Sunday, May 15, 2011

2011 NBA Draft Card: Derrick Williams

In this week’s post, I will begin a series of comparative “draft cards” on college players who have entered the 2011 NBA Draft.  In the first of this series, I will analyze the relative professional prospect of Derrick Williams from the University of Arizona.  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)

College players who have entered the upcoming draft are often compared to a current (or past) NBA player, to whose achievement they might realistically aspire if they continue to develop at the professional level.  For Derrick Williams, an oft-cited comparison is David West of the New Orleans Hornets, who played his college basketball at Xavier University in the early 2000s.  In this comparative analysis, Williams’s two years of college basketball (his freshman and sophomore seasons, as he is departing college with two years of eligibility remaining) will be compared to the last two years of West’s college career (which represent his junior and senior seasons, as West exercised all four years of his college eligibility).

The first group of statistics that will be analyzed are the qualitative statistics of the two players: their Shot-to-Assist Ratio (SAR), Shot Selection Index (SSI), 3-Point Rate (3PR), and 3-Point Skew (3PS):

                                    SAR        SSI      3PR      3PS

Williams, FR                18.09   .823    .057     .025
Williams, SO               12.69   .871    .195     .186

West, JR                      9.73     .658    .076     .046
West, SR                      5.32     .617    .063     .042

Reviewing the SAR values for each player, you will see that Williams is a Finisher, who has a heavy skew toward shooting the ball when he has it (as opposed to attempting to create an assist), although from his freshman to sophomore seasons he began to share the ball a little bit more.  As a junior, West was also a Finisher (though he had a far less “black hole effect” than Williams’s freshman year) – but by his senior year, it appears that West had changed his offensive game enough to qualify as a Balanced Scorer, as he clearly looked to create quite a bit more for his teammates.  As a reminder to readers, these values are qualitative, not quantitative, and they are not meant to judge players as selfish or unselfish, etc.  These numbers merely state that, through his sophomore season, Williams was primarily looking to put the ball into the hoop whenever he had it, whereas West had begun to incorporate more ball distribution by his final year.

It is hard to predict what this means at the professional level, but it should be noted that Williams began to distribute the ball much more in his sophomore year than his freshman year, which suggests that his game is still developing and his mind is open to change.  It should also be noted that whereas West had absolutely astounding SSI values in his last two years of college, Williams was even better (taking 82% as many free throw attempts as field goal attempts in your first year of college is off the charts, and then Williams got even better).  What these qualitative statistics suggest is that each player had an excellent shot selection at the college level – so good that their opponents foul them almost as much as they let them shoot – but Williams was somehow even better than West.  The fact that Williams was greater than a 50% shooter tells you even more about how good his shot selection really was.  The fact that Williams has gotten his free throw shooting up to about the 75% level tells you that, with a relatively high rate of getting to the free throw line, in addition to a low-post game with high percentage shots, Williams is a dangerous offensive player – perhaps more dangerous than West was as a college player, and West is a legitimate NBA All-Star.  If Williams continues to work on his free throw shooting, and improve it by about another 5%, he could become a terrible headache for opponents at the NBA level, if West is used as a standard of comparison.

The most surprising of the qualitative statistics, I think, is the 3PR and 3PS that Williams demonstrated during his last college season.  In West’s last two college seasons, he, not surprisingly, shot three-pointers infrequently, and made them with a reasonable accuracy – they were not a big part of his college game, and the perimeter game is not a cardinal feature of his professional prowess. 

In contrast, in his sophomore season, almost 20% of Williams’s field goal attempts were three-pointers, as were nearly 20% of his makes – in fact, he shot over 50% from beyond the arc, which is astounding for a big man.  Now, as an NBA player it is unlikely that, with an arc that is three feet further back, Williams will either attempt or make so many threes – but this statistic, in combination with his three-point shooting percentage, tells you that Williams is already prepared to be the type of low-post player who can step outside the post and drill the 19-footer, a la Amare Stoudemire and Kevin Garnett.

So, based on these qualitative alternative statistics, it appears that Williams has an even better shot selection than West did as a college player (and West’s was pretty darn good), and Williams complements his game with a justified perimeter presence that West just did not have.  West appears to have been the more willing passer, but the accuracy of Williams’ shooting seems to justify the Finisher role that he assumed.  On first analysis, I believe that Derrick Williams compares favorably to David West.

