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Monday, December 17, 2012

Regarding Duke's NBA Players

From an e-mail I wrote (December 4th) to a friend who asked, which was the last mistake he had the chance to make:

"Duke does not produce good NBA players." 

This has somehow become a knock on our program over the years (haters gonna hate), and while the quality of the players is up for debate, quantity is not. As of this season, only Kentucky (21) has produced more NBA players than Duke (18). UNC, a school whose fans might be the most likely to repeat that opening line, has one less than Duke at 17.

But who are these Duke players in the NBA? Are they any good? Who is the best? Isn't Shavlik Randolph a person? Calm the hell down as I walk you through this very definitive* list of the best Duke players in the NBA right now.

*This list is not in any way definitive or authorized by the NBA, basketball, sports, humans, or Lloyd Bentsen.

A quick note on the methods. Since these players have varying degrees of experience, I will be using some combination of current talent, past performance, and future potential in order to make the rankings. 

Honorable Mention: Elliot Williams- SG, Portland Trailblazers
This fucking guy! Williams only logged a year at Duke and then transferred to Memphis, from whence he was drafted. Thus, it's hard to consider him a true Duke player. If we did include him, in addition to being our 19th NBA-er, he would probably fall in the Singler/Rivers range on this list. He has the ability to score, but is a rough shooter overall and doesn't particularly stand out elsewhere on offense. He might be able to be a talented defender, with good size and athleticism for the position, but he's kind of hurt a lot. Alas, on to the real guys. 

18. Miles Plumlee- PF, Indiana Pacers
Has played 16 total minutes in the NBA and recently was designated to the D-League. They don't grow 6'10" athletes like Plumlee everywhere, so he has a shot at sticking in that regard, but when you're the 3rd most talented person named Plumlee (maybe 4th, I'm looking at you Papa Plumlee), the odds aren't in your favor. 

17. Nolan Smith- PG, Portland Trailblazers
Not long for this league, unfortunately. Smith is likely playing his way out of the rotation on what might be the worst bench in the NBA right now. That's a bad sign. A 2 in a 1's body without the real skills to play the point, Nolan doesn't really bring much else to the table. He doesn't have the inherent scoring ability to be an undersized bench scorer type (think Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams) and isn't any sort of defensive ace. He gets the nod over Plumlee because he has actually played real NBA minutes, but his 37% on 2's for his career just screams European League.

16. Chris Duhon- PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Pretty much the definition of replacement level when it comes to point guards. He can make some 3's when open (36.4% career), but otherwise is an awful shooter who has run into turnover problems in recent seasons. Couple this with so-so defense and you get Duhon, who is essentially the 4th point guard on a healthy Lakers' depth chart.

15. Lance Thomas- PF, New Orleans Hornets
The biggest surprise from the championship team was not Jon Scheyer being completely overlooked, but Thomas being pretty thoroughly looked. Whatever the case, he played his way into the rotation in New Orleans mainly thanks to his ability to guard multiple positions decently and .49(!) free throw rate (FTA/FGA). That is pretty nutty. For reference, professional free throw monster Kevin Durant had a FTR of .38. Granted the sample was smaller (and less sustainable) for Thomas, but clearly people were biting on the first head fake. And potentially the eighth head fake. He cashed them too, hitting 84% from the line. He also rebounded decently enough to stay on the floor. His only big issue was the 13.5 Turnover Rate, plenty high for a guy who wasn't exactly a primary offensive option.

Going forward, Lance will probably remain a 3rd or 4th big off the bench option. But if he can continue to draw fouls anywhere close to last year's rate, he'll have a place in the league.

14. Josh McRoberts- PF, Orlando Magic
There isn't tons to love about McRoberts game. Not too much to hate, either. Essentially he is going to rebound and make some shots if set up in the right place. He's probably a little underrated as a passer (and God knows he looked to swing the ball at any opportunity last year in LA), but turns the ball over A LOT. 

He beats out Lance on the list due to better size, athleticism, and a bit more range on the jumper, but is similarly a middle of the bench big man. 

13. Austin Rivers- SG, New Orleans Hornets
I like Austin Rivers. I want that on the record somewhere. He was a very good offensive player in college (something people decided to overlook or forget because of his attitude or something). However, he has been atrocious in the minutes he has been given so far. He is scoring 8.6 points per 36 minutes on 39% True Shooting. For a player who has few other demonstrable basketball skills, this is a major problem. He has a FTR of .31, so there might be a bright side to all the wild forays to the rim he is taking, but right now he is playing himself out of the rotation. 

So why is he so high? Potential, I guess. If he gets it clicking, the right hand drive and hesitation move can be deadly. I'd also like to see him dribble left, you know, ever. Also, he needs to make the free throws that he will almost certainly earn (67.6% so far). Basically, he could project to be a starting 2 or a 6th man bench scorer that could carry a 2nd unit. Will he become that? Ask his dad, he's a doctor.

12. Dahntay Jones- SG, Dallas Mavericks
Jones is well past his days of maximum usefulness, but there was a day where he was an ace wing defender. He's big for the guard position at 6'6" and could guard 3 positions. He also used his size to rebound pretty well for a guard. Apart from this, he didn't offer much. He wasn't a good shooter overall and is only maybe now showing an ability to hit some 3's when called upon. Was he great? No. But he was really good defensively which kept him on the floor for a while. 

