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The Curry Conundrum


OK, it's the next day. Time to start dealing with some of the tough issues brought about by last night's draft. First and foremost among any issue with the Wolves' selections is the seemingly inexplicable decision to pass on Stephen Curry after taking Ricky Rubio. Forget about Jonny Flynn for a moment. You're the Wolves. You've just drafted the best passing point guard in the draft. You have a roster filled with power forwards and exactly zero players who can hit above 40% of their shots from beyond 15 feet. Do you a) take a 6'2" guard who shoots .387% from 3 (on a ton of attempts; many of them contested), .519% from 2 (mostly mid-range jumpers), has long range, and can shoot the lights out off the screen or in catch-and-shoot situations or b) a 5'11" guy who has Bassy-esque 3 point averages, average defensive numbers, and very modest RSB/40 numbers?

What exactly are you getting with Flynn that you cannot get from Curry? For one, Flynn has superior a/to and ppr numbers. This normally would be something to write home about had you not just spent your previous pick on a guy who will carry the lion's share of insuring that your team had solid a/to and ppr numbers at the same position. (Although, Rubio doesn't exactly have the best turnover ratio at the moment.) Kahn made a point of telling Stuart Scott on ESPN that Flynn was more of a scoring point while Rubio was a conductor of the orchestra. It's pretty hard to dress up Flynn as a scoring point more than Curry. Flynn gets to the line at a higher clip and he is a better finisher than Curry, but in terms of broad scoring efficiency, range, and putting the ball in the bucket, Curry is better at doing what Kahn wants to see in Flynn than what Flynn actually does.

I get that there are intangibles involved here. Flynn is tough as nails, a natural leader, a fantastic interview, and a winner (this three part series will make you love the guy). All of that is great and we here at Hoopus have no way of measuring this sort of thing on the level of what the Wolves have done with interviews and background checks. However, Curry seemed to be so much the BPA that even though I can sympathize with the idea of taking the perceived BPA and working out the messy details later, I just can't get past the idea that anything Flynn brings to the table is either redundant (and outdone) with Rubio (facilitation) or outdone by Curry (scoring). I.E. they seem to have overvalued Flynn.

I don't want this to seem like it's sour grapes on the part of a site who has been calling for the Curry pick for over a year, but there are some real problems with passing on the kid. The Wolves still have zero players on their roster who can shoot the three. They have zero players who can hit the mid-range jumper with any consistency. I know that the roster isn't set and we will likely see some more movement. Maybe they drafted Flynn with the idea that they could move him for value during the off-season. Even if that were true, does he have significantly more value than Curry at the same spot? I don't think he does.

In defense of the pick, I will say that I admire the fact that the Wolves selected the highest guy on their draft board with each pick. This is exactly what a 24 win team with 6 picks should do, damn the positions. If they had the number one pick I would be bitching to all hell had they not taken Blake Griffin. My beef with the pick is that Curry was the clear BPA. It is nice to see that the team's processes have begun to change but it is kind of disheartening to see them take...well, perhaps I shouldn't be too hard on them. They took Ty Lawson at 18 and Nick Calathes at 45. At both spots, they took the best player on the board (although, we now know via David Kahn's interview with Dan Patrick that the Wolves didn't actually pick Lawson). You could even make the case for Ellington being the BPA at 28. Maybe I'm overlooking something with Flynn. If Flynn has value, it will either come on the court or in a future move. I suppose we'll just have to wait to see how it plays out. I just can't get past a bad feeling that they really missed an opportunity with Curry.

Let's flesh this out a bit. What do we know about Curry's game vis-a-vis Flynn? Our two big sources for situational stats are this post from DX and this one from True Hoop. The first thing you will notice here is that both sites use Synergy Sports data and both sites feature some radically different data in a key area. Here's DX on the issue of pick-and-rolling:

...but his 1.3 PPP on the pick and roll is excellent—which leaves a lot of room for optimism.

Here's True Hoop:

Where does Curry need to improve? The pick-and-roll. Curry managed only 0.78 points per possessions -- though the pick-and-roll accounted for only 8% of his offensive possessions.

