Sunday, March 18, 2012

Blazers' 2012 Draft

Since the Blazers given up on the season and traded their second best player for a draft pick, the rest of a season is about going through the motions before the lottery draft. Every NBA fan knows about tanking even if the league won't do anything to stop it (see one solution here.)

The lottery draft is surprisngly complicated, but here's one of the most important parts: the first four lottery spots are picked randomly where the worst records get more odds. After that, draft spots are in order of worst record.

The Blazers have their own first round pick, which right now is slotted for 12th. They may drop to 10 or 9, but anything more is not likely given how far we are into the season and how close the Blazers are to .500. The New Jersey pick is top three protected, but Charlotte, Washington, and New Orleans are a lock for the three worst records. However, New Jersey still has decent odds to land in the top three because the first four are picked by the lottery. Right now they have the fourth worst record, barely possessing a worst record than Detroit, Toronto, and Sacramento. Hollinger's playoff odds tool has New Jersey finishing 24-42, tied for fifth with five other teams. The Blazers could get a New Jersey pick anywhere from 4th to 8th, and their own from 9th to 13th. Luckily for Portland, this is a deep draft.

Each potential lottery pick who could be taken fourth to fourteenth is shown below. The order is determined by an average lottery draft rating from two sites, ESPN and DraftExpress. Included are important facts like height and stats, which are mainly given in per 40 minute, pace adjusted form to compare players on the same scale (a fast team inflates a player's stats, and playing small minutes destroys one's per game averages.)

Andre Drummond
5 (6th ESPN, 4th DraftExpress) 

Connecticut, Freshman
Birthday: Aug. 10, 1993
6' 11", 7' 5", 275 lbs

Andre has slipped in recent months when before he was projected as the top one or two overall pick because as a college freshmen he has struggled converting his considerable athletic gifts into basketball. However, he's been advertised as a great passer for a big man, and even in college he plays more of a finesse game. You couldn't see this in his stats, unfortuately, because of his low assist to turnover ratio, and he doesn't have a consistent outside shot. His free throw shooting in particular is abhorrent. He's even worst than Ben Wallace at this point, and only DeAndre Jordan and Andris Biedrins in the NBA have shot as poorly. However, even they are excellent finishers inside, scoring off dunks and close attempts, while Drummond has a decent percentage from the field but nothing as spectacular as you'd like from a center high in the lottery.

A common comparison that falls flat is Amare Stoudemire 2.0, as I don't think he'll ever be the finisher that Amare is. Drummond appears to be more like the next DeAndre Jordan; consequently, he's fallen a few spots in the mock drafts. In dunk contests he's showed off with amazing dunks; you can see that leaping ability in his high number of blocks. He has the body and athleticism for an elite NBA center, but none of the skills. He's the typical high risk, high reward player, and the Blazers will have to study his work ethic and character to see if he can transform the potential into production. They should not take him as a "need" for their future center.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
14.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 3.8 blocks, 2.4 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
51 TS%, 0 3PT%, 31.3 FT%, 21.8 PER.

Stats found here.

Bradley Beal

5.5 (4th ESPN, 7th DraftExpress):
Shooting Guard
Florida, Freshman
Birthday: June 28, 1993
6' 4", 6' 8" wingspan, 195 lbs

Beal was advertised as a great shooter with deep range, although his three point percentage was low. He's a little short for his position, but has a decent wingspan so I suspect he won't have a big problem defending at the position. He's reminiscent of Eric Gordon -- maybe a little short for his position, but he is an above average defender and a good outside shooter who can generate free throws. All that said, I'm not sure why he's slotted to go so high in the draft because he's not overwhelmingly good in any respect.

While Beal's three point percentage was low, draft experts do not expect that trend to continue, and his two-point percentage is 52. He doesn't have elite athleticism, but it's not bad either. Again, this is a player who's good in many categories like ball-handling but nothing spectacular. It's easy to picture him an NBA rotation player, but not as a star player.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
17.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.0 blocks, 2.5 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
56 TS%, 31.9 3PT%, 77.5 FT%, 20.7 PER.

Stats found here.

Harrison Barnes
5.5 (5th ESPN, 6th DraftExpress)
Small forward
North Carolina, Sophomore
Birthday: May 30, 1992
6' 8", 6' 11", 210 lbs

Barnes has the ideal small forward body similar to Luol Deng or Rudy Gay. One measurement has him at 6' 8", while another at 6' 9" with shoes (NBA players typically use their height with shoes.) Given his wingspan, he has more than enough size to play the 3 in the NBA, and could be used in small-ball lineups as a power forward. He's rail-thin, though not extremely so, but basketball is a game for long, skinny athletes. He might have trouble with the bench press in the pre-draft camp, but ignore that entirely because it has nothing to do with the sport. Instead focus on his scoring skill and defensive potential -- he can score from anywhere on the court with an adept midrange game and three point range, and is already defending well.

