While box scores and statistics certainly don't tell the entire story for NBA draft prospects -- and oftentimes can be misleading due to the eccentricities of specific collegiate programs -- they can help us make inferences into the abilities of prospects.
With (a lot of) help from Kevin Hogan, an awesome visual statistician and unfortunate UNC fan, we've worked in conjunction to create visual representations of where NBA Draft prospects lie in relation to their positional peers. For this study, we've taken the top 13 point guards that could potentially enter the 2014 draft and compared them through a number of statistics in order to help our understanding of how they could perform in the NBA. Not all of these players will enter the draft, but we wanted to take a look at all potential prospects.
Statistics by themselves aren't completely worthwhile though, so I'm going to try to contextualize them through what I've noted by scouting them. I've seen all of these guys play multiple times on tape (some more than others. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Louisiana-Lafayette basketball), so that should help with trying to nail down where these players stand in their classes. So without further ado, here are the 13 point guards we'll be examining, along with their listed heights and colleges:
Jahii Carson -- 5'10, Arizona State
Semaj Christon -- 6'4, Xavier
Aaron Craft -- 6'2, Ohio State
Tyler Ennis -- 6'2, Syracuse
Olivier Hanlan -- 6'4, Boston College
Andrew Harrison -- 6'5, Kentucky
DeAndre Kane -- 6'4, Iowa State
Devyn Marble -- 6'6, Iowa
Shabazz Napier -- 6'0, Connecticut
Elfrid Payton -- 6'3, Louisiana-Lafayette
Marcus Smart -- 6'4, Oklahoma State
Russ Smith -- 6'0, Louisville
Kendall Williams -- 6'4, New Mexico
Basic Box Score Stats and Advanced Numbers
Here, we've taken a look at players' basic box score stats and adjusted them to account for minutes played. Here are the per-40s for each point guard in points, rebounds, assists, steals and turnovers.
(note about the tables you'll see here: they're all interactive, so you can sort the tables, single out people in singular graphics, and really enjoy the data)
What you'll see here is that in college, high-usage guards that have the ball in their hands a lot tend to make a lot of plays. That's kind of intuitive and obvious, but these numbers really bear that out. Russ Smith leads the way among guards in usage (as you'll see next), so it's not a surprise to see a scoring point guard like him lead the way in points. He, Payton, and Smart are both combination-type guards that are also the leading scorers of their teams. Also, one thing that you notice by these stats are that they tend to favor high-paced teams. Kane, Smith, Marble, and Payton are probably the three most impressive statistically on this page. However, they also play for teams that either press regularly or attempt to get up and down the floor quickly.
In order to counteract that and get a better feel of what these guys are doing per-possession, we adjusted their statistics for pace by using Ken Pomeroy's tempo statistic. It's not a perfect adjustment, but it helps normalize the numbers. In this graphic, you'll be able to take a look at their pace-adjusted per-40 stats, as well as their PER and usage rates.
So now we have a bit more information. Even with the pace adjustment, we still see Smith coming out well in everything but assist to turnover ratio. This is understandable given his reputation as a shot creator and maker. He'll need to overcome his size his in the NBA, but Smith has perhaps been underrated by draft experts given his athleticism and shot making ability.
The player who comes out best here after the pace adjustment is Ennis. His scoring still falls in the bottom quarter of the study, but his playmaking is what's most impressive. He becomes the leader in assists, and is still a veritable outlier when it comes to his assist to turnover rate -- nearly two times higher than anyone else listed. The fact that he leads the study in assists per 40 while being second-to-last in usage is incredible. He is a model of efficiency. Ennis has fantastic poise and his distribution skill is second to none in this class, as he works tirelessly to get every one of his teammates involved. He also becomes the leader in steals, but his job in Jim Boeheim's zone is partially to hound the passing lanes. He does that well, but shouldn't be considered an elite defender like that stat would tell you.
The person these charts hurt most is clearly Carson. He moves down to the middle of the pack in scoring, the lower half in assists, third-worst in PER, second-to-worst in turnovers, and and second-to-last in steals. Given his high usage rate, this doesn't bode well for his hopes to become a lottery pick. This has not been his best season. I got a chance to see him live last Sunday in his game against UCLA, and it seemed that most of the fears about his game are well-founded. He really struggled against the length of Norman Powell and Zach LaVine -- 6'4 and 6'5 respectively -- when UCLA matched up man-to-man, and really struggled to get penetration against their 2-3 zone. His quickness and ball-handling was evident, but he's oftentimes going to be the smallest person on the floor in the NBA. He needs to play better against length.
