Wednesday, June 10, 2009

First Round Point Guards

I've got 22 point guards (now that Socttie Reynolds is returning to Villanova) in the draft prospect spreadsheet. I'll deal with 10 of them (Nick Calathes, Darren Collison, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Eric Maynor, Patty Mills, and Jeff Teague) in this post and the remainder in the next.

In deference to the amount of data I plan on presenting in the post and to the margins of this template, I'll break down the players' 2008-09 college numbers in smaller sections so as to ease digestion.

First, shooting and scoring:


Next, assists and turnovers:


Finally, defense and rebounding:


Now, player-by-player opinions. Links on their names go to their DraftExpress profile and the bounty of information (both scouting and statistical) contained therein. Projections (if applicable) are by Jon Nichols at

Nick Calathes

Calathes (headed to Greece for the near-future) is a dynamite offensive prospect capable of scoring inside and out (and possesses the potential to score even more often and efficiently were he to raise his free throw percentage), an above average ball-handler, and an outstanding passer.

Whether his defensive limitations are fundamental and absolute or correctable determines his potential value. I tend to believe that they are correctable, up to a point. Calathes will always be operating at a foot speed deficit compared to other point guards, and, despite his size, he currently lacks the strength to defend shooting guards adequately. Offensively, he augments his high skill level with obvious quickness so there is reason to believe he could learn to better position himself defensively so as to use his size to limit the ways in which a smaller, quicker point guard can beat him. His defensive rebounding numbers suggest some ability to use his size to his advantage and must be considered the one defensive advantage he holds over smaller point guards who are far superior man-to-man defenders.

Darren Collison

I'm a Darren Collison fan. He should be ready to contribute from day one due both to his experience and the breadth of his skill set. It's my contention that UCLA's pace of play, the backcourt talent he's played alongside, and the Pac-10's terrible TV contract have conspired to underrate him. He's a terrific offensive player, leading the first round point guard prospects in 2PTFG%, dropping below 40% on three-point attempts* only after a 5-18 slump (concurrent with a tailbone injury that limited his overall effectiveness) in the final weeks of UCLA's season, and averaging almost an assist every ten possessions he was on the floor despite sharing ball-handling duties with Jrue Holiday. Furthermore, he's the best defensive point guard** in this draft class something that tends to get de-emphasized in the non-five-on-five portion of the evaluation process (see also: Mario Chalmers in the 2008 Draft).

*He made 164 of 377 three-point attempts (43.5%) during his college career.

**Only Eric Maynor challenges him as of today though Jrue Holiday could surpass him over time.

Stephen Curry (Projection)

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with college basketball is likely aware of Stephen Curry's amazing season at Davidson. Forced to play point guard while remaining the team's primary offensive option, Curry directly accounted, through his own points and the assists he earned, for approximately 75% of Davidson's offense when he was on the court. The increased ball-handling responsibilities deflated his scoring efficiency from the heights of his breakout 2007-08 season (60.7 eFG%, 64 TS%, 43.9 3PTFG%) but failed to render him an inefficient offensive player.

Generally speaking, combo guards aren't a great investment in the lottery, but combo guards are typically guys who can't quite cut it at either guard position at the college level not guys who excelled at both positions. I think Curry could be Ben Gordon* plus actual point guard skills. Curry will probably never be a full-time NBA point guard but he'll allow a smart team to use him both as a starter-quality player backing up their regular point guard and as a second ball-handler and passer (who also figures to become one of the top 10 shooters in the game) on the court for long stretches.

*Though his ability to use screens to get open is more reminiscent of Reggie Miller or Rip Hamilton, either of whom "plus point guard skills" is a pretty exciting theoretical construct.

Tyreke Evans (Projection)

I've grouped Evans with the point guards but he may end up as a big lead guard in the manner of OJ Mayo or Joe Johnson though he'd have to improve his shooting to resemble either of those guys fully. Whoever takes Evans in the top 10 will be banking on Evans' improvement in a number of areas. It's a reasonable assumption both because of Evans' wide-ranging skill set (Never underestimate the added value of a good rebounding guard nor that of a young player well indoctrinated in the virtues of playing defense.) and because of the improvement he showed during his lone season at Memphis. It took him 19 games to get his assist-to-turnover ratio above 1 for good. He started the season 7-37 from beyond the three-point arc but made more than 31% of his three-point attempts the rest of the way. Not great, but not hopeless, either.

