Situational Statistics: This Year’s Small Forward Crop

Situational Statistics: This Year’s Small Forward Crop
Jun 12, 2010, 12:31 pm
Continuing our series of analyses, we analyze one of the deepest and most intriguing positions in this year’s draft. With 12 prospects that could be in play in the first round, this group has a number of highly intriguing case studies.

Thanks to our friends at Synergy Sports Technology, we have access to the most thorough situational statistics available today. Synergy keeps track of all the possessions that take place in nearly every college basketball game, accumulating an incredible wealth of extremely informative data.

Many of these statistics offer excellent insight into the players we evaluate, so we’ve taken the time to compile and sort through them in an effort to distinguish which players are, for instance, the most productive back to the basket threats, the most effective finishers around the basket, the most likely to draw fouls on a given possession, and the most efficient jump shooters.

With 26 of the top small forwards tabulated on our spreadsheet, we’ve created a short list of the most interesting things we’ve learned about this year’s crop of prospects.

Before you look at our findings, it is important to realize that there are some limitations to our analysis. For example, prospects on lower level teams will have some possessions missing each year because not all of their games were logged.

The exact breakdown of specific possession types can be highly subjective and thus somewhat inconsistent at times, which means that this data always needs to be taken with a grain of salt. We’ve tried to steer away from utilizing data that wouldn’t be considered statistically significant, but considering how short the college season is, that’s not always easy.

Our data obviously does not account for neither the strength of a player’s teammates, or his level of competition. Our sample of small forwards features a number of international players, including Marko Keselj, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Nemanja Bjelica.

What We Learned Last Season
2009 Small Forward article

• Some of the players have continued to function in a similar, albeit smaller role than they did in college and have flourish in some areas because of it.

Last season, Demar DeRozan was a player we pegged as a blank canvas whose athleticism could help him make an impact in certain situations. Much like he did on the college level, DeRozan made an impact running the floor in transition, working without the ball, and in spot up situations. His usage %’s were pretty similar to those in college, and while he still lacks the jump shooting ability to exploit his spot up opportunities, his athleticism him allowed to be very effective in catch and finish situations against the more open sets he’s played in as a rookie in the NBA.

• Most of the prospects from last year’s small forward class were able to adjust to new roles at the NBA level.

Omri Casspi and Chase Budinger played versatile roles for their teams during the season before they came to the NBA, but both players have transitioned into roles where about a third of their touches are coming in spot up situations. Their catch and shoot efficiency has been integral to their success in the NBA so far. Small forwards with size and shooting ability are useful role-players in the League these days, something that bodes well for some of the prospects in the 2010 class.

• Being a higher level prospect doesn’t guarantee a player anything more than one that goes undrafted.

Wesley Matthew wasn’t as heralded as DaJuan Summers or Sam Young, but was one of the most pleasant surprises of this NBA season. He may not be a star, but his consistent energy, competitiveness, and coachability helped him outperform players with significantly more impressive tools.


• Wesley Johnson looks exponentially more NBA ready than Al-Farouq Aminu from a situational perspective, but both have improvements to make from the perimeter.

The contrast between the top two small forward prospects in this draft is staggering. On one hand, you have Wesley Johnson, whose 1.021 PPP ranks fifth, and on the other, you have Al-Farouq Aminu, whose 0.841 ranks him last. Neither player is terribly effective in one-on-one situations, or as jump shooters, but Johnson scores 0.2 PPP more than Aminu at the rim and 0.35 more on jumpers.

Aminu’s lack of efficiency stems from his questionable shooting ability. He hits just 24% of his jump shots. On top of that, he finished just 48.9% of his attempts around the rim. Those two factors limited Aminu in post up situations, spot ups, and off of cuts. Aminu’s only positive attributes from this study appear to be his ability to get to the line (fouled on 9.9% of half court shots) and his impressive 3.1 possessions per-game generated off of put-backs.

On the whole, Aminu’s situational resume is less than impressive, which reinforces perceptions of him as a player who may need some time to develop on the next level. Fortunately, his excellent athleticism, strong work ethic, and great frame give him limitless potential. The work Aminu is putting in right now will be integral to what he’s able to contribute as a rookie next season.

On the other side of the spectrum, Wesley Johnson stacks up fairly well here. At a below average 15.1 possessions per-game, Johnson scored a very respectable 1.02 PPP on a fourth ranked 49.2% overall field goal shooting mark. He turned the ball over at a less than average rate (13.3%), but didn’t draw fouls on a high percentage on his shots (6.3%).