As for some other observations here:
-There may never be a better representation that Andrew Harrison is not ready for the NBA than that big red mark behind his name. I have a lot of faith in him for the future, but he needs to stay for another year.
-Kane is still up around a 20/7/8 split line, which is just ridiculous. He's also going to be 25 years old on draft day, which makes him at least half a year older than Kemba Walker, Reggie Jackson, John Wall, and Eric Bledsoe. So, we need to remember these things while considering his future potential. He's a borderline prospect as far as his draftability.
Here's another look at their points and assists per 40, as well as some percentages and rates that are important for point guards:
Forgive the graph being a little bit large, but you see here that Smith still comes off impressively even when accounting for efficiency as a shooter. His 56% TS% places him 6th out of 13, which means he's right in the middle of the pack. Plus, his turnover rate is a bit better than his pace-adjusted turnovers would tell you. It's easy to realize why Smith was KPom's player of the year last season. His quickness is great and he makes shots. Smith will be drafted, and I'm starting to wonder why there is any difference at all between he and Carson.
The person who seems to come out of this the worst is Craft, which is unsurprising given his reputation as a defense-first player. The part that is most troubling though isn't the counting stats, it's the turnover rate. He's turning the ball over on 21% of his finished possessions, which is really problematic for a guy that is going to have to be a caretaker point guard on offense to retain any value. Having seen nearly every game he's played this season, my guess is that his turnover rate is somewhat inflated due to sharing point guard duties with Shannon Scott, a 2015 draft prospect. Also, Ohio State tends to rely on Craft to create something near the end of the shot clock because of their offensive deficiencies, something that an NBA team would not use him for. I'm not particularly sure that Craft is draftable mostly because of the hand-checking nature of his defensive game, but I don't think that the numbers so far have disqualified him either given his high A/TO ratio.
One person who sticks out here is Hanlan being so far to the upper-left, meaning he's scoring a lot but not assisting many buckets. He and Semaj Christon are two guys that we can talk about together, because they're both playing a bit more away from the ball this season. Boston College has Joe Rahon to take away a lion's share of the point guard duties, and Xavier has Dee Davis who shares the duties with Christon. These two are probably more combo-guards than point guards, but Christon's below-average TS% is scary, as well as both of their turnover issues. I have both in the second round right now. If they could play more of a traditional point guard role for the rest of the season, that would go a long way towards them reaffirming their chances of making the first round.
Shabazz Napier also provides an interesting point of comparison here too. He genuinely seems to be attempting to get more people involved in the offense this season, as last season he was more of a chucker. His scoring is up due to an increased ability to get to the line, as well as finishing their more efficiently from there and from behind the arc. I still don't buy his ability to play point guard in the NBA, but he's certainly been a clutch player throughout his time at Connecticut so maybe some of that will hold over to his workouts with NBA teams.
Let's move onto how these guys are getting their points, and where they tend to be most efficient on the floor.
Here, we see how players are shooting at the rim and how they are shooting from three-point land. This is an interesting way to look at things given the new wave of efficiency that the NBA is experiencing. It's also very alarming that none of these players reach the upper right quarter of this graph. Most of these guys tend to either be really good at the rim, or really good from behind the arc.
The first guy who stood out was Payton and his near 74% mark from around the rim along with his group-worst 23% from three. Payton is a really interesting case. The closest parallel for his numbers is probably Kane, and his stats aren't terribly diminished by adjusting for pace either. So what is his story? He's a lightning quick guard that can get to the rim pretty much at will in the Sun Belt, but he often plays out of control and turns the ball over an awful lot. I know he plays for Louisiana-Lafayete and is their entire offense, but that's not how the NBA works. Decision-making is still a skill he needs to develop. Plus, he really can't shoot. He needs to develop one of those two things to become an NBA player.
We haven't talked yet about the best point guard in this class, Marcus Smart. Through all of the stats we've gone through so far, it would seem he hasn't made many strides but I don't think that's the case. He gets to the rim with reckless abandon still, but now he's finishing much more efficiently when he gets there. Having said that, he still takes too many threes given his skill set and shooting percentages. However, his assist numbers are slightly higher due to increased usage, and it's a good sign that his overall scoring hasn't dipped with the greater usage because of his skill at the rim. The best sign of all is that his turnovers have dropped significantly, going from an 18.7 TO% to 14.9%. Smart has solidified his place as the top guard in this NCAA class by making slight improvements to his game.