A few things. First, we have long viewed the DX information as one of the reasons to feel optimistic about Curry's translation to the NBA. His relatively low FT rate combined with a solid 2p% and a solid ppp on the p-n-r led us to believe that this would be Curry's best attribute at the next level. Now, we're not so sure. Either someone is misreading the data, requesting the wrong data, or Synergy Sports doesn't have their you-know-what together.

Secondly, this isn't the first time we have found discrepancies between DX's stats and sites like Kenpom or even our own calculations from official score sheets. DX's own stats don't even always match up with what they print from Synergy. Check out Curry's ppp on DX compared to its Synergy counterpart. 1.05 vs. 0.94 is juuusssst a bit of a difference stretched out over 100 possessions. It's a bit frustrating and from now on we'll link to both sites whenever we talk about college stats. We also recommend that you do as much background checking on DX's stats as possible as they don't always match up with other sites...or even their own.

Putting together a larger picture (and assuming that the rest of the data between those two posts are correct...which may be a mistake), we see that Curry has a large usage rate. He was very good with the open jumper (1.33 ppp), with a hand in his face (1.15 ppp), spot-up shooting (1.19 ppp), and coming off screens (1.3 ppp in 2.6 possessions/game). What he was not exceptional in is scoring in transition. 24% of Curry's possessions came in transition and he shot 41% with 0.94 ppp in these situations. In other words, he probably shot a lot of jumpers in transition. Isolation situations accounted for 27% of Curry's possessions with 0.94 ppp. What does all of this tell us? Curry is a versatile scorer who was able to transition to the point during his last season at Davidson.

Flynn doesn't have a True Hoop Synergy post. He just gets the DX treatment:

Flynn was a standout in two areas: his ability to get to the rim, and his one-on-one skills. Thankfully for him, those are two skills that the NBA values dearly. Clearly, his productivity is grounded in his first step. Flynn got to the rim 8.8 times per game, which accounted for a lot of his scoring, but his 1.24 PPP in unguarded catch and shoot situations and .94 PPP on pull up jumpers are both very respectable. His 4.3 possessions per game on isolations are amongst the best amongst big-conference players, and his 41% shooting on those plays isn’t awful. Couple those tools with his capacity to drive in both directions and his ability to draw fouls (16.1% SF), and it becomes hard not to think that Flynn could be, at the very least, a high quality backup if he improves his efficiency, especially once he masters the pick and roll (.84 PPP).

These stats are reflected in Flynn's superior ability to get to the line (48.1 FtRate compared to Curry's 36.5), his higher 2p% (.521 to .519), and his isolation volume. We know that Curry had a lot of isolation plays (27% of his possessions), and we know that he had a good ppp mark but we don't know what Flynn's ppp and percentage of iso plays are. We know he has a high iso mark amongst big-conference players and we know that he has a decent fg% with lots of trips to the line, and we know that he can draw fouls like nobody else at his size, but we need to know his ppp in order to make a solid comparison with Curry. My guess is that he is in the same neighborhood as Curry in iso situations; possibly even coming out ahead if you factor in trips to the line. We also don't have a good idea of how Flynn performs in transition.

That being said, of all the things we have said about Curry, if the True Hoop post is to believed, and if you can trust the Synergy data at DX, Flynn is actually a more effective pick and roll player than Curry while being able to be effective in unguarded catch-and-shoot situations, pull up situations, and possibly being better in isolation. He clearly doesn't match Curry's excellent shooting numbers (nor does he come close to handling the load that Curry had), but he does match Curry in several areas that could be very useful at the next level.

Ultimately, we don't really have a clear grasp on the situational differences between Curry and Flynn but, after looking at these stats combined with what we already know, we do get a sense of two main things: a) Curry is a far more diverse scorer than one would first guess (even though he's primarily a jump shooter) and b) Flynn combines facilitation and scoring at a bit more even rate than Curry. Curry is a fantastic scorer and shooter who had decent facilitation numbers in his first season at the point. Flynn is a fantastic facilitator who had slightly above average scoring numbers during his college career. I still can't get by Curry's shooting numbers (especially if you give him the ball at a high rate), but perhaps we underestimated Flynn's ability to score the ball within the 3 point line and in isolation situations. We would like to know a lot more about how Flynn dealt with catch-and-shoots and off screens before we can go any further with this.

