We all know that there are certain stats scouts and GMs look at when evaluating college players prior to the draft. We are going to look a little closer at a select group of those, and analyze why they are important, and where they may be overrated.
For this post’s purposes, we’ll stick to the KenPom-measured statistics. We will provide a list of leaders in each group over the past couple of seasons to see what shakes out, and then talk about the good/bad/ugly of those particular findings. If you don’t have a subscription to KenPom, get one. It’s worth it.
We want to talk a little more about what the traps are with these statistical groups and if/how they may be misleading.
This list has some heavy hitters! Ayton, Brunson, Bagley, Evans, Haas, Milton. Sprinkled in with a few guys that may be undervalued; Hachimura, Aldridge, Landale, Cokley…There are a few filters here, and KenPom separates them by the % of possessions used, so the names at this threshold are different than higher %s. The formula was created by Dean Oliver (wicked smart guy) and gained popularity through his Basketball on Paper. Basically it captures how efficient the player is while on the floor. The higher the number, the better. Jalen Brunson is good at pretty much everything on offense. He can shoot, score, pass, create and doesn’t turn the ball over. That’s a recipe for success and his ORTG shows that. There aren’t many ways to fake it onto this list, but like some of the others, level of competition is something to take into account. Brunson does it at the highest level, so it’s really impressive. When he’s selected in the 2nd round and then starts for a playoff team, remember this stat.
Are these guys ball-hogs? Or are they so talented that the team’s best chance to score is when a possession ends with the ball in their hands? Young, Sexton, and Hutchison are all in the 1st round conversation. Mike Daum, and Ethan Happ are great college players. D’Marcus Simonds burst onto the scene this season. It’s a pretty good bet that if you appear on this list, you can create scoring opportunities. Most coaches we know try to win each game. And during those games they try to get optimal looks each time down the floor. So if Lon Kruger thought it was in the team’s best interest to have Trae Young handle the ball, decision-making, and scoring for his group then most scouts will assume that Young will be able to carry some of the burden in the NBA.
What does scare some people is the transfer from being a high-volume player to a low-volume player. Most of these guys put up good numbers, but will they be able to produce points effectively if their usage is reduced by 40-50%?
Good for these guys, being allowed to get up all these shots! This one accounts for the what percentage of the teams’ shots each player gets up while they’re on the court. %Poss factors in turnovers as well, this one is solely about getting FGAs. This does help scouts determine the efficiency with which these guys score…most of the time the stats guys have already built models that capture all of that information and make it look really pretty…so, really, this just is another voice that screams out that these guys like to shoot the ball more than they like letting their teammates shoot.
This stat is one that scouts put a high premium on, but it may not be for the reason the casual fan thinks. Offensive Rebounding is a skill that combines size, athleticism, toughness and effort. The ball doesn’t automatically land in your hands just because you want it to. These guys have figured out ways to go and get it. Angel Delgado may end up in the NBA specifically because of his ability to rebound. He’s been, consistently throughout his career, one of the top offensive rebounders. Delgado combines power and will to defeat his opponents. Devontae Cacok, on the other hand, jumps out of the gym. His vertical athleticism is impressive and on par with most NBA players. His rebounding numbers will put him on the radar of all teams.
It’s been discussed at length that the Assist is the most flawed statistic in sports. What an assist is varies from arena to arena and play to play. The passer only gets an assist if the receiver makes a basket. It doesn’t account for creating a wide open attempt for a teammate, which is the goal of the stat. NBA Front Offices know that, and many try to create their own metric that more accurately catches the point opportunities created by particular players. So this particular stat group is interesting to decipher. Trae Young had a special year and this reflects that. What bodes well for Young, is that when you look back at the last few years there are multiple NBA players up at the top…Kris Dunn, Kay Felder, Denzel Valentine, Jawun Evans, TJ McConnell, Cameron Payne, Tim Frazier, Norris Cole, etc.
So it may be a flawed statistic, but there is some relation between elite perimeter creators and the ability to stick on NBA rosters.
Nerd Alert! Here’s a group of guys who know pretty much everything that is happening, or about to happen, on the court during a game. They’re probably the smartest of the group. Or they’re jerks who pass the ball to a teammate with 0.5 left on the shot clock so they don’t get charged with the turnover. Keep an eye out for Kellan Grady though, he’s got some serious game.
These are the guys that get to the FT line more than anyone else. PJ Washington demonstrated why it’s a gift and a curse in the Kansas State game. He’s not a great FT shooter, so Kansas State actually benefited from him taking 20 Free Throws since that meant nobody else on the team would get to the line. Kentucky had it’s chances to win that game because of the number of times Washington got to the line. But, converting the FTs is just as important as getting there. And Washington failed to do so, so his team lost. Stat guys get really excited when guards are on this list, because that’s a skill they bring to the NBA and it usually means that the guard is faster/quicker/stronger than his peers. Which is nice.
