Anticipating the Masters: A Foolhardy Exercise in Trying to Guess How the San Antonio Spurs Will Select in This Year’s NBA Draft

I absolutely love the NBA Draft.  It is one of the most frustrating and validating proving grounds for analytics.  There is inherent drama in seeing the risers and fallers.  As a fan, one gets to have unrealistic swaths of hope surrounding the future of the franchise (although I should note that I seldom experience this reaction anymore).

To some extent, it appears that the San Antonio Spurs have “figured out” the draft.  While there have been some stinkers (see Ryan Richards tanking for one of the worst teams in Greece, Marcus Denmon, a shooter, shooting 32.7% from range for a mediocre Turkish team, and Sergei Karaulov of the Russian second division), but the Spurs have plenty of rousing successes to compensate for these failures.  They have done this by exploiting the gaps in other teams’ knowledge and drafting internationals and savvy Americans who have fallen because of perceived faults.  Well, today, I am going to try to predict who the Spurs will draft with their first round selection, assuming that they do not trade up.  I should put emphasis on try; I never would have anticipated them selecting DeShaun Thomas with the 58th pick last year.  Using http://www.draftexpress.com as a guide, I will rank players in the order that I find likely that that player will be selected by the Spurs at a particular slot.  Ages are current as of the time of the post.  When I do best and worst case scenarios, note that I am casting a wider net than most people; do not be alarmed!

 

  • 1. SG Bogdan Bogdanovic 6’6″ 200 21 KK Partizan (Serbia)
  • NBA Comparison: I will steal Julien Rodger’s  assessment of him being similar to Joe Johnson (at asubstituteforwar.wordpress.com)
  • Best Case Scenario: Manu Ginobili
  • Worst Case Scenario: Daniel Hackett (First option on a mediocre Euroleague team or the second/third option on a good one)
  • Why the Spurs Might Pick Him: While Rodger may see him like Johnson, and I am in no position to disagree, I see him like Manu Ginobili with a mid-range game.  He is a very good slasher, a decent shooter, and has great scoring capability.  While shouldering the load on an extremely young, low-budget Partizan team, he averaged nearly 5 assists per 40 minutes pace-adjusted, which is doubly impressive when one considers that European scorers are much stingier in allotting assists than their NBA counterparts.  He also plays decent defense, and his efficiency is probably tempered somewhat by his high-usage role.
  • Why the Spurs Might Not Pick Him: There might be some justifiable fear that Bogdanovic’s role this year may have taught him some bad habits as far as shot selection is concerned; he attempted a lot of suspect mid-range shots this season.  Furthermore, in Euroleague play his high assist totals were almost matched by a horrendous 4.4 Turnovers per 40 Minutes pace-adjusted.  And Bogdanovic is all but certainly set to be a superstar at the European level.
  • Then Again…: The mid-range issue is common practice from what I watched in the Euroleague playoffs this year; teams tend to bail out in the last seconds of the shot clock with their best shooter attempting a long pull-up, and this happens rather frequently.   Besides, Popovich has fixed these issues with far more hopeless cases and being a star in Europe did not stop Ginobili from coming across the ocean.

 

  •  2. PG/SG Vasilije Micic 6’6″ 202 20 Mega Vizura (Serbia)
  • NBA Comparison: Tony Parker
  • Best Case Scenario: Last Year’s Version of Goran Dragic
  • Worst Case Scenario: Thomas Heurtel (mid-level Euroleague point guard whose with high assist totals but shaky year-to-year shooting percentages)
  • Why the Spurs Might Pick Him: This guy is a lot like Tony Parker.  He has very good court vision to the tune of about 7 assists per 40 minutes, pace adjusted, and can get points for himself.  He also could spend some time in Europe.
  • Why the Spurs Might Not Pick Him: His limitations are similar to Parker’s: high turnover rate and poor 3-point shooting.  Furthermore, he does not have the elite mid-range game that Parker does, and his numbers are somewhat skewed because of the Adriatic League’s weaker level of competition.
  • And then again…: This guy’s feel for the game fits in extremely well with the Spurs’ system.

