2013 NBA Draft Preview: 26-30

These are the final five players in my rankings of NBA draft prospects projected to go in the first round. I will never completely count out any player’s chances of success, but I think these players are the most likely to end up as busts in the NBA.

#26: SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD: 20 years old, SF, UCLA (-2.57)

Over the past couple months, I’ve watched as Muhammad’s draft stock has slowly declined from the top five to out of the lottery altogether. It would not shock me if Muhammad ended up being selected in the second round when the draft actually takes place.

There’s certainly some talent with Muhammad; there’s a reason he was so hyped up in the first place. However, a look at the statistics showed that Muhammad was unable to translate his talent into being a valuable player on the court.

The one point in Muhammad’s favor is that he scored 20.9 points per 36 minutes, but that was on just 0.98 points per possession. After that, there’s nothing about Muhammad’s statistics that suggests he’s ready for the NBA. His defensive metrics in particular are very poor.

What really scares me away from Muhammad is his character. This is a player who’s been known to pout because a teammate made a game-winning shot. His father was caught lying about his age (he’s 20, not 19). Muhammad might have talent, but would you really want to gamble on a player who was not good at UCLA and has all sorts of character questions? It’s possible that Muhammad succeeds, but if I was a general manager, I’d want nothing to do with him.

#27: MASON PLUMLEE – 23 years old, C, Duke (-2.61)

Plumlee joins Kelly Olynyk, Gorgui Dieng, and Jeff Withey as players who turned in excellent senior seasons, but are too old for me to consider good NBA draft prospects. Plumlee certainly showcased a good offensive game for Duke, but falls well short of the standards I’ve set for college players in the draft.

If it seems like an unfair criticism, consider some of the NBA players who are the same age as Plumlee. For example, Paul George, who arrived as a top 20 NBA player this year, is 23. Ricky Rubio is 22. Even James Harden is just 23. Is a player like Plumlee really ready to be compared to these guys?

Ultimately, Plumlee doesn’t score enough points and doesn’t block enough shots to overcome his status as an older prospect. He might carve out a role as a reserve big man on some team, but I highly doubt he’ll be more successful than that as a professional.

#28: ISAIAH CANAAN: 22 years old, PG, Murray State (-3.15)

Canaan is also hurt badly by being a player 22 years old or older, but in his case, he could be 19 and I still wouldn’t regard him as one of the draft’s top prospects. Canaan lacks the efficiency on offense or defense for me to consider him a likely NBA success.

What Canaan does bring to the table is the ability to be a lead scorer, at 21.5 points per 36 minutes. Of course, he did that for a smaller school at Murray State, but it’s not insignificant. Canaan also showed a respectable assist rate.

Unfortunately for Canaan, his other metrics suggest that he’s not prepared to take on the NBA. He didn’t score with great efficiency (1.00 points per possession) and didn’t get very many takeaways either (1.6 blocks and steals per 36 minutes). There are too many good point guard options in this draft for me to endorse Canaan as being worthy of a first-round pick.

#29: DENNIS SCHROEDER: 19 years old, PG, Germany (-3.23)

Schroeder must look fantastic in private and combine workouts, because I can’t imagine why he’s being so hyped otherwise. Schroeder has moved up mock draft boards enough recently that he’s become a fringe lottery pick.

I don’t see it in his numbers. The talk is that Schroeder is similar to Rajon Rondo, but my retort is: if he’s so much like Rondo, why isn’t he getting more assists? Schroeder had 4.5 assists per 36 minutes for Braunschweig, a decent enough number but far shy of Rondo territory.

Where Schroeder is similar to Rondo is that he’s not a terrific shooter. He shot just 42 percent from the floor for a dismal 0.88 points per possession. To make matters worse, he didn’t show much on the defensive end of the floor either, getting just 1.3 steals and 0 blocks per 36 minutes.

There are a couple foreign prospects in this draft that I’m intrigued by and think have a decent chance of succeeding in the NBA. Dennis Schroeder is not one of them. There’s nothing about his stat line that makes me think he’s remotely ready to play in the toughest league in the world.

#30: TIM HARDAWAY JR. – 21 years old, SG, Michigan (-4.05)

While I’m perplexed about the sudden rise of Dennis Schroeder on mock draft boards, I can’t say the same about Tim Hardaway Jr. Don’t get me wrong, Hardaway Jr. is not a good NBA prospect at all… but he is the son of former all-star point guard Tim Hardaway, so up the boards he goes.

I don’t want to be too harsh, but his stat line is completely lacking of anything good I can say. If I had to say something good… his defensive rebounding rate is decent for a shooting guard (4.6 DREB/36). Other than that, it’s slim pickings.

Hardaway Jr. scored 0.95 points per possession, didn’t get many assists (2.5 AST/36), and didn’t show much ability to get to the free throw line. There’s no saving grace in his defensive metrics either – just 1.2 blocks and steals per 36 minutes.

Again, I’m not counting anybody completely out. However, if we’re playing a game of probability… I would guess that Hardaway Jr. has a less than 10 percent chance of success in the NBA. Still, nostalgia reigns supreme, which means it’s likely that some NBA team will spend (and probably waste) their first-round pick on him.

