The “Perfect Match”; an ideal balance between player skill and team development where ingredients of situation, fit, expectation, need and opportunity (with a little sprinkle of luck) all contribute to how a young career progresses. Or doesn’t.
We are roughly 120 games into the careers of the 2015 Draft Class and it’s fair to say the lottery would look very different if it were re-drafted today. It’s still early, but the eye test combined with statistics might be enough to justify if a certain player was deserving of his high draft pick status. You must judge with caution though, as history suggests it’s far too soon to draw a line through a player’s career just yet.
Sam and David want to take a look back and re-draft the much hyped ’15 lottery class. Firstly, a quick retrospective look at the top four selections and what could have been. Followed by a more in depth look at a unique situation that unfolded for the remainder of the lottery. Let’s play match maker.
THE TOP FOUR
Weeks out from the night it took place, the 2015 Draft had a consensus Top 4. The entire lottery was considered very strong, with four candidates ahead of the even chasing pack. It seems crazy to consider now but Karl Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor flipped back and forth on mock draft sites like Draft Express for the top 2 spots. D’Angelo Russell was the best Guard in the draft and given the pre-draft hype, many thought Kristaps Porzingis would struggle to slide past #4, even if Knicks fans disagreed at the time.
Perhaps there are a few question marks surrounding the top four now but given the feeling surrounding the picks at the time, only a liar would tell you they would have done things drastically different back then. Hindsight (and statistics) are a wonderful thing, which leaves a couple of interesting questions surrounding that top 4;
Q: Is ‘The KAT’ versus ‘The Unicorn’ a viable #1 discussion?
Not a lot splits Towns and Porzingis when it comes to traditional box score stats and percentages. Advanced statistics however, is where the cream rises to the top. Towns surpasses Porzingis in PER, TS%, TRB%, AST% significantly despite almost identical usage rates and where KP wins out (STL%, BLK%, TOV%) the gap is far tighter. Not only that but Towns almost doubles Porzingis on Win Shares, with equally impressive results on BPM and VORP.
A: Yes it is but we’ve still got KAT. Porzingis a worthy #2 and likely a pick the Lakers wish they could do over.
Q: Is Russell still a worthy #3 and does Okafor fall if there were a re-draft of 2015?
Short answer, yes. Russell and Okafor have both had their share of injuries and off-court issues, whilst also playing for relatively poor teams to date. With Porzingis a guaranteed riser, both guys have to slide. Although Russell hasn’t set the world on fire, he’s keeping his nose in front of any challengers with his on court play. More importantly this season, he’s been afforded the time to play through his mistakes.
Conversely, the simple eye test over 87 games says Okafor may not be a top four talent any longer. However, how much of that decision on Okafor is effected by a poor team, poor fit and significantly less developmental minutes compared to the other three? A look at Per36 numbers would suggest that although Okafor has his faults, there is still a legitimate NBA player to be found with him considering how he stacks up among his peers.
A: Russell doesn’t deserve a demotion past #3 right now and would have fit perfectly with the Sixers at the time. Okafor needs to slide but perhaps not as far as many believe. The Kings could snap him up at #6 as the best talent left on the board and roll with him next to Boogie, even if that’s a terrible idea (it’s the #Kangz). The logjam issues may remain in Sacramento but the unknown future of Boogie or potential for a team that wants him to come knocking, could mean a better start for Okafor. The best player available approach here wouldn’t be the worst draft decision the Kings have made in recent years.
PICK 5 – 14
Who would the new #4 pick be? Funnily enough, slots 5-9 and 10-14 make up two positionally matched NBA teams. The Point to Centre lineup of Team B looks to have the edge over Team A at this stage. When comparing the two line-ups, a series of interesting questions come to mind; Would Team B beat Team A in a NBA game? Are there more Team A draft “misses” than Team B right now? Is the new #4 pick more likely to come from Team B? The answer to all three, without a doubt.
So why is this? How can almost every pick at the backend of the lottery currently project to be better than the five picks made prior? No doubt some teams just missed but perhaps there is still more to it. Teams choosing in the lottery are there for a reason, usually bringing a rookie into a bad team or at times they have inherited a high pick and have limited time for their new draftee. This is where the “Perfect Match” plays such an important part in a player’s early career.
