Just By the Numbers: the 2014 Center Crop

Just By the Numbers: the 2014 Center Crop
Jun 16, 2014, 10:38 am
In our fifth analysis of basic statistics, we take a look at the top 13 centers eligible for the 2014 NBA draft.

A key component of the game of basketball, statistics are both exalted for their comprehensiveness and condemned for their ridiculousness. There are an unlimited number of ways to evaluate a player on paper, with each seemingly generating non-stop debate over its value. In recent seasons, Synergy Sports Technology and other companies have brought on a new generation of statistics in basketball, and along with the likes of John Hollinger and Dean Oliver, have changed the way NBA teams evaluate prospects.

Accounting for every jumper missed on a fast break, pick and roll from the top of key, and bad pass in crunch time, the data at the disposal of NBA decision-makers seems to get deeper almost daily. As statistics become more advanced, you can even start to predict what areas a college player may struggle in moving forward based on what their numbers in college or where they may still have upside.

As we get further and further away from the actual season that was played between November and April, we tend to forget at times how productive prospects actually were on their individual teams between all the talk about wingspans and upside and performance in private workouts and such.

With that in mind, we're running a simple analysis of how all the top prospects in this draft compare in all the different facets of the game statistically that matter at their individual position.

Points Per-40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA27
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA20.2
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA19.5
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA18.8
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA17.7
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA16.9
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA16.6
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA16.5
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA15.7
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA14.3
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB11.8
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB10.6
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB9.9

This stat tells us plainly how often these centers put the ball in the basket, adjusting for minutes played and pace, which levels the playing field as best as we can without taking into account competition level, individual team roles, and teammates into consideration. This is a good place to start with this group of players, as it tells us about their versatility, the range of roles they played last season, and a little bit about each prospect's mentality as a shot creator or scorer.

Jusuf Nurkic is the most prolific scorer in this year's center class, and it isn't particularly close. The space eating center used his strength and post repertoire effectively down low in EuroCup, Croatian League, and Adriatic League competition, putting up historically great scoring numbers for a teenage European prospect. Nurkic actually rates as the third best scorer in this entire draft class behind Doug McDermott and T.J. Warren, even though he played against significantly higher level competition than those two. For comparison's sake, Nurkic was a far better scorer than Nikola Pekovic was in the Adriatic league at the same age.

The top scorer among college centers is Alec Brown, whose ability to knock down the three-ball gives him a boost up this list. Jarnell Stokes may lack size, but his wide frame helped him score at a solid rate on the block.

Joel Embiid takes the 4th spot here, ranking a bit above average, but some 8 points below Nurkic. Using about a quarter of Kansas' possession when he was on the floor, Embiid's usage rate falls below that of the Bosnian youngster's, accounting for some of the disparity there. Patric Young takes the 5th spot in what is not a terribly deep group of interior scorers.

On the other side of the spectrum, ACB centers Moussa Diagne, Ondrej Balvin, and Walter Tavares take the bottom-3 spots. Playing limited offensive roles for their respective teams, none of the three is a finished product at this stage as a scorer, projecting mostly as defensive contributors. Jordan Bachynski was the least prolific college scorer, due to his low usage rate relative to the other players on this list.

Free Throw Attempts Per-40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA12.2
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA8.6
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA8
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA6.2
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA6
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA6
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA5.7
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA5.2
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA5.1
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA4.9
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB4.8
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB3
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB3

Free throws attempted per-40 minutes is a good statistic to measure the aggressiveness of a player getting to the rim, as well as his athleticism, back to the basket game, and ball-handling skills. In some ways, it provides an inverse look at the three-point stats we just looked at.

Jusuf Nurkic leads all players in the 2014 draft class, regardless of position, by a considerable margin in free throw rate. The 6-11 Bosnian was simply too much for Adriatic league players to deal with inside the paint, despite his young age and the significantly higher level of physicality seen in that league. Joel Embiid takes the second spot here, as the potential number one pick put tremendous pressure on defenders at times with his terrific size, quickness and impressive footwork on the block. Jarnell Stokes was a horse inside at Tennessee, absorbing contact at a high rate and rounding out the top-3.

