Category 1 Fours: Two-Way Playmakers
(Skills: Shot Creation/Dribbling,Post Up/Iso, Passing, Shooting Threat, Defense)
Outlier Defensive Versatility:
- Draymond Green (Senior) #35
- Blake Griffin (Sophomore) #1
- Paul Millsap (Junior) #47
- Boris Diaw (International) #21
- Ben Simmons (Freshman) #1
- Aaron Gordon (Freshman) #4
- Dragan Bender (International) #4
*Lamar Odom is used sparingly due to lack of stats
- Limited Sample/Defensive Concerns: Dario Saric, Trey Lyles
- Prime Kevin Garnett (No College Stats Obviously)
Update: The power element to a playmaking four’s game, mainly the ability to self-create in the post, was highlighted before but deserves even further delineation. Passing out of the post warrants plenty of weight as a valuable skill, one that every player here possesses, but the ability to score on the block through other fours or on mismatches is a tremendously valuable skill that alters defensive scheme.
Griffin, Millsap and Diaw are all proficient there, and Simmons projects to be. Green is very ineffective as a post scorer (you should never double him), but his outlier defensive versatility of course gives him even greater value. Both Gordon and Bender don’t project as power players, which limits their offensive upside some.
I. What Sets Them Apart
All the rage in the league right now, this archetype is one of the most sought after in the game. It’s not really good enough anymore to be a high level player being a stretch big who can’t either 1) put the ball on the floor to make plays attacking closeouts/on 4 on 3s or 2) post up. The league has largely figured out the Ryan Anderson/Ersan Ilyasova types: 1) put on wing on them to limit the speed advantage over traditional bigs on closeouts and run them off the 3pt line where that can’t playmake and/or 2) switch in PNR where said player can’t abuse mismatches in the post. To be a high impact, all-star level player at the four spot now, you have to be well-rounded and by able to playmake. Bigs with perimeter skills are insanely valuable.
Green is the prototype of course, possessing rare ball-skills in the ability to pass on the move and put the ball on the floor, and combine that offensive skill-set with high level defense and rim protection. He’s really his own category variation because of what he brings defensively in being able to man the 5 spot for stretches with the girth and length to defend most players 1-5. This was the allure for Bender coming out of the draft this year: the ability to eventually swing to the 5 spot and playmake there while providing rim protection. Bender is nowhere near there physically, and it’s reasonable to doubt even with strength acquisition he’ll be able to beat mismatches consistently in the post. But he has that ceiling outcome.
Griffin is the best pure offensive player of the group armed with outstanding ball-skills and scoring package. He operates more from the elbows and foul-line extended, not possessing the consistent range as others listed in preferring to space out to long two-point range. Similarly Millsap and Diaw aren’t high level shooters but present enough of a threat there to garner the gravity of defenses and absolutely kill defenses on switches in the post.
Simmons and Gordon are more projections moving forward that fit this category. Simmons obviously hasn’t played a minute in the league yet, but his ball-skills sans shooting are at a legendary level. He’ll need to shoot reasonably from at least midrange to really reach the highest levels in this category. His lateral quickness defensively/fast hands are also underrated. Gordon suffers from the same shooting struggles but has the all-around game otherwise to fit the mold, throwing in some potential rim protection to pair with stellar perimeter defense.
You might wonder why guys like Aldridge aren’t on this list. I view Aldridge as a 5 (even if he doesn’t), as he doesn’t have the same handling ability/perimeter comfort, instead relying on post ups.
Overall, this archetype of player separates itself with advanced playmaking/creation, mainly in the ability to put the ball on the floor and pass on the move, as well as beat mismatches in the post. None are high level shooters, but most present enough of a shooting threat to garner respect. While there are other playmaking 4s to consider from an offensive perspective (Saric, Lyles), this category also throws in defensive impact mostly in perimeter defense and switching circumstances defending multiple positions and defending in space. As most of the separation revolves around playmaking, we’ll start the analysis there.
A. Ability to Put the Ball on the Floor:
2015/16 Regular Season Average Dribbles Per Touch (Fours, Non Inclusive)
- This isn’t the most precise metric to measure ball-handling quality especially, but it gives some indication of how often these players put the ball on the floor. Blake measures out the highest in this metric per touch, which probably isn’t surprising giving his high usage in elbow touch creation situations.
