Wednesday, April 15, 2015

2014-15 All Defensive Team

Tony Allen is a lock-down defender. 
We close out the 2014-15 NBA regular season awards with the All-Defensive Team. Using a combination of the Defensive Rating (the number of points per 100 possessions that the team allows while that individual player is on the court), and our own read on players, we came up with these: 

2014-15 All NBA Defensive First Team: John Wall - Washington, Tony Allen - Memphis, Kawhi Leonard - San Antonio,  Draymond Green - Golden State, Marcin Gortat - Washington. 

ALL NBA Defensive Second Team: Stephen Curry - Golden State, Andre Iguodala - Golden State, Khris Middleton - Milwaukee, Tim Duncan - San Antonio, Rudy Gobert - Utah.

NBA All Rookie Team 2014-15

Mirotic is a quality rookie forward
The All-Rookie Team in the NBA is as subjective as you would like to make it. In a season such as this one, I'd bet many voters had a hard time coming up with ten rookie names. The NBA All-Rookie Teams are one award that, to us, is annually goofed up by voters putting too much value in per-game averages. That is how you get Gary Neal on the First Team in 2010-11 ahead of Eric Bledsoe or Derrick Favors. In 2012-13 It was Dion Waiters making the First Team ahead of Andre Drummond. 

It is understandable. Many voters simply compare per-game averages of players and roll with the guy who has the higher numbers. But what if the guy with the higher numbers is playing eight minutes more per-game simply because his team stinks, and is "in the tank"? 

Our issue with using per-game averages as the most important factor is that - not all teams are playing guys the same way. For instance, a rookie on the San Antonio Spurs, a veteran laden, championship winning team, is not going to have anywhere close to the equal amount of opportunities a rookie in Philadelphia will get. By breaking production down to a per-minute basis, we can "level the court" somewhat. 

Since we are way more obsessive than most, and for the sake of further educating ourselves, we took the time to closely examine 44 rookie NBA players, vying for ten spots on the All-Rookie Teams. 

Per-minute efficiency can help focus in on who has a chance to play for years in the NBA. Almost without fail, low-efficiency guys will fade away, into the D-League, or perhaps overseas.  We also believe the defensive aspect of the game is lost too often when it comes to NBA All-Rookie teams. 

We used the following criteria and formula... Total Production - 40% (efficiency rating multiplied by number of minutes played), Efficiency Rating (per-minute) 30%, Defensive Rating 20%, and number of wins 10%. ...We then built two teams using the data and our feel as a guide.

2014-15 NBA All-Rookie First Team

Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins, Nikola Mirotic, Nerlens Noel. 

All Rookie Second Team: 

Jordan Clarkson, Zach LaVine, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Jusuf Nurkic. 

Players who were close to making our lists included: Tarik Black, Mitch McGary, James Ennis, K.J. McDaniels, Cory Jefferson, and Langston Galloway. 


Monday, April 13, 2015

All-NBA 2014-15

All-NBA status = stardom
In our opinion, All-NBA teams should recognize the player's total production, defense, and the individual's team success. This year, we tried to use a formula that ranked each of those three categories. "Total production" seems the most important to me. Some players missed chunks of games due to injury, and that should be accounted for when trying to decide who is worthy of being an All-NBA performer any given year. 

We went to great lengths to decide our first through third team selections. We started with 57 players trying to get down to the top 15. After a first look, 13 guys were eliminated as candidates, leaving us with 44 players vying for 15 spots. 

We valued total production (our efficiency rating, multiplied by number of minutes played) as 60% of our formula. The best measure for defense is the Defensive Rating stat. But because Defensive Rating is greatly influenced by a player's teammates, it was weighted at just 20%. The remaining 20% weight went to the number of wins a player's team has. 


The results were eye-opening. Some of the players you would expect to be at or near the top were not there. Others who were overlooked as recently as the NBA All-Star Game, we realized, could make a strong case for All-NBA status. 


Ultimately we used the data to help inform us. But the final decision was not just about the results of the formula. As always, we believe you have to consider the data but also consider your own common sense, and feel for who has impacted the NBA and their team enough to deserve All-NBA honors. 

Please understand that these 15 players who we ultimately decided to go with are not necessarily the 15 players we would want if we were building a team. This is not about "upside" or the future. These first through third team All-NBA selections are instead SOLELY related to this 2014-15 season and who we think impacted the league at each position with their overall play. 
Curry should be MVP

All-NBA First Team: Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol. 


The picks of Curry and Harden are no-brainers. Lebron as the small-forward is also pretty easy. While I would like to see Anthony Davis have a bigger impact on defense, I also think it is fairly simple to name him as the First-Team power-forward. The shocker in our formula was that DeAndre Jordan, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol came out in a near dead-heat in the battle for First-Team Center. Presently, the Clippers and Grizzlies both have the same number of wins (54), while the Bulls trail with 48 wins. Jordan has yet to miss a game. He leads the NBA in both rebounding (14.8 per game!) and field goal percentage (70%!). But Marc Gasol has the better Defensive Rating among the trio, and that was the tie-breaker for me. 

All-NBA Second Team: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook,  Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol, DeAndre Jordan.  


The Second Team backcourt of Paul and Westbrook seemed easy to decipher. Westbrook missed 15 games for OKC which is why he fell to Second-Team status. The next three positions really have no correct answer. The NBA landscape at small-forward went through some undulations in the 2014-15 season. Usually, Kevin Durant is a shoe-in for All-NBA but he was injured. Ditto Paul George. Carmelo Anthony's team was pitiful. ...After considering Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson (a shooting guard), and Draymond Green, we decided on Kawhi. Leonard is the next best small forward choice even though he missed 18 games this season. Leonard's "two-way" ability, and the Spurs success, is enough for him to edge out the rest in our opinion. The two BIGs on the Second Team are Pau Gasol, and Jordan. 

All-NBA Third-Team: John Wall, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan.


