Breaking Down The 2010 NBA Draft, Using Statistics

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2010 NBA Draft, Small Forward Rankings: Where We Wonder If Wesley Johnson Will Be A Bust

Age matters in the NBA Draft. That's why the Wesley Johnson-at-No. 3-to-the-Nets rumors never made sense (except, perhaps, as a smoke screen to try to get the village idiot of NBA GMs, David Kahn, to trade up a spot under the assumption that he covets the Syracuse wingman). After all, do you think Johnson is better now than Derrick Favors will be in five years (Johnson is about to turn 23; Favors is 18)?

Which brings us to the small forwards in this year's draft. Much as we're done with the big men and the guards, we came up with a simple model that tries to predict how good a player will be in three seasons based on their college stats (more in depth explanation here). For small forwards, the statistical categories we included were "upside" (relating their marginal age and height), their three-point percentage, their offensive and defensive rebounding rates, their free throw rates (how often they got to the line), adjusted steals and blocks, pure point (a substitute for assist-to-turnover ratio) and their marginal scoring (measuring how well they scored above average production). Looking back at the 2005-07 drafts, it did quite well, tabbing Kevin Durant, Danny Granger, Rudy Gay and Jared Dudley as the best small forwards available, in that order (it also would have screamed not to take Adam Morrison or Corey Brewer in the lottery).

We ran the numbers for the 2010 draft, and the results were...surprising. Our model hates Wesley Johnson. Pure, unadulterated hate. And the guys at the top, well, they're mostly in the lottery discussion, but the order may be a bit of a shock. Without further ado, the rankings of the small forwards in this year's class, in descending order.

Gordon Hayward. I admit when I saw Hayward going in the top ten picks in mock drafts, I thought it was borderline absurd. Sure, he'd carried Butler on their improbable run to the NCAA title game as their sometimes lone offensive catalyst, but everyone knows players who reach the Final Four are often massively overrated in the draft (especially the melanin-challenged ones). Then I ran the numbers. While Hayward was horrid from distance last year (dropping off from 45% on three-pointers as a freshman to 29% last season on a similar number of attempts), every other facet of his game was eye-opening. He's a beast on the boards; he's aggressive getting to the line; he's a decent enough playmaker and could fill in as a point-forward in a pinch; and he was outrageously efficient as a scorer. And it's hard to believe he won't rebound from his year-long shooting slump, and return to the form he displayed during his freshman campaign. But really, this is about all you need to know about Hayward; 6-foot-8 guys with moves and handle like that will always have a place in the NBA. Put it all together, and Hayward just might end up being the best small forward out of this year's class.

Al-Farouq Aminu. If Aminu possessed anything resembling an outside shot, he'd be in the mix for one of the top three spots in the draft. As it is, he still figures to come off the board in the first seven picks or so due to his freakish athleticism. Indeed, while some guys test extremely well during pre-draft workouts but have trouble utilizing those talents on the court, Aminu is the opposite; his workouts were respectable but not eye-popping, but his on-court production is stunning. Aminu eats up rebounds, swats shots away and racks up steals at prodigious rates for a wing, and finishes strong at the rack. He's a baby-faced Shawn Marion. And if he ever learns how to shoot, watch out.

Luke Babbitt. My initial intuition about Babbitt was that he was the second coming of Adam Morrison -- big, soft white guy, who can fill it up from distance and little else. Don't fall into that trap. Babbitt is a much more complete player than everyone's favorite unabashed crier ever was, piling up rebounds at a strong rate and exhibiting more variety in his offensive game. Oh, and he can apparently jump 37 inches. Take that, Wesley Snipes.

Paul George. There's a reason he was invited to the Green Room at the draft. He's young, has nice bounce, can light it up from deep and does solid work on the boards. The late lottery sounds just about right.

Damion James. There really isn't anything flashy about James' game. He's a bit of an undersized four, but he's developed a deceivingly decent outside shot the past few years, which should allow him to transition to the wing in the pros. James hits the glass on both ends of the court, gets to the line and scores quite efficiently. He'll be able to step in immediately as a quality seventh man, not too bad for a guy who will probably last until the late first to early second round.

