April 24, 2014

The Boots: NBA Draft Lottery, John Wall and winning streaks

byron scott disappointmentIn my usual half-rapid fire, half-prose form, I’m here today with another edition of The Boots. Again, for those unfamiliar with this feature, I assign loosely defined “Boot Up” or “Boot Down” votes to trending topics in the sports world. I’m feeling some Tuesday basketball talk today.

Boot Up: #TankStrong — Stop me if you’ve heard this in the past few weeks: There’s an incredible logjam in the No. 3-11 spots in the NBA Draft Lottery positioning right now. With the abysmal Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic clearly landing the No. 1 and No. 2 best odds, in some order, the bulk of the rest of the lottery is still very much up in the air with three weeks to go.

In an effort to break down the end-of-season standings that will determine the probabilistic odds related to the NBA Draft Lottery, here’s a quick-ish look at these intriguing nine teams:

Rk Team W L Pct GB Left JH Rt JH Rk
T-3 CLE 22 47 0.319 13 95.6 26
T-3 PHO 23 48 0.324 11 92.6 28
5 DET 24 47 0.338 1.0 11 93.3 27
T-6 NOH 25 46 0.352 2.0 11 96.0 25
T-6 SAC 25 46 0.352 2.0 11 96.6 23
8 MIN 24 44 0.353 2.5 14 97.0 22
T-9 TOR 26 44 0.371 3.5 12 97.2 21
T-9 WAS 26 44 0.371 3.5 12 98.4 19
11 PHI 27 43 0.386 4.5 12 96.1 24

 

The “JH” Rating and Ranking both refer to John Hollinger, whose proprietary standings still exist at ESPN.com despite the fact he now works for the Memphis Grizzlies. When these standings were unveiled, Hollinger wrote a primer that unveiled the formula’s key components: Efficiency differential, strength of schedule, home/road splits and emphasizing more recent games over earlier ones. In essence, it acts as a more accurate depiction of a team’s true standing than just winning percentage alone.

In this outlook, while the Cavs rank No. 3 in current positioning, they actually should be No. 5, per Hollinger1. Both Phoenix and Detroit have been substantially worse, although all three teams remain rather cold of late. After these three teams however, there appears to be a somewhat natural divide. So for now, it might just be possible to simply focus on the Cavs, Suns and Pistons for top-5 positioning the rest of the way, as opposed to all nine of these squads in the top-11.

While on the NBA Draft Lottery topic, I’ve previously stated my always-sure-to-be controversial take on its worth. I’ll give an alternate take this time around, however: Maybe it makes sense to invest in a weighted system? With Charlotte and Orlando being so far behind, do they deserve a proportional share of ping pong balls? Just throwing it out there, as there might be a larger winning percentage gap between No. 2 and No. 3 as there is between No. 3 and No. 11. The current system still doesn’t seem right to me, with all those odds at stake.

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Boot Down: Draft prospects in the tournament – With a 15-seed making the Sweet 16 for the first time, this has been one of the most exciting NCAA tournaments ever. But alas, with such upsets, and the already established parity in college basketball this year, it means we have one looming caveat: Only one of the top six players on my latest NBA Draft Aggregate Big Board are still playing.

Yes, in total, five of the relatively consensus top-11 are still in action. But the lack of heavy-hitting dominating prospects still left in the tournament is making waves in the media. As often happens in college basketball, fundamentally sound teams without stars continue to advance (See: Louisville, Miami), while one-man back-and-forth squads fade early (See: UNLV, UCLA). Similar to my updates on Jan. 6 and March 2, here is the latest aggregate big board:

Rk First Last 3/26 2/28 1/6 School POS Birthday
1 Ben McLemore 1.5 1.6 4.8 Kansas SG 2/11/93
2 Nerlens Noel 1.6 1.6 1.8 Kentucky C 4/10/94
3 Anthony Bennett 4.4 5.0 6.8 UNLV PF 3/14/93
4 Marcus Smart 4.5 5.9 14.8 Okla. St. PG 3/6/94
5 Otto Porter 5.7 8.4 9.8 G’town SF 3/6/93
6 Shabazz Muhammad 5.9 4.8 2.3 UCLA SG 11/13/92
7 Cody Zeller 6.6 5.6 3.5 Indiana C 10/5/92
8 Victor Oladipo 8.1 12.3 xx Indiana SG 5/4/92
9 Alex Len 8.7 6.3 4.0 Maryland C 6/16/93
10 Trey Burke 11.4 15.8 19.3 Michigan PG 11/12/92
11 Michael Carter-Williams 12.5 10.8 11.8 Syracuse PG 10/12/91

 

At the top, Kansas’ Ben McLemore and Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel are still virtually 1A and 1B. Despite Noel’s recent ACL tear and lack of primetime minutes unlike the Kansas’ team, I think he’ll emerge as the No. 1 pick. His potential is unmatched in a draft class seemingly lacking any long-term stars as he’s by far the youngest on this board. He’d be an excellent fit for a Cavaliers squad struggling with interior defense.