The Third-Team shocker is Draymond Green. Again, we doubt he will earn many votes but it says here that he should. Green has been one of, if not the best, defender in the NBA this season (we chose him as the NBA Defensive Player of the Year). His team has 65 wins and although he did spend most of his minutes playing power forward for the Warriors, he often operates in a small-forward-like capacity (he shoots .338 from deep, and has a better than two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio). ...Tim Duncan is often overlooked. Some say he plays limited minutes too often. Well consider this... Duncan is approaching 2200 minutes (2193 mins.) this season and that is more minutes played than DeMarcus Cousins (2013 minutes played). Duncan is one of eight players in our study of 44 that has a Defensive Rating under 100 (the lower the number, the better). He is also one of eight in our study of 44 guys that has an "EFR" of over .700 (the higher, the better). 

Who was close that deserves careful consideration for All-NBA? Among BIGs it is Al Horford, Cousins, Paul Millsap, Blake Griffin, and Zach Randolph. Perimeter players who nearly made it included Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving (his poor defensive rating turned me off big time), Eric Bledsoe, and Jeff Teague. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

NBA Defensive Player of the Year

Draymond will check a point guard.
Your eyes can fool you when it comes to defense. A steal or a blocked shot catch the eye, and are among the traditional statistics tracked and published. In most cases, a steal or a blocked shot is a good thing. However, if a player gambles for a steal, and misses, (as many of the steals leaders do), the TEAM defense is now playing four against five. Likewise, a shot may be attempted to be blocked, which leads to an opening for the opponent on the offensive glass. 

Taking a charge is STILL not a statistic that shows up in the NBA box-score. (You can find charges taken total at http://www.nbaminer.com/player-foul-details/). 

So, what IS the best way to measure defense? That is a tough question, not easily answered. The "Defensive Rating" stat is our preferred method these days. Defensive Rating measures the number of points scored by the opponent per 100 possessions when any given player is on the floor. 

Recently, I heard someone in the NBA, whom I respect, say that LeBron James was the best defender out of the group of MVP candidates (Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook). That declaration struck me. While LeBron is a freak, and I would have no issue riding with him for a single defensive possession, there are now measurables that go deeper than just a single possession, that suggest there are better choices than LeBron. 

Modern statistical advances now allow us to tabulate how many points the opponent scores on EVERY possession that LeBron, or ANY OTHER player is on the floor. In any one game a single NBA team will average roughly 98 possessions. The Defensive Rating makes it impossible for a player to "take a play off" without it being tracked. Other subtleties that used to go unnoticed include a player who draws technical fouls and gives free points to the opponent in the form of technical free throws. The Defensive Rating tracks all these nuances.  

No ole'.  Defensive Rating catches you.
The issue with using Defensive Rating as the "be all, end all" is that all individual Defensive Ratings are subject to who your four other teammates are. Backline defenders who play with slower, poor, defensive guards, will allow more points per 100 possessions than backline defenders who play, with say, a ball-pressure hawk like Patrick Beverley. Guards who play with great rim protectors (like Rudy Gobert) will see their Defensive Ratings improve. If a guard plays with an undersized center, the guard's defensive rating can suffer. 

The way around some of this confusion is to look at the team's defensive rating and see what players individually are above or below their own team average. 

All of the above prefacing is simply to help non hardcore basketball fans understand how difficult it can be to measure defense, which is rarely highlighted but remains HALF of the game. 

To decide on the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, we looked at four key defensive statistics, and ranked 20 potential candidates. The 20 players comprised any who ranked in the top five in one of the four categories plus others known as great defenders (Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, LeBron, Nerlens Noel, Russell Westbrook).  We assigned points in each category (Defensive Rating 50%, Charges Taken 20%, Steals 15%, Blocked Shots 15%).  

Our method crowned Draymond Green the 2014-15 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. The versatile forward checks perimeter players or BIGs. He has anchored the Warriors defense all season. When Green is on the floor the Warriors give up just 97 points per 100 possessions. The team as a whole has a Defensive Rating of 100.7 which is the best of the 30 teams in the NBA. 

Our top five NBA defenders of 2014-15? Green, followed Bogut, Noel, Leonard, and Gobert. As for LeBron... In our study, he ranked only ahead of Westbrook when it comes to the five players most mentioned in the MVP race. (If you are curious, in our defensive study, Curry edged Davis, followed by Harden, then LeBron, then Westbrook.)

(You can see how each of the 20 D.P.o.Y. candidates ranked  in each category below.)

Blocked shots (total) (15% weight)

Anthony Davis 183
Rudy Gobert 174
DeAndre Jordan 171
Serge Ibaka 155
Nerlens Noel 140
Tim Duncan 137
Marc Gasol 125
DeMarcus Cousins 103
Andrew Bogut 100
Draymond Green 94
James Harden 56
Kawhi Leonard 46
LeBron James 46
Marreese Speights 34
Tony Allen 30
Monta Ellis 24
Stephen Curry 16
Russell Westbrook 14
Chris Paul 13
Kyle Lowry 12

Charges Taken (20% weight)

DeMarcus Cousins 34
Monta Ellis 28
Marreese Speights 28
Kyle Lowry 25
Steph Curry 12
Draymond Green 11
Marc Gasol 8
Russell Westbrook 6
LeBron James 4
Andrew Bogut 3
James Harden 3
Nerlens Noel 3
Chris Paul 2
Anthony Davis 1
Rudy Gobert 1
Tim Duncan 0
Kawhi Leonard 0
Serge Ibaka 0
DeAndre Jordan 0
Tony Allen 0

Defensive Rating (50% weight)

Andrew Bogut 96
Draymond Green 96.5
Kawhi Leonard 96.6
Tim Duncan 97.2
Rudy Gobert 98
Tony Allen 98.4
Nerlens Noel 98.5
DeAndre Jordan 99
Marc Gasol 99.7
Anthony Davis 100.2
DeMarcus Cousins 100.8
Stephen Curry 101
James Harden 102
Marreese Speights 102
Serge Ibaka 103
LeBron James 105
Chris Paul 105
Monta Ellis 107
Russell Westbrook 107
Kyle Lowry 108

