Self Generated Offense, A Primer As To Why Unassisted Shots Are Important As Well As What It Means For Point Guards And Wings In The 2016 Draft

First, let me say, that the first half of this piece is lifted directly from a piece I wrote earlier this year.  That means ESPN’s 2015-2016 RPM Leaderboard is slightly dated.  But I’ve left it as is, since there’s no real reason to update it.  Such an update may change the fine print.  However, it will not change the overarching conclusions that we draw.
Now onto the piece:
Before we do anything, let us first return to the ESPN RPM leaderboards, this time specifically looking at the best offensive players at Point Guard, Shooting Guard, and Small Forward, as most of the best offensive players in the NBA play on the perimeter.  And let us look to see if there’s anything that most of these players have in common.

Point Guard Offense

ESPN rpm leaderboard
Here we see the Point Guards.  This is the only position in the NBA where every player in the Top 40 is basically an average offensive player or above, which is another way to say this:  Passing, dribbling and good decision making are really important skills in the NBA.  Unfortunately, they are also skills which sometimes become underrated around the time of the draft.
Put it this way, Steph Curry isn’t the best offensive player of the past two years if he can’t get his shot off at will, and when the defense does stifle him, generally by overplaying the ball in some way, Curry almost always gets the ball to the player who will hurt the defense most.  And it’s not always an easy read to Draymond Green off screen action, a play which no matter how easy the read is still often requires a difficult-to-make pass.  Sometimes it’s the play Steph Curry made with 6:50 to go in the 4th quarter of Game 6 vs. Cleveland.  Trapped by JR Smith and Tristan Thompson, being pushed back into the corner, Curry avoids the obvious outlet pass to Draymond Green, because he somehow sees Lebron poaching, waiting for an opportunity to make a steal, and instead throws the ball nearly 40 or 50 feet across the entire court to Klay Thompson, who is standing wide open in the corner.  A play which was, in effect, the end of game and the series.
(If you need a refresher, the play happens at around 2:25 in the video below.)
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URPwkTboMk0&w=560&h=315]

 

It’s not all shooting with Stephen Curry, nor even great dribbling or playing without a conscience, the three traits most in the media talk about.  He’s a top notch, passer and decision maker too.  You can see from this pass, as good as anyone.  Though obviously, this play requires all four skills: Shooting, Dribbling, Passing, Decision Making.  Since Cleveland doesn’t bother trapping Curry like that if he’s not such a danger from deep.
These skills are things point guards have in common, and indeed, many of the best players in the league.  And we can see, with guys like Matthew Dellavedova or Jose Calderon being excellent offensive players, that Top Notch NBA Athleticism, while definitely a big plus is by no means a must.
So is there anything else they have in common?  Self-generated offense, at least in the college game.  Which is to say, all the players on this list, at least the one’s in the hoop-math database, have positive indicators in their abilities to make unassisted shots, which go back to their college days.  Which are positive not just because these players are more likely to be able to generate their own offense at the NBA level, but because 1) Unassisted shots are a major indicator of dribbling skill, since a player needs to dribble well, or at least well enough, to get into position to take such a shot, 2) As it’s difficult to make a high percentage of shots when covered, being able to score unassisted shots consistently are a positive indicator of decision making, 3) Taking unassisted shots suppress Field Goal Percentage, Effective Field Goal Percentage, True Shooting Percentage, because they are just much more difficult to convert than shots coming off the catch.  That means that many of these players are far better shooters and have far more capability than their shooting percentages might indicate.
These are the most obvious ways the unassisted score might be indicative of future success at the NBA level, but I think it also goes farther than this as well, as the ability to make such shots suggests a type of hand, eye and body co-ordination that is likely useful for learning and necessary for performing a wide variety of NBA skills, like making accurate passes for example.  Or perhaps in the case of Kawhi Leonard, after he was drafted by the Spurs and to make a major mechanical change to his jump shot, which he was able to almost instantly incorporate into his game.
Damian Lillard, Reggie Jackson, Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Knight, Cameron Payne, D’Angelo Russell, Zach LaVine, Marcus Smart, Delon Wright (low minutes sample, but also destroying the NBADL), Cory Joseph (not on the list but a top 40 overall PG).  Almost all of these players were high-burden offensive players for the team’s they played on, which I believe to be a very important indicator almost regardless of the shooting percentage because again, a player will not be trusted to generate his own shots within an offense, unless he can dribble and makes good decisions about when to shoot and when not to shoot.  And more than that, all of them, to varying degrees were successful.
Unassisted shooting numbers Point Guards historical
1) Getting to and scoring at the rim is very important, and while it’s difficult to be an absolutely elite offensive point guard without that skill, it is possible to at least be a highly effective one.  We can see this by looking at Matthew Dellavedova’s line, which happens to be similar in this respect to that of Denzel Valentine.  In Dellavedova’s case, it is also indicative of a player who doesn’t score much at the rim:  He shoots there less than 10% of the time.  This is a good indicator for Valentine, because one of the worst case scenarios for his offensive development is perhaps to be a better, bigger version of Matthew Dellavedova, one that can truly play the Off-Guard.
2)  Next person who sites FG% at the rim as if it’s not the easiest hole in one’s game to fix, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but it’s probably going to be much worse for me than it is for you.
A player who has problem getting to the rim may not be fixable, but on the whole, field goal percentage at the rim, even for those who are not very good at it, like Dellavedova, should be expected to improve.  (That “even” should probably read “especially” since players who are very good at shooting at the rim in college probably aren’t likely to improve in the pro game, even if they are probably more likely to remain better at this skill into the future.)  He did have a bad year last year at 39% (in a very low sample, since he doesn’t often shoot there), but he’s 54.7% for his career at the rim.  That’s not great.  However, it’s acceptable.
Stanley Johnson is shooting 57% from this range after struggling in college.  Kemba Walker is 54% for his career, and is up to 60% this year.  (It’s pretty typical for good point guards to have a major positive spike in percentage at the rim somewhere between Age 24 and Age 26.  Curry, Lillard, Lowry and many more enjoyed similar spikes.) Zach LaVine is at 65% for his NBA career.
Is a bad FG% at the rim a flag?  Yes, especially when it’s as bad as Dellevadova’s was, but it’s a really small one.  The NBA game is just much more open than the college game where many teams seem like they have almost their entire team protecting the rim.  And also, it’s just not that difficult.  Besides the problem with incredibly tiny sample sizes, which all college shooting numbers are, players really are likely to improve their skills as they get older.
3) Mid-Range Jump Shots.  Success on Unassisted Mid-Range Jump Shots is a major indicator of future shooting success.  Just from a cursory look at player’s who are successful and unsuccessful, I think it may be the best indicator on the whole.  The reason being firstly that many of these players are still in the process of extending their range, and secondly sample size.  Most college players just don’t take enough 3-point shots, especially off-the-dribble three point shots, for us to be able to conclusively say anything.  Mid-Range Jump Shots on the other hand, players who end up good often take and make a lot of them and with very little help.  The one exception being if that player happens to be one of the few who takes a lot of three point shots.  Since, these players are probably taking threes instead of mid-range twos.
(As an aside, I believe we are going to see this as a major positive indicator for Brice Johnson, Robert Carter, James Webb and Gary Clark when we get to stretch players as well.  And I’m pretty sure all of these players will be rated as lottery players in my final NCAA rating, since they all have good chances to be plus defenders, with some possibility to being super plus defenders, and while all would need to extend their range to become plus offensive players, we see from Marvin Williams, that players who can play the four in NBA on defense while shooting and doing not much else, can still be plus 3 offensive players.  And all four are going to have a decent chance to extend their range, even if it’s almost certainly going to take some time.  Deyonta Davis is a guy I don’t know what to do from a shooting perspective, since he also has very good indicators, but the sample is so small.  Though he’s looked very good to me when I’ve seen him.  Ivan Rabb too.)
4) True shooting percentage tends to be a little to a lot overrated as a statistic.  It is important and indicative of something, but really that’s for the most part only IF the player often makes a lot of his own opportunities. And we’ll see that below, after we look at the Top Offensive Shooting Guards and Small Forwards.  I’ll hold off on talking about Damian Lillard or Kemba Walker’s “Jesus Christ 700 Shots in College Season” season season until afterwards, not because that many shots needs a lot of extraneous words around it, but because I’ve made another table that includes 13 of Top Offensive Players period, plus Jimmer Fredette, who may have failed overall, due to being relatively short and unathletic, but we all know can shoot.  (Always said, Sacramento shouldn’t have drafted him unless they were going to set the initial screen at 30 to 35 feet and give him the green light, and finally with Curry, we see how impossible it is for an NBA team to play defense like that.  Fredette should have been a poor man’s poor man’s Steph Curry, but the funny thing is that his success at doing this one thing should have preceded Curry’s.  Even then, he might have failed, but at least he would have had a real chance to succeed.)

