The NBA draft is weird. Every year intelligent professionals who choose who plays basketball for their team for a living make some baffling choices when their turn in the spotlight comes up.
For instance, back in 2009 David Kahn, a fella whose decision-making was apparently strong enough to get him through NYU Law, decided to use all three of his three first round picks on point guards - one of whom was vocal about not wanting to play for Kahn's team.
Meanwhile, a 20-year-old beast of a power forward who rebounded everything in sight dropped like a rock because of some supposed knee problems.
Often times in the draft, it doesn't really take retrospect to see things clearly. During that NCAA season leading up to the draft, DeJuan Blair dominated the eventual number two pick Hasheem Thabeet in the draft head-to-head. He out-produced every player taken ahead of him aside from Blake Griffin. But whether it was because of Thabeet's height or Byron Mullen's age or Victor Claver's international mystique, Blair lasted until the 37th pick when he was a clear lottery talent.
It was all several players taken ahead of him could do to last a second NBA season, and one never even came to the country. But five seasons later, Blair has the 10th highest win shares in his draft class. It was predictable. The information was all there, it just depended on what information you invested in.
This year's NBA Draft point guard group has some similarities to that draft.
Three point guards went in the top 10, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, and Elfrid Payton. While they're athletic and potentially dynamic players, they're all poor shooters and passers. Rather important skills for a point guard.
Measurably, the best point guard prospect from this class may have been one taken outside of the lottery - and perhaps not even in the first round.
Draft Express did a full breakdown of the numbers for this year's point guard draft class - though Pistons pick Spencer Dinwiddie is not included in that group. And I wanted to check out the top players taken from the position and see what foresight tells us with a few key numbers, looking at their age when the season starts, size, shooting, and passing. Exum doesn't have many numbers to offer, but the ones used were from his 9 FIBA games last year.
|Name||Age (start of season)||Height||Weight||Wingspan||Points/40 pace adjusted||True shooting %||3pt/40 pace adusted||3pt %||Assists/40 pace adjusted||A/TO||Steals|
Part of Exum's appeal is his elite size for point guard, which Spencer Dinwiddie matches. Smart and Payton also have nice height, but still fall short of Dinwiddie. The three lottery picks also have a nice wingspan for the position, but Dinwiddie's is right there with them. Any of the three would have been the tallest and longest wingspan in last year's point guard class.
Interestingly, in a world where offense is usually the most important factor for prospects, the defense in this group should be solid. Smart and Payton both look like plus defenders, as do Dinwiddie and Exum. Ennis and Napier aren't likely to be as tough as the rest of the group, but compared to the typical draft class they'd likely look more impressive.
Ennis is the only non-scorer and Exum put up a lot of points against younger competition. The rest are only separated by less than 2 points per 40 minutes. But the key is how efficiently they do it. 55 percent true shooting is about average for a point guard, so Exum, Smart, and Payton can put the ball in the hoop but with middling efficiency. Napier's is solid. Kyle Korver led the NBA last year at 65 percent, and Dinwiddie's was better.
It's difficult to overstate just how efficient Dinwiddie was last year. Between knocking down free throws like a machine (seven attempts per game at 85 percent) and elite 3-point shooting, he put up 1.9 points for every field goal attempt. By comparison, Smart's was 1.44. So presumably, if each took 10 shots, Dinwiddie would score about five more points.
Dinwiddie did only play 17 games last season, so it stands to reason that there would likely be some regression. Just the same, it's very easy to see why Chad Ford called him the anti-Brandon Jennings.
I mentioned that the three lottery picks couldn't shoot. Though they all averaged a couple 3 pointers each game, it took them a lot of tries to get them. Ennis put up a modest 35 percent, but Napier and Dinwiddie were the only two who could be categorized as good shooters last year.
While none put up the kind of truly impressive assist totals that we've seen in the past few years from the likes of Michael Carter-Williams or Kendall Marshall, Ennis' total body of work as a passer is impressive. 6.7 assists per 40 minutes adjusted for pace is decent, but alongside only two turnovers is fantastic for a freshman. But each of the lottery picks combined both low assist numbers with high turnovers - rather reminiscent of Brandon Knight's college career. And Napier's passing numbers paint the picture of a scoring point guard.
Dinwiddie settles down in a nice in-between. He's not the extreme pass-first point guard that Ennis is, but he's also shows more point guard instinct than Exum, Smart, Payton, or Napier.
The three lottery picks and Ennis are all underclassmen, set to be 19 or 20 when the season opens. Dinwiddie may not need a fake ID to get into a bar, but isn't much older. When it comes to the draft, age and upside are supposed to be related - but in truth, they're cousins rather than siblings. Yeah, Napier's an old dog that probably won't learn any new tricks. But is it really very likely that over the next year or two Exum, Smart, and Payton will suddenly learn how to shoot and pass?
Potential upside is only as valuable as its likelihood to come to fruition. Ennis going from shooting 35 percent from three as a freshman to a reliable shooter in the pros seems much more likely than Smart developing into one after four threes a game last year.
There's a lot of guessing in the draft and you never know what a player will look like once they step on the court in the NBA. DeJuan Blair never became the best big man out of his draft class. But he has been a solid professional player, which is the name of the game in the draft.
And Blair isn't the only way that this year's draft may resemble 2009. That year was loaded with point guards, several of whom resemble prospects from this year's class. It's always been peculiar to me how Exum and Smart were dubbed such brilliant prospects with the billing never questioned, despite their similarities to flawed prospects like Ricky Rubio and Tyreke Evans. And Payton looked nice as a pick in the 20s, but 10 is another story.
While any of them could develop into great players, if I'm looking to name a player as the best point guard prospect in the draft class, I'd pick one who can play defense, shoot, and pass. They've each got one. A couple will probably be able to do two, maybe even all three. But Dinwiddie is the only one who already offers all three.
We hope you've enjoyed today's dose of Kool-Aid. Cheers.