NBA Draft

The 2015 NBA Draft According to YODA

yoda2A few years back, I embarked on an effort to develop a statistically-based, objective method of evaluating prospects for the NBA draft. I make no claims that it’s perfect, but I’ve found the results decent enough, albeit not yet subjected to rigorous analysis. That’s coming.

When I get time.

Someday.

On the Wizards message board at RealGM, I referred to the effort a few times as “Ye Olde Draft Analyzer,” someone called it YODA, and the name stuck. YODA isn’t complex — at least not yet. It’s built on the Player Production Average metric I devised that credits players for things they do to help their teams win, and debits them for things they do that hurt the cause — each in proper proportion. YODA takes each player’s production (box score stats) then applies adjustments for position, age, team strength/level of competition, and objective measures of physical attributes (combine measurements and times).

In general, YODA likes efficient players who shoot well, rebound well, assist without committing turnovers, and generate blocks and steals without fouling too much. Being on a good team that plays a challenging schedule is also helpful, but not determinant — players like Kenneth Faried, Paul Millsap and Danny Granger had excellent ratings despite not playing for traditional powers.

YODA’s biggest limitation is international players. I haven’t had the time to research the numbers posted by prospects overseas, or to objectively assess the quality of the competition they face. Rather than guessing, I’ve chosen to leave them out of the process for now. Given the global nature of the draft, that’s a significant limitation, and it’s one I hope to fix for next year.

My belief on draft strategy is that the smart move is to pick the best player available, even if he doesn’t fit an immediate need. My approach is to first rate players in absolute terms, then group them into tiers of “about the same.” The idea is that when several players of “about the same” quality are available when your team’s pick comes, the team can pick the player they think best fits current needs. But, don’t reach into a lower tier for a perceived need. Just pick the better player and make another move down the road, if necessary.

Here’s this year’s draft in order of both absolute value according to YODA, and divided by tier.

TIER ONE

  • Karl-Anthony Towns, PF, Kentucky
  • Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke

TIER TWO

  • D’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State
  • Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin

TIER THREE

  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona
  • Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas (EDITED position due to corrected measurements)
  • Delon Wright, PG, Utah
  • Cameron Payne, PG, Murray State
  • Bobby Portis, PF, Arkansas

TIER FOUR

  • Justise Winslow, SF, Duke
  • Myles Turner, C, Texas

TIER FIVE

  • Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame
  • Robert Upshaw, C, Washington
  • Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
  • Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
  • Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky

TIER SIX

  • Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA
  • Tyus Jones, PG, Duke
  • Cliff Alexander, PF/C, Kansas
  • Terry Rozier, G, Louisville
  • Justin Anderson, SF, Virginia
  • Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona

TIER SEVEN

  • Briante Weber, PG, VCU
  • Bryce Jones, SG, Iowa State
  • Aaron White, PF, Iowa
  • Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky
  • Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville

TIER EIGHT

  • Richaun Holmes, PF, Bowling Green
  • Pat Connaughton, SG, Notre Dame
  • R.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State

In simple terms, the first round grades end with Tier Six. If things go more or less the way the mock drafts predict, the Wizards may be able to select a PG from Tier Three (Delon Wright), or perhaps a PF with potential like Looney.

While I fully expect the Wizards to sell or give away their second round pick, I think there may be some opportunities to get potentially useful players on inexpensive contracts with additional second rounders. I’d be interested in taking a guy like Cliff Alexander, or even Robert Upshaw (assuming he’s medically cleared to play despite a heart condition).

The consensus view on this year’s draft seems to be that it’s top heavy with a steep drop-off in talent after the lottery. I don’t really see that in the numbers. Towns and Okafor are a relatively weak top two, and the drop in ratings isn’t any greater than it is in most years. In other words, it looks like a draft.

Feel free to tweet me if you have questions about specific players. I’ve analyzed most seniors, and virtually all of the early entrants (except for the international players).

EDITED on June 30 when I was able to confirm that Kelly Oubre’s standing reach, as measured at the scouting combine, was incorrect. When the measurement was corrected, Oubre moved from Tier Four to Tier Three.

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Upon Further Review: Grunfeld Still Not Good At His Job

grunfeld

I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong. Especially when there’s evidence to offer correction. Last week, Mike Wise sought to convince readers not just that Washington Wizards president would receive a contract extension after the season, but that he deserves one.

