Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lottery Post Players

Previously: Oden v. Durant, First-Round Point Guards, Second-Round Point Guards, First-Round Shooting Guards, Lottery Small Forwards, Wilson Chandler

In alphabetical order, the 2006-07 seasons of Spencer Hawes, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Greg Oden, and Brandon Wright:

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

stats glossary

B Wright66.364.656.71.2929.

It's a great year to be at the top of the draft because there's almost no chance a team can make the most common draft mistake: taking size over talent. Three of the top four players in the draft are post players and the fourth (Durant, natch) is already an excellent defensive rebounder and shot blocker who also has decent, if undeveloped, post game.

I've discussed Greg Oden in a previous post so I'll skip ahead to the third and fourth best players in this draft.

I have Horford slightly ahead of Noah because I think that Horford's post game, though not a huge part of the Florida offense, is NBA-ready. Even if I'm wrong and Horford will not be any more of a scorer than he was in college part of his established level of effectiveness as a post player lies in his being a fine passer who also takes good care of the basketball. He's a year younger than Al Jefferson and I'm not sure that Horford's not the better player right now. I think the Atlanta Hawks have to take Horford with the third pick.

That I rate Horford ahead of Noah says far more about how much I admire Horford than any reservations I have about Noah. I expect Noah, like Shane Battier, to post a beneficial plus/minus on both offense and defense year in and year out regardless of team. Statistically, Noah had a better individual sophomore than junior season. However, Florida's second National Championship season was much better than their first, and, though Noah's scoring slipped, he increased his assist rate by over 20%. To me, this suggests that Noah both recognized the value of and was able to create open shots for Horford, Taurean Green, and Lee Humphrey.

Noah's desire to set up his teammates sometimes causes him to pass up a simpler, available option (in this respect he's not dissimilar to Julian Wright) as his turnover numbers point out. A fair number of those turnovers, though, are the result of sloppy footwork or setting overly enthusiastic screens rather than poor decision-making. Noah is similarly active defensively (He'll be the defensive presence Anderson Varejao could be if he preferred playing basketball to falling down.) and could endure some foul trouble while he and the NBA referees adjust to each other.

Brandan Wright's a distant fourth in this group but he's far ahead of any other big man in the draft. Wright is the one player in this draft who, though he won't contribute immediately, has enough reasonable potential for improvement so as not to be a waste of a lottery pick.

Wright was an extremely successful offensive player in his freshman year at North Carolina despite an extremely raw offensive game. (Seriously, on the spectrum of shooting strokes, Julian Wright's would sit closer to Kevin Durant's than Brandan Wright's. While I'm making Wright-to-Wright comparisons, the similarly skinny Julian Wright had a disappointing freshman year as a rebounder but demonstrated dramatic (19.5% in OR% and 40.8% in DR%) improvement in his sophomore year. The team that drafts Brandan Wright must hope for something similar to occur because, as a freshman Brandan Wright was as mediocre a rebounder as Spencer Hawes.)

In addition to developing a game outside of four feet, Wright will need to adjust to not getting the volume of easy looks Roy Williams creates for his big men. It should remembered that both Drew Gooden and Nick Collison won National Player of the Year Awards at Kansas and both are less effective NBA players than Kirk Hinrich, that Raef LaFrentz was an All-American twice as often as Paul Pierce when they played alongside each other, and Tyler Hansbrough is a tremendously effective college post player despite being widely (and probably correctly) perceived to have little chance of starting, much less starring, in the NBA.

Wright's athleticism could enable him to become a highly effective defensive player should he be so inclined. To be blunt, Wright's athleticism is the primary difference between his projected future value and Spencer Hawes's. Wright will almost certainly fill out to some degree and can sacrifice some athleticism for increased strength. Unless Hawes's illness limited him more severely than I understand, he's already fighting an uphill battle in terms of quickness, a battle that could only become more futile as he ages.

Hawes is a skilled post player and passer. His offensive game did suffer due to Washington's poor guard play and he did play alongside an excellent rebounder in Jon Brockman. However, I have doubts about Hawes's ability to get shots off against NBA defenders (and if he can't do that a lot of passing ability will be negated), Horford and Noah (or even LaMarcus Aldridge and PJ Tucker last year) show that playing alongside an excellent defender need not deflate one's own rebounding rates, and Hawes is not yet a good defensive player. Any upside Hawes is perceived to possess has more to do with where he's starting from than with where could go. That being said, I still like him more than any of the players discussed in my next post.

Post player rankings:

1. Greg Oden
2. Al Horford
3. Joakim Noah
4. Brandan Wright
5. Spencer Hawes

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