Meanwhile, the No. 3-6 players all flamed out in epic fashion during the tournament. UNLV’s Anthony Bennett’s defense and energy worry me long-term, while I’m surprisingly on Camp John Krolik about why folks love Marcus Smart so much — he’s the second-youngest on this board, but his efficiency really concerns me. I’m still a huge fan of Georgetown’s Otto Porter, as our friend @ClevTA shared last time, but in the opposite corner, this week’s revelations about UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad’s age and background will be certain to concern some teams in June.

In the rest of the list, Maryland’s Alex Len continues to fade, as his Maryland Terrapins failed to make the NCAA tournament. But alas, thanks to the efforts of Xavier transfer Dez Wells, they’re still alive in the NIT, despite Len still averaging only 7.0 field goal attempts in postseason play2. Michigan’s Trey Burke is the high-riser, jumping into this range of players as he emerges as the most consistent and possibly best point guard in the nation. If the Wolverines strike an upset, and even more people see his high level of play, I wouldn’t be shocked if he reaches the top-5 in June.

The next grouping of players includes the following: Duke’s Mason Plumlee, Baylor’s Isaiah Austin, France’s Rudy Gobert and Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk. Again, this draft is filled to the brim with intriguing supplemental talents, but no sure-fire stars. If the Cavs do end up with the Lakers’ mid-first-round pick, I’m not certain who I’d like the most. There still are lots of question marks about players declaring for the draft and the Cavs’ intentions with their first selection.

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john wallBoot Up: John Wall — Despite the bigger NBA storyline of massive winning streaks galore (more on this momentarily), there might not be a hotter player in professional basketball than John Wall. Just take a look at his stat-line from Monday night vs. Memphis3: 47 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 18-22 FGs, 2-4 3Ps, 19-24 FTs. The last person to post a 47-8-7 line was LeBron James on Feb. 3, 2011.

Enough with the records, though. Let’s go with this not-as-hyperbolic-as-you-might-think statement: Wall is in the midst of the best stretch of his short career. Now in his third year out of Kentucky, the former No. 1 pick is averaging 25.0 points, 9.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 58.0% (!!) efficiency field goal percentage in his past nine games. This run began with his efficient 27-14-7 performance on March 12 in a narrow loss to the Cavaliers at the Q.

The knocks on Wall early in his NBA career were that he was constantly injured, inefficient and had yet to really transform into an All-Star-caliber guard. He returned back to action on Jan. 12 this season. His career averages before this streak: 16.0 points, 8.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.4% efficiency field goal percentage. So clearly, the biggest differences are in scoring and shooting efficiency4. And of course, all this comes during/after the media storm surrounding his comments that he’s worth a maximum contract down the road.

Don’t forget as well that Wall is only 22 years old, which, as The Basketball Jones’ J.E. Skeets tweeted last night, means he is actually two months younger than likely Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. …

But then, Sports Illustrated’s Pablo Torre countered: Don’t forget too that Kyrie Irving is 18 months younger than Wall. Wow. In case we needed any other proof that Irving’s ceiling — when healthy again, of course — is nearly indescribable. So don’t worry too much Scott, Wall’s track record of success isn’t at Kyrie’s level yet, despite an extra year in the league and extra 18 months in life. But he’s finally making waves and it’s exciting to watch.

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Boot Down: Win streaks — Miami improved its run to 27 straight wins on Monday night, but Denver’s 15-in-a-row stretch came down in flames. Suddenly tied for the No. 3 spot out in the West with the LA Clippers behind Oklahoma City and San Antonio, the Nuggets put up an absolute stinker to end their incredible run: a 110-86 loss in New Orleans against the Hornets.

