Yeah...this is ridiculously long...sorry
Ever since the possible selection of Tyler Hansbrough was first entertained, there has been a sharp up tick in the intensity of the long-lived debate over the value of a player's college resume. To some degree, it's a subset of the tools vs. production debate that has been evolving over the last thirty years.
There is no simple, straight forward answer that sways the argument one way or the other. Choosing one path exclusively over the other can generously be described as foolish, or more harshly described as self-defeating and suicidal. Each approach has had its successes, and each has had its failures.
Examples and anecdotal information have peppered this discussion. While the anchor of most people's position is their opinion of Tyler Hansbrough, it expanded to touch on the large issues of Potential vs. Resume and Athleticism vs. Skills.
This analysis will not solve this dilemma. It will, hopefully, provide some broader perspective, as well as a foundation on which we can understand how well players are able to replicate college excellence at the NBA level.
This all started with my first "So, What's a draft pick get you?" thread, and you can refresh your understanding of its methodologies, strengths and weaknesses by clicking on the link.
Once again, I am using the Player Rater, calculated as:
This calculation is further adjusted for a reliability factor, which is basically the player's percent of team's games played. Put simply, if a player plays 41 of 82 games, his Gross PR is multiplied by 50% to get the player's adjusted PR.PR = (Pts + Reb + Ast + Stls + Blk - TO's - Missed 2pt FGs - Missed FT's)/Games Played
I have also collected the information on Accolades earned in the NBA career, such as MVP's, All-Star appearances, etc.
The Population and Sourcing
I would love to do a deep dive on all of the players, being able to break it out between 4-yr Seniors, Early Entry College players, High School Players, and Euros/Foreign Players. Regrettably, the data I have does not have an easy way for me to break this out. I hope to do it in the future, but it will not be immediately forthcoming.
For this reason, (and because of the ample discussion on Tyler Hansbrough) I have focused on players who have had highly successful college careers. While I have the complete data set from the overall analysis, I have sliced out all players who were voted All-Americas since 1982. Here is a further parsing of the population:
- I used the "AP All America" Teams as my slice, and I got this information from BBR.com. There are other All America teams, Sporting News as an example, but this was the most readily available, and appears to be the oldest.
- Further, I wanted to identify the College Player of the Year (CPOY). BBR.com had the histories for three (3) separate awards: AP, Wooden, and Naismith. I am using all three, so if these awards were split in any year, then there would be more than one CPOY in that season.
For references and spins, I have also looked specifically at 1st Team All Americas, and the Non-All Americas. These are for players who were drafted between 1982 and 2008. In this sample, there were 303 All Americas and 1,257 Non-All Americas for a total sample size of 1,560 drafted players. Of these draftees, 1,287 have actually played in the NBA, while 273 have never seen action.
Looking at it from the top of the here, are the big broad numbers:
Exhibit A – Summary of Results
All America or Not
Excluding players from 2009, you get 323 players named to the AP First, Second, or Third All America Teams. This sample includes all 303 players who were drafted, of which 292 actually have played games in the NBA.
There were 20 All Americas who were not drafted at all, seven (7) of which ended up making an NBA team. The most successful of these were Udonis Haslem and Pat Garrity. Since this is a draft analysis, none of these players are included in the data.
When contrasting this against the non-All Americas (including High School and Foreign Players) at a high level, you will see a much higher success rate over this time frame among the All Americas. At this point, it’s probably useful to remind everyone of the the “Groups” and what they mean (a fuller explanation can be found in the original thread of this series):
As noted above, looking at the distribution of All Americas vs. Non-All Americas shows that the former All Americas skew to the higher production groups, while the opposite is true for Non-All Americas. Here is a graphical representation:Group 1 - AdjPR of 22 & above. This would be the crème de la crème of these draft picks (from a production perspective). You know who to expect here: LeBron, MJ, Shaq, etc.
Group 2 - AdjPR of 17 to 22. These players would be high production players, bona fide starters, some All-Stars and some good possibility HOFer's. Examples include Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, James Worthy, Scottie Pippen, and the like. Also, the occasional stat whore lands in this group.
