A rare sighting of Stephen F. Austin's Taylor Smith.
Victor Oladipo and Nerlens Noel may be unicorns. I’ve been playing around with the season finder on sports-reference.com, after a long comments section discussion over their merits. They both had seasons last year that have never been equaled, at least not since the start of modern stat-keeping 1997.
First, Victor is the only player of significant minutes to average 59% from the field (actually .599), 44% from three, and 2 steals and 2 assists per game. This doesn’t even take into account the .6 blocks and the 6+ rebounds per game. At 28 minutes a game, that’s pretty impressive, and unbelievably unique. He’s a two way player like no other, at least in post-1997 college basketball history. Lest you think I’m completely in the tank for Oladipo (I am), let’s look at Nerlens Noel.
Noel is the only player since 1997 to average over 50% from the field (actually .590), 4 blocks per game, 2 steals per game, and 9 rebounds. Actually the steals and blocks by themselves are singularities. The only people to come close to this were all seniors from middling programs. UMass’s Tony Gaffney (2009), came close with 3.8 blocks. Anthony Davis is the only player with over 4 blocks per game who gets close to the steals number, and that is at 1.3 per game, well below Noel’s 2.1.
Otto Porter had some pretty unique numbers, right? Well, there are a handful of people who have duplicated them. There have been nine players since 1997 to shoot over 48% from the field, over 42% from 3, and get seven boards and 1.8 steals. The most significant? Ryan Bowen of Iowa in 1998, and Danny Granger in New Mexico in 2005. Granger tops the everyone in the group with his off the charts ’05 season. Per game: 18.8 points, 8.9 boards, 2.4 assists, 2.1 steals, 2.0 blocks, and shooting splits of .424/.433/.755. Though I fear Granger’s knee condition may irrevocably hobble him, I hope that he comes back as strong as ever. Supposedly, Wade had the same condition in 2007, and led the league in scoring after successful surgery.
Kelly Olynyk is one of 17 players with a TS% above .674, seven boards, one block, and one assist per game. Near the top of the curve, but not an outlier…
Mike Muscala is only one of four players to get 11+ rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and shoot 50% from the field in the last 15 years. In fact, he’s the only player to do it while while shooting over 75% at the line (.789). Out of this group, Jason Thompson is still in the league, and Marqus Blakely played briefly for Houston in 2011. All these players came from low-level conferences, which should tell you something about what those numbers mean.
There are a few more outliers in the draft. Stephen F. Austin’s Taylor Smith is the only player in 15 years to shoot a field goal percentage above 69% (.694), with nine-plus rebounds, and two-plus blocks per game. This doesn’t even mention his steal and 1.8 assists per game, or the fact that he shot 71% last year. Of course with a career .426 free throw percentage, there may be a reason he hasn’t gotten a lot of pre-draft buzz.
You want to talk outliers though, how about Memphis’s D.J. Stephens? Who as far as raw athletics, might be one of the biggest outliers in NBA history. Stephens has the highest vertical in the DraftExpress pre-draft database (which goes back to about 2000) at an astounding 46 inches. He’s also got the highest no step vertical at 40 inches. He has the fifth fastest 3/4 court sprint time at 2.98 seconds. The only guy who comes close to all three of these numbers is Nate Robinson who posted 43.5″/35.5″/2.96 seconds, but Robinson couldn’t come close to Stephens’ best feat: topping Shaq’s 12’5″ max vertical reach by a half an inch. Stephens really is a mythical beast: a 6’5″ power forward with shooting splits of .629/.361/.662. He only scores 7.6 points per game with 6.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 23.6 minutes. He also has a 7′ wingspan. Fortunately, he has a fairly pedestrian hand width of 8.25″. What a weirdo.
What do these numbers mean? Probably nothing, but who knows. I’m sure in at least one of these cases, we’ll be looking back and wondering how we didn’t see these things coming. Some of these guys are one of a kind: mutants, gods, or aliens who’ve crept into mortal coils to become rare basketball creatures.