This post continues a series I started several weeks ago, looking back at the 2011 NBA draft. I am discussing the players in the order of how I rated them pre-draft, not their actual draft position, hopefully exposing some personal “lessons learned” between then and now. Today is my 2011 #11 to #15.
11. Tristan Thompson (picked 4th by Cleveland) – I am a Cleveland Cavaliers fan and watch 90% of their games. To my dismay, Tristan’s defensive split for @talkingpractice’s RAPM ranks among the bottom 20 in the NBA. While not entirely his fault, the Cavs are 6.6 points per 100 possessions worse on defense when Thompson plays. Both his offensive and defensive splits have decreased from 2013. Trying to reconcile this in my head, and knowing Thompson struggles greatly with stretch-fours, I scope out his Synergy stats. Opponents clearly notice his issues defending shooters, as over one-third of his plays defended are spot-ups, where he allows 0.94 points per play (ppp). Considering spot-up shots are one of the game’s more efficient looks (especially as a three), his 0.90 ppp allowed ranks 257th in the NBA according to Synergy.
Ok, fine. He sags off his opponent too much…it’s something to work on. More concerning though? His basket defending has become non-existent; this was one of his primary skills in college, as he blocked over two shots per game, ranking fifth in the Big Twelve for block rate as a freshman. Now? He has blocked one more shot than Andrew Bynum this year. He is blocking 0.4 shots per 36 minutes. Seth Partnow of whereoffensehappens.com created a Rim Protection Points Saved stat using the player tracking SportVU data. According to his stats, Tristan ranks 147th in shot contests per 36 minutes and 159th in points saved per 36 minutes due to rim protection; comparable big men include Carlos Boozer and Brandon Bass. That is not good. Thompson has bulked up, playing solid defense in the post, but has potentially lost some explosiveness along the way. After solid improvement in 2012 and 2013, his defensive rebounding rate has dipped this season.
What is a power forward on defense if he can’t defend stretch-fours and can’t compensate at the basket for his teammate’s mistakes?
As a Cavs fan, this is confusing. In the NCAA, his offensive rebounding rate ranked fourth in the Big Twelve, along with his previously mentioned excellent block rate. Those, plus athleticism and strong work ethic, were his primary strengths coming into the League. He should be the defensive yang to Kyrie Irving’s offensive yin. With each passing NBA season though, his offensive rebounding rate has dropped. He barely contests shots at the rim anymore. His free throw shooting has improved from 49% (NCAA) to 55 to 61, to 69% this season, and the franchise has certainly focused on improving his offensive repertoire. Has that been a mistake though? Has too much effort been expended on recreating Tristan Thompson, when building on his innate abilities may have provided better results? Obviously, I have no way to answer that, but to me, the slippage on defense overshadows his still a work in progress offensive expansion.
12. Markieff Morris (Picked 13th by Phoenix) – Now 24 years old, both Morris twins are finding their role in Phoenix. Markieff is averaging 14 points and 6 rebounds in 26 minutes per night. He still makes about a third of his three pointers, but his 2-point shooting percentage jumped from 43% to 51%, and his free throw rate doubled this season. This has guided his true shooting to jump from 47 last season to 57 now, even while seeing a usage spike from 20 to 23. For RAPM, he ranks 142 of 478 players, with 4 SWAgR (Wins) for 2013 – 2014.
13. Jimmer Fredette (10th by Bucks, traded to Kings) – Jimmer was a wild card; could his ability to find and make shots from anywhere overcome his clear defensive shortcomings? He has made 49% of his threes this year, and 40% of his 450 career three point hoists. Alas, according to 2-year APM and RAPM, he is bottom 10 in the league for defense, resulting in only 1.7 SWAg over the last two seasons, and 0.2 SWAgR in 2013 – 2014. According to Synergy, he gives up 1.24 points per play to spot up shooters (350th in the NBA).
14.Nikola Vucevic (16th by Philly) – For the sake of 76ers fans, I hope Nerlens Noel stays healthy and is wildly better than Vucevic. Nikola is definitely making a mark on the NBA, averaging a double-double for the second consecutive season. Whether considering RAPM, 2-year APM, PER or Win Shares, Vucevic rates as an above average NBA player in his age 23 season. This season he has tallied 3 SWAgR, while 2-year APM credits him with a very strong 14 SWAg.
15. Tobias Harris (19th by Charlotte, traded to Milwaukee) – Of the first 15 players covered, Harris is younger than all but Bismack Biyombo, but offers the 8th highest SWAgR of the group. With the fifth-highest 2-year APM, he is estimated to have contributed 7.3 SWAg (Wins) to his teams over the past two seasons. As a combo forward for the Magic in 2013 – 2014, he is contributing a very nifty 15 points on league average 54% true shooting, along with 7 rebounds.
I like to finish these articles, re-ordering the players. As of April 7th, of the first fifteen guys, I will say: Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker, Jonas Valanciunas, Alec Burks, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Brandon Knight, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Tristan Thompson, Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter, Bismack Biyombo, Jimmer Fredette.
Kyrie has enough “star” quality and youth to keep him at the top. Kawhi rises greatly, as do Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic. I think eight of these guys are dedefinitely on a trajectory to be quality starters on good teams, with several others as quality back-ups; not too shabby for a draft almost universally declared to be weak.
Relative to typical mock drafts and actual draft position of 2011, I was most wrong about Kawhi Leonard. Of guys not mentioned yet, one of my biggest misses was Kenneth Faried. If looking at 2012 too, one theme that emerges from my draft analysis, of which these guys are indicative; I routinely under credited elite performers at small schools. I knew rebounding was likely to translate from NCAA to the NBA, but couldn’t shake the thought that Faried was an undersized center that feasted on a weak schedule. The lesson: I am dumb. Also, regardless of schedule (Morehead St played the NCAA’s 199th toughest schedule in 2011 according to kenpom), Faried was a rebounding freak. He finished first in the entire NCAA for offensive and defensive rebounding rate his senior year. In four seasons, of the thousands of Division One NCAA players each year, he never finished lower than 35th in either stat. That is ridiculous. Managing to talk myself out of the fact it was ridiculous was a rookie mistake by me. Leonard loosely falls into the same camp, an elite rebounder and athlete at San Diego State, I didn’t give him enough credit.
Hopefully these harsh lessons learned improve my draft evaluating game in 2014. Next week, my other big miscue of 2011 comes up…Klay Thompson, boy, did I do that wrong.