2011 NBA Draft Rundown: Pistons Picks, 2012 Prospects

| by David Berri

If you are (or were?) a Pistons fan – and you think college performance means something – then last night did not fill you with hope.  The Pistons selected three players — Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler, and Vernon Macklin – who were described as “good kids”.

Unfortunately when each actually played college basketball in 2010-11, all three managed to post Win Score numbers that were below average for their position.  In fact, as noted below, each posted numbers that were far below average.  And although college numbers do not predict future NBA numbers perfectly, when a player doesn’t actually play basketball well in the past, we tend to wonder if he will play basketball much better in the future.  Yes, it could happen.  Brandon Knight could be a star.  But in general, his poor performance last year in college shouldn’t make fans of the Pistons happy.

And I am not the only one to think Knight may not be a sure-thing.  Peter Newmann and Dean Oliver – at ESPN TrueHoop – had the following to say about Knight about two weeks ago:

To help us, let’s use one of the key metrics for evaluating point-guard prospects: pure point rating (PPR), which calculates assists and turnovers into a single number projection of how a particular player will fare as a distributor in the NBA. The average PPR of all current NBA starters while they were in college is 1.2.

… Knight has a one-in-four chance of being good, but the numbers suggest that his chances of success ride heavily on his shooting ability, not his passing. Knight had a minus-1.4 PPR in college, which is extremely low for a point guard — lower, in fact, than any NBA starting point guard’s college PPR except for Stephen Curry, who did not play point guard until his third and final year at Davidson.

Knight’s youth and specific metrics on steals and rebounds also raise red flags. In short, studies show that point guards with his characteristics don’t live up to first-round expectations. Knight has about a one-in-three chance at failing — he is an NBA player, but he is a poor risk for a lottery team.

Other guys have succeeded with such a low PPR; for example, Gilbert Arenas and Jerryd Bayless are point guards who are better as shooters than distributors. But it takes more than 40 minutes for Knight to get a steal or block, far more than either of these guys. And while his shooting is probably good enough to keep him around, Knight’s defense could prove to be a problem, too.

Of course, Newmann and Oliver are relying on Knight’s college performance to predict his future NBA production.  And again, the correlation between college and the NBA is far from perfect.  So it is possible that Knight will prove Dumars is right.  But I think there might be another explanation for the choices Dumars made on Thursday night.

To see this other explanation, let me first note that yesterday (June 23) Kathleen Hays of Bloomberg Radio and I had another great conversation about a number of current stories in the world of sports (our discussion begins at the 11:38 mark and lasts for about 20 minutes).  Kathleen and I covered the following topics

-         the Dodgers meltdown

-         the NBA draft

-         the NBA labor dispute

-         the NFL labor dispute

With respect to the NBA draft I noted (as others have observed) that a number of college players – who likely would have been lottery picks — decided not to enter the NBA this year.  And that means next year’s draft might be much better.

If this is true, then I think I understand what Dumars is doing.  Rather than draft players who might actually help the Pistons in 2011-12, Dumars drafted players who would help the Pistons move up in the 2012 draft.  Yes, Dumars is this clever.  He actually drafted Knight, Singler, and Macklin in an effort to “trade-up” in next year’s draft.  WoW!! That is an amazing strategy.

Okay, I really don’t think Dumars was making choices in 2011 to improve Detroit’s draft position in 2012.  I think Dumars really believes Knight is going to help the Pistons.  The numbers, though, currently suggest a different story (and again, it is only a suggestion).

Enough on that story.  Let’s move on from the Pistons and briefly discuss the other teams who drafted players last night.

The following two tables present a rather simple perspective on each player (at least, the analysis is simple when compared to the recent analysis offered by Arturo Galletti, Ty Willihnganz, and others).  All I am noting is each player’s Win Score per 40 minute numbers (with and without a pace adjustment) and each player’s Position Adjusted Win Score per 40 minutes (the box score numbers used to make these calculations were taken from DraftExpress).  The PAWS40 number is calculated by

1. subtracting the average WS40 for players at each position who were recently (i.e. last few years) drafted out of college, and then

2.  adding back the overall WS40 for all players recently drafted out of college.

In looking at these numbers one should note that a PAWS40 of 10.2 is average.  Players who are one standard deviation above this average (12.9 or higher) have a good chance of being above average NBA players.  Players who are one standard deviation below this mark (7.3 or lower) have a good chance of being below average NBA players.


So based on these numbers, who should be happy today?  The Denver Nuggets managed to add two above average players — Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton – to a 2011 playoff team.  Faried has the highest PAWS40 in the draft, primarily because he is an outstanding rebounder.  And as noted in Stumbling on Wins (and also noted by a number of other people), rebounding is a skill that does translate from college to the NBA (and I should note, Peter Newmann and Dean Oliver argued that Faried should have been a lottery pick).  So our very own Andres Alvarez – who wrote this week about all the problems Denver historically has drafting talent – is singing a different tune today.

Of the teams with multiple picks like Denver, the Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets, and New York Knicks are the only other teams to spend all their picks on players with PAWS40 marks that are above average (although none of these picks were one standard deviation above average).

In contrast, the Boston Celtics, LA Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Washington Wizards were like the Pistons.  Yes, these teams spent all their picks on players who were below average.  Of these teams, though, the Pistons were the only team to draft a player who was at least one standard deviation below average.  And the Pistons – if we look at the pace adjusted numbers – managed to do this all three times!  Again, WoW!  Dumars drafted three players who were really far below average (again, doesn’t that suggest he is trying to move up in the 2012 draft?).

Two more notes…

There is a 0.99 correlation between WS40 and Pace-Adjusted WS40.  So I am not sure the pace adjustment is necessary (but people seem to like to see this).  Pace adjustment does matter when you look at teams. But for individual players I have never found that this mattered much.

And back to my conversation with Kathleen Hays… in our conversation Kathleen asked me why NBA teams don’t appear to be learning.  In response I noted that I think there is evidence that NBA teams are actually changing how they evaluate talent. I will offer more on this subject in the future.

- DJ