The Finals just ended, so I guess the draft must be tomorrow.
OK, not quite, but it's just around the corner. And so it's time to bust out the calculator for the new and improved version of my Draft Rater.
Some of you might have read my draft preview a year ago, in which I took a look at players' college stats and projected what their pro performance might be.
That model worked reasonably well, which is to say that it appeared to be an improvement on the actual picks that were made in the draft. On the other hand, it still spat out several Picks That Will Get You Fired (Paul Davis, anyone?), and it seemed to have a particular problem with frontcourt players.
That's partly because of a weakness in the data: In the five-year sample I was using, nearly all the stud big men sidestepped college and went straight to the pros. Nonetheless, it gnawed at me, because it seemed like something more systematic could work better than the ad hoc formula I arrived at a year ago.
Indeed, I've found something does work better. This year I changed approaches and used regression analysis to project a Year-3 player efficiency rating (PER) for every player.
Year 3 is significant because it is decision time for most players -- by then a team needs to either give a player an extension, pick up his fourth-year option, or cut him loose.
Doing it this way has several advantages, the biggest being that it makes year-to-year comparisons really easy -- we can see with one glance, for instance, that the 2004 draft was an incredibly bad one for college bigs. A projected PER is also a much more useful piece of info than the raw number my system churned out last time. Finally, using regression analysis means improving the method in future years is as simple as pushing a button once we have a new year's worth of data in the system.
A few technical notes before we get started. To combat against fluke years (up or down), I smoothed out sharp PER increases or decreases between Years 2 and 4 -- in other words, if his PERs between Years 2 and 4 were something like 18, 14, 19, I didn't use 14 for his Year 3 PER -- I smoothed out the three years and gave him a 17.
The formula considers 16 variables: height, age, schedule strength, team strength, and the usual individual stats (assist ratio, turnover ratio, usage rate, pure point rating, defensive rebound rate, FTA/FGA, 3A/FGA, PER, blocks per minute, steals per minute, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage). Note that two variables -- offensive rebound rate and free-throw percentage -- didn't make the cut as they were found to be almost completely irrelevant in determining pro success for big men.
Also, testing showed that looking at multiple seasons improved accuracy quite a bit. As a result, all of a player's seasons count on his record.
OK, now on to the good stuff. On Friday we're going to look at the big men: power forwards and centers. On Monday, we'll break down the perimeter guys. It's important to note that I use a separate regression for each, as some variables that turned out to be very important for perimeter players didn't matter so much for bigs, and vice versa.
Our data goes back to 2002, with the caveat that the 2002 guys have only one year of data, and so the projections for that year are less reliable. As you'll see, most of the players that my old system liked (or hated) my new one does as well, but at the margins, there's a significant improvement in reliability. And as you'll see in a minute, there is a massive correlation between a player's projected PER and where he's eventually drafted.
Top 10 rated big men from 2002 to 2007
Player Projected Yr. 3 PER Draft Year
Drew Gooden 18.17 2002*
Carlos Boozer 17.91 2002*
Kevin Durant 17.47 2007
Michael Sweetney 17.04 2003
Marvin Williams 16.79 2005
Greg Oden 16.74 2007
Joakim Noah 16.70 2007
Sean May 16.27 2005
Tyrus Thomas 16.21 2006
Brandan Wright 16.11 2007
* based on one year of data
As I mentioned above, the regression produces a projected Year 3 PER for each player in the draft. To get an idea of what that number means, consider the results from past seasons:
Eleven bigs from 2002 to 2007 have had a Year 3 projection of 16.0 or greater (see chart). Of these, 10 were lottery picks, and the 11th was Carlos Boozer, who, obviously, should have been a lottery pick. (Two of the players rated above 16.0 -- Kevin Durant and Marvin Williams -- could just as easily be considered perimeter players. Based on their size, college position and possible future pro position, I put them with the bigs.)