Devin Ebanks, Lazar Hayward and Darington Hobson. Ebanks is a poor man's Aminu: No jump shot, all hustle plays. Ebanks isn't quite the athlete that Aminu is (and is unbelievably a worse shooter), which should push the West Virginia product down to the second round. Hayward, meanwhile, has been overlooked due to his relatively advanced age and small stature. But he has the perimeter game to step in as a wing in the pros, and he showed at Marquette that he's ferocious enough in the paint to mix it up with the bigs for rebounds. Hayward could end up being a sneaky good pick in the mid-second round. As for Hobson, he's a decent playmaker and shooter, although he didn't score particularly efficiently last season. Expect him to get drafted before the aforementioned duo, at the end of the first round.

Wesley Johnson. How could Johnson be this low on the list of swingmen? Well, he'll be 23 shortly, he didn't rebound particularly well last season (perhaps due in part to playing in Syracuse's zone), and he didn't get to the line very frequently. So basically, we're talking about an athletic, spot-up shooter who put up strong numbers against younger competition last season. Does that sound like a top-four pick?

Quincy Pondexter. He's old, short and, despite some marked improvements this past year, still can't shoot a lick. Don't buy into the hype that he's one of the steals of the draft.

Da'Sean Butler and Stanley Robinson. The bad: they're old, not great on the glass, and not too threatening from three-point land.

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2010 NBA Draft Guard Rankings: Breaking Down The Backcourt

Eric Bledsoe or Avery Bradley? James Anderson or Dominique Jones? With the 2010 NBA Draft all but upon us, these are the questions confronting GMs and fans. But rather than wait the requisite 3-5 years to figure out whether your team made the right choice, let's try to figure out in advance which prospects are likely to make fanbases rejoice or get their GM canned. After all, who doesn't like immediate gratification?

And with that in mind, we've turned our attention to creating a simple model to project how good the current batch of big man prospects might be three years out in the league, based on their college stats. Of course, this is a task fraught with enormous difficulty; sometimes good college players just can't find the right fit, lose motivation, or succumb to personal issues, and other times players just work their way into the league.

Setting aside those concerns, we regressed the player's best single-season win shares from their first three seasons against a handful of college statistics, with adjustments for pace and strength of schedule gleaned from the indispensable kenpom.com. After testing different combinations of variables, we arrived at the following six as the best predictors:

  • Upside. A simple number relating a player's marginal height and age. Or put more clearly, relating how tall they are relative to their position to how old they are for the draft. It turns out this number is a relatively decent proxy for the actual draft order.
  • Offensive/Defensive Rebounding Percentages. How can you tell if someone has ridiculous upside? Well, they tend to rebound the hell out of the ball, even guards. If a player can't post respectable rebounding rates in college, that's a major red flag for whether they have the athleticism to create their own shot and play big minutes at the next level.
  • Steals. Adjusted for pace, competition, and minutes played, steals are a seeming throwaway stat that actually gives a decent idea about how athletic/how much basketball IQ a player has.
  • Pure Point. This is John Hollinger's baby. Because assist-to-turnover ratio puts turnovers in the denominator, it can reward players who don't take many chances. Pure point rating solves this by adjusting assists to be roughly equal to turnovers, and then subtracting turnovers from assists, dividing by minutes played and adjusted for pace, spitting out a per-minute rating.
  • Marginal Scoring. This gives an idea of how well a player scores relative to an average player. Lots of players can score an average amount at high efficiency (i.e. at a high true shooting percentage). And lots of players can score a high amount at average efficiency. Clearly, the best players both score and shoot at a high rate. The Marginal Scoring rate tries to capture this, combining how many more (adjusted) points than average they score, and how much better than average they shoot to put up those numbers.
  • Three-Point Shooting Percentage. You know how basketball purists bemoan the fact that today's backcourt players either jack it up from distance or (often futilely) try to get all the way to the rim? There's a reason for this -- both shots have the highest expected-value in basketball. Of course, a mid-range game is nice, but if you can't shoot the three-ball in today's NBA, it's awfully hard to make it onto the court.