- I sorted with a bunch of qualifiers and narrowed it down to just “fours”. Everyone in the above list has elite dribble per touch marks for the position at over 1.
2015/16 Regular Season Drives Per Game (Fours, Non Inclusive)
- Drives per game for bigs try to simulate either attacking on closeouts, attacking on 4 on 3 trap situations or raw isolations from 20 feet +. This again is not an inclusive list, but you can see another metric that fortifies the eye test that these fours put the ball on the floor to playmake a lot.
- Draymond really benefits from the Curry attention in 1/4 & 1/5 pick and rolls attacking 4 on 3 situations. Griffin has room to operate in similar instances with Paul either on pocket passes or just straight isolation plays. Millsap handles a good amount in Atlanta’s 5 out system that inverts a lot of their offense positionally.
2015/16 Regular Season PNR Ball-Handler Playtype
- Rarely do teams run 4/1 or 4/2 pick and rolls with their four handling, but you see that with Blake and Draymond, illuminating just how good they are with the ball. The rest of the situations are likely 4/5 pick and rolls. Gordon has some promising efficiency in this playtype that pops on film with his advanced ball-handling ability for his age.
- The above metrics largely encompassed half-court situations. It should be noted that a crucial element here is each of these players’ grab and go handling ability in transition, which lets each respective team push the pace quicker with shooters spotting up instead of waiting for a guard to come get the ball, losing precious seconds.
2015/16 Regular Season Isolation Playtype
- Distinguishing between isolation and post ups on Synergy for guys like Blake who thrive on face up spin moves and a lot of fluid movement can get murky, but the overall creation aspect can still be encapsulated. Blake is the best all-around offensive four in the league who can handle supreme usage with excellent efficiency in creation instances. Diaw doesn’t create a ton on isolations in the Spurs’ motion system (nor will he likely in Utah’s motion sustem) but he has shown the ability over time to do so with the clock running down.
2015/16 Regular Season Post Up Playtype
- As touched on in the introduction, the ability to post up mismatches is crucial for playmaking 4s to avoid outright switching and thus play-killing counters. The narrative that post ups are dead is vastly false. Even the Warriors run post ups consistently, but mostly to draw attention on mismatches and kick the ball out to shooters in spot up situations, a higher value shot (especially for them). If posting up is the only thing you can do well and you are a detriment elsewhere that’s a separate issue entirely, but the ability to threaten as a post player is immensely valuable.
- This is measuring post up “finishing”, not passing prowess out of the post. Thus, a guy like Draymond, who is an outstanding post passer with the ability to leverage position is going to struggle here as he isn’t a post scorer. Millsap and Diaw are elite at beating switches inside with plus footwork and touch, which is the most underrated part of their games. You’d expect Blake’s efficiency to be a little bit higher, but I think there is some overlap with isolation scoring in terms of playtype. Gordon is almost never utilized this way, and him being unable to at least pose as a threat to posting is a definite threat moving forward to his playmaking 4 ceiling outcome.
3.Passing (Specifically on the Move)
2015/16 Regular Season Assist Rate (Fours)
*Fours Listed By ESPN (Not All Are Really Fours)
- This chart really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Draymond’s Rondonian level of assist hunting (it’s true) and just general brilliant court vision really shines here. Diaw and Blake have always been excellent passers, and Millsap has really grown over time as a passer, thriving in Budenholzer’s motion system. Gordon is slightly below average for the position (as designated by ESPN) but he’s certainly a capable passer. Overall, the eye test is the only thing that can capture a player’s ability to pass on the move (at least of metrics that are available to the public), and all of these players have that capability.
2015/16 Regular Season Spot Up Playtype
- I didn’t highlight anything specifically here, but just wanted to illicit the fact none of these players are knockdown shooters in spot up situations, but 4 of the 5 draw enough defensive gravity that they’re treated as threats which unleashed their dribbling ability. Draymond takes and makes the most threes, thus he posts the highest PPP mark.
