Category 2 Fours: Offensive Playmakers
(Skills: Shot Creation/Dribbling,Post Up/Iso, Passing, Shooting Threat)
- Kevin Love (Freshman) #5
- Josh McRoberts (Sophomore) #37
- Jabari Parker (Freshman) #2
- Trey Lyles (Freshman) #12
- Dario Saric (Freshman) #12
*Not included: Dirk Nowitzki, who is the generational prototype here.
I. What Sets Them Apart
This archetype is constructed similarly to category 1 fours in bigs possessing perimeter skills via handling, passing and the threat stretch shooting. The main difference is the defensive end of the ball, where these players are one-way offensive contributors, rendering very specific roster fits a necessity. Offensive playmaking 4s require either a pairing next to a dynamic rim protector at the 5 spot, or unique surrounding perimeter defense. This special fit requirement makes team building from the ground up more difficult, as position flexibility and the general player pool selection wise in the draft, free agency or trades are more limited.
As is the general rule with any one-way player, you have to be excellent on that one side to be an impact player. You could argue at his peak Dirk was a two-way player with slightly above average defense, but I’m slotting him here as he was never a plus perimeter defender sliding laterally, wasn’t a plus rim protector and played most of his peak in the pre-pace and space pick and roll dominant era, which would have exposed his defense more. He was still clearly an impact, top 5 player in the league, and a #1 player on a title team because of his offensive acumen. He’s the best offensive 4 of his generation, as the best big man shooter of all time with the handling ability and fluidity to create his shot over any defense at his size with that high release point. I doubt we’ll see another player like Dirk in the foreseeable future, and similarly, a player of this build be a #1 player on a title team. Dirk is truly one of a kind, and still had to be slotted next to a plus defensive 5 like Tyson Chandler to find ultimate title success.
Love is the more recent figurehead here, and his career arc has been a fascinating case study. With enough offensive usage, Love showed in Minnesota he could be an elite enough contributor on that end to outweigh his defensive shortcomings. With less offensive usage in Cleveland in essentially being relegated to a spot up role with his elbow touches sliced by more than a third, Love’s impact took a hit, making the plus offense and minus defense far more leveled out. You can chalk a lot of Love’s lack of finishing inside last season (especially in the playoffs) to back injury, but the role reduction certainly impacted him.
Some might be surprised to see McRoberts on this list, and given his curb-off in Miami mostly due to injuries that’s probably fair. But in his peak in Charlotte McRoberts was one of the premiere offensive playmaking 4s over the last half decade, armed with incredible passing and enough off the bounce with the threat of his shot to be a focal point in Charlotte’s offense at the point of attack in pick and pop situations.
The rest of this tier is primarily made up of prospect projections in Parker, Lyles and Saric. Parker has a rare explosion + burst combination for the position, with an excellent handle and better scoring acumen than he’s displayed over his injury laden NBA career thus far. Lyles has never gotten the stage to showcase his incredibly underrated passing to pair with his fluid handle, as he played out of position at Kentucky surrounded by stars and didn’t have the usage in Utah behind their two primary bigs. Saric hasn’t played a minute in the league yet but has rare point forward skills passing the ball.
You can make a case for players like Frank Kaminsky and Marvin Williams in this tier for respective reasons. Kaminsky can put the ball on the floor and shoot, but I’d argue his elongated spin move on his drive is too slow for him to really thrive in the league as a playmaker. Williams on the other hand showed an ability to attack closeouts last year and finish on drives, but he’s a late bloomer who learned this very recently in his career and it’s difficult to assess his defensive acumen in Clifford’s scheme (one of the best in basketball). Similar to LeBron in category 1 you could definitely argue Carmelo in category 2 here. I think this is his *ideal* position, but I’m including him as a wing based on precedent and his skill-set still translating there, albeit not optimally.