The 3 ACB centers once again take the bottom spots, though Moussa Diagne manages to fall closer to his college counterparts than his fellow Spanish Leaguers. Alex Kirk and Alec Brown are the low-men among college players, due in large part to their ability to step away from the basket and make jump shots.

Free Throw Attempts Per Possession
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA0.53
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB0.52
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA0.51
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA0.49
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA0.48
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA0.42
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA0.4
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA0.36
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA0.35
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA0.31
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB0.31
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA0.3
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB0.3

Even though Free Throws Per-40 Minutes Pace Adjusted tells us how much a player attacks in bulk, it doesn't show how much they attack relative to their usage rate. This stat tells that story.

A few players shift around some here, again indicating the differences in usage among this group. Moussa Diagne jumps up into the 2nd spot, while Joel Embiid now finds himself 3rd. Jordan Bachynski goes from ranking just average to just outside of the top-3. Diagne and Bachynski didn't play particularly big roles for their respective teams, but were magnets for contact when they did get an opportunity to finish inside.

Alec Brown falls into the second-to-last spot as his tendency to drift out to the perimeter and avoid contact is more pronounced here.

Three Point Attempts Per-40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA4.4
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA2.6
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA2.2
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA0.5
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA0.4
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA0.3
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB0.1
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB0
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA0
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA0
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA0
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA0
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB0

This stat does a good job quantifying how much of a shooter Brown is, as only Alex Kirk attempted half as many three pointers per-40 minutes pace adjusted as Brown did this season. Isaiah Austin doesn't fall too far behind. Unlike Kirk and Austin, both of whom shot under 29%, Brown had a terrific year shooting the ball, knocking down 45% of his attempts from beyond the arc. He lacks a degree of physical strength and toughness, but has an intriguing combination of size and shooting touch.

No other player on this list attempted more than an arbitrary number of 3-point shots, though it is worth nothing both Embiid and Nurkic made a few jumpers here and there this season. Embiid actually went 7/11 from the perimeter this season in the half court, while Nurkic went a less impressive 7/36.

True Shooting Percentage
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA0.67
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB0.64
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA0.63
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA0.62
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB0.62
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB0.61
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA0.6
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA0.59
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA0.59
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA0.58
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA0.56
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA0.54
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA0.52

True Shooting Percentage is adjusted to account for what a player adds to their efficiency and team's point total with free throw attempts and 3-pointers. This stat attempts to adjust for all the ways a player can put points on the board.

Joel Embiid takes the top spot by a nice margin here. Although he's still refining every aspect of his offensive game and flashed very intriguing scoring moves, it is worth pointing out just how efficient the young center was in doing so. While most players experimenting offensively struggle to score, Embiid showed unique consistency on the offensive end for a player so new to the game. Moussa Diagne takes the second spot, edging Sim Bhullar due to the Canadian giant's poor free throw shooting. Nurkic falls to fourth here, due to his sometimes questionable shot selection from the midrange mentioned above. Walter Tavares rounds out the top-5, having improved considerably over the course of the year on both ends of the floor.

Isaiah Austin takes the bottom spot as his lack of success shooting the three, coupled with his finesse game inside the arc limited his efficiency. His 48% shooting from inside the arc makes him the only player in this group to shoot under 50% from 2-point range last season. Alex Kirk and Patric Young join him. Kirk's shooting slump from beyond the arc and Young's limited touch inside of it place them behind a number of less prolific scorers.

Offensive Rebounds Per-40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA5.4
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA5.2
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA5
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB4.6
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB4.6
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA4.2
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA4.1
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB4.1
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA3.9
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA3.1
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA2.9
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA2.7
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA2.5

Moving away from the scoring categories, some players who didn't stand out in any of the previous categories immediately jump to the top of the list, indicating the rather noticeable schism the scoring big men and those who bring other tools to the table.

Jarnell Stokes and Jusuf Nurkic rank as the two best offensive rebounders in this draft class regardless of position. Their combination of surehandedness, strength, and physicality make them two of the more unique players in this class.

