An analytics reader’s guide to the 2014 NBA Draft


For years and years to come, the performances of Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins will be irrevocably intertwined because of the draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the driver’s seat to select their favorite of those youngsters and secure their NBA rights for at least five years. It’s not an easy decision.

This post will review many of the notable analytics articles about the 2014 NBA Draft. I tried to be as comprehensive as possible in looking for every much-discussed model, scouting report and more.

It’s important to keep in mind that NBA teams are clearly much more advanced in their thinking than the public can currently grasp. You want more accurate evaluations of defensive performance? You want high-scale video comparisons? You want health studies, psychological analyses and more? Teams are doing that kind of work. The public isn’t, or at least not yet on the same scale or at the college level.

What is the point of using data analytics to look at the draft? Let’s let Ben Alamar, the the Cleveland Cavaliers senior analytics consultant, explain:

“But if we stop looking for data to give us the answer and instead help us let data reduce the risk around any decision we make, and understand what the risk is. Because most of the time when we make decisions, very often we have no idea what the risk really is. So [the goal is] to be able to use data to help at least inform what kind of risk we’re taking.”

Alamar said those comments at the 2013 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. They serve again as a helpful reminder that analytics aren’t just a strategy alone, but are being used to assist the organization in every department possible to achieve its mission. To understand uncertainty. To assist in decision-making.

Without further sermoning, here are all of my favorite analytics links about the draft.

Draft models

NBA Draft: All of vjl110’s Data in One Place” – Layne Vashro, Cannis Hoops (Timberwolves blog)
Projecting top 30 NBA prospects” – Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider”
Hoops Nerd Top 18 Draft Prospects” – Dan Dickey, Hoops Nerd
Projecting the 2014 NBA Draft” – Jacob Frankel, Hickory-High
Visualizing 2014 NBA Draft Prospects” – Andrew Johnson, Hardwood Paroxysm
Minute Projections for players of the 2014 NBA DRAFT” – Jerry Engelmann, ABPR Forums
The 2014 Draft Preview Part 3: The Deepest Draft?” – Arturo Galletti, Box Score Geeks

This is the real meat of what a budding NBA analyst would want to read. It’s notable to add the disclaimer that Dickey and Frankel were unable to include International players in their modeling. Even still, all of these links are very valuable resources. Let’s breeze through with some of the notable highlights:

— Two of my favorites were from Vashro and Johnson. They’re really, really smart guys. Tons of stats you can dig through in there. Vashro’s chart has Bust/Bench/Starter/Star probabilities. Johnson’s charts are entirely customizable. Oodles of fun.

layne vashro_analytics

Credit: Layne Vashro

— Hello there, Marcus Smart. The controversial Oklahoma State guard is rated in the top two in a surprising number of these analyses (No. 1 by Pelton, No. 1 by Dickey and No. 2 by Frankel). What gives? Well, high rebounding marks for a guard and elite steal numbers. Both stats are said to transfer very well to the pros. I guess I’m more concerned than these reports by his .477 efg, well below the NCAA average.

— What about Joel Embiid? He really didn’t play that much in college, giving us fewer data points and less confidence in his performance. But what we saw was very impressive. He has a 97% starter potential, per Vashro, by far better than anyone else. He was top-5 for Pelton, Frankel and Dickey, No. 8 for Galletti and No. 10 for Johnson. Injury risk obviously is hard to quantify from there.

— The international prospects are very, very good in this draft. We all know about Dante Exum, who is likely to be a top-5 pick with limited major-level analytical data available. But Clint Capela, a 6-foot-11 Swiss big man, receives rave statistical reviews (No. 1 by Galletti, No. 2 by Pelton and No. 2 by Vashro). Jusuf Nurkic, a 6-foot-11 Bosnian center, was pretty close behind Capela (No. 3 by Pelton and No. 4 by Galletti), too.

Much, much more is still to come on the comparisons between Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

Draft philosophies

Draft 3.0: The Sacramento Kings Crowdsource the Draft” – Grantland
Age really is more than a number” – Andrew Johnson, The Lottery Mafia
No, Stat Geeks, Marcus Smart Isn’t No. 1 Prospect in NBA Draft” – Mark Heisler, Forbes
Marcus Smart is an advanced stats favorite, so let’s torch another straw man” – Tom Ziller, SB Nation
New DX Feature: NBA Draft Pick Expected Value” – Jim Hlavac, Draft Express
A top-5 bust in NBA draft is not as costly as you’d think” – Neil Greenberg, Fancy Stats
Clearing The Air” – Dean Demakis
Memo to Cavs…Don’t Draft To Win Now!” – David Thorpe, ESPN
Preview of the Draft Preview” – Jay Cipoletti,
MCW & Giannis: Why The Eye Test Still Matters” – Jonathan Tjarks, Real GM
How Do We Assess “Potential” Among NBA Draft Prospects?” – Layne Vashro, Cannis Hoops (Timberwolves blog)
How the Denver Nuggets’ Analytics Guru Scouts NBA Draft Prospects” – Adam Fromal, Bleacher Report
Shorting the Special Snowflakes” – Seth Partnow, Hickory-High
No Team Can Beat the (NFL) Draft” – Neil Paine, Five Thirty Eight


Credit: Draft Express

— Among my favorites here: The new Draft Express value charts, the back-and-forth about Marcus Smart being No. 1 and the back-and-forth between guys like Tjarks and Vashro.