Without further ado, let's take a look at how some of this year's most highly-touted (and some under the radar) prospects stack up against each other.

POINT GUARDS

John Wall. He's easily the best point guard prospect since Chris Paul, which is even crazier praise than it sounds like at first blush, considering Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and a slew of talented lead guards from last season -- Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, et. al. -- have come into the league in recent years. Wall simply has the tools to eclipse them all: Stunning athleticism, a high motor, impeccable court vision and a certain je ne sais quoi about him. What's not to like? Well, if we're going to nitpick, his jumper still needs work, and his decision-making last year left a bit to be desired (witness the four turnovers a game). Still, those are skills that can be learned through playing and repetition, while plays like this, not so much. Thankfully, the Wizards aren't overthinking this one; just

Eric Bledsoe. When, exactly, did everyone decide that Bledsoe was a lock for the mid-first round? January? February? It feels like it began in a fit of contrarianism, when hoops aficionados wondered Is Kentucky better off with Bledsoe at the point instead of Wall (answer: no) after Bledsoe put together a few eye-opening performances, and that cascaded into assumptions that Bledsoe was perhaps destined for the late lottery. Sure, Bledsoe looks like an NBA point guard and he possesses a reliable outside shot (regional final against West Virginia excluded), but he wasn't particularly adept at actually running a team. Indeed, Bledsoe actually turned the ball over more than he assisted his teammates for an abysmal Pure Point rating that submarined his numbers in our projections. Now, it may be that with another year as the unquestioned starter for the Wildcats, Bledsoe would make a pronounced improvement quarterbacking a team, but at this point it's something of a leap of faith that he can go from being a trainwreck with the ball to better than average. Wouldn't you rather have someone who's already produced -- like a certain combo guard out of South Florida?

Mikhail Torrance and Ben Uzoh. Say hello to this pair of relatively anonymous guys who just might be the second and third best point guards in this admittedly weak class of lead guards. Though neither boasts the tool set of ridiculous athleticism that tantalizes NBA GMs, they're both big point guards, who rebound well and make good decisions with the ball in their hands. Torrance and Uzoh will both have to refine their somewhat shaky shots, but for teams in the late first to early second rounds, either should be able to jump in as capable backups.

Scottie Reynolds, Courtney Fortson and Sherron Collins. Of the aforementioned trio, only Fortson figures to draw serious draft consideration -- and with good reason. Reynolds is too athletically limited and poor a playmaker to transition to point guard in the pros; Collins is too old (23), short (5'11'') and heavy (reportedly 229 pounds) to project well in the Association. Fortson might get a look in the second round, but that would be a mistake: his horrific pure point rating, even worse efficiency (sub-50 TS%) and advanced age for a college sophomore (22) all augur a very prompt trip to the D-League and little else.

 

SHOOTING GUARDS

Evan Turner. He's Brandon Roy 2.0. Similar size, similar skills, similar production. If anything, Turner was been the more versatile collegiate player, racking up points, rebounds and assists at a prodigious rate. Regrettably, Turner also piled on the turnovers at nearly as staggering a pace, one of the few chinks in his otherwise invulnerable metaphorical armor. Scouts also question whether he possesses the same "ridiculous upside" as some of the other talents that litter the top of the draft, but with Turner it comes down to certainty: There is little doubt he'll be a good pro, an All-Star even. That's got to be worth the second overall pick...right?

Xavier Henry. Remember when Henry burst onto the college scene with a series of clinical shooting performances, seemingly threatening to overwhelm the veritable tsunami of (entirely justified) John Wall hype? Well, Henry took a back seat to his more experienced teammates much of the rest of the season, with the buzz around him subsequently becoming much more subdued. Well, it's time to rekindle your love affair with Henry. After all, he's young, has an NBA body and a devastating outside shot. While he might never be an All-Star caliber player, he can most certainly be the third-best player on a contending team. Someone in the late lottery is going to be very, very happy when he falls to them.

