Rethinking The Draft: A Few Draft Prospects With Flaws That Make You Think Twice

Quentin McCallCorrespondent IJune 26, 2008

The NBA draft is hardly a scientific process so I don’t see much point in adding to the tons of mock drafts already available on the web.

First of all, draft day is way too unpredictable (who knew Ray Allen and Jason Richardson would be traded the same day last year). Second, there’s no reliable way to predict how successful a player will be in the NBA (who knew that Rajon Rondo would be the starter for a championship team when he was drafted).

"I think now the way the draft is, it has become a game of educated guessing about how good a player can be instead of how good a player is," Bilas said. "It used to be how good a player was would determine where they would be drafted and now you have to project a player three or four years into the future. It's very difficult and can determine the success of a franchise."

One thing I think I can say with confidence about this draft is that it’s deceptively deep. Not deep in the sense that it will generate a ton of stars or even a lot of career starters. But it’s full of solid rotation players, the type of guys that are needed to make a deep run in the playoffs. In other words, this is a draft where the rich can get richer. It might just take us five years before we figure it out.

However, I do think that if we take a close look at statistics, historical trends, and actual game footage (gasp!) we can at least identify some potentially fatal flaws in players.

I won’t use the term “busts” because it’s not Michael Olowokandi’s, Kwame Browns’, or Joe Smith’s fault that someone chose them with the first pick overall. Plus, so much of success in pro basketball is about a player’s effort, ability to learn, and fit with their team (see: Bruce Bowen, Monta Ellis, and Chauncey Billups for examples). But there is hope for developing informed opinions about the draft.

Thankfully We Have Statistics

Following the draft as an NBA junkie has been greatly enhanced by the “web 2.0” era in which we can immerse ourselves in information about almost any prospect. The proliferation of mock drafts, YouTube clips, college game footage (available at Yahoo), and even workout footage has made it possible for fans to imagine that they’re in their own virtual draft room.

In addition, John Hollinger at ESPN has developed a draft rater system that he claims can account for the 82% of the drafting that is indeed quantifiable. Draftexpress has provided us with a historical analysis of the draft and a WinScore analysis.

So using all these tools as well as my own observations, I have created a list of players who have major red flags and are best avoided early in the draft. Sure, it may be safer than just labeling them an outright “bust”, but it also allows for the possibility that they may be productive role players in the right situation.
OJ Mayo – Overhyped College Star

Mayo is the first player on my list not because he’s bad, but because he’s not great. And if he goes ahead of guys like Kevin Love and Jerryd Bayless, someone will live to regret it.

People who claim Mayo is a future superstar are probably too caught up in the hype…and people who think he’s a bust are probably just haters.

Every statistical approach I looked at projects Mayo as nothing more than a solid rotation player, possibly a starter depending on where he goes. It’s hard to see how that translates into a top 2-3 pick. As Hollinger points out, he only had one year of college so there’s probably room for improvement.

So before evaluating Mayo, clear your mind of all hype-based assumptions...and focus.

Mayo is a very solid basketball player. He has an outstanding feel for the game and his statistics were affected by the way USC coach Tim Floyd used him as a volume shooter. However, what I do see is that he does a great job of finding ways to create separation to get his shot off and he has better court vision than he’s given credit for.

The biggest problem with Mayo’s game is his first step on offense. He’s not going to be the scorer he was in college because NBA defenders are quicker and he’s going to have trouble breaking down the defense to create for others as well. Hoopsanalyst also reports that his defensive stats (rebounds, steals, blocks) are also below average.

So is there any reason to pass on Beasley for Mayo? Even passing on Love for Mayo? I’d say not.

What they’re saying:

“While Gilbert Arenas is a highly popular player, Win Score analysis suggests his value is higher with fantasy players than Wizards fans, and similarly predicts Mayo to be an overrated basketball asset. Specifically, Mayo’s poor A/TO ratio and his .7 PAWS/40 mark do not impress, and suggest Mayo, like Arenas, will be more productive for fantasy teams than actual ones.”
via Draftexpress

Jason Thompson – Big fish, small pond

I like everything I’ve seen of Jason Thompson. He’s got good offensive skills, he’s got good size, and he’s ready to do the dirty work.

Statistically he rates well, with the caveat that he put up good numbers against poor competition. That’s not a huge reason for concern as other big guys from small schools have done well. The difference is that they absolutely dominated the pond. Thompson’s stats are not dominant in the same way. 

