40) and better at the same age and stage. I also think he has better hips than Hart and is a reasonable bet to be a better defender. I certainly can’t find 30 players with more potential than Milton.
Assist-to-Turnover Rate as a Predictor for Initiators
1) Assist-to-Turnover ratio is not an end all be all. There are of course many players with good, or even great, assist-to-turnover ratios that don’t amount to much in the NBA. However, when projecting initiators, if the player is not amazing at getting up lots of good shots or protecting the ball, they better be pretty good here.
Kyle Lowry is a good player to look at here. Not a lot of shots. Not great efficiency. But he had a very solid assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.76 his sophomore year despite averaging only 5.1 assists per 40. (Assist totals are baked into Assist-to-Turnover rate, since it’s difficult to score exceedingly well if you won’t have lots and lots of assists.)
2) Brent Barry and Jimmy Butler are other players who are up there in Assist-to-Turnover ratio with respect to their Assist totals.
3) Kyle Lowry also has incredibly high Steals per 40 (over 3). That’s going to be out last indicator. The reason I bring it up is the last player on this list, Alvin Robertson. It’s the only statistical benchmark he’s going to reach. And it’s an important one, especially when looking at pure Point Guards who also go on to add lots of value on defense.
A lot of the reason why Lowry and Robertson are/were elite players is because they add value on the defensive end of the court and not just on offense. That’s a fact we can extend also to players like Gary Payton, Terry Porter and Jason Kidd.
High Assist-to-Turnover Ratio For Initiators: 2017 NBA Draft Prospect Edition
1) Now we can say it again. Holy Shit Monte Morris!
I believe this would be the record by a fair margin. Of course, Assist-to-Turnover ratio doesn’t guarantee anything. For example, Jerian Grant was always plus-3 or above. But it is worth noting. And in truth, Monte Morris is on a different level.
2) With respect to Jerian Grant, there are just baselines of athleticism and quickness with the ball that a player must meet to initiate. There are different ways to be quick. Steve Nash wasn’t fast, but was quick because he could change directions, had excellent pace, timing, and sense of space (allowing him among other skills to set up screens) and had a very tight dribble.
Jerian Grant, at least in college, did not have a lot of those skills. He could beat a mismatch in a straight line to the basket or around a corner, but he had lots of problems with real athletes like JP Tokoto of North Carolina.
3) Of course this is something, we have to consider with Lonzo Ball as well. To be a Point Guard in the league, he’s going to have to get much better at changing directions. By that I mean his crossover is going to have to improve.
If you watched Steve Nash a lot, you noticed a fair amount of times, he used his crossover not to win one-on-one to set up the screen. He gets the guard moving one way, crosses over and then bang, runs the defender straight into the screen.
If the player has good timing and a good connection with his screener, it’s one of the best ways to get the defender off balance. But the timing has to be perfect. Too early, you either don’t connect on the screen or don’t give the screener enough time to set himself, which might lead to an offensive foul. Too late and you lose your advantage.
4) Anything over 1.5 is getting towards really good. Though with respect to Andrew Jones, keep in mind that he’s only a Freshman. Players can improve here as they get older and often do.
5) However, it’s one reason why I’m not a big fan of Andrew Jones upside if he leaves college this year. He’s just not ready, and as we saw last year when we looked at past drafts, raw prospects like Andrew Jones rarely capitalize on their upside if they go to the NBA before its time.
He could still be a decent player, but we’re probably talking much more about an off-ball type who may or may not shoot three-pointers than a potential initiator. If he stays in school, anything is on the table. He’s athletic enough and improved enough over the course of the year that he’s another guy who could rise into next year’s Top 14 if he gets better. Speaking of 6’4″, 19 year olds, I’d bet on Terence Davis over Andrew Jones, but they are both reasonably good bets, provided they stay in college and work on their games.
6) Notice the difference between Russell Westbrook at Andrew Jones at the same age. Russell Westbrook is another guy like Kyle Lowry, and I should have spoken about him in the last section. Low shot attempts in college. Not great success from the field. However, he’s got next level Assist and Assist-to-Turnover numbers considering he was a Two-Guard next to Darren Collison and playing on a team that also featured Kevin Love.
Kyle Lowry was in a similar situation, often the 3rd or 4th option playing off of Randy Foye, Allan Raye and Mike Nardi. Which is why it’s important to keep the stats in context.
Players with lots of talent around them and in off-ball roles shouldn’t necessarily be expected to put up tons of shots or super high assist numbers. But in that case, we’ll in most cases see low turnovers and possibly a very strong assist-to-turnover ratio, especially considering the total number of assists.
