Alright, guysies, who's ready for some more fun on draft speculation?!?
As I had indicated after my first round of posts, I wanted to look at each of the players again in January to see how things have changed since the beginning of the season. So much html text has been written on many of these players, including by myself, so I won't be covering every single one of them again. But I will pick some that are intriguing as well as the ones that I think will fit the best with the Sixers and how those players match up. I'll start, again, with the big men, since they are largely dominating this draft.
Most of the fans on this site are smart and well-informed, but just for clarity's sake, I'll comment again on the nature of the stats that I'm using and the fallibility of stats. Actually, I'll just quote myself from earlier because that's easier (skip the next paragraph if you don't want to deal with stuff you've likely already read):
"Per Game stats are problematic because every player sees different amounts of game time. For instance, if we compare Player X's rebounding number with Player Y, we can see that they both average 7 rebounds a game. Without thinking too much about it, one might see that Player X's 7.6 boards are more than Player Y's 7.1 and assume that he is a superior rebounder. Even if you noticed that Player X plays more minutes than Player Y, you might realize that Player Y is a stronger rebounder, but assume that they're still relatively comparable. however, if you standardize their stats to account for the minutes played, it immediately becomes clear that Player Y is a far superior rebounder to Player X. He averages 15.1 rebounds per 40 minutes, while Player X only averages 11.1. That's a considerable difference-- as much as one board per quarter. In order to standardize players' volume totals, I'm using only per 40min statistics in my comparison. Obviously, no stat is perfect, and there are plenty of other ways to evaluate a prospect, while scouting and determining actual skill set remains invaluable to prospect evaluation. But I think using these stats is hugely informative to the overall conversation."
I'm including more players in the discussion than I did last month. I've added stats for Trey Lyles, Bobby Portis, Robert Upshaw, Christian Wood, and Montrezl Harrell this time. I won't go in-depth on all of them, but I'll comment quickly on each. Embiid, Noel, and Davis have again been included so that you can reference how other top picks have performed and compare current prospects to them. Here are the per 40 numbers:
The "stock" metric is merely a combination of steals and blocks. It's an attempt at a catch-all statistic for defensive plays, but is still very crude. I still like it because you can see the number of high-impact plays that a player makes per game. Here are the "leaderboards" for this crop of players. Remember that these statistics don't take into account style of play, tempo, teammates, or competition level, so there are still a lot of variables that can be considered. Luckily, we're farther along in the season than we were in early December, so now the statistics can be used considerably more conclusively than they were last time.
STEALS & BLOCKS
The first thing you'll notice from looking at the statistics is that numbers are down across the board. A combination of regression to the mean and higher level of competition means that the majority of players have seen their production drop since December, and that the three current NBA players, none of whom could change their college stats in the last month, have actually risen up the leaderboards. Noel's "stock" production was impressive in early December, but it's off the charts now.
Embiid, who was easily the best center prospect of the last five years managed to place in the Top 6 in all five categories. You can see how strong his all-around game was just from looking at his stats across the board and comparing them to the others. Here's a look at how the current prospects are doing.
A lot of the draft conversation here has focused on the comparison between Okafor and Towns. I want to shift that discourse slightly and focus a little more on what the league has become in the last few years. The roles of big men have quickly been changing. Power forward has become a pivotal position. Not because the best players all play at the 4, but because it completely defines how a team structures its offense. If the 4 can shoot, his team is likely to play a 4-out offense, with four shooters spaced around a man in the middle, like the Warriors or Mavs. Alternatively, if the 4 and the 5 can shoot, they can run a 5-out offense, a la the Hawks, which had been almost unthinkable a decade ago. If the 4 is more of a post player, teams play a 2-in offense, such as the Pacers and Grizzlies. Having a floor-spacing 4 who is capable of guarding his own position gives teams that ability to play small-ball style offense while simultaneously matching up equally on defense.
Meanwhile, the center role has evolved away from the traditional, back-to-the-basket bigs of yesteryear as well. To be sure, those types of players still exist and can be effective (see: Duncan, Tim), but they have become much more rare. Meanwhile, a new type of center has emerged, of which Tyson Chandler is the prototype. These centers are used in an abundance of pick and rolls per game, diving to the rim and sucking defenders with them as they roll. These players are typically strong finishers at the rim who need few shot attempts. They are effective whether they catch the ball and dunk, or whether they merely create more space for shooters by pulling help defenders toward them as they dive towards the rim. After Chandler's success, other teams have emulated the Mavs' strategy by using their players in the same vein-- John Henson on the Bucks, Dwight Howard on the Rockets (even though he prefers to post up, he's a devastating finisher on the PnR), Andre Drummond on the Pistons, etc.