So the problem with Thompson is that he’s projected to go as high as 14…and that’s just too high. I know draft position does not dictate talent, but historically, big men selected in the second half of the first round don’t fare well. In fact, in the last ten years, only 3 bigs selected after #10 have succeeded…that’s not impressive. This year might defy the odds because there are a lot of big prospects in that range, but reaching for a big man is almost a guaranteed way to make a mistake.

All that said, I think Thompson will be a solid rotation player, something similar to the role Joe Smith played for the Cavs this year.

What they’re saying:

"Thompson is a likely mid- to late- first round pick, but he has lottery talent. Thompson posted an offensive rating of 110.9, 23rd in the nation among high-usage players. He shot 57.8 percent from the field on two-point shots. Most impressive, he blocked 8.6 percent of opponents' two-point attempts while he was on the floor, the 46th-best qualifying rate in the country. Thompson combines those numbers with some of the physical attributes that scouts love--great leaping ability, speed and explosiveness in the open floor."
via Basketball Prospectus

JaVale McGee – Rail Thin Super Athletic Big Man

Even re-reading the label of super athletic big man to myself, I start thinking, why do I have him on this list again? Then I remember – Stromile Swift, Jerome Moiso, and Tyson Chandler before he was paired with Chris Paul. So there’s a range of possibilities and McGee has an emergent skill set that could serve him well if he finds the right team.

There are two major red flags for McGee – he’s not a great position rebounder, he commits a lot of turnovers, and he appears to be someone that might fall in love with his perimeter game. Regarding the rebounding – as Hoopsanalyst says, he’s barely adequate and he got a lot of them due to his athleticism which will not help him against bigger and stronger guys in the NBA. The Win Score and Hollinger rating are not favorable for McGee, but he’s young and might pan out for a team willing to take the time to develop him.

Of course, McGee could come out as good Chandler, but Channing Frye seems more likely. That’s not too bad, but again there are bigger bangers available in the mid-first round that could possibly have a bigger impact. Again – searching for bigs late in the first round is almost always a losing proposition.

What they’re saying:

"Grueling workouts with his agent, former NFL player Roosevelt Barnes, have helped, but many question McGee's conditioning and think he is still raw. However, his physical attributes and flashes of playmaking skills will likely be enough to get him drafted in the mid to late first round."
via USA Today

Nicholas Batum –Intriguing Foreigner

Quick note: I first made this list before hearing that the Spurs have Batum pegged as their guy at #26. The Spurs have proven themselves to be extremely good at scouting overseas – most notably:Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Luis Scola. So who am I to challenge the Spurs? I’ll let the stats speak for themselves.

Batum received poor scores in both the Hollinger rating and the Win Score rating – in fact, it was a negative win score rating in Euroleague. The Hollinger rating has been pretty accurate with foreigners accurate projecting Marco Bellineli, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Luis Scola.

Batum could defy the odds, but the big knock against him is that he tends to coast and disappear during games. Although he has a solid skillset, he hasn’t yet figured out how to put it together in a coherent package. With some dedicated coaching, he probably has all the tools to become a good player – and the Spurs might be the place to do it – but otherwise, he’s not going to be an impact player in the near future.

What they’re saying:
"His numbers project to 9.6 points per 40 minutes, 39.8 percent shooting and an 8.89 PER. It's not like this was an off-year either -- his 2007 numbers are nearly identical. I understand that he's only 19, so perhaps there's some value in using a late second-round pick on him and stashing him in Europe to see if he grows, but that's about as strong a recommendation as I can muster."
via ESPN

Robin Lopez – The Semi-Productive Sidekick

I actually like Robin Lopez quite a bit. Again, my problem with him is that he's projected to go WAY too high at #17. Big active defensive big men like Robin are rare which certainly make him enticing to GMs looking to fill holes in the frontcourt. But need I remind again of the poor track record of big men selected outside the lottery?

He ranks low in Win Score and Hollinger's rating. That's significant because WinScore favors bigs (heavy weight on rebounding). Hoopsanalyst has a nice analysis of his numbers with and without Brook. His shooting percentage was down 12 points without Brook. Of course, that makes sense because without Brook, he probably got a lot more attention. And it’s fair to say he wasn’t able to handle it. So you have to wonder how he'll respond in the NBA when the talent is even better...and he's without Brook.

DJ Augustin – The speedster point guard

Being a good point guard requires the ability to distribute the ball if nothing else. Augustin is getting credit as a “pure point guard” (whatever that means) for being a distributor. So why is he on this list?