NCAA Free Throw shooting is a more accurate indicator of potential NBA 3PT shooting. Seems strange, but it is. Players like Fletcher Magee has been above 90% his entire life. We’ve also heard that he’s never lost a game of knockout in his life, impressive. We’ve looked at bigs who shot well in college and their transition to the deep waters of the NBA. Naturally, it would make sense that scouts keep tabs on this list for undervalued shooters. As long as the 3PT basket continues to be worth more than the 2PT basket, there will be a need for players who can make them. Something to note, Cassius Winston’s name is on a few of these lists…
The reason why some players on this list will not get an NBA look is because they, physically, can’t hack it at the NBA level. We haven’t seen Alex Petrie play, but it’s unlikely that a 6’3″ guard from Lafayette will be talented enough. But, CJ McCollum did prove that wrong.
This one doesn’t need much explanation. But as mentioned before, NCAA 3PT% is not the most accurate predictor of NBA 3PT%…Some guys do struggle with the extra distance. Other guys struggle when the defense they are shooting against is much better than they currently facing.
eFG% takes into account that 3PT shots are worth more than 2PT shots. TS% factors in FTs. A lot of the same names populate both lists. So is there anything that we need to take from it? There are a few Power 5 programs listed, and some small conference guys as well. Cassius Winston shows up again (this is getting a bit repetitive). Isaiah Brock (Oakland) shoots worse from the FT line than he does the rest of the field, that’s why his TS% is lower than his eFG%.
There aren’t many pitfalls to these stats, but competition is something to keep an eye on. Killian Tillie, for example, plays in the West Coast Conference. A closer look at his profile and you’ll see that his Conference-Only numbers are at the top of the charts. But his shooting numbers against Tier A and Tier B teams are noticeably lower than his conference numbers. That may be an indicator to carefully analyze his ability to score against elite size and athleticism. Which is what he’ll face in the NBA. On the flip side of that, NBA teams may try to use Tillie in a different manner than Mark Few is right now, and the shooting numbers don’t worry them too much. Either way, the discrepancy against competition is the nugget gleaned here. And that will spark some conversation.
Most of the names on this list are not familiar to the casual fan, which is fine as most of these players will not end up in the NBA. Does that mean that steals are not important in the NBA? Only 4 players currently average 2.0 spg or above; Victor Oladipo, Eric Bledsoe, Paul George, and Kris Dunn. The rest of the Top 10 is littered with All Stars and future All Stars. So clearly, there is some relation between being able to take the ball from your opponent and being better than your opponent. But if the best in the NBA are barely above 2 per game, and teams generally have 100 possessions per game on defense…so that’s a really small number in the grand scheme of a game.
Something that we find interesting is that Matisse Thybulle (Washington) and Tim Bond (Eastern Michigan) are ranked 4 and 13. Both head coaches of those programs spent years and years at Syracuse and employ a similar defensive philosophy as the Orange. This system has a way of inflating players steal numbers as they live in the passing lanes and teams don’t prepare adequately enough to find cracks (don’t believe us, ask anyone who plays Syracuse in the NCAA tournament…). However, name us a Syracuse grad that has made an impact in the NBA on the defensive end.
Looking back at some of the historical leaders, we found some names that were really interesting. Briante Weber, the tip of the spear for Shaka Smart’s Havoc, was the national leader his first 3 years, and had an even higher number his senior year that was cut short due to injury. Jeremy Lin was Top-50 in his last 2 seasons at Harvard, a school not known for it’s tempo and defensive chops. Kent Bazemore spent all 4 years in the Top-100; 90th, 19th, 13th, and 33rd from freshman to senior year at Old Dominion. TJ McConnell was one of the national leaders at Duquesne 7th and 12th, and then proved it wasn’t a fluke as he was 129th and 17th in his 2 years at Arizona. All of these guards are in, or have spent lots of time on NBA rosters. So there has to be something that scouts see in these players that translates. Will Jevon Carter benefit from recent findings and be a name that ends up on a roster next October?
So, there are some programs that put their players in good positions to recover turnovers. There are good defensive players that will never appear on a top-whatever list of %Stls for KenPom. So what are some of the things that scouts need to be aware of to make sure they aren’t selecting a system-inflated defender instead of a solid-positional defender that will help the team.
Not too much to worry about here. Rebounding numbers in smaller conferences don’t always translate…but that didn’t bother Ben Wallace or Charles Oakley. Seeing Ayton and Bamba on here is a good thing. It would be more worrisome if they didn’t have elite rebounding numbers given their size/length/athleticism. One metric, that would be better to track, would be contested DR%. A lot of times, the superstars of teams get a couple extra rebounds per game when everyone clears out when the shot is taken. It’s important to know if a guy can go and get THE rebound at the end of a game to secure a needed possession.
Who doesn’t love a layup getting swatted into the stands??!! These are the guys that can do it. There aren’t many drawbacks to being high on this list, but one of the things scouts want to watch for is how many times these guys swing and miss. It’s great to have a home run hitter on the back line, but if he strikes out more than he alters than it’s more of a selfish stat. That second layer, the unintended consequence of chasing shots is noticed. But that is often a coachable trait, and one that you’d rather have to reign in than try to ramp up.
And that, was talking stats.