There are few negatives to be found for Barnes. He's not the most athletic player in the draft, but he's still above average. By all accounts, he is very coachable and possesses a strong drive to improve. He's a sophomore, but so are many of his lottery peers as the lockout gave them more incentive to stay another year. He produced well as a freshman, but he also improved in his second year. Compared to the other prospects, he has a low variance (i.e. risk) on what you'd expect of him in the NBA. Unfortunately, the Blazers are rebuilding around Aldridge, a power forward, and Batum, a small forward.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
22.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, 2.4 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
54 TS%, 37.7 3PT%, 72.4 FT%, 22.6 PER.

Stats found here.

Jared Sullinger
7 (9th ESPN, 5th DraftExpress)
Power forward/center
Ohio State, Sophomore
Birthday: March 4th, 1992
6' 9", 7' 2", 280 lbs

One of the first questions you hear about Sullinger is if he's big enough for a power forward, and especially a center. His height is usually cited, and sometimes people will say 6' 9" is just under the ideal height. Ignore those people -- you don't play basketball with the top of your head; you play with your hands. Sullinger has a large wingspan, making him more than qualified for power forward, and at his weight and strength you're not going to push him out of the paint easily. Long-term, I see him playing center for long stretches because his strength and wingspan are adequate, but also because his quickness is subpar in defending NBA power forwards, which will become a worse problem as he ages.

Let's ignore his size for a second -- what matters is his ability to play basketball, and he's fantastic. He's a great rebounder, and a phenomenal scoring big man with a developed post-game and range that extends to the college three point line. The son of a coach, he has a knack for scoring inside and draws fouls at a high rate. He's not exactly a rim protector, but his steals and blocks are high enough to prove that he's not over-matched. If he keeps the weight off, I could easily see him as an all-star power forward. Lost in the amazing Anthony Davis season is how well Sullinger has been playing. For the Blazers this creates a tough choice. Do you go with need or best available? Sullinger's talent is enough for a top three pick, much less six. His rebounding and strength could work well next to Aldridge, but neither can protect the rim. Drafting by just need is problematic because you're more likely to draft someone who can't even play in the league, and at that point it's much better to draft a prospect like Sullinger, a skilled big man who can score often and with great efficiency.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
23.0 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks, 2.7 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
61 TS%, 38.7 3PT%, 76.3 FT%, 30.7 PER.

Stats found here.

Perry Jones
8 (8th ESPN, 8th DraftExpress)
Power forward
Baylor, Sophomore
Birthday: Sep. 24, 1991
6' 11", 7' 2.5" wingspan, 235 lbs

In a draft littered by power forwards, Perry Jones is the athletic 6' 11" guy who can run the floor and competent in most areas of basketball though not dominant in anything. He's tall enough coupled with long arms to defend power forwards, and even centers, but his strength and quickness will probably force his role as a power forward. He's fluid even when dribbling, and he can jump with an ease not found in most guys his size.

Despite all those gifts, he has yet to produce at an elite level, not even averaging a block a game. The fear is that he's the next Anthony Randolph, an intriguing prospect who's athletic with a well-rounded skillset but has yet to put it all together. That's a better excuse if you're a freshman trying to adjust to a new game, but Jones is a sophomore and has barely improved. The bottom line for the Blazers is that a 6' 11" forward who's a middling rebounder with shockingly few blocked shots is not the ideal frontcourt partner for Aldridge.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks, 2.2 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
54 TS%, 29 3PT%, 71.0 FT%, 22.2 PER.

Stats found here.

Tyler Zeller
10.5 (11th ESPN, 10th DraftExpress)
Position: Center
North Carolina, Senior
Birthday: Jan. 17, 1990
7' 0", unknown wingspan, 250 lbs

On the other end of the frontcourt prospect spectrum from athletic, raw power forwards is Tyler Zeller, the rare senior lottery pick who's also a seven-foot center. Tyler, not be confused with his younger brother Cody, is a highly skilled big man, shooting better from the foul line than most of the lottery wingman in the draft with good rebounding and shotblocking. His skills on the line also correlate to his jumper with range out to 18 feet. However, he's a senior, and there's a reason NBA management reflexively discriminate against those players. He's 22 and what he's doing now (obviously) shouldn't be compared to the freshmen and sophomores. Look what he did as a freshman: 7.8 minutes, 47% from the field, and 1.3 fouls (over six per 40 minutes.)