Steals (total) (15%)

Stephen Curry 151 
Chris Paul 147
Monta Ellis 145
James Harden 144 
Nerlens Noel 131
Tony Allen 129
Kawhi Leonard 129
Russell Westbrook 129
Draymond Green 117
LeBron James 102
Kyle Lowry 102
Anthony Davis 90
DeMarcus Cousins 89
DeAndre Jordan 73
Marc Gasol 67
Rudy Gobert 58
Tim Duncan 56
Andrew Bogut 38
Serge Ibaka 30
Marreese Speights 16

Saturday, April 4, 2015

NBA Most Improved Player

Greek Freak(y) good!
The Most Improved Player award annually has multiple strong candidates. This year is no exception. Giannis Antetokounmpo has nearly doubled his scoring average from last season. Rudy Gobert helped make the Utah Jazz defense do a 180-degree spin from being terrible to being very good. Jeff Teague and teammate Kyle Korver went from being good players to being All-Stars. Their younger teammate Dennis Schroder barely played last season but this year Schroder has been a dependable backup point guard on the best team in the East. Brandon Knight stepped up his game. Khris Middleton quietly did too. Klay Thompson improved his efficiency by going to the basket more often. Jimmy Butler went from being a solid player averaging 13 points per game to a guy that gets 20 a night for the Chicago Bulls. Evan Turner was virtually left for dead in Indiana at the end of last season, and now he is relevant again after a solid year in Boston. Victor Oladipo made strides in Orlando this season as compared to last. Certainly Draymond Green should be in the mix as well. Donatas Motiejunas parlayed a successful Summer League into a really nice year for the Houston Rockets. Hassan Whiteside was not even in the NBA last season. In 2015, Whiteside has emerged as a legitimate BIG in the league. 

If you are scoring at home we just named 14 players that we think a case could be made for. But let's define "most improved". Is it actually for the player that improved the most? Or is it for the guy who was already pretty good but just was not getting the minutes? As you may have guessed, I like to see who actually improved their game. We can do that by looking at the efficiency per minute from one season to the next, and also by the defensive rating from one season to the next. 

Efficiency improvement from 2013-14 to 2014-15 

Whiteside DNP to .814 = +.814
Schroder .253 to .485 = +.232
Butler .366 to .555 = +.189
Gobert: .488 to .673 = +.185
Thompson .403 to .572 = +.169
Antetokounmpo .371 to .512 = +.141
Green .469 to .582 = +.113
Middleton .387 to .464 = +.077
Teague .500 to .573 = +.073
Motiejunas .409 to .471 = +.062
Turner .427 to .476 = +.049
Knight .459 to .498 = +.039
Oladipo .425 to .464 = +.039
Korver .417 to .441 = +.024

Defensive Rating improvement from 2013-14* to 2014-15

Knight 114 to 104 = +10
Antetokounmpo 110 to 101 = +9
Middleton 111 to 103 = +8
*Whiteside 102 (2011-12) to 96 = +6
Gobert: 104 to 98 = +6
Teague 109 to 104 = +5
Turner 109 to 104 = +5
Schroder 110 to 106 = +4
Thompson 106 to 103 = +3
Green 98 to 96 = +2
Korver 108 to 106 = +2
Motiejunas 106 to 105 = +1
Oladipo 106 to 108 = -2
Butler 100 to 105 = -5

Gobert's D is real. 
The fact that Jimmy Butler's defensive rating took a major hit as his offense improved is enough for me to rule him out in this, winner take all Most Improved Player award, race. Since Hassan Whiteside only played in 43 games this season it is difficult, in my way of thinking, to give him the nod over others who played a full season. ...Oladipo's defense actually took a step backward while he just gained a slight uptick in efficiency. Ultimately, Oladipo is out of consideration. Green has been brilliant this season and while his overall production is up significantly, we always thought he was good. He improved but mostly because his role was expanded. ...Knight, Motiejunas, Turner, Teague, Middleton, and Thompson all improved but cannot make the claim as MOST improved. There can only be one. For us, it really is a tight race between Schroder, Gobert, and the "Greek Freak" (Antetokounmpo). 

While Gobert and Schroder have unquestionably improved their play, we feel like Antetokounmpo made the biggest leap. As a rookie he often looked clueless at both ends of the floor. Now we see glimpses of a player that has a chance to excel as a two-way star in the league. By any measure, Antetokounmpo (age 20) already ranks in the top-tier of NBA small forwards. He improved his defensive rating by a full nine points (110 to 101) from 2013-14 to 2014-15. His per-minute efficiency improved dramatically with a better shot selection this season. 

Again, we think it is close, but in our opinion, it is Antetokounmpo by a vowel over fellow international ballers Gobert and Schroder for the 2014-15 NBA Most Improved Player.  

Friday, April 3, 2015

NBA Coach of the Year is...

Kerr's success surprised us. 
NBA Coach of the Year is a tough call. I think it really comes down to either Mike Budenholzer or Steve Kerr. I would listen to arguments in favor of Kevin McHale, Dwane Casey, David Blatt, Tom Thibodeau, Dave Joerger, and Terry Stotts. But ultimately, it comes down to Budenholzer or Kerr. 

The Atlanta Hawks overachieved and they did it without having a "superstar". Their record of 56-19 is the best in the Eastern Conference. A huge amount of credit, in our opinion, goes to Budenholzer, who from day one of training camp made it clear that he would ride with his veterans. We have always been a believer that who a coach does NOT play is as important as who he does play. Budenholzer has seemingly pulled all the right strings in Atlanta. 

Meanwhile, Steve Kerr has guided the Golden State Warriors to a franchise-best season. The "Dubs" are 61-13, the best record in the NBA. Kerr has a deep roster and possibly the league MVP in Stephen Curry. But Kerr deserves credit for getting David Lee, and Andre Iguodala to accept less minutes without any major distraction. The Warriors defense is ranked number one in defensive rating. Their offense is third offensive rating. Their average margin of victory of +10 is almost unheard of. For those reasons, and mostly because of the historic significance of the Warriors success this regular season, I am giving NBA Coach of the Year honors to Steve Kerr.   