I didn’t find Wise’s argument convincing, but your mileage may vary. Today, Scott Cacciola, writing for the New York Times (where Wise wrote for 10 years), has a piece that echoes much of what Wise wrote. My first thoughts were along the same lines as my response to Wise. But, this is two articles in two weeks, and the Wizards are better this season, and Ted Leonsis seems pretty happy with Grunfeld, and Leonsis is a smart guy who’s made a few bucketfuls of money…

So, maybe I’m just being hard-headed. Maybe Grunfeld has been doing a just spiffy job and I’ve…missed it. Perhaps I’ve permitted bias to creep into my thinking and I’ve been unfair in my analysis of the Wizards and of Grunfeld’s work. So, using Cacciola’s article as a launch point, I’m going to take as objective a look as I can at the claims he makes in support of Grunfeld.

First up:

After so much futility, after so much losing and after so much false hope, the Wizards have finally reinvented themselves as a relevant team — thriving, even, with an energetic nucleus that features Beal and John Wall, 23, a first-time All-Star whose ability to run the court is virtually unmatched in the N.B.A.

The Wizards were 33-31 after Wednesday’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, in solid position for a playoff berth.

The first difficulty in analyzing this passage is the use of glittery words that don’t have real meaning. “Relevant team” means what? There’s little doubt the Wizards will make the playoffs this season, but does anyone think they have a shot against either the Heat or the Pacers? Does anyone believe the Wizards would currently be sitting sixth in the West? They’re reasonably fun to watch, and it’ll be great to see them back in the postseason. But, relevant? Depends on what folks want it to mean, I guess.

Cacciola identifies the “energetic nucleus” as being Bradley Beal and John Wall, which is something Wise did as well. To me, “nucleus” would suggest players who are currently the primary causes for the team winning. Wall fits that description, even if his production still falls well short of league elite status.

But Beal? Maybe next year he’ll reach “nucleus” status. Perhaps the year after. This season, he’s fourth in total production (using the Player Production Average metric I developed), but the clear “nucleus” of the team this season is comprised of Wall, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat.

Perhaps Cacciola means that Beal and Wall will be the nucleus in the future, but that’s not what he wrote. The word “thriving” indicates something ongoing — something happening in the here and now.

Cacciola writes:

Patience is not a word frequently used in professional sports. Fans are impatient. Owners are impatient. Yet the quest to win now, and win by any means necessary, often turns out to be an ill-conceived approach, one that strips the team of long-term stability.

This is kind of a logic trap because it asserts a problem and a conclusion without offering supporting evidence. People are impatient. Impatience is bad because it strips the team of long-term stability. Cacciola offers up the Knicks as an example, but there are some problems. First, an anecdote isn’t evidence. Second, even if he’d cited two or three examples, the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “evidence.” And third, he hasn’t shown that the Knicks’ problem is impatience. I’d argue it’s been incompetence.

Cacciola seems to share Leonsis’s belief in The Continuity Theorem.  The logic of the Theorem is this: hire a team (management, coaches, players), keep them together, give them time, and…voila…winner. The foundation of the Continuity Theorem is that continuity causes success. I think it’s wrong, though. Or, at least that it’s stated the wrong way around. That is to say: continuity doesn’t cause success, but rather success causes continuity.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine assembling a team of say Eric Maynor, Nick Young, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin, Garrett Temple, Jordan Crawford, Cartier Martin, Trevor Booker, and Jason Collins. Let’s say that squad is coached by Randy Wittman. How long should we keep this group together to produce a winner? How long until it makes the playoffs? Wins a series? Reaches the Finals?

The reason good teams have continuity is that they’re good. When a team has good players, it doesn’t want to make major personnel changes except for age, injury and expense. When a team has bad players, there must be turnover because the way to improve is to replace bad players with good ones. Now, if you have young players you believe in — AND they work hard — those players can transform themselves into good players. That’s the hope with Beal, Wall and Otto Porter. But, they don’t get better because they’ve been kept together, they get better because they work hard and smart and they mature.

So, back to the Wizards and Grunfeld and this notion of the team being patient so as not to strip itself of “long-term stability.” Grunfeld has been in his position since the 2003-04 season. During that span, the Wizards have the league’s third worst winning percentage. They’re 13 games behind Sacramento for fourth worst. Washington’s best team (so far) in the Grunfeld era: 45-37 — tied for 123rd “best.”

It’s been 17 seasons since the Spurs had a season that bad.

I think it’s fair to say that Wizards fans have been patient.

More from Cacciola:

Grunfeld, 58, declined to discuss his tenure with the Knicks, preferring instead to talk about the Wizards, whom he joined in 2003. The Wizards made four straight playoff appearances starting in 2004-5, but then came the lean seasons — 19 wins in 2008-9, for example — as the team coped with injuries, off-the-court problems and an ownership change. Still, Grunfeld survived when many others would have been fired.

