(I posted the first two parts of this series at Cavs:the Blog in November, before moving to Hardwood Paroxysm. As the draft approaches, the information seemed Cavs-relevant enough to bring home. This is the second-to-last of fourteen articles.)
As I continue wading through a summary of my findings, it seems again worth clarifying what this study is good for. As a general rule, it is not intended as some code-cracking draft algorithm. Speedy point guards frequently thriving doesn’t mean to ignore Damian Lillard, who posted a slow sprint speed. The value it can provide is in separating a group of closely-spaced prospects; if there are five guys you like similarly, pick the one with the commonly successful athletic traits. It also provides some insights into unearthing late-draft value, or conversely, avoiding rarely successful player types with a second-round flier. Finally, and overwhelming, the primary outcome is to not overvalue any of the pre-draft measurements. But more on that later.
Last week, we recalled that point guard speed and shooting guard explosiveness proved most-likely to portend offensive success. Looking at the small forwards, this series noted the combination of their offensive and defensive success, with a prevalence for the largest of the group to shine brightest. The union of size, athleticism & skill inherent in the job-posting for “small forward” provides unmatched two-way success from the 2000 – 2010 drafts. In recent years, that continues thanks to Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Chandler Parsons, and Jimmy Butler. Oddly, this was the one position where size proved most-meaningful, while the athleticism results largely trended towards negative correlations. Both of these were contrary to all other positions. This seems reasonable. Let’s say there are three basic ingredients to a player’s success: skill, size, and athleticism. As the smallest players on the court, the guards that supplement their outstanding skill-level with elite athleticism prove more prone toward success. The front-court players that combine their prodigous size with elite athleticsm tend to separate from the pack. The “big” small forwards, players skilled-enough to be labeled as wings, yet approaching the enormity of their larger foes, check two of the three boxes without even considering their level of athleticism. Elite speed or hops are just a cherry-on-top. As the biggest players suitably skilled to be back-court players, the group possesses a formidably unique blend of attributes. Because of this, I like Otto Porter’s chances of being can’t-miss near the top of the draft. More of this type of talk following the combine though.
Moving into the front-court, power forwards generally provided non-definitive results. On offense, wingspan and reach offered some high-points, but nothing remarkable. For center offense, speed proved most reliable, with elite combinations of reach and quickness providing star-potential. The defensive results for the big men provide the most shocking outcomes of this study. Size doesn’t matter. Look at the table for power forward height and all size correlations for centers. Apparently effort and smarts, as well as strength & athleticism, overshadow height, wingspan, and reach as the broadest factors influencing bucket-stopping big man dominance. A 6′ – 10″ power forward is tall. You know who else is tall? A 6′ – 8″ guy. Looking at the spectrum of players drafted over an eleven-year timeframe, within the context of RAPM, incremental increases in length across the front-court positions do not notably impact defensive performance. This contrasts known draft-day adages and also the selection patterns of NBA teams. Ironically of the five positions, height correlated least-well with draft position for small forwards, and of underclassmen, strongest for power forwards and centers. This is the opposite of how these players actually produced in the NBA.
For point guards on defense, speed again ruled supreme, however size did prove beneficial. All forty-five upperclassmen correlations between Points Stopped and size measurements were positive. Similarly, shooting guard defensive results reflected a prevalance for longer players to succeed more-readily. Explosiveness, again evidenced through their leaping measurements, provided even better correlations though. While the height & wingspan of these players warrants some consideration, of course Tony Allen taped-in with average 6′ – 3.5″ barefoot height and 6′ – 9″ wingspan; he’s pretty good at defense. Certainly on your draft board (everyone has a one, right?), a small boost is warranted for length in a guard prospect, but given the relative importance of guards on offense compared to defense, don’t get carried away.
To wrap these ideas together:
- If you only think of the pinnacle (Lebron, Durant, Carmelo), this is obvious, but top-to-bottom, tall small forwards are the NBA’s best players, providing strong two-way impact.
- Length is important for guards on defense, but did not prove beneficial offensively. If you otherwise can’t differentiate two comparable players, certainly give the longer guard the benefit-of-the-doubt.
- For big men, increased length lightly corresponded with improving power forward offense, with reach providing the best correlations. On defense, and for centers at both ends of the court, size measurements frequently, and surprisingly, calculated as very-low and often negative correlation with performance. Over two-thirds of the correlations between height and Points Stopped ended negative for the front-court players. There are so many factors influencing effective defense, that the impact of an extra inch here, two inches there, doesn’t prove as a primary means of separation between players. When you start saying that “Player X doesn’t have size to play power forward; he’s a tweener”, or “Player Y can leverage his long arms into basket-protecting dominance”; perhaps stop, take a deep breath, and count to ten. There may be bigger factors impacting his road to success.
This is the second-to-last installment of this series. The NBA Draft Combine will be held May 15th to the 19th. Come back in the aftermath, for a take on which work-out warriors deserve the praise, whose tape-measure failings you can blissfully ignore, and if any players really boosted their draft-day disposition. Until then.