by Kevin Myers, special to MyFOX9.com
Every choice is a gamble.
Every choice is a sacrifice.
You can't embrace one thing without letting go of every other option.
And, nothing in life is guaranteed, especially when it comes to NBA draft prospects.
Most NBA draft prognosticators don't discuss prospects with uncertainty.
There are proclamations.
There are guarantees.
In reality, it is all calculated risk.
However, in the case of many NBA general managers, there is little to no calculation.
There is a lot of eyeball test and the type of decision-making that the American public loves. Too many GMs pick their players how we pick our Presidents: height and "looks the part".
Most successful teams accept that it is a gamble, but realize that you can increase your chances of success by studying the numbers and "gaming the system" like a smart Blackjack player. Just two years ago, 15 of the 16 teams in the playoffs had "advanced stats" specialists working for them. Most of the teams in the lottery did not. In short, those who follow the numbers, decreasing the risk in their choices, are winning. Those who ignore advanced stats continue to lose.
On NBA Draft night, every GM has to decide what kind of gamble they want to make. It's an investment of resources, and just like investment bankers, you can choose to be conservative with modest returns, aggressive with huge returns (or huge losses), or you can try to uncover a penny stock you think will blow up. You can also invest in someone who "looks the part" but doesn't "play the part".
The risk-level of each prospect is easy to find if you crunch the numbers (factoring in the age of the prospect) then balance them off with good old scouting. You then compare the rankings with where the players are predicted to be drafted. If a player is predicted to go early but has poor numbers (like Harrison Barnes) they are a risky investment. If they have stellar numbers but appear late in the mock drafts (like Jae Crowder) they have high return written all over them.
In the build up to this draft, I've seen an explosion of "amateur" and professional prognosticators developing statistical models to try to project prospects at the pro level. John Hollinger of ESPN is the most famous example. While his Draft Rater has had more success than the typical GM, it also has its fair share of misses and is a "black box"; meaning Hollinger doesn't reveal his formula, so it's hard to analyze how he arrives at his results.
My favorite new model is the MDSD Score developed by "Madison Dan" at the Timberwolves fan site CanisHoopus.com. Full details are here.
Basically, it's a standard deviation score, which measures how a prospect deviated above (or below) a standard college performer in the following categories:
Applying this formula to former draft picks, it would have identified sleepers like Kenneth Faried, Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields as superior prospects to the many players drafted before them.
How do this year's prospects rank as investments? My analysis is below, and my full rankings can be found here.
Anthony Davis/Freshman/10.62 MDSD
Off-the-charts production at age 19? Davis' MDSD score is a full 2 points above the next highest ranking prospect, Jae Crowder. The big difference; Davis put up those numbers as a freshman while Crowder did it as a senior.
Davis was the best player on the floor of the National Championship game without even scoring. It is so incredibly rare for a player to dominate through rebounds, blocks and steals. The real clincher on why Davis is such a guarantee is that non-scoring skills (especially rebounds and blocks) translate to the NBA much better than scoring or scoring efficiency.
Anthony Davis' ceiling is a Modern Day Bill Russell.
Bradley Beal/Freshman/5.623 MDSD
As an 18 year old, Beal gets extra points for posting a solid score at such a young age. He also came on strong at the end of the season once his dysfunctional teammates let him have the ball. For a long-range shooter, his 34% 3 point shooting is a little concerning. But, he rebounded very well for a guard, which will follow him to the NBA. He is worth the #2 pick in the draft. In fact, I would trade last year's #2 pick Derrick Williams for Beal in a heartbeat.
Dion Waiters/Sophomore/7.872 MDSD
Between his freshman and sophomore years, Waiters got serious, chiseling his body and focusing his game. The difference was obvious. If he can get steals and get to the rim like he did in his second year of college ball, he can be a poor man's Dwayne Wade.
PENNY STOCKS TO POUNCE ON
The following players are all projected to go outside of the lottery, and even into the second round. They present the best value in the draft, not only because they will be available later, but also because this will lock them into very reasonable rates for the duration of their rookie contracts.