All fair points. The Wizards have had injuries (especially the ones that effectively ended the career of Gilbert Arenas), off-court “issues” and a change in ownership. The off-court issues were at least in part of management’s making. They picked guys known to lack maturity (Nick Young, Javale McGee, Andray Blatche, Jordan Crawford, Javaris Crittenton, Arenas), and then contributed to a lax atmosphere that a former assistant coach described as “Romper Room.”

As for the ownership “change,” I’m not convinced it’s a major factor in Grunfeld’s execution of his responsibilities. Former owner Abe Pollin gave Grunfeld a “win now” instruction. He didn’t instruct Grunfeld to trade the fifth pick in the draft for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, and then let both walk as free agents. Pollin didn’t tell Grunfeld which players to draft or which free agents to pursue. He told Grunfeld to win. It was up to Grunfeld to figure out how to do it. What happened? Over a season and a half, they went 36-96 before saying “uncle” and trading away high-priced veterans.

But hey, stability is good, right?

Writes Cacciola:

Ted Leonsis, who became the majority owner in June 2010, told Grunfeld to rebuild the team through the draft, a goal that Leonsis knew would take time to achieve. Time is not an especially valued commodity in professional sports, but Leonsis was committed to using some.

“From Day 1, he said, ‘This is what we’re going to do, and it’s going to be painful at first,’ ” Grunfeld recalled. “ ‘But we’ll see the results as we move forward.’ And I think we’re starting to see it now. It’s still a process. We still have things we want to accomplish. But we feel like we have a very solid core.”

The process, as Grunfeld described it, started with Wall, a high-energy point guard who was the top overall pick in the 2010 draft. While Wall would be the team’s centerpiece, Grunfeld said he knew he needed to surround him with perimeter scorers who could space the floor.

With that in mind, Grunfeld went through free agency to sign Martell Webster, a dependable 3-point shooter. Grunfeld also acquired center Nene in a three-way trade that sent Nick Young to the Los Angeles Clippers and JaVale McGee to the Denver Nuggets. Four months later, the Wizards drafted Beal.

This is a curious mix of building on the unsupported Continuity Theorem, and selective omission of relevant information. Notice that there’s a key date missing — an entire year, in fact. That year: 2011, also known as a time when Washington was building through the draft and Grunfeld chose Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack.

As many have written countless times, after careful evaluation, analysis and thought, Grunfeld picked Vesely ahead of Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried, chose Singleton over Faried; and then plucked Mack before Chandler Parsons and Isaiah Thomas. That’s not retroactive 20/20 hindsight stuff — there was an array of fans using publicly available information who said the Wizards were making mistakes at the time.

What’s happened? Last season, Vesely was the league’s least productive PF. This season he’s better than that, but still not much above replacement level. And he’s in Denver, dealt there as part of the deal to bring in a 37-year old backup PG. Last season, Singleton was one of the NBA’s five least productive PFs. This year, he’s right at replacement level. Mack wasn’t anything outstanding, but a) was the most productive player the Wizards selected in 2011; and b) was showing some signs that he could become an acceptable (and cheap) backup PG. So, of course the Wizards cut him twice to keep less productive players.

A previous draft analysis I did using PER suggested that Grunfeld was roughly average as a drafter. I’m planning a more extensive analysis later this year using PPA (which does a better job than PER of determining who wins and who loses in the NBA) — if I can find the time between responding to “All Hail Grunfeld!” articles.

More from Cacciola:

Today, the only players who remain from the team’s 23-win season in 2010-11 are Wall, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin, who are all young and productive and understand their roles.

This one is a puzzler. Wall and Booker can both be described as “young and productive,” but “productive” doesn’t work with Seraphin. Last season, Seraphin was the league’s least productive center. This year, he’s not quite as bad, but he’s still below replacement level. His strength is supposed to be scoring, but he’s had exactly one season with even average efficiency. He’s sort of a poor man’s Eddy Curry — the ball goes in the basket at a decent rate when he manages to shoot, but he’s a terrible passer and a turnover machine. He can be doubled with impunity because he’s more than twice as likely to turn it over than to assist a teammate. And he rebounds like a small forward.

Cacciola finishes up with this:

Grunfeld said he would continue to take a measured approach. He cited the slow upward arc of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who struggled to make much noise in Kevin Durant’s first few seasons in the league.

Durant developed, and the Thunder picked up important pieces to supplement his skills. There was never any panic, only patience.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Grunfeld said.

If I was in Grunfeld’s position, I don’t think I’d invite comparisons to what Oklahoma City has done, but…

Wall was the obvious pick at number one in 2010 just as Durant was the obvious pick at two (since Portland had already selected Greg Oden). Neither pick is indicative of basketball acumen — nearly anyone would have made the same choices.