Tyler has improved his game to the point that teams in the 9 to 12 range are seriously considering him. No one's predicting stardom, but at that draft position a quality backup center or even a decent starter is a good find. He's mobile for a guy his size with an ability to catch and shoot in traffic, but his athleticism and jumping are below average for an NBA center. Few seniors become important players in the league, but at a certain point in the draft after the guys with star potential are gone Tyler is probably not a bad choice. That's not enough reason for the Blazers to submarine the season, but drafting around 10 that's what you have to expect.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
21.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 3.7 blocks, 2.4 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
62 TS%, 0 3PT%, 80.9 FT%, 30.4 PER

Stats found here.

John Henson
11.5 (14th ESPN, 9th DraftExpress)
Power forward
North Carolina, Junior
Birthday: Dec 28, 1990
6' 10", unknown but well above average wingspan, 210 lbs

Similar to Anthony Davis, John Henson grew half a foot when he was a senior in high school, meaning he had already developed perimeter skills before he had NBA power forward size and hasn't had as much time to learn how to play in his "new" body as others. He's a fantastic shot-blocker (but of course not as good as Davis though also rarely fouling at 1.6 a game) and even put up better stats in that department last year at 4.4 a game per 40 minutes, pace adjusted. He can also rebound well, and if not for his lack of strength he would be an ideal frontcourt partner for Aldridge.

The 2012 draft is different than most because of the lack of freshmen, but many of those sophomores would have likely declared last year if it weren't for the looming threat of the recent lockout. Henson, however, is a junior, and it's usually smart to flag players who spend a while in college because if they were clear NBA caliber players they would have already jumped ship. Henson is yet another raw big man prospect, barely hitting over 50% of his free throws. He's already 21 years old and "raw" shouldn't be used so much in his descriptions. Additionally, he shoots poorly from the field with a TS% (field goal % adjusted for three's and free throws) below average, especially for a power forward who scores inside. On defense he can produce in the NBA, but his offense may never be better than well below average, hurting his overall impact as a player.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
17.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 3.7 blocks, 1.6 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
51 TS%, 0 3PT%, 50.8 FT%, 25.4 PER.

Stats found here.

Jeremy Lamb
12 (12th ESPN, 12th DraftExpress)
Shooting guard
Connecticut, Sophomore
Birthday: May 30, 1992
6' 5", 7' 0" wingspan, 185 lbs

Where Lamb stands out is his wingspan since shooting guards rarely have a wingspan of seven-feet. Dwyane Wade's, for instance, is 6' 10.75". Wade is actually a good example for Lamb even if he wasn't a good shooter. No one thought Wade was going to be a star, and many pointed to his below average height. But as I've said in the other profiles height alone is not important. Lamb is big enough his position in the NBA, and his ridiculously long arms will help him contest others and shoot over the defense.

Incidentally, his shooting is underrated. He's at over 80 from the line, and while his three point percentage this season is low as a freshman he was at 37% with over four attempts a game last season. The most impressive stat for a player known for his midrange game is that he's 60% from 2-point range, which very few shooting guards do even in college. He's athletic, he can shoot, he's playing big minutes for a top team, there's great defensive potential, and he has freaky long arms. Why is he only 12th? The Blazers have needs at every non-forward position, and Lamb also appears to be a better prospect than others in this range.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
19.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 2.2 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
59 TS%, 32.8 3PT%, 82.6 FT%, 22.0 PER.

Stats found here.

Damian Lillard
13 (13 ESPN, 13 DraftExpress)
Point guard
Weber State, Junior (though really a senior because he got a medical redshirt his third year)
Birthday: July 15, 1990
6' 2", unknown wingspan, 185 lbs

After a number of young successful point guards in the league, there's finally a draft low on talent for the position. Lillard is the only point guard slated to go in the lottery. You'll hear him described as a junior, but really think of him as a senior because that's how old he is. Regardless of his age and knowledge of rotary phones, he scored 24.4 points a game with remarkable efficiency, and had good numbers in his sophomore year too. He's been close to 40% in each of his full seasons, and his free throw shooting started in the low 80's and approached 90 by his last year. He has enough size to release his shot, and enough quickness to get open as well.

One thing Lillard can't do well, however, is pass and run an offense. He's a scoring point guard, and drafting him on the idea that he'll net your team eight assists a game in the traditional role is not wise. The modern league has seen lots of success from scoring point guards and Damien shouldn't fall because of it. The injury that ended his third season also isn't as large a red flag as one would think since it seemed more like a freak play (broken foot) than a sign of things to come. While teams are wary of Damian because of his college, Weber State, and how old he is compared to others, he was second in the nation in both scoring and PER. At 13 that's not a risk; it's a safe bet.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
28.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 2.6 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
64 TS%, 42.5 3PT%, 88.3 FT%, 34.6 PER.

