Wednesday, June 27, 2007

An Outstanding Draft Article by John Hollinger

For all the stick that ESPN gets for any one of a number of sins (relentless cross-promotion, favoritism to certain reviled teams, Stuart Scott, etc.), articles like this one from John Hollinger($) make it all worthwhile that I spend $5 per month to breathe in the rarified air of Insider status. I am a sucker for a well-reasoned, empirical approach to evaluating...just about anything and Hollinger does a great job with the question of what factors are relevant to determining who will be a hit and who will be a miss. My only quibble is that he should have used a larger sample size of draft classes. Maybe a follow-up article would be in order?

Hollinger's approach mimics that of Football Outsiders on quarterbacks, which concluded that the most important stats in evaluating college passers is completion percentage and career starts. Hollinger doesn't have the same sample size that Football Outsiders did, but he does measure for strength of schedule, which was a problem with the Football Outsiders approach. Neither Hollinger, nor Football Outsiders have figured out a way to control for the quality of teammates, which seems to be to be the critical unanswered question when drafting players. For instance, Hollinger notes that steals are a critical stat in evaluating college players, but a player like Mike Conley would have an advantage over other point guards in that respect because he had Greg Oden behind him to erase mistakes and he could therefore be more aggressive in hounding opposing guards and jumping into passing lanes. I suspect that Hollinger's counter would be that indexing for teammates is something that scouts have to do and that statistical analysis should work in tandem with scouting rather than replacing it.

A few random thoughts on the article:

1. The NBA's decision to require players to be at least one year removed from high school before being drafted makes Hollinger's analysis more potent because it allows statistical analysis of (non-foreign) draft prospects. David Stern hit on this on Bill Simmons's podcast, when he explained that the reason for the one-year rule was to provide NBA teams with more reliable information when making draft decisions.

2. Billy Knight comes out OK in the article. Josh Childress ranks 6th among available players from the '04 Draft, although Luol Deng ranked first and Deng was the player for whom Hawks fans (or at least yours truly in the parking lot of the Borders on Ponce listening to the Draft) were screaming when the Hawks took Childress. Still, Childress has turned into a good player and Hollinger's system reflects that. Marvin Williams comes off as the second-best player in the '05 Draft, which makes his selection with the #2 pick defensible, although again, Chris Paul is #1 in Hollinger's rankings and Hawks fans (often in retrospect) wanted Paul. What surprised me the most is that Shelden Williams was the second-best player available last year, despite the fact that the system penalizes four-year players. If Hollinger's system is correct, then one of the following needs to be true:

a) The Hawks have been unlucky in that the Williamses and Childress have been banged up at inconvenient times over the past several years;

b) Mike Woodson is not a good coach and is squandering a talented roster (a theory that doesn't seem to be advanced much, as all of the criticism falls on Billy Knight for some unknown reason); or

c) The Hawks have a talented roster, but it consists of mismatched parts and/or it lacks quality veteran players to fill in around the youngsters.

In light of the Boris Diaw experience, options b and c seem unfortunately plausible to me.

3. As for this year's draft, Hollinger's system indicates that the Hawks should grab Mike Conley, who is the 12th highest-rated player from the last six drafts and is the best option after the big two by a significant margin. The fact that he answers a need for the Hawks only increases the importance of taking him. I can't believe I'm siding with Terrence Moore over Mark Bradley, but I've swung back to advocating for Conley, although Horford does well in the rankings and he would certainly not be a bad pick. Hollinger's rankings set off all sorts of alarm bells about Acie Law, which I have been feeling for weeks. The Hawks taking him with the #11 pick would be the one event that could make me angry tomorrow night.

Then again, the Hawks could swing the #3 and #11 picks in some sort of four-team mishmash trade that nets us Amare Stoudemire (as was discussed on the radio this morning) and then I will dance through the streets.


phats said...

what are your thoughts on the 3 way trade with the suns and wolves?

if we got amare for the 3 and 11, i'm slightly for it. i think it's too large a price to pay for marion. we still need a point if we traded the 3 and 11. sign boykins?

and i hate that we lost henry to barca

phats said...

whoops, i guess i didn't read your last paragraph

Grandy said...

Can Barbosa be a true #1? The Diamond Cutter and I were discussing this just this am - I hadn't yet seen the trade proposals. If so, it seems no-brainish. Though you have to worry about Stoudamire missing as much time as he has.

But I worry that we'd be getting a glorified SG in Barbosa, and that this could easily cause problems (not that he isn't a pretty good player). I need to take a deeper look at his past few seasons, clearly.

Still, Stoudamire is freakish when healthy. Joe Johnson seems capable of tailoring his game to the landscape - those high assists, low(er) scoring scretchs late in the season the past two years showed me some serious versatility.