Evans blossomed after John Caliapri moved him to point guard (not that the distinction between guard positions is that severe in the dribble-drive motion offense) so he very much needs the ball in his hands to be effective at this point in his development. I suspect he'll need a couple of seasons to become an efficient NBA scorer (the long two-point jumper figures to be a poisonous temptation) but his ability to cause matchup problems through his combination of size and quickness against opposing guards both small and large figures to win out in the end.

Jonny Flynn (Projection)

I've already expressed my skepticism regarding Flynn but to reiterate and expand upon my doubts what we've got here is a smaller than average point guard who doesn't score at a high rate, lacks a reliable jump shot, has not been asked to nor demonstrated the ability to play defense, and is getting a lot of intangible credit for being the heart and soul of an overrated* Syracuse team.

*They needed overtime in 17.8% of their wins. 13 of their 27 wins came in home games against non-NCAA Tournament teams. That's a lot for a team that played seven (and won five) post-season games at neutral sites.

That screams career backup to me. The Aaron Brooks comparisons, though inexact (Flynn should post more assists but will make and should take far fewer three-pointers), are fair in terms of value. Brooks has a career PER of 12.9 after two seasons and 2600 minutes and his hot, valuable run for the Rockets in this season's playoffs produced a 15.5 PER. Nice value in general, great value over a short period of time from the 26th overall pick in particular but not necessarily, even when he's just played basketball at his highest capability, a guy whose role a good team looks to expand no matter how busy he looks out there.

Jrue Holiday (Projection)

Like Russell Westbrook the season before, Holiday played out of position much of last season at UCLA. First of all this is a credit to Darren Collison's ability but it's also, as it was with Westbrook, an indication that Holiday can be a useful player even when his skills are not being maximized. Considering how bad Acie Law IV, a far more experienced player, looked when trying to make the transition from college to NBA basketball while also having to adjust to playing off the ball, I'm sympathetic to Holiday's inability to be an offensive factor while making a similar adjustment from high school to college basketball. Unlike Law, Holiday has other significant skills that translated in the jump between levels.

Holiday is unlikely to become the offensive player that Westbrook projects to be but he needn't match Westbrook in that manner to become an equally valuable NBA player because Holiday's the best defensive point guard prospect since Rajon Rondo, and, like Rondo, Holiday uses his size and quickness to pressure the ball at the point of attack, challenge shots, and as a rebounder. Even if I'm overcompensating for Holiday's lack of offensive production as a college freshman I suspect he'll carve out a career as a useful NBA player.

Ty Lawson (Projection)

Unlike with Darren Collison, I have some reservations about Ty Lawson making a smooth transition from leading a wildly successful college powerhouse to leading an NBA team. The reservations have as much to do with the differences between their college coaches as those between the players. Where Ben Howland's focus on half-court offense and defense should benefit Collison in the NBA and one can (as I do) project some room for the expansion of Collison's talent in an environment with fewer strictures, Ty Lawson put up ridiculous offensive numbers playing for a coach with a near-maniacal commitment to creating as many high-percentage shots for his players as possible and no team in the NBA really plays that way.

I don't think that Lawson is purely a product of Roy Williams' system but I think there's a real chance that Lawson was an ideal fit for that system and may struggle to adapt to a more conventional style of play. I doubt he'll fail, though, because he's good at too many things: getting to the rim, getting to the foul line, shot selection, passing, and not turning the ball over. That's about the whole of offensive basketball that Lawson has the potential to excel at in the NBA. I think he's a bit underrated defensively as well due both to common and somewhat misguided assumptions about his team's defensive ability and his own injury struggles. At full strength his quick feet and quick hands should mitigate his relative lack of size.

Eric Maynor (Projection)

Maynor might benefit from Mario Chalmers' competent rookie season. Both possess above average size and length for a point guard and though neither immediately impress upon the viewer their traditional offensive point guard skills they are both, in their own ways, effective distributors who also possess NBA three-point range. Defensively, Maynor will gamble less (and less successfully) than Chalmers but he'll also get beat less often.

This combination of size, point guard skills, and shooting ability should increase the number of teams with which Maynor could fit successfully. As a reasonably polished player capable of backing up both guard positions immediately Maynor should represent excellent value in the final third of the first round.