 

  • 3. C Nikola Jokic 6’11” 253 19 Mega Vizura (Serbia)
  • NBA Comparison: Take the WABAC and call up Mehmet Okur
  • Best Case Scenario: Dirk
  • Worst Case Scenario: Erazem Lorbek (Lorbek is a stretch 4 whose rights were sent to Indiana in the George Hill trade and is the weakest starter for Barcelona, who made the Euroleague Final Four this year)
  • Why the Spurs Might Draft Him: This guy solves the problem of what happens when Boris Diaw lies out too long in the sun.  This guy is a decent shot blocker and rebounder, but he is also a fantastic scorer in possession three-point range and feel for the game, reflected in his 3 assists per 40 minutes, pace adjusted, in the Adriatic League.  He shot 63.6% from inside the arc in that same league, which is phenomenal when one considers that he is a jump shooter, meaning that either a) he is not shooting mid-range jumpers or b) he’s making a lot of the ones he takes!
  • Why the Spurs Might Not Draft Him: In the Adriatic League, Jokic shot 22.1% from deep.  Ouch.  He is also not a real post presence, although he is crafty, and not the most athletic man out there.  He is also pegged to go in the mid-second round, so the Spurs may see this as a reach and swap second-rounders with somebody else instead.  Furthermore, they may not be able to stash him in Europe; his agent, who owns his club, has other ideas.
  • And Then Again…: The Spurs can make his shot more consistent.  And since when have the Spurs cared about convention?

 

  • 4. SF Damien Inglis 6’8″ 240 19 Chorale Roanne (FRA)
  • NBA Comparison: Maurice Harkless
  • Best Case Scenario: Nicolas Batum
  • Worst Case Scenario: Carlos Suarez  (Long defender with a mediocre jumpshot and a definite size advantage against many/most match-ups)
  • Why the Spurs Might Pick Him: He and Kawhi Leonard would form an incredibly long, solid wing rotation for years to come which could lock down anyone in the league.  He is big enough and a good enough passer to take over the Boris Diaw role in the future, and he knows how to be a role player, as that was his job at Roanne.
  •  Why the Spurs Might Not Pick Him: He has a mediocre jumpshot, shooting only 72.4% from the foul line this year and only attempting approximately 1 3-pointer per game.  He also is not terribly explosive, only attempting about 1 free throw per game, and he was unable to take a big offensive role on a team that was relegated in France.  What is more, the Spurs essentially drafted the same guy last year, right down to the country of origin and shooting woes: Livio Jean-Charles, who plays for ASVEL, the French club owned by Tony Parker.
  • And then again…: The Spurs probably have the world’s best shooting coach, and Jean-Charles missed the entire French season with a knee injury.  What is more, the Spurs love their role players.

 

  • 5. SF K.J. McDaniels 6’6″ 196 21 Clemson
  • NBA Comparison: Corey Brewer
  • Best Case Scenario: Chandler Parsons
  • Worst Case Scenario: Ronnie Brewer at this stage in his career
  • Why the Spurs Might Draft Him: This guy is extremely skilled and versatile defensively, able to guard any perimeter position.  His athleticism gives lots of room for growth, he can block shots very well especially considering his size, is a fantastic offensive rebounder, and he is continuing to develop.  Despite his effort on defense, though, he seldom fouls.  The Spurs can continue to work with this guy.
  • Why the Spurs Might Not Draft Him: His shooting is a problem; he only made 31% of his 3-point attempts this season.  This is a product of very shaky shot selection.  He is another guy who may be taken earlier than the Spurs will be able to draft him, and some of his block and rebound numbers may be fueled by playing bigger than he will in the NBA.
  • And then again…: Shooting is fixable with the Spurs, and McDaniels shot 84% from the charity stripe last season.  He also mocked at 29 according to Draft Express, so he will still probably be in play for the Spurs.

