It is worth your while to check out John Hollinger’s Draft Rater, a metric that attempts to predict, based on their college stats, which players in the draft will have the most success in the pros. You may very well be thinking right now that such an attempt at the inexact science of predicting the future is probably a fool’s errand. And in some ways you might be right.
But Hollinger does something cool here, which is to be totally transparent about the ways that the metric fails. It has been a pretty accurate predictor of NBA success for perimeter players (Jordan Farmar seems like the only really glaring mistake over the past ten years), but has struggled a bit with big men. (You should definitely check Hollinger’s article for din depth discussion of his method).
Nonetheless, Hollinger’s work yields some pretty interesting findings for our Wolves. The first is that Derrick Williams is indeed the second-best player in the draft and should make a good pro. (This is actually more reassuring than interesting I guess).
The second is about Marshon Brooks, the shooting guard who would seem to fill the Wolves’ need for perimeter scoring and is, according to Zach and the THN mock draft, likely to be the Wolves’ pick at 20. Hollinger claims that Providence’s fast pace and the fact that Brooks averaged a hefty 36.5 minutes/game grossly inflated his college stats. Hollinger sees Brooks as “probably the most suspect” guard in the draft: “Given his age (22 and five months) and his relative inefficiency, I’m not sure there’s a ton to see here. Draft Rater sees him as a second rounder.”
David Thorpe corroborates this argument by pointing out a serious problem in Brooks’ game: “No player I’ve studied this season had worse shot selection than Brooks, who took 197 3-pointers, just 22 fewer than the number of free throws he earned.” Given that Brooks hit just 34% of his threes last year, this is bad news. Thorpe goes on: “Give him room, and he can get to a pace that some defenders cannot reach, and that allows him to get into the paint. But when crowded, he does not have the quicks to beat a decent defender to the rim.”
The last interesting point as relates to the Wolves is that Kawhi Leonard and Jonas Valancianas are both in Hollinger’s top five. These are players that I’m very much hoping would be on the Wolves’ radar should they trade down from the second pick (or somehow trade up from 20, which considering the quality of this first round is not a bad idea). Leonard is particularly intriguing in that he is known primarily as a potentially elite, versatile wing defender, an attribute that would not show up well in Hollinger’s rating (and is, as we know, something that the Wolves desperately need). In other words, Leonard appears to be undervalued in this draft and could be even more so considering his defensive aptitude.
As for Valanciunas, the young, ridiculously long Lithuanian who posted a 74% true shooting percentage in the Euroleague this year, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express had this to say:
Fortunately for Valanciunas, he’s an incredibly intense competitor, a boundlessly energetic player who never stops working for a moment and whose presence is constantly felt on the court. He runs the floor extremely well, is quick off his feet and has no qualms whatsoever about throwing his body around in the paint. Not one to just stand around and wait for opportunities to come to him, Valanciunas wants to be productive all the time, which is a big reason he’s been able to earn playing time in such a demanding environment this season, despite his obvious immaturity.
Doesn’t that sound good to you, especially in comparison to another young Eastern European center currently on the Wolves’ roster? What makes Valanciunas a bit of a puzzle, and has made his draft projection plummet into the middle of the first round, is the news that he will have to wait another season to get a buyout from his Lithuanian team. But, to me, if the Wolves really are looking to seriously build a team and not just salvage a few jobs with marginally higher attendance and a 30-win season, patience of this kind would be a real virtue.