Draymond Green 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart
- Draymond shoots a lot of above the break threes, mostly because of his positioning on the court in 1/4 pick and pop situations and the fact the Warriors have more elite shooters positioned in the corner areas. His ability to shoot that shot efficiently usually as the third or fourth option in any Warriors set is crucial to the offense.
- Notice that everything for Dray is either beyond the arc or at the basket. He’s not an insane finisher, but he’s gotten better at getting all the way to the rim instead of taking those floaters when defenses stuck with the Warriors’ shooters in advantage situations.
Blake Griffin 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart
- Blake shoots a lot of long twos, and even though he’s rather proficient at them, the Clippers’ offense (especially without more legit two-way wing additions) probably can’t take the next step until he pushes his shot beyond the arc.
- Blake is also an outstanding finisher both on the move and from a standstill, still possessing explosive athleticism around the basket despite the fact he doesn’t attack the rim with reckless abandon like he used to.
Paul Millsap 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart
- Millsap is *enough* of a shooting threat to garner defensive gravity, but he’s not an overly proficient jump shooter. The fact he actually takes threes instead of passing up open looks opens so much up for Atlanta’s offense. It’s surprising to see Millsap struggle so much from the corners, perhaps illuminating some shooting upside via regression in the future.
- Millsap also isn’t an explosive finisher around the hoop, instead relying on touch on runners and killing mismatches in the post with his bullish frame.
Boris Diaw 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart
- Diaw takes a lot of above the break threes for similar reasons as Green, and is proficient enough from the elbow areas beyond the arc to pose as a threat. Usually Diaw’s three-point shooting was a last recourse for the Spurs’ offense.
- Similar to Millsap Diaw isn’t the most explosive athlete (nowhere near where he used to be) but he has insane finishing touch around the basket.
Aaron Gordon 2015/16 Regular Season Shot Chart
- This is a pretty horrid looking shot chart that is filled with very few positive indicators (mainly just three-point acumen from the right corner). But Gordon’s form is not broken, and he’s still 20. I’m betting on a positive outcome of league average shooting from three eventually, which would be an enormous win and progression from him.
- Gordon’s best asset is his finishing ability at the rim with explosive and fluid athleticism on the move. He has fantastic speed and explosion attacking the basket, and his vertical athleticism to finish in traffic is crucial for his playmaking 4 profile.
2015/16 Regular Season Defensive Box Score Plus Minus (Fours, Non Inclusive)
2015/16 Regular Season Defensive RPM
- I provided two metrics just to show how elite Draymond and Millsap measured out last year defensively, which matched the eye test.
2015/16 Regular Season Rim Protection Stats (Sorted by DFGAs)
- Blake’s defense takes an unfair amount of overall criticism, but this is the one aspect where it’s warranted. He’s a minus rim protector without the length or instincts to be a plus there. Blake is a plus perimeter defender with good feet and mobility (he overpursues at times on hedges but a lot of that is aggressive scheme), and has the frame/physicality to battle in post defense. This is the chink in his armor that takes him from plus defender to above average defender, but he’s still a two-way player.
- Obviously Draymond separates himself here with his length and ability to man the 5 spot to still protect the rim. This is why he has his own section in this analysis.
- Millsap does quite well here as well with quietly above average length, and both Gordon and Diaw hover around league average for the four spot (Diaw can’t really elevate anymore). I think Gordon has upside to improve here in time.
2015/16 Regular Season Defensive Rebounding Rate (Fours, Non Inclusive)
- I sorted by defensive rebounding because it is less scheme dependant than offensive rebounding (a lot of teams sacrifice offensive rebounding chances to get back in transition on defense). There are still variables here of course like on-court positioning based on who you guard (Gordon checks threes as well) and teammate’s rebounding acumen. The takeaway here is basically to see that these players can all hold their own on the glass at the position, which differentiates them from combo-forward types who cannot.
II. College Indicators/Translations
- Draymond and Millsap are both undersized height-wise for fours, but compensate with a plus frame and the lower body girth to anchor position. Gordon was not as physically developed in terms of weight, which hurts his ability to establish position in the post.