Wing Offense

ESPN RPM leaderboard
ESPN RPM leaderboard SF

Once more we see players who bear a large burden of creating their own offense  in college being, in most cases, the most successful offensive players. Of the players we can look up, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Klay Thompson, Jae Crowder, CJ McCollum, Rodney Hood, Victor Oladipo, Andrew Wiggins, Chandler Parsons, Tobias Harris, TJ Warren, Harrison Barnes, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope,  Gary Harris, Otto Porter Jr, Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe, Jeremy Lamb.  And also Bradley Beal to a small extent, though he was a freshman and not the first option on his team, which was also true of Devin Booker.

That encompasses, I believe, every player we can look up in the hoop-math database (and we can surmise it was also true for players like Lebron, Durant, Carmelo, Hayward, even Jared Dudley, who as a do-everything player for Boston College from day one, from watching them play in high school or college).  Indeed, the only perimeter player who’s a Net Positive Offensive player without any positive indicator of such skills is Troy Daniels.

More evidence that these On-Ball Scoring Statistics are not just important because of what they say about a player’s chance to score efficiently at the NBA, but more than that because they suggests other strengths these players have that are necessary to play in the NBA game.  Caldwell-Pope is a good example of this fact.  He isn’t even shooting well from distance, barely eclipsing 30% so far this year and he’s still a +0.58 player on offense.  Imagine when he does start shooting, as the numbers suggest he probably will.  Likely he’s going to end up a +2 or +3 or even +4 offensive player, while also improving on defense.  And be the next guy, like Jae Crowder, that seemingly comes out of nowhere to be a legit All-Star caliber player.  Of course, Caldwell-Pope, like Crowder before him, will have had many positive indicators going back to college that said, “This guy is going to be really good.”  (If I’m an NBA team, he’s probably my Number 1 or Number 2 Trade Target as a player who  has a chance to be really, really good by the time he is 25 or 26 and is is probably attainable without mortgaging the farm.

Now for our table where we look at the best Offensive Players and Holy Crap Our Pants about how crazy Kemba Walker’s junior season was.  Again per Hoop-Math:

Unassisted shooting numbers historical perimter players

1) I’ve included putbacks where possible, and forgot to point out above, that in this table, like the one above, there are likely some errors for the older players on the list.  Since Hoop-Math doesn’t have exact numbers for them in terms of attempts and I had to extrapolate them.  Guessing happened.  Rounding errors likely occurred.  And we all had a grand old time.  Fun stuff, I promise.  I’ll tell you more about it in the future.

2)  Again we see the importance of Mid-Range Jump Shots.  Only Jae Crowder hit less than 20 unassisted mid-range jumpers in his best On-Ball Scoring Season, at least by percentages.  This was his junior year, and the funny thing is that he was the third or fourth option on his team despite generating many of his own chances.  (He was behind Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom, the latter of which is an example of a player with very good On-Ball scoring numbers that failed.  Johnson-Odom just didn’t do enough of the things a 6’2″ player needs to do in the NBA. Pass, defend his position, etc . . . At 6’6″, he’s probably still in the league and maybe a lot better than that.  But 6’2″ players generally need to do everything well, or at least many things well, and that often starts with defense.)

We also see Crowder is at 42% on mid-range jump shots, which is one of the upper-end numbers.

That being said, you’d still rather a guy do it from the college three or better yet, do it from everywhere, if given a choice.

3)  We see that Damian Lillard only hit 24 mid-range jump shots, but that’s because he didn’t shoot a lot of them.  To make up for it, he hit 40 unassisted threes.  And I do think the Raw Make totals are in some ways as important or more important than the percentages, since they give us an idea of how often these players were asked to go it alone.  Which for all these players was a lot.  (Crowder has a much lower sample, but he had 31 unassisted makes on two and three point jumpers combined.  For a 3rd or 4th option, that’s a lot.  And everyone else has 40-plus makes, 50-plus makes, or in the case of
Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker, nearly 140 plus makes.

4)  It was not a surprise both of these guys ended up shooting well from distance.  And that’s including the fact that Kemba only shot 33% from three in college.  We should not be surprised.  Walker was generating a vast number of shots on his own, which is a good way to kill your overall shooting percentages.

5)  701 shots!  How does a guard take 701 shots in a season?  That’s indicative of something, I don’t know what exactly, but it’s pretty impressive regardless.

6)  True Shooting Percentage as a predictor is overrated.  (I’d bet eFG% is better anyway, but I have no proof and I’ve gotten in the habit of using TS% as a marker.  Reason being that using TS% is basically like counting FTr twice.)

True Shooting Percentage in college is often influenced, as in Kemba Walker’s case, by the fact that he had to generate basically all of UCONN’s offense.  Beyond that, True Shooting Percentage is influenced by the compositions of one’s shots.  For instance, Walker shot a crapload of 2pt Jumpers.  That’s going to drop his True Shooting Percentage, but a good NBA coach will put his players in situations to take higher value shots.  What’s more important is that the player can make these mid-range shots if they need to.  And also that, making unassisted mid-range shots at high levels in college is also a good pointer for those who might be able to extend their range to the NBA line in the future.

That is to say, TS% needs to be seen in context of everything else the player does and is asked to do.  Which is why a player like Kris Dunn might be better than his numbers on the surface seem.

7)  College players don’t have to get to the rim to become incredibly successful NBA players on offense.  Neither Klay Thompson or Rodney Hood got to the rim.  Thompson is a consistent +3 or +4 offensive performer.  Hood is +2 this year.  Neither gets to the rim a whole lot as a pro.  And all of their opportunities are basically generated by the offense they are in.  Which is to say, more evidence that Denzel Valentine has some possibility to be a huge plus offense player in the pros.  Since he has passing skills neither Hood nor Thompson have.  (And Hood’s also not athletic for an NBA player, so please no one point out that Thompson is.  His athleticism isn’t bringing that much value on offense.  It’s mostly his shooting skill.  And his shooting skill is bringing value because others are serving him up open jump shots.)

8)  I like finding ratios that are potentially meaningful, and I think I may have found one.  Which is to say that when one out of every six or one out of every seven shot attempts a player takes ends up in an unassisted make at the rim, that suggests a perhaps NBA quality dribbling and driving skill.  (The guys with less than that, Middleton, Thompson, Hood, don’t get to the rim very often in the NBA.)  And the one that does, Draymond Green, often has a lot of help in doing so in the form of Stephen Curry.

The reason a ratio is important is because opportunities to drive and score at the rim are often inhibited by both a team’s offensive structure and a player’s pecking order in the line-up.  We can see this in the form of Jae Crowder’s season for sure.  And also Jimmy Butler’s.  Since three players were sharing attempts relatively equally.  (There’s also a lot of evidence to suggest Butler’s junior season is the one we should be looking at, but that data doesn’t exist on hoop-math.)

And this is relevant for this year’s class.  A little bit for Gary Payton II and Kris Dunn, and a lot for Wade Baldwin, who could have and probably would have done a lot more with a different coach and different teammates.  The Wichita St. loss was pretty indicative of this fact.  How many assist opportunities were left unconverted or passed up?  I lost count, but I think it might have been near 15 or 20.  And it was almost certainly over 10 in the first half.  Plus Baldwin had multiple turnovers which were generated by his teammates not doing routine things, like the travel he had because his teammates couldn’t figure out how to run the right play.  (Basketball is a timing sport, as much as football is.)  And he’s just not allowed to drive very often because for some reason they play high-low offense through Jones rather than give Baldwin the reins and allow him to work his magic.

I think this is also the reason Baldwin occasionally looks bad.  It’s not just that he tends to play better when Vanderbilt gets down.  It’s that when Vanderbilt gets down Baldwin becomes the player he was meant to be.  A downhill attacker who in college get into the lane on anyone and without much help in the form of screen.  And Vanderbilt rarely gives him any, since Stallings still prefers to weave the ball around the perimeter for 5, 10, 15 seconds before even looking to get the ball into the lane.

So after the table for this year’s prospects, but afterwards, I’m going to extrapolate Baldwin’s numbers to what they would look like if the offense played to his strengths and ran through him.  (Somewhere between 400 and 500 shot attempts.)

9)  Another Ratio.  Free Throw Rate: 100-3PA%.  Or in plainer English, the percentage of a player’s shot which are Three Point Attempts.  The reason being that most Free Throws are generated as a product of Two Point Attempts.  So this number gives a better sense of how good a player is at getting to the line, at least in college.

For instance, Lillard and Irving both have ratios right at or well over 1.  And both players go the free throw line 5-6 time per 36 when healthy.  (Generally a Top 15-20 Rate.)  James Harden’s was only slightly under 1.  And he goes to the free throw line more frequently than anyone.  Isaiah Thomas is another player whose 50% FTr looks even better once you consider how frequently he shot three point attempts, and he’s in the Top 20 as well.  And then there’s Kemba Walker.  This consideration only improves his number slightly, but I’ll tell you what 700 attempts is good for now.  If a player can take 700 shots in a High Major college season and be reasonably efficient, he’s going to get to the free throw line.

10)  One-And-Done Unicorns.  There may be some good One-And-Done perimeter players, and the best are near the very best.  But there’s not generally more than one per draft.  And sometimes there isn’t even that.  Which is to say, if a perimeter player isn’t good enough to dominate as a freshman and still goes out, he’s likely somewhat overrated, at least as an offensive prospect.  Which is perhaps why all of the recent One-And-Done perimeter players have seemed to some extent disappointments.  (And also, it takes time to get really good, unless the player is an upper echelon Hall of Famer.)