11. Kyle Singler- SF, Detroit Pistons
Attention: This is an overreaction! He probably should be a spot or two lower based on the fact that he is a rookie, but he's been a pretty solid rookie that might project to start long term. Singler is essentially a low-usage, high-efficiency 4th option. The good news is that he's killing it in that role. He's got a 61.5 True Shooting Percentage and just 19 turnovers in 519 minutes. Defensively, he is probably out of position having to chase around 2's for most of the game, but at 6'8" he can give them some space and still close out effectively. The bottom line is that Singler was going to have to shoot well to play in the league long term and, as of now, is doing it admirably. 

10. Gerald Henderson- SG, Charlotte Bobcats
This ranking is obviously based on projection as much as anything. Gerald is basically a middling to low efficiency 2-point basket maker (a good comparison would be DeMar DeRozan). He shoots 45% for his career from the floor while taking very few threes at all. He can get to line with around average frequency (.28 FTR last year) where he'll hit around 77%. If you need a shot created, he can do it. Unfortunately, it's maybe not the greatest shot in the world. He's a very good athlete and this shows up in his rebounding, but will also go a good way in making him a wing stopper of the future (and if the Bobcats can get him and MKG to pan out defensively, watch out). I think he has a good chance to remain a starter who brings most of his value on the defensive end while being able to remain enough of a threat on offense that opposing teams can't just hide a bad defender on him.

9. Corey Maggette- SF, Detroit Pistons
At this point, he's toast. But in his day, he was a foul drawing nightmare. His career FTR is .62. Again, for every 100 field goals he took, he shot 62 free throws. For his entire career! 

After we wrap our head around that number, we get to the bottom line that at one point, he was an incredibly potent, high-usage, high-efficiency scorer. He also rebounded defensively well enough from the wing to give himself added value. And while not the greatest athlete in the world, he was very strong and solidly-built, preventing him from getting beat up if he ever was playing power forward. He has a career PER of 18, which is basically the bottom end of an All-Star range. With his ability to score the basketball and create fouls at a startling rate, this is no surprise.

8. Grant Hill- SF, Los Angeles Clippers
Hill is on the Clippers and hasn't played at all this year. I'm uncertain of whether he will come back and if so when. Essentially he ranks this high because of how good he was (despite all the injuries) and longevity. Hill was a huge, ball-handling wing who could set up offense for others with great passing while being able to score pretty efficiently on his own. He was never a great 3-point shooter, but finished well and made free throws. He was also an elite defender who rebounded really well. He was Rookie of the Year and managed to make 7 All-Star teams. Dude would have been even more of a stud if his ankles didn't keep breaking or whatever.

There probably still value in having Hill on a roster. The wizards on the training staff in Phoenix kept him in amazing shape despite his age and whereas knee injuries can rob guys of their athleticism, ankle injuries don't necessarily. This being the case for Hill, he seemed to move around fine in Phoenix and was able to play at a fast tempo that will be the case in Lob City. 

7. Shane Battier- SF, Miami Heat
Last year I was pretty sure this guy was done. This year, he's making me a little unsure. 

The case is that Battier was always a guy whose value almost entirely came from defense. When he got torched by Carmelo, David West, and Kevin Garnett in consecutive playoff series last year, he looked done. In addition, he did this while shooting 32% from 3, which was essentially the only time he was asked to shoot. In a nutshell, he shouldn't have been playing. But he manged to salvage his percentage by going nuts in the finals (4-7 from 3 in the final game). This year, he's shooting almost 46% from 3, which is pretty great, but he continues to get abused (I watched Kris Humphries just destroy him on the offensive boards and flip in putbacks when they played the Nets). Fortunately for Battier, it might not matter because of the whole LeBron James situation. The bar is set pretty low for him and I think he'll be able to clear it, even if he can't defend power forwards to save his life. 

Battier ranks this high because it wasn't that many years ago when he was pretty much the elite wing defender in the league. 

6. Mike Dunleavy- SF, Milwaukee Bucks
He's shooting 42.4% from three this year. That's pretty much what it comes down to. If he can continue to shoot well, especially from long range, he will be more valuable than most other Milwaukee Bucks who are either chuckers (Ellis and Jennings) or offensively-limited lank monsters (Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, John Henson). He's also a talented passer for a low-usage player and can rebound well from the wing. 

5. Elton Brand- PF, Dallas Mavericks
Brand is a two-time All-Star with a career PER of 21.2, which is incredible. He's a very good low-post scorer who rarely turns it over and a beastly rebounder who averaged a double-double for 6 seasons. Brand is also a stout low-post defender and decent shot-blocker despite not being a great athlete. Nowadays he's having a hard time getting minutes on the Mavericks, though I think that is a mistake on their part. 