Obviously, the best players would be able to combine aspects from each of these types. Tim Duncan is a strong dive-man in the pick and roll and also skilled with his back to the basket. Dwight Howard is the same. However, it is certainly possible to find a place in the league while only possessing one of these skills-- whether that be spacing the floor as a 4, rolling to the rim as a 5, or playing with your back to the basket as a 5. If, instead of determining which players we like best out of all of them, we categorize the prospects based on their potential role, I think it's easier to project how they will fit in the league, and subsequently compare them to other prospects.
The Sixers have drafted three bigs in the last two drafts, who all fit into different categories. Embiid is a traditional, back-to-the-basket big, in the mold of Duncan. Nerlens is a pick and roll dive-man, like Tyson Chandler. And Dario Saric is a 4-out power forward, whose shooting needs work but who has the perimeter skills to play in that style of offense. Given this variety, it's difficult to know whether the Sixers plan to employ a 4-out or 2-in offense going forward. The direction of the league dictates that he'll probably go with a 4-out approach, but he also comes from a background in San Antonio that was ground in the more traditional offense with two bigs in the post. Of course, the Spurs wouldn't have won the championship without the flexibility that Boris Diaw provided them to play 4-out; a flexible roster capable of playing both styles may be the best of all worlds.
The prospects in this draft fall into the following categores--
Group 1: Jahlil Okafor gets his own category. He's the pure back-to-the-basket center from days of yore. He's the only player in this category.
Group 2: The 5-out center. This is the rarest player in the league, capable of shooting from distance, posting up in the paint, and guarding opposing 5's. Al Horford, as the center in the Hawks' rampaging attack, is the obvious example for this type of player. Myles Turner and Karl Towns are the only two players in this group. You can pair them with any type of player and they can provide spacing or post-scoring.
Group 3: Rim-protecting big men who project as strong finishers out of the pick and roll. They generally lack much of a post-game or shooting ability. Willie Cauley-Stein, Jakob Poeltl, and Robert Upshaw all fit into this category. The Sixers already have one, likely with a higher upside, and will probably not looking to add another, as it would muck up their space. I like all three of these players, but won't really comment on them. If Hinkie takes one of them, it will be because he thought that player was the most valuable and he will likely attempt to flip him immediately.
Group 4: Power forwards who can play in a 4-out system. These are players who would likely be very good fits next to Embiid or Noel. The top prospects from this category (in no particular order) are Kristaps Porzingis, Kevon Looney, Trey Lyles, Frank Kaminsky, Bobby Portis, and Christian Wood. I think Hinkie is (and should be) monitoring all of these players very closely.
Group 5: Power forwards who require a 2-in system. These are players that shift the dynamic of the team's offense such that it is more cramped and more focused in the paint. None would fit well with the Sixers. This group includes Cliff Alexander, Chris McCullough, and Montrezl Harrell.
So let's take a look at how these players stack up within each of their own groups. I'll mostly ignore Groups 3 and 5, but the other three are certainly of interest to the Sixers.
Jahlil Okafor (Group 1)- Enough has been written about him that I'll try to keep this brief. His scoring numbers are incredible, as is his efficiency. A shot from Okafor is worth 1.36 points per possession, and that in itself is impressive. One of my knocks on Okafor through the last round was his rebounding, but it has steadily climbed since then. He's not an elite rebounder among this group of players, but he is certainly very strong. Between his passing, his rebounding, and his shot-creation, it's obvious why Okafor is currently the consensus number one pick.
Having said that, I still worry about his defensive presence. His "stocks" sit squarely in the second half of this group of players, and haven't really improved much from the early season. This would be a real worry to me, personally, but most teams are enamored enough with his offensive ability that he should still be the first selection overall. If Okafor is the centerpiece of your offense, then his lack of protection at the rim will need to be compensated for in other ways.
My second worry for Okafor is his shot. Okafor has such a great arsenal of moves and such a great touch near the basket that he shoots a phenomenal percentage. However, his jumper is pretty much nonexistent, and it's not a minor issue. It pretty much dictates that an NBA offense be created around Okafor, because it is hard for him to create spacing for any other players in the post. You can see this in his free throw shooting (57%) and also by watching his games. When Okafor catches in the high post, he doesn't even look to shoot, even though his defender plays several feet off him. This clogs up the lane and the rim. If he can't hit that shot consistently (and I'm happy to concede that he will likely be able to eventually), that has serious ramification for spacing in the NBA.
(Can someone tell me how to load pictures into my posts from my desktop? I took a screenshot of a game to demonstrate this but can't drag it into the window or upload it through the "Insert" menu. I think I'm just stupid.)