Will Barton/Sophomore/6.859 MDSD
As a top 10 high school recruit, I can't fathom why Barton isn't getting the love that other pre-college studs like Barnes, Andre Drummond and Austin Rivers are receiving. He outperformed all of them this past year, and yet is projected to go late first. Inexplicable.
Jae Crowder/Senior/8.189 MDSD
Crowder is my favorite prospect in the draft. Usually, I would flag his performance because he did it as a senior. But, the fact that Crowder showed such steady growth throughout his career, overcoming a JUCO transfer fiasco and playing out of position as a senior shows a determination and versatility that can't be discounted. Forget the position questions marks. Crowder is a small forward in the NBA. Jae passes Bill Simmons' table test: he brings a lot to the table and doesn't take anything off it. Crowder is projected to go in the middle of the second round, which is just ridiculous. Personally, I don't think he makes it out of the first round. Teams like the Thunder (and the Spurs, who don't have a first rounder) make a living off of plucking undervalued players like Crowder and putting them in a position to succeed.
Royce White/Sophomore/6.2 MDSD
White's anxiety issues have understandably suppressed his draft ranking. But, he possesses a rare skill set that positions him to be a Poor Man's LeBron. And, in his first season of real college basketball, he took on the eventual National Champions virtually by himself and left his mark.
Draymond Green/Senior/6.964 MDSD
The numbers support what your eyes tell you. Green does a little bit of everything and just knows how to play the game. He's short and overweight and doesn't look like he'll make it in the NBA. But, he's essentially a less selfish Big Baby Davis. Projected to go in the late first, he presents tremendous value.
Jared Sullinger/Sophomore/5.102 MDSD
Sullinger's stock has plummeted due to medical red flags. You know how many prospects have busted because of medical issues that were known before the draft? I can think of only one- Greg Oden. Every year one or two players fall from the position they should be drafted at and are scooped up by teams like San Antonio (see DeJuan Blair). When Sullinger was tabbed as a top 5 pick, the real concern was his size. Outside of the lottery, where the expectation would be that he comes off the bench, Sullinger will thrive with his highly developed post game.
Scott Machado/Senior/4.989 MDSD
Do you know what else translates well from college to the pros? Assists. Machado lead the NCAAs in assists. Do you need a third string point guard who you can throw into the thick of things and simply ask him to run your team? Grab Scott Machado.
THE DOT COM BUBBLERS
Perhaps I've gained an enhanced perspective to see past the hype, but I can't remember another NBA draft with so many overrated prospects projected to go so early. It's incredibly frustrating and makes me want to scream at people when they talk about former top ranked high school players like that actually performed well in college. It's the equivalent of hiring someone for your company because they were valedictorian of their high school class and looking past the fact that they were a C student as an undergrad. Let's look at the horrifying numbers.
Austin Rivers/Freshman/-1.35 MDSD
Yes, you're reading that right. That is minus 1.35. While "analysts" talk about how Rivers is fearless and loves to take the big shot, the reality is that he performed worse than the average NCAA shooting guard. Not worse than the average NCAA shooting guard draft prospect. Worse than the average of all NCAA two guards. He was highly touted in high school. He is the son of a former NBA player and current coach (Doc Rivers). He played at a very visible school (Duke) for a very, very famous coach (Coach K). But, at the end of the day… he did nothing. You could argue he was a negative contributor on the court. There is not a little Kobe Bryant in Austin Rivers, as some have suggested, unless you're talking about Kobe's current lack of awareness that he is no longer as superior to his opponents as he once was. Like high school and college, Rivers will be given every opportunity to succeed. However, he will not succeed. He is Rashad McCants writ large.