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2013 NBA Draft Preview: 21-25

My top 13 prospects, from Nerlens Noel to Jamaal Franklin, are players I think have a better than 50-50 chance of succeeding in the NBA. My players ranked 14-20 are players I think have a less than 50-50 chance of succeeding, but still a decent chance.

I can’t say that about the players I’m going to rank in the next two posts. These players are very likely to be busts in the NBA, for reasons I’ll explain for each player.

#21: KELLY OLYNYK – 22 years old, C, Gonzaga (-1.11)

Let’s be clear about this: Kelly Olynyk was an outstanding college player. He shot 63 percent from the floor and was good at drawing fouls. He grabbed 10 rebounds per 36 minutes. He scored a whopping 24.3 points per 36 minutes in leading Gonzaga to a top seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

Olynyk’s biggest problem is simple: he’s 22 years old. All of the players I’ve ranked so far have been 21 or younger. The reason is simple: players who enter the draft at 22 years old or older have a greatly diminished rate of success in the NBA.

To illustrate this, here are the players who were drafted in the first round from 2010-2012 at 22 years old or older:

  • Tyler Zeller
  • Andrew Nicholson
  • Festus Ezeli
  • Fab Melo
  • Miles Plumlee
  • JaJuan Johnson
  • Norris Cole
  • MarShon Brooks
  • Jimmer Fredette
  • Nolan Smith
  • Damion James
  • Wes Johnson
  • Trevor Booker
  • Quincy Pondexter
  • Ekpe Udoh
  • Greivis Vasquez
  • Lazar Hayward
  • Craig Brackins

Who is the standard-bearer here? Quincy Pondexter? Greivis Vasquez?

Olynyk could have still graded out as a good prospect if he had shown good defensive metrics, but unfortunately, he was only good for 2.4 blocks and steals per 36 minutes. As great as his offensive output was, I have to stand on the side of Olynyk not making it in the NBA.

#22: GORGUI DIENG – 23 years old, C, Louisville (-1.14)

This one hurts, because I really like Gorgui Dieng as a player. He doesn’t take a lot of shots, but much like Steven Adams, he provides excellent rebounding and defense. He was the anchor for the Louisville team that won the national championship this year.

The difference between Adams and Dieng is that Adams is 19 years old and Dieng is 23. This is a critically important point. If you don’t believe me, find a 16 year old baseball player who’s struggling against his peers. Have him play against nothing but 12 year old kids. Watch as the 16 year old dominates the game.

Age and development matter, and that’s why players like Olynyk, Dieng, and Jeff Withey (who we’re about to get to) don’t rate as good prospects in my system. Four years from now, players like Noel and Adams will have progressed a ton, while the older prospects will probably not have improved much.

With that said, if there’s an older center in this draft who catches on in the NBA, I think it’s most likely going to be Dieng due to the superb defense he showed for Louisville.

#23: JEFF WITHEY – 23 years old, C, Kansas (-1.59)

It’s hard to say bad things about players like Olynyk, Dieng, and Withey, because they really were outstanding college players. Withey was an efficient scorer for Kansas and provided a terrific shot blocking presence. Among first-round prospects, Withey’s 4.6 blocks per 36 minutes is equaled only by Nerlens Noel.

Let’s be clear: it is possible for a player 22 or older to get a passing grade in this system. To do it, though, they need outstanding numbers. If Olynyk, Dieng, or Withey had numbers as good as that of Anthony Davis last year, I’d give them a passing grade despite their older age.

I don’t like counting these guys out, but the evidence against them is pretty overwhelming. There are some really good options at center in this draft, so if a team really wants to draft one, there shouldn’t be a need to go for these guys.

#24: ALLEN CRABBE – 21 years old, SG, California (-1.72)

Finally, back to a player I can criticize for something other than his age. Crabbe did show decent rebounding ability for a guard (6.0 REB/36) and scored 18.3 points per game as a junior. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find nice things to say after that.

Crabbe was not a particularly efficient scorer at 0.99 points per possession. He didn’t show much ability to draw fouls or get assists. To top it off, he only had 1.8 blocks and steals per 36 minutes, indicative of mediocre defense.

When I look for players ready to succeed in the NBA, I like seeing players who dominate at the college level. From his scoring to his defense, Crabbe’s numbers suggest that he was merely a good college player. That’s not good enough for me to embrace him as a first-round NBA draft prospect.

#25: REGGIE BULLOCK – 22 years old, SF, North Carolina (-2.50)

You might expect me to continue ranting about age, but Bullock wouldn’t have had a passing grade at 21 years old either. What makes Bullock a somewhat intriguing prospect is that he was an incredibly efficient scorer as a junior for North Carolina.

He scored 1.13 points per possession despite only shooting 2.4 free throws per 36 minutes. That’s because he established himself as a very good marksman, shooting 43 percent from three-point range.

Like Sergey Karasev, Bullock suffers on the defensive end of the floor, where he only got 1.7 blocks and steals per 36 minutes. What makes him a worse prospect than Karasev in my opinion is the fact that he’s 22 instead of 19. Again, players who can shoot and play good defense are rare. Players who can only shoot are a dime a dozen. (To be fair, Bullock is a good rebounder too.)

2013 NBA Draft Preview: 16-20

#16: PIERRE JACKSON – 21 years old, PG, Baylor (+0.44)

Until just yesterday, Jackson was not projected as a first-round pick by Draft Express. Now, with his inclusion in the group of players projected to go in the first round, Jackson is ranked #16 on my list. (These rankings are for projected first-round prospects only.)