One more thing about Flynn. One of our favorite writers, Kevin Pelton, actually had him rated above Curry. Here is what he had to say:

5. Jonny Flynn, Syracuse (1.7 WARP)
Age: 20.2 | Translated Stats: 0.401 Win% | 0.491 TS% | 18.3 Usage | 3.8 Reb% | 3.19 Pass

D.J. Augustin (97.7); Deron Williams (96.2); Maurice Williams (96.1); Jerryd Bayless (95.9); Kenny Satterfield (94.4)

Flynn probably combines scoring and passing as well as any point guard in this class, drawing comparisons to a pair of Williamses (as well as Jay Williams) and T.J. Ford. His uncertainty seems to be a little higher than the point guards ahead of him, with a handful of busts amongst his best comps, but there's the chance to become a star, too.

Finally, and with one more defense of the pick, as a long-time Curry proponent, even I have to admit (and remind people) that part of Curry's attractiveness was that he could be a ball-dominant guard. We have made this point at every step of the way with our praise of Curry. Curry led the NCAA with a mind-boggling 38% of his team's possessions with a usage rate just above 25 (DX has it listed above 31). Curry was effective, in part, because he had his ball in his hands and he was a fantastic shooter....with the ball. On the other hand, Flynn factored in 25.2% of his team's possessions along with two other solid guards (Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris) receiving usage and possession rates in the same ball park, 22.6 and 20.5 respectively in terms of team possessions. Curry is a good enough shooter to make a living as an off-the-ball guard a'la Rip Hamilton, but he may not be the prospect we all have been clamoring for without the ability to have a chance to run the point. At Davidson, he was who he was because he factored in more than 1/3 of his team's possessions. Here is what I wrote in a post calling him the 2nd best player in the draft (I highlighted the important part):

Stephen Curry is the 2nd best player in this draft. This one got some steam when Blake Griffin told the world that he believes Curry is Numero Dos next to his Top Dog, but we have rated Curry as the 2nd best player for a long time. Curry is going to be an amazing ball-dominant scoring point guard in the NBA. He will not be faced with the double and triple teams he saw at Davidson and the NBA’s perimeter defensive rules will allow his hesitation-based pick and roll game to become an influential player—-operating as a sort of inverted Tony Parker by making a living off of mid-range pick and roll jumpers and threes (as opposed to Parkers mid-range pick and roll jumpers and layups). If Curry is on the board at #6, you take him and don’t let go.

As I mentioned in the comments in a previous post, Tony Parker wouldn't be Tony Parker next to Ricky Rubio. Being off the ball would turn Parker into an average player. Being off the ball will turn Curry into...well, we don't know because he certainly is a better shooter than Parker. Once the Rubio pick was made, the Wolves had their dominant on-the-ball guard and Curry would have had to step into a significantly different role than what we saw from him in college. The more I think about it, perhaps the Curry Conundrum isn't the real missed pick. Here's what I wrote in our final draft board post (highlights are again added for emphasis):

DeRozan was able to score at USC without even the threat of three point proficiency. He made up for his lack of outside shooting by racking up a 56% mark from 2 with 49% in isolation, 43% in catch-and-shoot, and 41% on pull up jumpers. Throw in an above average OReb% for his position as well as a modest ability to get to the line and you have a player with upper-level athleticism and a....boring middle range workman-like game. Think Ryan Gomes with hops and a higher upside rather than Gerald Green or Vince Carter. DeRozan is the type of player who will need a good point guard at the next level. Until he can develop his dribble-drive game, he will need to be set up in the 1/2 court. While we all wait for that to happen, he has the tools to be a good defender, excellent rebounder for his position, and a solid mid-range player. If the Wolves make a trade up to the two spot for Rubio, DeRozan is exactly the type of player you want to put with him at the off guard spot. Just remember that he's more lunch bucket than someone with that type of athleticism would suggest.

The problem with DeRozan is that even I don't think he was the BPA at 6 with Curry on the board. He would have been a pick for fit and potential more than anything else.

That about does it for this post. Do the Wolves break camp with Flynn and Rubio? Do they make a trade? If so, who do they make a trade with? What say you? Up next we'll work on a post about what Flynn brings to the table and figuring out whether or not he can co-exist with Rubio. We'll then move on to the forgotten pick: Wayne Ellington.