Mitch McGary finally gets his due. Despite missing almost the entire year, McGary was highly effective on the offensive glass in the time he was on the floor. His impact as a scorer was limited, but he made an impact for Michigan elsewhere.

Walter Tavares and Ondrej Balvin round out the top-5, as their sheer size allows them to be a factor in close.

Joel Embiid ranks below average here, as teams generally did a good job keeping him off the offensive glass in the half court though Kansas was one of the nation's best teams on the offensive glass as a unit. This is a strong crop of offensive rebounders and 3.9 per-40 is not exactly a poor figure.

Alec Brown and Alex Kirk are unsurprisingly in the bottom-5, as both players spent time operating out on the perimeter. Jordan Bachynski doesn't have the same excuse, but is limited by a lack of great quickness and instincts on the boards. He's more of an area rebounder than the type of center who will rise above others to corral a loose ball.

Defensive Rebounds Per-40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA9.7
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA9.3
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB8.7
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB8.5
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA8.2
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA8.1
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA7.6
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA7.6
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA7.1
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB7
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA5.7
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA5.1
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA4.5

Looking at these centers as rebounders on the other side of the floor is an interesting exercise, as a number of average offensive rebounders rank among the very best defensive rebounders.

Joel Embiid may not have had a big impact on the offensive glass, but he ranks among the best defensive rebounders in the draft on paper. Mitch McGary, on the other hand, was elite in both categories, as his high motor, strength, and instincts made him a presence on the boards. Similarly, Walter Tavares ranks well in both categories, as his feel for using his length helps him edge Moussa Diagne, who is a very good overall rebounder in his own right.

Alex Kirk makes a big jump here, while Alec Brown remains at the bottom of this group. Joining him in the bottom-3 are Isaiah Austin and Patric Young. The presence of Cory Jefferson and Ricardo Gathers has something to do with Austin's limited success, but he was never overly aggressive pursuing the ball. Young on the other hand, has been more than a below average defensive rebounder at any point in his career despite ranking fairly well offensively. He has great explosiveness, but is more likely to bury someone boxing out than go and make an athletic play for the ball on the defensive boards.

Blocks Per-40 Pace Adjusted
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA5
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA5
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA4.7
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA4.3
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA3.6
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA3.4
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB3.2
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA2.6
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB2.3
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA1.7
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA1.3
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA1.1
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB1.1

Jordan Bachynski and Sim Bhullar are the top shot blockers in the 2014 draft relative to their production last year. While neither player is a freak athlete, their tremendous size and length made them game changers around the rim at the college level. Isaiah Austin joins them in the top-3 with Joel Embiid not too far behind. Embiid is the only player of those four to rank above average as a rebounder.

Jusuf Nurkic ranks below average here, as he's more impactful offensively than defensively as a rim protector at this stage in his career.

Ondrej Balvin has similar size to the top shot blockers, but lacks their explosiveness and instincts. Jarnell Stokes and Mitch McGary round out the bottom-3 due in large part to their lack of reach and average explosiveness.

Steals Per-40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA3.2
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA2.3
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA1.5
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB1.3
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB1.1
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA1
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA0.9
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB0.9
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA0.7
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA0.7
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA0.5
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA0.5
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA0.2

A center's ability to strip opposing big men and play corral loose balls can help a team win the battle for 50/50 balls. Though there's a million ways to create a turnover, and while power forwards in general don't force a lot of mistakes themselves, this stat paints a broad picture of what a prospect brings to the table both physically in terms of quickness and length and mentally in terms of intensity and anticipation.

Mitch McGary shines here. No center in this group has close to the same impact on winning 50/50 balls than the Michigan underclassman. Jusuf Nurkic and Joel Embiid lock down the second and third spots, as the top centers show well here.

Sim Bhullar takes the bottom spot by a sizeable margin, as his lack of quickness made it difficult to beat anyone to a loose ball a year ago. Jordan Bachynski and Alex Kirk round out the bottom-5.

