Category 2: Athletic Outliers

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Category 2 Lead Guards: Athletic Outliers

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(Keith Allison; Wikimedia)

1.Russell Westbrook

  • #4 Overall Pick
  • Age When Drafted: 20
  • Year: Sophomore

2.John Wall

  • #1 Overall Pick
  • Age When Drafted: 20
  • Year: Freshman

3.Derrick Rose

  • #1 Overall Pick
  • Age When Drafted: 20
  • Year: Freshman

4.Eric Bledsoe

  • #18 Overall Pick
  • Age When Drafted: 21
  • Year: Freshman

I.What Sets Them Apart

Key Skills/Attributes:

  • Generational Athleticism (Speed, Lift, Burst)
  • Creation/Handle
  • Transition,
  • PNR,
  • Volume Driving + Finishing
  • Foul Drawing

 

Update: I removed Dante Exum from the above list. I just don’t feel comfortable enough with his limited sample. The rationale for including him initially is still in the following analysis.

As a general note, this category is comprised of a group with a freakish combination of physical tools (Size/Body Composition), explosion with the ball, burst to get into the lane, and lift to finish.  To use a cross sport football reference, these players convert “speed to power”, possessing that extra athletic gear speed wise and extra bounce to finish.  You can make a case for players like Mudiay here, but he’s not quite the top-shelf caliber of athlete that everyone else on this list is.

Note: I included Exum in this tier, which many will either scoff at or perhaps be intrigued by given the limited sample. I don’t think he is as bouncy as the other 4, but his combination of height, speed and length warrants consideration as an outlier “tools” add-in. Exum has more fluid athleticism, but possesses that top-gear speed turning the corner. Given the limited sample and his role in his rookie season in Snyder’s motion offense largely just spotting up I didn’t include his stats below.  Rather, it is entirely an outcome projection based on what I saw on film pre-NBA and at moments in Summer League/his Rookie Year.  It’s definitely inconclusive.

So speaking of that ET athleticism, how do we measure that outside of the eye test?

A.Creation/Handle (Off the Dribble Shooting as a Metric):

2013/14 Regular Season (Lead Guards Filtered By Attempts)

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2014/15 Regular Season (Lead Guards Filtered By Attempts)

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2015/16 Regular Season (Guards Filtered By Attempts)

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  • Notice two things from the off.  First, the notable discrepancy in efficiency shooting off the dribble between category 1 lead guards and category 2 lead guards (with the exception being Bledsoe who is an underrated shooter off the bounce).  That is the sizable difference between the two categories: for the most part you encourage category 2 lead guards to shoot (go under screens etc), whereas with Paul and Curry you have to trail over screens, ergo the scheme-changer designation.  Second (and the point here), these tables indicate that Wall, Rose, Bledsoe and Westbrook most of all possess the requisite handle and athleticism to generate a high amount of shots off the dribble.  Every player can get to their spots on the floor and create offense for themselves.

B.Transition Play

2015/16 Regular Season Transition Play Type

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  • The frequency % is the main takeaway here (as well as Westbrook’s ability to generate fouls).  Each of these players (Rose more so in his prime) is/was a terror in transition from a speed and finishing standpoint.  None are three-point shooters on the break and each most of the time instigates the break, so their pecentile numbers suffer.  It doesn’t take a statistical look, only really the eye test, to understand outlier athletes excel in an uptempo, open floor setting.
  • It should be noted that Synergy only tracks plays that finish with a score, foul or turnover (at least information that is publicly available), thus passing is not accounted for.  This hurts Wall especially, who is an outstanding passer in transition on the move, especially finding corner 3pt shooters (I’d say the best in basketball). Westbrook’s insane rebounding conversion to open floor speed and finishing combination should also be noted.

C.Pick and Roll Play

2015/16 PNR Ballhandler Playtype

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  • As the fulcrum of basically every NBA offense, it’s no surprise that each of these players has high usage finishing in pick and roll.  Wall is the worst shooter of the group so his finishing effectiveness is lessened.  Westbrook has developed into a decent high usage shooter off the dribble in the midrange area, which benefits him (as does the aforementioned foul drawing).  I should also note again there are some very positive indicators of Bledsoe’s shooting ability.