-The two worst guys here are Kane and Harrison. Kane is a surprise, given that his shot has never improved to above-average throughout his 10 year collegiate career and that he's so bad near the rim given his size. As far as Harrison is concerned it's just more evidence he needs to stay in school.
-Christon's three-point percentage stands out, but keep in mind he's taking under two of them per 40 minutes. It's a very small sample size and he will most likely regress.
-Smith and Williams come off best here, and closest to that prized upper right quarter.
Offensive and Defensive Ratings:
Finally, we looked at the offensive and defensive ratings of these guys, and how they compare to their respective teams' offensive ratings.
Our last look is at the way that players' affect their team when they're on the floor. The biggest outlier here is obviously Kendall Williams. It's so much of an outlier that I believe it's actually a misprint. Not kidding. Given the fact that he only sits for about five minutes per game, New Mexico would literally need to not score while Williams is on the floor. So I'm going to assume that sports-reference.com is wrong. Regardless, I do feel Williams has been undervalued as a draft prospect. He's averaging 20/6/4 per 40 with a 64% TS% and a 2-1 AST%-TO%. He's shooting 43.5% from three and getting to the line over 10 times per 40 minutes. The problem is that he's not particularly athletic, which means that the trips to the free throw line could dissipate in the NBA. But at 6'4 he's big enough to defend both guard spots and because of his length and intelligence he defends them well. I actually really like him as a prospect, and cannot figure out why he isn't getting more publicity.
The guy that comes off worst here is Carson again. The fact that his team gets worse with him on the floor on both ends is extraordinarily problematic and actually lines up with what happened in the UCLA game Sunday. When he left the floor, Arizona State went on a run and cut it to a ten-point deficit. I'm seriously beginning to question my first round grade on him. The skills are there as far as his ball-handling, quickness, and shooting, but nothing about what he's done this season has lined up with them. It could simply be Herb Sendek giving him too much to do, but it's a problematic situation for Carson right now.
-I've written less about Marble than anyone here. He doesn't turn the ball over and scores a ton. He's the least efficient scorer of the group, but that's probably his best skill. It's worth mentioning he's an excellent slasher that might be best used as a 2 guard on wing reversals to get to the hoop. He's used somewhat in that way at Iowa where Mike Gesell takes the point guard reins from time-to-time. Marble is extremely athletic and has improved his shooting stroke, but is still a bit out of control despite his low turnover rate. He should finish at a much higher rate around the rim than he does, but he goes up wildly around there often.
-Again, Ennis comes off extremely impressively here. Syracuse is better with him on the floor both offensively and defensively. This may have to do with Syracuse not having a viable replacement for him at this point, but he really settles down their entire team. He is without question my #3 point guard behind Smart and Exum.
-Napier also does extremely well here because they don't have a viable backup for when he leaves the floor.
-It's odd to me that Oklahoma State is slightly better offensively when Smart leaves the floor, but his defensive rating proves just how much defensive potential he has. His athletic tools and high motor are going to make him a menace on that end of the floor.
-Unsurprising that Christon and Hanlan are so close to each other given their respective roles on their team. At this moment, I have Hanlan slightly higher because he's a better shooter. But it's close.
Here is where I am right now as far as NCAA point guard rankings midway through the season:
1. Marcus Smart
2. Tyler Ennis
3. Jahii Carson
4. Russ Smith
5. Kendall Williams
6. Olivier Hanlan
7. Semaj Christon
8. Devyn Marble
9. Elfrid Payton
10. DeAndre Kane
11. Aaron Craft
12. Shabazz Napier
Incomplete: Andrew Harrison. I don't think it's fair to rank Harrison right now whenever it's so abundantly clear that he's not remotely NBA-ready. I'd probably place him 3rd based on potential alone, but it's such a tough call when he's just not there yet. Harrison is the reason why general managers get fired and why their job is a living hell.
I'd probably cut off the draftable prospects after Marble or Payton this season. Point guard is undoubtedly the weakest position in the draft.
One guy we didn't study here was Spencer Dinwiddie, who in many regards is similar to Marble. He handles so much of the ball and does everything for Colorado, that he often acts as a point guard. He'll be studied with the shooting guards, despite the fact that he's out for the season with a torn ACL.
If you got through all of that, you'll probably be happy to know that we'll be bringing you more of these throughout the season as far as positional rankings. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kjhogo because he's awesome for making these Tableau graphs and helping me statistically with this process. Can't emphasize that enough.
All stats taken from sports-reference.com and hoop-math.com.