There are probably some other patterns and things to note, like the fact that they are not restricted to the half-court, but I just don’t have the room.  (Also, scoring opportunities at the rim aren’t restricted to the half-court.   The half-court numbers, which Dean Demakis has used in the past to pick out NBA sleepers like Jordan Clarkson or Norman Powell.  However, using a wider set of data potentially allows those players who are (or were) restricted by their college team’s offensive system to show up.  Since these coaches presumably can’t restrict transition opportunities.)

Now onto this year’s prospects:

2016 Point Guard and Wing Offense at the Rim

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 7.34.31 AM: unassisted 2016 rim numbers

1. First let’s address what I’ve called “Rim Rate.”  This metric is attempting to quantify how often a player gets to the rim through the lens of both Field Goal Attempts at the rim and also Free Throw Attempts, which are scaled down by a factor of .44 as they are in True Shooting Percentage, which I assume is an attempt to quantify the effect of “Bonus” Free Throws.  Bonus pertaining not to the foul bonus, but to And-1s and fouls on Three Point Attempts.  Both statistics we should be tracking to make the metrics we use more precise.

For some players like Wade Baldwin, who was poor at finishing through contact this year, this factor might be actually be too high, as I’d guess he had less And-1’s than would be expected on average.  Though I don’t know for sure.

It should also should be said it’s far from a perfect measure.  The underlying assumption is that most shooting fouls occur when players are driving to, or shooting, at the rim.  While that is undoubtedly the case, it’s not true for All shooting fouls.  Players do get fouled on Three-Point Attempts and Mid-Range Jumpers, even if it happens more rarely.  Plus the college game has “Bonus” rules which can lead to gaudy totals.

So, as with any of my makeshift metrics, use it more to ballpark these players’ abilities than as a definitive marker.  It’s not meant to be accurate down to the decimal place.  It’s meant to be a better proxy for a player’s ability to dribble-drive than merely accounting for shots and/or unassisted makes at the rim.  Especially because these markers are directly related to a player’s role in their college offense.

2.  As an example, let’s consider Wade Baldwin again.  He took over full-time PG duty, after being more of a wing as Freshman, but he was still often the second banana to Damian Jones, who was very often operating as a High-Low Post Big.   This kind of offense can greatly mitigate the driving opportunities of a perimeter player.  And that’s especially true in the college game, where an already cramped floor space is even moreso, because you now have a Big and the player defending him jamming the lane.

3.  The first player we notice is Ben Simmons.  He basically lived at the rim this year, and at the Free Throw Line.

The three most important areas of the offense in terms of efficiency are the Rim, Free Throws and the Three-Point Line.  Ben Simmons was a dominant scorer, in terms of efficiency, because he found a way to take almost all of his attempts from the Rim or the Free Throw Line.  Which is kind of an important thing.

Indeed, in many ways the Ben Simmons vs. Brandon Ingram debate reminds me a lot of when people were trying to argue that Carmelo was a better prospect than Lebron.  Yes, this was a thing and remained a thing well into these players careers.

The main argument was that Lebron couldn’t shoot, that he could only score at the rim.  But that argument forgot this important fact:  Lebron could get shots at the rim almost at will, and as a natural consequence, he also lived at the Free Throw Line.  On top of that, Lebron affected the game in any number of other ways, most of all with his passing and his ability to incorporate his teammates into the offense.  And he continues to do so.

Is Simmons as athletic as Lebron?  No.  But he’s also much more comfortable doing Power Forward Things if he has to do so.  For instance, it took Lebron years to work out of the post, and he’s still not very comfortable with setting screens or rolling to the basket, a play which could make the Cavs offense make much more efficient.  Imagine Lebron James catching the ball with the Free Lane that Draymond Green has and with JR Smith, Dellevadova and Kevin Love (or Channing Frye) waiting for catch-and-shoots.

4.  As you have certainly noticed, I didn’t just include just 2016 Draft Prospects.  There are some current NBA players as well.  In most cases those who have had some trouble shooting at the NBA level.  The reason being I wanted to include some evidence as to what more questionable shooting prospects look like, as most prospects in any draft are indeed somewhat questionable with respect to how their shooting will translate.

5.  With that being said, Holy Shit Elfrid Payton!  142 unassisted makes at the rim and 302 Free Throw Attempts against only 465 shots taken.  Of the players profiled here, his rim numbers are by far the most impressive, especially considering that he still had 114 unassisted makes not counting putbacks.

Indeed, I’d urge you to notice putbacks, and except in rare cases to severely discount them as positive events, especially guards.  They are definitely indicators of athleticism and awareness, but they are not very likely to be a significant form of offense for a perimeter player at the NBA level.

So pay attention to them.  Just beware of how they can dramatically skew a player’s percentages for the better.

6.  One exception to the rule are for a player like Ben Simmons, who not only is going to spend some time as a power player, but also spent time as a power player in college.  Posting up naturally mitigates a player’s opportunity to drive.  That he still found a way to score at the rim when others on his team shot and missed says something about the player’s ability to work within the context of the offense.

7.  The other exception is a player like Elfrid Payton.  When a player is their team’s full-time on-the-ball point guard, and they are not only making more than 100 shots at the rim but also nearly 30 putbacks in a college season, you basically know that there are spaces where this player’s game is going to translate.

Unfortunately for Payton, he also has basically the wonkiest shooting numbers of the entire group.  Wonkiest in the sense that he is if not the least likely player of this group to shoot, definitely one of them.  And these numbers basically explain Payton as a player in the NBA.  40-50% of his shots at the rim in each of his first two years.  60-80% of his shots within 10 feet.  55% at the rim so far, a number you’d expect to go up.  But no ability to score from outside of three feet.

Below 40% from every mid-range two point area.  30.6% overall from three.  And it must be pointed out that Payton’s inability to shoot also makes it more difficult for him to drive.  Since player’s can play off of him and clear behind the screen, allowing his defender angles to meet his drives and head them off.

8. Let me point out pubacks again.  We’ll talk about them more later.  Just notice that all the players at the top of the list (Simmons, Payton, Oladipo, Roberson, etc . . .) have scores that are completely dependent on putbacks.  Well, not Payton, but everyone else.

Excluding Payton and perhaps Simmons (who was, as discussed above, in a different role) it isn’t until you get to Jaylen Brown, Kris Dunn and Wade Baldwin that you find players who can definitively create scoring opportunities off their own dribble, at least in the college game.

9.  Let’s consider Victor Oladipo for a second.  He’s decent at getting to the rim in the NBA game.  Between 30 and 40% of his shots have typically come from that range.  He’s shot 56.5% from that range.  Those are good numbers, but isn’t one of the disappointments with Oladipo that he hasn’t been better at creating  and converting scoring opportunities at the rim?

Perhaps our expectations were buoyed by the fact 45 of Oladipo’s 82 unassisted makes at the rim came on putbacks.

This is not to say, such players definitely won’t be able to get into the lane at the NBA level.  It was pretty much Tony Wroten’s only strength as an NBA player.  That’s not even mentioning the fact that Wroten could only dribble with one hand and couldn’t shoot at all.  Even though the opponent knew what was coming, Wroten still was able to take 50-60% of his shots at the rim, convert at 55% and shoot 7-9 Free Throws per 36 minutes.

If Wroten defended up to his athleticism and could convert free throws, you’d have a plus NBA player pretty easily.  The real problem for Wroten going forward is not just his shooting stroke, but also how much his effectiveness on both sides of the ball was mitigated by mental lapses.

10.  In relation to Tony Wroten, Jaylen Brown.  Jaylen Brown’s game might appear slightly different on the surface and Jaylen Brown might have a longer wingspan, but when we speak about Jaylen Brown on offense, we’re essentially speaking about Tony Wroten.  Driving ability, athleticism, the ability to get to the free throw line on the plus side.  On the negative side, little ability to hit jumpers, little to suggest you’d bet on Brown becoming a significant plus as a shooter, lots and lots of turnovers, and a below average understanding of the game.

Brown’s three saving graces as a prospect are these:  1) He is actually close to elite at getting to the rim, even if he has a loose dribble.  2)  Unlike Wroten, I do think he’ll play some defense, though I don’t think he’ll be an absolute game changer on that end.  3)  He’s probably not quite as bad a shooter as Wroten was, even if he does have suspect decision making.

Even with that, if everything goes perfectly, you are probably talking about a +1 to +3 point player before accounting for the opportunity cost of running possessions through a playmaker who can’t create efficient opportunities for others and who turns the ball over more than his fair share.  (Even the best of these players generally aren’t as good as their numbers on the surface suggest.)

11.  What we are mostly going to find as we go through these numbers is that Wade Baldwin’s sophomore season and Kris Dunn’s redshirt sophomore seasons are two way, way above average statistical seasons not just with respect to passing and in Kris Dunn’s case, defense, but in regards to scoring potential, even if neither season looks like it on the surface.

