Sure, the conference finals are ongoing -- well, at least for a little while longer. For four of the league's teams, that's enough entertainment.
But for the other 26, it's time to engage in one of our nation's favorite pastimes. Ruminating over the draft has at times become more compelling entertainment than the games themselves, at least if you believe the stats on page views, and it's high time I indulged that hobby amongst the readership.
Actually, the fans aren't the only ones obsessed by this game. Over the next month, teams and analysts will spend a great many hours poking, prodding and otherwise evaluating roughly a hundred players to winnow their lists down to the one or two that most franchises will end up selecting on draft day (which, by the way, is June 24 -- just 34 shopping days left).
That process picked up speed this week with the lottery on Tuesday and the draft combine in Chicago on Thursday and Friday, and now it's time for me to offer my $0.02 in the form of statistical analysis of all the draft's college entrants.
As longtime readers will know, I've cooked up my Draft Rater the past few years to present a methodical, objective look at how players' collegiate achievements tend to translate to the pro game. It's based on regression analysis that compares college performance using 27 different variables, from the obvious (age, height, likely pro position) to the obscure (say, 3-point attempts per field goal attempt). By looking at what talents have led to success at the pro level, we can figure out some things about what current collegiate draft prospects will be able to do in the NBA.
My original motivation was the fact that the actual NBA draft has produced so many busts in the top 10. While the Draft Rater has also uncorked a few (you can see the history through 2008here and last year's list here), the overall results have have been strong.
The Draft Rater has yet to miss a lottery pick who became an All-Star in its top 12 collegians list -- although that string may end in another year or two thanks to a miserable 2008 performance (Russell Westbrook and Brook Lopez both were overlooked that year). And if it's blown a couple of picks, look at the actual draft and you'll find even more mistakes by the pro teams themselves.
On the other hand, the Draft Rater has picked out five All-Stars that the pros missed among the first 12 collegians -- Carlos Boozer, Rajon Rondo, Danny Granger, Josh Howard, and David West. No misses, five additions. I like that ratio.
Additionally, this is but one tool among many. I'm sure one could greatly improve on the Rater's performance by using it as a starting point and adding other known variables to the mix. This system rates "pro potential," which sometimes differs substantially from "pro performance." As I mentioned a year ago, the fact that Michael Sweetney and Shawne Williams both rated highly coming out of school isn't necessarily a mistake -- they failed in the NBA not from a lack of talent, but for other reasons. Part of good scouting is knowing which players are committed to this enterprise for the long haul, and we can't tell that from their college stats.
The Draft Rater has one other weak spot: It thrives on information and struggles when it lacks enough. As a result, players who leave school after just one season give it problems. Not only are they the youngest players, and thus the ones we're projecting farthest into the future, but what makes it even worse is that we have only one season of data to evaluate. That's the reason that one-and-done players have historically had the greatest error margin, which introduces an added level of uncertainty this season because three of the top five prospects are leaving school after one year.
One other note before we start: The Draft Rater produces a projection of a player's "peak" PER in Years 4-5, something that may not be apparent from looking at the rather underwhelming numbers next to each name. That's mostly a problem of the scarcity of NBA stars -- since the vast majority of players drafted will settle into the low teens in PER as NBA players, regardless of how good their college stats are, that's where the projections land for nearly all of them. In other words, there are very few sure things, even at the top of the draft.
The good news is that when it does spit out a "19.01" as it did for Kevin Durant in 2007, it's clear you have a sure thing.
There's no Durant in this year's crop, but there is one prospect who rates as an A-list talent, a freshman from the University of Kentucky named...
You were expecting somebody else?
Cousins has the fifth-highest rating in the Draft Rater's nine seasons evaluated. (The Draft Rater goes back to 2002, as college data from before that year is too spotty to use.)
Based on that, the outlook for Cousins is quite positive. Of the eight previous players from 2002 to 2008 to rate 15.0 or higher, four became superstars: Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. Of the other four, three have been very productive starters -- Rudy Gay,Luol Deng, and Drew Gooden -- and one became, well, Mike Conley. We had another three last year, and from that trio one was awesome (Tyreke Evans), one was good (Ty Lawson) and one didn't play a game (Blake Griffin).
Cousins won't be the first pick because of questions about his character and coachability, and those are legitimate concerns. But there's no doubting his elite talent level.