 

  • 6. C Walter Tavares 7’3″ 265 22 Gran Canaria (Spain)
  • NBA Comparison: A taller Samuel Dalembert
  • Best Case Scenario: What Hasheem Thabeet was supposed to be
  • Worst Case Scenario: A Shot-Blocking Giorgi Shermadini (aka a journeyman center in Europe who always plays well but can never stick with a team for long)
  • Why the Spurs Might Pick Him:Mobile 7-footers do not grow on trees, and Tavares has a few inches on that.  The Spanish ACB is the third-best league in the world, behind the NBA and Euroleague, and Tavares was extremely efficient and a great shot blocker and rebounder.  He also just signed a three-year extension with his club, which will both scare other teams off a little and give San Antonio an incentive to pick him and watch him grow.
  • Why the Spurs Might Not Pick Him: He is incredibly raw; five or six years ago, he had never touched a basketball.  He is so efficient because he is strictly catch-and-finish, his passing is utterly non-existent, and  he has an unfortunate proclivity to commit fouls.  These limitations, as well as the lack of great explosiveness, seem to relegate him as a relic of a time quickly passing.  Furthermore, Tiago Splitter is currently ahead of him on the Spurs depth chart.
  • Then Again…: By the time Tavares’s contract expires, Splitter’s will have expired too, and  agile 7-footers do not grow on trees.

 

  • 7. SG Jordan Adams 6’5″ 209 19 UCLA
  • NBA Comparison: Paul George as a rookie? (This is very hard to do.)
  • Best Case Scenario: Manu Ginobili
  • Worst Case Scenario: James Anderson
  • Why the Spurs Might Draft Him: This guy could be the less-fun successor to Manu Ginobili.  He won’t whip passes halfway across the court, but he is very good around the rim, a solid shooter despite not getting many catch-and-shoot opportunities, a good passer, and he gets steals like nobody’s business-to the tune of 3.3 per 40 minutes pace adjusted, good for sixth-best in the nation.  This is another guy, like McDaniels and Inglis, who could create a defensive wing rotation for the ages with Kawhi.
  • Why the Spurs Might Not Draft Him: He is currently No. 23 on Draft Express’s Mock Draft, and…and…I don’t know because the Spurs are not overly enamored with athleticism, which Adams does lack.  This guy is awesome; I could see the Spurs trading up for him.

 

  • 8. PF/C Mitch McGary 6’10” 263  22 Michigan
  • NBA Comparison: Anderson Varejao
  • Best Case Scenario: Varejao
  • Worst Case Scenario: Marreese Speights
  • Why the Spurs Might Pick Him: McGary is a fantastic rebounder, especially on the offensive end.  He also shoots for a very high percentage without being relegated to catch-and-finish opportunities.  He also has an incredibly high steal rate, especially for a big man, and showed something of a post game in very limited opportunities.
  • Why the Spurs Might Not Pick Him: McGary applied for the draft after testing positive for marijuana usage and facing a year-long suspension.  He was also sidelined with a back injury for the vast majority of the season, and his foul rate rivals Tavares’s at about 5 per 40 minutes pace adjusted even though he faced clearly inferior competition.  Furthermore, none of he, Duncan, and Splitter are good shooters, which would limit his playing time unless Duncan retires.
  • And then again…: McGary does not have character issues; by his account, he got caught for a single mistake.  While there is certainly reason to be skeptical, this team also signed Stephen Jackson, and Pop should be able to keep him in line.