What is hampering people in respect to Baldwin’s season are two factors:  Firstly, his role in the offense.  Secondly, the fact that he struggled to finish at the rim this year, especially through contact.  As we’ve seen with a player like Stanley Jackson, these struggles shouldn’t be expected to continue to this degree.

The reason being that most players do get better at scoring at the rim as they get older, and also that the NBA is a far more open game than the college one.  If a player can make the right reads, which Baldwin has demonstrated that he can, then difficult finishes at the rim in college can often become easy passes to one’s teammates for lay-ups, dunks or open threes in the pros.

12.  With respect to Dunn’s sophomore season we see a poor True Shooting Percentage covering up the fact that he was highly successful from all areas of the court while having to generate almost all of team’s offense.  True, he had sub-optimal shot selection, but that should be teachable, especially when he’s installed into a system that generates better looks.

Turnovers are probably always going to be an issue.  And Dunn’s numbers weren’t as good this year as last, at least not from two-point range.  However, I’d point to one of Dunn’s major issues in shooting being that of inconsistent shot preparation, and if that’s the case, that is an aspect of the game that should improve with repetitions and time.

13.  We also see that Wings, in most cases, just aren’t as good at getting to the rim as the Point Guards.  Bembry, McCaw, Valentine, Brogdon rate well below the best Point Guards.

There is however a caveat here.  Specifically, we shouldn’t read as much into these numbers if the player was a highly successful three point shooter.  Players like Denzel Valentine and Josh Adams took well over 200 shots from three point range this year.  Of course that’s going to drive down the percentage of shots they took from the rim.

However, it’s not necessarily from a lack of ability, it’s because these players were choosing to take different types of shots with highly positive outcomes.  And this is something we can’t ignore.  With players like Valentine, Adams, Ingram, Murray and Hield, part of the reason their numbers are depressed in terms of getting to the rim is because they were really good three point shooters.

14.  I didn’t include Hield and Murray in my original table, because I wanted to focus mainly on players who could either pass or defender or both.  But I thought myself remiss not to at least mention them.  I also forgot Thomas Walkup so I included him as well.  And even then, we’re leaving out Ron Baker and Dorian Finney-Smith among many others.  Seriously, as of now this year has 30-40 Wings that I could argue would be deserving of real consideration.  From this perspective, the 2016 draft makes the 2015 draft, in which only 25 to 35 NCAA players were even worthy of being graded look kind of ridiculous.

The Obligatory Jamal Murray-Buddy Hield Table

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 3.06.54 PM: jamal murray, buddy hield unassisted numbers

1. Don’t let the relatively low Rim Rate fool you.  Murray and Hield’s numbers are actually quite good here.  Shots at the rim aren’t a large percentage of their shots by volume, and they probably won’t be in the future.  But it’s not like they are completely without dribbling ability.
This ability, seen in context with their shooting, puts a +3 to +4 offensive outcome on the table.  Which is to say, a Klay Thompson like offensive outcome.
2. That being said, Klay Thompson is pretty much the only Wing Shooter with that kind of offensive outcome over consecutive seasons, and I’m willing to wager his ability is greatly aided by playing with Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodola et al.  He seems to get many more wide open looks that equivalent shooters who are surrounded by less talent.
Which is to say, a + 3 or + 4 outcome on offense for either player is probably overly optimistic unless they improve dramatically as passers.  And that seems unlikely to me.
3.  When you add in the fact that both seem more like Average-at-Best defenders, ie. the kind of guys who are most often net-negatives on that side of the ball, it’s hard to see hugely optimistic about either players upside.  Though I’d bet on Murray before Hield, do mostly to the fact that his rumored passing ability might eventually show up.
However, more likely than not, these are players who have high-floors for one-dimensional shooters.  But don’t have that much room for their games to grow.  Personally, I’d pass on both, but I’ll be happy for them if they prove me wrong.
4.  I included Walkup because I love him as a player.  Reminds me a little of Antonio Gates when he was a Point Forward at Kent State.  Except, I think he’s an even better college player.
Walkup’s a little short for a college player and doesn’t seem overly athletic.  And yet he’s always making plays.  Stealing the ball.  Blocking shots on closeouts, even when it would seem impossible for a player of his dimensions to get there.  And as it so happens, basically doing whatever he wants to do on offense.  It also helps that he’s really smart on the basketball court and doesn’t make mistakes.
There aren’t too many guys in NCAA history who can claim to be a +50 Net Rating Player in an individual season.  Walkup is one of them.  We’ll see later that he’s also one of the classic cases of a guy who’s shooting numbers are probably suppressed because of his offensive burden.  And we’re already talking about a 63% True Shooting Guy.

Unassisted at the Rim

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 7.57.11 AM: more unassisted rim numbers

1. Here we are looking at the percentage of a players makes at the rim which are unassisted.  The reason to look at this number is not to determine if the player is good at getting to rim.  Looking at a number like Rim Rate or Raw Unassisted Makes or even FTr is going to give you a much better idea of that.  What it will tell you is if there’s a possibility that the player’s Field Goal Percentage at the rim is inflated.
The reason being that players with more Unassisted Makes are very likely shooting more difficult shots that players who make shots off the catch.   Indeed this study from 82 Games shows the Value of Potential Assists in the NBA.  It’s profound.  A 7% increase on dunks.  A 12.6% increase on close shots.
So we should perhaps assume that the effect in college is  significant as well.
2.  That being said, I wouldn’t be overly concerned with any of the player’s percentages here except perhaps Van Vleet, whose going to have troubles as a sub 6’0″ PG without supreme athletic gifts.  It is also definitely a place that could hurt Wade Baldwin’s overall value.  But if there’s a hole in a player’s game, this is where you want it.
Indeed, if I was an NBA team picking beyond the first few picks, I’d very happy Baldwin has this potential hole.  If Baldwin was connecting at the rim at 60%, he’s likely making a legit run at being a Top 2 or 3 pick, and almost certainly in the Top 5.  And since a great many players do improve here, it wouldn’t be surprising for Baldwin to do so as well.
3.  I’m going to talk about putbacks again, because it’s another way in which a player can inflate their percentage at the rim, especially when these opportunities aren’t going to be there for many players at the next level.  For instance, Dejounte Murray shot 83.3% on putbacks and hit 19 of them.  Without such shots, his at the rim percentage would be a much more pedestrian number, somewhere around 54%.

Offensive Burden at the Rim

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 8.13.16 AM: Burden Rim numbers 2016
1.  Burden Rate 1 is merely dividing a player’s Unassisted Makes at the Rim by Overall Field Goal Attempts.  It’s attempting to do something similar to Rim Rate.  To quantify how often the player is responsible for generating their own offense at the Rim.
What’s interesting to me here is Ben Simmons, who scores very poorly when looking at his Unassisted Percentage.  And yet he takes so many shots at the rim, these shots are such a large percentage of his workload that he still basically outpoints everyone except Elfrid Payton, despite a massive number of his shots coming on assisted tries.
2.  We once again notice putbacks getting in the way of us truly seeing the data.  It’s not altogether fair to remove them entirely since they do speak to a player’s role in the offense, so I thought it important to look at this table.  And yet I’d like to look at the numbers again, this time without putbacks being included.
I’ve done it a little slapdash, removing putbacks from the numerator but not putback attempts from the denominator.  (I’d have to calculate them using each player’s individual numbers, since hoop-math doesn’t publicly display the attempts, and it seemed kind of like a pain in the ass to input them all, sorry.  That’s my one caveat.)

Unassisted at the Rim Numbers Without Putbacks

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 8.08.15 AM

1.  Now we start to see just how much these Field Goal Percentage numbers at the Rim are potentially hiding, and why it’s ridiculous to compare the Rim numbers of Point Guards and Wings and Bigs.  Sure, those players are generally taller, but their biggest advantage is that their shooting percentages are propped up by easy shots, namely assisted looks and putbacks.
Point Guards have a much greater burden, not just because they have to create their own looks, but because self-generated shots are in many cases more difficult than those that come off of a pass or a rebound.
2.  We can see this clearly if we look at Van Vleet, who has some worst Rim numbers of the group in terms of his overall Field Goal Percentage there.  And Wade Baldwin perhaps fares poorly for this reason as well.
3. Note one major difference:  Wade Baldwin is so good at scoring in other ways that his True Shooting Percentage is still 57% overall, whereas Van Vleet’s is generally in the low 50s.
4.  I have to point out Josh Adams.  One of my pet peeves is how little attention he’s received despite his season and his athletic ability.  Yes, late career improvement is not to be trusted.  But that’s not going to hold for absolutely every case.  Some players who improve late in their career eventually are going to be for real, just Dennis Rodman was for real despite the fact that he came into the league as a 25 year old or Ben Wallace was for real despite the fact that he was a 6’7″ center who played for Virginia Union.
And if there’s a player for whom late career growth is going to be for real, it’s likely to be a guy like Adams, who is supremely athletic, plays the Prime NBA position (Perimeter Initiator), and does all the things in college that bring value in the NBA.  (Scores at the rim off the dribble, scores from the three point line off the dribble, gets to the free throw line, passes well enough).
Again, that’s not to say, it’s likely for Adams.  If I had to guess, I’d guess that as most such prospects, he’ll bust.  But a positive outcome for Adams has a chance to be way better than a positive outcome for most of the players in this draft.  And at a certain point, that has to be worth something.  I’m guessing for most teams it would be in the 2nd round or as an undrafted guy.
It would be for me as well, since there’s little point in drafting a guy before you need to.  Though, there’s a definite argument in favor of the value of a late 1st round pick vs. an early 2nd, in terms of having an extra year to evaluate the player and make a decision.  If the priorities of the draft were really to hunt for stars, I’d argue a guy like Adams would end up going a lot higher than he’ll end up going in June, which is probably not at all.
5.  Specifically about Adams:  77 unassisted makes.  72 without putbacks.  A near 70% Field Goal Percentage at the Rim despite generating almost all these scores himself.  These are huge numbers, especially when you consider he took half of his shots from three.

