Saturday, June 20, 2009

Round-Up: Big Guys

Due to some trouble formatting* tables, this post arrives a couple of days late. Due to the few center prospects in this year's draft, I decided to fold them in with the power forwards.

*I'm taking a loss on that score. Use the spreadsheet in lieu of looking at my tables for the purposes of this post.

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

Jeff Adrien

Adrien gets lots of deserved credit for his effort but his production at UConn mostly falls short of his reputation. Because of his constant and total effort I wouldn't rule out the possibility that he makes a roster but because of his limited talents I suspect he'll offer little tangible value.

DeJuan Blair (Projection)

As long as his knees hold out, DeJuan Blair will make your team a better rebounding team. A lot better rebounding team. Blair's OR% is 125% of the second-best OR% for a 2009 draft prospect and unlike second-best John Bryant, Blair played in the Big East not the WCC. Blair's OR% is higher than most big men's DR%. And Blair is a force on the defensive glass as well, trailing only Bryant and Blake Griffin amongst 2009 draft prospects.

Blair also scored a lot at Pittsburgh (occasional foul trouble and Pitt's slow pace hide his production to some degree) and averaged over 3.5 steals per 100 possessions. Should he maintain the slimmer build he's displayed in workouts this summer his mobility and agility could be even better and will likely improve the prognosis for his knees.

Knees...they've scared teams off Leon Powe, Carl Landry, and Monta Ellis in recent years. Blair's a better prospect than any of them. He's worth the risk.

Jon Brockman

Brockman is the very poor man's DeJuan Blair. He's not as good a rebounder as Blair and far inferior to Blair in every other phase of the game. Brockman's strong as an ox but his lack of athleticism will probably reduce him to a one-spot rebounder in the NBA if he's even able to stick on the end of a bench.

John Bryant

Bryant put up great numbers at Santa Clara but I see no reason to challenge the consensus that he's little more than Aaron Gray's number one rival for the increasingly rare roster spots reserved for third centers.

DeMarre Carroll

Carroll's rising stock befuddles me. Not that he wasn't a nice, effective college player but he never gave me the impression that he possessed either the size or the athleticism to play a significant role in the NBA at either the 3 or the 4.

Earl Clark (Projection)

If you know whether Earl Clark will succeed or fail you're smarter and more perceptive than I am. Or just a better liar. Clark can sort of do a lot of things which might mean that he could succeed in a couple of different ways (with a more defensively-oriented Josh Howard being the most optimistic and likely) or he could never develop a specific-enough skill set to earn a regular rotation spot. I suspect he's worth the risk but I couldn't quantify the likelihood of him succeeding and understand why teams would choose a surer thing with less potential reward before Clark.

Taj Gibson

Gibson really got the turnovers under control as his college career progressed which ultimately made him an okay rather than a terrible offensive player. If he focuses on what he can do (rebound offensively, block shots) he'll be a useful reserve.

Blake Griffin (Projection)

Without the size and/or athleticism advantage he enjoyed in college, Blake Griffin is likely to struggle to score at anywhere near the rate he did at Oklahoma. Had he played against Kansas either of the past two seasons we might have a better idea of what he would do against top-quality defenders his own size. Fortunately, he should be an excellent rebounder from day one in the NBA. It's an open question as to whether Griffin can't guard anyone or just wasn't asked to by Jeff Capel. His development as a defender will likely be the difference between him becoming a good player or an All-Star.

Tyler Hansbrough (Projection)

If Hansbrough can't figure out a way to score in the NBA, he won't stay in the league as he figures to be a liability defensively and a sub-par rebounder for a power forward. Between his underrated jump shot and his propensity to get to the foul line, I think he can figure out a way to score though Leon Powe with better knees is his best case scenario.

A word of caution regarding projections from college stats: No coach in America puts more emphasis on or does a better job of getting lots of quality shots for big men than Roy Williams. None of the big men who have played for him, going back to Mark Randall, have been able to score as often or as efficiently playing for anyone else.

Despite much opining to the contrary, I contend that very few college teams play less of an NBA style than North Carolina under Williams. If I'm overlooking an NBA team that pushes the tempo in the pursuit of high percentage two-point shots, please let me know.

Jordan Hill (Projection)

Had Brook Lopez not just completed his transformation from inefficient Pac-10 big man to highly effective NBA post player, I'd be a lot more dismissive of Hill's pro prospects. I don't know why Lopez proved to be a better offensive player against NBA competition. I don't know why Hill should necessarily compare to Lopez. I don't know if the league-wide preference for low-possession basketball makes projecting Pac-10 players a more onerous task. I do know that to this point Jordan Hill has demonstrated commendable athleticism, little in the way of offensive game, and no discernible defensive skills. I wouldn't use a lottery pick on him but there's a non-zero chance he'd provide nice return for a late first-round pick.

Chris Johnson and Tony Gaffney

Undersized (whether we're measuring vertically or horizontally) shot blocking specialists rarely get a real chance in the NBA. There may be a good reason for this or it may just be prejudice. Were an owner with an appreciation for the sublime to give me a decision-making role for an NBA team, my Stephane Lasme, PJ Tucker, Nick Fazekas, Salim Stoudamire bench would answer all sorts of questions no one cares to ask.

James Johnson (Projection)

I'll admit to struggling to differentiate between Johnson and his Wake Forest teammate Al-Farouq Aminu at times last season. To be brief, Aminu's the one with offensive upside and Johnson's the one who could be a highly effective player were he to accept that he does not. I love Johnson's defensive potential. I fear his lack of self-knowledge.

Leo Lyons

Lyons is a skilled scorer who never earned Mike Anderson's complete trust on or off the court. I'm skeptical of his ability to hold his own defensively or on the glass, but, should he prove me wrong he could have a decent career as a scoring big man off the bench.

