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Testing SMILODON: 2014 Draft

Revisiting the Wiggins - LaVine draft. What should have been obvious?

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

A couple weeks ago, I introduced SMILODON, a stats model that uses prospects’ college numbers to suss out their combination of skills rather than assign them an overall number to predict their NBA success. Last week, I used SMILODON to judge the NCAA prospects from the 2012 draft, the first for which I have the needed data. I then evaluated the 2013 draft using the same model. This time, I will review the 2014 draft. After reviewing the past five drafts, I will use the model to evaluate the 2017 draft, supplemented with my own scouting observations.

If a prospect is flagged as a “steal”, that means that they have either a blue flag, multiple green flags, or all of their skills save one are at least at the level of a yellow flag. A prospect flagged as a “bust” will usually have multiple red flags without the corresponding green flags for balance.

Some flags are more important than others. Age is crucial; a player with a red flag for age needs proficiency in at least two of the three “s” categories: size, shooting, and shot blocking to be taken seriously as a prospect. Undersized 22 year old seniors posting good numbers should be heavily, heavily discounted. Shooting is also crucial for perimeter players. Guards who can’t shoot need to be All-NBA defenders to be worth a first round pick. Point forwards who can’t shoot are also likely to be far less valuable in the NBA.

As in the last article, I sorted players by Draft Express’ mock draft to lessen hindsight bias and provide an accurate basis of comparison for pre-draft projections.

2014: 1-10

The top of the draft, to put it simply, is a baffling mess. Joel Embiid was widely seen as the most talented player in this draft, and while he doesn’t sparkle by SMILODON’s criteria, there are no players that are obviously better than him. Embiid was very close to an ELITE rim protection, which would have easily marked him as the best prospect of this group. The combination of GOOD rim protection and an AWARE above POOR is actually relatively rare for teenage prospects. Embiid’s flags were similar to Steven Adams and Andre Drummond, but with a much better free throw percentage, indicating offensive upside.

After Embiid, Jabari Parker and Elfrid Payton seemed to be the most promising prospects from this group, but each had very noticeable flaws. Payton’s offensive ceiling was limited as a point guard who could not shoot at all, and Parker’s defensive stats were unrepresentative of his generally poor effort on that end.

Andrew Wiggins could be a mid lottery prospect if given extra credit for elite athleticism, Marcus Smart looked like a fantastic defender who was nearly hopeless on offense, while Dougie McBuckets projected as a shooter who could do little else. Old, one dimensional shooters have had a poor track record over the past several years. Between McDermott, John Jenkins, C.J. Wilcox, Joseph Young, Quinn Cook, Tyler Harvey, and Ian Clark, teams would not be passing on can’t-miss prospects by targeting this type.

Aaron Gordon had a very strange profile that I am not sure how to value, but was worth a top ten pick on the chance that his shooting developed or his awareness turned him into a top defender. Noah Vonleh’s only alluring characteristic was his youth, and Julius Randle looked like a potential bust.

With so many players sporting giant question marks and weaknesses relegating them to bench roles, I probably would have advised lottery teams to trade their pick or select one of the Europeans listed among the next ten prospects, Jusuf Nurkic or Dario Saric.

2014: 11-20

Nurkic and Saric may be the best players from this group, but the NCAA selection based on SMILODON is obvious: Gary Harris. He was not particularly adept at creating offense for himself, but lacked red flags and projected as a relatively safe, functional shooting guard.

Tyler Ennis and Shabazz Napier both look okay at first glance, but as I’ve mentioned before, good projections for point guards under 6’3 should be treated more skeptically than for other types of players, and neither looked to be a “can’t miss” prospect. On the other end of the spectrum is Adreian Payne, who has...quite the profile.

Rodney Hood initially seemed as though he was going to make lukewarm models look silly, but his game seems to have stagnated at the level of a useful bench player. Surprisingly, Zach LaVine compares fairly well to the other NCAA prospects in his range. He only shot 69% from the line, but LaVine had so few free throw attempts in college that I weighted his percentages from the field more heavily. Including his free throw percentages from high school would also make his profile look better.

2014: 21-30

(The asterisks denote players whose final NCAA season was the year before the draft, due to injury or other causes.)

It’s almost impossible to build a statistical model that doesn’t single out Kyle Anderson as a steal. On the plus side, he is 3rd in the draft class in BPM. On the negative side, the low three point volume that dragged down his shooting rating has prevented him from contributing more in the NBA.

P.J. Hairston projected as a limited, but still useful, 3&D player. He turned out to be good at neither, compounded by the personal problems that forced him out of UNC a full year before the draft. Jordan Adams looked like a solid value in this range, though not the transcendental prospect he appeared by the box score.

2014: 31-45

There are three players classified as possible steals in this range, each with a red flag. Two of them have disappointed, while one turned into one of the steals of the 2014 second round.

C.J. Wilcox had the most concerning red flag of the three prospects, age, while a mediocre driving rating betrayed a lack of NBA athleticism. He also did not land in the best NBA situation, with a coach notorious for his lack of trust in young players unrelated to him.

K.J. McDaniels received his ELITE rating thanks to an uncanny ability to block shots. His excellent free throw percentage made SMILODON think that he might be able to shoot, but that skill has not developed over the past three years. His lack of passing ability may have signaled a BBIQ problem that has explained why he has not improved since his rookie season.

Jordan Clarkson was a big guard with the ability to get to the rim, a shot that wasn’t completely broken, and no defense. That combination of skills has turned him into an effective 6th man scorer in the NBA.

2014: 46-60

Khem Birch and Jordan Bachynski were both elite shot blockers who haven’t yet stuck in the league for different reasons. Bachynski didn’t have the awareness to be a good defensive prospect, while Birch is undersized for a center. I would still like to see what Birch could do as a backup center in small lineups.

Among prospects with semi-promising profiles, Devyn Marble’s shot does not appear to be good enough, Deonte Burton was old and small, and Markel Brown is the playable bench player that his profile suggests that he could be.

Dwight Powell has outperformed his draft slot, and the model, as an intelligent player who has used his awareness to become an effective bench contributor in the NBA.

2014: Undrafted

There are no projected steals in this group of undrafted players. Javon McCrea was an intriguing defensive prospect, but never got much of a chance in the NBA. Tyler Johnson has been the most productive of this group of players. He was a big point guard who could probably shoot. The other productive point guards in this group were all smaller. That has allowed Johnson to move to shooting guard, where his lower skill level has translated very well. (As a shooting guard, Johnson’s flags are OK for shooting, OK for driving, GOOD for passing, MEH for defense.) Next time, I will review the 2015 draft, which looks far better by SMILODON than any of the other drafts between 2012-2016.