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by Richard Lu, 6/14/06

About a week ago, I rented Leon Gastís follow up to When We Were Kings (great movie, if you havenít seen it). It was basketball documentary entitled 1 Love. It was a little disappointing because it tried to do too much in too short a time frame. However, one line did really stick out to me. Hubie Brown was addressing some high schoolers at a camp and said, ďTo make it in The Show, you have to have either a game or a specialty.?

This quote coupled with my never-ending fascination for the draft inspired me to do a little study to see if there was a quantifiable way to determine which college players in this yearís draft had the best chance to succeed in the NBA.

So, I decided to compare this group of potential draftees from the NCAA Division I level and compared them to players in the past using Similarity Scores. Then from that, I was able to calculate their success rates.

Defining the pool of players posed a small challenge because the three-point was introduced in the college game in the 1986-87 season. Therefore, I chose the 1990 draft as the starting point to keep the number of seasons before 1986-87 to a minimum, while making the pool as large as possible. Then, the 2003 draft was the cut off point because itís still a little too early to fully evaluate the quality of the 2004 and 2005 drafts. To do that, it takes three years to get a pretty accurate evaluation.

The Similarity Scores were calculated based on fourteen categories, which are listed below:

  1. Height
  2. Weight
  3. Age
  4. Minutes per Game
  5. Total Games Played
  6. Three-Point Efficiency
  7. Free-Throw Efficiency
  8. Two-Point Efficiency
  9. Assist Rate
  10. Turnover Rate
  11. Rebound per 48 Minutes
  12. Blocks per 48 Minutes
  13. Steals per 48 Minutes
  14. Personal Fouls per 48 Minutes
The maximum score is 1000 and a significant comparison would fall in the range between 800 and 1000. So, to come up with a success rate, I analyzed every comparable player that was in that range using Minutes per Game and basic production metrics like PER as the primary factors and assigned a point value to them. They are as follows:

1 ?Definite All-Star, Elite Level Player (ex. Kidd, Shaq, Iverson)
0.75 ?Borderline All-Star, Second Tier Player (ex. Abdur-Rahim, Antoine Walker)
0.5 ?Starter, min. 25 MPG
0.25 ?Borderline Starter, Bench Player, 15 MPG ?25 MPG
0 ?Fringe Player (<15 MPG), Bust

So, first I calculated a playerís Minimum Success Rate by dividing the number of non-busts by the total number of players in the range, then multiplied by 100. Then, I averaged all the point values to get a Quality Index, which I used to get the percent chance that a player will end up as a starter or All-Star.

One problem I ran into was that some players didnít have enough comparable players to get a valid success rate. In those cases, I expanded the range until I got a large enough group of comparable players.

With the nitty-gritty mathematical process out of the way, I ran the success rates for around 100 draft prospects, which should cover almost every college player who will be picked. One other note, I adjusted the rates to account for draft position, since a first rounder would have a better chance than a second rounder. So without further delay, here are the players in the 2006 Draft Class with the best chance to be starting at the end of their rookie contract.

1. Ronnie Brewer, SG, Arkansas
% Chance to Start ?61.40%
Was similar to: Joe Johnson, Caron Butler, Michael Finley
This draft isnít as strong at the top as it has been in the last few years. But if any player is going to develop into an All-Star, it will most likely be Brewer. He has almost every factor going in his favor. Heís very athletic with an NBA body, so he can physically handle the league. On the court, he can pretty much do everything with the only question mark being the funky release on his shot. It probably cannot be corrected because it stems from a childhood accident, but it does go in with some regularity. From an intangibles perspective, there should be no questions as heís had no off-the-court problems. Also, heís been around the game his whole life, since his father, Ron Brewer was an eight year vet.

2. Rudy Gay, SF, Connecticut
% Chance to Start ?56.71%
Was similar to: Jared Jeffries, DerMarr Johnson, Ron Artest
Gayís ceiling may not be as high scouts would like to believe. He has a lot of skills, but his defense seems to be ahead of his offense at this point. He is similar to Brewer in that he is versatile with a wide range of skills. However, Brewerís success rate is higher because he holds a significant advantage in the areas of ball-handling and decision-making. Scouts have questioned his assertiveness, but itís probably a result of unreasonable expectations more than anything. His stats and behavior donít indicate that he will be number one player. But, he does have great tools, so that will allow him to stick and be very effective in a complimentary role.