- The difference of 2 inches in wingspan between Millsap/Draymond and Blake/Gordon doesn’t seem like a lot, but every inch matters in the league. Given that everyone has really similar reaches and Blake has elite vertical athleticism, it’s probably fair to expect more from him as a rim protector (one of my Simmons comps was Griffin because I expect him to struggle there as well).
- Also notice Draymond’s body fat, meh agility and sprint scores. His “lack of athleticism/being in shape” was at least a factor in him falling to pick 35.
2.40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
Odom: I thought I’d throw Odom in here as one of the best playmaking 4s of his generation. He posted decent and versatile shooting metrics in his one year at Rhode Island, but really showcased elite level passing volume, albeit a high turnover mark.
Green: Green basically ran his college offense as a point forward at Michigan State, and his consistently elite passing metrics support that. His 5.7 Assists Per 40 figure his Junior year was one of the highest in the 15 year history of DX’s database for the position. It’s not like Dray suddenly realized how to pass while on the Warriors. He was doing it at a high level consistently in college. Throw in consistent above average rebounding, high volume with plus efficiency three-point shooting, non-damning FT%, consistently elite steals and positive block indicators and you have a swiss-army knife contributor with one hell of a statistical profile. It’s easy to see why Green was a miss for almost everyone in retrospect, but there were plenty of reasons to buy at the time.
Griffin: The best scorer of the group, Blake posted elite scoring, 2pt% (indicating finishing), and rebounding metrics in his two years at Oklahoma. He didn’t shoot the 3 consistently volume wise but at least put that ability on film, even though his FT% wasn’t sparkling. His average block numbers shed some light on that negative translation to the pros. For a scoring front-court forward Blake’s assist figures while not elite offered plenty of encouragement.
Millsap: Analyzing Millsap’s college stats for predictive value is largely a baseless process as no player has morphed more as a pro. Millsap was drafted for his elite rebounding figures in college and ability to garner high usage on a lower level team, rebounding being a stat known to translate. He flashed range ability as a shooter, but it wasn’t consistent. His assist metrics were below average as well. Basically, if you compared modern day Millsap with the college version of Millsap you’d be looking at an entirely different player. He’s an outlier example of a player who developed into an elite playmaker later in his career, and is an exception to the rule that creation transformation typically doesn’t take this form.
Diaw: As referenced in previous pieces, I don’t have a statistical translation system set up for international leagues, so take the stats with a grain of salt. What they do show is Diaw’s historically good assist per 40 figures and ability to both take a lot of threes and make them at a decent rate in a limited sample. Diaw’s shooting wasn’t a definite given his spotty foul-shooting, but he at least showed range ability.
Gordon: Gordon’s shooting translation was largely tainted by his high volume negative foul shooting that curbed a lot of the excitement about intriguing range ability. His assists/blocks/steals numbers all hovered around average to above average, demonstrating his ability to contribute across multiple categories. Gordon was drafted so high because of his athleticism and feel floor being an incredibly young prospect with sizable upside, a fact supported by the stats.
Simmons: Everyone knows about the shooting concerns on one end and the historically good elite level assists on the other. Simmons catches a lot of heat for a lack of defensive motor, and that criticism is fair. But he played out of position at LSU at the 5 spot, putting a target on his rim protection issues (again fair). Big man defense isn’t just rim protection however. Simmons showed plus feet and active hands guarding in space, accruing an elite number of steals. He’s going to be a plus space defender in the NBA who can guard the perimeter and switch, affording him plus status on that end if he demonstrates consistent energy, even with his lack of rim protection.
Green: Dray posted elite decision-making metrics every year, and shot well enough considering he took a lot of jumpers. His ability to draw fouls rated out as average.
Griffin: Blake combined above average A/TO marks in two seasons with elite foul-drawing and outstanding TS% (benefitting from being more of a finisher).
Millsap: Millsap didn’t showcase even average decision-making, instead providing a plus combination of foul drawing and shooting/finishing.
Diaw: Diaw’s decision-making metrics alone for his size and athleticism at the time was incredibly alluring, and when you throw in positive indicators as a shooter it’s difficult to see why he fell to #21 overall (weight concerns likely played a role).
