Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Looking Ahead To The 2012 NBA Draft

I normally don't talk about the NBA, but I did a post last year the day before the NBA Draft where I gave my thoughts on the top college prospects. I do feel like I can offer a little bit of analysis since I do watch much more college basketball than most of the NBA Draft "experts". And the fact that I completely ingore the pre-Draft workouts is an advantage, since that information is completely useless as far as I'm concerned.

You can see last year's post here. What I did is I broke the college prospects into three groups. The first group was made up of the players invited to the Draft "green room". The second group was made up of the rest of the guys considered potential 1st round picks. The final group was made up of the players considered mid-to-late 2nd rounders, or guys who might potentially not be drafted at all. In all three groups I rated the players as "overrated" or "underrated" relative to where they are in most mock drafts. You can read the whole post, and obviously it's hard to rate a draft after only one season, but here is how I rated the players last year:

Green Room Guys:
Underrated: Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Kawhi Leonard
Overrated: Klay Thompson, Jimmer Fredette, Kemba Walker

I'd say I did pretty good in that bunch, though arguments can be that Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson might eventually live up to their draft slot.

Late 1st/Early 2nd Guys:
Underrated: Isaiah Thomas, MarShon Brooks, Kenneth Faried, Norris Cole
Overrated: Josh Selby, Nicola Vucevic

I'd say I nailed those "underrated" guys pretty well, though I wouldn't give up on Josh Selby yet. He could end up working out for the Grizzlies. That said, I did miss on Iman Shumpert here, who should have been on the "underrated" list in retrospect considering how well he performed as a rookie.

Everybody Else:
Underrated: Jordan Williams, David Lighty, Jon Leuer, Matt Howard
Overrated: LaceDarius Dunn, Jereme Richmond, Demetri McCamey

Guys taken this late (or not drafted at all) are not expected to make an impression in the NBA right away. Some of these guys might play in Europe for a couple of years and then come back. Though I will say that Jon Leuer has been a success already, so I'll take credit for that one.

With that said, here's my look at tomorrow's NBA Draft:

Green Room Guys:

Jeremy Lamb - The list of "Green Room Guys" this year is here. It's honestly a little hard to find underrated guys in that group this year. Anthony Davis is a great prospect, but I'd say that he's properly rated - he's getting the hype that he deserves. In fact, I'd say that while this year's draft is deep, it's not particularly top heavy. If I ran a team that had a top ten pick (other than the top pick) I'd trade down. I'll make an exception for Jeremy Lamb, though, who is a really explosive scorer who was stuck in a bit of a mess at UConn this past season. He was the dominant star of the U-19 team last summer, and I really think he'll shine in a good NBA situation, the same way that James Harden has. Right now I don't see anybody projecting him as a Top 10 pick, when in my mind he's around the 5th or 6th best prospect.

Damian Lillard - I don't think Lillard is all too underrated, but I'm listing him here because a lot of people who don't watch college basketball are sniffing at the idea of a Weber State player being considered a lottery pick, even though a surprising number of NBA stars have come from small schools. Lillard was an efficiency monster this past season. He takes care of the ball, he can shoot well and he knows how to get the rim - put him in your lineup and he'll make your team better. The only thing potentially holding him back is his height, unless he plays for a coach whose system doesn't need a true point guard.


Thomas Robinson - This one pains me a bit because I was one of the lead cheerleaders for T-Rob's National Player of the Year campaign. One-and-done players always get extra hype because of their NBA potential, and I think this often bleeds into interpretations of how well they played. Anthony Davis deserved to be a 1st team All-American, but in my view T-Rob was the better player. But that said, Davis has so much room to grow as an NBA player, and I just don't see where Robinson has to go. He already has an NBA body (unlike Davis, who will put some muscle once he gets to the NBA), and he's a bit of a "tweener" in size. He's a bit small to defend NBA power forwards, but he's not quick enough to defend NBA small forwards. And Robinson doesn't really have much of an offensive game. If you can't shoot for range and you're too small to score much in the post... what exactly are you going to provide for your team? Robinson could play in the NBA for the next decade, but I don't ever think he'll start for a good team, and I don't see how you can blow a Top 5 pick on that type of guy.

