NBA Draft Prospects: College Career vs. Athleticism

Now that the NCAA season is over and the first round of the NBA playoffs has begun, most professional basketball fans are focused on the now rather than the future. However, plenty of GMs are spending their playoff time looking over film from this past college season, breaking down statistics and play styles to find their next potential franchise player. This year especially will feature one of the most interesting drafts in recent memory, with the Thunder receiving their first lottery pick since James Harden and the T-Wolves “earning” their 10th lottery pick in as many years.

When deciding who to pick, there are two popular stances to take: selecting a player based off of their performance at the previous level, or choosing someone with tremendous physical attributes that signal a promising “upside.” Admittedly, these aren’t the only factors teams take into consideration when drafting a top pick, but they’re the most observable traits to measure and analyze. Looking at the top rookies from the past three NBA seasons, what carries more weight: athletic traits or collegiate success?

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A Quick Reminder of How Good Andrew Wiggins is

There is a lot of fret about the Kansas Jayhawks and their tournament hopes after the injury of Joel Embiid, especially after the recent hype around Embiid potentially being the #1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. This is no slight to Embiid, who is a great player, but the injury is being overhyped, because the Jayhawks’ best player is, far and away, Andrew Wiggins. How much better?

KenPom is one of my favorite sites, and overall it is the best advanced statistics site for college basketball on the internet. However, one important piece of information that slips past Ken Pomeroy’s stats system is Individual Defense. Offensively, Wiggins and Embiid are very similar players. Wiggins has a 113.9 ORating on a higher usage, but Embiid has a 112.2 ORating for himself, which is extremely impressive for a big man, especially a big man as raw as he is. Embiid’s insane block rate leads college basketball fans to believe that Embiid patrolling the center is the motor that makes Kansas’ defense go, but when you look a bit more into the stats, a different story is told.

Using data from GroupStats, (groupstats.wordpress.com), we can see the points per possession differences when each player is on and off the floor. When Joel Embiid is on the floor, Kansas outscores their opponents by .16 points per possession, a very strong number, and when he is off the floor Kansas outscores their opponents by .11 points per possession, or a .05 point benefit when he is on the floor. To put that number in comparison, Perry Ellis has a similar difference number at .04 PPP.

Now, lets get to Wiggins.

When Wiggins is on the floor, Kansas scores 1.18 Points per possession and gives up 1.00 Points per possession good for a PPP difference of .18. Now is where it gets good. When Wiggins is not on the floor, Kansas scores 1.08 points per possession and gives up 1.10 points per possession, good for a difference of -.02. Kansas is a whole 0.2 points per possession better when Wiggins is on the floor than when he is not! That is four times better than Embiid, and far and away the best of any Kansas starter. Lets put that .2 points per possession into context.  This year, Kansas is averaging 68.3 possessions per game. So, for each game, Wiggins is giving a 13.66 point boost to the Jayhawks, compared to a 3.415 point boost from Embiid. 13.66 points is an absolutely insane number for one single player to be adding to a squad.

So, as we are going into the Oklahoma State – Kansas game that many, if not most, experts are Kansas to lose in mainly because of the lack of Embiid, lets remember that the key player for the Jayhawks isn’t the big Cameroonian. Its Wiggins. And he will be playing today. That might just be all Kansas needs.

by Robert Garcia, Northwestern University

*Editor’s Note: this article was written BEFORE Wiggins dropped 30 points and 8 rebounds in their victory over Oklahoma State.

Bubble Breakdown: The Best Bubble Bets to Get In

Southern Mississippi (26-5)

Conference: CUSA

KenPom rank- 60

RPI rank – 36

Best Player – Michael Craig

Due to an inflated RPI and a very winnable conference tournament where they will probably be favored to win, the Golden Eagles have a very good chance of making the tournament.

How they got here: Southern Miss got their 36th ranked RPI and high probability of getting in on the back of their 5 losses. They have played a particularly soft schedule, playing only 1 top-50 KenPom team, Louisville, where they were promptly smashed by 31 points. Their top win is probably beating North Dakota State on the road, which does not arouse much confidence in the team. However, they have taken care of business for the most part, particularly at home, where they went undefeated. They have put themselves in an enviable position before their conference tournament.

How do they play? Southern Miss plays a particularly balanced game, with the only player playing more than 70% of their team’s minutes being 3-point specialist Neil Watson. They play pretty slowly, ranking 277th in Adj Tempo, and are also pretty balanced in offense and defense, ranking 65th in offensive efficiency and 87th in defensive efficiency per KenPom. Their biggest specialty is offensive rebounding, where they are 11th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage at 38.6%. Six foot five inch Michael Craig leads the way in the rebounding department, leading the team in defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage. Craig is their best offensive weapon, mostly through his 56.8% 2-point FG%.

Are they any good?: For a team with as good chance of getting into the tournament as Southern Miss, they are not very good. As of this time, they are projected to get a seed anywhere from 9-12 and at 9 they would be severely over seeded. At the 60th best team in the KenPom rankings, they profile along with teams such as Green Bay, West Virginia and Georgia State. Placing this team at a 9 seed would be over-valuing them by about 20 to 30 spots.

