Thursday, May 19, 2011

2011 NBA Draft Card: Brandon Knight

In today’s post, I will continue the series of comparative “draft cards” on college players who have entered the 2011 NBA Draft.  Today we will analyze the relative professional prospects of Brandon Knight, from the University of Kentucky.  To make such an analysis more accessible, I will start with a glossary of statistical terms, which can be referred to by the reader:
SPR = [2PFGM + 1.5(3PFGM) + (FTM/2) + AST]/[FGA + (FTA/2) + AST + TOV]
TOT = TOV/[TOV + FGA + (FTA/2) + TRB + STL + AST]
SAR = [FGA + (FTA/2)]/AST
E = SPR + TAPPS + (1 – TOT)
wCE = (MPG/48) x [SPR + TAPPS + (1 – TOT)]
P/E = Salary/[SPR + TAPPS + (1 – TOT)]
wP/E = Salary/(MPG/48) x [SPR + TAPPS + (1 – TOT)]
EG = (Present Year’s E – Previous Year’s E)/(Previous Year’s E)
wEG = (Present Year’s wCE – Previous Year’s wCE)/(Previous Year’s wCE)

As was the case with the subject of our previous draft card, Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight only has one year of collegiate statistics on which to base his professional projections.  Unlike Irving, however, Knight played a full season – and, in fact, played a lot of minutes in just about every game – and so there appears to be a more valid sample size for Knight, at least in comparison to Irving.

The player to which we will compare Knight is Jason Terry, the veteran guard for the Dallas Mavericks and a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year, for the reason that several draft publications have drawn similar comparisons between these two players.  Terry had a very different college career than Knight, however:  Terry was a reserve on a good team in his freshman year, though only played about a quarter of every game; he became a starter at the University of Arizona as a sophomore, and helped lead his team to a national championship, but then saw his minutes reduced drastically as a junior; and in his senior year, having wisely used all of his college eligibility, Terry played so well that he was named a First Team All-American.  As such, the year that will be used to compare Terry to Knight will be Terry’s sophomore season, his first as a starter and one in which he played similar (though reduced) minutes to Knight.

The first group of statistics that will be compared between the two players will be the qualitative ones:  Shot-to-Assist Ratio (SAR); Shot Selection Index (SSI); 3-Point Rate (3PR); and 3-Point Skew (3PS):

                                    SAR      SSI        3PR      3PS

Knight, FR                    3.76     .333     .450     .401
Terry, SO                     2.20     .361     .432     .323

A first glance of the comparative qualitative statistics reveals that Knight, as a freshman, and Terry, as a sophomore, indeed had similar games.  The most glaring difference, of course, is their respective SARs:  Terry’s 2.20 puts him in the lowest quintile of basketball players, the Primary Distributors (sometimes called “point guards”), while Knight’s 3.76 is in the second quintile, called Combination Distributors (sometimes called “combination guards”).  Beyond Terry’s tendency to create a little bit more for his teammates and a little bit less for himself, the two players had very similar games:  Both had only average shot selection, though Terry got to the free throw line with slightly more frequency.  Both took nearly half of their field goal attempts from behind the three-point line (which is probably why they were not fouled very often), but Knight’s three-point shots accounted for a higher percentage of his makes (.401 vs. .323) because he was a much better long-range shooter.  What these statistics say, comparatively, is that Knight will probably have an easier transition to the further NBA three-point line than Terry did, since Knight appears to have been the better long-distance shooter at the earlier age.  As a result of this propensity to bomb, however, do not expect Knight to get to the free throw line very often, unless he changes his game.  Also, given the higher SAR, it would be expected that, at least in the beginning of his career, Knight may need to be slightly more of a scoring focus than Terry did.

Now let’s move on to a comparison of the quantitative statistics: the Successful Possession Rate (SPR), Turnover-Adjusted Points per Shot (TAPPS), Turnover per Touch (TOT), and Earnings (E):

                                    SPR      TAPPS    TOT   E

Knight, FR                    .556     .914     .151     2.32
Terry, SO                     .596     .892     .100     2.39

What stands out the most, at least to me, is the turnover rate: Knight turns the ball over about 15% of the time, which is an exceedingly high number, even more so when considered that he is not a Primary Distributor – a quintile that is expected to make a lot of turnovers because of their increased ballhandling and passing loads.  Terry, in his first year as a collegiate starter, turned the ball over exactly 10% of the time, which is average for a player in the lower quintile, and much better than what Knight accomplished as a freshman.

The other statistics, really, are similar:  though Terry’s SPR is much higher, some of that difference can be attributed to his assist total, as players who concentrate on scoring (such as, comparatively, Knight) are expected to have slightly lower SPRs on average.  The TAPPS of each player is virtually identical, too – with Terry’s inferior three-point shooting balanced out by Knight’s terrible ballhandling.

In the end, Knight’s fast and loose nature with the ball costs him in a head-to-head analysis with Terry:  the Earnings statistic has Terry as being about 3% more valuable than Knight, with 5% of that advantage coming from Terry’s ability to take better care of the ball as a collegiate player.  If Knight can learn to take the ball better – much better, unfortunately – than it is reasonable to expect that he can become as productive a player as Terry has become.  One of the things working in Knight’s favor, of course, is that in this comparison, he is a full year younger than Terry, and still only a teenager.

In sum, Brandon Knight’s brief college career pales slightly to a similarly representative sample from Jason Terry’s.  This is hardly a knock:  Terry was a 10th overall pick in a pretty decent draft (in 1999 he was picked behind Elton Brand, Baron Davis, Lamar Odom, Rip Hamilton, Andre Miller and Shawn Marion, and ahead of Ron Artest – all players still enjoying productive careers), he is a former Sixth Man of the Year, and he may very well be on his second trip to the NBA Finals.  With some work, I think it is reasonable to expect Knight to set his sights on a Terry-like achievement as a pro – which is to say a valuable complementary piece on a team that is already good without him.

To bring the draft analyses up to date so far, the current rankings would be:

1.      Kyrie Irving
2.      Derrick Williams
3.      Brandon Knight

The subject of the next draft card has not been decided.  If I can figure out a way to model out European players, it will be Enes Kanter of Turkey.  If not, it will be Tristan Thompson.

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