As a player who is only 5’10”, Jackson needs to have good offensive point guard skills. He definitely qualifies in the assists category, as he got 7.3 assists per 36 minutes as a senior at Baylor. He also showed above-average ability to draw fouls, as he shot 6.9 free throws per 36 minutes.

If Jackson was an efficient scorer, he would qualify as one of my prospects likely to succeed in the NBA. Unfortunately, Jackson’s scoring efficiency is average at best. He shot 43 percent from the floor and scored at a rate of 0.97 points per possession. As expected, Jackson profiles as a defensive liability; he got zero blocks and only 1.6 steals per 36 minutes.

I can see Jackson possibly catching on as a reserve point guard in the NBA. He’s definitely shown the ability to run an offense and pile up assists. However, Jackson’s limitations, both as a scorer and defender, prevent him from making the cut as a player I think is likely to do well as a professional.

#17: MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS – 21 years old, PG, Syracuse (+0.43)

Out of all players eligible to be selected in this year’s draft, Carter-Williams had the third-highest assist rate, at 7.4 assists per 36 minutes. That’s a good start, but unfortunately for Carter-Williams, his scoring is too much of a liability for me to grade him as a probable NBA success.

Carter-Williams shot just under 40 percent from the floor for Syracuse, and didn’t show a great ability to get to the free throw line either. Overall, he only scored 0.77 points per possession, a number which serves as an indictment of his ability to score with any kind of efficiency in the NBA.

What Carter-Williams has going for him (and why he’s not lower on my list) is his defensive metrics are actually very good. He got 2.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per 36 minutes, numbers which compare favorably with any other point guard available in this draft.

A team that drafts Carter-Williams will be getting a pass-first guard who can play quality defense. Sadly, his complete lack of ability to score with efficiency is too much of a red flag for me to ignore. I understand why teams would be interested in Carter-Williams, but Trey Burke is the better point guard option in my opinion.

#18: BEN MCLEMORE – 20 years old, SG, Kansas (+0.03)

This is likely to be my most controversial grading. McLemore has often been projected as a top three pick in the NBA draft. I’ve seen arguments that suggest McLemore should be the top overall pick. When I look at the statistical profile, I simply cannot understand what has people so excited.

What McLemore does bring to the table is excellent shooting ability. He shot almost 50 percent from the floor as a guard, including 42 percent from three-point range. He scored 1.10 points per possession, which rates extremely well among the guards eligible for this year’s draft.

The problem with McLemore is that he doesn’t bring anything else to the table. His rebounding, passing, and defensive metrics are all average or worse. Compare McLemore to C.J. McCollum, another efficient scorer who scored more points, had better rebounding and passing metrics, and similar defensive metrics.

For me to give a prospect a grade of likely success, he needs to show me more than one thing. Yes, scoring is the single best thing I can see out of a prospect. However, if McLemore turns out to be Kevin Martin, is that really a player worthy of the #2 pick? I would understand if McLemore was drafted in the late lottery, but I can’t support a team’s decision to draft him in the top three.

#19: SHANE LARKIN – 20 years old, PG, Miami (FL) (-0.11)

Larkin is a point guard whose metrics just don’t get to where they need to be for me to call him a good prospect. Larkin did play 36 minutes per game for a very highly ranked team, but it’s hard for me to see what he brings to the NBA that will help him stand out against the best players in the world.

The one point in Larkin’s favor besides experience is that he did shoot 41 percent from three-point range. If he catches on in the NBA, it will likely be because of his ability to make shots. Overall, Larkin scored 1.01 points per possession, which is a decent rate, but again, doesn’t really stand out.

Larkin’s other metrics are very unexciting. He had 3.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per 36 minutes. He didn’t show much ability to get to the free throw line (2.3 FTA/36) and also didn’t show the ability to take on a lead scoring role (14.3 PTS/36).

If Larkin was still just 18 years old, I could see him developing into a quality NBA point guard. At 20 years old, it’s hard to get excited about him. Players who can shoot have some value from that alone, but Larkin is likely to face an uphill battle in the NBA.

#20: SERGEY KARASEV – 19 years old, SF, Russia (-0.80)

A common remark I’ve seen made recently is that NBA players who can both shoot and play quality defense are surprisingly hard to find. Players like Thabo Sefolosha and Shane Battier are often unheralded, but play a very valuable role for championship contending teams.

Karasev has the shooting part down. He’s a prolific three-point shooter who scored at a rate of 1.08 points per possession in the Russian league despite shooting 44 percent from the floor. He’s not much of a slasher, but he can definitely shoot.

Unfortunately, my complaint about players like Ben McLemore and Shane Larkin applies here too. Karasev can shoot, but what else does he bring to the table? He only got 3.3 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is a very low rate for a small forward. He also didn’t show much ability to pass, at 2.6 assists per 36.

Most troubling for Karasev are his awful defensive metrics. Karasev only got a mere 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks per 36 minutes. Players who can shoot and play defense are rare, but players who can only shoot are a dime a dozen. That’s why I can’t get excited about Karasev.

2013 NBA Draft Preview: 11-15

Here are my thoughts on the prospects I have ranked #11 to #15 in this year’s NBA draft.