I've tried very hard to figure out the hype around Augustin. And I like point guards, especially skilled point guards. But WinScore rates him low, Hoopsanalyst highlights his low field goal percentage and defensive numbers. That’s just the beginning for me.

My issue is that I think people have confused speed and confidence at the college level with an ability to manage the tempo. He's going to be a very effective distributor, but I question his ability to create at the pro level because he will not always be the quickest guy on the floor and already, he's not a very efficient scorer. So if he can't score effectively and can't blow by people, what is he going to be able to do?

He’s projected as a lottery pick right now and I think that’s a mistake for a player who projects as more of a backup journeyman than a mainstay rotation player to me. When I look at Augustin, I see Travis Best and Tyronn Lue with slightly better point guard skills. That’s just not good enough to be considered a high pick. Here’s an excellent point from TrueHoop:

“Here's my thought: D.J. Augustin is a better point guard than Jarrett Jack based on ... what?”

What they’re saying:
"The most similar player to Augustin at this point seems to be Kiwane Garris, for whatever that’s worth.  One thing I find interesting is the players on the list who were top 15 draft picks are Abdul-Rauf, Kenny Smith, Hurley, Mays and Wood. All were all disappointments compared to the expectations they brought. Five of the seven successful players, Mark Jackson, Price, Atkins, Kerr and Skiles, were all drafted after the 20th pick and were all pleasant surprises. This is probably a bad sign for Augustin who is considered a top 15 pick."
via HoopsAnalyst

Donte Greene – Coming out early

Donte Greene is tall, athletic, and has plenty of potential. That should give a hint of why he’s on the top of the list.

Statistically, there’s not much supporting Greene. His Hollinger rating is decent, but his WinScore is negative, meaning he hurt his team when he was on the court. That’s not surprising when you see how many three’s he shot. Eric Doehr also points out that Syracuse was an uptempo team so his mediocre stats are probably inflated.

I have one problem with Donte Greene -- he's a volume shooter who cannot shoot well. That's always scary. Of course, the fact that he's young means that he could come to the pros and change his game. And that would be great. But right now, he's a poor man's Rashard Lewis -- a so-so spot up shooter who doesn’t play defense. I can’t justify using a lottery pick on him.

What they’re saying:
"Donte Greene does one thing and one thing only: He shoots. He does not guard, rebound, defend or anything else, but he shoots all the time and he is a good, not great, shooter."
via ESPN.com

Anthony Randolph – Athletic Tweener

I have forced myself to put Anthony Randolph on this list because he’s so enticing… and there’s very little to support the buzz he’s getting as a lottery pick. Well, except the power of our imaginations.

Randolph is probably the most tantalizing prospect in this draft. An agile 6-11 guy with pretty good court instincts is VERY hard to pass on. He has very good shot blocking instincts and just seems to be in the right place at the right time on the floor. I love all of that. He looks like he could be very much like Andrei Kirilenko...and therein lies the problem.

This guy has a tendency to disappear at times and when things start going poorly for him he dwells on it and is visibly affected. Statistically, everyone has a different reason not to like the guy: poor scoring, poor rebounding, turnovers. WinScore, Hollinger rating, and Hoopsanalyst all have him rated below the threshold of even being a legitimate prospect at all.

I do have a caveat – the points he did score were basically on broken plays. I think he has a better feel for the game than people give him credit for. They hardly ran any plays for him and he still managed 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds.
He could go as low as the late first round if teams are scared off by his rail thin frame and poor advanced statistics.

I have faith in the tools he brings. But faith alone does not a basketball player make.

What they’re saying:

"Anthony Randolph was not an efficient 2-point scorer at LSU. Not even close. He hit .483 on two pointers and .105 on 19 three pointers. Not too many college stars go onto NBA greatness after hitting less than .515 on 2-point FGs. In fact, no one has. Just one player who made a few all-star teams and a few decent journeymen."
via HoopsAnalyst

Deandre Jordan – Inexperienced Big with Little Skill

I think USA Today perfectly summarized Deandre Jordan:

"DeAndre Jordan, 7-0, 255, Texas A&M: A freak athlete like Dwight Howard, but he is not as strong or skilled as Howard and relies almost exclusively on his athleticism on both ends of the floor. He also has a reputation for not being a hard worker and seemed to wear down as the season progresses. As a result, his stock has fallen significantly. Despite those concerns, he has the size, and his upside is enormous.

Enough said.


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