Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First-Round Point Guards

Previously: Oden v. Durant

Now that we know for certain who is in and who is out of the 2007 NBA Draft, I can begin to break down the players in question without spending time on briefly relevant issues (such as the now pointless Roy Hibbert v. Spencer Hawes post). I'll start with the four point guards projected to go in the first round. Potential second-round point guard draftees will be the focus of a subsequent post.

In alphabetical order, the 2006-07 seasons of Mike Conley Jr., Javaris Crittenton, Acie Law IV, and Gabe Pruitt:

Points, assists, turnovers, blocks, and steals listed per 100 individual possessions


Foxsports.com's Jeff Goodman pointed out during the season that Acie Law's assist numbers are (almost certainly) inflated by the stat-keepers in College Station.

For the year, Law was credited with 11.73 assists per 100 possessions in home games and 5.99 assists per 100 possessions in road and neutral games. As a team, Texas A&M were credited with assists on 78% of their made field goals at home compared with 45% of their made field goals in road and neutral games.

I'd guess that, in general, players benefit from their home-court statisticians to some degree. Even if they don't, the economic realities of college basketball make it far more likely that a good player on a good team will face hopelessly overmatched opposition at home and boost their rate stats thusly.

I haven't the time or data to do a proper study of the average home-court advantage, but I did run the same numbers for Mike Conley as Ohio State, like Texas A&M, played a weak non-conference slate at home. Conley averaged 13.3 assists per 100 possessions at home and 10.9 assists per 100 possessions in road or neutral games. Ohio State was credited with an assist on 60% of their made field goals at home compared with 54% of their made field goals in road and neutral games.

I don't see any evidence in the table above that encourages me to buck consensus and argue that anyone other than Conley is the top point guard in the draft. Only Acie Law has comparable numbers but Conley is almost three years younger than Acie Law and is already the better ball-handler, passer, and defender. Even if Conley isn't able to significantly improve his shooting (30.3 3PT%, 68.8 FT%), he showed the ability to finish in and around the basket by making 57.8% of his two-point field goal attempts last season. (In comparison, Law made 51%, Pruitt 49.6%, and Crittenton 48.8% of their two-point attempts.)

I rate Law as the second-best point guard available, especially for a team that wants/needs an immediate contribution. I don't know if Law is going to get much better as a player, but I wouldn't be surprised if his performance took a different shape in the NBA. It's highly unlikely he'll be asked to carry an NBA team offensively to anything approaching the degree he carried Texas A&M. Thus, his ability as a volume scorer will have less value necessitating that he remain an efficient scorer and that he limit his turnovers.

I think Jameer Nelson is a reasonable comp for Law with the stipulation that Law's size (6-3 1/2, 186 vs. 6-0 1/4, 199 for Nelson) should prevent him from being the defensive liability Nelson has proven to be in certain situations.

If a team is looking to add a point guard through the draft but is not seeking an immediate contribution from that player, a case can be made for taking Javaris Crittenton ahead of Acie Law. The risk is that, whereas Law has demonstrated improvement (at Texas A&M's cost) between the ages of 18 and 22...


...the drafting team must assume the risk that Crittenton will develop enough over the course of his initial contract to make a contribution in the NBA. Crittenton had a promising freshman season in college but he does not look, either to my eye or by the numbers, ready to contribute to a NBA team at this point in time.

Crittenton's scoring volume and efficiency were certainly acceptable for a college freshman. Especially encouraging was his ability to score inside the three-point line (48.8 2PTFG%, 78.3 FT% with a FT Rate of 30.8) as it may take a couple of years (at minimum, would be my guess) for Crittenton to develop NBA three-point range. Crittenton's rebounding numbers (3.3 OR%/10.9 DR%) are quite good for a college guard.

That he averaged 7.1 turnovers per 100 possessions is the greatest indication that Crittenton is not ready to play point guard in the NBA immediately. Watching him last year, it was obvious that he struggled to make good decisions. However, I would not be surprised if some of Crittenton's turnover problems were systemic to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets turned it over on 21.9% of their possessions last year which (despite ranking at 208th in the country, per kenpom) was a significant improvement upon their 2006 turnover rate of 24.7% and not that far off the 2005 National Runner-Up team's 20.9 TO% led by point guard Jarrett Jack (5.7 TO/100 for Jack that season).

If Crittenton gets drafted by a team that is able/willing to bring him along slowly, I wouldn't be surprised if turned out to be a quality starter in three or four years. If he's drafted by a team that gives him an inordinate amount of responsibility immediately his weaknesses could well overwhelm his potential. Which is to say that I hope, for his sake, that he is not drafted by the Atlanta Hawks.

Like Kyle Lowry last year (this is a comparison I make strictly in terms of potential value as they're not that similar in how they produce value), Gabe Pruitt appears set for a substantial NBA career as a very good backup or capable starter. Should he be able to combine the efficient shooting of his freshman season, the volume scoring of his sophomore season, and the assist-to-turnover ratio of his junior season he could be something greater. It's unlikely that he'll make his various career-to-date bests his annual norms but the basis for optimism exists in his numbers.


Thus, the '07 draft class point guard rankings:

1. Mike Conley, Jr.
2. Acie Law IV
3. Javaris Crittenton
4. Gabe Pruitt

Consideration of Aaron Brooks, Bobby Brown, Zabian Dowdell, Taurean Green, Jared Jordan, Ramon Sessions and others to follow.

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