7) Obviously, there’s implications here as it relates to Malik Monk who plays off of both De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe. But also for Devonte’ Graham (off-ball next to Mason, behind the FGA pecking order to both Mason and Jackson), Allonzo Trier (Markkanen, Allen, Alkins, Simmons), Jevon Carter (true team concept with four small guards including Carter, Tarik Phillip, Daxter Miles, and Teyvon Myers who all get to drive.)
8) Speaking of Carter, the shape of West Virginia’s roster likely drives down his shot attempts and drives. West Virginia has four guards who have combined to shoot around 950 shots. They’ve made 134 unassisted shots at the rim, make 71 unassisted shots from the mid-range, and make 30 unassisted shots from three.
Now let’s compare that to a team like UCLA that has four similarly prominent guards, but less big men. Thus they have more minutes to go around. I’m talking about Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford, Aaron Holiday, and Isaac Hamilton. We’re talking about around 1,350 shots from the field, give or take a few. They’ve made 139 unassisted makes at the rim, 80 unassisted makes from mid-range, and 42 unassisted makes from three.
It UCLA took around 400 more attempts to reach the same kinds of self-creation numbers as West Virginia. Of course, this is a strength of the UCLA offense, that it relies on passing to be successful and generates lots of shots off the catch, but we can also now start to realize that there’s something going on in Morgantown that could be suppressing Carter’s numbers. And that a lot of it may have to do with the fact that West Virginia has basically no traditional Wing players who can really shoot.
That’s very possibly going to suppress Assist numbers and perhaps scoring numbers as well.
9) We can play this same game with Kentucky and imagine how it might relate to both De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Both have excellent individual scoring numbers with around 250 unassisted makes between them. That’s in only 900 attempts from the field. Yes, Fox and Monk have almost as many unassisted makes as a two-some as UCLA has overall.
However, we also have to consider the presence of Isaiah Briscoe and Dominique Hawkins. We’re talking about 106 unassisted makes from Briscoe and 16 for Hawkins and an additional 450 shots. That’s offense being initiated (often by Briscoe and very occasionally by Hawkins) by players who are not De’Aaron Fox or Malik Monk, and that’s naturally going to suppress their totals. Perhaps minimally, perhaps a lot.
It’s difficult to say how much. It’s very easy to say that Monk, Fox and Carter are among the players most likely to be affected by team context.
10) Going back to Westbrook, Lowry and Jerian Grant, eye-test athleticism is important. Noticing if the player can easily win like match-ups. Westbrook and Lowry always won like match-ups without much difficulty. Jerian Grant, not so much, not even when he was senior.
This is the knock that many people have on Lonzo Ball, and if there’s a knock on him, it’s this one. However, it’s got to be an equally big knock against players like Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and Dennis Smith, Jr. These guys almost never win like match-ups against good defenders. They do win on college mismatches quite frequently.
It’s one reason why I’m partially hoping we see Miles Bridges/Jordan Caroline/Dillon Brooks/Markis McDuffie vs. Jackson and Thornwell vs. Tatum.
11) Of course, only Thornwell and McDuffie are even good college defenders from that group, but at least there would be some evidence of Jackson being able to get to the rim against semi Wing-Type players (and not on a weave), of which we have very little. Indeed, we probably have more evidence of them getting to the rim on him.
12) As for Tatum, he had real trouble getting shots off versus Vasturia (his efficiency vs. Notre Dame came mostly in transition, or at the end of game in broken play situations) and his drive on Pinson (who’s a surprisingly not good on-ball defender for how athletic he seems) was one of the few successful drives we’ve seen on athletic Wing-Type defender all season. He’s made the most of his advantage match-ups at Power Forward. If he’s being guarded by Thornwell, he will no longer be at an advantage. Thornwell isn’t the quickest defender, but he’s really, really strong, smart, attentive, and has a lot of desire to do well on that end of the floor.
If South Carolina could score at all, they’d be a reasonably good bet for an upset. That’s because they have the defenders to match-up with Jackson, Allen, and Tatum and make Kennard beat them one-on-one. Duke is basically unbeatable when Jackson scores more than 10, when Allen scores more than 15 or when Tatum scores more than 21. They’ve also lost only once in around 20 games when Kennard scored less than 20. Kennard scores more than 28, they are 3-2, including a game they probably should have lost to Wake Forest.
That is, Duke is beatable if you make Kennard beat you. But beyond that, they look pretty beatable in general in any game where the referees actually let the players play. Take it for what it’s worth, but Duke has won a lot of close games. What’s the common thread? In most of those games, they take and make more free throws than their opponents.
