Thursday, May 26, 2011

2011 NBA Draft Card: Enes Kanter

In today’s post, I will continue the series of comparative “draft cards” on players who have declared their eligibility for the 2011 NBA Draft.  Today’s analysis takes a slight turn, as for the first time we analyze the professional prospects of an international player who never competed in college – Enes Kanter from Turkey.  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)

When it comes to composing the Basketball I.Q. alternative statistics of an international player who has never played the American game – particularly when those statistics will be juxtaposed against those of a player who played NCAA Division I basketball – the analysis requires innovation.  Enes Kanter of Turkey, for example, has only played European basketball under international rules, and so the composition of his 2011 Draft Card began with a lot of questions:  Which statistics should be used?  What do you do about certain statistics – turnovers, specifically – that are not available?  And if the player to whom Kanter is being compared is not an international one – and in this case it is Al Horford, who played his college ball at the University of Florida – which of that player’s statistics should be used as the basis for comparison?

The rectification of this problem was a three-step solution I’ll now refer to as “Euro-triangulation”:  The highest level of pre-professional international competition at which the European player competed was chosen; missing statistics were re-created based on historical norms; and then they were compared to the college statistics of a player that played not only at a similar level of competition, but at a similar age.  The method, admittedly, is a little creaky, but it is a little bit better than comparing apples to oranges – it is more like comparing McIntosh apples to Fujis.

To start, I chose Kanter’s performances at the European U18 Championships in 2008 and 2009.  I chose those two competitions because, taken together, it is still only 17 games, which barely qualifies as an adequate sample size.  The European U18 Championships were chosen because they were the highest level of competition Kanter faced in which he received substantial playing time.  Though Kanter was only 16 and 17 at the time of these games (as were most of his opponents), I felt that this was a legitimate comparison to Division I college basketball, since the international rosters were comprised of the 12 best players from each country (without the dilution seen on the benches of the NCAA’s 300 Division I programs); since almost all of the players at the European U18 Championships go on to play professionally (indeed, some already are playing professionally), and they do so side by side with former NCAA players who could not gain their footing in the NBA; and they do so at an age which is only one or two years younger than the very best players in American college basketball (who tend to leave college early).  If anything, I thought that the European U18 Championships might represent stiffer competition than a season in Division I NCAA.

For the sake of comparison, Al Horford was chosen because his name is frequently mentioned in media outlets as a player to whom Kanter might be comparable.  I chose Horford’s sophomore year at Florida as the basis of comparison, since he received substantial playing time that year; he was, like Kanter, still only a teenager; and, in helping lead his team to an NCAA Championship, Horford played against a level of competition similar to that of U18 international basketball.  Let’s begin by looking at some of the traditional statistics that define Kanter and Horford:

                                    FG%     FT%      PPG      RPG     APG

Kanter, U18                 .593     .685     18.8     15.6     0.9
Horford, SO                 .608     .611     11.3     7.6       2.0

I prefer to look at the statistics that are reflected as percentages – in this case FG% and FT% -- as opposed to total compiled statistics (such as points in a game) because they tend to minimize the differences between the pace of different styles of play, and the different roles a player may have on each team.  By those numbers, it would indeed appear that Kanter and Horford are similar players – both have almost identical shooting percentages, and were both accomplished field goal shooters, yet terrible free throw shooters.  The compiled statistics, such as points, rebounds and assists, heavily favor Kanter – but since the percentages on each player are so similar, we know that these differences in points scored, etc., are more of a reflection on the different pace of the international game, and the different relative roles that each player assumed on his team.