The 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year is...

Noel should be the NBA R.o.Y.
Let's face it, this 2014-15 class of NBA rookies has been disappointing as a whole. In a league of grown men, the NBA rookie is lucky to get minutes on a good team. On a bad team, a rookie may find it easier to play extended time. This fact muddies the water when trying to sift out which rookie has been the league Rookie of the Year. In many cases, activity is confused for achievement. For franchises that are in rebuilding mode, the coach may be encouraged to play rookies as many minutes as they can handle. 

So how do we decide who should be Rookie of the Year? I want to go deeper than simply giving it to the guy with the highest scoring average. This is where our efficiency rating (per-minute) comes in handy. The "EFR" tells us who is actually achieving out there. We then will multiply the EFR number by the number of minutes played to find out who has actually produced the most. 

Defense is usually not considered much when thinking about Rookie of the Year. But it should be. It's half of the game of basketball. And I also think we should consider the team's record. 

The candidates worthy of consideration are: Jordan Clarkson, Zach LaVine, Nikola Mirotic, Nerlens Noel, Jusef Nurkic, Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart, and Andrew Wiggins. 

Using a simple point system, we will rank each player in the three categories we mentioned above. The most important category is total production, followed by defensive rating, and then team record. We will weigh the point system so that team record is worth only half of the value of total production and defensive rating. 

Total production: 

Noel: EFR .508 x 2240 = 1137.9
Wiggins: EFR .370 x 2683 = 992.7
Payton: EFR .427 x 2225 = 950
Mirotic: EFR .564 x 1494 = 842.6
Nurkic: EFR .583 x 984 =  573.6
Clarkson: EFR .470 x 1218 = 572.4
LaVine: EFR .348 x 1621 = 564.1
Smart: EFR .351 x 1597 = 560.5

The EFR suggests that if Mirotic played for a team other than Chicago, where he plays behind Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, and Taj Gibson, Mirotic would likely stand out more. 


 Mirotic on a bad team = numbers would swell.
Defensive Rating:

Noel 98.1
Nurkic 98.6
Mirotic 101.5
Smart 105.1
Payton 106.9
LaVine 112.3
Clarkson 113.6
Wiggins 114

Team Record:

Mirotic 45-30
Smart: 34-41
Nurkic 28-47
Payton 22-53
Clarkson 20-54
Noel: 18-58
Wiggins 16-59
LaVine 16-59

Using the method described above to come up with a total for each player, we find that Nerlens Noel comes out as our choice for Rookie of the Year, narrowly edging out Nikola Mirotic. (Totals: Noel 17.5, Mirotic 17, Nurkic 14, Payton 12.5, Smart 9.5, Wiggins 8.75, Clarkson 7, LaVine 5.75.)

The points system we used was harsh to Andrew Wiggins. But that is why we do this. While Wiggins has had more highlight dunks than any of the other rookies, his defense has been horrid, and his team has lost more games than any of the other candidates (except his own teammate, LaVine). 

...So voters go forward with Nerlens Noel as your 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year. He has the most total production AND the best defensive rating among those considered. Those are two good reasons to give Noel the nod. 

Ranking the five NBA MVP candidates

Warriors: franchise-best mode
The NBA will ask media members associated with each of the league's 30 teams to rank their MVP candidates from one to five. The ballots will be sent electronically next week. You all know I am into per minute efficiency. But when it comes to choosing an NBA Most Valuable Player I like to value total production from regular season game one through time to vote. I value defense and the record of the player's team too. 

For this exercise to determine a 2015 NBA MVP, let's nominate five players. We will rank each guy 1 through 5 in the following categories: Total Production (efficiency rating x mins. played), Defensive Rating, and Team Record. We will give 5 points for a top ranking, and drop by one point per player in each category.

Total Production: 

James Harden .743 x 2729 mins. = 2027.6
Stephen Curry .789 x 2368 mins. = 1868.3
Anthony Davis .843 x 2173 mins. = 1840.5
Russell Westbrook .804 x 2029 mins. = 1647.3
LeBron James .696 x 2323 mins. = 1616.8


Defensive Rating

Stephen Curry - 100
Anthony Davis - 100.3
James Harden - 101.5
Russell Westbrook - 102.2
LeBron James - 104.6

Team Record:

Stephen Curry 61-13
James Harden 51-24
LeBron James 48-27
Russell Westbrook 42-33
Anthony Davis 40-34

The results? Curry is the top point earner at 14, followed by Harden with 12. Davis has 8 points, Westbrook 6, and James has 5. 

It is important that when you look back on a season the year can be quickly identified by the MVP. This season has been the Year of the Warriors. They are breaking franchise records and beating teams by an average margin of 10.8 points per game. Steph Curry not only is the team superstar but also the symbolic torch-bearer that best represents the way the NBA game is changing. 

Pull a transition three pointer lately?  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Sweet 16. Players to watch from an NBA scouting perspective

Blue chip players can be found. 
There is a certain credibility that goes with being one of the outstanding basketball players in action in the Sweet 16. Now that the 2015 NCAA Tournament is down to 16 teams, the spotlight begins to shine brighter and focus harder on the individual stars. Annually, we write an article that lists the 16 players that we feel are the most worthy of having NBA scouting eyes on them. We started this exercise in 2005, and we can report that any player making this list has an 82% chance of earning an NBA pay-check, at minimum. Some will become All-Stars. Sweet 16 "alumni" that have reached NBA All-Star status include these "blue chip" players: Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Roy Hibbert, and Jimmy Butler. 

Who are the Sweet 16 players we will zero in on? 