Fouls Per-40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB8.1
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA8
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA5.6
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA5.4
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB5.3
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA4.3
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB4.2
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA4.2
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA3.7
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA3.7
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA3.3
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA3.1
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA2.7

More-so than other positions, a number of players in this year's center class have a hard time staying out of foul trouble regardless of whether that's due to a lack of fundamentals or a tendency to be too physical.

Moussa Diagne and Jusuf Nurkic were incredibly foul prone this season. Both players limited their playing time to some degree fouling at such a high rate. Joel Embiid, Mitch McGary, and Walter Tavares make up the second tier of players, some 2.5 fouls behind the leaders.

Jarnell Stokes committed the fewest fouls, followed by Alec Brown and Alex Kirk.

Assists Per-40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA2.6
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA2.6
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA2.3
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA2.1
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA2
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA1.9
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB1.4
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA1.4
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA1.4
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA1.2
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB0.7
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA0.6
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB0.5

Centers aren't usually known for their passing, but there's a number of standouts in this group of players compared to what we've seen in the past.

Mitch McGary, Jarnell Stokes, and Joel Embiid all showed the ability to find the open man a year ago. While none of the three is an outrageously productive distributor, it is interesting that their assist rates would rank right around average among all prospects in this class regardless of position, as they beat out a number of perimeter players. Sim Bhullar isn't far behind.

Walter Tavares, Jordan Bachynski, and Moussa Diagne make up the bottom-3, as their limited touches and tendency to operate primarily in catch and finish situations limit them.

Turnovers Per-40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA4.8
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA4
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA3.1
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA2.9
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA2.8
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA2.8
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB2.7
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA2.7
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB2.4
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA2.3
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA2
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA1.8
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB1.6

Jusuf Nurkic is easily the most turnover prone player in this group, which comes as no surprising considering his high usage. Joel Embiid takes the second spot by a fairly wide margin as well. Neither player would rank in the top-2 in turnovers if we were looking at them on a per-possession basis.

Walter Tavares and Jordan Bachynski turn the ball over the least, as their lack of touches yields their low-turnover, low-assist statistical profiles.

Player Efficiency Rating
Jusuf NurkicCedevitaECUP, ADR, CROATIA30.5
Joel EmbiidKansasNCAA28.7
Jarnell StokesTennesseeNCAA27.5
Mitch McGaryMichiganNCAA27
Sim BhullarNew Mexico StateNCAA24.6
Alec BrownWisc. Green BayNCAA22.8
Patric YoungFloridaNCAA22.3
Jordan BachynskiArizona StateNCAA22.1
Alex KirkNew MexicoNCAA21.2
Isaiah AustinBaylorNCAA20.6
Walter TavaresGran CanariaACB19.2
Moussa DiagneFuenlabradaACB15.1
Ondrej BalvinSevillaACB14.9

Created by John Hollinger, PER is a total measure of what a player does on the floor based on more than a dozen weighted calculations. It isn't always wise to compare players across different leagues given how different the style of play is internationally and at the college level. The NCAA is especially tricky considering the varying levels of competition we find in the different conferences. As maligned as the countless catch-all statistics out there are, PER specifically provides an interesting glimpse into how all of the statistics we've looked at thus far piece together.

19 year old Jusuf Nurkic had the third highest PER in this draft class thanks to his combination of scoring and rebounding. Doing both at an elite rate per-minute, Nurkic is certainly one of the more intriguing players in this draft on paper.

Joel Embiid finishes in the top-10 among all players and second here, as despite being somewhat raw in certain areas, his tools translated extremely smoothly to the NCAA level. Jarnell Stokes and Mitch McGary round out the 1st tier of players, as both strong but undersized centers were very productive at the college level and will have a chance to go in the first round on draft day.

Ondrej Balvin and Moussa Diagne take the bottom-2 spots, a ways behind the rest of the field. Diagne is the much more likely of the two to be drafted should he stay in, as his relative youth and inexperience leave plenty of room for optimism about his low-term upside. Walter Tavares rounds out the bottom-3, but ranks closer to his college counterparts than his fellow ACB centers.

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