Johnson made his impact in half court sets for Syracuse, scoring on 45.4% of his non-transition possessions. Posting numbers right around the small forward positional averages in isolation and spot up situations, Johnson stood out in some less noticeable ways that some of the players we’ll discuss later. His .979 post up points per-possession aren’t fantastic, nor are his 1.4 possessions per-game on the block, but his ability to take advantage of mismatches is an area of his game that should serve him well in the future.

On top of his ability to exploit smaller defenders, Johnson got 16.1% of his offense from cuts to the basket (1st). While he certainly benefitted from the players around him, his energy off the ball will serve him well early in his career as he’ll be able to get some shots up without having to create his own look. His ability to crash the glass for tips in will help in that area too (1.379 PPP, 3rd).

Though Johnson could stand to improve his 0.965 PPP and 36.5% shooting on jump shots, he’s a solid finisher (1.23 PPP, 7th), who, like Aminu, has the athleticism and energy level to be a great player if he continues to develop his perimeter repertoire.

Paul George looks the part of a lanky athletic two-guard with immense promise, but his confidence ,the work he’s put in this summer, and his tremendous productivity as a freshman look much better than his situational statistics from last season.

The first thing that pops off the page when looking at George’s numbers is his high turnover percentage. The Fresno State product coughed the ball up on some 18.8% of his total possessions. He seldom gave the ball up in spot up situations, as he often just took the first available shot, but he turned the ball over on 30% of his one-on-one opportunities and 25% of his transition touches. Obviously, his ball-handling ability will be something that he needs to refine in order to reach his potential as a player.

Much of George’s potential resides in the fact that he has excellent leaping ability and a frame that is reminiscent of a young Tracy McGrady. Last season, George used the athleticism to get up and down the floor in transition as often as almost any player in our ranks (4.2 Pos/G, 3rd). Though he didn’t score at a high rate (1.127 PPP, 18th) because of his high turnover percentage, George’s adjusted field goal percentage of 71.4% ranks his fourth in this group.

Though his athleticism would make him seem like a candidate to try and dunk the ball at all costs, George’s game is predicated on his jump shot. He shot a fantastic 44.7% from three as a freshman, but his shooting dipped to just 35.3% from beyond the arc this year. Despite that fall off, George’s 3.5 spot up field goal attempts per-game and 1.056 PPP rank slightly above average on both fronts. His 1.2 points per-shoot in unguarded catch and shoot situations are solid too, but he ranks well below average at 0.862 PPS with a hand in his face and third last at 0.433 PPS on pull up jumpers. The fact that George shot just 1.3 unguarded spot up shots per-game, as opposed to 3.9 attempts in the other two situations pose questions about his shot selection that should be alleviated by a smaller role earlier in his career on the next level.

When George isn’t tossing up shots from the perimeter, he proves to be a pretty effective finisher at 1.19 PPS at the rim. While his lack of bulk doesn’t stop him from being well above average in that regard, his 0.67 PPP in the post tells us that he isn’t physically ready to exploit his athleticism on the block just yet. In contrast, his ability to draw fouls in isolation situations (12.9% of shots), shows that his first step can be a weapon.

On the whole, George’s situational profile will be secondary to his upside, similar to Aminu. His physical profile is spectacular for a wing and at the end of the day, teams are going to do their homework on his intangibles to see if he’s capable of developing into the type of player his athleticism could permit him to be in the long-run.

Xavier Henry’s complementary role at Kansas highlights what he brings to the table as a role-player on the next level.

With a host of other prospects around him, Xavier Henry wasn’t asked to take over games. Rather, he was asked to spot up off the ball and take advantage of his opportunities. Henry’s 1.012 PPP overall ranks him sixth in our group and seems to indicates that he played his comparably small role (12.1 Pos/G) admirably.

Though he did his fair share of running on the wing of Kansas’ break, Henry’s transition numbers aren’t spectacular, but his 0.994 PPP in half court situations (5th) represent how effective he is when the game slows down. With 35.9% of his offensive touches coming in spot up situations, Henry’s set shooting ability ranks him highly as a drive and kick option. His 1.1 PPP in spot-up situations is a byproduct of his ability to hit catch and shoot jumpers with (1.26 PPS, 6th) or without (1.16 PPS, average) a hand in his face. His pull up jumper remains a bit suspect by comparison, as he hits just 28.6% of his shots off the dribble.

In 2.1 shot attempts per-game in finishing situations, Henry’s 1.12 points per-possessions rank right around average for this group. Looking at where his shots are coming from, he received a total of 7.1% of his possessions last season in one-on-one (1.048 PPP, 1st) or post up (1.2 PPP, 3rd) situations, indicating that he received little opportunity to create shots for himself. His lack of touches in those situations make his highly ranked efficiency numbers a bit misleading to say the least.