Where do they go next?: To the CUSA conference tournament, where they will likely face UTEP in their first matchup. Unfortunately for Southern Miss, the CUSA conference tournament is being played at Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas, which happens to be UTEP’s home court. If they get past UTEP they will face their toughest matchup of the tournament in Louisiana Tech, the best team in the CUSA per KenPom. Regardless of Southern Miss’s results in the tournament, they are likely to be heading to the big dance come selection Sunday.

Oklahoma State (20-11)

Conference: Big 12

KenPom Rank – 19

RPI rank – 41

Best Player – Marcus Smart

How they got here: For the majority of the season, Oklahoma State has been one of the biggest disappointments of the year in college basketball. However, looking back, a lot of that can be chalked up to a deceptively tough schedule, bad luck, and losing their best player for 3 games. Oklahoma State was believed to be missing the tournament after their 7 game losing streak, still after being a top team in the preseason and for a good amount of the beginning of the season. Looking back on that 7 game losing streak which put them here on the bubble, not many teams would have even gone 3-4 in a schedule of Oklahoma home and away, Baylor home and away, Iowa State, Texas on the road and Texas tech on the road. Oh, and by the way, they didn’t have their best player for 3 of those games. Yet even though they did lose those 7 games in a row, they only lost by 10+ twice in those 7 games, and pushed the game to OT twice.

How do they play? This is another particularly balanced team that has the 25th best offense in the nation and the 34th best defense in the nation. They play fast, getting up and down the court, but also take great care of the ball, ranking 16th in the nation in turnover percentage. Oklahoma State really rides their starters for minutes with Smart, Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash, Phil Forte and Kamari Murphy spending 42.4% of the teams minutes on the court together. Smart leads the offense as a scorer and a passer and helps set up their 3 other scores: Forte (3 point guy), as well as Nash and Brown, who both shoot very well from 2 and the line.

Are they any good? Yes. Very good. I remember a couple weeks back thinking about how at the pace OK State was at, they were going to be one of the best 12 seeds in the history of the tournament. Fortunately for 5 seeds everywhere, they have played themselves into a higher seed, yet will still be extremely dangerous and could easily be favored in their first NCAA tournament matchup even as a 10 or 11 seed. Oklahoma State is very highly ranked in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and at their peak, they have proven to be able to beat Kansas, Memphis, Colorado and Kansas State. This is a team that higher seeds do not want to be placed near on Selection Sunday.

Where do they go next? OK State was dealt a difficult Big 12 tournament draw, whereafter playing Texas Tech in the play-in game, they would have to play #1 seeded Kansas in the quarter finals. Regardless of their results in the Big 12 tournament, this is a team that will be dancing and will be a popular upset pick in your pools this year.

by Robert Garcia, Northwestern University

Introduction to the Bubble Breakdown

Welcome to March.

We are closing in on the tournament, and the bubble is starting to shrink. We can close in and analyze who has the best chance of getting in and who is going to the NIT. At time of this writing (Sunday Night, March 9th), I have calculated that there are 42 locks, and 17 more 1 bid leagues, teams that will get 1 team in but no more, that have not crowned their champion. That leaves 59 spots in the tournament already decided, and 9 total spots on the bubble. First, before touching on each team and their chances of moving into the tournament, I want to discuss what is dangerous for all of the bubble teams – bid stealing. A pet peeve of mine is when TV analysts begin to talk about the bubble and they talk about how if one team wins one game they could go from the middle of the bubble to a lock. Even more of a pet peeve is when analysts forget to include the lost bubble spots to bid stealing. Here is an example of what I mean by bid stealing: Toledo is a great example of a team that could really screw over some bubble teams this postseason. Toledo is a bubble team as well as the favorite to win their conference tournament because of their very strong RPI. If Toledo wins their tournament, the MAC will be a 1-bid conference and the bubble will stay the same size. However, if Toledo loses in their tournament (which really wouldn’t be too big of a surprise as they are not even the #1 seed in their conference), the MAC could become a 2 bid conference and make the bubble shrink. Other more common scenarios are when a low level team in a top conference such as the SEC or Big 10 comes out of nowhere and wins their conference tournament, like Georgia did in 2008, winning the SEC tournament and getting a 14 seed in the tournament. So pay attention, bubble teams. Along with your team, you are rooting for the favorites the rest of the way out. At the end of the day, based on the conference tournament win probabilities, we can expect around 2 bids to be stolen, which brings our bubble to 7. Now lets start breaking down the bubble teams and where they stand.

Locks: Arizona, Florida, Wichita State, Villanova, Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan, Syracuse, Virginia, Creighton, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Michigan State, Iowa State, San Diego St, Cincinnati, UCLA, Oklahoma, Connecticut, VCU, New Mexico, Harvard, Eastern Kentucky, St. Louis, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Texas, Memphis, Ohio State, Massachusetts, Oregon, Baylor, SMU, St. Joseph’s, BYU, Kansas State, George Washington, Colorado, Arizona State, Pittsburgh, Iowa

Beautiful, done with that. In my next post, we’ll start classifying some teams.

by Robert Garcia, Northwestern University