Karl Towns (Group 2)- I've written enough about him already. His offensive production is relatively low, but he has shown skills, and the rest of his game is elite. He can function in multiple kinds of offenses and defenses. His offense looks to be consistently behind Okafor's, but is certainly functional and has the potential to grow as well.
Myles Turner (Group 2)- The per 40 statistics continue to look fantastic for Turner. He is in the Top 4 of points, rebounding, and "stocks," and his passing is very strong as well. The only concern, as has been discussed plenty of times, is that his production comes against teams that lack NBA-caliber big men. When he has gone up against stronger, longer, more athletic players, he has come up wanting. He continues to be difficult to read because of this huge disparity.
Concerns remain over whether Turner can bang down low in the NBA (the DX video shows the UK players moving him easily out of the paint) as well as whether he is laterally quick enough to guard 4's. But his shot is not a question mark at this point. 86% shooting from the free throw line and 46% from three are great numbers for any player, let alone a 6'11 big man with a 7'4 wingspan. He will be a floor-spacer in the NBA, and that alone may make him worth a pick in the Top 10.
All three Group 3 players look like good NBA prospects but horrible fits for this current Sixers team. I like all three of them, and would place Poeltl first, Cauley-Stein second, and Upshaw third. I wrote about the first two in December, and very little has changed since then. Poeltl's numbers have cooled down, but he continues to rank highly in each of the categories in which he had previously excelled. His rebounding numbers are insane. Upshaw, meanwhile, is a supreme shot blocker. he averages more blocks per 40 minutes than 15 of these players average blocks and steals combined. He is two years older than Poeltl and just as raw offensively, but his presence under the hoop will be big.
Kevon Looney (Group 4)- The first of the really interesting group of players. Looney moves like a guard but has supreme length and athleticism, giving him an absolutely tantalizing ceiling. Offensively, he's still very raw, and the numbers bear that out. The most important thing for Looney is his jump shot. It is inconsistent at the moment, and if he wants to function as a real 4-out PF, he needs to be able to hit it with consistency. 63 and 30% from the free throw and three points lines, respectively, aren't quite enough right now.
His rebounding remains excellent as does his passing. He is not a rim protector for the Bruins, but he is quick enough to play on the perimeter, and his steal rate is strong. The reality is that his jumper is the most important part of his game going forward, and right now it is not where it needs to be yet.
Kristaps Porzingis (Group 4)- There's not much else that's new to add here. I am slowly coming around on him, despite his looking like a coked out runway model (credit to tradeshow(?) for that one). There just aren't very many 7-footers with his offensive skill set. Shooting 42.9% from three is no joke, especially since some of those are self-created shots, not merely catch and shoot opportunities. The European 3-pt line is also three feet further back than in college, meaning that the NBA line will be less of an adjustment for Porzingis, and his efficiency should translate well.
The important thing to keep in mind with Porzingis' numbers is that they are coming against concretely tougher competition than the college players' stats are. If you were to increase them by 25% (an arbitrary number) to account for the competition gap, he would be among the overall leaders in scoring and about 10th in "stocks." Even with an artificial increase in his numbers, you can still see hiw weaknesses, though. He is not a strong rebounder. His 8 rebounds per 40 minutes place him easily in last out of these 18 players, and even bumping it up to 10 rebounds is weaker than the rest.
Perhaps more importantly (at least for a team with Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel on it), his passing seems to be very weak. He averages fewer than one assist per 40 minutes and has an assist to turnover ratio of 1:2, demonstrating that his decision-making needs work. Overall, though, he would be a fantastic fit next to either Embiid or Noel. If Hinkie believes he can bulk up enough to deal with the strength in the NBA, this would likely be a fantastic pick.
Trey Lyles (Group 4)- Lyles has been getting a lot of love recently, moving up boards as he has received more playing time following Poythress's injury. Lyles has suffered somewhat from being a power forward peg forced to fit into a small forward hole, but he is skilled enough to make the transition work somewhat.
Lyles is another case (following Cauley-Stein) in which I expected Kentucky players to have impressive per minute numbers and was subsequently disappointed. He is one of the weakest scorers and rebounders in this group and sits easily dead last in steals and blocks. Some of that can be chalked up to playing more on the perimeter-- certainly his blocks and his rebounds, but it's not encouraging. The other large problem is that, despite his best efforts to do so, Lyles can really not shoot. He's shooting 17.4% from three, which is really bad, no matter how you slice it. This wouldn't be an issue if Lyles were more of a traditional 4, but his ability to play on the perimeter make it likely that he fits into more of a 4-out offense.
Lyles is also not a great athlete. You can see at the 1:55 mark in this clip that he lacks the explosion to finish above the rim. He's not a player who is going to go over others to put the ball in the basket. Luckily, at 6'10 with a 7'4 wingspan, he does have great size for the PF position, which can mitigate his dearth of athleticism. He moves fluidly and well, too.
