Posted by Jonah Gardner on June 22, 2016
With a 3-point shot, a stunning block, and perhaps the most iconic non-dunk of all-time, the 2016 NBA Finals and the 2015-16 NBA season are officially in the books. But there's hardly enough time to hold Cleveland's first championship parade in half a century and order a commemorative DVD before the basketball world moves on to the next thing: The 2016 NBA Draft.
Last week, we looked at the challenge facing the team that owns this year's #1 overall pick, the Philadelphia 76ers. However, we also saw the potential reward that awaits them, as the Cleveland Cavaliers just won a title with two players they drafted #1 overall: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Reports seem to indicate that the Sixers are taking Ben Simmons, but there's still plenty of intrigue. While this year's Conference Finals featured teams like the Cavs, Golden State Warriors, and Toronto Raptors, who have spent much of their recent history as punching bags, the top of the draft includes storied franchises like the Sixers, Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Lakers. So we thought we'd take a look at some of this year's top prospects and see how players with similar statistical profiles coming out of college did.
There are shortcomings to this approach. Unlike the good people at DraftExpress, I'm not a scout, so I won't be analyzing their mechanics, skills, motor, or potential. Instead, using the Player Season Finder on College-Basketball-Reference, I'll be looking just at production.
However, that doesn't mean points and assists. While College-Basketball-Reference has those going back to 1993-94, there's also an wide range of advanced stats that go back to 2009-10. These stats help isolate a player's performance away from contextual factors like the team's pace and do a better job of showing an individual's contribution. For each player, I looked at some of their key advanced stats to come up with a cohort of similar performers since 2009-10.
The one exception is Box Plus/Minus (BPM). BPM is a stat that synthesizes a player's box score stats and the team's overall performance to measure how many points per 100 possessions better or worse he was than an average player. Due to the inputs needed for BPM, CBR starts tracking this stat in 2010-11.
One other stat to know: Strength of Schedule (SOS). This is an input in Simple Rating System, a measure of team strength. SRS uses two factors, a team's point differential and the strength of their schedule, measured by how many points above/below average their opponents were on average. For each prospect, I'll include that figure, along with their alma mater, so you can get a better idea of the sort of competition they faced as they put these stats up.
School: LSU Fighting Tigers. SOS: 7.00 (60th in the nation)
|5||Royce White||SO||Big 12||1072||22.8||.540||17.1||34.5||2.2||3.0||23.4||26.5|
|8||Draymond Green||JR||Big Ten||1023||24.9||.480||16.6||30.6||3.6||4.0||16.1||24.7|
We'll start with the likely future 76er, an extremely unique jack-of-all-trades type player. The fact is that there's no good comparison for Ben Simmons. How unique a college player was Simmons? Well, here's a good starting point
With the caveat that APG data is not always available, Ben Simmons put himself in some pretty elite company pic.twitter.com/ArL9NV5AeO
— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) March 14, 2016
For this search, I started with players who assisted on at least 25% of their teammates' field goals and grabbed at least 15% of their team's rebounds. If Simmons can do this in any season in the NBA, as he did in college, he'd be just the third person since 1980 to do so, and the other two were Kevin Garnett and Joakim Noah.
However, Simmons doesn't just get dishes and boards, he also gets buckets. So for the third component, I looked as Usage Rate, a measure of what percentage of a team's possessions a player "uses" while on the floor, with either a shot, free throw attempt, or turnover. I threw out anyone with a USG under 20%, as well as Evan Turner, who satisfied the first two criteria as a junior but had a Kobe-esque 33% USG.
However, the fact is that there simply hasn't been a prospect like Ben Simmons in the era we're looking at. Only two players on this list, Seth Tuttle and Halil Kanacevic, had a better Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) than Simmons but Simmons took 3-4 more field goal attempts per game than either of them. And only Tuttle and Marqus Blakely had a better PER, but they posted those numbers against, respectively, the 111th and 291st toughest schedules in the nation in their years.