James Anderson. Can we just agree that he's James Harden, sans the passing ability? Yes? Done and done. Anderson certainly won't wow anyone with his ups, but he's been enormously productive the past few seasons for Oklahoma State, putting up some preposterously efficient scoring numbers as the focal point of the Cowboys' attack. His niche might be nothing more than as the fourth or fifth option as a longball specialist on a good team, but there's decent value in that, especially for a playoff team drafting in the late teens or twenties.

Jordan Crawford and Elliot Williams. This duo are both instant offense; Crawford is more of an outside threat, while Williams' lightning-quick slashing, particularly to his strong left hand, can be borderline unstoppable. The question for both is whether they're a little too one-dimensional. Neither is much of a presence on the boards, neither creates many shots for their teammates, and neither is quite a good enough scorer to justify a high usage rate at the next level. Crawford looks like a marginally better prospect than Williams, but it's not clear either is a much better bet than some of the two-guards who figure to be available in Round Two. Guys like...

Manny Harris and Sylven Landesberg. Thought experiment time: What if Harris or Landesberg had played for tournament teams? Would they be first round locks? Sure, both of them deserve some blame for not being able to shepherd their teams to the Big Dance, but should draft evaluators punish them for having subpar teammates? (You're supposed to say no). Both are decent-sized guards with more than adequate doses of athleticism. Harris' multifaceted game is only missing a reliable jumper, while Landesberg showed a marked improvement from long range, though he's not nearly the same caliber of playmaker as Harris. Is either of them substantially worse than Jordan Crawford, Elliot Williams or Terrico White? No -- and they just might be better.

Lance Stephenson. There are cautionary tales and then there are cautionary tales -- the type who scare off every major college program due to their "enigmatic" personalities and bark at teammates every time anyone else has the gall to shoot the ball. Lance Stephenson is the latter kind. While his Tyreke Evans-esque frame allowed him to bully opponents in the paint, Stephenson simply wasn't good this past year. A putative "scorer", Stephenson recorded some absolutely atrocious efficiency numbers -- and not a whole lot of points to show for it, either. Calling his shot a work in progress is being generous (25% from three-point land), and his playmaking "skills" are nearly nonexistent as well. Cliffnotes version: Stephenson is a ball hog with indefensible shot selection, absent the talent to make it work. Stay away.

 

COMBO GUARDS

Dominique Jones. He's a beast. If you put up 20 points per game in last year's loaded Big East, with little or no help from your mediocre teammates, that goes without saying. South Florida's burly guard was particularly masterful at muscling his way into the paint, often with an assort of spins, and getting to the line. Offensively, his only hole is a somewhat suspect outside jumper, although his underrated passing and monstrous work on the boards mitigate some of those concerns. He was also a willing, and very able, defender, a trait that should endear him to his future NBA coach. The big question, as with all combo guards (read: undersized two-guards) is whether he can slide over to the point, where his size and strength would be an even greater asset. If he can, some team is going to get an absolute gem in the latter portions of the first round.

Avery Bradley. He's too small to be two-guard in the Association but he doesn't exactly have an innate point guard mentality. He's stuck in that limbo known as being a "combo" guard. Still, there's no denying Bradley's lockdown defense, sweet touch from outside and relative youth make him an enticing prospect for teams in the mid-first round. After Xavier Henry comes off the board, Bradley figures to be the best backcourt option left.

Willie Warren. And this is why players should bolt for the NBA as soon as they're projected to be lottery picks. A year after serving as Blake Griffin's sidekick en rote to the Elite Eight, Warren returned for a sophomore campaign in a bid to boost his draft stock into the stratosphere of the lottery. Oops. After a catastrophic season revived many of the old concerns about Warren, including the inevitable Is he a true point guard or a two-guard trapped in a point guard's body?, his stock has gone into freefall, to the first round fringe. And honestly, that's probably where he deserves to be. Despite his good size for a one-guard, his rebounding rates were meager; he registered a troubling number of turnovers and his shooting is average at best. Is that something you might be interested in?

