Just By The Numbers: Evaluating This Year's Small Foward Crop

Just By The Numbers:  Evaluating This Year's Small Foward Crop
Jun 17, 2008, 12:46 am
In part three of our "just by the numbers" series, we take a look at the top small forwards in the 2008 draft class on a purely statistical basis. While stats certainly don’t paint the entire picture of what a player can do on the court, they have become a very valuable measure in evaluating certain aspects of the game.

Just by the Numbers: Evaluating this Year's Point Guard Crop
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As statistics become more advanced, you can even start to predict where a college player might have struggled in an area because of a limited role, and it becomes easier to predict the areas where they still have upside.

In this article, you'll see a handful of players listed twice, most notably Danilo Gallinari. The Italian small forward's numbers with the AJ Milano label come from Euroleague competition, while the Pallacanestro Olimpia Milano signifies his stats from the less competitive domestic Italian A1 League. The numbers from Nicolas Batum and Omri Casspi come exclusively from the Euroleague. Victor Claver’s numbers are from the ULEB Cup and Spanish ACB.

To gain a better understanding of the statistics used, visit the glossary by Noah Libby-Haines. Interested in making your own statistical comparisons? You can do so here.

Points Per 40-Minutes Pace Adjusted


The top scoring small forward was Will Daniels of Rhode Island, followed by the very athletic Bill Walker. Pat Calathes and Joe Alexander closely follow Walker, and Danilo Gallinari's Italian League scoring average rounds out the top five. The Italian forward's Euroleague numbers are also quite impressive, considering they came against the highest level of competition in the world outside of the NBA. Brandon Rush ranks towards the bottom in this category (partially because of his loaded team, and partially due to how slowly he started off the season coming off an ACL injury), while Nicolas Batum's lack of aggressiveness looking for his own shot is also displayed here.

Rebounds Per 40-Minutes Pace Adjusted


Coaches love it when their wing players can help out on the boards, and there are a number in this class who can stake that claim. Pat Calathes’ rebounding numbers are extremely impressive, considering that most scouts don’t consider him particularly strong, long or explosive. Unlike the next five players ranked ahead of him, though, Calathes played almost exclusively as a small forward, which makes those figures even more interesting, and tell us a lot about his toughness, aggressiveness and timing, as well as his superior size at 6-10. After Calathes, we find a few traditional “athletes,” including Bill Walker (strong, explosive, tenacious) and Joe Alexander who you can say many of the same things about. Lee Cummard and Gary Forbes do very well here, while both Nicolas Batum and Danilo Gallinari rank at the bottom with their Euroleague stats. Shooting percentages are higher in the Euroleague than they are in the NCAA, leaving less misses available to collect, but there is no question that both players need to improve their rebounding ability. It would be nice to see the 6-10 Donte Greene a little bit higher up on this list considering his physical tools. He does have an exceptionally short wingspan, though.

Assists Per 40-Minutes Pace Adjusted


NBA small forwards are expected to be Swiss Army knives, capable of doing a little bit of everything depending on what the situation calls for at any given moment. Lee Cummard of BYU displayed an excellent feel for the game all season, and immediately jumps out in this analysis as someone who needs to be followed closely next season in the NCAA (he already withdrew from the draft). Batum's numbers are the most impressive, considering the stinginess of the Euroleague stat-keepers with assists. The Frenchman had nearly identical assist numbers to our two Europeans in the point guard comparison, emphasizing again what a superb passer he is from the small forward position (he nearly reached double-digit assists on a number of occasions this season in the French league). Gallinari actually had a better assist average in the Euroleague than the Italian league, which is partially explained by the fact that he was returning from injury and hit his scoring groove later on in the season. Chase Budinger scores higher than expected on this list, while Pat Calathes’ versatility again is on full display. Looking at his assists and rebounding numbers, it’s easy to see where the Lamar Odom comparisons are coming from.

Turnovers Per 40-Minutes Pace Adjusted


Taking care of the ball and preserving possessions is an absolute essential part of winning games, and not being able to do so could hint at issues with ball-handling and decision making skills, as well as a lack of experience. Most of these prospects will be role players in the NBA at best for at least their first few seasons, and NBA coaches typically have very little patience for mistakes. Bill Walker turned the ball over more than any other small forward, which can easily be attributed to his average ball-handling and decision making skills. Gary Forbes follows him with 3.3 turnovers per 40 minutes. His high number of turnovers can partially be attributed to his top ranking in terms of usage rate. Omri Casspi and Danilo Gallinari both took care of the ball despite their age and the high level of competition they went against, with Gallinari’s total being notably impressively considering how much ball-handling he does for his team as both a playmaker and slasher. Brandon Rush also did quite well, which is a testament to the mistake-free, NBA-style role he played on the wing at Kansas.