#11: ALEX LEN – 20 years old, C, Maryland (+1.35)

Len has received a lot of hype in recent weeks. Draft Express recently made Len their #1 overall prospect in the 2013 NBA draft. I understand some of the enthusiasm about Len, but when I look at the statistics, I only see a good prospect, not a great one.

Len’s numbers are fairly solid across the board. He’s a decent scorer at 1.00 points per possession, on a respectable 11.6 shots per 36 minutes. He’s also a very good rebounder and decent shot blocker.

At the same time, there’s nothing about Len that jumps out at me. His scoring is decent/OK. His rebounding is good but not sensational. He’s a good shot blocker, but compare his 3.1 blocks and steals per 36 minutes to Nerlens Noel’s 7.4. There are no glaring red flags, but there’s nothing to get too excited about either.

The one area Len has Noel beat is size. While Noel is a skinny 206 pounds, Len has good size for a starting NBA center at 255 pounds. There’s nothing “wrong” with Len. However, there’s also no one facet of his game that makes me think he’s headed for stardom in the NBA.

#12: RUDY GOBERT – 20 years old, C, France (+1.31)

As a draft prospect, Gobert is very similar to my #10 prospect Lucas Nogueira. Gobert is a huge player at 7’2″ and has a huge field goal percentage to match that, but there are also some concerns about how well he’ll adapt to the NBA.

The two things about Gobert that stand out are his field goal percentage and takeaways. Gobert shot 72 percent from the floor, albeit on just 7.5 shots per 36 minutes. Gobert also got 4.2 blocks and steals per 36 minutes, one of the better takeaway rates among big men in this year’s draft.

The biggest concern I have with Gobert is that he only got 8.4 rebounds per 36 minutes despite being 7’2″. Gobert has been identified as having issues getting pushed around in the paint; not good for a big man who is already limited offensively.

I have Gobert rated as a player likely to succeed in the NBA, but like Nogueira, he’s unlikely to be drafted in the lottery. I understand why; while Gobert certainly has the potential to be a tremendous inside presence, he still has some improving to do.

#13: JAMAAL FRANKLIN – 21 years old, SG, San Diego State (+1.11)

Franklin is one of the strangest prospects in this draft. He is not close to an efficient offensive player. He only scored 0.89 points per possession thanks to shooting 40 percent from the floor, and turning the ball over a lot.

So why do I have Franklin rated as likely to succeed in the NBA? There are two metrics that stand out. One is that Franklin is excellent at getting to the free throw line. This is a very good attribute for a guard to have; the best guards in the NBA are all good at drawing fouls.

The other is that Franklin has an incredible rebound rate. He got 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes for San Diego State, an absurd number for a shooting guard. In fact, Franklin has the highest defensive rebounding rate of any prospect projected to go in the first round.

If Franklin wants to succeed in the NBA, he’ll need to limit how many shots he takes. His lack of efficiency in college indicates that he’d struggle badly if given a lead scoring role. However, Franklin’s incredible ability to draw fouls and get rebounds should be enough for him to carve out some kind of useful role for an NBA team.

#14: TONY MITCHELL – 21 years old, PF, North Texas (+0.80)

Mitchell is the first of the players I have graded as being unlikely to succeed in the NBA. There are things to like about Mitchell’s game, but his statistical profile shows some limitations as well.

Like Jamaal Franklin, Mitchell only scored at a rate of 0.89 points per possession as a sophomore at North Texas. Compared to Franklin, Mitchell got to the free throw line a little less, got slightly fewer rebounds, but also created more takeaways.

The problem with Mitchell’s numbers being comparable to Franklin’s is that Franklin is a shooting guard and Mitchell is a power forward! The only reason Franklin can get away with poor shooting efficiency is because of his remarkable abilities for his position. For Mitchell, being a good rebounder isn’t remarkable, it’s to be expected.

The one possible saving grace for Mitchell is that he did show good defensive metrics. However, as a 21 year old prospect, good defensive metrics alone aren’t good enough to make the cut as one of my top prospects of this draft.

#15: GIANNIS ADETOKUNBO – 18 years old, SF, Greece (+0.58)

I’ve seen this man’s name spelled as “Adetokunbo” and also as “Antetokounmpo.” I prefer the shorter version, so that’s what I’m going with.

I think Adetokunbo has entered the draft too early. It’s not that he doesn’t have talent – he certainly does – it’s that there’s nothing in his statistics to suggest he’s ready for the NBA.

There’s nothing particularly wrong in the statistics, but there’s nothing particularly right either. He didn’t score too efficiently, he didn’t get to the line a lot, he didn’t get a ton of rebounds or assists, and he didn’t get a lot of takeaways.

Overall, Adetokunbo profiles as a player who was merely decent in the Spanish league. Whoever drafts him is likely to keep him stashed in Europe for a couple years anyway, but I think he might have done better to wait a year and enter the 2014 draft. If I was a general manager, I’d probably pass on what is admittedly a prospect with upside.

2013 NBA Draft Preview: 6-10

Here are my thoughts on the players I have ranked as the #6-#10 prospects in this year’s draft.

#6: STEVEN ADAMS – 19 years old, C, Pittsburgh (+2.02)

Adams is a lot like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in this draft. I had both players ranked in the top ten of this draft class when they were both projected to go late in the first round. Since then, they’ve both moved into the lottery in a number of mock drafts.