On paper, that’s the reason why Duke has struggled with teams like NC State, Miami, Wake Forest and Syracuse. It’s because those teams figured out a way to suppress Duke’s typical FTA advantage. That advantage was +20 in the win vs. North Carolina and +10 in a few other games this season. (Virginia was one of them.)
13) I do believe certain coaches and teams often get the benefits of calls. It’s not malicious. College referees often just aren’t very good. They are the kind of refs that call games based on what they expect to happen rather than what they see.
That can affect the outcome of games. However, the bigger deal, as far as the NBA draft is concerned, is that it can make statistics in those games unreliable. Both for the offensive player and defensive player, as blocks and steals sometimes become fouls, and player control fouls get turned into free throws.
This is of course a problem throughout college basketball. Besides the fact that college block and steal numbers are absurdly unreliable, referees influence the outcomes of individual plays. Perhaps it mostly balances out as it effects teams as a whole, but since players get so few blocks and steals across the course of a season, I wouldn’t be surprised if such events drastically influence the nature of an individual player’s statistics. Though the players most likely to be affected are probably those who are best at creating blocks and steals in the first place.
Steal Per 40 As An Indicator And Why The Number 3 Is Important
1) See, I told you we’d get to the place where Alvin Robertson is special. But not just Alvin Robertson, any number of other players. Rajon Rondo, Clyde Drexler, Grant Hill, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, Tim Hardaway, Michael Jordan and even players like TJ McConnell, Andre Miller, James Harden and Steph Curry.
Players approaching or exceeding 3 steals per 40 have a chance to be good, especially if they have other indicators in their favor as well. Such players also seemingly have decent chances to be successful initiators at the NBA level, even when it seems the odds are stacked against them.
2) Patrick McCaw was such a player last year (slightly below 3 per 40) and while I wouldn’t bet on him to be an initiator, I think we’ve seen enough as a 20 year old rookie to expect he’ll be a good player going forward.
So who are the players in the 2017 draft we should look for?
1) Not surprisingly, Jevon Carter. He basically pings every statistical indicator except attempts, and we saw in the last piece, he often raises his attempts when the going gets tough.
2) The other two guys to look for based on this statistic would be Donovan Mitchell and Kamar Baldwin. Those are guys with enough dribbling ability/athleticism/shooting ability to have unexpected growth as they get older. Though if they have designs on truly becoming initiators at the next level, it’s much more likely to happen if they stay in college.
As regards Baldwin, it’s an easy decision, since almost no one besides me would take him even late in Round 1. But Mitchell will have a more difficult choice, since he’s a late lottery to late-1st rounder right now, and he’s really going to have to improve over the summer to exceed that position if he comes back. If he stagnates as a player, he could eventually fall out of the draft entirely, as we’re currently seeing from a player like Nigel Hayes, who went from a late 1st rounder to a mid-to-late 2nd round guy.
3) The guys at the top are all interesting flyer tops. Josh Reaves is old for a sophomore, but he’s a great athlete and might be one of the better bets to have a plus-plus outcome as a perimeter defender. Tahjere McCall has real athleticism and skill but can’t shoot. And the same goes more or less for all the less notable players with high steal numbers. These are guys who are great candidates for Two-Way Contracts, since they might have highly positive outcomes if they learn how to shoot. But of course, such outcomes are unlikely, especially if there’s no team to invest in your future.
4) Thornwell, Bridges, Melton, Wainright, Johnson. These guys aren’t really prospects as initiators. However, their potential shouldn’t be taken lightly. All are worth a look. Three of them definitely in the first round. Wainright and Johnson are two others are great candidates for Two-Way contracts. As I’ve said before, I’d love to see some team try Wainright out as a playmaking PF. He’s 6’5″ but with a 7’2″ wingspan, strength, intelligence, decent athleticism and he basically does everything but shoot consistently from the field, and that includes making good decisions.
Even at a Small Forward on defense, PF on offense type, Wainright should perhaps get some play. If you like Josh Jackson as an “elite” player going forward, you should of course like the defender who consistently shut down his drives when they faced each other.
5) I like Josh Jackson, but we do a disservice to players when we label them “elite”, and they are not elite. Josh Jackson is a borderline Top 10-15 athlete at his position going forward, whose length is already at times a problem at the college level. Just speaking about athleticism, Jackson’s clearly going to be behind Lebron, Kawhi, Giannis, Butler, George, Roberson, Wiggins, Iguodala, Durant, and Anunoby (if he can stick in the league). And while he’s bigger than players like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Justise Winslow and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, laterally he doesn’t move as well as any of them. That’s not even addressing players coming into the league in the next few years like Michael Porter Jr.