Looking at How Often These Players Get to the Rim Again

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 8.19.42 AM: Jump Shooting Numbers
1.  Now we can see how often these players get to the rim off the dribble, as a function of how often they shoot.  The numbers aren’t exact, and it should again be stated, they aren’t just for the half-court.  So it’s just a ball-park number.
Still, if you go back through the hoop-math database, you’ll find many of the players who do become Primary Perimeter Initiators in the NBA are at least in the 14% Ball-Park.  That is at least 1/7 college Field Goals ends up in an unassisted make at the rim, excluding putbacks.  Though that number may drop a little for Wings, since their role in the offense is different.
And of course, younger player should be expected to improve more than older ones.
2.  Wade Baldwin is an example of both phenomena.  Becoming a PG after being primarily used as a Wing as a Freshman.  And improving his handle greatly, though it’s still a little loose at times.
3.  Again, Jaylen Brown was very successful at attacking the rim this year, at least if we exclude turnovers.
4.  I’ve highlighted Denzel Valentine.  As stated above, there are reasons to think these numbers are suppressed.  After all, we’re looking at Shots from 0-3 feet as a function of one’s overall Field Goal Attempts, and Valentine is an amazing three point shooter and quite capable from the mid-range.
At the same time, Valentine really would be overcoming long odds if he were to become a full-time Primary Ball Handler in the NBA.  And a role like that of Evan Turner or Matthew Dellavedova is much more likely.  I also find it interesting that he grades similarly to Langston Galloway, since Galloway is another player who plays a similar role to the one Valentine might find himself in at the NBA level.
The curious thing about Valentine is just how great a passer he is despite not shooting at the rim.  Which is to say, I think we’re also ignoring here how good Valentine is at reading defenses.  One of the reasons Valentine doesn’t shoot at the rim a lot is because he’s finding open teammates off of his drives where others who don’t have quite the same vision would have to finish their drives with sub-optimal shots.
5. If we consider Dellavedova’s offensive play in the 2015 NBA Finals we see how this kind of player can be limited at the NBA level, especially if his shot isn’t falling.  Dellavedova was driving to pass and not even looking for his shot.  When the Warriors decided to just play the pass, then Dellavedova had nowhere to go with the ball.
Yet I think Valentine is a much more talented shot maker than Delly and also probably much better at making optimal decisions on the fly.  And if Valentine can use screens at the NBA level, there’s a real chance for him to do some damage afterwards.  As it’s virtually impossible to take away all four of these things at the same time:  A 3-point shot off the dribble, a pocket pass, a drive for a pass, a drive for a shot.
And it should be noted Dellavedova has no problem getting to that 4-8 foot area from which a player like Chris Paul or Tony Parker seems a near certainty to score.  (They are consistently in the 50% range from 3-10 feet, with a decent enough number of these shot attempts ending in free throws.) He’s just not talented enough to make that flip shot consistently.  If Valentine can take good angles on screens, who knows how good he’ll be from this range?
6.  Valentine is a unique player because you could compare him to Andre Miller, Klay Thompson, Evan Turner, Matthew Dellavadova, and Langston Galloway on offense and make a convincing argument for nearly any of those outcomes.  Except he’s almost certainly going to shoot better than Miller.  Langston Galloway, as a 35% three point shooter who doesn’t do all that much else, seems like an absolute floor and one that I’d bet Valentine is quite a bit better than.
For one, Valentine is taller and figures to get cleaner looks on closeouts.  For two, his shooting numbers and stroke are pretty convincing.   Over 200 made three pointers the last two years.  A good amount of of unassisted makes from all ranges.  Shooting well over 40%.  The off-the-dribble shots I’ve seen are true.  And he’s able to get off nearly 14 three point shots per 100 possessions, while also dishing out 14 assists per 100 possessions.
I bet you that club for college players is rare.  Like Stephen Curry Is Almost Part Of This Club Rare.  It’s not necessarily predictive.  But if Denzel Valentine ends up outplaying his draft slot, it’s likely going to be because he not only found a way to maintain his 3-Point Shooting Percentage but also because his team found a way to get him 10-12 3 Point Attempts per 100 possessions, since he’ll likely need some help generating them.

Self-Generated Offense For Guards, With Respect to Jump Shots

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 9.03.51 AM: Red Flag Shooting Numbers

1. First I wanted us to get a look at the Red Flags, so I’ve pointed out a couple of things for which to look.  I’ve just marked a few for player, since visually it’s easier to see some of the problem areas, and I’ve marked Red Flags for players with terrible shooting numbers like Elfrid Payton, as well as Flags for those with very good shooting numbers like Victor Oladipo, who had very good percentages but precious few makes.

2.  I’ve arranged the list by Two-Point Field Goal Percentage.  Worst First.  Having a bad Field Goal Percentage on Two Point Jumpers is the first negative indicator.  But what’s bad?

It’s difficult to know exactly.  It’s pretty clear that being in the low-to-mid 20s doesn’t say great things about a player’s shooting prospects, especially when this number is paired with either poor percentages from three or poor percentages from the three point line.  Having all three be bad obviously is not a good thing.

3. As you ascend the list towards the low 30s, it’s more difficult to know exactly what the numbers mean, especially when considering that we’re essentially dealing with very small sample sizes here.  Take Kris Dunn’s last two seasons as an example.  One season around 30% on Two Point Jumpers, one season over 40%.  The truth is almost certainly somewhere in between.

4.  One thing you also have to look at is burden.  Or, as another way of saying it, if the player had to generate the shot himself.  Unassisted shots are more difficult and should be accounted as such.  And while the hoop-math.com numbers I have don’t say how many unassisted jumpers each player took, they do account for unassisted makes, which we can assume stands as a decent proxy.

5.  If we look at Andre Roberson now, we see an fundamentally poor shooting profile.  Low Field Goal Percentages on Two Point Jumpers.  What’s more, he also has a fairly limited number of overall attempts and thus a fairly limited number of overall makes.  Small sample sizes are basically bad news.

Beyond that, a rather large percentage of his makes from the range are assisted, which would mean, if the numbers were good, that they wouldn’t be as reliable as if the player were generating the shots himself.

6.  Roberson also has additional Red Flags which aren’t marked.  A terrible Free Throw Percentage at around 61%.  Good three point percentages, but with very small samples.

7.  Next Elfrid Payton.  We again see a bad Two-Point Field Goal Percentage.  Below 25%.  In addition, we see 26% from three and 61% from the Free-Throw Line.  All negative indicators.

8.  Michael Carter-Williams has a profile very similar to that of Payton, except with a slightly better Free Throw Percentage.

9.  Then we have Justise Winslow, who was excellent from Three.  42%.  Unfortunately, almost every three he took was of the catch-and-shoot variety.  That’s a potential flag.  Then there’s his terrible percentage on Two-Point Jumpers and a very low Free Throw Percentage.

One flag may or may not be enough to cast doubt on the player’s potential.  But multiple Flags in conjunction are not a good sign.

10.  As a corollary to Winslow’s Freshman season, we have Wade Baldwin’s.  He only shot 29% on Two-Point Jumpers, but over 46% from Three and 80% from the Free-Throw Line.  It’s not surprising at all that his Two-Point Jumper number ticked up greatly, even as a greater percentage of these shots became unassisted.

11.  Tony Wroten has different types of holes.  Very decent Two-Point Jumper percentages and a very decent amount of unassisted makes.  But he was terrible from Three-Point land in limited tries and terrible from the Free Throw Line.  I’d be willing to bet the Two-Point jumper percentages were buoyed greatly by shots in the 3-10 foot range though it’s impossible to know.

12.  That’s one of the problems with the hoop-math statistics is that it’s impossible to know exactly what a two-point jumper is.  All shots from feet to the Three-Point Line count, but clearly not all Two-Point jumpers are equal.  Still, these are the best publicly available numbers I know of, and the patterns are clear enough that one can in most cases spot positive or negative trends.

13.  Victor Oladipo represents a player whose numbers are potentially Fool’s Gold.  Very good percentages, but very few makes and relatively low number of unassisted makes.  Indeed, only 24 total.  And while I think his shooting percentages from distance will continue to climb, we should note that Victor Oladipo has yet to shoot great from three in the run of play.  Though he was up to 35% this year.