There is also delineation betweent his category and guys like Markieff Morris and Thaddues. All of these players have handling, shooting threat and post up ability with good agility, but this category either has proven to be or projects to be superior creators (Parker, Lyles and Saric being young guys who can develop into that ceiling). This superior creation is reflected with more advanced passing (Saric, Lyles) and general scoring (Parker).
Overall, if you’re a big man who can’t defend in space, you are going to get exploited in today’s NBA in most cases. This holds true more with 5s than 4s due to lack of versatility, but it still applies here. Thus, you have to be good enough offensively as a playmaker/creator to off-set that defensive deficiency in order to be a plus contributor. These players either have displayed that ability or project to do in some capacity.
2013/14 Regular Season Drives Per Game
2015/16 Regular Season Drives Per Game
- I included the 2013/14 season in some of these attributes to showcase McRoberts at his peak.
- As seen above Love is far more like Griffin in playmaking out of elbow situations than attacking closeouts behind the arc.
- Notice Parker’s drives per game and his FG% out of those situations. Also Lyles and McRoberts on a per minute basis would have much higher drive marks. Parker and Lyles both have advanced handles for their position and age.
2015/16 Regular Season PNR Ball-Handler Playtype
- Parker is the only player on the above list who had a qualified amount of PNR BH possessions last season. He wasn’t especially efficient finishing in those situations last year, likely because defenders just went under and forced him into low % long twos, but the sheer usage illuminates his ability to handle the ball.
2015/16 Regular Season Isolation Playtype
- Love is the most adept pure scorer by a wide margin (until Parker develops), and it’s no surprise he has the best isolation finishing metrics.
- Love and Lyles both have incredibly low iso frequency due mostly to role and scheme.
2013/14 Regular Season Assist Rate (Fours)
- McRoberts had virtually the same assist rate in 2013/14 as Draymond this past season, showcasing just how elite of a passer he was, especially on the move (via the eye test).
- Love is a very adept passer as well in tight spaces operating around the arc or in the post. He’s of course similarly adept on outlets.
2015/16 Regular Season Assist Rate (Fours)
- Jabari and Lyles both have poor assist rates, some of which you can chalk up to youth and role. The latter is the more developed passer, and it’s fair to question if the former ever gets there.
2015/16 Regular Season Spot Up Playtype
- Love has easily the best metrics here as spot up shooter, and honestly Love should be an even better shooter than he is getting what I’d argue is the highest shot quality in the league playing next to LeBron with spacing.
- Notice the high possession amount and frequency for Lyles especially here, which is a direct correlation with role. Lyles plays next to elite wings, and was relegated to the corners a lot his rookie year in Utah’s motion scheme as a spot up guy. Parker didn’t shoot a ton of threes, which really capped his efficiency upside off the catch shooting mostly from midrange.
Kevin Love 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart
- Love takes a ton of threes in the Cavs’ spread system and again should shoot better than he does given his quality of looks. Notice the drop off in finishing efficiency.
Jabari Parker 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart
- This is one of the worst looking shot charts you’ll ever see, both from a shot location (lack of threes) and efficiency standpoint. The Bucks really need to take the training wheels off and let Jabari start shooting threes, an absolutely crucial component to his ceiling outcome.
- Jabari is a plus finisher at the rim, and has the speed/burst/vertical explosion/handle combination to get there often and convert.
Trey Lyles 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart
- The first thing that stands out is Lyles’ corner 3pt proficiency, displaying his ability to spot up surrounding either Favors or Gobert in pick and roll. He’ll need to improve more above the break because that’s where his looks will come in pick and pop situations to unleash his creation ability. Lyles doesn’t have the same level of athleticism as Parker, and will likely struggle more as a finisher, rendering his passing that much more imperative on the move.
2015/16 Regular Season Post Up Playtype
- The not-so-secret lifebood of the modern 4, it’s not surprising that all of these players show at least positive flashes in that area. Love kills mismatches inside with the strength and touch to bully smaller players and draw fouls even though he doesn’t have near the lift or agility anymore post back injuries. Parker is a bull inside who can put smaller players in the basket. Lyles can do the same, albeit the sample here is comically small (he showcased this ability in college, although he mostly played the 3 spot and devoured smaller wings).