A player like Josh Jackson is going to need at least one elite skill going forward to be a Top 15 or Top 20 player. Because there’s also players like Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Ben Simmons, Kristaps Porzingis, and Kyrie Irving that he’s going to be competing against. And any of these guys that you would call a superstar are massively valuable in at least one area of the game. Without exception.
Where is Josh Jackson going to be massively valuable? Energy, competitiveness and well-roundedness are qualities of players like Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant, but they are just part of the package. They aren’t the whole package. These guys do at least a few things extremely, extremely well, like defend or score with extreme efficiency or set up their teammates. I’m not talking about being above average. I’m talking about maybe being the best in the league.
That’s not to say I’m betting against Josh Jackson. He has a good chance to be very good. But I’ve yet to say a convincing argument that shows he’s elite at anything besides areas of the game where his contributions will be greatly limited moving forward (advancing the ball in transition, offensive rebounding.) And if those skills don’t exist and are unlikely to exist in the future, we’re just throwing the word “elite” around a guy who looks athletic and hoping it will stick. That’s not going to be particularly fair to him moving forward.
The real question: If Josh Jackson can’t get past Ish Wainright, how is getting by Andre Iguodala? In the argument for Josh Jackson as an elite player, as a primary initiator and not as an off-ball Wing, he’s able to consistently beat Iguodala and James and Kawhi when they defend him. And as an off-ball Wing, he’s going to have to be Lonzo Ball as a passer and a shooter to bring elite value on offense. But he’s not Lonzo Ball.
He sees the floor well in the half-court, but like Kris Dunn, his vision coincides with questionable decision making and turnovers. He might not be Kris Dunn bad, but he’s also not nearly as good as Dunn at breaking opponents down off the dribble, and the passes he sees are very often the result of another player’s creation. Which is to identify why he’s perhaps an excellent player to have on a team but unlikely to be a difference maker.
Harmonic Assist Number
1) This number takes the harmonic mean of Assists per 40 and Assist-to-Turnover ratio. While total assists are baked into Assist-to-Turnover ratio already, the ratio on its own doesn’t really do a good job of showing us who makes good decisions while also creating lots of chances for his teammates. This metric is designed to remedy that.
2) Approaching 3 is obviously really good. Over 4 is exceptional.
3) No surprise, Monte Morris is great here. But he’s not the only one. We see Ball with an exceptional score as well, and most of our possible initiators with very good to excellent scores. I’m talking about Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith, Jr., Jawun Evans, Jevon Carter and Bryant Crawford among others.
4) Of course, this number doesn’t give any sort of final word. For instance, Michael Jordan doesn’t do well by this metric. It’s just another piece of evidence in favor of certain players with respect to their draft stock.
True Shooting Buckets
1) You see now, we’re boiling things down into a simpler numbers. This one is just True Shooting Attempts multiplied by True Shooting Percentage. If our potential Initiator doesn’t score well by our Harmonic Assist Number, they better score well here.
2) Especially as the player gets older, a low score means the player is likely going to be a pass-first guy, if not a drive to pass type player. At least as it regards point guards.
Harmonic Assists X True Shooting Buckets
1) Combining what we’ve learned about passing and scoring into a single number. It’s not the most precise metric around, but it does give us a sense about which players are relatively good at both aspects of the game in college. Notice though that being good at passing in college does give players a huge advantage in terms of this metric.
But of course, the best passers in college don’t always turn out to be the best guys in the pros. Looking at the bottom of the list this is clear with guys like Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler there.
But please remember, these guys do excel elsewhere. Scoring buckets efficiently, not turning the ball over, defense and steals. Next level athleticism by the eye test, way better than anyone in this draft class.
2) It’s important to look at a guy like John Stockton at the bottom and at the top of the list and notice that some players do improve a lot as they get older. Steve Nash, not pictured here because he was a low steals player, is another with massive improvement from his Freshman year.
Improvements aren’t necessarily linear, and young players are very unpredictable.
1) A nice little grouping at the Top 4. Fultz, Ball, Morris, Evans. Notice also that Fox is noticeably better than Smith Jr. here. And please keep in mind that the advantage would be even more clear if we used current numbers.
2) Fox is basically better than Smith Jr. at everything except shooting the ball from distance. (Yes, even shooting from the mid-range.) And shooting from distance is the single aspect of a player’s game most likely to improve.
3) Bryant Crawford, an all-offense, no-defense point guard deserves more thorough consideration. But he should also stay in school. He’s definitely worth a look in the late 1st or in the 2nd if he does declare. I’ll look at him more thoroughly then if and when he makes that decision.