Assist To Turnover Ratio


The top two players on our assist list lead the group in assist to turnover ratio as well. Behind Cummard and Batum, Gallinari's Italian League ratio comes in third. Chase Budinger again did very well here, and they very intelligent Malik Hairston showed good play-making ability for a small forward throughout his college career. Marcus Dove ranks quite low on most of these lists as he earns his reputation on the defensive end of the floor and is an exceptionally poor ball-handler. Victor Claver has good potential, but will need a great deal more work on his ball-handling skills before he can be considering ready to make decisions at an NBA level. Will Daniels will probably be considered too much of a bull in a china shop at the SF position for most teams’ liking.

Pure Point Rating (PPR)


John Hollinger’s pure point rating [100 x (League Pace / Team Pace) x ([(Assists x 2/3) - Turnovers] / Minutes] is considered by some to be a superior way of measuring how well a player distributes the ball, as it rewards high volume assist gatherers over low-risk types, while docking players more who turn the ball over at a high rate. Lee Cummard, the only small forward in the class with a positive rating, continues to statistically dominate his position. Donte Green appears quite low on this list, and Bill Walker's tendency to force his drives into traffic probably has something to do with his ranking on this list.

Free Throws Attempted Per 40-Minutes Pace Adjusted


Danilo Gallinari shows excellent ball-handling skills and polished body control inside, and these abilities helped him grab the top two spots on the list. He’s likely a better athlete than most people are giving him credit for, and this table here backs that up. Very rarely do you see European players faring so well in this particular stat, which is one of his biggest draws as a prospect. The freakishly athletic Deron Washington of Virginia Tech follows, but there are question marks about how his out of control drives will translate to the next level. Still, you can’t help but be intrigued by his size, quickness and aggressiveness on the wing. Gary Forbes attacks the hoop very aggressively off the dribble (as all 30 NBA teams saw at the Orlando pre-draft camp), and his long arms allow him to finish while taking contact. Brandon Rush and Nicolas Batum rank very low on the list considering their level of athletic ability, and Donte Greene seemed more content with settling for jumpers. All three players need to improve their ball-handling skills significantly to reach their full potential at the next level. All must also become far more aggressive offensively.

Free Throws Attempted Per Field Goal Attempt


Getting to the free throw line is a far more efficient way of putting up points than shooting from the field, and thus players that “live at the line” are huge assets in the NBA. Gallinari and Washington score quite well here again, while the freakishly athletic Joe Alexander received a high number of attempts thanks to his ability to post up inside and his overall tenacity. Pat Calathes is not just an excellent shooter, passer and rebounder, but he can also put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, as you can see here. Donte Green and Brandon Rush again seemed more satisfied on the perimeter. Bill Walker ranks in the middle of the pack, which can be considered surprising considering the athleticism and strength he shows on the drive. Malik Hairston continues to quietly rank near the top of most every category so far.

Three Pointers Made Per 40-Minutes Pace Adjusted


Making a large quantity of 3-pointers is one way to stand out to NBA scouts. Brandon Rush spaced the floor very effectively on Kansas' run to the national championship, and he tops the list of three point shooters. Donte Green relied heavily on his outside shot during the season and also ranks quite high. Mr. Versatility Pat Calathes shot a high volume of three pointers and managed to convert on 40% of them. Joe Alexander and Omri Casspi have work to do on their long range shooting, though they both have improved their mechanics within the past year. Danilo Gallinari is not just an excellent slasher, he can also shoot the ball fairly well.

Three Pointers Attempted Per Field Goal Attempt


While every player needs to play a role in the NBA, scouts don’t like seeing prospects being one-dimensional already in college. Donte Greene's lack of ball-handling skills led him to rely on his long range jumper more than any other player in the small forward class. Gary Forbes and Nicolas Batum both took moderate amounts of three pointers (not a big strength for either player). Joe Alexander took fewer three pointers than any of our other players, and it makes it more difficult to gauge his long range shooting based on the limited number of attempts. Danilo Gallinari appears to have some work to do on his mid-range game.

Steals Per 40-Minutes Pace Adjusted


Athletic, aggressive Swedish forward Jonas Jerebko wreaked havoc in the passing lanes while playing in the Italian League this season, which was one of his main roles on the floor for Biella. Gallinari ties him at the top with his Italian League stats, though he did show varying levels of interest on the defensive end throughout the year. Marcus Dove does very well here, and most of his steals came on deflections rather than gambling his position in the passing lanes. Malik Hairston has never been known as an overly aggressive defender, and this stat doesn’t really change that impression. It’s interesting to note that 6 of the top 8 ranked players are European prospects.

Blocks Per 40-Minutes Pace Adjusted


Danny Green blocked nearly two shots per game in the touch ACC, quite impressive for a forward of his size. He grew up as a post player, and that same hustle and aggressiveness is still there, even if he already pulled his name out of the draft. Joe Alexander's freakish vertical leap and solid anticipation allowed him to block nearly two shots per game this season as well. Pat Calathes seemingly ranks high in virtually every category, so it’s no surprise to see him at the top here again. Donte Green did much better than expected altering shots in the Syracuse zone. Batum and Gallinari both rank towards the bottom in blocks, and the very explosive Chase Budinger ranks dead last.