1. Karl Anthony Towns - Kentucky 7'0" 250 lbs. Center. freshman. ...Towns has the best defensive rating in college basketball. When he is on the floor, Kentucky gives up just 76.6 points per 100 possessions. That stat may not mean much to you if you are not "in-tune" with the impact defensive rating (DEFRTG) can have on a team's success. Trust us. A DEFRTG of 76.6 is a BIG DEAL. ...Towns is a tremendous shot-blocker and rim protector, yet he has the finesse to shoot 82% from the free-throw line. He is still learning to play in the low post but by all accounts, he is a smart kid that should improve. ...I also like that at age 19, the seven-foot Towns shows humility in being able to handle playing on a loaded Kentucky team where he plays just 21 minutes per game. He averages 10 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocked shots per game. 

2. Justise Winslow - Duke 6'7" 229 lbs. Small Forward. freshman. ...Winslow has game changing ability in the open-court. He is ridiculously talented in transition, with the ability to finish with power, speed, and skill. Winslow averages 12 points, and six rebounds per game. He shoots an impressive 40% from beyond the college arc, and he has more assists than turnovers. Winslow shoots just 61% from the free throw line, which is concerning. ...Justise's Dad, Rickie Winslow played professionally in Turkey. Justise will be a safe pick in the NBA Draft. 

They call him "Jah"
3. Jahlil Okafor - Duke 6'11" 270 lbs. Center. freshman. ...Okafor is a skilled BIG that has remarkable ability to score in the low-post. He has a BIG wide body and good ball handling skills that allow him carve space in the paint. Okafor is shooting 67% FG! He averages 18.1 points, and 8.7 rebounds per game. Okafor is especially good on the offensive glass. ...As good as Okafor is, he has three major weaknesses in our opinion. He is a poor foul shooter (51% FT), he has nearly two turnovers for every one assist, and his post defense is below-average. Okafor could also be in better shape. 

4. Delon Wright - Utah 6'5" 180 lbs. Point Guard. Senior. ...Wright is a multi-faceted point guard that has really improved as a three point shooter during the 2014-15 season. The younger brother of Dorell Wright (Portland TrailBlazers forward), Delon is excellent running the pick-and-roll, showing an ability to create a shot for himself as well as set up his teammates. Wright led the Pac-12 in true shooting percentage in 2014-15. ...Wright reacts very quickly, allowing him to get a high number of steals and deflections. But he's not just out there gambling to get steals. His defensive rating is excellent, at 88.9. ...Potential top-tier NBA guards are difficult to come by and should be coveted. Wright has a chance, in our opinion, to, in-time, become a top-tier NBA player. 

5. Willie Cauley-Stein - Kentucky 7'0" 244 lbs. Center. junior. ...Cauley Stein is a rim protecting BIG that is remarkably quick off his feet. He blocks shots and holds down the paint with a presence of cat-quickness and length. Cauley-Stein has a standing reach of 9'2" (same as Tyson Chandler), and a max-vert. of 37". ...Cauley-Stein knows his limitations reasonably well and he seldom takes a bad shot. He shoots 59% FG. ...Far from complete, Cauley Stein is a horrid free throw shooter (50% FT), and he has more turnovers than assists. But his upside is ridiculously high. You just don't find seven footers that can move the way Cauley-Stein does. 


Brice is nice. 
6. Brice Johnson - North Carolina 6'9" 228 lbs. Power Forward. junior. ...Johnson is a scoring forward with NBA athleticism. He averages 12.9 points, and 7.9 rebounds per game. He has a reputation for not being a great defender. However, his Defensive Rating of 93.3 is far from poor. ...Among all 2015 NCAA Tournament PF's in our database, Johnson ranks as the best in efficiency per-minute. He is elite in his ability to finish in transition.  ...Johnson has a thin frame that is beginning to fill out. The three-ball is not a part of Johnson's game at all (zero attempts from beyond the arc in three seasons). 

7. Stanley Johnson - Arizona 6'7" 245 lbs. Small Forward. freshman. ...Johnson is a rugged wing player that can lock-down the opposing team's best wing. That is valuable. He has the best defensive rating of any wing player left in the NCAA Tournament. Johnson helped lead the U.S. to gold medals at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship and the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. He was the MVP of the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. ...He averages 14 points, six rebounds, and one and a half steals per game. Johnson is solid from the three point line, hitting 37%. …Johnson can be better by improving his decision making. He presently has more turnovers than assists.  

8. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - Arizona 6'7" 215 lbs. Shooting Guard. sophomore. ...Arizona is loaded, and sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stands out among great athletes, as the most hyper-athletic guy on the Cats' roster. Hollis-Jefferson is an elite defender. His defensive rating of 87.9 ranks him second among 2015 NCAA Tournament small forwards. …Hollis-Jefferson has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio (career) but he struggles as a perimeter shooter (21% 3-pt career). He shoots 69% from the line. ...I view him as an top-notch athlete with a huge upside. If the shooting gets better, look out. 

9. Kevon Looney - UCLA 6'9" 220 lbs. Small Forward. freshman. ...Looney is an NBA athlete that can legitimately play the small forward position well at 6'9". He is terrific on the offensive glass, and he finishes well in transition. Looney has a positive assist to turnover ratio and he shoots 43% from beyond the college 3-pt. line. I really wish he would stay in school because I don't think he is ready to play meaningful minutes in an NBA game. That said, in three or fours years, he might be a top-tier small forward. 


Sabonis is intense. 
10. Domantas Sabonis - Gonzaga 6'10" 230 lbs. Power Forward. freshman. ..."Domas" Sabonis is the most talented freshman that is still somewhat "under the radar" of the average college hoops fan. He is a fiery competitor with skill, size, and solid athleticism. He is shooting a remarkable 67% FG as a freshman! Sabonis also brings it on the defensive end. He led the West Coast Conference in defensive rating (90.8). ...Domas is the son of international basketball superstar Arvydas Sabonis. Domas is just 18 years old. He was born in Portland, OR. but has citizenship in both the USA and in Lithuania. 