Group 3 - AdjPR of 12 to 17. These are well above average producers. They would almost all be considered starting quality players. In some cases, there are some high quality players with low reliability factors. Examples include: Chris Webber, Hersey Hawkins, Detlef Schrempf, Richard Hamilton.
Group 4 - Adj PR of 7 to 12. These are slightly above average producers. Some are starters, some injury prone all-star talent, some just good solid players. Examples include: Leandro Barbosa, Toni Kukoc, Paul Pressey, Kurt Thomas.
Group 5 - AdjPR of 3 to 7. These are disappointments and mediocre players. They give below average production and tend to have shorter than average careers. The best of these are players like Chris Mihm, Freddie Jones, and Luc Longley.
Group 6 - AdjPR of less than 3. It'd be easy to call these busts, but they're really just the fringe players. There are a few out-and-out disasters (Chris Washburn leaps to mind), but most of these guys are folks like Brooke Steppe, Scott Hastings, and Josh McRoberts, who either never got or haven't gotten a real look at playing time.
Exhibit B: Distribution by Production Group
One-third of the college AA’s landed in Group 1, 2 or 3, or became starting quality producers. For the overall sample involved, only one in seven were in these groups, and only about one in twelve Non-AA’s had this level of production. However, these figures don’t tell a complete story.
First, we must recognize that the AA’s total is less than one-quarter of the Non-AA’s. The smaller denominator allows each individual performer to have a bigger impact on the percent distribution. However, that cuts both ways. It also means that the Non-AA’s had four times as many chances to produce top players. The relative sizes of the two subsets have more impact on the volatility of the distribution than the direction, though.
Second, and far more importantly, we must look at the draft profile for these two groups. Exhibit C below shows the distribution by Draft Group:
Exhibit C: Distribution by Draft Group
Just looking at the draft distribution indicates that the All Americas were generally expected to succeed. Over 50% of them were taken in the top 11 picks, and over 87% were taken in the top 30 picks (or the equivalent of a present day 1st round pick). Over 56% of the Non-AA’s were selected in the “Second Round” (picks 31-60), while only about 11% were taken in the top 11.
Also, it’s important to remember that in the “Tools vs. Production” argument, that the Production players have tools, too. This is one of the reasons that I noted this would not offer any groundbreaking answers on that issue in this analysis. I’ll probably come back to it a little later, simply because I can’t resist overreaching, but for now, I want to bring it back to the question that I think we can address, or at least give a statistical framework.
Is College Success a Good Predictor of Success in the NBA
As usual, there isn’t really a straight answer to this question. To start, I’ll just give you the non-answer answer of, “Broadly, yes…specifically, not particularly.” Sucks, doesn’t it?
Regardless of where we stand in the “Tools vs. Production” debate, it is important that we all recognize some things as being intuitively true.
First, the tools needed to excel in the NBA also make it highly likely for the player to succeed at the college level. Second, players who perform at a very high level in college are at least above average in talent, physical abilities, and commitment. Many times, they are near the top in these attributes. Third, success, as a general rule, breeds success. Whether it’s the experience, the hunger, the opportunities, or a certain je ne sais quoi, I honestly couldn’t tell you. It is a truism, but one amply supported.
This is supported statistically by the analysis shown in Exhibit A at the top of the post. Almost 34% of the All Americas in this study became (or are) Group 1, 2, or 3 players., as compared to only about 13% of the general population. Even breaking the comparisons down by draft group shows an advantage for College All Americas in most cases.
Exhibit D: % of Group 1, 2, & 3 Players by Draft Group
The differences are more pronounced when you compare the AA’s to the Non-AA’s.
Exhibit E: % of Group 1, 2, & 3 Players, All Americas vs. Non-All Americas
So, it seems to me that the position:
is not only a relatively sound position, but probably the most prudent initial position to take, particularly when dealing with the really high achievers at the college level.A player who had a very successful college career has a better than average chance of being a successful NBA player.
However, this statement:
Ehhhh…not so much.Player X was a great college player, so he will be a great (very good/highly successful) player in the NBA.