It's also worth noting that three of the top 10 ratings came from one-and-done guys in the 2007 draft, making clear how the ranks of college bigs suffered from 2002 to 2006 because of players like Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire jumping straight to the pros from high school.
Twelve of the 14 bigs with a rating between 14.0 and 16.0 were first-round picks, and nine of them went in the lottery. Of the ones who didn't, one was Udonis Haslem, the highest-rated undrafted player for the past six years and one who clearly should have been selected. The other is Nick Fazekas, who played well in limited minutes last season, but can't exactly be called a success story yet.
This range is also where we get the only two Picks That Will Get You Fired that my system churned out: Nick Collison outrated Chris Bosh in 2004, and Shelden Williams ranked ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge in 2006. No, this system ain't perfect either ... but look back at the actual drafts that took place, and it's a big improvement.
Below 14.0, things get dicey. Eight of the 16 players between 13.0 and 14.0 were first-round picks, with two of them (Aldridge and Chris Kaman) becoming established starters. On the other hand, several players in the 13s were mediocre to awful (Ryan Humphrey, Lawrence Roberts, Patrick O'Bryant and the aforementioned Paul Davis).
Below 12.5, a player has virtually no chance of being a first-round pick -- only six of the 63 prospects I looked at broke through into Round 1, and only one of them had any business being selected that high. The five lowest-rated first-rounders since 2002 are Marcus Haislip (9.23) Melvin Ely (10.17), Hakim Warrick (11.84), David Harrison (12.05) and Rafael Araujo (12.12). Of those, only Warrick turned out to be a real contributor.
Similarly, below 12.5 a player faces long odds in establishing his career regardless of where he's selected. Only Warrick, Brandon Bass, Carl Landry, Ryan Gomes, Darius Songaila, Matt Bonner and Brian Cook have become legitimate rotation players with a projected PER that low.
If below 12.5 is dicey, below 10 is virtually impossible -- Dan Gadzuric is the only one to do anything remotely substantial with a rating that low. As you'll see in a minute, that will become important for this year's draft.
So there's a definite hierarchy here. Above 16.0 is a definite lottery pick. Between 14.0 and 16.0 is a possible lottery pick and definite first-rounder with some star potential. Above 13 is still a potential first-rounder, but one fraught with risk. Below 12.5, we're looking at second-rounders and fringe players. Below 10, you might as well forget it.
And here they are, the centers and power forwards in the 2008 draft:
The Sure Thing
Michael Beasley, Kansas State, 19.31
Beasley's rating is the highest of any player going back to 2002, and it's the best by a pretty sizable margin. Obviously, this isn't new information -- nobody doubts this guy's talent level.
But he might be even better than people realize. His numbers were superior even to Kevin Durant's from a year ago, and Durant had everyone gaga over his performance as a college freshman.
Somehow Beasley didn't resonate quite as strongly, perhaps because of concerns over his character, but if he keeps his head on straight he's going to be insanely good.
The Certain High-Lottery pick
Kevin Love, UCLA, 17.80
I've heard the concerns about Love being out of shape and a poor defender, but a big guy with this high a skill level is way too good a proposition to pass up. In fact, Love outrated both Oden and Durant from a year ago (though Oden, remember, was playing with one good hand for part of the season). Basically, you're looking at the second coming of Brad Miller in terms of skill level for his size, but with a higher ceiling.
Incidentally, we again see the impact of one-and-done players (and the new rule requiring high school players to go to college) -- Love and especially Beasley would likely have bypassed college earlier this decade, and they're by far the two highest-rated big men in this draft.
Potential lottery picks
Darrell Arthur, Kansas, 15.82; Marreese Speights, Florida, 15.02
Players in the 15s are solid pros more often than stars, but these guys still should be useful pieces worthy of a high-to-mid first-round pick.
I can't tell you why Kansas played him only 24.7 minutes per game, but the numbers say Arthur is the third-best big guy in this draft. There are concerns that he might be a tweener, but he was a good college scorer who blocked shots.
