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June 24, 2009
Draft Roundtable
Learning From the Past

Basketball Prospectus

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Kevin Pelton: Welcome to the inaugural Basketball Prospectus NBA Draft Summit. While our writers have been known to dabble in crossover analysis from time to time, this is our first opportunity to combine the knowledge about the college and pro games on staff at BP to take a look at the intersection of the two--the NBA Draft. We're going to take a look at the transition from the NCAA to the NBA and what role statistical analysis can and should take in forecasting NBA potential.

I want to start by referencing a piece John Gasaway wrote in College Basketball Prospectus 2008-2009 about this topic. John, you focused on 2008 lottery pick Anthony Randolph and his poor college numbers. Can you summarize quickly for anyone who's forgotten (or, gasp, anyone who never picked up last year's CBP) what you argued about Randolph?

John Gasaway: Yes, indeed. A year ago I thought that the rather obscure Randolph had paradigmatic value. On the one hand he clearly had (and still has) all the key attributes the NBA craves: height, athleticism and youth. On the other hand, Randolph's numbers as a freshman at LSU seemed to indicate that a career with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants would be about as likely as one with the Golden State Warriors. Randolph was--statistically--the least impressive freshman big man the first round had seen in the one-and-done era. So I wrote a piece for the book that not only opined on one-and-dones in general and O.J. Mayo in particular, but also said, oh-by-the-way: watch Anthony Randolph. Whether he makes the Hall of Fame on the first ballot or flames out immediately, he will teach us more about player evaluation.

KP: Certainly, John, you weren't alone in thinking Randolph would be in over his head at the NBA level. Here's what I wrote a year ago: "The various stat-based systems don't always agree, but there is unanimity on this: Anthony Randolph is not a lottery pick, not anywhere close. In fact, of all the prospects I rated, Randolph rates as the most inefficient offensive player."

Yet Randolph ended up playing quite well for the Warriors as a rookie. Brad, what did you see in his numbers last season?

Bradford Doolittle: I saw a guy whp deserved to play a lot more than he did, though I was as surprised as anyone by him. Rare is the case that a player actually becomes more efficient as a 19-year-old NBA rookie than he was as an 18-year-old college freshman. The wild card in this seems to be Randolph's athleticism, which is something I've been working on quantifying. However, I doubt that even a metric like that would have suggested his numbers would improve upon translation. Score one for the scouts.

KP: Anthony, you come at things with a perspective closer to that of scouts. What do you see when you watch Randolph, or when you watched him at LSU, that helps explain why he was able to succeed in his rookie season? What, if anything, can we learn from his example?

Anthony Macri: Beyond all the statistics, the thing that can matter in the case of a player like Randolph is fit. When I watched him at LSU, I saw a guy who had consistency issues but who was long and athletic, able to get shots off at various angles and could put the ball on the deck. I saw a player who just needed the right NBA situation to be productive. Golden State was a great fit for him--their pace fits a running forward who can rebound, rip and push the ball himself. Even though Brandan Wright may have looked like a statistically better fit doing those same things, there are still deficiencies to his game trying to play for the Warriors. Wright is not the ballhandler that Randolph proved to be, and Randolph's shooting range is much more advanced than Wright's. In the end, there will always be players for whom the fit, as it pertains to style of play as well as team needs, matters at least as much as any group of statistics. The best front offices have a unified vision of their team and it has a major impact on how they draft--instead of necessarily drafting the best player, they at least consider drafting the player who fits best.

KP: That's a good point, Anthony. So much of the analysis immediately after the draft seems to focus more on who got the best player or the best talent rather than whether that player is the right fit. I would argue finding a good situation is even more important for players who fall into the opposite category--productive players not deemed, for whatever reason, to have NBA-caliber talent. John's piece also touched on Golden State's second-round pick, Richard Hendrix, a guy who put up great numbers at Alabama. Hendrix never really fit with Don Nelson's style and ended up getting waived early in the season. John, how many guys like that do you think are unable to find a good situation and end up in Europe or bouncing around the American minor leagues rather than getting an opportunity at the NBA level?