D.Dribble Penetration/Drives

2014/15 Regular Season Drives Per Game (Lead Guards)

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2015/16 Regular Season Drives Per Game (Lead Guards)

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  • Implicit in the “outlier athleticism” categorization is the ability to via speed, burst and power get into the paint/teeth of the defense and break the defense down off the bounce.  These charts nicely outline not only overall dribble drives, but pts% v pass%.  From this we can derive what largely meets the eye test: Westbrook and Rose drive more to score while Bledsoe and Wall drive more to pass.  The NBA is becoming a drive and kick league because of the value of catch and shoot spot up 3pt shooting, which is a reason Wall is an elite lead guard.  But there is obviously immense value in actually having the lift, burst and athleticism to finish in the restricted area over length and shot-blocking.  All of these category 2 players have that extra physical edge over their lead guard counterparts to be high usage dribble-drive penetrators and finishers.

E.Finishing

2013/14 Regular Season Finishing in the Restricted Area + Paint (Lead Guards: Sorted By RA Attempts)

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2014/15 Regular Season Finishing in the Restricted Area + Paint (Lead Guards: Sorted By RA Attempts)

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2015/16 Regular Season Finishing in the Restricted Area + Paint (Lead Guards: Sorted By RA Attempts)

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  • It should first be noted how insane Westbrook is at getting to the rim. Might have something to do with being the best athlete of all time.
  • Second, this is not “unassisted at the rim” but rather just general finishing.
  • You can see here that on top of the shooting regression Rose has really fallen off since losing a step with all the knee injuries.  Peak Rose was obviously a better finisher with that extra juice and insane body control.
  • Unlike the category 1 lead guards, the players here have that juice to finish with power through contact and above the rim.  It doesn’t mean they’re better finishers, but they don’t need to rely on ambidexterity, floaters etc.  Being high usage dribble drive penetrators and above the rim athletes is a huge plus for lead guards, where one of the primary responsibilities is breaking defenses down.

F.Foul Drawing

2013/14 Regular Season FTA Per 100 Possessions (Lead Guards: Sorted by Attempts)

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2014/15 Regular Season FTA Per 100 Possessions (Lead Guards: Sorted by Attempts)

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2015/16 Regular Season FTA Per 100 Possessions (Lead Guards: Sorted by Attempts)

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  • This is an ode to Westbrook, who really separates himself from the rest of the Category 2 pack (and all lead guards) with his ability to get to the foul line.  Bledsoe also quietly gets to the line at an elite rate.  Conversely, this is an element that has eluded Wall, but it could be partially attributed to driving to pass instead of to score.  Rose’s non-inclusion here again is attributed to his declining athleticism post injuries and settling for more jump shots.

II.College Indicators/Translations

1.Measurements

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  • Commonalities: Ideal heights for the position outside of Bledsoe, positive wingspans, positive no step verts, strong frames.
  • Bledsoe’s height is really the only negative outlier here, but he overcompensated with his length, frame and athleticism.
  • I again included Exum here, who has an outstanding combination of size and length for the position even though his vertical leaping ability/explosion at the rim isn’t quite on the same level.
  • (This category is comprised of physical freaks for a reason)
2.Per 40 Min Pace Adjusted
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  • Westbrook: Westbrook and Bledsoe are the two toughest players to draw usable information from given their positions next to two ball dominant guards in Collison and Wall respectively.
    • Shooting: Westbrook had mixed indicators in terms of shooting (496 FGAs, 99 3PTAs, 181 FTAs), from a positive 3pt % and negative FT% in limited minutes his Freshman year to lessened 3pt% with higher usage and enhanced FT% his Sophomore year.  Obviously the shooting baseline here doesn’t look anything like Paul or Curry, and no one really expected Russ to be a plus shooter as a pro.
    • Defense: Russell was the only Category 2 player to sport a positive steal per 40 number in his Sophomore year. Given that number paired with his tools, frame and athleticism is was definitely reasonable to assume Russ would be a positive NBA defender (we’ll get to that).
  • Rose: 
    • Shooting: Rose didn’t have any sizable red flags from a shooting standpoint (436 FGAs, 104 3PTAs, 205 FTAs), but nothing really stuck out as a plus status outside of 2pFG% relative to the group.
    • Defense: Rose had a below average steal number and didn’t quite have the premiere lateral quicks as the other 3 Category 2 players, thus expecting plus defense here even with the athletic ability probably wasn’t reasonable (in the NBA he’s the worst defender of the group).
  • Wall:
    • Shooting: Wall again presents a mixed bag in the shooting department (438 attempts, 114 3pt attempts, 232 FTAs), with a solid FT% and negative 3p%.
    • Defense: Wall’s steal rate was almost to average, and paired with his elite lateral quickness and long wingspan most expected Wall to be a lockdown NBA defender capable of switching onto smaller wings.
  • Bledsoe:
    • Shooting: Mixed results on FT% + FG% v 3pt% (312 FGAs, 128 3PAs, 123 FTAs) with less volume outside of 3PAs.
    • Defense: Playing on the perimeter next to Wall could have tarnished some of Bledsoe’s on-ball steal chances, but also could have facilitated more off-ball passing lane opportunities. Bledsoe’s rare frame for his size and plus wingspan along with toughness as an on-ball defender gave him at least an average NBA defensive projection.
3.Efficiency 
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  • Westbrook: Below average ASS/FGA Freshman year that improved to average with more on-ball opportunity his Sophomore year, but projected as shoot first. A/TO ratio also mirrored that precise pattern.
  • Wall: Pass first lead guard translation with an above average ASS/FGA. A bit cavalier with the ball/his decision-making, which is also the case currently.
  • Rose: Right about average for lead guards in ASS/FGA and A/TO.
  • Bledsoe: Below average in both metrics but again a testament to his surrounding and role.
  • *Also note the TS% and how none of the four really profiled as elite shooters (Bledsoe was a hidden gem in that respect)
4.Usage
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  • Westbrook/Bledsoe: Both played off-ball a good amount of the time and thus accrued less usage. Westbrook did get to the line at an above average rate.
  • Wall: The only Category 2 lead guard to accrue above average usage.  This paired with his passing projected well for a “true lead guard” archetype.  Wall got to the line at an above average rate for a lead guard as well.
  • Rose: Right about average usage for a lead guard and a fair bit above average in getting to the line.
5.Skill Translation
  • Westbrook:
    • Drawing fouls
    • Average shooting upside
    • First Contract Translation: All Star yrs 3-5
  • Wall:
    • Pass first nature
    • Turnover issues
    • Ability to handle usage
    • Average shooting Upside
    • First Contract Translation: All Star Yrs 4-6
  • Rose
    • Drawing fouls (in his prime)
    • Average Shooting Upside
    • Immediate Translation: All-Star Yrs 2-4, MVP Year 4, “Rose Rule” named after Rose for escalated max salary by bumping up yrs of service tiers 
  • Bledsoe:
    • Hard to really draw any conclusions here
    • Circumstantial Translation: Backed up Chris Paul for the first 3 yrs, has been a high level starter in years 4-6