Simmons may not be perfect; he faced an easier schedule than any of the other college players we'll be looking at. He's also taken some heat for his lack of three-point shooting, going 1-3 last year. But another player on this list went 0-1 from three-point range as a freshman: Draymond Green. Simmons is extremely promising and unlike any prospect we've seen in a while, an excellent formula to have in a number one pick.
School: Duke Blue Devils. SOS: 10.59 (7th in the nation)
Cohort: Players with 5 or more three-point attempts per game, an offensive BPM between 4-5, a defensive BPM over 2, and a TRB% over 10
|1||Kevin Hervey||SO||Sun Belt||476||.520||16.8||20.9||1.3||3.3||12.7||28.6||4.1||2.7|
Finding comps for Brandon Ingram was tricky, and you can criticize me for narrowing the field too much, but I think this is a solid list that reflects what a fascinating prospect he is.
Ingram has an excellent jump shot, shooting 41% from 3, but struggles to finish closer to the basket, posting a .464 shooting percentage on two-pointers. His size makes him a great rebounder and defender for his position. So the result is a group who made a big mark on defense, a decent sized mark on offense - mainly from bombing threes - and pulled down a high percentage of boards for a wing. Players like Jae Crowder and C.J. McCollum missed the cut because they were dramatically more effective on offense, per BPM, while, for example, Marshon Brooks wasn't up to snuff defensively.
Leaving aside Kevin Hervey, who had a season-ending injury in January, this is a pretty optimistic seeming group for Ingram. The four other players are in the NBA, in fact three of them were in the Conference Finals with varying degrees of involvement.
However, the most interesting comparison is Ingram's fellow ACC freshman. Though Barnes stayed for his sophomore year and ended up being drafted seventh in the 2012 NBA Draft, he was extremely well-regarded after this rookie year, with DraftExpress putting him around 4th on their mock drafts for that year, if he had declared. Like Ingram, he's a larger wing with excellent rebounding and solid defense for his position.
While now may not be the best time to be singing Harrison Barnes' praises, given his brutal Finals, he was an effective part of a 73-win team. Additionally, Ingram looks like a better playmaker (11.4 AST% versus 9.5 for Barnes) and a much better shooter (.410 from 3 versus .349 for Barnes). A more accurate, more versatile, and perhaps even slightly more defensively proficient Harrison Barnes would be a fine choice as a second pick.
School: Providence Friars. SOS: 8.46 (36th in the nation)
Cohort: Players with an AST% over 40 and a Defensive Rating under 95
|1||Michael Carter-Williams||SO||Big East||1409||.438||7.8||40.1||4.7||1.8||22.2||22.2||87.4|
|2||Kris Dunn||SO||Big East||1123||.509||9.5||50.0||4.9||1.1||22.6||28.0||94.2|
|5||Kris Dunn||JR||Big East||1088||.499||9.0||41.8||4.3||1.9||18.8||28.0||94.8|
|7||Denzel Valentine||SR||Big Ten||1022||.579||12.8||45.8||1.9||0.7||14.8||28.4||94.0|
One player should jump off this list even though, like Barnes, his reputation is not what it used to be. However, Michael Carter-Williams makes a good starting point for Dunn. Both players were effective playmakers who used their size to their advantage on defense.
Still, there's a reason MCW is just a starting point: shooting. MCW is a famously inconsistent shooter. In college, he had a .438 eFG% and that has carried through to the NBA, where he's shooting .433 for his career (via eFG%). Dunn, in contrast, is much more efficient, shooting around .500 in eFG% in the two seasons on the list.
This has a trickle-down effect on their games. Because Dunn can score, he can also shoulder more offensive responsibility, resulting in a higher USG% than MCW's. His scoring, if it can carry over to the pros, will also open up his playmaking and make it easier to maintain a high AST%, something MCW has struggled with in the NBA.
If Dunn's more complete offensive game can translate to the pros, it would be a fair trade-off for MCW's edge in DRtg.