BJ Mullens (Projection)

It may just be the result of a rounding and does not come close to meeting the standard of statistical significance but BJ Mullens (0.87) averaged fewer assists per 100 possessions last season than Hasheem Thabeet (0.88). Thabeet attempts to make up for this by blocking shots and rebounding. Mullens attempts to make up for this by turning pro before all 30 teams wise up and don't consider him reasonable use of a first-round pick.

There is no evidence that BJ Mullens will be a contributor to an NBA team while still on his rookie contract. I fail to see the argument for drafting him.

Luke Nevill

Simply not athletic enough to play in the NBA, a fact that's obvious whether you're watching him play or just perusing the OR% and S/100 columns in the spreadsheet.

Ahmad Nivins

Drafting Nivins would be excellent use of a second-round pick. He's not the most skilled offensive player but he gets to the line a ton (more often than Hansbrough last season) and rebounds effectively on both ends of the court. His ability to guard one or both post positions will likely determine whether his professional basketball career takes place in America or in Europe.

Diamon Simpson

I regret not being first to the Diamon Simpson party but I've been waiting to tout him every since I came across his rebounding and defense numbers while trying to figure out what Patty Mills had done* to maintain the excitement generated by his performances for Australia.

*Answer: little.

Simpson breaks the promising barrier of three blocks and three steals per 100 possessions, rebounds both ways, and stands the greatest chance of providing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute-type value (though likely without the ability to guard as many positions) to an NBA team in the 2009-10 season.

Goran Suton

Only if you miss Matt Bullard. I'm not judging you if you do.

Hasheem Thabeet (Projection)

Were it not for Jim Calhoun's bizarre compulsion to insist that Hasheem Thabeet is something that he's not (a useful offensive player) I suspect it would be easier for media types to see Thabeet for what he is: a tall guy with the potential to block, alter, and rebound enough shots that he might make up for his obvious and likely permanent limitations. For the right* team, Thabeet could provide significant value perhaps every validating a top 5 pick.

*One with a sufficient number of high volume, reasonable efficiency scorers

1) Blake Griffin
2) DeJuan Blair
3) Hasheem Thabeet
4) Earl Clark
5) Tyler Hansbrough
6) Jordan Hill
7) James Johnson
8) Diamon Simpson
9) Ahmad Nivins
10) BJ Mullens
11) Taj Gibson
12) Goran Suton
13) Leo Lyons
14) DeMarre Carroll
15) Brandon Costner
16) John Bryant
17) Alade Aminu
18) Chris Johnson
19) Tony Gaffney
20) Josh Heytvelt
21) Jon Brockman
22) Jeff Adrien


rbubp said...

As a Kansas guy you may have a lil' bias on Blake Griffin, Bret. Living out here I got to watch him on tv quite a few times, and he has a remarkable combination of quickness and strength, plus remarkable footwork and hands. I'm convinced he will eventually be an all-star, a Karl Malone-alike. He is also very disciplined and does not force taking over games.

It is true he never seemed to be asked to play major defense, but he didn't avoid it. he is a solid on-ball and help defender as far as I can tell--very fundamentally sound overall.

He's not LeBron, but he will help the three Clippers fans forget Elton Brand. It really is too bad he will have to toil in that joke of a place until he can get out; his perceived ability may well be affected by playing on such an awful team in such a who-cares organization.

Bret LaGree said...

I hope I'm not biased against Griffin and any ambivalence I express is because I don't feel I have a great handle on him. He was so physically and athletically superior to the vast majority of his opponents he never really had to resort to Plan B if he has one at this point in his development. From a scouting perspective I would have loved to see him go up against Kaun and Aldrich the last 2 seasons.

Griffin's obviously the best player in this draft and I think he's a better prospect than Beasley was last year though I'd still put Durant at the top of the heap of recent Big 12 stars.

And it amuses me to imagine Griffin busting his ass in an early practice while Zach Randolph stands there befuddled, watching him, and thinking "He knows we don't have to try that hard, right?"

rbubp said...

For what it's worth, he dominated Tyler Hansbrough on BOTH ends of the floor in their semifinal. Just took his lunch. Psycho t was about ready to go all BIg Baby in the first half.

He also had no trouble with Dexter Pittman from Texas in their first game, then someone from UT caught him in the face with an elbow in the second.

He is a far better player than DeJuan Blair in all phases of the game, IMO. I think the Big 12's success in the NCAAs revealed that the conference had been a bit underrated all year. Nonetheless, Griffin did not face many good bigs anywhere in college--they just don't exist. Too bad we didn't get to see BG go up against Thabeet as well as Aldrich.

Steve said...

I don't get the love for Blair. I get that he was the best player on a top college team and that he has one potentially elite skill to offer, but at the end of the day he is still only 6'6 1/2. Even his 7'2 wingspan doesn't make up for his height because big wingspans are a dime a dozen. He's going to go up against guys who are just as strong as him, negating his strength advantage that made up a huge part of his success, and are taller and just as long.

Good teams have not started power forwards his size unless they were HOF talents like Barkley. Even undersized bigs like Glen Davis and Udonis Haslem are still two inches taller than Blair. I think Blair maxes out as a reserve playing 18-20 minutes.

jrauch said...

Considering Blair absolutely destroyed Thabeet in their two meetings this past year, something tells me the 6'7" thing won't hold him back as a rebounder.

Despite the much hyped 7'2" wingspan, he's got one big advantage that Griffin and Hansbrough have, he works ridiculously hard.
A lot of rebounding, as evidenced by Dennis Rodman, is desire.

You don't have to be an athletic freak, you just have to want to get that ball more than the guy next to you. Blair's proven he's got more want than a lot of physically superior players.