In the previous 15 games, the average final score for Denver was 109.1-98.9 (+10.2). The 86 points were the team’s third-fewest all season, although they did actually score only 87 in a March 15 victory. Despite that one win, they are now just 8-11 when scoring 100 points or less this season; obviously, that means 41-12 otherwise. Not a fantastic split when it’s been proven that playoff games operate at a much slower, more defensive-oriented pace.

Going back to the win streaks, I first want to say that these are way too overhyped in the media right now. Regular season, regular season5, I’ll be shocked if a team wins 15 or 27 straight including playoff games. Speaking of playoffs then, it’s pretty clear that Miami has a more substantial shot at making the NBA Finals — then potentially winning it. Hollinger’s odds have Miami at 28.5% chance to win it all, Denver at 3.8%. The West is quite crowded as usual this year. While I’m a big fan of the Nuggets and I do think they have some staying power despite lacking a prototypical superstar, they still have a significantly tougher road ahead.

As a final nod: One of the keys to the Hornets’ shocking win was former UD Flyer Brian Roberts. He scored 13 points and dished out a career-high 18 assists (previous high: 9) in the upset. An undrafted free agent, Roberts played in Israel for one year and then Germany for three before jumping back stateside this season. The now 27-year-old guard was a surprise to even make the team, then came through in a big way Monday in just his second career start. Kudos to B-Rob.

Photos: Lisa DeJong, The Plain Dealer and Alex Brandon, Associated Press

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Footnotes:

  1. Relatively simple math: The No. 28 team is No. 3, No. 27 team is No. 4, No. 26 team is No. 5, etc. []
  2. As I’ve said before, Len is the most polarizing prospect in this draft. He’s got an excellent frame, showcases some exceptional skills for a center his age, yet just seems to not receive or demand the opportunities thus far at Maryland (To the tune of 6.9 field goal attempts per game in 58 collegiate games). At one point, he could have conceivably been thought of as a No. 1 pick. Now, I’d say that his draft range is anywhere from No. 3-12 depending upon the teams that fall in those ranges. []
  3. Yes, that Memphis, the team that entered the day with the second-best defensive efficiency at 100.3. They also last allowed an opponent to score 35+ points on March 13, 2012 (Andrew Bynum, 37) and last allowed an opponent to score 41+ points on Jan. 2, 2010 (Kobe Bryant, 44). []
  4. Per NBA.com/stats, Wall is shooting 42-69 (60.9%) from the paint,  31-64 (48.4%) from mid-range and 7-11 (63.6%) from threes during this stretch. Prior to this stretch, in 163 career games, those three percentages were 50.0%, 32.8% and 23.5%. You’d hope that such an amazing streak wouldn’t lead to bad habits long-term, but it’s such a joy to watch when its in progress. []
  5. For more about how overall No. 1 seeds have fared recently in the playoffs, I’d recommend this ESPN Insider article from Kevin Pelton on the Heat’s repeat odds. []

  • http://twitter.com/osuadamr Adam Rosen

    Straight killin it today Boot

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Another mediocre superstarless draft for the Cavaliers who will pick again in the top five. Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn!

  • mgbode

    With the talk in other places of using assets to trade for a star, I wonder if the average Cavs fan is getting a little impatient with the rebuilding efforts. If so, then how will taking a player like Noel who may not help the Cavs much next year (if at all) be received?

    Now, I think Chris Grant makes the move he feels best without regard to fans response (see: Tristan, Waiters), but I would be curious to see the aggregate response to the pick. Especially, if done at #1 overall.

  • mlawson

    I think if a true star is available via trade then you have to make the deal. i’m not considering the grangers, aldridges, or josh smiths of the world as stars. to me, it would have to be a Kevin love, Marc gasol (probably), or some other top 25 guy. if one is not available, then take nerlens, porter, or the like and continue to accumulate assets.

    btw, have your thoughts changed on shabazz especially in light of this age issue now?

  • smcoyne4

    The year we got Kyrie and TT was supposed to be a weak draft. Things turned out alright there I would say

  • mgbode

    his biggest concerns were always his maturity and his defense. his defense did look a little better in the Pac12 tourney and vs. Minny, but way too small a sample size (and Howland didn’t trust him as primary ball handler when Adams broke his ankle).

    so, the fact that his dad is crazy and shady doesn’t help the maturity angle. the fact he’s 20yo has a slight dampening effect, but not much. he’s still young. at the end of the day, if you think he is talented, then don’t let his dad effect it. Carolina isn’t complaining because Cam’s dad is shady.

    we’ll see. I still like this draft despite the guy bombing in the tourney.