11. Frank Kaminsky - Wisconsin 7'0" 254 lbs. Center. Senior. ...Frank Kaminsky is a seven-footer with skill and shooting touch. He has a feel for the game of basketball. He averages 18.4 points, and 8.1 rebounds per game. He can make three point shots (36% career), owns a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, and he shoots 75% from the foul line. What makes Kaminsky unique is that he was a 6'7" point guard as recently as his junior year of high school. Now those guard skills allow him, as a seven-foot Center, to do things other BIGs simply cannot do. ...He posted the best defensive rating in the Big Ten in 2014-15 (90.1). Kaminsky is a very good defensive rebounder (he led the Big Ten in 2014-15). He was also the Big Ten leader in field goal percentage (55% FG). 

12. Nigel Hayes - Wisconsin 6'8" 235 lbs. Small Forward. sophomore. ...Hayes is yet another quality, two-way, wing player that should have a solid NBA career. He averages 12.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Hayes did not make a single three point shot as a freshman last season. This season, Hayes is shooting 39% 3-pt with 33 made threes. His career free throw percentage is 66% but he has improved this season to 74%. He is solid with the ball, posting a slightly positive assist-to-turnover ratio. 

13. J.P. Tokoto - North Carolina 6'5" 200 lbs. Shooting Guard. junior. ...Tokoto is a freak athlete that continues to improve as a basketball player. In three straight seasons he has shown progress by improving his three-point and free throw percentages. This season, Tokoto is shooting 37% 3-pt, and 61% FT. His assist-to-turnover ratio stands at a very good (for a shooting guard) 1.62-to-1 (career). In transition he is ridiculously good; making highlight plays routinely. He averages just eight points per game but he adds 5.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. ...The ceiling for Tokoto is extremely high. 

14. Montrezl Harrell - Louisville 6'8" 235 lbs. Power Forward. junior. ...Harrell is among the most intense competitors we have scouted in 17 years of watching college basketball. He is about hustle, and heart. He can be intimidating and hard on his teammates. ...Harrell is not the most skilled player, but he makes up for that with his determined efforts. He averages 15.4 points, and 9.2 rebounds per game. He is a tremendous offensive rebounder that enjoys power-dunking. He will try to dunk ANYTHING close to the rim. This season, Harrell has shown the ability to occasionally step outside and knock down a face-up jumper. ...On the flip side, Harrell is a terrible free throw shooter at 48%, and he turns it over more than he assists it.  

15. Jakob Poeltl - Utah 70'0" 230 lbs. Center. freshman. ...Poeltl is Utah's not-so secret weapon. He plays just 23 minutes per game but when he is on the floor, the Utes are a better team. Poeltl is converting a staggering 69.1% of his field goal attempts. His defensive rating of 87.6 can anchor, for whatever limited minutes he may play, the Utah defense. Poeltl is a good offensive rebounder but his free throw stroke is sketchy at just 45% FT. ...I really hope that Poeltl returns to school next season. For all the promise he shows, I'm afraid he will get lost in the NBA grind of BIG men. 

16. Kennedy Meeks - North Carolina 6'9" 290 lbs. Power Forward. sophomore. ...Meeks is a load. 6'9" 290 lbs. He is hard to keep out of the paint, and he has a soft touch. As such, he shoots 55.9% FG for his two season career as a Tar Heel. The former McDonald's All-American averages 11.6 points, and 7.4 rebounds per game. Meeks is a poor free throw shooter at just 61% FT (career). …He is questionable to play in the Sweet 16 after suffering a knee injury in North Carolina's most recent game. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Point Guards to watch in the 2015 NCAA Tournament

The current landscape at the Point Guard position in the NBA is crowded with excellent players. To become the leader of a professional team, fresh from college, very rarely happens, and if it does happen, it usually ends in losses. 

While we will list 14 point guards to watch, the truth is, more than half of them will probably never sniff meaningful minutes in an NBA contest. That does not mean that the guys we mention are not worth watching, it just illustrates how deep the talent pool is right now at the "ONE" spot. 

Delon Wright - Utah 6'5" 180 lbs. Senior. ...Dorell Wright's younger brother is a good defender, and an efficient player. He averages 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game (career). In our opinion he is underrated by most NBA Draft sites (consensus 27th pick). 

D'Angelo Russell - Ohio St. 6'5" 180 lbs. freshman. ...The Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Russell is averaging 19 points, five rebounds, and five assists per contest. He is in love with his three-point shot, hitting 41% of his attempts. Russell was a 2014 McDonald's All-American. 

Kris Dunn - Providence 6'3" 205 lbs. junior. ...Dunn led the Big East in assists and steals in 2014-15. He averages 15.8 points, 7.6 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game this season. He will need to improve his three point shooting (just 30% career). 

Terry Rozier - Louisville 6'1" 190 lbs. sophomore. ...Rozier is a speedy guard that can be disruptive defensively (he led the ACC in total steals). He is somewhat in-between a Point Guard and a Shooting Guard. Rozier idolizes Dwyane Wade. 

Thomas Walkup - Stephen F. Austin 6'4" 195 lbs. junior. ...If Stephen F Austin wins a game (or games) in the Tourney, it will likely be due to Walkup. He was named the Southland Conference Player of the Year. Walkup, a versatile, defensive minded guard, averages 15.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. 


Jones is a basketball whisperer
Tyus Jones - Duke 6'1" 184 lbs. freshman. ...Jones is fun to watch play because he sees plays develop before they actually happen. Jones led the ACC in free throw percentage at 88.4%. 

T.J. McConnell - Arizona 6'1" 195 lbs. Senior. ...As good a leader as I've seen this season. McConnell gives an honest effort on defense while quarterbacking with confidence. 

Fred VanVleet - Wichita St. 6'0" 194 lbs. junior. ...VanVleet is the kind of guard that understands how to keep his team "in a game". He was the Missouri valley Conference assists leader. 

Monte Morris - Iowa St. 6'2" 170 lbs. sophomore. ...The Big 12 leader in assists and steals. Morris shoots 40% from 3-pt. range. 

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera - Georgetown 6'3" 214 lbs. junior. ...He can really shoot the ball with accuracy. Smith-Rivera led the Big East in free throw percentage (87.6 FT% in league play). 