Cousins' Kentucky teammate, John Wall, ranks third (see table below), just after Ohio State guard Evan Turner. Wall likely will be the first overall pick, and that's defensible -- his rating is essentially the same as Turner's, and Cousins' issues make him an iffy sell as a franchise centerpiece.
I've shown the top 12 as a group, which I like to do because, as I noted above, the Draft Rater rarely misses on star talent in its top 12 names. As you can see, the top of the list is pretty much chalk -- the first nine names all are certain first-rounders and all but Henry are likely to land in the lottery.
Where it gets interesting is with the last three, all of whom are likely second-round picks. We'll see if there's a surprise in the bunch or if conventional wisdom prevails. But I swear there was no pro-UVa bias involved in Sylven Landesberg's surprising rank. Rather, the Draft Rater just liked him and Greivis Vasquez because they had such solid ballhandling numbers at the wing positions.
Draft Rater's top 12
|2.||Evan Turner||Ohio State||14.79|
|5.||Derrick Favors||Georgia Tech||13.98|
|8.||Al-Farouq Aminu||Wake Forest||13.30|
|12.||Omar Samhan||Saint Mary's||12.47|
Moving down the list, the next dozen players are largely the usual suspects (see chart below).Damion James, Daniel Orton, James Anderson, Paul George, Gordon Hayward and Eric Bledsoeare likely to hear their names called somewhere between 10th and 25th, so their presence in this group shouldn't shock anybody.
Jeff Foote, on the other hand ... now that's a name that will shock people, just as soon as they figure out who the heck he is. The 7-footer for Cornell shot 62.5 percent his senior year and had deceptively strong rebound and block totals for a slow-paced team. He may face more difficulty outside the Lilliputian Ivy League -- my analysis is schedule-adjusted, but I'm open to the idea that it may imperfectly accommodate such glaring size differences. Nonetheless, he's at least a name worth storing away as a late second-round sleeper.
A couple of likely early-to-mid second-rounders cracked the list (Manny Harris, Darington Hobsonand Jordan Crawford), while two other surprises are Marqus Blakely and Luke Harangody. Blakely, an energetic but undersized power forward from Vermont, may go undrafted, while scouts almost unanimously dislike Harangody for his lack of length and defensive ability -- despite his undeniably impressive production at Notre Dame.
Draft Rater's first-round talents
|15.||James Anderson||Oklahoma State||11.98|
|16.||Paul George||Fresno State||11.87|
|20.||Darington Hobson||New Mexico||11.69|
|23.||Luke Harangody||Notre Dame||11.37|
Once we get past the No. 24 collegian, and allowing for several foreign players likely to be selected in the late first and early second round, we're basically looking at role players and fringe players in Round 2, and the next 11 players typify the remains of the day (see chart below). Butler won't be taken 25th since he blew out his knee at the end of West Virginia's season, but the others landed roughly in the neighborhood most expect.
Draft Rater's late first-rounders and early second-rounders
|25.||Da'Sean Butler||West Virginia||11.26|
|27.||Devin Ebanks||West Virginia||11.16|
So we're all set here -- well, except for one thing.
Among those who haven't shown up on the list yet are several likely first-rounders, especially frontcourt players. There are several project-type big men in this draft that the Draft Rater isn't terribly excited about -- most fit the description of "long, athletic guys who blocked shots and got scouts excited but didn't do terribly much else." Some collegians of this type turn into players -- for instance, two years ago the Draft Rater hated Anthony Randolph, but he's become a legit starter in Golden State and still has upside to explore.
Nonetheless, history says scouts might be coloring in a few too many lines when they're projecting the future for Cole Aldrich, Ekpe Udoh, Hassan Whiteside and Ed Davis. It's possible that all four could go in the lottery, but the Draft Rater says their teams will regret it (see chart below). Three other possible first-round big men, Patrick Patterson, Craig Brackins and Solomon Alabi, don't engender warm feelings from Draft Rater either.
A couple of highly touted guards, Avery Bradley and Willie Warren, also failed to impress. Bradley can at least take solace in his one-and-done status -- the error rate has been higher for those players. And as a defensive specialist, his PER might not matter much anyway.
Draft Rater's duds -- prominent names ranked outside top 35 collegians
|54||Ed Davis||North Carolina||9.88|
|65||Craig Brackins||Iowa State||9.56|
|68||Solomon Alabi||Florida State||9.52|
So there you have it: my list of the players who have the talent necessary to thrive at the next level -- and those who might not.