Matt Bouldin. Who will he check in the pros, ones or two-guards? How about: Neither. But that doesn't preclude Bouldin from finding a spot on an NBA roster as a big guard who can flip between both backcourt spots and provide a steady hand. Because if there's one word that aptly describes Bouldin's game, it's "steady". He has a solid handle, a solid shot, he's big enough to post up smaller point guards, and he's crafty enough to get his own shot at times (notice how we didn't mention defense again?). In the right system, he can be a valuable role player.

Jon Scheyer. I know. Believe me, I know. You see "white guy from Duke" and your gut instinct is to gloat that he's just not athletic enough to make it in the pros. It's a nice consolation for those times the Dookies are actually good. Unfortunately, those stereotypes aren't kosher here (see what we did there?). Scheyer was insanely productive for Coach K last season, not only filling it up from distance, but running the point proficiently as well. Add in that Scheyer is bigger than you realize (6-foot-5), and he has the makings of a quite useful bench player, versatile enough to bounce between both guard spots as needed, and deadly enough from distance to penalize teams from doubling off of him. As a self-avowed Duke hater I can't believe I'm saying this, but Scheyer could very well end up being one of the steals of the draft. Excuse me while I go watch this ad infinitum. Much better.

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Breaking Down The 2010 NBA Draft's Big Men, Using Statistics

It's workout season. That time of year when verticals and wingspans distract from points and rebounds (but seriously, Luke Babbitt jumped 37 inches?) But through all the workout porn, it's important to keep in mind what the players actually did on the court.

And with that in mind, we've turned our attention to creating a simple model to project how good the current batch of big man prospects might be three years out in the league, based on their college stats. Of course, this is a task fraught with enormous difficulty; sometimes good college players just can't find the right fit, lose motivation, or succumb to personal issues, and other times players just work their way into the league.

Setting aside those concerns, we regressed the player's best single-season win shares from their first three seasons against a handful of college statistics, with adjustments for pace and strength of schedule gleaned from the indispensable and eponymous kenpom.com. After testing different combinations of variables, we arrived at the following six as the best predictors:

  • Upside. A simple number relating a player's marginal height and age. Or put more clearly, relating how tall they are relative to their position to how old they are for the draft. It turns out this number is a relatively decent proxy for the actual draft order.
  • Offensive Rebounding Percentage. Somewhat surprisingly, defensive rebounding percentage doesn't correlate that well with NBA production. Too much of it depends on a player's height and team context. A relative stiff like Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray was able to snag an ungodly percentage of opponent's misses in college, likely due to the fact that none of his teammates (or opponents) were tall enough to compete with him for rebounds when he started off with inside position. Offensive rebounding percentage, however, gets at not only how good a rebounder someone is, but is also a solid measure of their athleticism, since they have to beat a box-out to get to the ball.
  • Steals. Adjusted for pace, competition, and minutes played, steals are a seeming throwaway stat that actually gives a decent idea about how athletic/how much basketball IQ a player has.
  • Pure Point. This is John Hollinger's baby. Because assist-to-turnover ratio puts turnovers in the denominator, it can reward players who don't take many chances. Pure point rating solves this by adjusting assists to be roughly equal to turnovers, and then subtracting turnovers from assists, spitting out a per-minute rating. Big guys typically register some brutal numbers here, but quite a few of the best prospects the past few years (Al Horford and Joakim Noah) have distinguished themselves with less-cringeworthy numbers.
  • Free Throw Rate. This is a straightforward measure of how often a player gets to the line relative to the number of field goals he attempts (FTA/FGA). Generally, the higher the better.
  • Marginal Scoring. This gives an idea of how well a player scores relative to an average player. Lots of players can score an average amount at high efficiency (i.e. at a high true shooting percentage). And lots of players can score a high amount at average efficiency. Clearly, the best players both score and shoot at a high rate. The Marginal Scoring rate tries to capture this, combining how many more (adjusted) points than average they score, and how much better than average they shoot to come up with a clean number.

