Previously on Canis Hoopus, I introduced SMILODON, or Skills Model In Lieu Of Dexterity Operating Numbers, as a tool to help evaluate prospects. Before we use this model to judge the class of 2017, I think it is valuable to look through the last several drafts to note where SMILODON hit and missed. What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses? Are there any player types it overrates or underrates?
I want to start with the 2012 draft, the first for which I have the hoop-math data necessary to build the model. Throughout the course of this article, I will not be attempting to build a definitive ranking, but will be using the SMILODON flags to indicate if a prospect should be ranked higher or lower than his projected draft slot. I used the Draft Express mock from the eve of the 2012 draft to order the players, as I think that better captures conventional wisdom than the actual draft, which can be skewed by the actions of one team.
If I write that a prospect is flagged as a “steal”, that will usually mean 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 should have at least two of the three “S’s”: Size, Shooting, and Shotblocking. Shooting is also crucial for perimeter players. Undersized shooting guards posting awesome years at 22, or point forwards who still can’t shoot by that time, are likely to under-perform their projections in the NBA. Also, a flag indicates a range of production. Draymond Green, for example, has an orange flag for shooting that is on the edge of a yellow flag, which should be treated differently from an orange flag on the edge of a red flag. These more granular differences can be helpful when comparing specific prospects.
Without further ado, here is the 2012 draft by SMILODON, sorted by DX’s final mock, with commentary afterwards.
Anthony Davis is probably the best prospect of the past six years. Two blue flags at the age of 18 and, unlike Nerlens Noel, his shot wasn’t broken. (The difference between a red and orange flag for a big’s shooting is actually meaningful.) After Davis, the only other prospects with two green flags are Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond, who would be 2-3 on this board. The order would depend on your team’s scouting and need for a pure center.
Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters are the two other worthwhile prospects by this model. I would subjectively ding Waiters’ defense because of the Syracuse effect, but he has mostly disappointed because his shot has regressed in the pros. As for Beal, yellow flags for shooting, driving, and defense are actually a very good sign for an 18 year old. If Beal had spent another year in school, at least one of those indicators would have almost certainly turned green. Again, age is very important.
Thomas Robinson looks like the surest bust by this model, and Tyler Zeller has the dreaded red flag for age. Zeller’s green flag for shooting comes from an excellent free throw percentage and some very funky shot location data for North Carolina in 2012 and 2013. I would be higher on a big who didn’t shoot threes, but posted great free throw & long two percentages, if he was a teenager, not an old senior.
There’s honestly not a lot separating most of these prospects. The late lottery, following the selection of Andre Drummond, gave the options of plenty of reasonable picks, but no obvious steals. Terrence Ross and Mo Harkless both earn two green flags, but counterbalance their positive skills with two red flags each. Meyers Leonard and Jared Sullinger earn yellow flags in every category but one, but do so in the most unimpressive manner possible. John Henson & Terrence Jones both look like useful defenders, but not top tier prospects.
SMILODON is more useful for pointing out possible busts in this range. Arnett Moultrie and Perry Jones both have very uninspiring profiles and Kendall Marshall’s lack of offensive diversity and athleticism really show through. There is a more interesting option in DX’s next ten for a team willing to reach.
Any player with a blue flag is worth checking out, though sometimes the negatives will outweigh the positives, as we will see in the next group of players. Draymond Green has some negatives, but a team swinging for the fences in the late lottery could do much worse by this model. Green wasn’t the sort of shotblocker you’d like to see as your big, but elite AWARE and a playable outside shot are a potent combination in a big man. His AWARE had been even higher as a 19 and 20 year old, suggesting that skillset was real.
Tony Wroten is the only other player with two green flags, but a point guard with red flags for shooting, driving, and passing is quite the project. Will Barton is the only prospect in this range without a red flag, though his profile wouldn’t be quite exciting enough to make it to the top of my hypothetical board. As for Fournier, I will probably incorporate European players into the model after this draft.
In the next group of players, SMILODON flags three prospects as potential steals: John Jenkins, Darius Miller, and Jae Crowder. Jenkins, however, backs up his elite skill with three red flags and an orange flag, making him a much less enticing prospect than Crowder, who has a classic 3&D profile, or Miller, who has a 3&LessD profile. Miller is the second player the system clearly overrated in this class, after Dion Waiters. Miller can pass and shoot efficiently, at a 50/40/90 clip over the last two seasons of Euroleague play, but lacked the force and athleticism to do more than stand in the corner and never rebound.
The asterisks denote a player who was injured during much of his final season, so I used his penultimate season instead. By that measure, Khris Middleton was clearly the best prospect out of this group. If I used the healthier half of his junior year, he would look worse. Scott Machado and Robbie Hummel also look worthy of late second round fliers. I should point out that this system tends to overrate small point guards, which would be a strike against Machado.
Among notable players projected to go undrafted by Draft Express, Marcus Denmon and John Shurna each looked like possible steals. However, both players were undersized for their respective positions and each lacked the athleticism and physicality needed for the NBA. In those cases, some outside scouting information seems necessary to moderate the conclusions reached by merely looking at a statistical model.
Overall, SMILODON performed extremely well in its evaluation of the 2012 draft. Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, and Andre Drummond stood out as best prospects at the top of the class, while Draymond Green and Jae Crowder were two of the most obvious steals later on.
Excluding international players, a team using this system in the actual draft to moderate their board would likely have resulted in the selections of Anthony Davis at #1, Damian Lillard or Andre Drummond between #2-#9, probably either John Henson, Mo Harkless, or Draymond Green from #10-14, Harkless or Green at #15, either Green or Terrence Jones from #16-18, Green or Crowder (likely Green) from #19-35, Darius Miller or Khris Middleton from #36-39, Miller from #40-46, Scott Machado, Robbie Hummel, or Marcus Denmon (probably Hummel after accounting for size) from #47-58, Denmon, Machado, or John Shurna at #59, and Machado or Shurna at #60. For most picks, these selections would be seen as successes.
However, one draft is not enough to judge a system. Next time, I will look at the 2013 draft to see if SMILODON can adequately predict the careers of that selection of players.