Harrison Barnes/Sophomore/-0.655 MDSD
Once again, a negative score. I don't find the hype on Barnes quite as horrifying, simply because he at least has an NBA body, as opposed to the scrawny Rivers. Regardless, Barnes had two years to prove that he deserved the ridiculous "next Jordan" hype that followed him out of high school. At his best, he might be the next Marvin Williams, which isn't exactly a good thing. The fact that the Cavaliers could draft him at #4 because he's good friends with Kyrie Irving tells you everything you need to know about NBA talent evaluators.
Andre Drummond/Freshman/2.548 MDSD
Terrence Jones/Junior/1.980 MDSD
Perry Jones/Sophomore/1.283 MDSD
Quincy Miller/Freshman/0.740 MDSD
Rounding out the "hyped in high school/did nothing in college" crowd we have four prospects who are long, athletic and absolutely look like they should be good. Drummond's size makes him irresistible to GMs, but a big man without a motor equals Michael Olowokandi.
The Jones' have Stromile Swift written all over them. Quincy Miller at least has the excuse of an ACL tear his senior year in high school. But, reports indicate that he didn't work hard to rehab and get back to his former athleticism. If you aren't going to put in the effort before you're a millionaire, are you really going to do it after you're making obscene paychecks?
Miller and Drummond could overcome their disappointing freshman years. Dion Waiters is an example of a player who turned things around between his first and second seasons. However, the odds are not in favor of this. When looking for "good bets", you can't chase what you want to happen. You need to follow what history has said will happen. And, history says that if you didn't perform in college, you almost assuredly won't perform at the next level.
DON'T TRUST THE NUMBERS
Sometimes, the numbers just don't make sense, or there are obvious mitigating factors affecting them. This brings us to the only player I'm willing to throw the numbers out for and go with my gut.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist/Freshman/1.360 MDSD
Kidd-Gilchrist has his flaws, most notably his poor shooting. However, as I mentioned, shooting is the one skill that doesn't translate well to the NBA. MKG has a tremendous motor, by all accounts is a leader, and does all of the little things that unify a team. Do I think he's a top 3 player in this draft? It's really difficult to justify that. Would I want him on my squad? Absolutely. The Scottie Pippen comparisons are a bit much. Have we already forgotten how good Scottie Pippen was? But, comparisons to Gerald Wallace aren't far-fetched.
Maurice Harkless/Freshman/6.862 MDSD
"Mo" looks fantastic by the numbers. However, part of MDSD involves a positional assignment, and Harkless' rebounding numbers from the wing dramatically increase his value.
I think he'll contribute, and could even continue to develop. But, he is not the 4th best prospect, as his numbers would indicate. He was dreadful in spot up scoring opportunities and really needs to develop his otherwise raw game. His projection as a mid-first rounder is appropriate, despite his impressive score.
Thomas Robinson/Junior/4.905 MDSD
Damian Lillard/Junior/5.585 MDSD
John Henson/Junior/4.170 MDSD
Meyers Leonard/Sophomore/3.372 MDSD
Terrence Ross/Sophomore/5.313 MDSD
Tyler Zeller/Senior/4.150 MDSD
All of these players are projected to be drafted about where they should be. I didn't say that GMs get it wrong ALL of the time.
MODERATE RISK/MODERATE REWARD
Jeremy Lamb/Sophomore/2.595 MDSD
Kendall Marshall/0.960 MDSD
Lamb, Marshall and Fournier all represent players with defined skill sets, but they haven't done enough to make you feel safe taking them. Lamb regressed in his second season, but that could have been situational. Marshall is obviously capable of running a team, but what makes him better than Scott Machado?
And, Evan Fournier has shown athleticism, but not much range. The middle of the first round is probably an appropriate place for these three to be drafted.
WHY NOT BUY A SHARE? (SECOND ROUND TARGETS)
Jared Cunningham/Junior/3.845 MDSD
Mason Plumlee/Senior/3.417 MDSD
Drew Gordon/Senior/4.592 MDSD
Marcus Denmon/Senior/3.535 MDSD
Ricardo Ratliffe/Senior/4.404 MDSD
Orlando Johnson/Senior/4.829 MDSD
If you can identify possible contributors in the second round, you can fill out the end of your bench with $500k deals instead of signing veterans for $2 million/per contracts that clog your cap space.