 

  • 9. PG Shabazz Napier 6’1″ 175 22 Connecticut
  • NBA Comparison: Damian Lillard (who I personally find to be somewhat overrated)
  • Best Case Scenario: What people think Lillard is/poor man’s Stephen Curry
  • Worst Case Scenario: Aaron Brooks
  • Why the Spurs Might Pick Him: I have a very bad good feeling (as in it is distasteful but likely) that Patty Mills will be gone next year and that Cory Joseph will not be able to replace him.  Shabazz Napier’s skillset is somewhat indicative of Mills’s in terms of shooting and scoring ability, capable but not always shown passing ability, and proclivity to rack up a solid number of steals.  He also is very team-oriented and seems to be a very good fit culturally.  While I hate the leader shtick, it certainly applies here, and Pop likes leaders.
  •  Why the Spurs Might Not Pick Him: There is a good chance that he will be gone by this point; Draft Express’s Mock Draft sees him going No. 24 to Charlotte.  Furthermore, Cory Joseph has shone flashes.
  • Then Again…: Joseph’s flashes are only flashes, and teams are not entirely fond of diminutive point guards or seniors.

 

  • 10. SF/PF Cleanthony Early 6’7″ 209 23 Wichita St.
  • NBA Comparison: Tobias Harris
  • Best Case Scenario: Ryan Anderson
  • Worst Case Scenario: Nicolo Melli (Mid-level European stretch 4)
  • Why the Spurs Might Draft Him: Early is a good shooter who can either be a big small forward or a stretch power forward.  He also fits into the team personality-wise.
  • Why the Spurs Might Not Draft Him: Early is the dreaded “tweener” stuck between the two forward positions, he is not an elite rebounder or passer, and he may have trouble defensively.  There is also the fear that his shooting will not translate as well, as he only shot 31.8% from downtown last year, especially scary considering Wichita St.’s relatively weak schedule.  (Edit: He also never passes–his assist rate is historically low.)
  • And Then Again…: His high usage at Wichita St. might be tempering his percentages, and he is not at that much of a disadvantage defensively.  Furthermore, they could simply plug him into a Matt Bonner role if it becomes too problematic.

 

Thank you for reading, please comment, please come back, and please let me gloat if the Spurs take Bogdanovic at 30.

My Assessment of the San Antonio Spurs

Lately, I have been considering become a Spurs front office intern when the time comes that I am ready to apply for such internships.  I would choose the Lakers, being the better of the local teams, except for the fact that I’m not sure if Jim Buss would be open to analytical ideas.  I’m afraid that he will be (when he officially owns the team) a very hands-on owner like Mark Cuban or George Steinbrenner.  However, the Spurs are a team that my dad has admired ever since the beginning of their dynasty for their class, and that I have admired for their ability to remain relevant.  The Spurs are a very interesting in that the majority of the team is either underrated to some degree, or have been a superstar for a long time (that is Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli).  In the case of Ginobli, it’s been both.  I have also noticed that it’s been a couple days since my last post, so the combination of these three factors leads to me wanting to evaluate the Spurs.  (Please note that over the course of this post I will be using Wins Produced that has not been adjusted for defense, as I do not have the resources to do the adjustments and Arturo Galletti does not consistently update this statistic.)

To make decisions on how overrated/underrated each player was, I converted PER to the same scale as Composite Score using the formula PERrate=(PER/15)*.099.  Admittedly, this still fails to completely show PER on the same scale as Composite Score since the best season of all time would only record a PERrate of .210, and that using an exponential function would be better, but I think that this is sufficient for my purposes.  I determined the exact proportions by subtracting PERrate from Composite Score.  Right off the bat, I noticed something peculiar: San Antonio has fourteen active players, seven of which are underrated, seven of which are overrated.  Okay, fair enough.  However, San Antonio’s seven best players according to Composite Score are overrated, while its seven weakest players are underrated.  The same (concerning ability) is true for both of the statistics used to calculate Composite Score-Win Shares and Wins Produced, both prorated over 48 minutes.  Admittedly, sometimes the difference is rather close (Tim Duncan is only overrated by .003 wins per 48), but it still exists.  I’m not going to try to explain this, but I think it’s very interesting.  San Antonio’s players, listed by Composite Score, can be found at spursassessment.  (I wish I knew how to stick a table in the middle of my post without learning HTML, but I don’t, so we’re stuck with the Excel links.  Sorry.)

