1 Eye-Popping Stat for Every Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospect
For the most part, statistics aren't the best way to evaluate NBA draft prospects. But there are some that just can't be ignored.
The top ballers in the 2014 class have put up some spectacular numbers so far, and a few of those numbers hold significance for the next level.
"Efficiency" is more than just a buzzword in the NBA, it's survival. Several premier prospects demonstrate it on a nightly basis, whether it's good shot selection, advantageous rebounding or clean defense.
What is the most eye-popping statistic for each top pick, and how does it reflect their pro value?
Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Stat: 1.8 fouls per game
Arizona routinely asks freshman Aaron Gordon to guard the opponent's best player, and he routinely covers them like a savvy veteran.
His footwork and discipline are so good that he's able to stop both speedy ball-handlers and powerful post players without fouling. He commits just 1.8 fouls per game and 2.3 per 40 minutes, which is phenomenal for a freshman.
Mike Schmitz of Draft Express explained that Gordon is consistently successful because he "slides without fouling" and "walls off with his body to contain penetration."
That level of defensive supremacy was a huge factor in the Wildcats' 21-0 start to the season, and it will be a major component to Gordon's professional career.
If we based our assessment of his NBA-readiness solely on his offensive polish, then there's a strong case for him to return to college next year. But when you consider his preparedness and mastery of defense, it's easy to see how you could plug him into almost any rotation.
Julius Randle, Kentucky
Stat: 26.2 PER during conference play
Throughout the early portion of Kentucky's season, Julius Randle owned the glass and dominated the paint. He posted a 27.0 player efficiency rating while bruising his way through opponents.
Since SEC play began, he has come under the microscope and has endured criticism and doubters. A couple of underwhelming performances seemed to dent his previously impenetrable draft stock.
But Randle is still posting a robust 26.2 PER against Southeastern opponents. Why? Because he's still rebounding effectively, getting to the free-throw line and finding buckets.
You can question his upside and lament his "short" 6'11" wingspan. But you can't deny his power, quickness and ball skills. Those traits are going to fuel his NBA career, says USA Today's Adi Joseph:
...He has the tools to be an All-Star and highly productive player for some of the same reasons he has dominated the college game. He's a bull with surprising agility and skill with the ball in his hands.
We scrutinize young prospects like Randle and expect so much from them, often forgetting that they're freshmen. It's impressive that he bounces back from the bad games and has been incredibly productive overall.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Stat: 20.7 rebounding percentage (leads Big Ten)
Rebounding percentage is "an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor," per Sports-Reference.com. Essentially, it's a measure of overall rebounding effectiveness.
No one in the Big Ten is better at it than Noah Vonleh.
His combination of strength, length, instincts and agility makes him a matchup quandary for every college opponent—and it will make him more than competent at the next level.
As Ryan Corazza of InsideTheHall.com noted, Vonleh has a knack for hauling in rebounds even when he doesn't have ideal position. His 7'4" wingspan and great body control allow him to snatch the ball in situations where many players wouldn't get a finger on it. While competing against collegiate counterparts, he truly stands out like a "man among boys," and has NBA written all over him.
There is plenty more to his game than just rebounding, and he'll likely develop into a versatile pro. But his immediate impact will be found on the glass.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Stat: Leads Big 12 in usage percentage (29.5) and defensive rating (90.3)
A few rough shooting outings doesn't change the fact that Marcus Smart holds exceptional value on both ends of the floor.
Oklahoma State runs a huge chunk of their offense through Smart, whether he's initiating the play or finishing it—and that's reflected by his colossal usage percentage. On defense, he's equally important, serving as the unit's leader and most stingy stopper.
Staying in school for another year may drastically boost his ability to handle the NBA workload as a combo guard. Cowboys coach Travis Ford explained Smart's sophomore maturity to Sports Illustrated's Kelli Anderson:
...Last year, I would be calling the plays, and he would be trying to figure things out. Now he's calling all the plays, he's calling the defenses—and we're a team that runs a lot of different plays and defenses.
Smart isn't a prototypical point guard or an elite scoring machine, but he knows how to take advantage of opportunities and attack. As a defender, he also demonstrates terrific instincts and perceptiveness. The lottery club that chooses him will get an instant two-way upgrade.