JG: Actually, I might venture to say that for every Hendrix there's a Carl Landry or a Mario Chalmers--players that we here at Prospectus liked a lot in college, were drafted at the top of the second round, and then went on to surprise a lot of people who maybe hadn't been reading their Prospectus. Hendrix, on the other hand, faced the challenge of being a pure big man who happened to be short of stature. I can show you a million different ways in which he was an elite performer during college, but if you're a GM with plenty of eager near-seven-footers at hand, there's little incentive for rolling the dice with a Hendrix. Go fight City Hall.

BD: I just want to throw out the idea that we can't quite give up on Hendrix just yet. He put up excellent per-minute numbers in the preseason last year and did the same in the D-League (57.1 eFG%, 11.4 RB/G, 20.0 PER). He's just one Landry injury away from Daryl Morey pouncing.

KP: Agreed on Hendrix. I just think it's a matter of finding the right team. I've suggested Utah, should the Jazz be in need of a productive rebounding big man off the bench because Paul Millsap either leaves in free agency or Carlos Boozer goes and Millsap is his replacement in the starting five.

Let's go back to Randolph, at least in general, and I'll throw this out to the group. One thing a lot of the players the statistical analysts were overly pessimistic on a year ago (Randolph, Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo even though my metrics still don't like him) is that they were one-and-done players. Can we put faith in one year's worth of NCAA numbers?

JG: Yes, we can put faith in those numbers, especially with players named "Kevin." Otherwise, last year taught me to be somewhat more cautious with the stats put up by one-and-done players. Granted, Rose at least revealed his true (impressive) colors in the tournament, and Gordon was playing for a college team that literally imploded. In the cases of Mayo and Randolph, however, it's almost as if they treated college as a mandatory event to be attended rather than an opportunity to be seized. So, yeah, I'm handling this year's numbers with care--but I'm still not sold on DeMar DeRozan.

AM: I'm sure a lot of folks will be cautious with the one-and-done years of guys like Jrue Holiday and B.J. Mullens. I think we have to remember, as hard as this might be, that these guys were "can't miss" just a year ago. It's not as if they forgot to play basketball in the last year. Does it mean they are going to be big-time players at the pro level? Not at all. However, the rules on fit I mentioned earlier apply just as much to where they spent their one-and-done year as they do to their college experience. I loved Mullens as a high school player and thought he would be a better pro than anything else--and having worked with Jrue Holiday for a few weeks this spring, I know what kind of player he can be in the right situation at the next level. In this draft he would be a strong lottery pick.

BD: I think one year's numbers can be instructive if we are cognizant of what categories translate well to the next level. Often, numbers can prove what a player can do, but they don't necessarily indicate what he can't. If a player pounds the offensive glass, draws fouls and creates his own offense in college, he's probably going to be able to do that in the NBA, albeit at diminished levels. A shot blocker in college is probably going to be a shot blocker in the NBA. However, with only one season, which amounts to about 35 games and maybe half those against high-quality competition, we can't dismiss players that have the raw talent but underwhelming numbers. I agree with John about DeRozan, but a certain amount of his failings could be attributed to Tim Floyd's system, which also dragged down Mayo. Given a choice, however, I'll take the player with the track record if the physical attributes are close.

AM: Don't forget that there is a mental side to this too. Whether it is BBIQ testing or some other measurement, all of these teams are checking on personality, leadership and other raw scores in addition to personal testimonies and anecdotes about players. Earl Clark is a guy who apparently did extremely well in his non-skill assessments--those kinds of things will impact draft status.

KP: Very true, Anthony, and of course the talent and skills a player brings into the NBA are only a jumping-off point. As I'm sure you've seen first-hand, a player's willingness to work in the offseason to develop his game plays a big role in whether he reaches his potential or not, regardless of what he did or did not do in college.

AM: The differences between the college game and the NBA game are pretty significant. College is all about high-octane activity, but the NBA is about slowing down, reading situations and help and attacking with rapid speed. The learning curve is pretty steep, and some players are able to make adjustments quicker than others. I remember people being worried about Derrick Rose after seeing him in summer league, but he adjusted just fine. I'm sure his off-season preparation helped him there. A guy we had here training this year really shocked people at the Chicago combine when he came in weighing at 275, when most folks expected him at over 300 (DeJuan Blair). That kind of commitment in the "off-season" can translate into having an impact with a team.

KP: All right, I think we've solved all the draft's problems here. Thanks to everybody for participating and we'll see you next month at the Prospectus Company Picnic.

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