Now we will move on to some quantitative alternative statistics: the Successful Possession Rate (SPR), Turnover-Adjusted Points per Shot (TAPPS), and Turnovers per Touch (TOT):

                                    SPR      TAPPS    TOT

Williams, FR                .552     1.06       .084
Williams, SO               .601     1.15       .096

West, JR                      .540     1.00       .101
West, SR                      .581     1.03       .074

Comparing these alternative statistics, Williams gets the edge over West at the college level in everything except turnover rate.  Once again, these statistics illustrate examples in which West demonstrates remarkable achievement, but Williams just manages to be even better.  West, for example, has very high rates of successful possessions – but Williams is significantly better, despite playing in an SAR quintile (Finisher) in which lower SPRs are anticipated due to lower assist rates.  Once again, West demonstrates a phenomenal TAPPS (at least 1.00 for each of his last two years), but Williams – who is, season for season, two years younger than West – manages to eclipse him.  The only comparative statistic in which Williams falls short here is TOT – he must take better care of the ball at the professional level, as a turnover rate of almost 10% is far too high for a player who does not pass very much, or bring the ball up the court.  It should be noted that West, in his final year of college, took very good care of the ball.  Overall, however, the alternative statistics suggest that, at similar levels of competition, Williams was the better player.

The final statistical analysis would include the cumulative accomplishments of each player – Earnings (E) and weighted Cumulative Earnings (wCE) – as well as their year-to-year growth:

                                    E          wCE     EG        wEG

Williams, FR                2.53     1.78     --          --
Williams, SO               2.66     2.00     5.13%  12.36%

West, JR                      2.44     2.09     --          --
West, SR                      2.54     2.32     4.10%  11.00%

Put simply, when Williams was on the floor in college, he was a better player than West (despite the fact that, as stated, West was quite good, and West was, season for season, two years older).  The Earnings column illustrates this clearly.  However, West played many more minutes per game than Williams, and thus his weighted earnings (which account for playing time) were better than Williams.  There are probably a few reasons for this: One, the seasons being compared here are the freshman/sophomore for Williams, versus the junior/senior for West; it is likely that, for as good as Williams was, he was still earning his playing time as an underclassman, whereas West had already put in the time that had earned him minutes.  Another reason for the differences in playing time may be the teams that each player was on: As a mid-major competitor, West had fewer “blue chip” teammates with whom to split the minutes, and thus he received the lion’s share.  Williams, however, attended one of the country’s higher profile teams, and, as a team player, likely had to surrender minutes to other blue-chippers who were nevertheless less-deserving than he.  Foul trouble would NOT be a reasonable explanation for the minutes discrepancy, as West committed 2.66 and 2.96 fouls per game, respectively, in his last two college seasons, whereas Williams committed 2.52 and 2.79.

That said, it appears that the cumulative statistics show that Williams was the better player when he was on the court, and were he to receive minutes that are commensurate with his skill, his weighted statistics would far surpass West’s.  They also demonstrate that, as much as West grew from his junior year to his senior year, Williams as a sophomore was growing even more so (not surprising).  What this means is that, as college players, Williams was better, younger, and on the steeper part of the learning curve (all good things when trying to extrapolate future achievements).

So, the first of the 2011 draft cards concludes with the determination that Derrick Williams compares quite favorably to David West, and I would project Williams to mature into an All-Star level NBA player.  Those who counter with the point that Williams nevertheless is not deserving of “first overall” distinction, I have a few replies:

First, West came out of the 2003 NBA draft.  Ahead of West were players that included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh – an uncommonly deep draft, and one that stands in stark contrast to this year’s relatively shallow one.  Also, though West was picked at #18 in 2003, several less-deserving players (including Mike Sweetney, Darko Milicic and Chris Kaman) were chosen ahead of him, and in retrospect it could be argued that West should have been the fourth or fifth pick in that draft.  And finally, though one could argue that it would have been unwise to have drafted West ahead of the likes of James or Wade, you could no more make the argument that West was a bad pick than if you argued that Hakeem Olajuwon was a bad pick because he was taken ahead of Michael Jordan.

So, is the 2011 draft a little skinny on talent?  Yes.  Is Derrick Williams the best of the lot?  I’m not sure yet.

But does Derrick Williams’ college statistics project that he will be at least as good a pro as a legitimate NBA All-Star?

Almost certainly.

1 comment:

  1. Yes...but how can the Knicks get Kemba Walker?