2015/16 Regular Season Defensive Rebounding Rate (Fours)
- This is one of the areas Love really separates himself from the group and adds plus value on defense in being one of the best and highest IQ rebounders to come around in some time.
- Parker showed better rebounding ability in college than Lyles, though again that was situation dependant with Lyles playing with two towers. Both are minus rebounders at this level and need to get far closer to their positional average to add some non-offensive value. McRoberts has never been a plus rebounder.
G.Minus Rim Protection
2015/16 Regular Season Rim Protection Stats
- Not a lot of time needs to be allocated to numbers when assessing the defensive limitations of these players. We don’t need to see minus DBPM or DRPM to see that Lyles looked incredibly lost on D his rookie year, Parker has bambi legs moving in space, and both Love and McRoberts don’t have the agility or length to be average there (putting Love’s outlier defensive space play in space against Curry in Game 7 aside).
- It should be no surprise that none of these players are even respectable protecting the rim, which triggers the aforementioned necessary roster fit next to a rim protecting big. I don’t put a ton of stock in McRobert’s limited sample positive rim protection mark as it is atypical for his career.
H.Love’s Prime Separation
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t give Love more offensive credit at his peak. Love was #2 in the league in elbow touches per game in 2013/14 with Minnesota, showing the ability to be a pseudo primary initiator there and have the offense run through him. He also threw in elite foul drawing metrics, getting to the line 10.6 times per 100 possessions, and has always had a nose for contact jumping into players. Love was an incredibly gifted and sizable plus on offense with higher usage and pre-apparent injuries, and is the figurehead for a big still being able to be a plus overall player with elite offense and minus defense.
II. College Indicators/Translations
- Love and McRoberts both had unathletic frames entering the league that required a lot of reshaping. Love especially did a ton of work on his body over the years. I’d guess Jabari was a bit over desired body fat as well, but to a lesser extent.
- McRoberts’ and Saric have excellent size for a modern 4, but Saric has outlier bad length with an even height to wingspan ratio. None of the above players have standout length, and Jabari is the only real plus athlete.
2.40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
- Love: Love was an elite offensive prospect, posting elite metrics in scoring output, scoring efficiency, shooting effiency and rebounding. His steal and block numbers also were average level, not outlier bad, but given his athleticism limitations it was probably fair to doubt his long-term plus impact on that side of the ball. Love’s flashy outlet passes were always his trademark via the eye test, but there was a whole lot more to his profile than highlight transition passes.
- McRoberts: McRoberts was nowhere near the across the board prospect of Love, posting average scoring, shooting, and questionable rebounding marks. There were plus indicators (3pt shooting his Freshman year, blocks his Sophomore year) as well as minus indicators (rebounding his freshman year, 3pt shooting his Sophomore year). His most promising indicator was his generally great assist numbers, especially his Sophomore year, which translated.
- Parker: Parker didn’t have a true negative indicator across the board while showing elite scoring ability and relatively plus shooting indicators. His finishing numbers were a little low via 2pt%, but his combination of speed and vertical explosiveness as a finisher erased some of those concerns. His steal and block numbers weren’t outlier bad either, but his defense looked far worse on film. His scoring prowess was evident.
- Lyles: Noone suffered stats wise based on role more than Lyles, who played out of position at the 3 spot next to Towns and Cauley-Stein, Towns of who of course garnered the focus of the offense (aside from the ball-dominant twins of course). Lyles also sported a negative combination of steals/blocks and 3pt%, which is the analytical nightmare for a modern big. For shooting you had to dig deeper via 2pt jumper % and the above average FT% to believe in the shooting (as well as the aesthetics).