School: Oklahoma Sooners. SOS: 11.14 (25th in the nation)
Cohort: Players with an eFG% over .550, USG% over 27, and 12 or more Win Shares as juniors and seniors
|1||Frank Kaminsky||Big Ten||2343||32.0||.585||15.3||15.3||1.6||5.2||9.1||27.2||16.0|
|6||Buddy Hield||Big 12||2444||25.6||.570||8.9||12.9||2.1||1.1||12.6||29.3||13.2|
|7||Davion Berry||Big Sky||2217||24.9||.554||8.0||25.4||2.1||0.7||14.6||27.0||12.6|
You know three things about Buddy Hield: he scores, he wins, and he's a four-year player. The most fun player of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, and perhaps the most polarizing of the draft, Buddy has his work cut out for him in the NBA. While his bonkers volume/efficiency mix as a senior put him in the 600 (FGAs)/.600 (eFG%) club with Stephen Curry, starting with his junior year gives us a larger sample size while looking at the two seasons where OU took the training wheels off and let Buddy chuck.
Unfortunately, the record for four year players like Buddy just isn't that inspiring. Isaiah Canaan has struggled to fit in the NBA while Frank Kaminsky and Doug McDermott have settled in more as role players. And Frank the Tank and McBuckets had more secondary skills to learn on. Kaminsky's rebounding, playmaking, and defense were all better than Buddy's, while McBuckets had a longer record of elite shooting and more success on the boards.
That being said, there's one player who missed the cut because he didn't have enough Win Shares who should give Buddy partisans hope: Damian Lillard. Lillard's an imperfect comp for Buddy. His USG% was higher, at 32.9, his WS were lower, at 9.7, and he had a 27.1 AST%, adding a playmaking component that Hield has lacked. But Hield is a better shooter (.570 eFG% vs .554) and his success came against tougher schedules (Lillard never faced an SOS that was in the top 150 in the nation at Weber State).
Then there's this: Buddy Hield rules. So we'll have to wait and see here.
School: Kentucky Wildcats. SOS: 8.84 (25th in the nation)
Cohort: Players with an offensive BPM over 8 as freshmen
|2||D'Angelo Russell||Big Ten||1188||.541||9.8||30.1||2.8||1.1||14.8||30.2||8.7||3.0|
|3||Cody Zeller||Big Ten||1025||.623||14.2||9.5||2.9||4.3||12.4||24.3||8.3||4.2|
This one's pretty straighforward: if you produce at an elite offensive level as a freshman, you seem to have a good chance at making it in the NBA. You don't need me to tell you what Kyrie's done. Cody Zeller was a starter for the Hornets this year and a key part of their unlikely playoff run. And however you feel about D'Angelo Russell's surreal off-the-court drama, he looked like a very promising player on the floor.
The main concern I have is that Murray lacks an "elite tool", to borrow a baseball term. Russell's AST% was over 30 and Zeller paired a solid TRB% with efficient shooting, but Murray didn't excel in any of those areas. He was also decidedly less effective on the defensive end than the rest of this cohort.
So there's some cause for concern, but overall the record is very good. He's not a top 3 or 4 player, but there's every reason, based on the stats, to think Murray can at least turn into a solid rotation player/starter.
Lastly, let's take a quick jump over to Europe. Basketball-Reference has full stats for the Euroleague and Eurocup competitions (if you're a soccer fan, you can think of these as basketball's version of the Champions League and Europa League), as well as four national leagues: Liga ACB (Spain), LNB Pro A (France), Lega Basket Serie A (Italy), and Greek Basket League (duh).
Bender's Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, which also happened to be David Blatt's team before his ill-fated move to the Cavs, plays in Israel, but it was also in the Euroleague and Eurocup this year. While Bender didn't get much run in international competition this year (playing a total of 86 minutes), his per 36 stats are interesting. Bender averaged 6.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists per 36 minutes. Most concerningly, he shot .231 from the field.
For comparison's sake, Kristaps Porzingis averaged 20.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per 36 in Eurocup, the year before coming over to America.
However, Bender's team was quite dysfunctional, finishing with a 6-10 record in international play, their worst record since Basketball-Reference's data on them begins, in 2002. If he can find himself in a healthier environment, and with some development, he could unlock more of his potential.