3. Shelden Williams, PF, Duke
% Chance to Start ?41.35%
Was similar to: Othella Harrington, Malik Rose, Alonzo Mourning
Shelden Williams is the safest pure big man in the draft. Heís an efficient low post scorer and excels on the defensive end. But heís 22 and history has shown that players at this age donít experience a lot of major development. So, heís pretty much a finished product. Even so, he will most likely be pretty effective as a fifth wheel type role player.

4. Rajon Rondo, PG, Kentucky
% Chance to Start ?40.81%
Was similar to: Eric Snow, Jason Kidd, Dee Brown (Boston Celtics, not Illinois)
From a statistical perspective, Rondo is the best defensive point guard to enter the draft since Jason Kidd. His per minute rebound and steal rates are extraordinarily high for any point guard, much less a guy whoís only about six-two. From a visual standpoint, he possesses amazing quickness, both laterally and in straight-line speed. So this will allow him to cut off penetration and get to the basket, which will be huge key in the NBA nowadays with the new rules in effect. He does have a questionable jump shot, but he makes up for it by being a solid decision-maker and by taking good shots.

5. Shawne Williams, SF/PF, Memphis
% Chance to Start ?39.60%
Was similar to: Tim Thomas, Robert Horry, Mike Miller
Shawne Williams was most similar to Tim Thomas and that would be a fairly accurate assessment of his abilities on the court. Like Thomas, Williams can take players off the dribble, can post smaller defenders and shoot the three. Defensively, heís more of a shot blocker than Thomas was at this stage. However, he does share some Thomas?more negative qualities like spotty shot selection and some motivation issues. But, he will probably find a spot in the league because of his versatility.

6. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Texas
% Chance to Start ?37.63%
Was similar to: Lorenzen Wright, Samaki Walker, Rasheed Wallace
Aldridge is easily the most skilled offensive big man in this draft, but he grades out as a rather suspect defensive player. His defensive stats indicate that he is not nearly as active as he should be, considering the fact that he is very athletic and nearly seven feet tall. Then, from watching him play, he has a tendency to play soft. This could cause problems if heís drafted by a team with a defensive minded coach.

7. Kyle Lowry, PG, Villanova
% Chance to Start ?34.88%
Was similar to: T.J. Ford, Steve Francis, Keyon Dooling
Lowry is another penetrating guard like Rondo, but has more question marks on offense and isnít anywhere close on defense. Offensively, he doesnít shoot the ball very well. It wouldnít matter so much if he didnít take a lot of questionable shots. In addition, his Assist Rate isnít as high as it supposed to be for a point guard. Defensively, his stats are good enough, but he does have a tendency to commit cheap fouls. Most likely, he will end up as a solid back-up who could provide a team with an energy lift off the bench.

8. Brandon Roy, SG, Washington
% Chance to Start ?29.00
Was similar to: Jim Jackson, Paul Pierce, Antonio Daniels
Statistically, Roy didnít grade out as high as I wouldíve expected. Offensively, he checks out well by doing most of his damage as a slasher. He also has sound passing and decision-making skills, which will be an excellent bonus for the team that drafts him. On defense, he didnít grade out as well. He might be more of a stay-at-home defender than a help guy because his steals and block rates werenít really high. One concern on the defensive end would be that he is a little foul prone and with the new rules in place, it could be a bigger problem.

9. Marcus Williams, PG, Connecticut
% Chance to Start ?24.52%
Was similar to: Jacque Vaughn, Tyronn Lue, Steve Nash
Marcus Williams is first specialist to show up on the list. Heís a specialist because his only real skill is his ability is passing, everything else is a little bit spotty. On the positive side, his Assist Rate was the fourth highest among all players evaluated. On the negative side, his scoring ability will be a question mark as he isnít a good athlete or very quick, so he will have problems getting into the line. This makes his shot selection an even greater question mark, since his eFG% is only about 45.5%. Defensively, he always had great shot blockers behind him, so his flaws were hidden. He probably wonít have that luxury in the pros, so his man defense will be problem since he is limited athletically.