- Saric: Saric has consistently plus passing indicators in basically every season, which supports the eye test of a point-forward type. His shooting has mostly been on an average to above average level, and given his athletic/speed limitations he’ll need to be a plus shooter to be an impact guy in the league. It’s not surprising Saric has negative block numbers with his lack of length and vertical athleticism. His value defensively stems from general toughness with the ability to fight in the post, but that only gets you so far if you aren’t great moving laterally and can’t protect the rim. It’s difficult to see Saric being a plus defender in the league.
- Love: Love’s profile was really anchored here again with elite shooting, foul-drawing and a plus but non-elite decision-making A/TO metric for a big. Love’s stat profile didn’t have any holes in it. His limitations were strictly athleticism-based.
- McRoberts: McBob’s efficiency numbers were above average to excellent, and his 1.43 A/TO mark his Sophomore year really stands out here.
- Parker: For a primary scorer Parer’s foul-drawing wasn’t elite, nor was his straight shooting efficiency. His biggest negative indicator on paper and in his game (outside of defense) is his passing ability. He shows flashes but I might be overly optimistic on his ceiling there.
- Lyles: Similar to Parker Lyles had solid indicators in overall shooting and foul-drawing, but conversely threw in respectable decision-making metrics. Lyles put some really promising interior passes on film, and his allure via actual 5 on 5 watching in the passing arena far outweighed his stats.
- Saric: Saric’s decision-making metrics were consistently great, but his foul-drawing and overall shooting efficiency were laden with negative indicators.
- Jabari had outlier college usage, and his ability to maintain reasonable efficiency with it profiled well for his scoring translation. Love’s usage and outstanding effiency were really promising for a freshman big man. Lyles’ negative usage isn’t a surprise given his role.
5.Hoop-Match Creation Stats
- Parker’s unassisted shooting and finishing volume were promising creation indicators. Lyles had elite finishing at the rim, which I didn’t totally buy at the time as he isn’t a bouncy athlete. Both players shot really well from midrange with plus volume (Parker’s volume was outlier high).
- Scoring Efficiency
- Usage Capability
- Elite Rebounding
- Plus Passing
- Foul Drawing
- Range Shooting Prowess
- First Contract Translation: Starter and All-Star Years 3-4.
- Below Average Scoring
- Range Capability
- Advanced Passing/Decision-Making
- Minus Rebounding
- First Contract Translation: Fringe Rotation
- Parker (Still Very Fluid)
- Scoring/Creation Profile
- Negative Assists/Decision-Making
- Minus Rebounding
- First Contract Translation: Starter
- Lyles (Too Soon)
- Promising Passing on Film/Fluid Handle
- First Contract Translation: Rotation
- Kentucky is a Draft Inefficiency: We saw this with Bledsoe on the Wall/Cousins team now with Devin Booker and Lyles on the loaded Towns/Cauley-Stein team. Kentucky is sometimes so laden with talent that it’s easy to miss positive traits of some high level recruits.
- Upside on a Title Team?: I’d wager the typical upside of this player archetype on a title team is 3 or 4, with outlier outcomes like Dirk aside. Love was pretty clearly the 3rd banana on the Cavaliers’ title team behind the 1st or 2nd best player of all time and Kyrie, the latter who went nuclear in games 3-7. It’s just rare that a player here can be good enough offensively to negative minus defense at a big man position. Love was an outlier good offensive prospect with elite rebounding and even he couldn’t get the Wolves to the playoffs as the top guy (there were surrounding talent limitations of course). I’d much rather have a category 3 lead guard like Harden who has negative defense than a stretch big who can’t defend in this ilk.
- Ceiling Outcome?: I’m probably too bullish on Parker’s ceiling outcome as he has never shown consistent creation ability for others and has been a poor rebounder as a pro. He just has a rare handle/burst/speed/explosion package for someone his size and I think he’s a better shooter than he’s shown. It is a bit of a stretch for sure, but given his injury history in the pros and lack of consistent role I’m betting on him taking off at his age. He came into his own somewhat down the stretch last year, and will thrive more with more three-point opportunities. Shooting will be crucial for he, Saric and Lyles moving forward.
Next Up: Category 3 Stretch 4s