We should also note Oladipo’s percentages from 10 feet to the three point line all climbed to solidly over 40% this year. Those are the kinds of numbers we often see from a player whose about to really improve from deep.  Maybe not next year, but I’d bet we see a really good shooting year from Oladipo in the near future.

I’d also bet that Dennis Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are poised for breakouts in the near future, and that Otto Porter will improve on this season, with respect to shooting at least.  But what do I know?

One Thing To Look For With Respect To Jumpshots

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 8.43.15 AM: Unassisted jump shots 2016

1.  Another makeshift metric.  J Burden Percentage, or Jumper Burden Percentage, is kind of a shot difficulty metric.  It’s just the percentage of a player’s jump shots which end up in unassisted makes.  It’s important for at least two reasons.

One, because players with higher scores are more likely to have reliable shooting numbers.

Two, because players with higher scores are probably also more likely to outperform their college shooting splits as they transition into offenses that find ways to get these players more catch-and-shoot opportunities.

2.  As naturally follows, player’s with lower numbers have generally less reliable shooting numbers.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that Denzel Valentine (whose numbers are actually pretty good, especially in context with the strength of his percentages) or Patrick McCaw are players to discount completely.  They shot well in their role.  You can’t necessarily discount their ability because of that.  But it’s something to look for, especially when a player has janky percentages.

And it might even be more useful to break it up by the individual area of the court the player was shooting from.

3.  For instance, Justise Winslow.  We see he was excellent from three at 41.8% and terrible from two at 26.9%.  And we also see that almost all of his threes came off the catch and almost all of his two pointers came off the dribble.  With that knowledge, I wouldn’t necessarily take the meaning of these facts to be that Winslow couldn’t shoot from two-point range, but rather that he couldn’t shoot off the dribble.

Still, we do know that players who struggle that much off the dribble is a little bit of a Flag.

4.  30% is clearly a very high number.  That is, Kris Dunn’s Redshirt Sophomore year was a sneaky good shooting year in terms of positive predictive indicators.  Low True Shooting Percentage.  Success from every area.  An incredibly high level of responsibility, at least in terms of generating his own shots.  Over 40% from Two.  35% from three.  The only Flag is Free Throw Percentage.

A flag which is not necessarily insignificant.  If he shot Free Throws well too, we could be reasonably confident, he’d shoot well in the NBA.  As it is, I do think many people are underrating the possibility of Dunn becoming a consistent shooter.  And with better shot selection, he could become a very efficient scorer.

5.  Demetrius Jackson and Anthony Barber are player’s who have everything with respect to scoring.  Which is to say, there’s a reasonably high floor for both players because we can be relatively confident both players will shoot at least reasonably good percentages in the NBA.  These are both high burden offensive players with a great degree of success.  In the case of Demetrius Jackson, he’s actually done it for two years.  Anthony Barber for one and a half.

6.  33% on threes when nearly 60% of your three point makes are unassisted is actually quite good.  We shouldn’t expect Demetrius Jackson to have to shoot so many shots off-the-dribble at the next level.  And thus, I’d bet that his Three-Point Percentages do go up.

7. That’s the reason why Demetrius Jackson is rated so highly with draft sites.  It’s not because his likely ceiling is high, no matter how much we talk about his potential.  It’s because we can be relatively sure his shooting skill is going to translate at the next level.  With his explosiveness and dribbling ability, that could make him like a rich man’s Isaiah Canaan.  Perhaps even a Vinnie Johnson type player.

But it’s hard to believe that he’ll be anything other than a negative defender when he devotes effort on that side of the ball not more than one to five times a game.  When Demetrius Jackson tries at defense, he’s generally pretty good, at least from when I’ve seen him.  But it takes a lot of energy to play max effort on both sides of the ball and Demetrius Jackson has shown little willingness or capacity to do that.  Maybe if he were limited 15 to 20 minutes a night, it might be possible.

Let’s not even go into the fact that he’s yet not really a PG.  Jackson probably has enough skill and explosiveness that you could reasonably project his passing to get to the point in which it is at least a semi-useful skill.  But projecting a guy who has never defended to all of sudden become a good defender at the next level doesn’t make much sense.  Especially when we have at least three guys at the position who have markedly better results at the college level.

This is one of the ways we confuse a player’s offensive floor with a likely ceiling.  By making likely false assumptions that the player has a reasonable possibility to improve in areas he has never shown much consistency or success.   And specifically on defense, where half of the game is played.

8.  If you’ll notice, this is another area where Wade Baldwin’s overall statistics hide just how good his numbers were.  57% True Shooting Percentage, 40% from three.  These numbers sound good.  But they also don’t let us know how often he had to generate his own offense.  And it was a lot.  Not an unusual amount for a PG, but an unusual amount for a college player.  The only real hole in Baldwin’s jump shooting numbers is his volume of total shots.

It’s one reason why I rate Baldwin so high.  Considering his age, Baldwin’s shooting profile is arguably the best in the class.  Though you could make equally strong arguments for Jackson, Barber, Ingram, Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray and Denzel Valentine.

9.  Denzel Valentine has reasonably low burden numbers, but with his high volume of shots and high percentages, I’d be surprised if Valentine doesn’t at least match what Langston Galloway has done and probably exceed it.  59 and 52 unassisted makes on jumpers Valentine’s junior and senior years.  These are strong numbers.

Additionally, from watching Valentine I don’t have much doubt that he has dribbling skills or the ability to pull-up when necessary.

10.  This is one place where DeAndre Bembry has less than stellar numbers.  They aren’t quite Andre Roberson numbers.  But there’s also not much reason to expect that he will shoot at the next level.

Still, that’s not to say he can’t improve with work.  Based on their college profiles, there was also almost no reason to think Matt Barnes or Bruce Bowen would improve as they aged.  And DeAndre Bembry is a more talented all around player than either of them.

I also believe he’s a reasonably good bet to defend at a plus rate.  Which gives Bembry a relatively high upside if he does indeed learn how to shoot.

11. I’m far from a shot doctor so I can’t answer if there’s a potentially easy fix to be made with Bembry’s form.  One thing I can say is that such players are very often on their second or third teams before they figure it out.  Which is one of the risks not only with guys who can’t shoot, but also with less experienced players and something a team has to factor into their grade of the player.

It’s a shame because I really like everything else about Bembry’s game.  The two-way upside with dribbling and passing ability still give Bembry a relatively high grade.  But he’s probably not quite as high now as I had him previously.  Since it’s difficult to be a big-time Playoffs player at a Wing Position  without a jump shot.  Not impossible, but very rare.

12.  McCaw has numbers lower on the reliability totem.  But better numbers as well.  Which makes it difficult to compare him to Bembry.

These are the kinds of players it’s difficult to make decisions between, especially because I didn’t get to see the four games in which McCaw grabbed 16, 18, 12 and 14 rebounds later in the year.  The kinds of totals I would have thought impossible for him by watching the way he plays.  Even in overtime games.

Clearly, one of the things that happened was that McCaw was shifted up a position because of UNLV’s lack of depth.  But many players could play up a position and never put up such rebounding totals.  Were McCaw to rebounded even half so well the rest of his time in college, which is perhaps mainly due to effort on the glass, he’d have a much easiest projection to make going forward.

13.  This is the real problem with this year’s draft class.  It’s not that there aren’t a number of decent players.  It’s that many of their profiles are missing some key piece information that would make a projection going forward easier.  With McCaw, it’s related to how few shots he took and the games in which he was playing Power Forward in college.

Which is one thing that is probably similar about this class and the 2013 draft class that people were talking about in similar terms.  A draft class which is going to disprove the pundits greatly.  Looking back, the 2013 draft class had a number of players, guys like Nerlens Noel, Victor Oladipo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Otto Porter, Nerlens Noel, Robert Covington with highly positive statistical markers that spoke not only of high floors but also the possibility of reasonably high ceilings as well.

I’d make an argument you could also find a similar 6-8 players in this class.  Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Wade Baldwin, Kris Dunn, Chinanu Onuaku, Brice Johnson.  Maybe a couple of others.

The differences comes firstly with the question of European players, as the 2013 draft class had two or three that will probably prove to be cream of the 2013 draft class (Giannis, Gobert, Schroder).   And secondly with the depth of this year’s NCAA crop.  A great deal of older players, yes, but a pretty ridiculous amount of guys who are actually at least decent players.  So I wouldn’t be surprised to see a high number of Free Agents to have careers out of this draft class.

14.  Gary Payton II is kind of in the Bembry boat.  Especially as an older prospect.  He’s an even defender, dribbler and passer though.  Which are reasons for me he’s worth the risk.  Payton ‘s defense gives him a relatively high floor as a player.  But Payton II is one of the rare players with an actual Top-10 player ceiling due to his Two-Way ability.  He has one major hole in his game, jump shooting.

However, jump shooting has been fixable for a few players.  Unlike Dunn’s problem with turnovers, which probably isn’t fixable without shifting the player into a diminished role on offense.  Unlike Jackson’s problem with defense, or Barber’s problem with defense, which almost no one improves upon.  (Not to mention the other holes in Jackson’s game.)