While certainly far from foolproof, this system did do a good job evaluating the big men from the 2005-07 drafts. Among its hits: ranking Joakim Noah, Greg Oden and Al Horford as the top prospects during that span, with Jason Maxiell, Lamarcus Aldridge and Carl Landry also rating well. It also would have screamed at GMs to shy away from Spencer Hawes, Shawne Williams, Patrick O'Bryant and Hilton Armstrong. All in all, not too shabby, even if it did think quite highly of James Augustine and Sean May.

Given the vagaries of the system, however, the precise rankings and order should not be taken too seriously, but rather used as a more general guide to who looks over or under-rated. Caveats aside, here's the breakdown of the big guys in this year's class.

SURE THINGS

  • Demarcus Cousins. Statistically, Cousins was unequivocally the most productive big man in college hoops last season. He bullied opponents on the offensive glass, hauling in 20% of his team's misses, while scoring at an efficient clip and making frequent trips to the charity stripe. Indeed, at a gargantuan 6-foot-11 and 290 pounds (at 19 years old!), he just might be the most physically imposing big to come out of college since Tim Duncan or Shaq. He was that good. 
    And yet ... he's kind of a bonehead; the euphemisms "enigmatic" and "mercurial" were invented for guys like him. In a world where off-the-court issues don't play a role in the draft process, Cousins would be the indisputable top pick -- which, of course, some extreme statheads will assuredly argue he should be regardless (oh wait, that's already happened). Fortunately, however, we can ask ourselves "Is this guy the next Derrick Coleman or Zach Randolph?" and "How motivated will he be once he gets that second contract?" Yikes. Cousins' immense talent will trump his character concerns around the fifth or sixth pick, but he's the type of player who absolutely petrifies GMs: pass on him and he could fulfill his obvious potential elsewhere, or take him and watch him submarine your franchise with his petulance.
  • Greg Monroe. Forget the supposed questions about his "softness". And his body fat. Few big men possess even an iota of the court sense the Georgetown product does. Monroe might lack the "Type A" personality scouts and fans crave of him and isn't a top-notch athlete, but let's appreciate what he is: a willing passer with the talent to take over a game when necessary. Does that sound like the kind of sidekick teams might be interested in? Indeed, Monroe's preternatural passing ability is the envy of players a foot shorter and figures to make him a fixture in the high-post at the next level. 
    His scoring numbers were muted playing in the still-slow, Princeton set at Georgetown, but adjusting for pace, he was the second-best marginal scorer in this class. Even more impressively, he graded out as one of the top few prospects despite a woeful 8.57 offensive rebounding percentage; likely indicative of Georgetown's offensive philosophy, where Monroe was often away from the basket, more than any lack of ability. His ceiling is a (albeit, much) less physically dominant Chris Webber, absent the mental issues.

SECOND ROUND STEALS

  • Brian Zoubek. After disparaging the Dookies' chances of cutting down the nets in Indianapolis throughout March Madness, I've finally come to grips with at least one fact: Brian Zoubek is a useful player. Forget Singler, Scheyer and Smith, the real key to the Blue Devils' run to the title (aside from some very favorable seeding) was the way their bigs, particularly Zoubek, pounded the offensive glass. Indeed, Duke's gorky big man gobbled up over 19 percent of available offensive boards, second nationally only to Cousins last season. Sure, Zoubek will never be much of an offensive factor (read: he's still a stiff), but in the faux-philosophical parlance of Bill Parcells, he is what he is: a likely career back-up who will scrum for extra possessions and provide decent post defense. For a team picking in the latter portions of the second round, that's some real value.
  • Trevor Booker. Say hello to the next member of the "Paul Millsap/Carl Landry/DeJuan Blair Memorial Undersized And Overlooked Power Forward Club." While the 6-8 Clemson product isn't quite the same caliber of rebounder as the aforementioned trio, his explosive finishing at the rim figures to make him an immediate contributor in the Association.
    Booker made vicious throwdowns like that look routine throughout his standout career for the Tigers. For a team in the late first to early second round, he should find an early niche as a seventh guy, providing energy, athleticism and defense off the bench. Even better: He scored efficiently and avoided turnovers in college, making him more or less the prototypical "takes nothing off the table" players. But the larger story is that, like Millsap, Landry and Blair before him, he's serially underrated by NBA scouts despite posting some eye-popping numbers. His crime? Being an inch or so "too short" for his position. If he were 6'10'' rather than 6'8''-ish, he'd most likely be a lottery player with Chad Ford et. al. salivating over his uber-athleticism and breathlessly reporting on his "freakish wingspan." Instead, a savvy team like the Thunder will pluck him about 15-20 picks later than he should go, right before Adam Silver comes out to emcee the second round proceedings. 