Jack Gibbs - Davidson 5'11" 195 lbs. sophomore. ...Gibbs shoots 44% from beyond the college arc!

Marcus Paige - North Carolina 6'0" 157 lbs. junior. ...Paige has excellent court vision with a career 2.04-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. 

Frank Mason Jr. - Kansas 5'11" 185 lbs. sophomore. ...Made dramatic improvement in all areas this season. 

Quinn Cook - Duke 6'0" 175 lbs. Senior. ...Cook can beat you from deep and he is careful with the ball.

Shooting guards to watch in the Tourney

Centers to watch in the 2015 NCAA Tournament

One in, four out. 
One fascinating aspect of NBA roster building in 2015 is the continued demise of teams playing two BIG players (power forward and center) at the same time. As the game trends toward more three point shooting, and teams playing with "one in" and "four out", we cannot help but wonder what will become of the inventory of basketball players 6'11" 250 lbs. and over. 

Of all the NBA Drafts we have made rankings for (this 2015 NBA Draft will be our 17th year), it is difficult to recall one with as many potential NBA Centers as the draft we will see this June. Maybe a second league of seven footers only will spring up. : ))

With the NCAA Tournament tip-off less than 24 hours away, we list the Center prospects that intrigue us the most...

Karl Anthony Towns - Kentucky 7'0" 250 lbs. freshman. ...Towns is the real deal. His defensive rating of 77.0 is the best among ALL NCAA players. He is a tremendous offensive rebounder, and he shoots 81% from the foul line. 

Myles Turner - Texas 6'11" 243 lbs. freshman. ...Turner led the Big 12 in blocked shots as a freshman. It is not common to see rugged shot blockers that shoot 83% from the free throw line but that is exactly what Myles Turner does. He runs a bit flat footed but he still gets the job done. 

Jahlil Okafor - Duke 6'11" 270 lbs. freshman. ...Okafor is the ACC Player of the Year, and consensus number one pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. He has ability to score in the low post and his focus helps him shoot an incredible 66.9% FG. Okafor was one of five named to the USBWA All-America Team. 

Frank Kaminsky - Wisconsin 7'0" 234 lbs. Senior. ... He can make three point shots, owns a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, and he shoots 75% from the foul line. Kaminsky is a seven-footer with skill and shooting touch. He has a feel for the game of basketball.

Jakob Poeltl - Utah 7'0" 230 lbs. freshman. ...Hopefully Poeltl will return to school next year. He is still very raw but he does have potential especially on the defensive end. He also has a knack for offensive rebounding. 

Joshua Smith - Georgetown 6'10" 350 (listed weight) Senior. ...Smith is horribly out of shape but he has great hands. Smith scores near the rim and converts on 59% of his field goals. 

A.J. Hammons - Purdue 7'0" 251 lbs. junior. ...Hammons has blocked 258 shots in three seasons. He is still passive (in our opinion) on offense. 

Willie Cauley-Stein - Kentucky 7'0" 244 lbs. junior. ...Cauley Stein is a rim protecting BIG that is remarkably quick off his feet. He shoots only 50% from the line (career). 

Mamadou N'Diaye - UC Irvine 7'6" 290 lbs. sophomore. ...Seven feet, six inches tall! He shoots 67.9% from the field. 

Matt Stainbrook - Xavier 6'10" 270 lbs. Senior. ...Stainbrook is a great passer out of the post. He is fun to watch due to his high basketball IQ. 

Abodunrin Gabriel Olaseni - Iowa 6'10" 237 lbs. Senior. ...Olaseni has improved his scoring and shot blocking in each season. 

Daniel Ochefu - Villanova 6'11" 245 lbs. junior. ...Making big strides with improvement in both field goal and free throw percentage each season. 

Dakari Johnson - Kentucky 7'0" 255 lbs. sophomore. ...Excellent defender that also hits the offensive glass. 

Cameron Ridley - Texas 6'10" 285 lbs. junior. ...Big time rebounder!

See the list of Point Guards to watch.

Shooting Guards to watch in the 2015 NCAA Tournament

Harden is the TWO guard to emulate.
The best shooting guards in the NBA come with various subtle differences in their game. Ideally, the best "Two Guards" are guys that can score. The scoring can come in a variety of ways. Dwyane Wade, for example, does not shoot a bunch of three-point shots but he can draw fouls with dribble penetration. Manu Ginobili uses a mixture of the deep shot and driving ability. Klay Thompson has seen a huge upgrade in his efficiency now that he has added more "rim-attacking" to his game, and the current standard for Shooting Guards, James Harden, is a blueprint to emulate. 

The perfect shooting guard should be able to make at least a third of his three-point attempts, (Harden is better than that at 37%), have the ability to create his own shot off the dribble, and get to the foul line. While at the line, a good shooting guard will convert at least 80% of his free throws (Harden hits 86% this season). While being a scorer, a good shooting guard is also a good decision maker. A positive assist-to-turnover ratio is a sign of good decision making. Harden, this season, has 465 assists, with only 265 turnovers. Finally, a good shooting guard HAS to be able to play defense well enough to slow down or at least hold to average, the opposing SG. This season, Harden is running at a career best defensive rating of 102 (which is solid, not great.)

The attributes listed above are just some of the ingredients we are seeking when evaluating the potential NBA shooting guards that are playing in the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Who are we watching closely?

Justise Winslow - Duke 6'6" 229 lbs. - freshman. ...Winslow is a problem for opponents with his size, and ability to finish in transition. He shoots the deep-ball at 39%, and he helps on the glass, getting nearly six rebounds per game. A positive assist-to-turnover ratio from a freshman scoring guard is also nice to see. 

Jae'Sean Tate - Ohio St. 6'4" 190 lbs. - freshman. ...Tate's offensive game today is more like a power forward than a guard. But from an NBA standpoint, he will have to play SG at 6'4". He is a monster in transition and he is very good around the basket. 