Like Nerlens Noel, Adams is a player whose value comes from the defensive end of the floor. He had 3.1 blocks and 1.0 steals per 36 minutes as a freshman at Pittsburgh, numbers which are among the highest for centers in this year’s draft. He also was a very good offensive rebounder – strangely, Adams got almost as many offensive rebounds per 36 minutes (4.3) as defensive rebounds (5.4).

Adams is very limited offensively – he only attempted 8.4 shots per 36 minutes, making 57 percent of them. His points per possession was 0.96, which is low for a draft prospect. Adams makes up for this by not taking too many shots. He doesn’t profile as a me-first player.

What’s most impressive about Adams is his ability to play so well defensively at the age of 19 years old. If your team is looking for a rim protector and doesn’t have the chance to draft Noel, Adams is the next best choice.

#7: VICTOR OLADIPO – 21 years old, SG, Indiana (+1.85)

I see Oladipo probably being successful in the NBA, but I also see some irrational hype of Oladipo in some circles of the Internet. There’s a lot to like about him, but I’d stop short before comparing him to Dwyane Wade or anybody similar.

Oladipo is a very well-rounded player. He’s efficient enough on offense that he scored 1.11 points per possession as a junior. He shot 60 percent from the floor, which is extremely high for any player, let alone a shooting guard. He also has excellent rebounding abilities and a very high rate of steals.

There are a couple things holding Oladipo back as a prospect a little bit. One is that it’s unclear if he can be a consistent three-point threat in the NBA; he shot 34 percent on a career 142 three-point attempts in college. The other is that he’s 21 years old, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but does make his statistics a little less impressive in comparison to some other prospects.

Oladipo’s overall skill set is good enough that I’d call him one of the safer picks in the draft. I doubt he has what it takes to reach Dwyane Wade status, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t become a steady and valuable contributor in the NBA.

#8: C.J. MCCOLLUM – 21 years old, PG/SG, Lehigh (+1.61)

If your team needs a scoring boost in the backcourt, look no further than C.J. McCollum. McCollum scored a whopping 27.8 points per 36 minutes in his senior season at Lehigh. He shot 49 percent from the floor, got to the free throw line a lot, and scored at an efficient rate of 1.11 points per possession.

The reason I don’t have McCollum rated higher is that his shaky defensive metrics are a bit of a red flag. McCollum got a combined 2.0 blocks and steals per 36 minutes, which is fairly low for a player expected to be a lottery pick.

Another issue is that McCollum has the size of a point guard (6’3″, 197 pounds) but the skill set and metrics of a shooting guard. He might turn out to be similar to Monta Ellis in that he’s a small guard with terrific scoring abilities but glaring flaws as well. (Hopefully he turns out to be a better teammate than Monta.)

One thing I’m not as concerned about is the fact that he played at Lehigh. Damian Lillard played at Weber State, Kenneth Faried played at Morehead State, and Jeremy Lin played at Harvard… those guys turned out OK. McCollum’s tremendous talent and scoring ability is enough to place him in the top ten despite the questions he’ll need to answer in the NBA.

#9: TREY BURKE – 20 years old, PG, Michigan (+1.53)

Burke is a player whose draft value is probably a bit higher than normal due to a draft very thin on point guards. Other than Michael Carter-Williams, Burke looks like the only pure point guard likely to be drafted in the first round. I think Burke will probably succeed in the NBA, but I’m not quite as enthusiastic about him as a lot people are.

Burke is definitely an impressive floor general. He scored at a respectable rate of 1.02 points per possession, but what’s impressive is that he did so while getting 6.8 assists per 36 minutes. It’s often challenging for a pure point guard to score at high efficiency because of a high rate of turnovers. Burke only turned the ball over 2.2 times per 36 minutes despite his high assist rate.

Burke is likely to struggle a bit on the defensive end due to his relative lack of size (6’1″, 187 pounds). He got a combined 2.1 blocks and steals per 36 minutes, which isn’t bad for a point guard, but it’s not really good either. Burke also isn’t much of a factor on the boards.

Overall, Burke is an impressive prospect due to his relatively polished abilities as a point guard, and the fact that he played that way as a 20 year old for a national powerhouse in Michigan. I think Burke is likely to succeed in the NBA, but he’ll have to battle some limitations as well.

#10: LUCAS NOGUEIRA – 20 years old, C, Brazil (+1.45)

With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Steven Adams rising up the mock draft boards, Nogueira is now my late first-round prospect to look out for. There are legitimate questions about how well his game will translate to the NBA, but Nogueira’s upside is too great for me to ignore.

Some of Nogueira’s statistics are eye-popping. He shot 69 percent from the floor for Estudiantes Madrid last year. He blocked 3.0 shots per 36 minutes to go along with 1.1 steals. He scored at a rate of 1.22 points per possession and got a lot of offensive rebounds.

There are some concerns within the numbers as well. One is that he only played 13 minutes per game and less than 500 minutes overall. His defensive rebounding rate was very low, and very close to guards like Victor Oladipo and C.J. McCollum. He also was charged for too many fouls – a rate of 5.0 per 36 minutes.