But, I’m puzzled by this assertion about the Thunder’s “…slow upward arc.” Here’s a quick comparison of the first four seasons of Durant and Wall (and their teams):

SEASON DURANT PPA OKC WINS WALL PPA WAS WINS
1 88 20 93 23
2 146 23 110 23*
3 201 50 139 29
4 172 55 144 42**
Avg. 154 37 119 29

* — That was the year of the NBA’s labor dispute, which shortened the season. The Wizards won 20 games that season, but I’ve extrapolated to an 82-game season.

** — So far this season the Wizards have 33 wins. Their current winning percentage multiplied by 82 games comes to 42. Their scoring differential is that of a 42-43 win team.

What I see in the table is that Wall was a tad better than Durant as a rookie, but that Durant improved much faster. Perhaps not coincidentally, Oklahoma City’s wins went up faster well. The first two seasons were similarly terrible for both teams, but then the Thunder jumped to 50 wins in Durant’s third season while the Wizards managed just 29 in Wall’s.

Of course, Wall was injured for a significant chunk of his third season, but with him they were a game under .500. I won’t argue if folks prefer to claim 40-42 wins for that third season. The basic point still stands — namely, that OKC’s arc wasn’t “slow.” It was horizontal for two seasons and then turned sharply up. From Durant’s second season to his third, they more than doubled their win total. The Wizards’ arc has been slow, however.

Since the Wizards were attempting to emulate the Thunder’s approach (building through the draft), it’s worth comparing what the teams did with their picks. In the three drafts following Durant’s, OKC added Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in 2008, and James Harden in 2009. Their 2010 draft was a bust — they traded multiple first rounders and got essentially nothing in return.

In the years following the selection of Wall, Seraphin and Booker, Grunfeld picked Vesely and Singleton in 2011, Beal in 2012, and Porter in 2013. Washington’s 2011 draft class will never be what the 2008 draft was for OKC. Beal’s first two seasons are a flatter version of Harden’s. The Wizards youngster had a rookie PPA of 92 and he’s currently at 94 in year two. Harden’s rookie season of 73 grew into a 101 (league average is 100) in his second year and jumped to 142 in his third. It’s way premature to make a call on Porter. The early returns don’t look favorable.

That’s seven first round picks for the Wizards since 2010. Wall is good. Booker is solid. Beal will probably be well above average. Let’s give Porter an incomplete. What I see is a clear reason why the team has shifted from building through the draft to making trades for established veterans: the failed 2011 draft. It seems odd to tout the team’s young “core” while ignoring that they’ve been forced to trade for starters and construct a geriatric bench because they’ve drafted so badly.

And, Cacciola omitted another piece of relevant information when assessing Grunfeld’s performance: the egregious free agent signing of Eric Maynor, who was given the full biannual exception and a player option on a second season despite four seasons of sub-par play in the NBA. Maynor, of course, was so bad in Washington that he had to be traded (along with Vesely AND a future second round pick) for the 37-year old Andre Miller.

So, after careful reivew, I remain unpersuaded that Grunfeld has done a good job running the Washington Wizards. Maybe next week someone from the New York Post can try to convince me.

That First Round Pick Won’t Be Worth Much Anyway

One of those low value picks outside the top 10.

One of the refrains of the Okafor and a first round pick for Gortat trades is that the pick really won’t be worth all that much anyway because it doesn’t convey to the Suns unless it falls outside the top 10. I spent a few minutes tweeting a list of productive players selected outside the top 10 over the past few years.

Out of curiosity, I decided to see what kind of team I could construct using only players currently in the league who were drafted outside the top 10. The biggest problem: too many good players.

Point Guards

  • Tony Parker
  • Rajon Rondo
  • Ty Lawson
  • Jameer Nelson
  • Mo Williams
  • Jarrett Jack
  • Kyle Lowry
  • George Hill
  • Lou Williams
  • Nate Robinson
  • Isaiah Thomas

Gilbert Arenas got picked in the second round too, but I’m trying to assemble a “current” team. I’ll take three PGs — Parker, Rondo and Lawson.

Shooting Guard

  • Manu Ginobili
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Kevin Martin
  • Kyle Korver
  • Thabo Sefalosha
  • Jimmy Butler
  • Gordon Hayward
  • Tony Allen

I’ll take two — Ginobili and Kobe. Hmm, might be to old. Could replace either with Butler to have a developmental guy. Still, I’ll stick with the old guys.