Dante Exum, Australia
Stat: Five 20-plus point games in 2013 U19 World Championships
It's difficult to statistically measure anything Dante Exum has done against his fellow 2014 draft prospects. The Australian absolutely dominated his high school competition, but we can't make NBA assumptions based off that.
We can, however, appreciate the magnitude of his production during the FIBA U19 World Championships this past summer.
His 33-point effort against Spain officially put him on the draft map, and it was as eye-popping as prospect performances get. ESPN's Fran Fraschilla told Dick Weiss of Bluestarmedia.com, "One day, we'll all look back at this and say 'Do you remember the game when Dante Exum became a lottery pick?'''
It wasn't Exum's only big game, though. He scored 20-plus four other times throughout the tournament, including a 20-point, six-assist outing versus Russia and a 28-point, five-assist effort in the bronze medal game against Lithuania. He maneuvered through defenses with ease, made a wide assortment of shots and still kept his teammates involved.
Even though the tournament was back in July, it remains the landmark moment that showed Exum's ability to create for himself and teammates. It was a glimpse of his prowess as a combo guard, a role that could make him an NBA superstar.
Jabari Parker, Duke
Stat: 33.0 usage percentage (leads ACC)
You thought Marcus Smart's usage percentage was high? How about Duke's freshman forward Jabari Parker, who is tops in the ACC in that category and third among all major-conference players.
His shooting percentages have plummeted substantially since conference play began, but Coach K and the Blue Devils still trust him to get the job done.
Why? Because he's a "go-to-guy," as CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello explained to The Syracuse Post Standard's Mike Waters:
He's a go-to guy offensively...Jabari's a guy who can go get you a basket when the clock's winding down. He gives them that next dimension.
Parker is counted on for results because he has the capability to score from anywhere and in any manner.
Catch-and-shoot on the perimeter. Step-back jumper along the baseline. Drive through contact from the elbow. Post-up and drop-step on the block. Yes, he can do it all.
That kind of versatility makes him the focal point of defenses. His leadership against adversity is a trial run for being the top scoring option on his 2014-15 NBA club.
Joel Embiid, Kansas
Stat: 27.9 PER
So much for being a raw prospect.
Kansas center Joel Embiid has as good a chance as anyone to go No. 1 in June, and one number that validates his candidacy is his 27.9 player efficiency rating.
He has adjusted to high-level basketball and improved so fast that he's contributing smoothly in every area. There's still loads of untapped potential remaining, but his freshman-year progress has exceeded expectations. Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com discussed Embiid's astronomical rise:
He has developed much quicker than expected, showing significant progress from game to game...NBA decision-makers have fallen in love with Embiid. When an executive starts talking about things they like about Embiid, they can go on forever. They drool over his graceful movements, soft touch, exceptional footwork, incredible instincts, high basketball IQ, 7’5 wingspan, extraordinary athleticism and, of course, limitless potential.
Once he gets acclimated to the NBA, he will be a force in all facets of the game. All of them. That includes things like ball-handling, passing and perimeter shooting. So you can expect a sturdy PER fairly soon after he joins the Association.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Stat: Shooting 57 percent in 20-point games
When Andrew Wiggins enjoys a high-scoring game, it doesn't come at a steep price.
Early in the season, we lamented Kansas' highly-anticipated freshman for being too passive, and perhaps he was (and still is) not as assertive as we hoped. But Jack Winter of Hardwood Paroxysm said we should appreciate the ease with which he gets many of his baskets and how economical he is most of the time:
The knock on Wiggins this season is that he has a tendency to be passive or "get lost." But letting offense come to him and keeping his teammates involved while playing winning basketball are luxuries...
Last week, he set a new career high against TCU and then broke it against Iowa State. He only took 13 shots to score 27 against the Horned Frogs, and just 16 shots to drop 29 on the Cyclones.
He doesn't force too many bad outside shots, only taking in-rhythm, balanced jumpers. His mid-range game has also improved a bit, and he's drawing more contact lately.
On several occasions, Wiggins has shown how productive he can be with a small handful of perimeter attempts and creases to the bucket. While he's far from an NBA-ready scoring powerhouse, he's going to play within the flow of the game and utilize the chances that come his way.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR