2014 Draft Projection System Introduction

I make a lot of posts referencing my projection system. I’ve explained it in various places in bits and pieces. I wrote this up for the Kings’ Draft Challenge this year but was not selected, so I’m just going to post what I wrote for that, which should explain things pretty well. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.

What started out as a fantasy college basketball scoring system has proved itself over the past few years to be a useful tool in identifying which players have the best chance of succeeding at the next level. Data has only been collected for three seasons, but looking at current stars drafted before this time, the recent conclusions hold strong. Due to the genesis of the system, players are ranked by fantasy points, or FP. FP can be calculated as follows:

1 FP per point
1 FP per rebound
2 FP per assist
3 FP per steal
3 FP per block
-2 FP per turnover

It is important at the outset to acknowledge the limitations of this system. It does not yet have an objective component to account for age or level of competition, which must be accounted for. Older players and players in mid-major and low-major conferences must be adjusted downwards. Also, while it does a terrific job of identifying a group of players for which NBA success is most likely, within that group, it has trouble separating players. However, I am not aware of any system that is perfect in identifying only successful players. Therefore, rather than considering this a system that identifies the best players, I consider it a system that identifies which players are not likely to succeed, leaving a very manageable number of players, a significant amount who will be among the best in their class.

In this system, there is a simple pre-requisite for success: if you scored 30 or more FP/game in your final college season, you have a chance to succeed at the next level. This is subject to two exceptions:

1. The “under 30” exception. Players who failed to play 30 minutes a game can still qualify if they averaged 0.9 FP/minute or better.
2. The “off-guard” exception. Sometimes, point guards end up at schools that already have other point guards, and their production is limited as a result. Point guards who fail to reach 30 FP/game should not be disqualified if they were splitting PG duties or did not play PG at all.

The top 10 draft eligible players for the 2013 NBA draft were Noel, Burke, Erick Green, Carter-Williams, Porter, Pierre Jackson, Withey, Plumlee, Caldwell-Pope, and Dieng. By PER (a flawed stat in itself, but a good starting point), four of the top five rookies this season came off that list, with the fifth, Olynyk, meeting the “under 30” exception. In fact, all of the top 10 college players in PER met the pre-reqs or one of the exceptions. Going back a year, Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard graded out as the top two players in the draft and proved it, while a “sleeper” like Draymond Green graded out as a top five prospect.

Taking a longer look at things, of the top 30 players in PER this season, every single one who played in college met the pre-reqs or the exceptions. In fact, I have only been able to find one player of note who did not meet these standards: DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan played four mediocre seasons before finally breaking out this year. That appears to be the best case scenario for a player who fails to meet the above standards.

Looking at this draft, three players stand out: Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, and Kyle Anderson. Smart and Anderson were the two most productive players by FP/game in this year’s draft class. Joel Embiid outpaced both of them in FP/min. Adams and Parker round out the top five in FP/min and are both top 7 in FP/game. Those five players, due to their age and production, appear to be the clear top cut in this draft among NCAA players.

Numerous other expected high lottery picks do not fare so well. Wiggins, Gordon, Vonleh, and Randle all grade out below average. Vonleh touches the very bottom edge of the under 30 exception, while the others appear to fall short of everything. While the conventional wisdom appears to have all four of these players as top 10 picks, I would be very hesitant to take any of them. Simply put, players with their profile simply do not become stars.

Among the rest of the players, Zach LaVine may be the most difficult to gauge. On one hand, his numbers simply were not good this season. But he played limited minutes and was never able to play his primary position. Given the history of super-athletic point guards who were blocked in college (such as Eric Bledsoe), I believe LaVine needs to be given the benefit of the doubt, with the understanding that he will need development time at the next level.

In conclusion, this system has done a fantastic job identifying players who have typically not succeeded at the next level, leaving a much smaller player pool with a much higher chance of being successful at the next level. As I do not believe any analytical system can get more precise in identifying players at this point in time, I submit this system as an extremely useful tool in the draft evaluation process.