  • Jaker

    Nothing on the Indiana guys? Both would be excellent picks for us.

  • JacobWFNY

    Not today, @ea160ee8a4ebd1df06f357383fccbcc1:disqus. Wanted to focus on some of the more topical changes. Both @ClevTA and I have written about Zeller and Oladipo a few times by now. I like Oladipo quite a bit, but don’t think Zeller is a fit at all. What makes you intrigued?

  • JacobWFNY

    I know we’ve talked before about Shabazz, but along with the LA Times story, things like this concern me too:

    http://hoopvision.blogspot.com/2013/03/shabazzs-rebounding.html

  • mlawson482

    great link. sadly, behind his scoring (mediocre efficiency), rebounding is a relative strength for shabazz. don’t get me started on his passing/court vision, defensive metrics (stls, blocks), or attitude. not to mention that he is 18 months older than most other freshmen…

  • mgbode

    and DeRozan may end up being a good comparison for Shabazz in the NBA. he has more potential than that (much longer reach, bigger, stronger frame), but that’s up to him.

    the fact that he didn’t find a way to step up w/o Adams is the bigger concern to me.

  • mgbode

    his efficiency is actually pretty good for a freshman. 18pts on 14shots per game is efficient. despite age, you have to factor in that it’s his first year at this level of play.

    he obviously is a risk. and a pretty big one.

  • mlawson482

    but shabazz isn’t really a freshman, he should be an old sophomore! this is similar to OJ mayo who put up decent #s as a 20 year old freshman at USC, then has had a mediocre NBA career.

    here’s a pretty good article that Sums up shabazz using advanced metrics:

    http://shutupandjam.net/2013/03/18/shabazz-muhammad-the-second-coming-of-o-j-mayo/

  • JacobWFNY

    A hybrid of OJ Mayo and DeMar DeRozan with more length, slightly better rebounding (as bad as he is), and more defensive potential sounds about right to me. He’s not that athletic. Just a potentially great scorer. Still seems like a potential fit though. Mayo’s gonna make some money on the open market after his impressive year with Dallas. DeRozan’s finally coming into his own in Toronto too.

  • mgbode

    you cannot blindly use age. i had already discussed in accordance w/ Otto Porter. you can use it as a partial determining factor, but you cannot blindly say he should act like a sophomore because he was a year older. you still have to adjust to the level of competition.

    OJ Mayo is not a terrible comparison, though Shabazz is better at getting to the rim and is much stronger.

    again though, I think Shabazz has enough length to play SF in the NBA.

  • mlawson482

    my point is that I wouldn’t use a top 3 pick on a mayo/derozan clone (e.g., 14 PER SG). maybe if we trade up from the lakers pick, then that’s OK. but, I would much rather go with Noel, porter, maybe mclemore, etc. as opposed to Shabazz.

    I also think that Shabazz being a potentially great scorer is a bit of a stretch. Could he average 18 per 40 mins on 44% shooting (similar to what he’s doing now in college)? Perhaps. I don’t think he’ll transform into a 24 per 40 on 50%+ shooting while living at the ft line. nothing in his current #s, shooting #s, size, or athletic ability indicates as such.

  • JacobWFNY

    Overall, I agree with you sir. I’ve maintained that Noel is 1A and McLemore is 1B in this draft, with everyone else way behind. After them, ya, Porter is probably the best for Cleveland. Maybe Oladipo then after that and before Shabazz.

    To me, “potentially great” might have some different meaning. There only are 20 qualified players in the NBA that are averaging 18+ points per game. It was 24 last season and 28 the year before that. So yeah, that seems pretty solid to me still. Nearly the best scorer on a team, which would be excellent with Kyrie.

  • mgbode

    18pts in 30min/game, 6FTs per game, 38% 3pt shooting

    I do understand your arguments against him and he didn’t do himself many favors down the stretch. The problem was Porter (and really all the NBA prospects) was also bad down the stretch as well.

  • CARL

    OJ mayo is 16th among SGs in PER and is having a”career year.” Demar D is 23rd among SGs. not sure I’d want to draft a player top 5 who is in the same sentence as these two stiffs…

  • JacobWFNY

    Another good Shabazz link for @mgbode:disqus and @b9601519c42ab8d97ad80ffe06c93fdb:disqus (assuming you both have insider):

    http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/story/_/page/PerDiem-130329/nba-shabazz-muhammad-overrated