Notes on a draft

Benjamin Polk —  June 22, 2011 — 2 Comments

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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.

Benjamin Polk

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2 responses to Notes on a draft

  1. I am very, very high on Jonas V. I keep thinking of what this team would be like with an aggressive Rasho at center, only with some of the Hulk’s DNA and Wolverine’s determination to be productive (sorry, just watched Scott Pilgrim and an X-Men movie last night. My source this morning for analogies is, thus, tainted :) ).

    First, we have no first next year, and stashing Jonas V. for a year is A-OK in my book.

    Second, how does he not fit the identity of this team? He’s efficient, he’s aggressive, he’s an intense competitor, he’s a legit center. He has soft hands, he’s a good to great rebounder and shot blocker. He can run. He’s long, tall, and athletic enough. And he just turned 19 last month.

    Third, defense. I don’t think Jonas V. will ever be All-NBA in defense (any team), nor do I think he will be as bad as most TWolves centers. More to the point, I don’t think it matters, at least not as the determining criteria. A lot has been made of how Biyombo may fit perfectly on the Wolves, mostly due to his potentially elite, game changing defensive abilities, but I wonder if not enough has been talked about his severe (potentially) offensive issues. I’m all for insanely athletic big guys who could be the next Ben Wallace, but Jonas V.’s offensive game – right now – is already at the level of where we hope Biyombo’s offensive game will develop into – as a career high!

    Consider this – last year Darko had a Drtg of 107 and an Ortg of 91, yet he still finished with a net positive WS due to his defensive WS [1]. I don’t see why we can’t expect a near similar defensive performance from Jonas V. – solid rebounding, shot blocking, but not overall great either. Offensively, though, Jonas V. is everything that Darko isn’t – an aggressive finisher, relentless, great in the pick and roll. He’s an ideal big man for Ricky to play with. Look at the list of centers last year with a Drtg of 108 or lower (meaning better) [2]. Darko compares with two of the worst, Johan Petro and Spencer Hawes. If we go by TS% expectations, let’s say Jonas V. gives us a .550 TS% and similar Darko defense. Suddenly we jump up to solid center production – 3+ WS for the season. I know this is a very rough projection, but it serves the point I’m trying to make – efficient scoring centers with mediocre defense help their teams win in the NBA [3]. It’s just the nature of the position and lack of high level players there. You can’t coach 7 foot, as they say.

    Fourth, team identity. Look at this roster, the kinds of players on it. Erase from your mind, for second, the triangle, the Jonny Stop, and Rambis’ substitution patterns, and just look at the raw ability and potential of these players.

    You have an amazingly productive player in Kevin Love – an elite rebounder, terrific passer, legit three point shooter. He’s unique in the NBA, and he’s smart. Biggest knock on Love is around the basket scoring (his D is solid).

    You have Ricky Rubio – a PG who’s great at everything but scoring, a guy with All-World court vision and passing ability. What kind of team do you put around this guy? Running, athletic finishers and shooters, sprinkled with some guys who are heady enough to maintain spacing for everyone else. Hmmm…doesn’t that sound like AR, Beasley, and to a lesser extent Martell and Wes (athletic finishers)? And for shooters you’ve got Wayne (.400 from three), Wes (terrific shooter despite his raw numbers last year), Tolliver, Love, and Ridnour? For spacing you’ve got Martell, Wes, Tolliver, and Love – guys that seem to just get how the game should be played so that guys like Beasley and AR can do their thing, or Rubio can do his thing?

    Is this an optimistic take? Sure, but it’s also the take that represents the best of what these guys would most likely naturally develop into – no adjustment to the triangle, no learning things they naturally aren’t good at, just plain and simple balling together. The one ingredient missing is what we hoped Darko would be – an aggressive, inside scorer with good enough defense to keep opposing drivers honest. Jonas V. is that guy.

    Could Biyombo be that guy? Maybe. Kanter? I just don’t see it, not after trading away Al Jefferson. I think Biyombo is undervalued by the FO, though, because the team is all in on Rubio, and you can only afford to have one guy who doesn’t shoot on the floor at a time. Not even Beasley can make up the shots of two guys not shooting.

    If we trade back, which I think we will, my hope is that Jonas V. is the guy.

    [1] – http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/m/milicda01.html
    [2] – http://bkref.com/tiny/XzqM8
    [3] – http://bkref.com/tiny/OE8Wt

  2. The other thing is this: if you are 7 feet tall and play with relentless energy as everybody says Jonas V. does, you can be coached to play at least average defense. Maybe Darko’s biggest problem (among many) is that he has no “motor” as they say. He just doesn’t play with great energy and this kills him on the boards and on defense. Thanks for the great, detailed comment.

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