Small Forward

  • Kawhi Leonard
  • Andrei Kirilenko
  • Danny Green
  • Danny Granger
  • Chandler Parsons
  • Nicolas Batum
  • Jared Dudley
  • Trevor Ariza
  • Dorell Wright
  • DeMarre Carroll
  • Matt Barnes
  • Metta World Peace
  • Tayshaun Prince

These are just the guys I considered in an off-the-top-of-my-head kinda way. Lots of options, but I’ll pick two: Leonard and Green. Yeah, they’re both Spurs, but they both do the kinds of things that help teams win. Hmm, I wonder if there’s some coincidence between them being productive and the Spurs winning.

Power Forward

  • Thaddeus Young
  • Carl Landry
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Serge Ibaka
  • Kenneth Faried
  • David West
  • Paul Millsap
  • Ersan Ilyasova
  • Carlos Boozer
  • DeJuan Blair
  • Luis Scola
  • Nick Collison

Almost an embarrassment of riches. I’ll take three: Anderson, Faried and Ibaka. Yep, good arguments could be made for Young, West, Millsap and Ilysova, but I like the combination of high production and differing styles these three offer.

Center

  • Anderson Varejao
  • J.J. Hickson
  • Nikola Pekovic
  • Marc Gasol
  • Larry Sanders
  • Kosta Koufos
  • Al Jefferson
  • Robin Lopez
  • DeAndre Jordan
  • Nikola Vucevic
  • Marcin Gortat
  • Omer Asik
  • Javale McGee

Hmm…Gasol is an obvious pick. There’s room for one more center on the roster. Pekovic? Vucevic? Jordan? Gortat? Sanders? Asik? Geez, any of these guys would be pretty solid in the middle. I’ll take Pekovic as Gasol’s backup.

So, here’s the 12-man roster of players drafted outside the top 10:

Starters

  • PG — Tony Parker
  • SG — Kobe Bryant
  • SF — Kawhi Leonard
  • PF — Serge Ibaka
  • C — Marc Gasol

Reserves

  • PG — Rajon Rondo
  • PG — Ty Lawson
  • SG — Manu Ginobili
  • SF — Danny Green
  • PF — Ryan Anderson
  • PF — Kenneth Faried
  • C — Nikola Vucevic

Kinda interesting to see the number of Spurs on these lists, no?

 

Responding to Ted Leonsis “Wizards Add Talented Big Man” Post

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis weighed in at his blog with his thoughts on the team’s acquisition of center Marcin Gortat. As usual, I’m not sure whether Leonsis actually believes what he’s saying, or if he’s merely careless with words, or if he’s applying PR spin, or if he’s being cynical. Either way, I thought some of what he wrote was worth a response:

Leonsis opened his blog posting with this:

The Wizards made a trade to add a talented big man to our roster Friday night — and Marcin Gortat will contribute right away to our team. It was important to our franchise to enter this season at full strength and to have depth and show upside and improvement.

Lots here. Yep, Gortat is talented, and he will contribute immediately. Part of that is because the other guys on the roster at power forward and center are so awful. More on that in a moment.

That second sentence is one of those that make me wonder if he’s being careless with words or whether he’s really that cynical about fans of his team. In sports-speak, “upside” means potential and “depth” means having more than one good player at a position.

Maybe I’m just THAT stupid, but I can’t figure out how trading for a 29-year old center on a one-year contract can count as “upside.” If Gortat does his job, the team will likely get to the playoffs, which won’t mean much unless they re-sign him, which they really don’t want to do because of Leonsis’ previous chest-thumping about signing a “brand name” free agent.

His “depth” comment is a face palm moment. Why wasn’t frontcourt depth important to “show” during the summer? With a solid small forward on the roster for another year (Trevor Ariza) and two more swingmen joining the team through the draft (Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr.), why spend the mid-level exception on yet another SF (Martell Webster)? With an acceptable backup point guard easily re-signed for the league minimum (A.J. Price), why rush out the first day of free agency and burn the bi-annual exception on a scrub (Eric Maynor)?

As for that “improvement” thing — it’s kinda hard to know what he means. Does he mean the team’s record? If so, then I’d sort of agree. The team should win more games this season. It could be an illusory improvement, however because Gortat and Ariza are on expiring contracts and could depart whether the Wizards want to re-sign them or not. Plus, as mentioned above, Leonsis is hoping to attract a free agent — something that can’t happen if the team re-signs Gortat and/or Ariza.

Moving on:

We traded a protected first round pick to get the deal done. We have many young players on our team today and we believed that  using our conditional pick to get the deal done was the prudent  move for our franchise at this time in its development. Of our 15 players under contract 8 players have been drafted by us in the first or second round in the last 4 off seasons. We are a very young team still.

We have noted that we would use the draft, first and foremost, to rebuild our team. 8 players and make trades to bring on vets such as Trevor Ariza, Nene, and now Gortat — or free agency such as Martell Webster, Eric Maynor and Al Harrington. We dipped into the D league for Garrett Temple.

