Category 2 (A&B) Fives: Outlier Athleticism/Tools
(Skills: Finishing +PNR Dive Gravitational Lob-Catching, Rim-Running, Rebounding, Rim Protection)
- Anthony Davis (Freshman) #1
- DeAndre Jordan (Freshman) #35
- Andre Drummond (Freshman) #9
- Hassan Whiteside (Freshman) #33
- Rudy Gobert (International) #27
- Steven Adams (Freshman) #12
- Nerlens Noel (Freshman) #6
- Willie Cauley-Stein (Junior) #6
*Not Included: Dwight Howard (best example), Tyson Chandler
I. What Sets Them Apart
This archetype has outlier physical traits via positional size, length and/or athleticism that provide a sizable physical advantage down low. The five spot is the one position where raw athleticism and elite size/length can still win at the expense of skill level and feel offensively. That’s because impact perimeter players who are outlier athletes/possess outlier tools are typically on-ball players and require ball-skills to thrive, whereas fives don’t have to be on-ball players to be plus contributors.
Per offensive real plus minus, only 16 “fives” had positive ratings last season:
In contrast, 58+ had positive defensive RPM ratings last year, with 38+ accruing total RPM plusses. It’s just one 1 number metric, but it supports the eye test which is big man defense is more important than big man offense in most instances, and it’s easier to be a plus overall player with the plus defender + merely average to below average offensive route than vice versa.
That’s not to say offense isn’t important. You have to be able to bring something to the table offensively as a big. Bigs with elite athleticism do in most instances if they have respectable hands in the form of gravitational lob catching that sucks in the defense diving in pick and roll setting hard screens, forcing the help side (typically wing) defender to make a decision to either rotate down to help defend the lob or stick with a shooter, which opens up an area of exploitation. There is a big difference between average athletes who can defend but are unskilled and elite athletes who can catch lobs but are largely unskilled.
As you’ll notice with subcategories above Anthony Davis presides in his own section. You can make an argument for Davis in the category 1 playmaking section or unicorn section to come, but this suits his main contributing factor the best: insane fluid + explosive athleticism. Davis is a rare athlete for his size who is fluid, coordinated and tremendously agile to pair with plus explosiveness. He’s the best dual threat pick and roll finisher in the league with the ability to roll hard to the rim and catch lobs with an incredible catch radius and pop for jumpers/threes.
Davis is different from the others on this list because he’s 1) skilled being a former point guard + can dribble 2) he can support high usage creating offense for himself and 3) his shot chart looks like this, which means he has a semblance of range:
The other 7 players are restricted area finishers only for the most part outside of a few exceptions (Noel has some passing/dribbling skill, Gobert can pass a little and both WCS and Whiteside have flashed midrange shooting ability). Largely though these players are gravitational wide catch radius lob catchers that dive hard to the rim in PNR who all have elite athleticism or elite physical tools (or both). Jordan, Drummond and Adams are all physical freaks with incredible frames. Cauley-Stein and Noel are agility/speed monsters who are elite vertical and horizontal athletes. Gobert and Whiteside both have outlier length/reach that enable them to deter shots at the rim.
Overall, these non-Davis players aren’t primary initiators, and are likely third options in any elite offense. You can’t throw the ball to any one of these players outside of Davis and ask them to create a shot, because none are especially gifted post players, passers, or dribblers. These are lob dunkers on offense who provide plus big man defense either via perimeter/space defense or elite rim protection (or both). They simply out-athletic or out-physical other bigs, and their roles don’t require a high skill level. When you get a big with both elite athleticism and plus skill, you get Anthony Davis, a generational prospect.
2015/16 Regular Season Paint Touches Per Game (Fives: Non-Inclusive)
- As in the previous post on playmaking fives, it’s always prudent to see where bigs get their touches. As expected by the intro, most of these players are limited restricted area players, so it’s unsurpising a majority of their touches come in the paint.
- Davis is the most perimeter based player here, ergo the lower paint touch total, while Noel was relegated to playing a lot of 4 last year next to Okafor, extending his touches out more.
2015/16 Regular Season Restricted Area Finishing (Fives: Non-Inclusive, Sorted By Attempts)
- For any limited skill/range player, finishing is crucial to provide offensive contribution. This is especially true for outlier athletic bigs who generate basically all of their direct offensive contribution by finishing and all their indirect contribution by the threat of their finishing.
- Jordan and Whiteside as seen below are truly elite rim-rocking finishers, while Davis and Noel are similarly outstanding in the restricted area.
- Drummond’s finishing % is below expectation, as he’s almost in Cousins territory (who notably gets his shot blocked a ton) and he’s a far better vertical athlete.
- Gobert’s figure is likely the most troubling however. Gobert doesn’t command the same gravitational respect as a rim roller as most of the other guys here, and considering he’s a restricted area player only his finishing needs to improve to offer some kind of offensive contribution outside of small positive passing indicators.
B.Gravitational Lob-Catching as PNR Dive Man/Cutting
2015/16 Regular Season PNR Roll Man Playtype
- As touched on above this is the main direct contribution offensively for this archetype: setting good screens and diving hard in pick and roll to either finish lob catches or draw defenders in. This playtype is often at least part of the fulcrum for a player’s respective offense, which is why you see the high frequencies.
- Jordan is probably the best lob catcher of all time, which is why you see some (deep sigh) say he’s the best offensive big in the league/best shooter in the league. Whiteside similarly provides elite finishing.
- Cauley-Stein quietly put up excellent metrics here for a rookie, and he largely played the 4 next to a traditional 5 because the Kings usually play two traditional bigs out of spite to me personally. Imagine what he could do in a spread PNR system. He’s the fastest diver in the league who also possesses elite bounce and catch radius.
2015/16 Regular Season Transition Playtype
- Finishing on rim runs before the defense sets beating less mobile bigs down the floor carries plus value, and it’s unsurprising to see these high-caliber athletes succeed and succeed often here.
- A lot of the times these guys are taking the ball out of the net or involved in the defensive rebound, so there is less leaking out on the break. Guys who play more 4 such as Davis, Noel, and WCS thus have higher possession numbers here.
2015/16 Regular Season Cuts Playtype
- Finishing on cuts is another way for these players to provide offensive value in a garbage man role. Jordan and Whiteside again rate out on an elite level here.
- Gobert’s inefficiency stands out again from a finishing perspective.
D.Duck In Threats/Not Skilled Post Players
2015/16 Regular Season Post Up Playtype
- As stated in the intro, these players are not go-to options where you can just throw the ball into the post and expect routine baskets, ergo the lesser frequency and total possessions for most.
- The only really high usage post player here is Drummond, and he’s not efficient (his FT rate on posts is poor but that’s a good thing for him).
- The extent of the post up threat for most here is simply on duck-ins against mismatches. Unfortunately for most, teams will immediately foul them on-ball in that scenario and risk foul line attempts.
E.Rebounding/Putbacks;Low Assists; Low Usage
2015/16 Regular Season Assorted Stats (Fives: Sorted by Rebounding Rate)
- Drummond, Whiteside and Jordan are the 3 best rebounders in basketball due to their positional size, vertical athleticism and frame. Drummond is an all-time outlier good offensive rebounder. Rebounding was a big concern for WCS coming out with mere average metrics, but he played so much 4 next to traditional 5s (including Cousins) it’s hard to assess clearly.
- Notice the sizable minus assist rates here. Whiteside notably is a comically bad passer (or a comically unwilling one). Gorbert and Noel both show flashes, and for Davis to take the next step he needs to start creating offense for others.
- Davis really separates himself most of all with heavy offensive usage and corresponding scoring efficiency with range extending out beyond the arc.
2015/16 Regular Season Put Back Playtype
- This is basically the Drummond section to outline the dominant offensive rebounding, but notice the high frequency from Whiteside and Gobert, the two longest players listed.
2015/16 Regular Season DBPM (Fives: Non-Inclusive)
2015/16 Regular Season DRPM (Fives: Non-Inclusive)
2015/16 Regular Season Rim Protection Stats
- Gobert is the best rim protector in basketball. With such elite drop-back rim coverage it doesn’t matter in most matchups that he struggles to guard in space (but the elite teams will exploit that).
- Davis, WCS, Noel and Adams all play plus perimeter defense with the ability to slide in space and switch onto smaller players, so them possessing above average rim protection marks rounds out their all-around defensive contributions. Davis’ defense from a consistent energy perspective seemed to tail off last year. He is capable of more than he showed.
- Jordan and Whiteside should probably be more drop-back PNR guys but Rivers uses DJ a lot in more aggressive hedging schemes as he has the lateral quicks to play at the point of attack in mostly trapping and recover schemes. Whiteside is the best shot-blocker in basketball, but he struggles with the mental game in consistently getting out on shooters guarding the perimeter (watch Miami v GSW last year) and jumps at everything down low. He’s still a plus defender however, despite the debate between shot-blocking v. shot-altering/smart flinching.
- Drummond’s mark is the only negative one here, which supports the eye test that despite the physical gifts he has a long way to go on defense.
II. College Indicators/Translations
- Davis: Davis has optimal size for a 4, which he’s played a lot of in his career, but has the plus wingspan and in-the-ballpark standing reach to man the 5 spot. Considering how the league is going, Davis is an ideal 5.
- Jordan: DJ has excellent positional size at 6’11” 250 with outlier length and reach. His sprint testing also jumped off the page for someone his size.
- Drummond: Drummond tested with a gargantuan sub 7 foot 279 frame with a plus wingspan and reach to pair with an elite no step vert and lane agility. He really underwhelmed from a skill and motor perspective at UConn but every once in a while an athlete at this size comes around which overshadows that.
- Whiteside: Whiteside’s wingspan and reach is outlier good to pair with excellent height. Whiteside did have more frame issues at 227 than some of the other types but also threw in tremendously wide hands.
- Gobert: Gobert’s measurables across the board are some of the best of all time for a 5. He’s the longest player in the league which obviously pops on tape. He didn’t test especially well as he’s not an elite athlete, but the tools were generational.
- Adams: Adams had a chiseled frame for his age to pair with excellent height and checked the length boxes. He also threw in large hands.
- Noel: Noel’s measurements were above average for a 5 outside of his diminutive 206 pound frame which concerned some scouts at the time (including my naive at the time self)
- Cauley-Stein: WCS doesn’t have the insane length as the other prospects but compensates with an elite no step vert, agility and sprint score. His testing was off the charts, and he at least checked the boxes competently measurables-wise for a 5.
2.40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
- Davis: Davis was a hyper-efficient college player in Kentucky, affording outlier good 2pt% (crazy finisher), a promising FT%, elite rebounding and outlier steal and block figures. The “Stocks” were historically good for Davis, and from both the stats and eye test he looked like an elite defensive prospect. His assist number was also respectable, as it should have been for a former point guard (my mindless absolutism).
- Jordan: Jordan didn’t have any outlier positive indicator in his profile, but had three sizable negatives: FT%, assists and steals. The block number even didn’t blow anyone away, rendering Jordan mostly just a physical upside project.
- Drummond: Drummond profiled similar to Jordan but with a troubling 2pt% (not outlier bad but not good for his size). His FT% was historically bad and his assists were below average. At least Drummond’s block number was more promising than Jordan’s.
- Whiteside: Whiteside’s block number was the best of all time for a 5, and he also had elite rebounding in his profile along with respectable scoring at a smaller school. Whiteside’s 2pt% was outlier poor however, which could have a been a result of shot selection. His assists were non-existent, which definitely translated.
- Gobert: I only included Gobert’s stats from his season right before getting drafted, also the only season he got consistently high minutes in. His finishing was outlier positive, and his indicators in FT%, steals and blocks were also promising.
- Adams: Adams’ scoring and FT% were outlier poor, and he didn’t have anything elite in his profile. He did have above average metrics in basically every other category.
- Noel: Similar to Adams Noel’s scoring and FT% were large negatives, but he compensated with an all-time steals mark and an outlier block figure. His assists were also the highest on this list. Noel overall looked like a dynamite defensive 5 and pure rim-runner/lob catcher.
- Cauley-Stein: WCS really took until his Junior year to look like a lottery pick, which probably threatened his stature with the analytics community. His steal numbers especially were outstanding, and his blocks were above average to elite. The issue with WCS was the average rebounding and lack of scoring.
- Davis: Davis’ efficiency stats in terms of shooting and finishing were outstanding. Davis also threw in the only positive outlier A/TO ratio here, indicative of his creation and decision-making.
- Jordan: Jordan’s profile was pretty clean in terms of shooting (basically finishing) and drawing fouls, but he unsurprisingly sported a negative A/TO.
- Drummond: Drummond’s shooting (FT% & 2pt%) was outlier poor, as was his A/TO ratio. He didn’t even get to the line at an average rate.
- Whiteside: Whiteside’s shooting similar to Drummond was outlier poor, but he did get to the line more effectively. His A/TO is one of the all-time worst.
- Gobert: Gobert’s shooting/finishing was historically positive (but weigh in French league). He got to the line around average and was below average in A/TO.
- Adams: Adams was average shooting and decision-making wise, but was poor getting to the line.
- Noel: Noel was consistently above average across the board but threw in a quietly promising A/TO.
- Cauley-Stein: WCS profiled similar to Noel in his later career.
- None of these players sported an elite usage rate, and Adams, Gobert and WCS all had negative outliers. This again shouldn’t surprise with the lack of initiation/creation.
Block % (Since Inception)
DBPM (Since Inception)
BPM (Since Inception)
- Davis’ finishing was at a legendary level at Kentucky. He also had respectable numbers in 2ptj% and on unassisted 2pt jumper volume. WCS at least showed he could take some jump shots his junior year.
- Plus Defensive Profile/Rim Protection
- Elite Finishing
- Plus Rebounding
- First Contract Translation: Starter, All-Star Yrs 2-4
- Above Average Defensive/Rebounding Profile
- Minus Passer
- Minus Shooter/FT
- First Contract Translation: Rotation
- Above Average Defensive/Rebounding Profile
- Minus Passer
- Minus Shooter/FT
- First Contract Translation: Rotation Y1, Starter Yrs 2-4, All-Star Yr 4
- Elite Shotblocking
- Above Average Defensive Profile
- Minus Passer
- First Contract Translation: Fringe Rotation
- Above Average Defensive Profile
- First Contract Translation: Rotation Yrs 1-2, Starter Y3
- Above Average Defensive Profile
- Minus Shooter/FT
- First Contract Translation: Rotation Yr 1, Starter Yrs 2-3
- Elite Defensive Steals/Blocks Profile
- Decent Decision-Making/Passing
- Minus Shooting/FT
- First Contract Translation: Starter
- Cauley-Stein: Too Early
- Gamble on Rare Athleticism/Tools Here If You’re Going To: As stated in the intro, this is the one position where gambling on upside via outlier athleticism and/or tools makes sense at the expense of skill/feel based on what role this archetype typically fills on the floor. Defense is paramount however.
- Importance of Development/Character: We too often talk about just talent in prospect evaluation and not enough about what makes a player tick/the situation the player is put into. It makes a lot of sense as most of us are “video scouts”not privy to this information, but the real hard part of scouting is information gathering and finding out what really drives a player. DJ, Whiteside and Gobert all fell because of off the court concerns in some capacity. Whiteside fell out of the league as a whole for 2 years. This isn’t as easy as “player x is a freak athlete for his size, let’s draft him!” Everything is a risk. It just has to be calculated and based on factors that aren’t just talent/pure athleticism based. This artchetype also busts too!
Next Up: Category 3 Fives: “Unicorns”
*Stats derived from NBA.Com, Draftexpress.Com, Sports-Reference.Com, Hoop-Math.Com, ESPN.Com, Basketball-Reference.Com.