Unless you are a generational talent like Towns or Porzingis, the match between player and franchise can heavily effect which end of the spectrum you sit on. Just ask Russell and Okafor. So with that in mind and the intriguing battles at every position on the floor, let’s take a look at how the guys taken from pick #10 to #14 have fared against their higher paid counterparts from #5 to #9.
THE SHOOTING GUARDS : HEZONJA (5) VS BOOKER (13)
At The Time: Both Orlando and Phoenix were desperate for athleticism and shooting going into the draft. Mario Hezonja was a highly touted international prospect compared to Devin Booker, the SEC 6th Man of the Year. One was looked at as having an infinite ceiling, while the other was pigeon-holed as a role player due to the platoon system employed at Kentucky. Ironically, the Magic and Suns both took what was left to them after earlier choices. Orlando taking what appeared to be the highest upside guy left at #5, while Phoenix were left with little to choose from.
Tale Of The Tape: The two have had almost complete role reverses since being drafted. Despite the Magic and Suns both struggling, Booker was the only one handed the keys and allowed to play through his mistakes almost immediately. Unbelievably he currently has 2,000 more NBA minutes than Hezonja and the numbers suggest they are not drastically different players. Very similar percentages mean by using Per36 numbers to make up for the gap in minutes, key stats tend to even out significantly. Perhaps more importantly, they both remain negatives entities in key advanced indicators like BPM (-3.7 vs -3.0) and VORP (-.7 vs -.9) at this stage.
20/20 Vision: A clear look at the situation suggests Hezonja and Booker should just change places but it may not be 100% justified. Booker has shown far more in his short NBA career that he was allowed to in College, yet still has some ways to go to join the top of the draft class. Right now on potential he deserves to go no higher than #5 & partly due to lack of exposure, Hezonja looks far more like the #13 wing prospect the Suns would have expected to land. I’m still not sure the gap between them is quite that large, so we’ll need to keep a close eye on this comparison over the coming years.
“We were surrounded by a lot of talent at Kentucky so I found my niche, and that’s what we needed to do…..We had plenty of ball handlers out there with Tyler (Ulis) and Andrew (Harrison), so I felt I could show a little more (at the Combine), create for others. And I’m trying to become a two-way elite player.”
THE CENTRES : CAULEY-STEIN (6) VS TURNER (11)
At The Time: Looking back, Sacramento and Indiana went into the 2015 Draft with contrasting plans. Three solid years at Kentucky had Willie Cauley-Stein projecting as a double-double machine who was the “perfect” defensive anchor next to Boogie, who wanted to play PF for the Kings. The departure of Roy Hibbert & co had the Pacers wanting to add whatever talent they could. In a season where Paul George would return, Myles Turner was a high risk option at #11, with only one year of College play and a suspect running gait.
Tale Of The Tape: Playing an almost identical amount of games but with a 900 minutes discrepancy, things can’t be seen as level for these two big men. Where as the earlier pick would normally be the one exposed to maximum minutes, Turner took a starting spot chance while Cauley-Stein lost his. Turner has been far from a polished product but the Pacers have had great patience with him. The Kings just couldn’t wait to give up on Cauley-Stein starting. Turner can legitimately shoot the rock against NBA level defenses and the Pacers are allowing him to slowly increase his range. Cauley-Stein on the other hand is not in an environment that is allowing him to showcase his best talents; rebounding, blocking shots and finishing around the rim. He may not ever be half the offensive player Turner is, but with steady minutes he can match it in most other key areas.
20/20 Vision: There is no nice way to put it, the Kings reached to grab what they perceived as a need at the time. Ironically they could have still reached but taken Turner and ended up with a steal in the draft because right now, Turner is the new #4 to the Knicks. The best shooter on the floor would be awfully nice on a team with Cousins but Turner becomes the Knicks consolation prize for losing Porzingis instead. With Cauley-Stein the new #11 to the Pacers, perhaps in another life he could’ve had Bird speak just as highly about his elite skills. With defensive minded then-coach Frank Vogel, we might not be asking Willie or won’t he.