Specifically, not particularly
So, what the **** do I mean by this? Well, first, there is no guarantee that that the player will achieve, or even approach the same level of success or achievement reached at the collegiate level. Of the 323 All Americas in this study, only 43 have been named to an All NBA team. Only 71 have made All Star teams, and 23 earned All Defense honors.
Of the 32 former College Players of the Year, 14 have become All Stars, while only 5 have earned All NBA Honors. Four (Robinson, Jordan, Shaq, Duncan) have been named MVP, while three (Robinson, Jordan, Camby) have been named Defensive Player of the year.
As percentages of the samples, the All Americas continue to outpace the others, but the correlation between College and NBA Accolades is not very direct.Sidebar-”Frick”-ing the College Honors –
It seemed reasonable to me to draw parallels between being named All America and being named All NBA. In some ways, you could argue that making an All NBA team is numerically more likely than being named All America. Of course, this is specious reasoning.
First and foremost is the talent level, which is much, much higher in the NBA. The most straightforward way to put this is that every single player in the NBA has the talent to play college ball, while only a small percentage of college players each year are capable of earning a spot in the NBA.
Second, there is a built-in expiration date on great college players. No player can play more than four years, so there is a constant turnover that allows new faces to earn top honors. In the NBA, you have players like Jordan, Robinson, Duncan, and others who become fixtures on the All NBA teams for a decade or more. Some very good and great players spent their entire pro careers in the shadow of guys like these.
Another major issue is the quality of players who either left college early (after one or two years) or bypassed it entirely. Six of the 15 players on the three 2009 All NBA teams never played a single college contest (three on the first team alone). It was nine of 15 the prior year, including four the five on the first team. Over the past 15 years or so, CPOY’s and All Americas were given to players who did not have to beat out LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Yao Ming, Jermaine O’Neal, or Dirk Nowitzki, just to name a few.
All of these lead me to believe that the college honors deserve at least a small asterisk, if only when considering how well they translate to the NBA. I freely admit that, like the infamous 61*, it is a little bit (perhaps, more than a little) petty. However, like that infamous number, it is a valid footnote in a statistical analysis.
Second, you cannot look at any individual player’s resume at lower levels and predict success in the NBA. (This is not just limited to college ball, as it would extend to international play, as well.) Each case is different, and each has different advantages and disadvantages. The most articulate summation I can think of comes from JayRedd in the “Take a step back…” thread.
They will tell you that the players in the NBA are bigger, stronger, and faster. They will tell you that the games are longer, and the competition is more talented. They will tell you that the season is longer, and there is no more cupcake pre-conference schedule. They will tell you that the games are longer and scheduled more closely together, with a much, much more extensive travel schedule.
They will tell you all of these things, because they are true.
Then they will look at a particular player, and try to understand where and how he fits in the NBA. They’ll look at size, athleticism, position, and skills and try to project. It’s always a crap shoot, but it’s actually a pretty sound approach.
However, they’ll also go back and look at history to try to find an exemplar. They look for a player who is similar (enough) to the current player to try a project a parallel path. Ricky Rubio becomes Steve Nash or Sarunas Jasikevicius. Tyler Hansbrough becomes Jeff Foster or Brian Cardinal.
Where looking for tools is sensible and reasonable, looking for exemplars is problematic and fraught with pitfalls. In my opinion, it is this search for a correct “player comparison” that can potentially create bias.
I keep thinking tomorrow is coming today…
…so I am endlessly waiting…(Adam Duritz – “St. Robinson and his Cadillac Dream”)
In this year’s draft, the Indiana Pacers selected one of the most decorated college players in quite some time. He was a Consensus 1st team All America in his Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years, and Consensus 2nd team as a Freshman. For the AP All America teams used in this analysis, he had two 1st Team, one 2nd Team, and one 3rd Team nod. He won the AP, Wooden, and Naismith awards as College Player of the Year in 2008. His other records and awards are too numerous to mention. Finally, he is coming off a national championship at North Carolina
Yet, despite his solid gold resume, this choice was greeted with mixed emotions, to say the least. This is no surprise, as the opinions on Hansbrough were pretty well divided. An unscientific poll conducted on Pacers Digest in the run up to the draft had 27 in favor of drafting the UNC product and 27 opposed. Another 13 felt he was “overrated,” while 6 felt he was “underrated.”Sidebar – College Players of the Year gettin’ no love
When Tyler Hansbrough fell to the #13 spot, it was only the fifth time that a College Player of the Year had not been taken in the top 10. The four previous were Walter Berry (14th, 1986), David West (18th, 2003), Jameer Nelson (20th, 2004), and JJ Redick (11th, 2006).