This kind of claptrap has me leaning more toward the conclusion that Leonsis is being cynical. Leonsis is suggesting that the team is actually building through the draft and that they’re just bringing in a few veterans here and there to kinda supplement these wonderful young players, who dangit arejust too young to carry the burden themselves.

But let’s go through who these eight draftees he’s talking about:

  1. John Wall — Consensus number one overall pick. Woefully inefficient on offense throughout his career (terrible shooting and lots of turnovers). Had a month last season where he played like a potential league MVP candidate. While he received a maximum salary contract extension, Wall has been more potential than production through his first three seasons.
  2. Bradley Beal — Third overall pick last season. Struggled at first, but played at a borderline All-Star level for a stretch until he had to sit due to a leg injury. His rookie season statistically looked a lot like Ray Allen’s.
  3. Otto Porter — This year’s third overall pick has been injured. In my pre-draft analysis machine “YODA,” Porter rated as a top five pick in most drafts. When he was selected, Cody Zeller and Nerlens Noel rated as better prospects. Porter should be a good pro, however.
  4. Glen Rice Jr. — The team trade two second round picks for the second round pick they used on Rice. His amateur/minor league career has been…interesting. He rated poorly as a draft prospect in college, but played well in the D-League last season. If he’d done in the NCAA what he did in the D-League, he’d have rated as a mid-first round pick. Assuming his off-court baggage is abandoned, he could make for a solid reserve SG/SF.
  5. Trevor Booker — The team made a draft-day trade to acquire him three years ago. The big issue with Booker: health. He’s been solidly productive when he’s played, but he’s missed substantial time due to a series of injuries.
  6. Kevin Seraphin — Obtained in a 2010 draft-day trade, Seraphin’s awful play was a big reason why the team had to trade a future first round pick to get a good player at center when Okafor got hurt. Last season, he was the league’s least productive center (minimum 500 minutes).
  7. Jan Vesely — Chosen sixth overall, Vesely has been an abject disaster. While Vesely has been awful, others chosen later (like Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic and Kenneth Faried) have thrived. In my analyis, Vesely last season rated as the league’s least productive power foward (minimum 500 minutes).
  8. Chris Singleton — Chosen 18th in the same draft that brought the Wizards Vesely, the team’s braintrust picked Singleton over Faried, Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler and Chandler Parsons. This was not a good decision. Singleton has been almost as bad as Vesely. Last season, he rated as the league’s second least productive power forward (ahead of only Vesely).

So, to recap, these young building blocks include a potentially good PG, a potentially good SG, a potentially good SF, a probable rotation swingman, a decent rotation PF, and three of the worst basketball players in the league. And oh yeah, Booker and Seraphin are on expiring contracts, and the team just declined to pick up the fourth year options on Vesely and Singleton. In other words, half of these eight draft picks that make this team so young, will likely be gone after the season. In effect, the team already released Vesely and Singleton. And, any money they spend re-signing Booker or Seraphin would cut into their salary cap space, which would hinder their pursuit of a “brand name” free agent.

Here are some additional clips regarding the trade.Check them out here,here,here, and here.

Shocking that he didn’t include my analysis.

Gortat Trade Is Culmination of Series of Bad Moves for Wizards

Late Friday afternoon, news emerged that the Washington Wizards had traded injured center Emeka Okafor and a first round pick to the Phoenix Suns for center Marcin Gortat and salary cap ballast. While Gortat is a good player who will help the Wizards more games than they would have with Okafor sidelined, it’s a terrible move for a rebuilding franchise.

Unfortunately for fans who had hoped to see Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld construct a team that could contend for championships in the near future, it’s merely another example of the team squandering opportunities and mismanaging its assets. In the summer of 2012, for example, the Wizards could have amnestied Andray Blatche and released Rashard Lewis — moves that would have carved out enough cap space to acquire a quality front court player, sign good young players to mid-priced contracts, AND preserved future cap space for possible future free agents.

Instead, they traded for Okafor and Trevor Ariza — both of whom figured to be two-year rentals, at best. While the rebuilding Wizards added a 30-year old Okafor to pair up front with the 31-year old Nene, rebuilding New Orleans used the cap space they’d obtained from the Wizards to acquire Ryan Anderson — a productive 24-year old power forward.

This offseason was even worse. After last season, the team’s biggest need was obvious: front court depth. Okafor and Nene were reasonably effective, but both were 30-plus years old — an age at which NBA players typically see declines in productivity and increases in time missed due to injury.