“It feels great, especially for a great shooter like himself to compliment me in that aspect… I work on my shot a lot and I work on it every day. It’s one thing that’s carried me through really to here, throughout my entire journey. Just to hear that is amazing. I’m not going to disappoint.”
THE POINT GUARDS : MUDIAY (7) VS PAYNE (14)
At The Time: Denver were not in a position to be picky with talent but PG was definitely a position of need for the team. Wings and bigs came in the form of several veterans and recently drafted players and Mudiay was an interesting prospect for Pick #7 in this draft. On the other hand, the Thunder had two Top 10 players in their team and could afford to take anyone left at #14 who could potentially play a small role for their playoff bound team. Cameron Payne was a late rising prospect and the clear next best PG in the pool.
Tale Of The Tape: 50 less games, 106 less starting opportunities and over 2,000 minutes difference. The careers of Mudiay and Payne have been very different to date. Mudiay was thrust into the fire from day one and has taken his fair share of criticism trying to run the Denver offense. His FG% and AST:TO ratio have been quite poor and he hasn’t been able to become the defensive force you need to be to make up for it. Payne has played under 1,000 minutes in the NBA, so any judgement is likely very premature. On the little we do have to go off, Per36 would suggest he could be every bit as good as a guy like Mudiay. That’s not a high bar to start with but on a team where he is only expected to be a spark off the bench, the criticisms don’t come anywhere near as hard or fast. As of right now, both players are solid backup PG prospects and that’s a problem for Denver given where their guy was taken.
20/20 Vision: On current form lines, if Denver were sold on a PG they should have potentially traded back. Despite the question marks on Mudiay, the lack of talent pushing up and dearth of playmaking in the draft means he only slides back to #9. Charlotte could have done with him backing up Walker and a baptism less covered in fire, could have also been good for Mudiay. Whilst there is talent there, lack of exposure so far means Payne remains at #14 to the Thunder. He could still prove to be a very worthy backup and help keep Westbrook’s minutes down.
“I really have confidence in my game and I play with so much emotion and I never let anybody tell me I can’t do something,” he said. “I haven’t made it yet, but I got the opportunity to make it.”
THE SMALL FORWARDS : JOHNSON (8) VS WINSLOW (10)
At The Time: Miami and Detroit both had gaping holes at the wing, and were widely expected to take shooting guards or small forwards. Justise Winslow was fresh off winning the NCAA Championship and was arguably Duke’s best player throughout the tourney. Stanley Johnson had a very solid freshman season, earning First Team All-PAC 12 honours and at 6’7″ and 245lbs, many compared Johnson to a young Ron Artest. Miami were giddy to take Winslow at #10 (Micky Arison is a fellow Duke alumni) and StanJo was a somewhat surprising pick at #8 ahead of Justise at the time. By all reports, the Pistons fell in love.
Tale Of The Tape: Justise’s sophomore season became derailed early due to a wrist injury and was finished when he tore the labrum in his right shoulder. While there were flashes of Winslow’s versatile game (5.2rpg, 3.7apg), the increased workload killed Winslow’s efficiency and highlighted the huge amount of work he needs to do to make defences respect him on the offensive end. Winslow closed the season shooting an anaemic 35.4% from the field and 20.0% from three. Despite the struggles, Pat Riley has compared him to franchise mainstay Udonis Haslem, which is a clear vote of confidence in Winslow’s abilities. Similarly, Johnson would probably like to forget this season ever happened too. Buried on the bench behind veterans, there simply hasn’t been room for SVG to prioritise Johnson’s development. In addition, SVG openly challenged StanJo to lift his practice and work ethic if he wants to see the court. To add insult to injury, Johnson was sent to the D-League to get some consistent playing time and find some form.
However, when looking at the Per36 numbers for Winslow and Johnson it shows how close these two really are.