Offensive Rebounds Per 40-Minutes Pace Adjusted


Bill Walker used his strength inside to average well over three offensive boards per game, quite an impressive feat for a forward. Jonas Jerebko wasn’t counted on much at Biella for his offense, so it was good to see him crash the glass strong. Danny Green continues to do well in stats that are typically dominated by big men. Nicolas Batum has the strength, length, and athleticism to make an impact in this area, but his lack of aggressiveness as well as the strong competition put him last of all the small forwards. Chase Budinger again comes up short in this category—this hustle stats are clearly something he should look at as he plans his course of attack at Arizona next season after pulling out of the draft.

True Shooting Percentage


True shooting percentage effectively measures a player's scoring efficiency by taking free throws and three pointers into account, giving us a better overall picture of how effectively he puts points on the board. Lee Cummard finished the season with an extremely high 69%, which stems from his high skill level, terrific perimeter shooting ability, and excellent overall decision making skills. Omri Casspi also scored quite high playing in the Euroleague, while Chase Budinger and Brandon Rush sit right in the middle. Gary Forbes comes in last here, which hints at his poor shot-selection, but may also be a product of the abnormally large role he played at UMass. The highly intelligent and very skilled Danilo Gallinari, Malik Hairston and Pat Calathes also fared well here.

Effective Field Goal Percentage


Effective field goal percentage measures the difference in value between the two point and three point field goals made, and rewards those who can effectively shoot the long ball. Lee Cummard again sits at the top with a very high percentage, and both Quan Prowell and Malik Hariston scored quite efficiently as well. Despite their high number of three point attempts, Chase Budinger and Brandon Rush sit in the middle of the pack. Joe Alexander may be hurt by his low number of attempts from three and an average conversion rate on the rest of his field goal attempts. As indicated previously, he isn’t quite as polished skill-wise as some of the other wing players in this draft. Deron Washington shows why despite his extremely high number of free throw attempts, he still has a long ways to go with his shooting ability before being considered a legit NBA player.

Points Per Possession


NBA coaches want their players to maximize every possession they have, and efficient scorers are highly rated in this measure. Lee Cummard scored 1.29 points for every field goal he attempted this season to top the list. Malik Hairston and Danilo Gallinari (Italian League), Quan Prowell and Pat Calathes follow him closely, and players that have the ability to create and shoot from long range. Nicolas Batum continues to score quite poorly in another area measuring scoring proficiency.

Player Efficiency Rating


Player efficiency rating was created by John Hollinger to measure the overall impact of a player through statistics. The rating uses an average PER of 15 derived from the NBA, which leads to inflated PERs for top college players in some cases. It makes sense that Lee Cummard would continue to dominate considering how well he did in many other areas, and Pat Calathes has the second highest rating on the list. Joe Alexander has a solid overall PER and quite a bit of room still level to improve over the next few years. Mid-first round prospects Brandon Rush and Chase Budinger seem to fall into the middle in a lot of these categories. It is difficult to compare between the PERs of NCAA and European players, since these numbers are only meant to be compared within their own leagues (the “average player” normalized to 15 in the Euroleague is not the same as a 15 in the NCAA).

Efficiency Per 40-Minutes


The "EFF" Statistic was created by the NBA to measure the overall statistical production of a player on the court. It adds up all the positive stats a player accumulates and subtracts all the negatives. For all intents and purposes, this stat makes more sense when calculated over 40 minutes rather than per game. Cummard again tops the list, followed by Danny Green. Bill Walker managed to score quite well considering his poor long range shooting and the high number of turnovers. Batum again ranks towards the bottom.

Win Score Per 40-Minutes


David Berri’s statistic is created by taking PTS + TRB + STL + .5* BLK + .5*AST - FGA - .5*FTA - TO - .5*PF / Min * 40. The average win score for an NBA small forward is 6.08, but the number will typically be higher for a college player. It should come as no surprise at this point in the article that Lee Cummard had amazing statistics last season. Gallinari also had quite a high Win Score, especially considering he carried his team at a young age. Pat Calathes continues to rank out extremely well in nearly every category.

Percentage of Team's Possessions


This number gives us pretty good insight into the type of role the player played within his team’s offense. A typical starting role player averages around 15% of his team’s possessions, while star players are usually around 20% or higher. UMass used Gary Forbes at a very high rate this past season, while Chase Budinger shouldered his fair share of the load for Arizona. Omri Casspi played on a stacked Maccabi Tel Aviv squad that made the Euroleague Final Four, and he was rarely used offensively by the Israeli powerhouse for much of the season. Lee Cummard managed to put up some amazing numbers with a much lower usage rate than you would expect. He will be interesting to follow next season, despite barely having received any interest in this year's draft (not even an invite to the pre-draft camp).

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