The greatest strength for Lyles is his passing, which, at 3.1 assists per 40 minutes, is the cream of the crop. It's not quite on the level that Saric's was last year, but it's close. I think Lyles' ideal future is to work as a high post player, similar to Dario and Lamar Odom, in which he lets his passing, which is his strongest trait, dictate the manner in which the team plays. He's a nice player and one that will have a role in the NBA. I don't see it being on the Sixers, though. Not when Hinkie spent a draft pick last year on a player with the exact same strengths who is farther along in his development.
Frank Kaminsky (Group 4)- I covered him in plenty of detail in December, and not much has changed. His shooting will translate to the NBA well. The quickness advantage that he enjoys over college 5's will not, and his frame is skinny enough that he will struggle as a defender and in the post. But he can shoot and he can pass, and those are skills that are important for a stretch 4 in this league. If you pair him with the right rim protector, lineups with Kaminsky could be devastating on offense and good enough on defense to make it work.
Bobby Portis (Group 4)- It's time for the two sleepers of the draft, and the per 40 numbers for both of them look excellent. Bobby Portis was better known coming into the year and, while he may have disappointed at first, is beginning to look like a lottery pick to me. He is tied with Okafor as the top scorer in this group (and out of all the prospects I've looked at) and already has the ability to stretch the floor as a shooter. His 60% shooting comes on only 15 three point attempts, but he's already hit as many of them as he did last year, proving that he has improved and that he will likely continue to at the next level. He rebounds adequately, if not impressively, and absolutely owned Damion Jones over the weekend. He has good size for a power forward at 6'11/235 with a 7'2 wingspan, too.
He doesn't protect the basket particularly well, and he's a weak passer. But his assists are down considerably from what they were last year, and it's possible that they tick upwards again. His freshman rate would have placed him in the Top 5 this year, so its' clear that he has the ability. His assist to turnover ratio, likewise, was better than 1 last year and is a tick below this year. But he's not a bad decision-maker.
Portis is the type of player who can open up the court without giving anything up on defense. If you put him on the Hawks' roster in place of Mike Smith, he would certainly be able to play their style of basketball and may actually improve the team as is. That's a valuable player in 2014. Portis may be staying somewhere in the low-20's for now, but he's a sleeper for me. If the Sixers ended up drafting at 5 and 16 in an absolute worst case scenario, winding up with Stanley Johnson and Bobby Portis would be a great haul.
Christian Wood (Group 4)- The last player from Group 4, and certainly one who merits a look. Wood is similar to Looney in that he is long, thin, and bouncy, and moves easily, like a guard. Wood is strong in every single one of the categories, showing a well-rounded overall player. His best skill is rebounding, where he leads all non-center prospects at 12.7 per 40 minutes. The other three categories are good, not great, but there is nothing that stands out as particularly weak.
As a shooter, he is ahead of Looney, having hit exactly a third of his threes (13-39) so far this season and 73% of his free throws. It will likely take some work to get that to translate out to the 3-point line, but he is able to hit consistently at 20 feet, which is far enough to provide spacing already. He has off the dribble ability and perimeter skills, but needs to improve his first step and strength. He has the length (6'10 with a 7'2 wingspan) to finish over most perimeter defenders, but needs to add bulk to his 220 pound frame to be able to finish through people. His lack of strength also means that, while he has the length and quickness to guard 4's, he can't bang with them on the post, on offense or on defense. Strength is something that comes with age, but it's a concern at the moment.
DraftExpress has a video showing how he fared against Arizona's defenders in UNLV's win a few weeks ago if you'd like to see how he stacks up on your own.
Wood is also an incredibly young sophomore-- he doesn't turn 20 until September of this year, which is young enough to be in the current freshman class.
The members of Group 5 are all players that I think would be busts if picked in the lottery. The league is shifting away from the style of play that each of them dictate, and none of the three are skilled enough or good enough shooters to compensate for the cramped spacing they cause on the court. I've written elsewhere about why I think Cliff Alexander has poor potential, and Harrell is an older, smaller version of Alexander. McCullough, meanwhile, sprinted out of the gates for Syracuse this season, but has plummeted back to earth in the last few weeks, bringing up the rear in points and rebounds in this group. He tore his ACL yesterday, which was an awful break for him, but it likely had no effect on Hinkie's draft plans overall.
That's it for Round 2 of the Big Men prospects! I'll try to have the wings ready by the end of the week or early next week so we can see what progress has been made there and have a conversation about how they're stacking up. Please comment away, let me know if you agree or disagree with me, and we can have some more fun banter about the future of the Sixers!