Joel said...

phats- You're right, 3 and 11 are way to high to pay for Marion, and I am not all that crazy about giving up both just for Amare. I'd also like to see a shitty contract taken off our hands in such a deal, or maybe get our draft pick (now belongs to Phoenix, re-protected).


I can't be more emphatic about that. The last thing we need is another undersized point who enjoys shooting the rock more than getting teammates involved. I have always held Boykins in the same class as Speedy Claxton, long before the Hawks-Speedy debacle.

Grandy- Pretty sure Barbosa is untouchable. Phoenix has him locked up for quite a few years at a reasonable price. They'd love to move Banks and Diaw.

Anonymous said...

some guy on ESPN news reported Hawks may be close to securing Luke Ridnour for #11 pick.

I would be satisfied with Ridnour and Horford out of this draft.

Conley's size scares me, a lot of scouts question if he has the strength to take it two steps back to Pro 3-point line with any accuracy. I think that's a legit worry.

Grandy said...

joel, he may be. That's one of the rumors I've come into this AM. Actually, that was an alternative to a larger (multi team) deal, and I'm not clear what the Suns were getting. Anyhoo. . .

I'll second the Boykins no-vote.

Grandy said...

The Hollinger article is terrific, and I look forward to seeing his method refined over the years.

Jerry Hinnen said...

It's true, Conley is a small, less-than-strong point guard without a three-point shot who has benefitted tremendously from playing with a dominant big man. These would be valid complaints if the EXACT same description didn't apply to the regining NBA Finals MVP. Conley is 100 percent can't-miss, and I seriously doubt anybody who watched him throughout last NCAA season would disagree.

Honestly, the Hawks are in a position where even Knight can't screw this up--both Horford and Conley are future All-Stars. They're both the right answer. Of course, Knight will probably take Yi ...

Anonymous said...

Knight has to win next year. For that reason he can't risk a rookie PG running team so I can't see him pulling the trigger.

I expect (hope) a move for a more seasoned PG with #11 pick and Horford at #3 (Horford is 100 percent more NBA ready than Conley).

Amare might go a long way towards winning next year...

phats said...

according to espn, one of the spirit owners, belkin, doesn't want stoudemire, and while knight wants hortford, another spirit owner, michael gearon jr, wants yi

i miss the days when ted owned the hawks.

Anonymous said...

can we stop saying that Mike Conley Jr. is too small to play? (5'11 3/4" without shoes)

a fraction above 5'11" w/o shoes (examples: TJ Ford, Jameer Nelson, Allen Iverson, Chris Paul, Raymond Felton, Eddie House, Damon Stoudamire, etc.)

is not that far from a fraction above 6'0" (examples: Jordan Farmar, Mo Williams, Earl Watson, Jamal Tinsley, Chris Duhon, Janero Pargo, Salim Stoudamire etc.)

or 6'1" w/o shoes (examples: Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Delonte West, Ben Gordon, Luke Ridnour, Charlie Bell, Tony Parker, Steve Nash) etc.) so quit the too small talk already.

most "BIG" point guards listed at 6'3 and above are really just 6'2" or a fraction above 6'2"(examples: Baron Davis, Gilbert Arenas, Marcus Williams, Chauncey Billups, Jarret Jack, Randy Foye, Monta Ellis, Beno Udrih, Kirk Hinrich, Smush Parker, etc.)

5'11 versus 6'2" isn't really all that bad if you think about it, especially since these guys are playing as guards where they are using more of their quickness and speed to advantage, as opposed to height, heft and strength. (example: Tony Parker's speed and quickness beats Deron William's "size advantage" in the playoffs)

do you realize that a lot of the best big men in the NBA today are just more or less 6'7" (w/o shoes)?

examples: 6'5" to 6'7" "big" guys (power forwards and centers)

Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer, Ben Wallace, Sean May, David Lee, Ike Diogu, Shelden Williams, Tyrus Thomas, Chuck Hayes, Jason Maxiell, Craig Smith, Paul Millsap, Kenyon Martin, Mike Sweetney, Reggie Evans, etc.

point is height is not a good reason not to take a talented ball player.

point is... the fact that Mike Conley Jr is just a fraction above 5'11" (as are Chris Paul , TJ Ford, Ray FElton, etc.) is not a reason not to take him.

Grandy said...

Conley isn't 100% can't miss and the suggestion is absurd.

Also, if you want to start naming guards that are 5'11" or 6'0", we'll have to name all the guards that were that size and came into the league and failed miserably. Believe me, they vastly outnumber the guys who made it. And more than a few of them had serious talent.

Concerns over Conley's height are valid. His hieght is talked about too frequently in the media, but that doesn't obviate the reasonable concern.

Grandy said...

Also, it goes without saying, but I really hate the Atlanta Spirit.