Drafting Payton II is what I’d deem an intelligent risk.  He’s really going have to work to fix that jumper.  If he does, you have a guy who’s going to provide HUGE value in the NBA game.  And you are going to get the chance to pay for all of his prime years at a discount, since as an overraged player, his first two contracts are going to carry him through the majority of his good years in the league.

15.  As a way to look at this problem, let’s think about the Utah Jazz.  The Utah Jazz have been very successful in drafting and acquiring young talent.  Gobert, Haywood, Hood, Lyles were all draft picks.  They also acquired Favors.  Sure they’ve had their missteps.  Mainly Trey Burke, but for the most part they’ve way exceeded the expected draft value for where they were picking.

They also still don’t remotely have the type of player that can carry them into contention.  Picking solid players.  Slightly above average players.  Even third or fourth tier all-stars is good.  But without a single great talent around which to place these players, it still doesn’t make your team relevant.

Unfortunately, the Jazz may have given up that player when they let go of Paul Millsap without offering him a max deal.  But that also points to another crux.  Gobert, Millsap, Haywood is definitely a team good enough to get to the playoffs.  It’s also still a team probably missing some fire power to deal with the Warriors, the Spurs, the Cavs, etc . . .

It’s one reason I’ve been arguing that teams should assume a slightly more risky strategy with their picks.  Especially those teams that don’t already have a Curry, Lebron or Kawhi.  At least if contending for an NBA title is really the goal.

16.  How can I not talk about Brandon Ingram?  The Free Throw Percentage and the lack of unassisted three-point shots might be slight Flags, but he has a lot of numbers in his favor.  41% from three.  80 made three pointers.  And these numbers are backed up by shooting 37.6% on Two-Point Jumpers with 53 unassisted makes from that range.

I’d argue that only Anthony Barber’s junior year, Demetrius Jackson’s sophomore and junior seasons, Kay Felder’s junior year and Kris Dunn’s Redshirt sophomore numbers are better from that range.  However, none of these players are 6’9″ 18 year old Freshman with 7’3″ wingspans.  Ingram’s perceived upside is probably slightly higher than his actual likely ceiling as a player.  That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have considerable upside or potential as a two-way player, especially if he can start training at a place like P3 so that he can better utilize his athletic gifts.

(To me, it seems Ingram’s functional in-game explosiveness in leaping, first step and lateral movement is way less than I’d guess it would be for a player with the vertical leaping ability we saw in Duke’s jumping drills last summer.  Though some of the dissonance might also come from a lack of in-game anticipation and reaction ability.  For instance, Ingram was in position to affect a number of shots in game I saw and was at least a beat late in reacting, allowing shots that probably should have been blocked to become scores, or at least to get to the rim.)

17.  How can we not talk about Ben Simmons?  He shows up better than Ingram in terms of my makeshift metric “J Burden %”, but that’s only because Simmons didn’t shoot three pointers.  Had Simmons taken a healthy number of three pointers, it’s very likely that his numbers would have been in line with Ingram, Valentine and others.

Which is not really to say all that much.  Probably because there’s not all that much to say. Simmons has no Red Flags besides a lack of Three-Point Evidence.  39 unassisted makes with  33% on Two-Point Jumpers is pretty decent.  67% on Free Throws, not as much, but many players have overcome much worse.  ie. It’s a flag, but on its own, not a significant one.

However, having a profile that doesn’t have significant Red Flags in terms of shooting ability is not the same as having a scoring profile that would be predictive of a player that we’d expect could shoot.

The difference between Simmons and Ingram then is this:  Ingram is likely going to have to shoot at near league best efficiency rates on high volume to be hugely valuable on offense.  Whereas if Simmons shoots from distance with even moderately positive shooting efficiency, he’ll probably be approaching status as the best player in the league, due to his other gifts.

18.  To really parse these numbers, you are going to have to do some investigation.  There are other arrangements of the data which probably would have yielded more information.  Sorting by Raw Unassisted Makes From Two Point land and Three Point land for instance.  But I thought I’d talk about the reliability of the numbers instead, which gives you a solid tool for interpretation of these statistics.

19.  Let’s talk about Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray.

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1.  51 unassisted makes on Two-Point jumpers from Murray with 39% FG% from that range. 41% from three.  Nearly 80% from free throw line.  Only a Freshman.  These are the kinds of numbers a player puts up when you’d expect that the player will eventually shoot.  Sometimes it takes a while to translate, but it usually happens.

2.  The same deal with Buddy Hield.  75 unassisted makes total.  46 from three. 37-46-88 percentages across the three categories we’re looking at.  These are excellent numbers and numbers you’d expect to translate positively at the next level.

3.  The problem with both players for me is that they don’t do anything else.  I expect both will be negative defenders, probably both on-ball and in space, and I don’t expect either of them to help much in terms of passing the basketball.  Though Jamal Murray is young enough that there’s time for him to do so.

Which is to say, as just offensive players, I’d rate them pretty highly.  Lower potential offensive upsides than Simmons, Ingram, Valentine and the best point prospects.  But higher than just about everyone else.  That’s a ceiling somewhere between J.J. Redick and Klay Thompson.

But if each player is a negative on defense, or to be kind let’s say average at best, their overall value on the basketball court will be greatly mitigated.

4.  So once again we see the thought process driving these rankings is mostly that there seems to exist a relatively high offensive floor for these players and lots of wishful thinking with respect to the player’s defensive ability.  Though I say again that I hope they prove me wrong.

5.  Let’s talk about Thomas Walkup.  This is exactly the type of profile you should be looking for if you’re looking for a player who might outperform their college numbers in the pros.  For anyone that watched Stephen F. Austin, and you didn’t need to watch very much, it became immediately apparent how dependent the team’s success on both sides of the ball was on Walkup.  It was also apparent that while the offense generated a lot of shot attempts for Walkup, when he shot three pointers, it was as often as not off-the-dribble, which was clearly not a strength for Walkup.  Only 22.6% from three on only 31 attempts.

However he was very good from the free throw line.  77.3% on 150 attempts.  And excellent on mid-range jumpers, assisted or not.  49.4% as a junior, 47.7% as a senior. 240 combined attempts.  63 combined unassisted makes.

Walkup is the kind of player whose probably going to have off-the-catch shots generated for him at the next level, rather than having to do it himself.  And that can make a tremendous difference in terms of jump shooting efficiency.

I don’t know if he’ll be drafted or signed as a Free Agent but he’s a player I’m going to be rooting for.  Though I’ll talk about him more when I talk about Off-Ball Wings.  As well Murray, Hield, McCaw, Bembry and Valentine.    I just wanted to include him in this piece because he’s an excellent passer of the basketball.  And that was one of the ways by which I chose a number of players in this list.  Plus the number of decently interesting Off-Ball Wings in this draft is pretty crazy right now.  It’s pretty easy to separate most of the guys who might play defense from the guys that won’t, but even that is going to leave a pretty healthy number of players we need to talk about.

What About True Shooting Percentage?

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 1.  Here I’ve arranged the players here by True Shooting Percentage.  If included more of the guys, players like Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, Eric Bledsoe we’d quickly see it’s not necessarily predictive of anything without respect to context.  ie.  The player’s shot profile and the burden of their shots.
Still, it’s difficult to have a below 50% True Shooting Percentage.  And I’d wager that not many guys who carry a below 50% True Shooting Percentage the year before they leave for the Pros go on to become highly efficient scorers.
2.  What I’m talking about here, or who, is Dejounte Murray.  I think it’s apt to look at him next to MCW and Tony Wroten.  And while I’d say his scoring profile is definitely better than either, as he doesn’t have either of the glaring holes that MCW had (Two Point J percentage) or Wroten (Three Point Percentage, Free Throw Percentage), neither does he carry particularly strong numbers from any area.
3.  The other problem with D. Murray’s profile is just how it was possible to put up a True Shooting Percentage below these two players despite having better overall shooting numbers.  And that’s for two reasons:
The first, D. Murray isn’t as athletic as either player.  That means he didn’t get to the rim as of often and didn’t get fouled as much.  For MCW and Wroten, those were things they did really well.  Murray not so much.
Which brings us to the second point:  D. Murray just doesn’t play the game with a whole lot of intelligence.  That’s not to say he’s not smart.  But in a lot of the games I saw, he was a lost little puppy, though one who occasionally showed flashes of real brilliance.  Or in basketball terms, he’s a chucker.
4.  We can see this in the ridiculous number of Two Point Jump Shots he took (194) despite the fact that they weren’t efficient shots for him.  (34%.)  That’s crazy from a guy who’s being talked about as a potential Point Guard.  It’s not like Washington didn’t have anyone he could pass the ball to.  Andrew Andrews, Marquese Chriss and Matisse Thybulle in particular.  All were between 35 and 40% on threes.  Malik Dime was excellent at the rim.  (69%.) And even passing Noah Dickerson, who was 54% at the rim and 38% on Two-Point J would have been a better idea than repeatedly settling for marginal mid-range shots.
What you’re betting on with D. Murray is either a change in mentality (probably unlikely), or a change in shot selection (possible) AND a great improvement in his ability to make these shots consistently (questionable), or both.  These aren’t bets I’m going to take, especially remembering the likely turnover issues at the next level.  Though I could understand the thinking behind them and not fault it entirely.  There aren’t many 6’5″ players with decent passing ability.  Especially not 19 year olds that finish the season on points-rebounds-assists tears.
Part of this game is guessing on likelihood of success.  And I’d guess Murray is a low likelihood guy though some of the skills are definitely present to give him an avenue towards stardom.