4. J.J. Redick- SG, Orlando Magic
Dude can absolutely stroke it. He's a career 40% 3-point shooter and 88% from the line. Basically, that is going to keep defenses honest and Redick in the league. He's also shown a much better feel for distributing and creating offense when he gets double off a screen or closed-out on. His defense has gone from flammable to mostly acceptable, which has greatly added to his value. With elite shooting, he probably should be starting for the Magic and might be traded to someplace he can do more damage. 

3. Carlos Boozer- PF, Chicago Bulls
He's made 2 All-Star games and averaged a double-double for 5 seasons. He's a good pick-and-pop shooter with amazing ambidextrous touch around the basket. In addition he's an absolutely beastly rebounder. While his defense is suspect due to his lack of size and athleticism, he can make up for it in enough ways that he is still a high-value starter for a very good team. 

2. Kyrie Irving- PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
What can I say about Kyrie that you don't already know? He's an uber-efficient, high-usage point guard who controls basically every aspect of the offense when he's on the floor. Irving shoots 47/40/86 FG/3P/FT percentages for his career, which is insane considering how many times he has to shoot. He has a tight-handle and good speed that get him to the basket where he can finish excellently with both hands. He also sports a career 35.6 Assist Rate, pretty incredible for how little he turns it over. Defensively we can look the other way for now, but he was bad last year. There's definitely signs he could be better as he has to do less on offense, but right now he won't be making any All-Defense teams. Overall, he projects to be a multiple All-Star point guard in a Conference that has a pretty good crop of 1's. 

1. Luol Deng- SF, Chicago Bulls
Duke's most recent All-Star tops the list based mostly on his current value. Deng is in the upper-echelon of wing defenders with great size, athleticism, and understanding of team defense. If he had never seen a basketball in his life, he likely could stay on the court just because of this. Luckily, he has seen a basketball, and tends to shoot it pretty well. The shots he creates aren't always the best, it's a lot of pull-ups from 15-18 feet, but he shoots 46% from the field and 33.5% from 3, which is decent enough. With the ability to get off a shot over most defenders, he certainly has his place on offense. He also never turns it over and is a solid rebounder. Deng currently leads the league in minutes per game, a category he also led last year. Playing somewhere around average offense with plus-plus defense for that many minutes a game makes for a very valuable player overall. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Shoot the J

The 3-point shot is awesome. Not only is it one of the more valuable shots in basketball (looking at you too, the free-throw), but it pretty much has allowed Steve Novak to have a career and that's kind of cool.

Now, some teams are really good at shooting threes and they do it a lot. One of these teams is the New York Knicks. I'm probably not the first person to tell you that the Knicks take a lot of threes, but I need to place emphasis on the extent to which they do. Thirty-five percent of all their shots come from behind the arc at this point! The closest team to that is Houston at just under 32 percent. Clearly, the Knicks get it.

Other teams have yet to completely utilize the long-range shot. Some of these teams are bad at shooting them (Chicago at 33.2); others just are reluctant for some reason (Memphis at a respectable 36.5 percent).

So, I guess you're asking, does this matter? Well, potentially very much. I decided to look into whether teams were helping or hurting themselves with the threes they were taking. Essentially it goes like this: I did some math to figure out how many points a team was either gaining or losing on 3 by seeing how they would score shooting a league-average amount of 3's.

Teams That Should Shoot More Threes:

1. Chicago, -6.96 points per game
Chicago, despite being a bad 3-point shooting team, leads this list. Basically, they take so few 3's that, even though their percentage isn't great, they're probably still hurting themselves.

2. Memphis, -4.59 points per game
This one is baffling. Memphis, as mentioned above, is actually a good 3-point shooting team. They rank 10th in percentage yet 28th in rate of attempts. They've essentially streamlined their attempts to only people who can make them (Conley, Ellington, Gay, Bayless...), which is a pretty solid strategy. So why not shoot more?

3. Boston, -4.27 points per game
They were low in 3-point rate last year and Ray Allen leaving probably hurts, but they need to find some additional attempts from their wings.

Teams That Are Probably Fine:

1. Oklahoma City, -0.19 points per game
They stroke it and take a pretty decent amount of 3's. Good combination.

2. Minnesota, +0.07 points per game
The opposite of the Thunder, the T'Wolves are atrocious from behind the arc and don't hoist up that many. Kevin Love will presumably fix this a little bit and you've got to love Shved, but they're probably fine.

3. Indiana, +0.16 points per game
Anything to make this offense more watchable would be nice, but they're fine I suppose.

Teams That Are Stroking It

1. New York Knicks, +11.19 points per game
Holy hell! Not much more needs to be written about Knicks 3-point shooting, but yeah, this is crazy.

2. Houston, +7.11 points per game
I like this strategy from Houston. They start 4 guys who are, at the very least, threats from outside (Lin, Harden, Parsons, and Patterson), and bring Morris, Cook, and Douglas off the bench, all of whom shoot above 36%. The space created for their two premier pick-and-roll ball handlers is crucial.

3. Los Angeles Lakers, +4.7 points per game
Not everything is going wrong I guess?

This analysis obviously isn't perfect. Increasing the rate of attempts could affect how well a team shoots from three. Also it's not necessarily easy to just find new looks from 3 when you have an established offense. But overall I think a lot of teams are leaving value on the table that needs to be utilized.