Meyers Leonard - A classic "workout" player. If you look at him in the gym you're blown away by his body and his athleticism. But the problem is, he just didn't play that well at Illinois. And what was a particular red flag was his lack of attitude. That Illinois team basically gave up last season, and Leonard was one of those who clearly wasn't giving maximum effort. You can argue that part of the blame goes on Bruce Weber, and maybe that's true, but would you spend a Lottery Pick on a guy who didn't even play hard as his team was fighting to get back onto the Tournament bubble? I wouldn't.

John Henson - Henson was a huge prospect out of high school, but he's never really maximized his potential. He still looks like he could be torn to shreds by an air conditioning unit blowing too hard. Maybe he'll be able to put on weight and muscle in the NBA, but it's disconcerting that he hasn't gotten any bigger in three years of college, and his injury history is another bad sign. On top of that - what exactly is John Henson's NBA skill supposed to be? He's not a great shooter, he can't handle the ball well, he's not a great rebounder, and he's not a great defender. His only plus skill is shot blocking, but he's nowhere near the best shot blocker in the draft, and at his height you have to wonder how well that will translate to the NBA. He's a good college player, but I don't see how he's anything but a long-term prospect for an NBA team. Certainly not worth a Top Ten pick, which is where everybody is projecting him.

Late 1st/Early 2nd Round Guys:


Perry Jones - Perry Jones reminds me of Kevin Durant in more ways than one. I don't think he'll be as good as Durant is now, of course, but he's got a similar body and athleticism. He is 6'11" and can jump through the arena roof, yet can handle the ball like a guard. And like Durant, he was held back by poor coaching in college. Scott Drew is one of the best recruiters out there (though many of his rivals will claim he cheats), but he's not good at player development. It was always frustrating seeing how little Jones saw of the ball considering how dominant he was whenever he got it. He has the potential to be an NBA All-Star some day, and has a much higher ceiling than players like Thomas Robinson or John Henson. In my opinion, he's one of the clear ten best prospects in the draft.

Fab Melo - I wouldn't spend a Top 10 or 15 pick on Melo, but if he's there at 25 I think he's a steal. Melo is not a complete player, but once you get out of the Top 10 you're probably not getting a complete superstar anyway. You're looking for guys who are really good at something. And Melo is a superb interior defender who has the height and size needed to succeed at that in the NBA. In my view, I can't comprehend how John Henson is unanimously considered a better prospect than Melo. Henson's only plus skill is shot blocking, yet Melo is a much better shot blocker and is 1.5 inches taller, weighs 40 pounds more and seems to get hurt less often. If you're looking for a post defender and Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond are off the board, Melo seems the clear next best bet.

Will Barton - In the post-John Calipari era, Memphis doesn't get much national attention and was rarely on national tv, but Barton is a superb wing athlete. I'm not sure if he'll have the all around game to ever be an NBA star, and he certainly needs to add some muscle if he's going to guard NBA small forwards, but he's the type of guy who should be able to come in and immediately provide a scoring spark off the bench. I wouldn't spend a Lottery pick on him, but I think he'll end up being a really good value at wherever he finally ends up. He's about as close to a "sure thing" NBA player as you'll see outside the Top 25 in this year's draft.

Mike Scott - Because he played on a Virginia team with almost no other talent and that played at a very slow tempo, most casual non-ACC fans don't even know who Mike Scott is.  But he was beloved this past season by tempo-free enthusiasts for his mind-blowing efficiency. He's an incredibly smart and well-rounded player who has nice shooting range for his height (6'8"). His age means that he's probably not getting much better, so he's never going to be an NBA All Star, but there's no way I'd let him slip out of the first round. Instead, it seems most likely that he's going to fall to the middle of the second round. He's not super athletic so he's not considered a sexy pick, but that's a bad way to think, in my opinion.


Draymond Green - Green was the type of player that bloggers like me were saying was wildly underrated over his first two seasons. During his final season he started to resonate with mainstream sports analysts, and after a while it actually started getting a little nauseating hearing about his leadership every 5 seconds... after a while you were a bit surprised that he hadn't climbed Everest or cured cancer yet. That said, while he was an excellent college player, he has the type of skills that don't translate to the NBA. I keep hearing Shane Battier as a comparison, but Battier was able to lock down the best shooting guards in the NBA. Green does not have that type of lateral quickness. His best skill is passing... but how many NBA teams in recent memory have used 6'7" point forwards (not including the Miami Lebron James's)? He isn't close to having NBA three-point range, and he didn't score in post even in college. I just don't get why he keeps moving up draft boards. There's no way I'd take him in the first round.