Speights has only one full college season under his belt, but he's a huge post player who might be more of a factor in the NBA game than he was in college. But he would have been better off joining the league about 10 years ago, when it featured a more post-oriented, half-court game.
Brook Lopez, Stanford 14.21; Roy Hibbert, Georgetown 14.05
Taking Lopez third overall, as some have suggested, is clearly too high, but he's first-round material and should be a solid pro since he can post up and shoot from midrange.
Hibbert surprises me, because I wasn't that impressed when I watched him, but if Aaron Gray can find a place in the league you have to figure Hibbert can too.
Kosta Koufos, Ohio State, 13.32; Darnell Jackson, Kansas 13.17; DeAndre Jordan, Texas A&M, 13.17; Richard Hendrix, Alabama, 12.95; Jason Thompson, Rider, 12.77; D.J. White, Indiana 12.63; Trent Plaisted, BYU 12.61
Now things start getting dicey. The teams who take the top six big men have a good chance of getting themselves a player, but the history of big men in the projected PER range of 12.5 to 13.5 is a decidedly mixed bag -- you can pretty much forget about stardom once you get this low. That's probably why all but two of these guys are between 20 and 41 on Chad Ford's board.
Of note here are Koufos and Jackson. Koufos could go in the lottery, but doesn't have the numbers to back up being selected that high. At the other end, Darnell Jackson appears to be a potential second-round steal.
Walter Sharpe, UAB, 12.45; Joseph Jones, Texas A&M 12.36, J.J. Hickson, N.C. State, 12.31; JaVale McGee, Nevada, 12.25; James Gist, Maryland, 12.23; Sasha Kaun, Kansas, 12.09; Robin Lopez, Stanford, 12.08.
This is where things really shift in terms of a player's chances of sticking in the league.
Below 12.5, players face long odds in establishing a career -- forget becoming stars, these guys will just be trying to get to a second contract. Generally, players in this range should be second-rounders, as we're talking about the 14th-to-20th-rated college big men.
Three highly-touted bigs show up surprisingly low here. Robin Lopez has been talked up as a mid-first-rounder, but doesn't appear to have the goods to back it up. Hickson and McGee also are seen as late first-rounders. Any of the three would be among the lowest-rated players taken in Round 1 in the past few years.
Better Update That Passport
Greg Stiemsma, Wisconsin, 11.96; Joey Dorsey, Memphis, 11.87; James Mays, Clemson, 11.79; Aleks Maric, Nebraska, 11.73; David Padgett, Louisville, 11.51; Ryan Anderson, California, 11.43; Charles Rhodes, Mississippi St., 11.11; Shawn James, Duquesne, 10.97; Will Thomas, George Mason, 10.84; Will Daniels, Rhode Island, 10.61; Othello Hunter, Ohio State, 10.45; Kentrell Gransberry, South Florida, 10.42; DeVon Hardin, California, 10.39; Brian Butch, Wisconsin, 10.20; Darian Townes, Arkansas, 10.25, Longar Longar, Oklahoma 10.10.
Chances are we won't see any of these players get a second contract, but one or two might defy the odds.
The only one seen as a potential first-rounder is Hardin, but his stock has dropped for the same reason that his rating is so low -- his college production never kept up with his reputation.
Between Me and the Scouts, One of Us Will Look Like an Idiot
Anthony Randolph, LSU, 9.85
Yes, this is true. Seen in many quarters as a high lottery pick, Randolph has virtually nothing in his statistical record to justify such a lofty selection.
In particular, his woeful ball-handling numbers are a major red flag. Randolph had more turnovers than any prospect except Beasley and Thompson, but those two players had every play run through them; I'm still waiting to find out Randolph's excuse.
Additionally, his 49.9 true shooting percentage is alarmingly bad for a guy who is supposed to dominate athletically.