Berry played for four teams in his craptacular three year career, while JJ Redick has been largely blah in his first three years with the Magic.
West established himself as a quality scorer with New Orleans in his third year, and has maintained his production for the past four season. Nelson was potentially on his way to an MIP award before an injury shortened his season.
The cases for each have been stated and restated, almost ad nauseum, so I won’t linger on them. A very sketchy thumbnail of each would be:
So, that leaves us with two basic questions, each important for very different reasons. The first question is, “Will Tyler Hansbrough be a good NBA player?” To that, I say, “tomorrow is not coming today.”Pro: He’s a proven winner with an impeccable work ethic who excelled in a top program at the highest levels of college basketball.
Con: He has questionable size and athleticism, and many of the things that worked well for him against smaller, less talented college players will not succeed in NBA.
The answer to this question is months, if not years away. It will not be answered in the Summer Leagues. It will not be answered in training camp. It may not even be answered, completely, in the first year or two or three of his NBA career. He, like every other NBA player, will have to prove himself over and over and over again. This process will take time and patience, and claiming to know the answer today, one way or the other, is simply foolish.
It is the second question, however, that interests me at this point.
Was Tyler Hansbrough a “good” pick?
I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it for a lot of the reasons that JayRedd outlined. I tend to be unimpressed by arguments like winner and heart and toughness and hardworker, particularly when they all precede any discussion of actual basketball skills. While Tyler has demonstrated all of these traits at the college level, he (like every other draft pick) has proven nothing at the NBA level.
Also, I worry that some of Tyler’s traits, while admirable, could be counterproductive at the next level. Hansbrough strikes me as a hammer in search of a nail, at all times. The problem is, I don’t think that approach will do him much good in the NBA…at least not without some moderation. He will need to learn when to bully, and when to finesse…when to stand strong, and when to bend to the flow. He’s not big, strong, quick, or talented enough to force the issue all the time. He will have to work twice as hard to be half as successful in the NBA. He will have to learn how to survive in the NBA, before he can even contemplate trying to become the player he was at the college player.
That is not the question at hand.
The question is was this a good pick…a good decision? And my answer to that is, simply:
I don’t say, “Yes” because I think that Tyler was the best player available. It is almost a foregone conclusion that someone drafted after Tyler will have a better career. By the same token, there’s a very good chance that Tyler will have a better career than one or more of the players drafted ahead of him. This isn’t a specific comment on Hansbrough, but simply the nature of the NBA draft.
I say, “Yes” because I think it was a choice that makes a good deal of sense when you look at the situation surrounding this particular pick.
So, why does it make sense?Sidebar – NBA Scouting and the Draft…Damned if they do…
If there’s one thing certain about the NBA Draft, it’s uncertainty. The miss rate in the NBA draft is very high. Over the past 30 years or so, about 50% of the 1st round picks (1-30) and 90% of the 2nd round picks (31-60) have basically washed out or not played. That only includes Group 5 and Group 6 players, and it doesn’t even consider players who, though relatively productive, were still disappointments for where they were drafted.
Despite the uncertainty that has been demonstrated time and time again, few things are as highly valued as draft picks. Fans and media view them as gold, and expect their team to convert on every pick. Therefore, NBA front offices become damned if they do, damned if they don’t on Draft Night. This creates a perfect environment for armchair GM’s and second guessers everywhere.
However, the more analysis I do on the history of the draft, the more respect I have for the job that is done by NBA front offices and their scouting staffs. Yes, there are some that are better than others, but in an environment where everyone makes mistakes, I believe they do a pretty good job overall of slotting the draft prospects.