These six players represent known commodities that have produced at the college level and are probably worth a low-cost roster spot. You can end up with a low-paid, solid contributor like Chase Budinger.
That brings me to my thoughts on this draft as it pertains to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Of course, I had my own ideas of what they should do with the 18th pick in this year's draft. Those thoughts were rendered even more irrelevant when the team traded the pick to Houston for Chase Budinger.
While this destroyed the fun of seeing the draft play out and predicting who the Wolves would take, I wasn't overly upset by it.
Budinger was a completely average player last year, which is a good thing, especially considering that he will be paid less than $500k this year.
The Timberwolves desperately need average wing play, and the list of rookies who perform at an average level is surprisingly short every year. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, especially when Timberwolves GM David Kahn is involved in the decision-making process.
Having said that, here is what I would have done with a mid-first round pick. There is great value in this draft from pick #8 to about pick #20.
In the NFL, Bill Belichick has mastered the art of finding the spot in the first or second round where you can get the most value in terms of talent versus salary. If I was running an NBA team, I would have either traded down to this 8-20 range, picking up additional assets in the process, or traded into the post-lottery, hopefully even getting two picks of value.
In Kahn's case, working out a deal with Boston for their 21st and 22nd picks would have been ideal. Boston is rumored to crave Royce White, and he could be snatched up by Denver at #20. With pick 21 and 22, I would have grabbed Will Barton and Jae Crowder, two players who may never make an All Star team, but have a very high chance of being above-average contributors during their rookie contracts. It also would have helped addressed the glaring holes at shooting guard and small forward that the Timberwolves have.
Another potential partner would have been Cleveland with the 24th and 34th picks. The Wolves could have grabbed Barton before the Bulls got their shot at 29 and Crowder before most analysts have him pegged for the mid-2nd round.
In the past, a good part of my NBA Draft manifestos have involved predicting where players would be drafted. I've since realized that this is equivalent to trying to read the thoughts of a crazy person. Nevertheless, here is my mock draft.
1. New Orleans: Anthony Davis
2. Charlotte: Bradley Beal
3. Washington: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
4. Cleveland: Thomas Robinson
5. Sacramento: Andre Drummond
6. Portland: Damian Lillard
7. Golden State: Harrison Barnes
8. Toronto: Dion Waiters
9. Detroit: John Henson
10. New Orleans: Austin Rivers
11. Portland: Tyler Zeller
12. Houston: Meyers Leonard
13. Phoenix: Terrence Ross
14. Milwaukee: Jeremy Lamb
15. Philadelphia: Jared Sullinger
16. Houston: Royce White
17. Dallas: Perry Jones
18. Houston: Moe Harkless
19. Orlando: Kendall Marshall
20. Denver: Draymond Green
21. Boston: Terrence Jones
22. Boston: Will Barton
23. Atlanta: Quincy Miller
24. Cleveland: Evan Fournier
25. Memphis: Tony Wroten
26. Indiana: Andrew Nicholson
27. Miami: Miles Plumlee
28. OKC: Jae Crowder
29. Chicago: John Jenkins
30. Golden State: Arnette Moultrie
Finally, let me say that I have been amazed with the level of analysis being produced by unpaid draft analysts on sites like CanisHoopus.com, TheNBAGeek.com, WagesofWins.com and many more.
In 2012, it is unconscionable that teams spend so much money flying scouts around the country (and around the world) and don't hire some of the brighter statistical minds putting their proven work out their for free. How has a team not hired Ed Weiland, who was one of the only people to say Jeremy Lin was an impact player in the NBA? You could even pay people a freelance rate to exclusively offer up their analysis as simply a piece of your team's draft analysis.
Somebody will be smart enough to do this. I can only dream that it will be the Minnesota Timberwolves as run by David Kahn Team Adelman.