III.Overall Takaways

  1. Importance of blending scouting with stats: In just looking at numbers translations you miss the key athletic traits each of the above players possess.  No stat really jumped off the page for any of the above, but the athletic upside for each prospect was considerable.  These are all truly unique outlier athletes in their own right:
    • Westbrook profiled as a truly elite athlete, and emerged as the best athlete to ever play the sport (arguably).
    •  Rose had insane acceleration and body control in the air as a finisher that he put on display in college but you fully saw in the pros.
    • Wall is the fastest player in the league in the open court with the ball, which again was evident in college.
    • Bledsoe just did tremendously athletic things that he continued to do in his athletic prime in the league.
    • Exum really flashed his size/speed/acceleration combo in a limited sample.
  2. Importance of situation: Bledsoe is the poster-boy for a player who plays a low usage off-ball role on a stacked team and gets overlooked (we’ll see this again at Kentucky with Devin Booker).  A similar instance happened with Westbrook but Presti saw too much athletic upside to let him fall.  Situation also played a role for Bledsoe in the pros being an understudy to Paul through the early stages of his career.  Who knows what his outcome would be if he didn’t get an opportunity to learn from the best.
  3. ATHLETICISM DOES NOT EQUAL GOOD DEFENSE: Based on physical tools and athleticism arguably  every one of these players category 2 players should be a better defender than Curry or Paul, but effort, positioning and technique play a huge role in defensive outcome.  I’d personally rank them as career/peak defenders 1)Wall 2)Bledsoe 3)Westbrook 4)Rose, but each have their warts: Wall and Bledsoe with consistency and Westbrook and Rose with positioning/effort.  I’m not sure any metric can measure effectively Westbrook prematurely jumping out too much to one side of the screen and getting torched around the other side, which is why I didn’t include defensive RPM here, relying instead more on the eye test.
  4. Outlier Athletes Translate Quickly: Rose, Westbrook and Wall were all all-stars within their first contract (Rose and Westbrook multiple times).  It’s easier for elite athlete lead guards to adjust to the speed and athleticism of the pro game, and these outliers do more quickly than most skill-based players who don’t have the same physical tools.
  5. Draft Availability Point: Unless it’s an outlier situation like a stacked Kentucky team the top-shelf lead guard ET athletes aren’t getting out of the top 5, meaning again considerable draft capital needs to be spent to acquire them.

Next Up Category 3 Lead Guards: Offensive Scheme Changers

 

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