Stats found here.

Terrence Jones
13.5 (16th ESPN, 11th DraftExpress)
Small forward/power forward
College, Year
Birthday: Jan. 9, 1992
6' 8", 7' 3" wingspan, 244 lbs

A native to Portland, Oregon, Jones is a combo forward whose super long arms allow him to play power forward when necessary. He's a well-rounded forward -- an able passer, great ball handler, steal, block shots, and rebound. As for the negatives, his outside shot is inconsistent and could use some work, which is the same issue on his free throw shot. He came back for his sophomore season, but so did virtually everyone else, and his freshman season was arguably better. It's not rare for players to have an inferior sophomore season, and it's also not much of a cause for concern. In fact, showing that he produced at an earlier age is even better.

As for Jones' long-term position, he appears to be destined as a tweener, but he could also make it work. He's quick enough for most small forwards, and big enough for most power forwards. A bench role would probably suit him best when his team can pick the match-ups like Thaddeus Young on the 76ers. His wingspan should not be overlooked. It allows him to cover much taller players. On a team with Aldridge and Batum there doesn't seem to be a lot of need for a forward, but late in the lottery a quality bench player who can cover two positions is a good value.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 2.5 blocks, 2.4 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
55 TS%, 33.3 3PT%, 65.2 FT%, 24.8 PER.

Stats found here.

Cody Zeller

14 (10th ESPN, 18th DraftExpress)
Indiana, Year
Birthday: Oct. 5, 1992
6' 11", 6' 8" wingspan (DraftExpress), 210 lbs

The other and younger Zeller brother, Cody's stock has sank while his brother Tyler's ascended. There are a few logical reasons to this looking at their production, but there's a common theme among basketball families -- the youngest players are usually the best. This is because they get to play against tougher competition when growing up (their older brothers or other relatives). Tyler was better this season, but I doubt Cody at the same age would be worse. The older brother as a freshman played poorly in limited minutes; the younger brother has excelled at scoring on a good team.

Like his brother, Cody's a skilled and mobile big man who can pass decently and shoot from the line well. He's arguably the second most productive freshman, but as a center there are a handful of troublesome notes. One is that his wingspan was measured at 6' 8", and if you see the pattern from other basketball players that is not a good sign. You need long arms to shoot over players and contest shots. He's also only 210 pounds (though some sites list him at 230 now) without great athleticism, and his rebounding and shotblocking stats are below average for a prospect. I don't see how he can be a full-time center in the league unless he's grown or his wingspan is inaccurate. Nonetheless, a freshman frontcourt player who can score like that is rarely a risk. I'm surprised to see his brother ranked above him in some mock drafts.

Per 40 minutes pace adjusted stats:
21.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.7 blocks, 2.2 turnovers.

Percentages and efficiency:
67 TS%, 0 3PT%, 75.5 FT%, 31.2 PER.

Here's the short version -- it's a deep draft with lots of sophomores who were too scared to declare last year before a lockout. Unfortunately, a great number of the prospects are power forward, and the Blazers are locked into a good deal with their own all-star power forward. However, drafting purely by need leads to bad decisions and busts. Jared Sullinger appears (at least to me) to be the best player outside of the top three where the New Jersey pick could be placed. Andre Drummond is the pick for high stakes gamblers. He could be a bust because of his poor college play or he could be an all-star center because of the rarity of possessing both great size and amazing athleticism. No one is sure what he'll do in the pro's.

The Blazers also have their own pick for the late part of the lottery. For that one, Jeremy Lamb looks like the best value, a shooting guard who can definitely shoot with crazy long arms. There's also a scoring point guard, Damian Lillard, and a number of intriguing frontcourt players like Cody Zeller and Henson.

A good draft can change a team forever. Everyone knows the Blazers for whiffing on not one, not two, but three first overall picks for centers (LaRue Martin, Sam Bowie, and Greg Oden.) By contrast, in 2006 on draft day they traded new picks Tyrus Thomas and Randy Foye for Aldridge and Roy, respectively. Roy's abrupt retirement may have been bad fortune for the franchise, but a short prime from him is better than Foye's entire career. It was a weak draft, but they got the most out of it. For the future of Portland, they're hoping to do the same again.

Statistics taken from on March 18th, 2012. Height, weight, and wingspan from ESPN. 

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