10. Darius Washington, PG, Memphis
% Chance to Start ?23.38%
Was similar to: Gilbert Arenas, Chauncey Billups, Maurice Williams
This is the only major surprise on this list. Washington compared favorably to Gilbert Arenas even though he had a down year at Memphis this year. Like Arenas, his game is probably more suited to the NBA than to college. His one-on-one abilities will make him a threat on the offensive end because he can penetrate, dish and hit the outside shot. Heís held back a bit since he doesnít seem to understand the game that well. Ideally, he should be drafted by team like Atlanta in the upper part of the second round. In a place like that, he would get playing time to develop his skills and be on a team that will be a patient with his mistakes.

11. Tyrus Thomas, PF, LSU
% Chance to Start ?23.00%
Was similar to: Drew Gooden, Stromile Swift, Antonio McDyess
Thomas is projected by most draft experts as a candidate for the top pick. However, his upside is not as high as the experts would think. Heís a phenomenal athlete with great skills on the defensive end. But, he doesnít have much of an offensive game, being limited only dunks and put-backs. History has shown that post players are generally slow to develop their offensive game. So the odds are that Thomas will be similar to Stromile Swift being a fifth wheel or an energy guy off the bench.


Patrick OíBryant, C, Bradley
% Chance to Start ?18.65%
Was similar to: Yinka Dare, Nazr Mohammed, Erick Dampier
OíBryant grades out as similar to Tyrus Thomas, but not nearly as high because Thomas?numbers are generally higher across the board. He has a lot of same problems as Thomas in that his offense is still under-developed, but he has added concern of being a bit soft and undisciplined. He is doesnít go to the foul line as much and will shy away from contact at times. Also, he is very foul prone, which will limit his minutes in the NBA.

Adam Morrison, SF, Gonzaga
% Chance to Start ?17.51%
Was similar to: Casey Jacobsen, Calbert Cheaney, Pat Garrity
Morrisonís type has not done well historically, so it may be an explanation as to why his success rate is low. He grades out as strictly a catch-and-shoot scorer who does not look to pass or put the ball on the floor. This tendency may hurt him in the NBA, because heís not very athletic and canít create his own shot. Defensively, he has long way to go to say the least. His stats are poor with exception to rebounds. Then from watching him, he seems to really struggle to stay in front of his man. His success really depends on the team that drafts him and the system they play.

Rodney Carney, SF, Memphis
% Chance to Start ?14.40%
Was similar to: Tayshaun Prince, James Jones, Kyle Korver
Carney is an absolute enigma on the offensive end. He has a ton of athleticism, but doesnít use it very much, since he spends most of his time jacking up three pointers. In fact, half of his field goal attempts over the course of his career were threes. He doesnít look to pass, so this may be a bigger problem in the pros. His best chance to stick will probably be with his defense. He puts up solid stats and is athletic enough to stay in front of people, so that does work in his favor.

Randy Foye, SG, Villanova
% Chance to Start ?10.19%
Was similar to: Bob Sura, Derek Fisher, Jimmy King
Foye fits the most common type of player with the highest bust rate, which is the undersized two, not really a point guard position. That doesnít bode too well for Foye, but he does have the tools to buck the odds. Also, he shown significant improvement over his four year career, but at 22, he might have topped out. So, he projects to be player off the bench in the mold of Fred Jones.

J.J. Redick, SG, Duke
% Chance to Start ?4.34 %
Was similar to: Trajan Langdon, Shawn Respert, Terry Dehere
The odds are really stacked against Redick to say the least. The problem with Redick is that he is as one-dimensional as it gets with his shooting being the only plus. He does not do anything else particularly well and on top of that, he is undersized and not athletic enough for the NBA. He might make it as a specialist, but every specialist in the past had some other plus skill in addition. Steve Kerr had point guard skills and Kyle Korver was a good rebounder in college. So, Redick might suffer a fate similar to Trajan Langdon, who was out of the league in three years.

I took a few things away from running this little study.

  1. Versatility will greatly improve a playerís chances of success.
  2. Guards have a higher chance to succeed if they work from inside-out.
  3. College big men drafted outside the top 5 will not become elite players.
This method is not going to predict the future, but it could be useful way to assess the on-court risk associated with draft prospects. Then again, I could be wrong or I could be right. As it always is with the draft, time will tell.

If you have comments or want to know some other playerís success rate, please email me at [email protected]

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