I understand why Nogueira is only getting a late first-round grade from draft experts. It’s hard to justify using a lottery pick on a player with as many question marks as Nogueira. At the same time, some of the metrics suggest that Nogueira has incredible NBA talent. Overall, Nogueira lands #10 on my list, but he’s risky.

NBA Finals Preview and Prediction: Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs

This preview is going to be very short and simple. I’m going to use the RSPM numbers for each team as my guide, and see what they say about how good the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are.

Projected minutes for each player are simply my best guess based on recent games.

“Impact” is a player’s RSPM multiplied by his projected minutes.

MIAMI HEAT Proj. Minutes RSPM Impact
 LeBron James  43  +9.25  +397.75
 Dwyane Wade  38  +4.65  +176.70
 Chris Bosh  31  +3.22  +99.82
 Mario Chalmers  27  +1.74  +46.98
 Ray Allen  21  -0.81  -17.01
 Norris Cole  18  -5.55  -99.90
 Udonis Haslem  18  -1.19  -21.42
 Chris Andersen  17  +3.52  +59.84
 Mike Miller  11  -1.39  -15.29
 Shane Battier  10  -0.10  -1.00
 Joel Anthony  6  -1.33*  -7.98
 Rashard Lewis  0  -3.95  0.00
 James Jones  0  -4.68*  0.00

*Denotes players with under 600 minutes played and a modified RSPM rating as a result.

TOTAL IMPACT: 618.49

TEAM STRENGTH: 618.49 / 48 MINUTES = +12.89

So my expectation is that this Miami Heat team is 12.89 points above average. Now let’s take a look at the San Antonio Spurs:

SAN ANTONIO SPURS Proj. Minutes RSPM Impact
 Tony Parker  39  +3.51  +136.89
 Kawhi Leonard  34  +3.43  +116.62
 Tim Duncan  34  +8.07  +274.38
 Tiago Splitter  27  +3.90  +105.30
 Danny Green  26  +1.31  +34.06
 Manu Ginobili  25  +3.70  +92.50
 Boris Diaw  19  -0.84  -15.96
 Matt Bonner  17  -1.89  -32.13
 Gary Neal  11  -3.84  -42.24
 Cory Joseph  8  -2.26  -18.08
 DeJuan Blair  0  -2.31  0.00
 Patty Mills  0  -3.08  0.00
 Tracy McGrady  0  -4.00*  0.00

*Denotes players with under 600 minutes played and a modified RSPM rating as a result.

TOTAL IMPACT: 651.34

TEAM STRENGTH: 651.34 / 48 MINUTES = +13.57

This means I consider San Antonio to be 0.68 points better than Miami right now. Given four points for home-court advantage, I favor Miami by 3.32 points at home, and San Antonio by 4.68 points at home.

This translates to a 61 percent chance of Miami winning a game at home, and a 34 percent chance of Miami winning a game in San Antonio. Based on those percentages, here is the likelihood of each possible series outcome:

19.8%: MIAMI IN 7

18.2%: SAN ANTONIO IN 5

17.1%: MIAMI IN 6

13.8%: SAN ANTONIO IN 6

12.7%: SAN ANTONIO IN 7

7.5%: MIAMI IN 5

6.6%: SAN ANTONIO IN 4

4.3%: MIAMI IN 4

Overall, a 51.3% chance of San Antonio winning the series, with a 48.7% chance of Miami winning.

This is not the result I expected. When I privately did this same analysis a week ago, it gave Miami a 64% chance of winning. The difference is the allocation of minutes. San Antonio has been giving more minutes to its top players, while Miami has been giving too many minutes to Norris Cole.

If I was a participant in the Stat Geek Smackdown on ESPN, it would be in my best interest to pick San Antonio in five. I’m not a participant there, so my interest will be to minimize error. Therefore, my overall prediction is…

 

FINAL PREDICTION: SAN ANTONIO IN 6

UFC 155 Preview and Predictions

I’ll be heading out of town for the next week and a half, and won’t have access to this blog, so I decided to just get my preview post and predictions out now. In the likely event that injuries force changes or cancellations to some or all of these fights, I apologize in advance for my inability to break those fights down.

UFC heavyweight championship match: Junior dos Santos (15-1, 9-0 UFC) vs. Cain Velasquez (10-1, 8-1 UFC)

It seems like last month I was writing about how excited I was to watch Junior dos Santos take on Cain Velasquez in the first UFC broadcast on network television. I saw it as an evenly matched battle between two very aggressive heavyweights, who were going to clash until one of them went down.

Clash they did, but it only took 64 seconds for Cain Velasquez to go down, as dos Santos clubbed him with an awkward overhand right to win the UFC heavyweight championship. Now that dos Santos and Velasquez are set to rematch, I feel a little bit differently about how they match up.

Dos Santos is a very good boxer who has mastered the art of landing hard strikes on his opponents without eating strikes in return. He takes the center of the cage, moves forward aggressively, and mixes up powerful punches, landing to both the head and body of his opponent. He succeeds in his aggressive movement by also possessing fantastic takedown defense; dos Santos has very rarely been taken down in his MMA career, and when he does go down, it’s typically only seconds before he gets right back on his feet.