QUESTION MARKS

  • Derrick Favors. One-and-dones can be especially tricky to project. Sometimes it takes them a few months to acclimate to the college game. Or maybe their teammates are sub-par, and drag down their numbers. But as a general rule, if a player is 6-10 and can do this, you should move him up your draft board.
    Of course, jaw-dropping athleticism alone hardly guarantees NBA success (isn't that right, Kwame Brown?), but Favors certainly seemed to figure out how to take advantage of his natural gifts as the season wore on. After a relatively quiet beginning, Favors was routinely posting double-doubles by March, as Georgia Tech scrambled for a tourney spot, flashing the promise that had him ranked as a consensus top two player before the season began. In that context, Favors' so-so season-long stats belie his, if you will, ridiculous upside. Expect Jay Bilas to gush -- justifiably -- about Favors' "length" and "bounciness" when he goes off the board in the top three picks.
  • Daniel Orton. He averaged three points and three rebounds a game. Three points. And three rebounds. A game. Just to be clear. And he still might go in the late lottery. What in the name of Darko Milicic is going on here? Well, Orton is big and young...and that's about all we really know for sure. He got to the line at a high rate in his limited action for Kentucky, and boarded the ball reasonably well, but it's difficult to infer much from his paltry 13 minutes a game. Basically, at this point Orton is little more than a mystery box: he could end up becoming a productive player, but -- especially in the lottery -- wouldn't you rather just draft someone who's, you know, already produced, like his running mate Patrick Patterson? Wait, don't answer that Chris Wallace.

STAY AWAY

  • Hassan Whiteside. They're the white whales of the NBA Draft: raw, athletically-gifted big men unearthed from the unlikeliest of places. Sometimes they hail from Siberia (Pavel Podkolzin). Other times they come from Senegal (Mouhamed Saer Sene). And in a perfect storm of lunacy and hype, they can even manage to go first overall, at least when the Clippers are prominently involved (Michael Olowokandi). But here's the thing -- these guys almost never pan out (unless you're Kevin Bacon in The Air Up There). This year's vintage is Hassan Whiteside. He's a 7-footer out of Marshall, and the extent of what most people know about him is that he racked up some Mutombo-esque block numbers during his one and only season. Aside from his prowess at sending back opponent's shots, however, Whiteside was far from impressive for the Thundering Herd. Consider: he's old for a freshman at 21; he posted a disastrous pure point rating; and he didn't score or rebound particularly well against some decidedly lesser competition. Ah, but the allure of the unknown big man means that Whiteside will likely go in the late lottery, as a bevy of teams will desperately reach to fill their holes in the middle. This is exactly how Hilton Armstrong became a lottery pick, and it's a surefire way for a GM to lose his job a few years down the line. You've been warned.
  • Solomon Alabi. The history of one-dimensional college shot-blockers in the NBA is not good. For every Ben Wallace or Mutombo, there's a handful of Adonal Foyles or Etan Thomases. Alabi, however, certainly demonstrated at the collegiate level that he can control a game without taking a shot -- he anchored the most efficient defense in the nation last season, largely due to his Herculean efforts to shut down the lane. But the combination of his age (22) and his health concerns make it difficult to project that he'll develop into an equally intimidating presence in the pros. And he would have to be a downright dominating defensive force to justify taking him in the first half of the first round, given his utter lack of anything resembling an offensive game. His playmaking is negligible, he didn't get to the line that often, and his scoring was decent, at best. Other than that, he was an offensive dynamo. If a team can snatch him up in the late 20s, he'll be worth a look as a role player, but anything before that will be a bit of a reach.
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