And Then There Were Five

Like DeRozan, Johnson has some of the best

Like DeRozan, Johnson has some of the best "upside" in the draft...

This is why I love the NBA draft.

Two huge trades already, and we’ve still got another 48 hours to go!

I think from here on out though we’ll probably only see small manoeuvres, but that doesn’t mean the actual draft is going to be any less entertaining.

For instance, what impact does Minnesota grabbing the fifth pick from Washington have on the Raptors?

Well, at face value, the impact appears to be zilch. From all reports, it sounds like Minny is targeting three players at 5; Rubio, Evans and Thabeet, all of whom were slated to go well before nine anyways. The problem for Minnesota of course is that all three could easily be gone before they get their shot at any of them. If that’s the case, the Wolves will be looking at the likes of James Harden and Stephen Curry in all likelihood with their next two picks.

So again, no impact on Toronto right?

Not exactly.

What if with their top three choices gone, Minnesota suddenly takes a liking to Demar DeRozan?

Then things could really get interesting.

As I discussed with the HQ Associate last night, the dream scenario would be for players like Holiday and Flynn to now jump into the mix in the top 8, thus causing someone like a Harden or Evans to fall.

However the chances of that happening are probably about the same as Chris Bosh signing a contract extension in a few weeks.

So for now, let’s assume that DeRozan is in play at 9. Based on his discussion with the media yesterday afternoon, Bryan Colangelo has his draft-list narrowed to five players:

-Demar DeRozan
-Gerald Henderson
-Jrue Holiday
-Jonny Flynn
-James Johnson

No big surprise there.

We first broke this story regarding three of the options weeks ago and Henderson was a natural addition once he came to work out. Therefore prior to last week, my guess would have been that Toronto had their group ranked as follows:

1) DeRozan
2) Holiday
3) Henderson
4) Flynn

So what about James Johnson?

I personally think that the Raptors extensively scouted Johnson this past year, and that he was always on their radar. However it was only upon closer inspection, that they vaulted him into their top five. And even though he had a sub-par workout for the Dinos recently, something we recapped here, he must have shown enough to warrant a second look as the Raptors apparently brought him back for another look in the past few days.

Holiday returned as well for a last-second glimpse so again, you have to wonder just what the final order of Toronto’s top five will look like come Thursday.

I personally think Henderson and Flynn, my two favourites of the bunch, are sitting in seats 4 and 5 respectively, and that DeRozan is still the top gun, but really, it’s anyone’s guess how this plays out, especially now that Minny holds picks five and six and has a back-court of Sebastian Telfair and…um…me.

If the Wolves decide to swing for the fences on DeRozan (which personally would astound me based on the success of a recent "upside" pick in Corey Brewer), then I’ve got a feeling that James Johnson suddenly emerges as the top candidate. That would leave really throw the rest of the draft for a loop wouldn’t it?

In fact Draftexpress.com’s newest mock shows that scenario, and I have to say it looks to be pretty bang on.

But if James Johnson is now indeed top dog at 9, how does he stack up against the rest of the prospects?

Recently, everyone and their dog has been firing out various statistical analyses of this year’s draft prospects, so I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring. But instead of coming up with new metrics, I put together a sort of "mega-analysis," and combined key stats from John Hollinger and ESPN’s D.R.A.F.T. initiative, and those compiled by our friends at DraftExpress in their recent five-part positional series.

To see the result, you can click on this link which should open up a Google spreadsheet but first, let me explain my methodology.

For starters, I looked at only positions that were of interest to the Raptors in this draft. Therefore all centers were eliminated from the compilation.

Second, I eliminated the following top prospects, who seem a lock to be gone by the time Toronto drafts; Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio, Hasheem Thabeet, and James Harden.

Then, I looked at only the remaining US college stars, as their stats were much more readily available and probably a lot more sturdy in terms of projecting off of (not to mention much more likely to be taken at 9 by Toronto.)

In terms of metrics, I also examined only stats that I felt were key to the Raptors this coming season. Therefore metrics like "points scored," "3-point attempts," "assists" and "free-throw percentage" I threw out the window. As you can see from the spreadsheet, I focussed solely on stats that spoke to areas of need for Toronto, and therefore statistics that would hopefully identify which players would be most beneficial to the Raptors in terms of upgrading key areas. These included:

-Free-throw attempts per possession (attempting to measure a player’s aggressiveness in terms of attacking the basket.)
-True-shooting percentage (attempting to measure a player’s true offensive efficiency by factoring in free-throw and 3-point shooting.)
-Assist to Turnover Ratio (classic measure of how well a player takes care of the ball and makes decisions with it)
-Rebounds per 40 Minutes (attempting to garner a player’s rebounding propensity)
-Steals and Blocks per 40 Minutes (not a perfect way to measure a player’s defensive abilities but does take some of these things in addition to athleticism, length etc, into consideration)
-PER – John Hollinger’s measure of a player’s value on the floor
-Hollinger Draft Rater – From ESPN’s analysis this score is a forecast of what level Hollinger expects a given prospect to produce at at the peak of their NBA production.

Finally, I applied these metrics and rules to a list of 30 players, all of whom had been graded by Draftexpress.com, and most of whom had been graded by Hollinger as well.

(For a full explanation of metrics, see this link.)

The results were quite interesting.

