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NBA Draft Candidates By The Numbers

This year the NBA mock drafts seem to have more of a consensus than is typical. So rather than just repeat where players are expected to be selected, let’s take a look at some of the college stats of the projected picks. In the following lists, I am mostly focusing on players projected to go in the first round of the draft. But I will throw in a few other names just to make things interesting.

Vexing this project with their incomplete college stats:

1. All the international players

2. Nerlens Noel - hideous knee injury

3. CJ McCollum - injured a year after upsetting Duke

4. Glen Rice Jr. - D-league last year

5. Ricardo Ledo - never eligible

6. Myck Kabongo - ineligible most of season

The story prior to the combine was that Cody Zeller had short arms that caused him to get his shot blocked more often than you might expect for a 7-footer. But his arms measured out to the same height as his frame. So maybe the story was that he was a below-the-rim player. But his vertical leap wasn’t terrible either when tested at the combine. Maybe the answer is just that Zeller does a good job of getting under players and drawing contact. Among first round picks, Zeller was the best at getting to the line last year: 

Best free throw rate, most FTA/FGA

1. Cody Zeller 0.73

2. Mason Plumlee 0.69

3. Nerlens Noel 0.63

4. Jeff Withey 0.60 

I’ll give Noel a bit of a pass because of the short season, but if he is going to live at the free throw line, he needs to start making a higher percentage of his free throws: 

Worst FT%

1. Steven Adams 44%

2. Nerlens Noel 53%

3. Gorgui Dieng 65%

4. Tony Mitchell 68%

Interestingly, all four of these bad free throw shooters were also elite shot-blockers: 

Best Block Pct

1. Jeff Withey 14%

2. Nerlens Noel 13%

3. Steven Adams 11%

4. Gorgui Dieng 9%

5. Tony Mitchell 8%

I think this says something about player development. If you have always been an explosive player in high school or college, you have never needed to put in major hours working on your shot. But the NBA game now emphasizes skill over physicality and if Noel, Adams and Dieng ever want to be stars, their scoring touch will have to evolve to match their elite defensive ability.

Withey’s shot-blocking is truly remarkable and someone is going to get a very nice defensive piece at the end of the first round.

Having looked at bad free throw shooters, here are some of the better free throw shooters: 

80%+ from the FT Line

1. Ben McLemore 87%

2. CJ McCollum 85%

3. Tony Snell 84%

4. Allen Crabbe 81%

5. Trey Burke 80%

6. Pierre Jackson 80%

7. Kentavious Caldwell Pope 80%

The real problem with college data is the small sample sizes. A player can get hot from three-point range for 15 games, declare for the draft, and it is hard to tell if his shooting skill is a mirage. That’s why some people view free throw shooting as the real shooter’s metric. If you put in the time and have a natural touch at the line, there is a better chance you will eventually become a quality perimeter shooter in the pros. Thus even though there is some variation in the three point shooting percentages for players like Pierre Jackson and CJ McCollum, the fact that all seven of the above players were good at the line suggests they are all natural shooters. 

College three-point percentages are less interesting for guys that rarely take them. (I am looking at you Victor Oladipo.) Thus in the next table, I am only showing the top three point shooters if they made a lot of threes. 

Over 70 made 3's on the year, best percentages

1. Erik Murphy 45%

2. Reggie Bullock 44%

3. Ben McLemore 42%

4. James Southerland 40%

5. Trey Burke 39%

Erik Murphy is projected as a second round pick right now and that is probably fair. But 6’10” guys who shoot over 40 percent from beyond the arc for three years in a row usually at least get a chance in the NBA. The same comment applies to Southerland.

I’m not convinced Victor Oladipo is really a natural outside shooter. But he is undoubtedly a hard-worker, and he was one of the most versatile defenders in college basketball. He had the second most steals among projected first-round picks: 

Most Steals

1. Michael Carter-Williams 109

2. Victor Oladipo 78

3. Shane Larkin 71

4. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 65

Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo were both relatively tall guards at the college level which allowed them to get their hands on more passes. But I worry a little bit that Carter-Williams great steal numbers were a product of playing in a zone defense. In a zone, dipping into passing lanes and cheating off your man is more common. I’m also a little worried that Carter-Williams led all projected first round picks in DQs last year: 

Most likely to foul out

1. Michael Carter-Williams - 5 DQs on year

2. Alex Len - 4 DQs on year

Maybe Carter-Williams is a little too aggressive in some games, but he only averaged 2.3 fouls per game, so foul trouble wasn’t a common occurrence. In fact, none of the consensus first round picks looks particularly foul prone at all.