20/20 Vision: While the numbers are close, we have Winslow going at #7 and Johnson at #10 in the re-draft. Winslow goes earlier due to greater exposed form to date, with Johnson every chance to catch him with greater opportunity as a starter in Miami. If he was drafted by the Heat, Johnson would currently be starting at SF and learning on the job – much like Winslow who was relishing the challenge before injury cut it short. The two seem close in output but far apart in how their franchises currently view them. One can only wonder how Johnson’s time would change if given Winslow’s shoes.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s nothing that intimidates me. I accept the challenge and I’m just gonna try to do my best to do all those things great and be a versatile guy.”
THE POWER FORWARDS : KAMINSKY (9) VS LYLES (12)
At The Time: The Hornets were coming off a disappointing season (33 wins – 10 less than year before), while the Jazz played well but just missed the playoffs in a tough Western Conference. Frank Kaminsky was fresh off a huge senior season for the Wisconsin Badgers, falling just shy in the NCAA National Championship but winning the NCAA Player of the Year award and finishing #1 in PER. On the opposite end was Trey Lyles, one of the youngest players in the draft pool. Lyles was employed in the same platoon system as Devin Booker – an off the bench spark plug who showed flashes of a versatile offensive game in a stretch 4 package.
Tale Of The Tape: Both players are filling that stretch 4 role off the bench for their respective teams, although neither are shooting the lights out (Kaminsky – 39.3%, Lyles – 39.1%). Their Per36 is also quite similar, but the main concern for the Hornets is that Kaminsky will be 24 years old in April. In many ways, he is what he is – an average shooter with poor defence and limited athleticism. Lyles is 21 years old and already putting up numbers very similar to Kaminsky – while being 2-3 years younger and much more athletic. When in doubt, take the upside pick…but really the difference between the two right now is minimal.
20/20 Vision: Lyles going at #8 to the Pistons and Kaminsky at #12 to the Jazz. Lyles would have the ability to grow into his role in Detroit in a similar way to how he contributed at Kentucky – flashing his versatile stretch 4 game and ability to fit without being a focal point. In Utah, Frank could work alongside a player like Gobert who would cover many of his deficiencies – making him an overall more efficient player. Another sliding doors moment, where one can only wonder if the current view on Frank would differ if he was able to contribute behind high level guys in Utah without as much expectation.
“I’m a very versatile guy,” he said. “I can do a lot of things. I can contribute right away. I know the team is young, but I think I can fit in. My biggest strength is just knowing how to play the game the right way. I’m a smart player.”
2015 NBA RE-DRAFT
1. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Kristaps Porzingis
3. Philadelphia 76ers – D’Angelo Russell
4. New York Knicks – Myles Turner
5. Orlando Magic – Devin Booker
6. Sacramento Kings –Jahlil Okafor
7. Denver Nuggets – Justise Winslow
8. Detroit Pistons – Trey Lyles
9. Charlotte Hornets – Emmanuel Mudiay
10. Miami Heat – Stanley Johnson
11. Indiana Pacers – Willie Cauley-Stein
12. Utah Jazz – Frank Kaminsky
13. Phoenix Suns – Mario Hezonja
14. Oklahoma City Thunder – Cameron Payne
As explained throughout, the new look 2015 Lottery is vastly different to what the history books will say. The bookends of 1 and 14 remain the only choices to not change, with plenty of movement in the middle. Per36 numbers are not a perfect science but they can provide a window into what might be. Whether it’s a change from within or an opportunity elsewhere, each player has another opportunity to alter their stock.
The 2016/17 season is proof of that. NBA teams are littered with lottery choices, who are only just now proving they are capable rotation players or had another gear in their game. Names like Nik Stauskas, Julius Randle, Otto Porter Jnr, Dion Waiters and Austin Rivers were all called in the lottery pre-2015 and find themselves having career best years. Why is that?
Talent is an important factor for all NBA players early on but the ingredients for a “Perfect Match” weigh in just as much. This could be why a number of the names mentioned above are now performing on new teams, perhaps on their last chance. Truth be told, for all those names there are also the Anthony Bennett’s of the world but every player chosen in the ’15 lottery still has a chance. Even if they wish things started off a little differently and perhaps with a different franchise. There is still time though and the upcoming Trade Deadline could provide the first test to the theory.