As per Hollinger’s article, his top prospect was Ty Lawson. Lawson also tested out extremely well using Draftexpress.com’s analysis and I truly believe that whoever drafts him, probably later in the first round, will have one of the more productive NBA players when we look back at this draft in a few years.

But for our purposes, I want to focus on the Raptors’ top five list to see how each shook out, starting with Mr. DeRozan.

To be honest, my analysis has DeRozan in a similar light as what John Hollinger reported about a week ago; there’s just nothing statistically that indicates that Demar will be a huge success in the NBA across my key metrics. He ranked right in the middle of the prospects I surveyed in terms of ability to get to the line (behind several less-mobile bigs in fact like DeJuan Blair and DeMarre Carroll), near the bottom of the group in true shooting percentage (and obvious red flag), had the fifth-worst assist-to-turnover ratio of the 30 prospects I surveyed, and while was slightly better in terms of rebounding, for someone so athletic his steals per 40 minutes and blocks per 40 minutes were quite poor. In fact his blocks per 40 were in the range of many of the point guards in my survey. Of the group he also posted the second worst PER.

Of course if Toronto is drafting DeRozan it’s on his upside and with only one year of college experience, one could argue that these stats don’t tell the whole story.

Therefore I did a compare of sorts, and matched DeRozan’s key metrics to those of another one-and-done athlete, Thaddeus Young. Unfortunately, Young’s stats surpassed those of DeRozan in virtually every area with the exception of blocks per 40 minutes, both sat at 0.5.

Jrue Holiday fared better than DeRozan, especially in the defensive metrics (his 2.3 steals per 40 minutes was one of the top marks in my group of 30), but he hardly blew anyone away either in many categories. Unfortunately, much like Rajon Rondo at Kentucky, it’s hard to take many of Holiday’s stats at face value because of the system he played in; it simply didn’t take advantage of his offensive abilities.

Jonny Flynn and Gerald Henderson tested out as the two top prospects of Toronto’s group of five and while their PER scores weren’t great, again, Syracuse’s zone and Duke’s "spread the floor" system probably factor in a lot here as well.

So what about James Johnson, the new dark horse option for Toronto at 9?

Unfortunately he wasn’t far from DeRozan in terms of under-performing in key areas.

His free-throw attempts per possession were fifth worst in my group of 30, and his assist to turnover ratio and steals per 40 minutes metrics ranked near the bottom of the pool as well.

The two areas Johnson did excel in however were rebounding and shot-blocking, and perhaps the thought from the Raptors’ brain-trust is that they can work on improving the rest of his game – these two traits are ones that would translate to the NBA right away. Johnson’s 9.9 boards per 40 minutes was behind only DeJuan Blair and Jordan Hill in my survey, and his 1.8 blocks per 40 ranked behind only the aforementioned Hill.

Conclusions to be drawn from all of this?

For me, I’d prefer if Toronto stayed away from both DeRozan and Johnson, the latter especially. I can see what Colangelo is thinking in that both players provide potential upgrades in size and or strength/athletic ability that this team sorely needs, but I’m just not sure their stats bear this out. For players who should have had the ability to create mismatches at the college level, this sure didn’t show through statistically and going into the bigger and stronger NBA, this has to be a concern.

Perhaps what really stood out to me from my analysis however wasn’t so much the pros and cons of top-rated prospects, but which players could be huge second-round sleepers in this draft. Here are a few notable names:

-Paul Harris posted incredible rebounding and free-throw attempt per possession metrics. His length and toughness at the 3 could be a great value in the second-round.
-Jerel McNeal continues to look like a high-value late option and his 2.2 steals per 40 minutes was one of the top marks defensively in the group of 30.
-Danny Green has all the statistical markers of a solid NBA pro for years to come. He contributes positively in almost every key stat and considering Toronto has brought him in for workouts now in two consecutive years, perhaps they take a flyer on him.
-Wes Matthews and Jermaine Taylor are two other players I’d love to see the Dinos snatch up late in the draft if possible. Matthews is an excellent athlete who overall put up some of the best metrics of any of the 30 players I examined. He’s a very solid defender in the Dahntay Jones mould, excels at getting to the line, and would be a cheap replacement in my opinion for Joey Graham, providing very similar skills.

Taylor tested out as one of the best athletes in the combine (his vertical was a shade under 38 inches) and reminds me a lot of Von Wafer. Both played under the radar for lesser-known schools, both can score at will and both have questions regarding defensive intensity and shot-selection.

Franchise would love to see Wes Matthews somehow end up in a Raptors' uniform on draft night...

Franchise would love to see Wes Matthews somehow end up in a Raptors' uniform on draft night...

Due to the parity in this draft, and the fact that many teams like Portland and Minnesota have excessive draft picks, perhaps Toronto can grab someone with a great deal of upside late in the process. Considering this economy, there’s very little risk in doing so as only after Summer League and Training Camp would the Raptors actually have to commit to such a player.

As a final note, we’ll be having our annual NBA Draft Party at Harbour Sports Grille here in Toronto tomorrow night. Howland will be holding down the fort himself this year as I will actually be attending the draft in New York, an incredibly exciting development made possible by media access via the Raptors and the NBA. Unfortunately due to work I’ll be missing today’s series of prospect interviews, but I’ll heading off to NYC tomorrow afternoon and blogging live from the actual event bringing all the Raptors-news and notes.

FRANCHISE

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