On the next level, Henry will likely find himself player a similar role to the one he played last season early in his career. A highly capable spot up shooter who has a chiseled physique and brings solid defensive intensity, he’s tailored to be a useful player right away for some teams and could blossom into a very effective offensive wing if he continues to develop.

Luke Babbitt’s touch made him a highly capable scorer in almost every situation last season and speaks to his high skill level.

The highest usage player in our ranks at 20.6 possessions per-game, Babbitt’s 0.97 overall PPP isn’t terribly impressive. His lack of great overall efficiency stems from the fact that he ranks last in transition points per-possession at a dismal 0.90. His lack of great leaping ability is clear in that metric, but his 0.98 PPP in 18.1 half court touches per-game is highly impressive, as are his low 12.2 turnover percentage and his 8.4% shots fouled mark.

The distribution of Babbitt’s shots is very intriguing at first glance, with nearly 30% of his touches coming in isolation situations. No player spent more time than Babbitt going one-on-one (5.9 Pos/G), and only two players shot better than his 45.4% from the field using those possessions. His 1 PPP in 3.1 post-up possessions per-game is also pretty impressive for a finesse player that isn’t creating typical high-percentage shots.

Despite his lack of tremendous athleticism, Babbitt proves to be a capable scorer from the inside and out, posting a PPP of 1.26 in finishing situations (4th), largely thanks to his craftiness off the dribble. Interestingly, Babbitt only ranks as an average unguarded catch and shoot player at 1.16 PPP, but is the most prolific pull up shooter at 4.6 shots per-game (42%, 4th). Based on a situational analysis, it is clear that Babbitt will need to make some changes as he transitions into a spot-up shooting role as a stretch-four next season, but the fact that his craftiness allowed him to score in so many ways as a collegiate player certainly bodes well for him.

Damion James looks solid, but unspectacular across the board. At 1.0 PPP overall and drawing fouls on 10.2% of his shots, James is a solid offensive player, but considering his lack of ball handling ability, he’ll need to improve on his 42.9% shooting on unguarded jumpers if he wants to see consistent minutes at the three on the next level. The hustle numbers are there (1.25 finishing PPP, 2 Pos from offensive rebounds, 2.3 Pos from cuts), but James is a questionable one-on-one player (0.672) and may need to be more than serviceable in spot-up situations to be successful in the long-term.

Stanley Robinson is a great athlete, and his overall 51.7% FG% ranks first in our rankings, but his 0.96 PPP is average and indicates his limitations from the perimeter and in terms of knowing how to draw fouls. The second best transition scorer at 1.36 PPP, Robinson is in a similar boat as Damion James. He finishes better than his Longhorn counterpart (1.26 PPP vs. 1.2 PPP), but is not quite as good as a jump shooter (0.87 PPP vs. 0.91 PPP). The difference between the two lies in Robinson’s athletic tools. Both players have the resumes of role-players, and it will be interesting to see how they are perceived closer to the draft.

James Anderson was nothing short of spectacular last season, and it shows here. His 1.07 overall PPP ranks second amongst all players, as do his 20 possessions used per-game. He was above the PPP every in every situation except for guarded catch and shoot situations, and has more experience running the pick and roll (2.9 Pos/G) than any other player on our rankings. High usage/high-efficiency players are extremely difficult to come by, and NBA teams may want to ponder if they’re missing the boat on Anderson due to the fact that he has not been spectacular in workouts. The same thing happened last year with Marcus Thornton.

• Going against perceptions of his role on the next level, Gordon Hayward was a below average catch and shoot threat last season, but ranked amongst the second most efficient finishers in our sample at 1.316 PPP. It will be interesting to see if his shooting ability becomes more consistent as he transitions into a role that revolves around that aspect of his game on the next level.

Quincy Pondexter ranks as the third most efficient overall scorer on our rankings at 1.066 PPP. He was the second ranked isolation scorer at 0.972 PPP, and scored roughly 1.3 PPP off of 4.4 possessions per-game off of basket cuts and offensive rebounds. He proves well above average as a finisher, and his 42% shooting on pull up jump shots ranks him fourth in this group.

• Devin Ebanks ranks as the worst jump shooter in our ranks as 0.592 PPP on 28.2% shooting. His poor shooting only piles on to the fact that he was almost exactly average as a finisher with 1.1 PPP.

• Nemanja Bjelica and Marko Keselj both rank highly in most PPP rankings because of their ability to shoot the international three-pointer.

• Marqus Blakely’s 7.1 post up possessions per-game are more than 200% higher than the next closest player on our list, making it clear that he’ll need to make some major adjustments to his game to see minutes at the small forward spot, wherever he plays next season.

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