When I sift through the data on dos Santos, I’m left at a loss as to what his weakness as a fighter is, or if he has one at all. If I really wanted to nitpick, perhaps I would say that he can be countered, and is only good at avoiding his opponent’s strikes, as opposed to being amazing at it, like Anderson Silva or Lyoto Machida. Dos Santos does have one loss by submission, but that was very early in his career; many great fighters have been submitted by somebody random in their early career, and this shouldn’t be held against dos Santos. From what I can see, there are no holes in his game.

Facing dos Santos is Cain Velasquez, a wrestler who has transitioned to mixed martial arts about as well as any wrestler ever has. Like dos Santos, Velasquez has a very aggressive and effective boxing game, although his defense standing is closer to average than good. But what defines Velasquez are his takedowns and ground and pound. Velasquez takes his opponents to the ground early and often, and when he does so, he typically wastes no time in establishing top position and tearing his opponents apart. Ask Antonio Silva, a top ten heavyweight who was decimated by the ground and pound of Velasquez back in May.

But while I felt this fight was a toss-up 13 months ago, now I have to favor dos Santos. That’s because dos Santos’s best strength as a fighter – his high rate of power punches – corresponds nicely to Velasquez’s glaring weakness as a fighter: his chin. When Velasquez was staggered multiple times by Cheick Kongo at UFC 99, I didn’t think too much of it. After all, Kongo is a striker, and Velasquez was still early on in his MMA career at that point. But when Velasquez was knocked out by dos Santos, that seemed to confirm that Velasquez does not have the ability to take punches very well. Until that KO loss, Velasquez was able to hide this weakness by using his wrestling to completely stifle the offense of his opponents.

And while dos Santos’s biggest strength corresponds to Velasquez’s biggest weakness, I have no idea if Velasquez will be able to use his best asset – his takedowns and wrestling prowess – to neutralize the game of dos Santos. Again, dos Santos is rarely taken down, and perhaps has never been taken down and held down in an MMA fight.

It’s possible that Velasquez will succeed where others have failed, and find a way to take Junior dos Santos down and control him on the ground. It’s also possible that Velasquez can hit dos Santos in the right spot with a power punch, and win by knockout. But if he is able to accomplish either of those things, he’ll be the first. Until a fighter manages to show that there is a hole in the game of dos Santos, I have to pick him to win. Dos Santos by knockout.

Lightweight match: Joe Lauzon (22-7, 9-4 UFC) vs. Jim Miller (21-4, 10-3 UFC)

For a while, the criticism I and many others had about Joe Lauzon was his lack of wins against UFC-caliber talent. At one point, Lauzon’s list of UFC wins included Curt Warburton, Gabe Ruediger, Jeremy Stephens, Kyle Bradley, and Jason Reinhardt. Of those five, only Stephens has had anything close to a prolonged or successful UFC career. Since then, Lauzon has strengthened his resume with wins over Melvin Guillard and Jamie Varner, although he also lost by KO to Anthony Pettis.

Make no mistake about Lauzon – he’s an average UFC lightweight who is being promoted as a title contender. Lauzon is very aggressive, and his fights rarely go to decision, but sometimes, his aggression works against him. That was the case in his UFC 123 fight against George Sotiropoulos, where Lauzon faded before being submitted in the second round.

I don’t think Lauzon’s aggression will work against Jim Miller. Miller is coming off the worst performance of his career in a loss to Nate Diaz, but his ability to defend submissions should be a great asset here. Usually, when Lauzon wins, it’s when he can take a dominant position on the ground early, use strikes to force the opponent into a mistake, and submit him. That’s not happening against Miller, a very tough fighter who is very hard to submit. Sure, Diaz did it, but he did it with a relentless attack over most of two rounds; Lauzon is usually breathing very heavily by the end of the second round.

Lauzon might put together a series of strikes and submission techniques that finish Miller early. I think it’s a lot more likely that Miller calmly weathers an early storm, and controls most of the fight with superior striking and grappling. I’ll take Miller to win by submission here.

Middleweight match: Tim Boetsch (16-4, 7-3 UFC) vs. Costa Philippou (11-2, 4-1 UFC)

When this fight was originally scheduled as Boetsch vs. Chris Weidman, I immediately chalked it up as a win for Weidman. Boetsch can be dangerous in a number of ways, but he’s also a fighter who’s been winning by the skin of his teeth. In his last fight, Boetsch won a close decision against Hector Lombard, and only seemed to win due to Lombard’s relative lack of activity. In the fight before that, Boetsch clearly lost two rounds to Yushin Okami before delivering a sensational comeback. It’s been a “Cinderella” run for Boetsch… and now, with Costa Philippou as his opponent, the run might last one more fight.

There’s a lot I like about Philippou, and a lot I don’t like as well. I like Philippou’s competent boxing, improved takedown defense, and all-around game. I like that he trains with Matt Serra and Ray Longo, the same men who train Weidman. What I don’t like is that Philippou doesn’t have great power, and doesn’t have great defense, either. Outside of a TKO win over Jared Hamman (which says nothing about Philippou’s power), Philippou’s wins have all been close. He won a split decision against Jorge Rivera, and competitive unanimous decisions against Court McGee and Riki Fukuda.

Boetsch isn’t the most polished striker, but he can be effective, and he hits harder than Philippou does. If the fight goes the distance, I think it will be close, but I favor Boetsch. Since I also think Boetsch is more likely to win by knockout than Philippou is, he has to be my choice to win. Boetsch by decision.