— I always love an article about aging curves and the importance of age in prospect development. I wrote about age in concert with my Nerlens Noel appeal last year and my defense of Kyrie Irving recently. This year’s projected lottery class is really young. Age is a huge factor in how we assess “potential,” a topic that Vashro wrote about eloquently. Why do we say Wiggins has more potential than Parker? Is it just measurables? What if they’re on the same growth curve, anyway?

— Tommy Balcetis, the Denver Nuggets analytics manager (who really likes Jabari Parker) emphasized the importance of video analysis in college scouting. “We definitely look at stats, but with college players we look at the video a little more.” For college players, you’re only looking at 1,000-ish minutes. Much more analysis has to go into consideration than just their stats.

— I enjoyed Partnow’s take on “shorting” this year’s draft class. In general, pessimism always reigns. As Alamar said, the point of draft analytics is to better understand the risks we are taking … there are always risks. I also enjoyed re-reading Paine’s article from May on how “no team can beat the (NFL) draft.” I’d argue the same is true in NBA (and MLB) too. Some teams get lucky or unlucky consistently. Over time, no one has completely solved the system.

Scouting reports/player comparisons

2014 Draft Prospect Similarity Scores” – Ian Levy, Hickory-High
NBA comparisons for draft’s best” – Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider
NBA Draft: Who do analytics rate best?” – Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Info
Shot Analytics: NBA Draft” – Dylan Burkhardt, Shot Analytics
Which Prospects Get To The Rim The Most?” – Dean Demakis
The NBA Draft Illustrated: Shot Charts for the Lottery Picks” – Kirk Goldsberry, Grantland
Andrew Wiggins is rated too high” – Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider
Joel Embiid is still my guy” – Derek Bodner, Liberty Ballers (76ers blog)
Why Jabari Parker is a better, more complete scorer than Andrew Wiggins…right now” – Sam Vecenie, Upside & Motor
On Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker: Weighing Production, Potential, and Both” – Jack Winter, Hardwood Paroxysm
NBA Draft 2014: Evaluating Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, and Dante Exum” – Tyler Lashbrook, Orlando Pinstriped Post (Magic blog)
2014 NBA Draft: Andrew Wiggins Scouting Report” – Nate Duncan, Basketball Insiders
2014 NBA Draft primer for the Cavaliers: Which shooter do you prefer?” – WFNY

Now, on to the actual comparisons of some of these top selections. As promised, I’ll focus on Wiggins, Parker and then some final thoughts:

Andrew Wiggins, the 6-foot-8 wing with a 7-foot wingspan, is a tough prospect to project. His collegiate stats were mostly underwhelming, as Pelton and others wrote. His competitive advantage over Parker is in defense and athleticism, but those are difficult skills to specifically pin-point in basketball production. Do they translate better? We don’t necessarily know. He had low assist numbers for Kansas. Discernible skills (not just athleticism) are usually key for NBA production, at least at first. Vashro’s probabilities give Wiggins a higher shot at being a star and at not being a bust, but he’s got much higher odds of just being a bench player.

Jabari Parker, the 6-foot-8 and 250-pound former Sports Illustrated cover man, is a scorer. That much cannot be denied. He posted a higher eFG (.511 v .499) on higher usage (32.7% v 26.3%) than Wiggins. Vecenie’s article broke down how he’ll be a better offensive player early on. Parker also rebounded far better, as he’s a bit more of a do-it-all scorer/post player than a wing. The issue here is projectability. Does Parker’s defense weigh him down long term? Was his shot chart actually that much more impressive? Does he make logical sense next to Anthony Bennett long-term, or are we already moving on after Bennett’s disastrous rookie season?

shot analytics shot charts

Credit: Dylan Burkhardt

— Wiggins is a better fit for the Cavs than Parker. That much cannot be denied. Yes, the Cavs need post scoring and an alternative option to Kyrie Irving, but Wiggins fits ideally as a defensively skilled long wing. But as Thorpe’s video emphatically stated, you shouldn’t prefer one guy over the other because of short-term fit or success. You have at least five years of team control. Who will be better during the duration of those five seasons? You could convince me either way. The stats are close.

— Finally, I’ll add that I’m a big fan of some other draft prospects I haven’t mentioned yet today. Nik Stauskas is a phenomenal shooter. Aaron Gordon is an amazing defender. Zach LaVine has irresistible athleticism. Julius Randle is a monster post scorer and rebounder. Those international prospects also project to be very good. My perspective on the Cavs is that they still need more talent, better fits for building with Irving and have tons and tons of options. It’s a bit overwhelming. I’m almost happy with anything they do; they were supposed to have the No. 9 pick and they’re fortunate to have this much added leverage.


Photo collage credits:
Joel Embiid: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jabari Parker: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Andrew Wiggins: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports