Category 5: Defense/Energy Lob Catchers

Category 5 Fives: Defense/Energy Lob Catchers

(Skills: PNR Dive Man Lob Catching/Finishing, Plus Rebounding, Rim Protection + Versatile Space Defense)

  1. Tristan Thompson (Freshman) #4
  2. Bismack Biyombo (International) #7
  3. Festus Ezeli (Senior) #30

*Also In This Category But Not Included: Ed Davis, John Henson, and Brandan Wright (All too frail to man the 5 spot for big minutes as a starter)

Update: Relocated Capela to Category 2.

I. What Sets Them Apart

This grouping is very similar to the non-Anthony Davis category 2 outlier athletes/tools from a skill-set perspective, but don’t possess those same physical qualities.  Each are predominately defensive centers who contribute offensively mostly via lob catching/finishing on dunks and rim runs.  They lack the playmaking via stretching the floor, post up usage and passing to be anything more than screen setters and PNR dive men.

Thompson is one of the most underrated players in the game (and the numbers) due to his agility and tracking ability guarding in space on the perimeter with his versatility.  No big is more adept switching and containing dribble penetration in space (see defense on Steph Curry in the Finals). He adds value on offense via his elite offensive rebounding and lob catch finishing, which helps compensate for his inability to protect the rim in plus fashion.

Biyombo pairs elite defensive rebounding with elite rim protection, while also possessing the ability to defend in space and switch.  He has poor hands on offense catching balls in traffic but is a good enough athlete to be a lob catching threat.

Capela is an ascending player who actually has non-dunk finishing touch around the rim, separating him from this group of purely dunkers.  He’s an agile athlete in space and is bouncy around the rim while checking most of the boxes as a defensive center.  With more PNR usage next to Harden, one of the premiere PNR initiators in the game, Capela is set to explode.  He also flashes some passing skill.

Ezeli has porous hands and no range/passing feel, but again has that one single offensive skill of finishing lobs.  Defensively he is a tremendous asset, providing both help and recover plus agility and elite rim protection while being an immovable post defender.

Overall, this archetype consists of low usage players who can’t create shots or playmake, relying on lob catching, rim runs and offensive rebounds to add value on that side of the floor.  Each are starting caliber players due to defensive and rebounding prowess, exemplifying another route of how bigs with minus skill can contribute in plus fashion.

A.PNR Dive Lob Catching/Finishing

2015/16 Regular Seasons Paint Touches Per Game (Fives: Non Inclusive)

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2015/16 Regular Season PNR Roll Man Playtype

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  • As non-threats outside of the restricted area, these players get almost all of their touches via paint touches, as none facilitate from the elbows or out of the post.
  • This archetype thrives in setting quality screens and quickly diving towards the rim sucking in defenders with plus finishing ability.  The frequency of finishing possessions and corresponding percentile is above average to elite for all 4 players.

Thompson 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart

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  • 93% of Thompson’s offense comes right around the rim, and he’s the best finisher of the group.

Biyombo 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart

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  • Biyombo’s finishing isn’t elite because he can’t finish non-dunk attempts, and his distribution of deep paint attempts is probably lower than expected.

Capela 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart

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  • Capela is a restricted area finisher and I’d wager his finishing efficiency will ascend this year with his plus touch.

Ezeli 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart

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  • Roughly 90% of Ezeli’s offense comes right around the basket, and playing in the Warriors’ system as a 5th option cutter next to primary offensive players enhanced his shot quality.

B.Rim Running

2015/16 Regular Season Transition Playtype

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  • Capela’s finishing ability in transition (along with most Rockets players) is curious considering he might be the most fluid athlete here, and it’s something Dantoni will likely remedy.
  • None of these players have high total possessions in this playtype, but the proficiency is evident both via numbers and the eye test with each possessing plus run and jump athleticism and the speed to outrun less mobile bigs.

C.Lack of Post Creation

2015/16 Regular Season Post Up Playtype

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  • Thompson is pretty adept on duck-ins getting position in obvious mismatches, but none of these guys are proficient/skilled post players you can just throw the ball to down low for baskets.
  • The insanely low possession totals/frequency are indicative of the fact this archetype are solely off-ball offensive players.

2015/16 Regular Season Cutting Playtype

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  • The frequency is the main takeaway here as these players get almost a third of their offense in secondary cutting/garbage man situations.

D.Rebounding/Assists/Usage

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  • Rebounding: Biyombo is one of the best rebounders and interior defensive big men in the league, armed with the frame, length and vertical explosiveness to high point balls with a plus motor.  Thompson’s play extending offensive rebounds for the Cavs makes their high usage three-point game even more proficient with more shot opportunties.  Capela and Ezeli are similarly plus offensive rebounders who hold their own on the defensive glass.
  • Usage: All of these players sport minus usage rates as off-ball players with no little to no creation.
  • Assists: None of these players are proficient passers, though from the eye test Capela shows some signs of at least being slightly below league average there.
  • TS%: As expected the scoring/shooting efficiency of Capela and Ezeli especially is marred by FT deficiencies.

2015/16 Regular Season Put Back Playtype

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  • The frequency and total possessions on putbacks is again the takeaway here, and this element is incredibly important to negate switches.  The finishing will suffer as for the most part these players are grabbed intentionally on offensive rebounds to exploit their FT deficiencies.

E.Defense

2015/16 Regular Season DBPM

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2015/16 Regular Season DRPM

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2015/16 Regular Season Defensive Rim Protection FG%

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  • Most defensive metrics love Biyombo, and he’s the most unique and versatile defender on this list with elite rim protection metrics and the ability to sink low in his stance defending at the point of attack.  Ezeli is more of a drop-back PNR type but he can help and recover, is an outstanding post defender and his rim protection ability is elite.  Capela has solid all around metrics for a young big, which definitely supports the eye test.  Thompson never rates out in elite fashion for bigs with his lack of rim protection but his perimeter defense in space is amongst the very best in the league for bigs and that component is hard to capture statistically.

II. College Indicators/Translations

1.Measurements

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  • Only Ezeli really has across the board physical tools marks for a 5 outside of an average reach.  Biyombo and Thompson are both undersized for fives, but Biyombo compensates with outlier length.  Capela needed frame development coming out but has the size and length to man the 5 spot consistently with strength acquisition.  Thompson’s lane agility drill definitely stands out and supports his lateral agility defending in space prowess from the eye test.

2.40 Minutes Pace Adjusted

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  1. Thompson: Thompson’s profile included one elite mark, offensive rebounding (shocking), surrounded by mostly solid marks in points, steals/blocks and overall rebounding.  His 2pt% was on the lower end for a big, largely due to his lack of skill/range, which was also reflected in his outlier poor FT%.
  2. Biyombo: In the ACB league Biyombo’s block number really stands out as one of the better all time marks for a 5.  His points, rebounds, and steals numbers were are fairly solid, but similar to Thompson his 2pt% was on the mediocre end.  The outlier poor marks in FT% and assists translated as expected.
  3. Capela: Capela’s profile was the most alluring of any prospect above, posting two fantastic  2pt% figures, one outlier scoring figure, and putting up a plus assists and outlier plus steals mark.  Capela was a favorite of Kevin Pelton’s model, and it’s not hard to see why.  I think there is more finishing upside here, and a hint of passing ability.  His only negative outlier was FT%, which is a very sizable problem obviously.
  4. Ezeli: Ezeli’s allure was largely based on frame and physical tools, but he had outlier positives mixed into his profile over 4 years in points, blocks, and offensive rebounds.  The consistency in blocks was the one component I really bought at the time, with rebounding coming in second.

3.Efficiency

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  1. Thompson: Posting outlier poor TS% and no range potential, it was hard to envision Thompson as anything more than an energy big, which fortunately he is elite at.  He did show proficiency getting to the line and his A/TO mark at least presented some decision-making acumen.
  2. Biyombo: Being essentially a rim protecting project, Biyombo left a lot to be desired in terms of scoring efficiency and decision-making. 
  3. Capela: Capela’s profile again was worthy of a higher selection than 25 with consistently plus finishing and a positive A/TO mark his second year.
  4. Ezeli: Ezeli’s jump his junior year put him on the NBA radar, finally showing some scoring proficiency to pair with an ability to get to the line.  He never checked the creation boxes however, and given his age it was unrealistic to expect much offensively.

4.Usage

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  • Aligning with present contributions in the league, none of these players sported an above average usage rate.

5.Skill Translations

  1. Thompson: 
    • Plus Offensive Rebounding
    • Above Average Defensive Profile
    • Lack of Range/Poor FT%
    • Lack of Playmaking
    • Lack of Decision-Making/Passing Creation
    • First Contract Translation: Mixed Starter, Rotation
  2. Biyombo:
    • Plus Shot-Blocking/Rim Protection
    • Offensive Rebounding
    • Lack of Range/Poor FT%
    • Lack of Decision-Making/Passing Creation
    • Lack of Playmaking
    • First Contract Translation: Mixed Starter, Rotation
  3. Capela:
    • Above Average Rebounding
    • Above Average Defensive Profile
    • Lack of Range/Poor FT%
    • First Contract Translation: Fringe/Rotation
  4. Ezeli:
    • Above Average Rebounding
    • Above Average Defensive Profile/Rim Protection
    • Lack of Range/Poor FT%
    • Lack of Decision-Making/Passing Creation
    • Lack of Playmaking
    • First Contract Translation: Rotation

III.Overall Takeaways

  1. Difficulty in Capturing Value of Perimeter Defense/Defensive Versatility: Rim protection metrics have been the driving force of assessing big man defense outside of 1 number stats, but there is immense value in a Thompson type who can really guard the perimeter (it says a lot he was one of the few bigs who could play heavy minutes when the elite teams downsized in the playoffs).  That perimeter defensive versatility isn’t really captured in stats yet, but is obvious with the eye test.  Bigs who can guard both the perimeter and the interior while rebounding at an above average level and throw in lob catching ability can have starter value even above an offense only post up player/playmaker.  This is why I was so high on Deyonta Davis in the draft.  It’s just difficult to assess at times via the numbers.
  2. Starter Ceiling: It’s not an accident this player archetype consists of low ceiling players (in terms of stardom).  You wont find any all-stars here because scoring, playmaking and elite athleticism dominate the elite group of bigs in the league (and really every position).  Defense largely doesn’t get enough credit, but you already knew that if you’ve read past entries.
  3. Trapping Trend?: From personal observation it looked like teams started trapping primary perimeter players in PNR more often last year when a player of this ilk acted as the screen setter.  We saw this a lot with Lowry and Biyombo, where teams simply trapped Lowry in middle PNR relying on the fact Biyombo can’t pass or dribble on the move/beat advantage 4 on 3 situations.  As this trend continues it could play these kinds of bigs off the floor consistently, specifically in the playoffs against elite teams.

Next Up: Category 6 Fives: Offensive Bucket-Getters 

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