He can block shots, and the fact his team was such a mess probably didn't help his numbers any, but gambling on Randolph with a high first-round pick looks like the basketball equivalent of hitting on 19 in blackjack. Hey, maybe the dealer throws out a 2 and everyone thinks you're a genius, but chances are you're going to bust.
It appears he's going to be drafted in the middle of the first round at worst, but even that appears to be a terrible mistake -- there is no track record whatsoever of a player rated this poorly achieving pro success.
Draft-worthy big men by year
Player Proj. Yr 3 Year Actual order
Kevin Durant 17.47 2007 Greg Oden
Greg Oden 16.74 2007 Kevin Durant
Joakim Noah 16.70 2007 Al Horford
Brandan Wright 16.11 2007 Brandan Wright
Al Horford 15.87 2007 Joakim Noah
Nick Fazekas** 14.84 2007 Spencer Hawes
Josh McRoberts** 13.90 2007 Sean Williams
Spencer Hawes 13.71 2007 Jason Smith
Randolph Morris* 13.30 2007 Carl Landry
Glen Davis 13.30 2007 Nick Fazekas
Aaron Gray** 12.85 2007 Glen Davis
Sean Williams 12.63 2007 Jermareo Davidson
Jason Smith 12.58 2007 Josh McRoberts
Tyrus Thomas 16.21 2006 LaMarcus Aldridge
Shelden Williams 15.13 2006 Tyrus Thomas
Patrick O'Bryant 13.86 2006 Shelden Williams
LaMarcus Aldridge 13.77 2006 Patrick O'Bryant
Paul Davis** 13.23 2006 Hilton Armstrong
Hilton Armstrong 12.89 2006 Cedric Simmons
Craig Smith** 12.78 2006 Josh Boone
Cedric Simmons 12.70 2006 Solomon Jones
Paul Millsap** 12.66 2006 Paul Davis
Josh Boone 12.55 2006 Craig Smith
James Augustine** 12.55 2006 James Augustine
Marvin Williams 16.79 2005 Andrew Bogut
Sean May 16.27 2005 Marvin Williams
Andrew Bogut 15.16 2005 Charlie Villanueva
Charlie Villanueva 14.46 2005 Channing Frye
David Lee 14.10 2005 Ike Diogu
Wayne Simien 14.01 2005 Sean May
Chris Taft** 13.99 2005 Hakim Warrick
Ronny Turiaf** 13.71 2005 Jason Maxiell
Channing Frye 13.42 2005 Wayne Simien
Lawrence Roberts** 13.11 2005 David Lee
Chuck Hayes* 13.09 2005 Brandon Bass
Jason Maxiell 12.72 2005 Ronny Turiaf
Mike Harris* 12.63 2005 Chris Taft
Ike Diogu 12.62 2005 Ryan Gomes
Shavlik Randolph* 12.55 2005 Lawrence Roberts
Emeka Okafor 14.69 2004 Emeka Okafor
Kris Humphries 13.22 2004 Rafael Araujo
Michael Sweetney 17.04 2003 Chris Bosh
Nick Collison 15.46 2003 Chris Kaman
David West 14.31 2003 Michael Sweetney
Chris Bosh 14.03 2003 Nick Collison
Chris Kaman 13.33 2003 David West
Drew Gooden 18.17 2002 Drew Gooden
Carlos Boozer 17.91 2002 Chris Wilcox
Chris Wilcox 16.05 2002 Jared Jeffries
Udonis Haslem* 15.08 2002 Melvin Ely
Curtis Borchardt 5.00 2002 Marcus Haislip
Ryan Humphrey 13.18 2002 Curtis Borchardt
Jared Jeffries 13.01 2002 Ryan Humphrey
Lonny Baxter** 12.87 2002 Robert Archibald
Aaron McGhee* 12.62 2002 Dan Gadzuric
Robert Archibald** 12.54 2002 Carlos Boozer
* -- undrafted
** -- second-rounder
First-rounders in italics at right