Gordon: Gordon’s shooting was historically bad for the position largely because of his FT deficiencies. What he did show was plus decision-making.
Simmons: Simmons still got to the line at a historically good rate despite the fact most defenses played 5 feet off him encouraging him to shoot because he could eat that space up with his handle. Simmons’ generational passing ability and decision-making was also accurately represented in A/TO.
- Usage indicators were critical here for multiple players. Millsap showed the ability to dominate lower competition with plus usage and corresponding efficiency. Blake had an obscene usage rate his Sophomore year, and that ability to handle offense without an efficiency curb-off translated to the pros. Draymond ran his college offense, especially his Senior year, and that versatility was crucial to his playmaking translation. Simmons was also basically a college lead guard at times commanding the ball (though he was schemed out too often to close games). Gordon didn’t have the same handling responsibilities as the previous two, but he at least sported an average usage, very impressive for his age and his program.
5.Draymond Green Defensive Indicators
All Time Defensive Box Score +/- (Since Inception)
- Since this is basically the Draymond category, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include more advanced stats fortifying his profile.
6.Draymond Green and Ben Simmons Defensive Rebounding
All Time DREB% (Since Inception)
- And again.. (Note that on film both Simmons and Green showcased elite rebounding and grab & go transition handling).
7.Hoop-Math Creation Stats
- I like to look at unassisted offense in college to measure creation, and while the Hoop-Math numbers aren’t precise in terms of what constitutes a 2pt jump shot distance wise, it does provide utility. Simmons was more adept than Gordon getting to the rim (though this doesn’t factor in putbacks) off the bounce, but both knocked down a decent amount of unassisted twos.
- Elite Passing/Decision-Making
- Range Capability
- Defensive Profile
- Usage Capability
- First Contract Translation: Starter Year 3 (All-Star Year 4 on 2nd Contract)
- Scoring/Finishing Profile
- Above Average Passer/Decision-Maker
- Foul Drawing
- Minus Rim Protection
- Usage Capability
- First Contract Translation: Starter + All-Star Years 1-4
- Usage Capability
- Rebounding (Early Career Especially)
- Above Average Defensive Indicators
- First Contract Translation: Largely a Reserve
- Elite Passing + Decision Making
- Range Capability
- First Contract Translation: Intermittent Starter Years 1-2, Starter 3-4
- Above Average Passing + Decision-Making
- Minus Shooting Indicators
- Above Average Defensive Indicators
- First Contract Translation: Largely Reserve
III. Overall Takeaways
- Rare Archetype: All-around two-way playmaking fours obviously don’t grow on trees. It’s rare to find a four who can handle, space the floor, pass on the move, post up mismatches, finish reasonably well, rebound his position and provide above average defense. Each of those elements are critical, and that’s a lot of boxes to check.
- Importance of Passing/Decision-Making Indicators: Each of the above players minus Millsap, who similar to Lowry in his archetype are rare late-blooming all-stars, exhibited plus to outstanding passing and decision-making metrics in college. I’ve been hammering throughout this process the importance of passing and defense, and this archetype brings that sentiment full circle. Everyone wants the dominant wing scorer or for some reason the high usage dribble drive guard, and rightfully so at times, but this positional skill-set has always had such incredible value. I’m glad it’s being realized now.
- Importance of Development and Opportunity: Draymond became Draymond because David Lee got injured in training camp. Millsap progressed as a playmaker in Budenholzer’s motion system. Blake benefitted from playing with and learning from a generational lead guard (although the baseline was always there). Diaw found his niche and conditioning in the Spurs system. You get the point. So much of this whole analysis depends on opportunity. The Magic just did sizable damage to Gordon’s development by bringing in Ibaka, Green, and Biyombo in lessening Gordon’s ability to play and develop at the four spot. conversely, Simmons will likely get full freedom to do so in Philadelphia. Creating and passing on the move especially are so hard to learn, and even if you have that rare skill as a big you still need the platform to showcase that. I fear someone like Gordon, who has the ability to reach such rarefied two-way air, could never reach that based on situation. It’s not just about talent assessment, but also situational and developmental assessment. *Ducks out on the soap box*
Next Up: Category 2 Fours: Offensive Playmakers