At this point, it is no longer possible to trade players with expiring contracts, eliminating Duncan, Green, Mills, Anderson, and Diaw from any discussion.  However, those by no means make up the entire roster.  However, their only overrated players of value are Stephen Jackson and (maybe) James Anderson.  I am of the belief that, until the analytics movement gains more steam, all times who do use advanced while acquiring more than their net worth.  Unfortunately for the Spurs, the only possibilities of this are Stephen Jackson and Gary Neal.  Jackson has an expiring contract and a reputation, making him a great “deadweight” player.  Unfortunately, Neal is not greatly overrated, and he makes something the minimum salary.  However, Neal is peaking, and people forget how old he is because he hasn’t been in the league very long.  Cory Joseph, although seemingly highly overrated, has a bloated PERrate because you can get a PER of 3.5 for breathing according to some blogpost I read the other day (I think it was Bill Simmons or something).  Joseph’s PER is 7.6.

However, even though he technically isn’t overrated according to PERrate, I think Tony Parker is a prime trade candidate, provided that they acquire a younger and/or secretly better point in the immediate aftermath.  Here’s my reasoning:

For one, Tony Parker will turn thirty next year.  This is the time when players start to “fall off the cliff”.  Any year now, Parker may lose spontaneously lose half of his life.  Second of all, he already (sort of, kind of) fell off the cliff; two years ago, he posted a Composite Score of .075.  Although he has returned to his previous form over the past two years, it might be a warning sign for future decline.  (I haven’t studied falling off the cliff personally or read anything players who resurrect their careers, but I would I imagine it would lead to a future decline.)  Third of all, he probably is overrated, considering that PERrate is clustered too closely to the center.  Of course, barring any other transactions, the Spurs’ best option at point guard next year would be (drumroll, please) Gary Neal!  However, I’m sure the Spurs could swing something; they are the Spurs, after all.

Then there is the question of Tim Duncan.  Duncan has declined considerably, according to both conventional wisdom and anayltical measurements.  He is old, as far as basketball players are concerned.  However, it is still clear that he remains a serviceable center.  On the other hand, Tiago Splitter is a considerably younger center of slightly higher value.  Then, you also have the ever-so-slightly overrated DeJuan Blair.  And there’s the loyalty factor.  In the end, I think that the Spurs should resign Duncan, albeit at a greatly reduced rate.  He would then start the season as the starting center, while Blair acts as the team’s seventh or eighth man and Splitter start at the 4.  If Duncan’s skill continues to slip, Blair would go to the 4, Splitter to the 5, and Duncan to the bench.  Ultimately, I believe that he wants to finish his career in San Antonio, and that somehow the two sides would work something out.

Here’s my verdict:  The Spurs are a very solid, very deep, and somewhat underrated team.  They should shop Stephen Jackson, Cory Joseph, and Gary Neal for young value.  (It’s unlikely they’ll get much for Joseph.)  They should also try to trade Tony Parker, ensuring that they pick up a point guard, an albatross contract (or two), and lots of draft picks along the way.  They should prepare for the possibility that some of their older players will fall off the cliff, and they should resign Danny Green and Patty Mills to the cheapest contracts possible.  (I’ve always been a fan of Mills since he whitewashed Oregon in one of his first collegiate games.  Then again, I’ll become a fan of almost any player who has a good run.  Regardless, a back-up point guard does not necessarily have to be a world beater.)  Keep doing what you’re doing, San Antone!

P.S. This is my fortieth post.  I have deleted a couple along the way, but of them are still available.  Check out my archives!

P.P.S. If you have anything to saw about this post, please comment!  I want constructive criticism (although if you bash me, I will delete your bashings).