Patty Mills

Patty Mills has a strong reputation based on his play in international basketball but his collegiate statistical record (even accounting for his hand injury last season) fails to impress to a significant degree. A scoring point guard who, despite making less than 33% of his three-point attempts in his two seasons at Saint Mary's, attempted more than half of his field goals from beyond the arc, Mills figures to need the ball a lot to produce much of anything offensively in the NBA. His low assist rate (for a point guard) and average turnover rate combine to create a relatively inefficient offensive player in comparison to the other potential first round point guard prospects. Factor in concerns both about his size and his defensive ability and I think Mills looks like a player who have to develop, over time, into Jose Juan Barea or Jannero Pargo.

Jeff Teague (Projection)

Jeff Teague may return to Wake Forest for his junior season because, even though he's already a tremendous prospect as a scorer, were he to become a more rounded player, improving either as a point guard or as a defender, he could be a lottery pick this time next year. If Teague stays in the draft, he'll still go in the first round and the team that takes him could be well rewarded.

Teague can score every way possible but there's still room to project improvement for both his scoring volume and efficiency. It's not unreasonable to expect Teague to become a better finisher at and around the rim should his strength catch up with his athleticism. If he accomplishes that, he would become essentially unstoppable as he averaged over 32 points per 100 possessions at Wake Forest last year despite barely making half of his two-point attempts and using just 27.5% of his field goal attempts on three-pointers despite making 44% of his threes.

Injecting a note of caution into the proceedings: Teague does little to augment his scoring at this point. He demonstrates no conception of how to involve his teammates, turns the ball over too often attempting to create his own shot, and relies on his athleticism to make up for poor defensive fundamentals and indifferent initial effort on that end of the court. On the last count, I think there's room for hope as Teague, so often out of position or trailing the play, blocked more than one shot per 100 possessions last season.

Point Guard Rankings

1. Curry
2. Evans
3. Holiday
4. Collison
5. Maynor
6. Lawson
7. Teague
8. Flynn
9. Calathes
10. Mills

NEXT POST: Second round and free agent point guard prospects


jrauch said...

The Carolina blue blood I've got wants to disagree, but I think you've got Lawson pegged about where he should be, but for a few different reasons.
I think his basketball IQ will allow him to adapt far better to the NBA game than you're giving him credit for, and the thought of seeing him run a higher-paced offense gets me a little giddy. I also think he's gotten a bit of a bum rap for UNC's overall lack of commitment to defense last year (and every year under Roy, really), but he was arguably the most consistent defender for the team.
But his nagging injuries have to be something of a concern in a deep point guard class with guys who are far more durable, at least through their college careers. Lawson has had one of those "nagging" injuries creep up each of the last two years.

Great wrap-up though.

Bret LaGree said...

That's a good point and I should have made but didn't due to being too anxious to present a mildly contrary take on UNC's team defense about which I think any lack of commitment is an institutional reluctance to commit to defending the three-point line more than the failing(s) of any particular player(s).

That and Marcus Ginyard was hurt.

jrauch said...

I think his championship game performance, while certainly not expected as a consistent level of defensive prowess, shows the kid can play on that end of the floor.
Of course, that also might be indicative of a Michigan State team getting completely overwhelmed by the moment.

Lawson had enough big defensive moments in his Carolina career that I tend to lean towards Roy pushing them to not defend and get out on the break, more than anything else.

I think Curry's probably one of the more tantalizing and befuddling prospects though. Not ideal shooting guard size, not necessarily the greatest point guard skills in the world. But he can fill it up.
I feel like he's destined for the Knicks and putting up silly numbers under D'Antoni with LeBron in 2010.

Collison is the safest bet.

Baooo said...

hey man,
good insights

Bret LaGree said...

I'm doing all the players who played in Europe last year in a separate post because 1) I don't watch near as much European ball as I do college ball and 2) I don't know how to translate or interpret European stats well enough to overcome #1.

jrauch said...

Didn't Jennings ride the bench a fair bit over there?

Watching the games may not have provided much insight if that's the case.

John Genovese said...

Looking back on this post in pretty much had these guys pegged. Each guy is still developing, but your ranking is spot on.

Too bad for T-Wolves fans, David Kahn didn't read it.