A more accurate determinant of the Kanter and Horford’s roles would be the qualitative analytics:  Shot-to-Assist Ratio (SAR); Shot Selection Index (SSI); 3-Point Rate (3PR) and 3-Point Skew (3PS):

                                    SAR      SSI        3PR      3PS

Kanter, U18                 15.3     .412     .023     .023
Horford, SO                 4.71     .495     .007     .015

At first glimpse, it seems like Kanter and Horford indeed have similar games:  Their shot selections are very good, and virtually identical – taken in combination with their high field goal percentages, and the fact that both players rarely even attempt a three-point shot, you can see that both Kanter and Horford execute a very economical offensive game, played very close to the basket.

But the glaring difference here is the SAR:  Kanter shoots 15 times for every assist he makes, whereas Horford shoots less than five times per assist.  This is unanticipated, because it is usually the European big man who you think of as being the nifty passer in the paint (think Pau Gasol or Arvidas Sabonis) and the U.S.-trained post player as receiving the ball and taking it immediately to the hoop (think Shaq or Amar’e).  But through their teenage years, Horford is the player who can get to the basket with commendable accuracy and still move the ball around, whereas Kanter is the one who is taking the ball right to the hoop (which might explain his higher scoring average).

To be fair, Kanter’s statistics at the 2008 and 2009 European U18 Championships were different:  though the scoring statistics were about the same, by 2009 Kanter was taking only about 12 shots per assist made, which still qualifies him as being within the Finisher quintile (Horford would be considered a Balanced Scorer), though with a passing tendency that is comparable to many NBA big men.  Still, the most notable difference in the qualitative statistics between Kanter and Horford is their passing tendencies, and it seems like Horford (who remains a good passer in the NBA) had a more complete game at the same level of development, and one that would predict success in an offense that stresses ball movement.

Let’s conclude with a comparison of Kanter’s and Horford’s quantitative alternative statistics: the Successful Possession Rate (SPR); Turnover-Adjusted Points per Shot; Turnover per Touch (TOT); and Earnings (E):

                                    SPR      TAPPS    TOT   E

Kanter, U18                 .531     1.014     .090   2.46
Horford, SO                 .580     1.011     .087   2.50

For starters, I should note that Kanter did not have turnover statistics from the U18 Championships readily available, and so I had to synthesize the statistic based on an assumed turnover per touch rate of 9% -- a number that is neither great nor terrible for a player in the Finisher quintile.  As it turns out, this rate is virtually identical to what Horford actually achieved during his sophomore season of college basketball.  It should be noted, however, that players who pass a lot tend to make more turnovers, too, and so, taken in context, Horford’s TOT of .087 is actually far better than Kanter’s assumed .090.  The rub, of course, is that it is entirely possible that Kanter took care of the ball much better than I am assuming – but he might have done far worse, as well.  In any event, this is the greatest flaw in any comparative argument I make between Kanter and Horford.

Going by SPR, Horford comes out on top, largely because of his assists – it is not entirely fair to compare the SPR between players with low SARs (Balanced Scorers) versus those with high ones (Finishers), because the increased assist tally tend to skew the statistic.  That said, it is not as if these assists fell out of the sky – Horford earned them, and he did so playing inside in the paint, where it isn’t that easy to find an open man.

The TAPPS and TOT for each player is virtually identical, and taken together, the Earnings column leans in the favor of Horford.  Again, the differences in the two players really comes down to one thing: the ability to pass creatively, a skill which Horford has in uncommon abundance for a big man.

And so, to conclude this post, I would say that Enes Kanter projects to be a pretty good player – but not quite as good as Al Horford.  That’s no insult, of course: Horford has been selected by the coaches to be a reserve on the last two All-Star teams (probably because he is such a creative team player), and falling short of that is hardly an embarrassment.  I would expect Kanter to be a player who scores and rebounds at similar rates to Horford, but, as of yet, has not figured out how to distribute the ball as meaningfully.

Having completed the draft cards on four players, the current rankings heading into the 2011 NBA draft would be:

1.      Kyrie Irving
2.      Derrick Williams
3.      Enes Kanter
4.      Brandon Knight

Next post:  I will rank the top 30 players in the draft in order, and then resume comparative draft cards.

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