And of course what makes Carter-Williams' size all the more special is that he is a PG with elite passing skills: 

Best Assist Rate

1. Pierre Jackson 41%

2. Michael Carter-Williams 40%

3. Trey Burke 37%

4. Shane Larkin 26% 

No one can match Trey Burke’s assist-to-turnover ratio however: 

Best Assist to Turnover Ratio (PGs)

1. Trey Burke 3.0

2. Pierre Jackson 2.1

3. Michael-Carter Williams 2.1

4. Shane Larkin 2.0

Burke’s performance is even more impressive given how many freshmen he played with last year. He turned a team of young players into a Final Four team with his outstanding decision making. 

And don’t overlook the passing of some of these non-PGs too: 

Best Assist to Turnover Ratio (non-PGs)

1. Reggie Bullock 2.3

2. Otto Porter 1.8

Porter’s strength is his shooting and passing, not his play-making and driving. On the flip side, these guys are black holes: 

Worst Assist to Turnover Ratio

1. Tony Mitchell 0.3

2. Shabazz Muhammad 0.5

3. Jeff Withey 0.5

4. Anthony Bennett 0.5

At least Tony Mitchell had the excuse that he was playing in a non-power conference and he was almost always the best player on the floor. But Shabazz Muhammad might have helped his team by passing once in a while. There is an interesting correlation in the fact that Shabazz Muhammad selfishly lied about his age for all those years and selfishly never passes the ball to teammates. 

Having looked at the great three point shooters earlier, here are the bad ones: 

Wait, why was he taking a three? Over 70 misses, worst percentages

1. Jamaal Franklin 27%

2. Michael Carter-Williams 29% 

I’m not sure how Franklin’s game translates to the NBA. A guard who struggles with his outside shot is going to be exposed pretty early. But Franklin was a dominant player at San Diego St. in a lot of ways. At 6’5” Franklin had the best defensive rebounding rate of any of the projected first round picks. Franklin’s defensive rebounding rate was even better than the forwards and centers. 

Best Defensive Rebounding Percentage

1. Jamaal Franklin 26%

2. Mason Plumlee 23%

3. Gorgui Dieng 22%

4. Anthony Bennett 22%

Gorgui Dieng was dominant on the glass on both ends of the floor.

Best Offensive Rebounding Percentage

1. Steven Adams 15%

2. Alex Len 13%

3. Gorgui Dieng 13%

4. Cody Zeller 12%

Offensive rebounding was Adams best offensive skill, but the rest of his offensive game needs a lot of work. And Adams didn’t play nearly as minutes as some of the other elite players. It is pretty baffling why some of these players declared given that they hadn’t even earned major minutes at the college level yet: 

Fewest Minutes Per Game

1. Grant Jerrett 18 MPG

2. Dewayne Dedmon 22 MPG

3. Steven Adams 23 MPG

4. Amath M'Baye 25 MPG 

On the flip side, Shane Larkin absolutely was an iron man for Miami, playing the most minutes per game of any projected first round pick. And the reason for all those minutes is that Larkin was one of the most improved players in college basketball this season. (For those of you less familiar with college data, ORtg is a measure of points scored per 100 possessions.) 

Big improvements in efficiency

1. Shane Larkin ORtg improved from 99 to 117 while using 3% more possessions

2. Alex Len ORtg improved from 99 to 113 while using 6% more possessions

3. Trey Burke ORtg improved from 106 to 121 while using 2% more possessions

4. Victor Oladipo ORtg improved from 107 to 122 while using 1% fewer possessions

5. Reggie Bullock ORtg improved from 118 to 128 while using 3% more possessions

6. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ORtg improved from 104 to 113 while using 4% more possessions

There are so many more names I could include on this list. Murray St.’s Isaiah Canaan deserves a lot more praise. Even though his team did worse, Canaan had a brilliant season personally. On the flip side…

Not improving

1. Andre Roberson ORtg fell from 109 to 100 while using 2% fewer possessions

2. Phil Pressey ORtg fell from 114 to 101 while using 3% more possessions

3. Cody Zeller ORtg fell from 127 to 119 while using 2% more possessions

None of these guys was terrible. Roberson was still a dominant defender. But when you tread water in college basketball, NBA scouts start to downgrade your potential. Zeller treaded water and didn’t improve and his draft stock has fallen quite a bit. From Z to Z, from Zeller’s free throw rate, to his declining ORtg, that’s a quick look inside the college stats.

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