So, they went into the offseason stocked with these assets:

  • Promising starters in the backcourt (John Wall and Bradley Beal)
  • A solid SF in the final year of his contract (Ariza)
  • The third overall pick in the draft
  • Two second round picks
  • The Bi-Annual Exception (BAE)
  • The Mid-Level Exception (MLE)

They used that draft pick on SF Otto Porter, who should be a good professional player once he’s healthy. In my pre-draft analysis, I had Porter rated in a tie for fourth overall, so picking him third wasn’t much of a stretch. And, the difference between Porter and at least two of the guys I had ahead of him (Cody Zeller and Nerlens Noel) was small enough that reasonable minds could differ on which of the three projected to be the best pro.

They swapped their 2nd round picks to move up a spot and take Glen Rice Jr., which might work out as a decent move. My analysis of his D-League performance suggests Rice may have been worth a mid-first round selection — he could turn out to be a terrific value as a 2nd rounder.

But here’s where things got puzzling. On the first day of free agency, they spent their BAE to sign reserve PG Eric Maynor — a consistently crummy NBA player. Guys who performed like Maynor are ones teams invite to training camp on non-guaranteed minimum salary contracts. The Wizards acted like they were getting a steal.

Weirder yet, they never made an offer to their incumbent backup PG, A.J. Price, who was a) better last season than Maynor has ever been as a pro, and b) would have been happy to get the minimum salary for another year.

Then, with Ariza coming back for another year, having drafted Porter third overall, and having dealt to get Rice (a SG/SF type), Grunfeld gave the full MLE to bring back Webster — yet another SF. Now, Webster did play well last season, and his three-point shooting and heady play was certainly valuable to the team. But, having spent their draft picks on swing men and their BAE on a scrub PG, they still had gaping holes up front, and no way to fill them other than trading or signing minimum salary free agents.

They flirted with San Antonio’s DeJuan Blair, but presented with competing minimum salary offers, Blair chose Dallas. They did manage to sign Al Harrington — one of the more overrated players of the past decade, who was available at a deep discount because he’s 32 years old, coming off the worst season of his career (due to illness), and working his way back into shape after recovering from that illness.

And oh yeah, burning that BAE on Maynor knocked them out of the running for good reserve guards like Nate Robinson and Darren Collison — each of whom signed for the BAE or less.

Taken together, the Wizards spent all of their offseason assets without addressing their single biggest need: depth up front. In effect, they were gambling on the health and productivity of 30-plus year olds, and the insanity of that gamble became evident when Okafor herniated a disk in his neck. With an uncertain timetable for recovery, the Wizards were stuck. The team’s stated goal was to reach the playoffs — something that just wasn’t going to happen if they had to rely on Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely, who were two of league’s least productive players last season.

And so, staring into the maw of yet another 30-win season, Grunfeld and Leonsis blinked. They swapped Okafor (who may not play this season) and a first round pick for Gortat, who played at borderline All-NBA caliber a couple years ago. Make no mistake: Gortat is a good player. But here’s the problem — the Wizards spent a future asset on a guy they’re hoping will be on the team for just one year. See, during the summer, Leonsis talked openly about signing a “brand name” free agent. That’s something they’ll need cap room to accomplish, and the only way they’ll have cap space is if they let Gortat depart.

Perhaps the most prevalent counterargument in favor of this trade is that the pick is top 12 protected in 2014 and that good players aren’t usually picked that late in the draft. This is unpersuasive to me because it ignores the reality that in every NBA draft, quality players are selected 13th or lower. Sure, a GM like Grunfeld has a lower probability of finding a good player later in the draft, but that’s a point in favor of keeping picks and acquiring extras, if possible. More picks increase the odds of getting a quality player. Now that’s not even an option.

Another line of argument is that the Wizards could re-sign Gortat, which would make the trade look better for the team. The problem with this thinking is that it would mean the team struck out in free agency (or decided not to even take a swing). Gortat is good, but he’s most certainly not a “brand name” free agent. Plus, Gortat turns 30 next spring, which means he’s more likely to be in the expensive decline portion of his career than he is to remain productive.

It seems like such a classically Wizards transaction. Presented with opportunities to build a potential title contender, the owner and the GM opted to pursue short-term goals that don’t mean much. I find it cynical and disappointing. Makes we wonder why I’m still following this team. But that’s a topic for another day.

What Are the Wizards Getting In Glen Rice Jr.?

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Here’s the challenge in assessing what kind of pro Glen Rice Jr. could become: how to assess his performance in the NBA Development League. When I ran Rice’s college numbers through my stat-driven draft analysis machine (dubbed Ye Olde Draft Analyzer, or YODA for short), I became an instant skeptic of the team giving up two second round picks to get him. But after further analysis, the Wizards may have found a potential contributor.