Royce White - No player in this year's NBA Draft has more red flags than Royce White. His fear of flying gets a lot of media attention, but I don't think that's what the concern should be - he flew plenty of times in college, after all. The bigger concerns are his general anxiety disorders and his off-court behavior problems. White played at multiple high schools and multiple colleges. He has an array of anxiety problems that go far beyond just fear of flying. And he's had a slew of legal problems, from assault to theft. And it's not like he was a great basketball player this past season either. He's the classic example of a player who has a couple of great games in the NCAA Tournament and then becomes beloved by all the NBA writers and fans who don't otherwise really pay attention to college basketball, and then shoots up everybody's draft board before fizzling out in the pros. Even without the off-court problems I wouldn't spend a first round pick on him. With those problems, I wouldn't take him before the very late second round.

Darius Miller - I never understand the rationale of an NBA team drafting a guy who came off the bench for his college team. I don't really count a guy like Dion Waiters who technically came off the bench but played more than a couple of the starters and was actually second on his team his shots taken. And I can see the excuse for a guy like Marvin Williams, who was a freshman and who was 6th man on a super-team (that North Carolina team was arguably the best of the last decade), though I still thought he was taken way too high in the Draft. But Miller is a senior, and while he did hit a couple of big shots in the postseason for Kentucky, it's not like he was ever one of the five best players on his own team. I just don't get drafting him at all.

Everybody Else:


Hollis Thompson - I will say that I was a little disappointed by the season Hollis Thompson had in 2011-12, and so for that reason I probably wouldn't spend a Top 20 pick on him. I thought he was going to turn into one of the best players in the nation, and he really was just another good Big East player. But Georgetown's system is very different from what he'll see in the NBA, and it's not designed to make the players look their best as individuals. But he has the size and athleticism to play the win in the NBA, has good shooting range (he was the best three-point shooter on Georgetown his final two seasons) and is a good passer. But I think he's a player who has a really good chance of being a longtime NBA starter, and really good value in the mid-to-late second round.

Kevin Jones - I understand the arguments against taking Kevin Jones. He's a bit of a tweener and he has limited athleticism by NBA standards. But he was, in my opinion, the best player in the Big East this past season. He didn't have a lot to work with in terms of teammates and just is the classic "winner" - he finds ways to make big plays at important times. He's a good rebounder, should develop into a solid defender, and can score with decent range. He has a limited ceiling, but he'll be a good value pick anywhere that he goes in the second round.

J'Covan Brown - Brown is the type of player never looks good if you stare at him in an open gym. He's not going to wow any NBA scouts with his size or athleticism, or just the way he looks and carries himself. But he was one of the most explosive scorers in the nation these past two seasons. He can also handle the ball really well. He will never be an NBA All-Star, but you're not looking for NBA All-Stars late in the second round. I don't think I've seen a single mock draft where he's getting picked, but I find it hard to believe that he wouldn't be useful for most NBA teams as a weapon off the bench.

Bernard James - Yes, I know he's 27 years old. But here's the thing: the only reason he was only second in the ACC in defensive block percentage this past season was because he had so many other teammates that were good at swatting shots that most opposing teams just stopped shooting anywhere near the paint when he was in the game. NBA teams are always looking for bench players who are really good at one thing as a complement to the rest of their roster. If Greg Stiemsma can earn big minutes, how come James can't? He's definitely worth a late second round pick.


Justin Hamilton - For some reason, Justin Hamilton has been flying up draft boards. He's not the type of super-duper athlete who you'd think would blow away scouts at pre-draft workouts, but I now see him as a consensus mid-2nd round pick. These scouts seem not realize that Hamilton was arguably the third best player on a mediocre LSU team, as a junior no less. I just don't see how gets on the floor for an NBA team in the near future.

Tyshawn Taylor - It sounds like Taylor is most likely going to get drafted, which seems to me to be a big mistake. He's not a great passer (which is sort of a big deal for point guards) and he is a poor outside shooter. And more importantly, he's a poor/inconsistent decision maker who has a tendency to pile up turnovers. I just don't see what an NBA team would see in him.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

How Does Tempo Impact Efficiency?

It's the offseason, and it's been a while since I've posted. Since there are no games to talk about, I thought I'd address an "advanced stats" issue that often comes up for debate - tempo free stats. Certainly my regular readers are more supportive of tempo free stats than most of the dinosaurs that call games on television or talk about them for major newspapers/magazines, but there's a myth that I wanted to explore about the relationship between efficiency and tempo.