Exhibit F: Distribution of Results by Draft Group – All Players
This shows how the production (Group 1, Group 2, etc) of each of the Draft Groups (1 to 4, 5 to 7, etc) is distributed. What you’re looking for here is both the peak of each line and its orientation on the x-axis (left to right).
The peak for each successive draft group moves to the right, meaning each group got successively, less productive. This seems to me to provide some validation to NBA scouting and projections. Despite the well publicized misses like Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic, and Jonathan Bender, the slotting of the talent has been right a lot more often than it has been wrong.
Exhibit G: Distribution of Results by Draft Group – CPOY’s and 1st Team AA’s
Exhibit G shows a similar distribution, though the smaller sample size makes for some slightly different curves.
I find it useful to remember that drafting is essentially a form of forecasting. You’re trying to collect as much information as you can today in order to make your best guess at what will happen tomorrow. As much as they might try, it will never become a pure science. The more I analyze, the more comfortable I am that these guys actually know what they’re doing…at least as well as they can.
There was no one in the draft that filled the team’s specific needs. - There was not dominating point guard, and there was no big, shot blocking four that could anchor our defense. It was a point guard deep draft, but none of the PG’s available at 13 looked like the long-term answer. The athletic fours (Clark & Johnson) will probably end up as ‘tweeners. (We heard comments on draft night that Bird and O’Brien both thought Johnson was clearly a wing.) Blair may have been the strongest argument, but, IMO, he brought just as many doubts as Hansbrough did, and clearly, no one in the league was willing to risk a guaranteed contract on his knees.
Hansbrough had demonstrated a high level of success in a major program at the college level. - While it is true that this is not a great predictor, this study does show that players with Tyler’s pedigree tend to perform relatively well at the NBA player.
Hansbrough’s measurables were solid. – While none of his measurables were jaw-dropping, the proved to be much better than feared. He’s big enough, in height and reach, to play the four, and he had pretty good agility and sprint times.
Hansbrough was strong in workouts. - Hansbrough had impressed in workouts, not just here, but in New Jersey, Atlanta, and Chicago.
He fits the culture we’re trying to build. - By all accounts, he gives a lot of effort, and he’s coachable. He fits the mold of the players brought in last year: Rush, Hibbert, and Jack.
He wasn’t particularly a reach. – Though he had spent much of his college career being projected in the 20’s, he did move up after the combine. He had been mentioned as high as 11th to New Jersey in mocks shortly before the draft. It seems that Bird’s plan, was to trade with Chicago, moving back to 16th (and 26th) and taking Hansbrough there. However, that fell apart when Charlotte took Gerald Henderson, Chicago’s target. Since that deal was off the table, Bird took his target, Tyler. It also seemed, from some reports, that Chicago had Hansbrough high on their list, perhaps #2 behind Henderson.
In all honesty, I doubt that I’ll ever get excited about this pick. But there wasn’t really anybody on the board who would have excited me either. I probably would have chosen James Johnson, or possibly, Eric Maynor…but I can’t say either with any conviction.
However, this is the basic difference between being an observer and actually having to run a team. For us, the draft pick captures our imaginations and fills us with anticipation. For Bird and the rest of the front office, it is a decision that they must make wisely. They cannot afford to waste it. What they did in this case was make what was basically the “grown up” decision.
In an amazingly weak draft, made what amounted to a Billy Beane-type pick. It wasn’t sexy, and it wasn’t exciting, but it was sound. Though I had fears otherwise, I now think that the Pacers have added a piece that will help them in the future. He will also probably fit well in the locker room and have some appeal with the fans. In a draft where it was going to be difficult to get someone useful, I believe they got something useful. Though they went safe, it was a prudent time to go safe. I doubt that there was another player whose reward would have been worth any additional risk.
It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Brandon Jennings had fell, because that would have put their decision to the test. He is the type of player whose reward I think would be worth the risk. It’s also going to be important that Bird not get completely trapped in the conservative approach…but that dilemma will arise another day.
For now, I think we did everything with this pick that could be reasonably expected. I’m hopeful that Hansbrough can follow the path of David West and Jameer Nelson, carving out a good career after being picked later in the draft.
For now…I’ll go back to endlessly waiting.