When the Wizards swapped those picks for Rice, there were two players available that had late first round grades in YODA: Nate Wolters and Zeke Marshall. Wolters was taken the pick after Rice, and ended up in Milwaukee. Marshall went undrafted and ended up signing to play in Poland.

I had not been enamored with Rice in my pre-draft analysis, but my pre-draft analysis didn’t include an in-depth look at Rice’s D-League play. And that performance suggests that they Wizards have found a youngster with the ability to be a solid backup at SG or SF.

But let’s back up. Why was I skeptical? Answer: Rice’s college performance was unimpressive. As a freshman, he had a second round grade in YODA. As a sophomore and a junior, he landed solidly in “do not draft” territory. Not “don’t draft in the first round,” but rather — don’t draft at all. Rice did improve his rebounding during his college career, but he was inefficient offensively and exhibited sub-par shooting from both the three-point line and the free throw line. The add in the arrest and other “character issues” and it’s not exactly a recipe for future NBA success.

Then he went to the D-League and did an abrupt about face. He converted a high percentage from two-point range, shot well from downtown, and boosted his free throw percentage to about the NBA average. He rebounded well, handed out assists, stole the ball, blocked shots, and trimmed his turnover rate. In short, he grew up and began to produce at the level of his purported talent level.

If he’d produced like that as an NCAA senior (assuming he played a schedule of average difficulty), he’d have rated as a mid-first round pick in YODA — even with a ding for those “character issues.” Of course, that was D-League production, not college. And I haven’t done sufficient research to determine whether the level of competition is comparable.

With the exhibition season starting tonight, we’ll soon get a sense for what Rice will be able to do. Based on what he did in the D-League, it’s safe to say that he at least has the potential to be a useful NBA player. Which would be a good outcome to get from a couple of second round picks.

2012 NBA Draft Position Rankings from YODA

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Earlier today, I posted overall rankings for the 2012 NBA Draft using my draft analysis system, which has been dubbed YODA. Here’s the same information, but this time by position. In this post, I’m adding in a standardized score to show the differences between players.

The best score in YODA history was Shaquille O’Neal’s sophomore year at LSU. In the standardized score I’m showing, Shaq’s season scored a 36. Everyone else scales below that. Zero means the player rates as an average prospect.

Here are all players with a draftable score in YODA:

Point Guards

  1. Damian Lillard — 7
  2. Kendall Marshall — 4
  3. Tony Wroten — 0
  4. Reggie Hamilton — 0
  5. Jordan Taylor — 0
  6. Casper Ware — -1
  7. Scott Machado — -1
  8. Lazeric Jones — -3
  9. Marquis Teague — -3
  10. Scoop Jardine — -3
  11. Tyshawn Taylor — -4

Shooting Guard

  1. Marcus Denmon — 12
  2. Bradley Beal — 8
  3. Will Barton — 5
  4. Dion Waiters — 5
  5. Darius Johnson-Odom — 2
  6. Jeremy Lamb — 2
  7. John Jenkins — 1
  8. Orlando Johnson — 1
  9. Devoe Joseph — 0
  10. Doron Lamb — -2
  11. J.R. Cadot — -2
  12. Kim English — -3
  13. Matt Gatens — -3
  14. Tanner Smith — -3
  15. Jared Cunningham — -4

Small Forward

  1. Jae Crowder — 16
  2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — 8
  3. Harrison Barnes — 3
  4. Jeff Taylor — 1
  5. Quincy Miller — 0
  6. John Shurna — 0
  7. Ken Horton — -1
  8. Moe Harkless — -1
  9. Chris Johnson — -2
  10. Darius Miller — -3
  11. Robbie Hummel — -3
  12. Chace Stanback — -3
  13. Wendell McKines — -4
  14. Alex Young — -4
  15. Terrence Ross — -5

Power Forward

  1. Anthony Davis — 28
  2. Draymond Green — 7
  3. Thomas Robinson — 6
  4. Jared Sullinger — 3
  5. Terrence Jones — 3
  6. Ricardo Ratliffe — 2
  7. John Henson — 0
  8. Kevin Jones — 0
  9. Drew Gordon — 0
  10. Quincy Acy — -1
  11. Trevor Mbakwe — -1
  12. Perry Jones III — -2
  13. Arnett Moultrie — -2
  14. Mike Scott — -3
  15. JaMychal Green — -3
  16. Bernard James — -3
  17. Jack Cooley — -3

Center

  1. Tyler Zeller — 15
  2. Miles Plumlee — 3
  3. Andre Drummond — 3
  4. Meyers Leonard — -1
  5. Garrett Stutz — -3
  6. Fab Melo — -3