Point Guard Steal Score
I was trying to find a way to encapsulate everything in a single number. I settled on a metric that combines True Shooting Buckets and Harmonic Assists with Steals per 40, which is seen as a function of True Shooting Percentage. It’s highly possible that Effective Field Goal Percentage would give a better result, but I used True Shooting in the table, so I used True Shooting in this metric.
As you can see below, the results are interesting.
1) Truly Elite Point Guards score very well by this metric. There’s a big separation between the guys who do everything well and everyone else.
Now of course that doesn’t make them necessarily better prospects. Michael Jordan, Anfernee Hardaway and Clyde Drexler score somewhere between 39 and 62 as 19 or 20 year olds, but I do think we can see a real separation of Powers up top.
2) A metric like this is never going to select a player like Jimmy Butler. The individual markers which suggested his possible success are more obscure. Players who aren’t high in steals per 40 or assists or buckets are at a distinct disadvantage. It’s a fundamental problem of metrics and algorithms that try to provide answers based on a single number.
We can design a tool that searches for Jimmy Butler (TS%, EFG%, Unassisted buckets, ability to get to the rim with respect to Usage, low turnovers, Assist to Turnover Rate, Assist to Usage, Free Throw Rate, Free Throw percentage being accentuated) and we can sign a tool that searches for Draymond Green or Brandon Roy. I’m not sure you can create single metric that searches for all three kinds of players.
3) I’m going to guess that when a Point Guard scores nearly 200 in this metric. I’m also going to guess that a Wing scoring nearly 100, like Scottie Pippen, is probably a really good player. Especially if it comes against decent competition. Even for a Wing to score 60 would probably suggest he’s got a chance to be really, really good. It’s just very difficult for a non-elite Wing to score well. The deck is stacked against him.
4) Somewhere around 90 or 100 for a Point Guard, especially at a major conference, probably suggests the player is worth a look. However, such a score does not mean the player is a lock. As we can see below, a player can game this metric up to a certain point just by being exceptional at steals.
5) This metric in particular likes guys with incredibly high steals and Lonzo Ball. The reason why it likes Lonzo Ball. That elite True Shooting Percentage to go along with reasonably good to exceptional marks everywhere else.
6) Notice also that Monte Morris scores worse here than Jawun Evans despite having a significant head start. That head start comes from his unreal Assist-to-Turnover ratio. That Assist-to-Turnover ratio is a very real reason to buy into Monte Morris as an offensive player. However, there are also reasons to be skeptical. These reasons have mostly to do with poor defensive performance and not outstanding athleticism, at least as it relates to the NBA.
I love Monte Morris as a player, but I’m probably buying Evans over him. Evans is just an order of magnitude more athletic in terms of quickness, and as such, Evans is a lower tier player whose ability to get to his spots on offense gives him real upside.
7) Here’s the more interesting player from the table with more recent numbers, and not pace adjusted, so that you can place them against the old-timers.
We can see Jawun Evans and De’Aaron Fox have improved their scores a decent bit in their conference tournaments. Both Evans and Fox will face real Point Guard tests in the 2nd round, if they get there, when they face Louisville and Wichita State respectively. Both are good enough to win these match-ups, and they should earn a lot of credibility if they do.
Jevon Carter is a guy whose numbers will probably continue to improve in the NCAA Tournament. It’s not that he won’t face good teams. It’s that Bucknell and Notre Dame/Princeton don’t have the kind of defensive firepower that he faces in the Big 12. And even Gonzaga has a couple of guards who are susceptible to penetration. Carter’s already elite by some standards. But don’t be wholly surprised if he comes out a big winner from the NCAA tournament.
A Note About These Metrics
Don’t necessarily take any of them too seriously. That being said, I’m pretty sure that the Harmonic Assist Number is more useful than mere Assist-to-Turnover percentage. It does better job of encapsulating not only the players ability to make good decisions and take care of the ball, but also the player’s ability to create for his teammates.
True Shooting Buckets is also a good one going forward. It perhaps oversimplifies the situation, but it also allows us to make a pretty good guess as to which players put the most pressure on the defense through their scoring.
A Few Notes In General
I used James Blackmon, Jr.’s sophomore year instead of his junior one. They are ostensibly the same, except his sophomore year is slightly better, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt on offense.
The stats are pace adjusted when possible, except when indicated otherwise. Those come from DraftExpress.com. Other stats come from hoop-math.com, Sports-Reference.com and DatabaseBasketball. Thank you.