Get to know Jordan Barham.
Jordan Barham - Davidson 6'4" 190 lbs. - junior. ...Barham is another athletic player that will need to tighten up his shooting and decision making to thrive in the NBA at 6'4". Barham's 60% FG shooting is a testament to his fantastic finishing ability and strength. He helps as a rebounder as well. 

Josh Hart - Villanova 6'5" 202 lbs. - sophomore. ...Hart is a kid that plays defense, and makes good decisions with the ball. He is shooting 40% from beyond the college arc for his career. He averages 10.4 points, and 4.4 rebounds per game. 

Treveon Graham - VCU 6'6" 220 lbs. - Senior. ...Graham projects as a utility type pro that is not afraid to mix it up. He averages 16 points and seven rebounds per game this season. Graham's basketball hero is Paul Pierce and he tries to do Pierce-like things on the court. 

Dustin Hogue - Iowa St. 6'6" 220 lbs. - Senior. ...Hogue has career averages of 10.6 points, and 6.7 rebounds per game. He shoots 39% 3-pt. 

Melo Trimble - Maryland 6'2" 175 lbs. - freshman. ...Trimble shows signs of excellence with 40% 3-pt. shooting and a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. As a freshman, he led the Big Ten in free throws made and in free throw percentage (86%). 

Elgin Cook - Oregon 6'6" 206 lbs. - sophomore. ...Cook is the son of NBA great Alvin Robertson. Cook is tremendous in the open-court, and he has an advanced mid-post game. 

James Blackmon Jr. - Indiana 6'3" 190 lbs. freshman. ...He can shoot it and he has (slightly) more assists than turnovers. Blackmon is small for a TWO guard but he has a scorer's mentality and skill to manufacture points. 

Royce O'Neale - Baylor 6'6" 220 lbs. Senior. ...You don't hear much hype about Royce O'Neale but he is a player that has compiled impressive numbers in his NCAA career (he played his first two seasons at Denver). He is shooting 47% FG, and he owns a 1.57-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. 

Buddy Hield - Oklahoma 6'4" 208 lbs. junior. ...The Big 12's leading scorer at 17.5 points per game. 

LaDontae Henton - Providence 6'6" 215 lbs. Senior. ...Henton plays forward but we project him as a TWO if he cracks the next level. 

Sir Dominic Pointer - St John's 6'6" 205 lbs. Senior. ...Pointer is all over the court, playing with boundless energy!

Bryce De-Jean Jones - Iowa St. 6'5" 200 lbs. Senior. ...Played at three schools in five years (USC, UNLV, and Iowa St.). 

Small forwards to watch in the Tourney. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Power forwards to watch in the 2015 NCAA Tournament

The power forward position in the NBA is presently LOADED with good players. Cracking the rotation of an NBA team as a BIG is tough. You start with Anthony Davis as the premier power forward in the game. He is followed by skilled and athletic players such as Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph, and Paul Millsap. The further down you look at the most recent NBA power forward efficiency rankings you see names outside of the top 30 like David West, Markieff Morris, and Nene. The point is, the current NBA power forward landscape has little room for growth. Any college power forward will have to be pretty special to deserve minutes in an NBA game next fall. ...Let's examine the players we will watch the closest during the 2015 NCAA Tournament.


Johnson is an NBA athlete! 
Brice Johnson - North Carolina 6'9" 210 lbs. - junior. ...Johnson is the most efficient (per-minute) power forward in the Tournament. He will need to add weight to bang in the NBA but his athleticism and ability to finish in transition are ELITE! Johnson does not shoot the three-ball at all which is why I view him more as a PF.

Kennedy Meeks - North Carolina 6'9" 279 lbs. - sophomore. ...Meeks is a traditional power forward with a big butt that can score in the low post. He shoots 55% FG (career), and he rebounds the ball at a high level. Meeks needs to improve his free throw shooting (just 64% FT).

Domantas Sabonis - Gonzaga 6'10" 230 lbs. - freshman. ...The son of international hoops legend Arvydas Sabonis, Domantas is gaining playing time as an effective BIG for the Zags. He is a terrific defender that had the best defensive rating in the West Coast Conference.

Bonzie Colson - Notre Dame 6'5" 226 lbs. - freshman. ...Colson has added a tremendous deal of efficiency to Notre Dame's attack. The freshman is shooting 62.9% FG as an under-sized post. He might remind you of P.J. Tucker when Tucker was a freshman at Texas.

Bobby Portis - Arkansas 6'10" 242 lbs. - sophomore. ...Portis can bang inside but he also has the finesse to hit face up jumpers. Portis converts on 36% of his three point attempts (career). Portis averages 17 points and eight boards per game.

Jalen Reynolds - Xavier 6'9" 222 lbs. - sophomore. ...Reynolds is a sophomore but he is already 22 years-old. He rebounds the ball and shoots a high percentage (60% FG - career).

TaShawn Thomas - Oklahoma 6'8" 240 lbs. Senior. ...Thomas, a transfer from Houston, has added scoring punch to the Sooners. He averages 11.3 points, and six rebounds per game.

Jameel McKay - Iowa St. 6'9" 215 lbs. junior. ...McKay adds a shot blocking presence to Iowa St. He also shoots a high percentage (58% FG).

Montrezl Harrell - Louisville 6'8" 235 lbs. junior. ...In our opinion, no front-line player "brings it" more than Harrell. He is a determined, physical player.

Perry Ellis - Kansas 6'8" 225 lbs. junior. ...Dependable, and capable, Ellis will likely have to score more in the absence of Cliff Alexander. Ellis has raised his scoring and rebounding averages with each season.

Jordan Bell - Oregon 6'7" 190 lbs. freshman. ...Bell has an uncanny ability to block shots.

Rico Gathers - Baylor 6'8" 280 lbs. junior. ...Gathers is a rebounding machine!

Ryan Spangler - Oklahoma 6'8" 232 lbs. junior. ...Spangler is a 58% field goal shooter (career).

Justin Moss - Buffalo 6'7" 240 lbs. junior. ...Led the MAC in scoring (17.2 ppg), and rebounding (9.2 rpg.). 

Centers to watch in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.