Let's start with a couple of graphs that should make sense - offensive and defensive PPG vs raw tempo (possessions per game). The data below includes all 345 Division I teams from the 2011-12 season. I have thrown a best fit line on the data, with the equation in the bottom right hand corner. Don't worry about the y-intercept - what matters is the slope and the R-squared. If you forgot your high school statistics class, R-squared tells you how well the data fits the "best fit" line. So in this case, an R-squared of 1 would mean that all of the data fit perfectly on that line, and an R-squared of 0 would mean zero correlation (though for those of you that took some college stats, you'll know that for a finite-sized sample, even with no correlation you'd expect a tiny positive R-squared just from pure randomness). Anyway, check out the data below:

The first thing you see on those two plots is what you expect - the more possessions per game the more points per game a team scores and allows. In fact, the data says that for every extra possession per game, teams score 1.15 more points and allow 1.22 more points. And you can see that the fit, while obviously not perfect, is pretty good. Clearly, the faster you play the more points you score and the more you allow - I don't think this is disputed by anybody.

But what is disputed is whether tempo can affect efficiency. It's taken as objective truth by most basketball announcers and mainstream media analysts that it does. Teams that play slow can "grind" a game and "frustrate" an opposing offense, while teams that run can get more fast breaks and wear out opposing defenses. Well, is this true? Let's check out some data below:

What you see plotted above are the Pomeroy "adjusted" offensive and defensive efficiencies vs Pomeroy "adjusted" tempo from the 2011-12 season. For those unfamiliar with efficiency, the numbers on the y-axis are points scored/allowed per 100 possessions. The best-fit lines for this data suggest that there might be a tiny correlation between higher tempo and more scoring, but probably not - the R-squared values are basically zero. And some further data backs that up:

The first two plots above are the raw offensive and defensive efficiencies from 2011-12 plotted vs the raw tempos, in case you don't trust the Pomeroy stats. Though it turns out that this really didn't change anything. And below that I've plotted the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies plotted vs adjusted tempo from the previous season (2010-11). In that case, there's actually a slight negative correlation between tempo and offensive efficiency.

In other words, the myth is wrong. Faster tempos do not make it easier to score, and slower tempos do not make it easier to defend. There are some very slow elite defenses (Wisconsin and Virginia being the most obvious examples from this past season) but there are also very quick elite defenses (North Carolina and Marquette come to mind from this past season). At the same time there were very quick elite offenses (Iona) and very slow elite offenses (Florida).

What's really fascinating to me is what I saw when I plotted Pomeroy efficiences vs point per game stats:

Naturally teams that are more efficient offensively score more points and teams that are more efficient defensive allow fewer points - that's pretty obvious. But compare the best fit lines to the two plots at the top of this post, which are PPG vs tempo. Scoring efficiency correlates with PPG a little bit better than tempo... but only a little bit. So if a team scores a ton of points per game, it tells you something about how good they are at scoring, but almost as much about how fast they play. Announcers during games routinely tell us that one of the teams we're watching is really good at scoring because they score a lot of points per game, or are really good at defense because they allow very few points per game, but it turns out this is only half the story. PPG tells us almost as much about tempo as it does about how good a team is on offense or defense.It's possible for an elite offense to score 65 ppg and for a poor offense to score 70 ppg - it happened this past season!

As an aside, staring at this data got me thinking about tempo vs team quality - do the best teams tend to run or tend to slow things down? Let's look at the data first:

What the data says is that there is simply no correlation between tempo and Pomeroy rating. Elite teams are just as likely to play really quickly as they are to play really slowly. In a vacuum, this seems like a market inefficiency. Bad teams should prefer slower games and elite teams should prefer faster games. The greater the number of possessions in a game, the less randomness can play a role. A bad team has a much better chance of winning a 50 possession game than a 90 possession game against a superior opponent.

Obviously some coaches have certain systems that they've honed over years, and these systems require fast or slow play. Force a Mike Anderson team to grind the ball and they won't play as well - same goes for asking a Mike Brey team to run. But for coaches that are more flexible in their system, or that are starting fresh, it might be worth considering a quicker or slower tempo depending on your team quality.

But if there's one takeaway from this post, hopefully it's that you get as irritated as I do when announcers tell us that PPG tell us how well a team plays offense or defense. If you're an analyst: ignore tempo and tempo-free stats at your own peril.