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Why do teams miss impact players? And the tools vs. production upside debate. - Pinwheel Empire
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Why do teams miss impact players? And the tools vs. production upside debate.

submitted 6 years ago by in NBA

This is basically a post specifically about Andre Drummond. One hypothesis is that he’ll bust so we shouldn’t take him. Another is that even though he might bust, a player with his tools is the only way to ever get the Blazers out of the rut they’re stuck in now (in the middle of the league with no foreseeable way of acquiring all-NBA talent). It occurred to me that the problem with this theory is that there aren’t all that many situations where a player with “impact” physical tools drops in the draft and subsequently becomes a rare star in the NBA.

As a quick and dirty test of this hypothesis, I’ve gone through every single player who achieved 23 PER or greater in more than 2000 minutes since 2000 (we all know what’s wrong with PER, but you get the point innit?) I’ll then state why they got passed on, and then we’ll see if we learn anything.

Russell Westbrook, 4th pick, 2008. Passed on because Rose and Beasley were considered both toolsier and more productive, and because O.J Mayo was more productive with a better high school pedigree. Point, tools (although he actually graded out better in Hollinger’s draft rater than Mayo, and the Thunder really should have taken Love who was the production pick here).

Chris Webber, nobody passed on him.

Dwyane Wade, passed on because of Darko’s perceived upside/tools/position, Melo being generally a better prospect, and Bosh’s position, production and youth. Wade posted two 32+ PER seasons at Marquette before declaring. Point, production.

Amare Stoudemire, past on due to off-court issues and some questions about HS productivity. Is a draw fair here? I’ll give to to tools.

Brandon Roy, past on due to injuries. No point.

Derrick Rose, nobody passed on him.

David Robinson, nobody passed on him.

Paul Pierce, is he an impact player? In any case, I believe he was passed on due to positional premium for big men and perceived lack of tools. His production was phenomenal at Kansas. .25 points, production.

Chris Paul, passed on because Marvin Williams was productive and toolsier at a younger age, and Deron Williams was… bigger? Point, production.

Tony Parker, passed on because apparently nobody bothered to scout him except the Spurs? Point, Spurs.

Shaq, nobody passed on him. Are you serious?

Dirk Nowitzki, passed on because the highest level of competition he had faced was in the German second division, where everyone wears lederhosen. Also, foreign. Point, tools.

Steve Nash, passed on because of small college pedigree, statistical plateau, being skinny white and not all that fast. No point.

Yao Ming, nobody passed on him.

Tracy McGrady, passed on due to being a high-schooler, or something. Point, tools.

Karl Malone, he was drafted in the stone age.

Kevin Love, do I have to explain this? 10,000 points to production.

LeBron James, not passed on like at all.

AI, again, #1 pick.

Dwight Howard, #1 pick.

Blake Griffin, #1 pick.

Manu Ginobili, I’m pretty sure the rest of the league couldn’t have found Argentina on a map in 1997. Point, Spurs.

Pau Gasol, passed on probably because of Michael Jordan. This analysis isn’t really built to handle foreign vs. HS decisions. No point.

Kevin Garnett, passed on because teams were stupid and didn’t know high school players could be good. Point, tools.

Kevin Durant, sigh. Nobody passed on him, right? Though you could pretty strongly argue this is a point for production. But I won’t count it.

Tim Duncan, #1 pick.

Vince Carter, is he an impact player? Anyway, I’m not really sure why teams passed on him but I assume some combination of positional premium, being older than Bibby, and non-eyepopping production. No point.

Kobe, see KG. Point, tools.

Elton Brand, #1 pick.

Chris Bosh, see Wade. Anthony was better, Darko was toolsier. Point, production?

Carlos Boozer, not an impact player, but if he were it would be a big point for production.

Chauncey Billups, passed on due to positional premium for van Horn, failure to account for Billups being 20 while Van Horn was 22?

Well, can we draw any conclusions from this stuff at all? First, the sample is heavily distorted by high school players. Arguably the high school guys being good values could be construed as good news for the upside of “tools” guys like Drummond. On the other hand, it seems fairly unlikely that there was ever any question about Kobe or KG’s motor. Additionally, both those guys and Stoudemire had 14.5+ PERs in their rookie years despite being under 20, so the idea of them being incredibly raw projects is a bit off the mark.

So while Nowitzki, KG and Kobe all illustrate the importance of not completely bowing at the altar of college production, the fact remains out of collegians, only Westbrook was a big “tools” guy whose upside was missed. due to less than stellar production.

On the other side, Wade, Bosh, Love, Paul and Pierce all would have been “safe” picks based on outstanding college production. They all were passed over for supposedly higher-ceiling players or for positional preference. They not only went on to outperform their supposedly higher-ceilinged counterparts, they became all-NBA level players.

Maybe this is less about Drummond than it is about Sullinger and Robinson. But I’d be very, very leery in setting an artificial ceiling for a player’s potential impact just because of scouted tools. Scouts have been dead wrong on this in the past and will be wrong about it again. As such, Sullinger and Robinson (the most productive players in the draft bar Davis) are like not only the safer picks, they may have a higher upside than expected by scouts. Because in the NBA draft it seems productive players are sold short far too frequently.

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