Middleweight match: Alan Belcher (18-6, 9-4 UFC) vs. Yushin Okami (27-7, 11-4 UFC)

Belcher is a fighter who has recently been winning despite glaring holes in his game. Against Wilson Gouveia, Belcher won by TKO, but took a surprising amount of strikes in just three minutes. Against Patrick Cote, Belcher was in a very close fight before he suddenly slammed Cote on his head and subsequently won by rear naked choke. In his most recent fight, Belcher was taken down by Rousimar Palhares, who quickly grabbed Belcher’s leg and tried to bend it in all sorts of unnatural ways. It’s a credit to Belcher that he was able to defend those submission attempts, but the problem is that he allowed Palhares to put him in that situation in the first place.

Namely, Belcher’s problems are his striking defense and takedown defense. He can get away with those flaws against fighters like Gouveia, Cote, Jason MacDonald, and even Palhares, but I doubt he can get away with those flaws against Yushin Okami. Okami is the kind of fighter who will fight at a slow pace, and attack when Belcher makes a mistake. I can easily see Okami catching one of Belcher’s kicks, and using that to land a takedown. I can easily see Okami scoring a bunch of points by landing jabs and straight punches. I think this is where Belcher’s ascent in the middleweight division is stopped. Okami by decision.

Middleweight match: Derek Brunson (9-2, 0-0 UFC) vs. Chris Leben (22-8, 12-7 UFC)

A lot of people like Derek Brunson and think he can be a good middleweight in the UFC. I don’t see it. Brunson’s wins are against fighters like Nate James and Lumumba Sayers – fighters who are decent, but probably not worthy of the UFC. Most damning is that Brunson was knocked out in his last fight by Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, a fighter who previously had no wins by knockout in 18 fights. If Souza can knock out Brunson, so can Chris Leben. Leben by KO.

Bantamweight match: Brad Pickett (22-6, 2-1 UFC) vs. Eddie Wineland (19-8-1, 1-2 UFC)

The most evenly matched fight on the card in my opinion. Pickett’s advantages are that he fights at a higher pace than Wineland, and is more aggressive at landing takedowns. Wineland’s advantages are better defensive striking and takedown defense, and better KO power. I think Pickett’s relative aggression will serve him well, and he’ll land just enough strikes and takedowns to win a close decision. But I can easily be talked into picking Wineland instead.

Bantamweight match: Byron Bloodworth (6-2, 0-1 UFC) vs. Erik Perez (12-4, 2-0 UFC)

Perez is off to a great start in the UFC, with first round finishes of John Albert and Ken Stone. I was looking forward to his third UFC fight being against an established veteran at 135 pounds. Instead, his opponent is Byron Bloodworth, who was knocked out by Mike Easton in his UFC debut last year. Bloodworth might have one of the best last names in the sport, but he’s the perfect example of a fighter I feel should have proved himself more on the regional circuit before getting a shot in the UFC. Until Bloodworth proves he belongs, I have to take Perez to win by submission.

Lightweight match: Melvin Guillard (30-11-2, 11-7 UFC) vs. Jamie Varner (20-7-1, 1-1 UFC)

Let’s try this again…

Varner is a very aggressive fighter who wins by submission more often than not. Guillard is a very aggressive fighter who wins by knockout more often than not. Unfortunately for Guillard, he has a long history of losing by submission, and Varner has never been knocked out. Varner by submission.

Lightweight match: Michael Johnson (12-6, 4-2 UFC) vs. Myles Jury (10-0, 1-0 UFC)

While most people see this as an easy fight for Michael Johnson, I think people are underrating Myles Jury. I agree in that I think Jury should have gotten an opponent who is a little lower on the UFC totem pole. But Jury is a good wrestler whose wins are primarily by submission, and Johnson has had trouble on the ground in the past. In the end, though, Johnson is the better striker with more power, and his takedown defense should be good enough to stifle Jury. I’ll take Johnson by decision, but say that Jury has a lot of upset potential here.

Heavyweight match: Phil De Fries (9-1, 2-1 UFC) vs. Todd Duffee (7-2, 1-1 UFC)

Phil De Fries might have the most unimpressive 2-1 record in the UFC. His wins were over Rob Broughton and Oli Thompson, and his loss was a first-minute knockout against Stipe Miocic. Todd Duffee is a flawed fighter, but he really should be able to win by first-round KO in this one. Duffee by KO.

Flyweight match: Chris Cariaso (14-3, 4-1 UFC) vs. John Moraga (12-1, 1-0 UFC)

This is a very good fight that’s likely to be overlooked. I’m very impressed with what I saw of Moraga on tape – he’s a good, aggressive striker with a strong wrestling background. He also has a good ground game, and his only loss was by decision to John Dodson – no shame there. Cariaso can win this fight if he keeps it at distance and picks Moraga apart with kicks, but I think it’s more likely that Moraga lands more strikes and takedowns. Moraga by decision.

Featherweight match: Leonard Garcia (15-9-1, 1-3 UFC) vs. Max Holloway (6-1, 2-1 UFC)

When Garcia was supposed to face Cody McKenzie, I had a real dilemma on my hands. Am I actually going to pick Leonard Garcia to win a UFC fight in 2012? Then McKenzie got injured and was replaced by Max Holloway. Crisis averted. Holloway is far and away the better boxer than Garcia is. Holloway by decision.