Conclusion

I think the best thing to do is to assign these players into confidence categories, while at the same time acknowledging that scoring efficiency predictions are among the most difficult to make.
Players Whose Shooting Skills Will Probably Translate To Some Degree: Brandon Ingram, Wade Baldwin, Denzel Valentine, Demetrius Jackson, Anthony Barber, Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray and I’d put Kay Felder here, if there wasn’t the doubt placed there by his size.  5’9″ players just rarely do as well at the NBA level as they did in college.  Isaiah Thomas proves it’s possible.  But he’s also an outlier.
With this group, we should remember that there’s still likely to be a variety of outcomes.  Some highly positive.  Others more moderate.  Predicting just how positive the positive outcome will be is probably equally important and also much more difficult.  (With the data sets imprecision, I wouldn’t know exactly where to begin.)  The important thing to note then is simply this, most of the guys who go on to become excellent shooters at the next level have data sets that resemble these players.
Players Whose Numbers are More Mixed Bags:  Josh Adams.  (Excellent as a senior, marginal before that.) Kris Dunn (Excellent the season before this one.  Not as great this one, but still with some very positive indicators.) Fred Van Vleet, Thomas Walkup, Marvelle Harris, Patrick McCaw, Ben Simmons.
Players Who Have Lots of Work To Do:  Gary Payton II, DeAnde Bembry, Dejounte Murray, Jaylen Brown.  You could also make an argument to put Ben Simmons here, but it would mainly serve to hide us from how good Ben Simmons is at finding shots close to the basket and how good Ben Simmons is at getting fouled.  Both places where Simmons’ relative excellence is likely to continue.
With regard to this last category, please note that these two things are probably true:  1)  Young players are more likely to improve than older ones.  Given comparable field goal percentages, players with a larger percentages of unassisted makes than other players are more likely to improve.  (Kawhi Leonard, who carried 2-point and 3-point Field Goal Percentages similar to those of these players is an example.  Though 50% of Leonard’s Three-Point Makes were unassisted and he shot better from the Free-Throw Line, 76%, than these four players.)
Also note that catch-and-shoot jump shooting is a much better problem to have than not being able to play defense, having tunnel vision, being ridiculously turnover prone when forced to make decisions, etc . . .  At least if it’s the only hole in a player’s game.  Matt Barnes, Bruce Bowen, Shawn Marion, DeMarre Carroll (who was decent as a senior in college but not before and also still mediocre on Foul Shots as a senior) and many more than a handful of others have improved as catch-and-shoot players in the pros.  It generally takes times, and even then, we aren’t going to have close to 100% positive outcomes, or probably even 50%.
However, if a team is willing to assume the risk with the right player, one that does nearly everything else well and few things excellently, the team could have a majorly positive outcome with the pick.  Which is why I love GPII as a prospect and really like Bembry.
*Lastly, please remember my caveats, as they are not insignificant.  Mainly that the hoop-math data just isn’t that precise.  It doesn’t tell us where a Two-Point Jumper was taken.  It could be from four feet, it could be from 18.  Nor does it tell us where or when a player was fouled and what led to his free throw attempts.  Two key pieces of information that would help us key into these players relative strengths and weaknesses.
As it is, we’re looking at the best publicly available data that I know.  It does not mean it is the best available data. Anyone with access to Synergy Statistics or Shot Analytics data should probably be able to investigate the same problem with much more meaningful conclusions about the patterns we should be looking for, and much more accurate predictions about which players are likely to shoot from distance at the next level.  Just as anyone with access to legitimate On/Off data is likely to make better predictions about which college players are likely to defend.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Very interesting analysis. However, after considering how the consensus has been on this year’s crop of one-and-done players compared to last year’s for quite some time, in addition to how a player like Kris Dunn has shot up the draft board from last year while not significantly improving his game, it seems to beg the question of how the rule changes enacted in college basketball are influencing these numbers. From all accounts, it seemed like shooting and offensive efficiency increased by quite a bit due to the shorter shot clock and the emphasis on increasing player movement.

    • You can perform the same analysis for any year the data is available. It has mostly to do with a player’s role in the offense. And the fact that the NBA is generally better at finding most players a way to shoot more of their shots, especially from three, off the catch. Very few players succeed to a great degree in an off-the-dribble capacity far away from the basket.

      It also has to do, though I failed to highlight this later in the piece, with the fact that off-the-dribble shooting numbers often signify other important factors that might lend to a player’s success, like the capacity to dribble and make decisions. That was my bad, though the piece was already pretty long. So perhaps the best way to look at these numbers is in context with a player’s passing numbers, since creating opportunities for others and the ability to drive are often related.

      As for Kris Dunn shooting up the draft boards, that’s firstly because 2015 had an unusually strong crop of Freshman: Towns, Porzingis, Turner, Russell, Winslow, Johnson, Okafor, Hezonja, Mudiay, etc . . . Even though that draft wasn’t very deep, its strength was easily identifiable. The 2016 draft have players that could turn it into a strong draft in retrospect, since basically every draft only has 1-4 really excellent players come out of it, but aside from the Top 2 (Simmons-Ingram), there is no consensus. And I believe that the players listed at the top of the draft lists, aside from Simmons-Ingram-Dunn, are players with higher floors and lower ceilings, players with little real star potential. Whereas the players in the 2015 draft often had both. Not even including players like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (who will have to have unexpected offensive growth) or Delon Wright (who will have to succeed in the NBA when he gets a chance, as he has in the NBADL.)

      (While not as top heavy, the 2016 draft is also far deeper throughout the draft, though that’s a story for another time.)

      The second reason is that it often takes two years for people to consolidate their opinions on a player. D’Angelo Russell’s rise is not normal. Most often, the way we view prospects changes more slowly over time, like in the case of Dwayne Wade, who somehow wasn’t being talked about as a Top 5 pick, until his second year playing, or James Harden, same deal, or Steph Curry, though his improvements over time were more real. These are players without a High School “Pedigree” that would lead to them easily being thought of as a high draft pick. It’s one reason why almost no one is yet looking at OG Anunoby or Mikal Bridges as a high draft pick. (Or RHJ a year before.) Kris Dunn basically came out of nowhere last year, three year’s removed from being rated highly as an incoming Freshman, and put up a season somewhat comparable to college seasons of Jason Kidd. So if Kris Dunn hadn’t improved at all, it would still mean that he put up one of the best seasons in recent memory.

      The problem with Kris Dunn is that he backslid a little in most places, aside from perhaps the most important one for his future at PG, turnovers. He greatly reduced his turnovers, which he’ll have to do even more to remain a viable option on the ball. Either that, or create positive events as often as a player like Russell Westbrook. But now what we’re mainly talking about is the player’s floor, which might be lower for Dunn, due to turnovers, that it is for many high floor-high ceiling guys. That doesn’t remotely take away Dunn’s ceiling, which is given by his combination of likely plus-defense and potential plus-offense at the key position, primary perimeter initiator. And that’s what I’m interested in. If Dunn fails at the NBA level, or isn’t as successful as a player like Buddy Hield, that’s a risk wholly worth taking from my viewpoint.

      and Foreign players and the fact that it often takes two years for a player to consolidate draft position.

      • I just meant that rule changes such as expanding the charge circle, emphasizing freedom of movement on the perimeter, and the shorter shot clock, could have made it uniformly easier for players this season to create for themselves off the dribble. Across the board, there were more possessions and fewer turnovers this year in college basketball, so these numbers are likely better to compare the players in the 2016 draft to each other rather than to other years.

        In other words, the draft may be looking artificially deep because players such as Tyus Jones and Delon Wright would have looked to be even better dribblers/decision makers had they played under the 2015-16 NCAA ruleset.

        • That’s possible. I’m not a statistician so I couldn’t say, but if you look at the hoop-math data set and players over the last three years, I don’t see a lot of evidence for it. Especially considering that we should expect players to get better as they get older. (Ron Baker has been way above average at this skill for a while. His overall excellence this year is not all that different from what we’d expect to see from a normal senior who was as good as he was in prior seasons.) But I could still see it being the case if someone ran a statistical analysis on the data set.

          Off-the-dribble shooting is a very difficult skill so I think part of the difficulty is with the skill itself. More possessions and fewer turnovers per game would definitely effect raw make totals, so this year could be worse than it seems from that perspective. Though I already wasn’t tracking how many possessions a player played or minutes played along with these stats. (May be one more thing to track.)

          One thing that could mitigate the importance of the possession data is that we are looking at unassisted makes products of other groups of data, both made shots and field goal attempts. I wouldn’t guess those ratios would be affected dramatically by possession data, though freedom-of-play rules could affect it. I have no idea how I’d begin to quantify these things. It may indeed be that there’s a caveat in terms of this type of analysis, or merely that we now merely have more field goal attempts by which to judge such players. Hard to tell.

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