Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 NBA Draft Musings: The Biyombo Divide & More

Another NBA Draft night is in the books. While I don't think there were any epochal shifts in the NBA landscape, there was plenty of fun and intrigue to be enjoyed, as usual. Cleveland has to walk away as the biggest winner of the evening, for nabbing the most bankable player in the draft in Kyrie Irving, as well as another promising prospect in Tristan Thompson, though I do wonder if the Cavs will regret passing on Jonas Valanciunas at 4 as time goes by.

Overall, though, the most interesting storyline around the 2011 NBA Draft to me, now and into the future, revolves around Bismack Biyombo and his development. I thought that Biyombo caused the most distinct split in opinion among draft evaluators, professional and amateur, in this year's class.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress - who is, in my opinion, one of the two giants for NBA Draft coverage, along with Chad Ford - had Biyombo ranked as the 3rd-best prospect in this class. In a tweet last week, Givony said, "Biyombo's combination of length, athleticism, intensity, aggressiveness and smarts is simply unheard of. Pass on him at your own peril."

On the Timberwolves blog CanisHoopus, Stop-n-Pop did epic work with deep data analysis to create his 2011 Draft Board, and concluded that Biyombo should have been the no. 2 pick in this draft. Here's an excerpt:
    Biyombo will rebound AND block shots. He will foul and his offensive game will definitely be a work in progress, but I’m fairly confident that he will be able to rebound and block shots like an established NBA player from day one. He is also the most athletic player in the draft. Awesome production in two key categories + amazing athleticism is a no brainer.

    We don't bat an eye when a guy like Derrick Williams shows signs of being an upper-level shooter with an upper level ability to get to the line; why do we show apprehension with a guy who might be better at two skills that likely have a better history of transferring to the NBA? Why not pair the possibility of upper level shot blocking, defense and rebounding with upper level rebounding and efficient scoring (Love) and passing (Rubio)? Rubio + Biyombo + Love has the possibility to be this amazing collection of upper level role players who are simply in need of a single high volume scorer. It sets everything up for the Season of Redemption for Senor Skittles.

    Anywho, this guy absolutely deserves to be taken with the 2nd pick. The only question about why he should be taken lower has to do with questions of pick value. He’ll be a tough sale to casual fans on the day after the draft, but Biyombo is the pick. He has to be.
I watched Biyombo practice and play at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, and came away thinking along similar lines. I think Bismack Biyombo is the third-best prospect in this year's class, and I'd probably be more likely to have Biyombo (and possibly Valanicunas, too) in the same draft "tier" as Irving and Williams than not.

Again, a big part of why I like Biyombo is in the context of this year's draft, which was weak at the top relative to previous years. I think he's a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate, which alone gives him a far higher ceiling than most players in this draft. Offense is obviously a question mark, but I don't think it needs to be much more than what Ben Wallace provided, given the level of basket protection I believe Biyombo will provide.

I believe in Biyombo because of his exceptional defensive production in the Spanish ACB (in a small sample size, granted), a higher level than NCAA ball, coupled with the way he completely dominated the basket area in the Hoop Summit against several players who are expected to be top 10 picks in next year's draft - and who would have been top 10 picks last night, frankly, given that it's expected to be a stronger draft in 2012.

I have no doubts Biyombo can become a dominant defender, and believe that he can become good enough on offense. The main reason to doubt Biyombo, in my opinion, are questions about his age. Givony has looked into this issue as closely as anyone, so I trust his judgment when he says he believes Biyombo is 18, or 20 at most.

Of course, reasonable people disagree on this player evaluation. Lots of hoop fans seem skeptical of Biyombo, and seem to expect him to be another Darko/Skita-type bust as an out-of-nowhere prospect. Jay Bilas ranked Biyombo just 18th on his list of prospects. John Hollinger had Biyombo 11th on his Draft Rater. Even in this space, Jay Aych was willing to commit to Biyombo as only a top 15 prospect in his scouting report, concluding with this:
    I do understand the apprehension some NBA decision-makers have about Biyombo. Biyombo only has one season of substance under his belt, and that was only 15 games. And his rawness on the offensive end gives you pause. He needs a ton of polishing on the offensive end and he might always be a big liability.

    But Biyombo's elite physical skills allow him to wreak havoc on defense and the boards much like Ben Wallace. And he's proven his worth against serious competition in Spain.
What Bismack Biyombo becomes as a player is the most fascinating storyline of the 2011 NBA Draft to me. Needless to say, I think Charlotte was a big winner yesterday. I love the value in both Biyombo at 7 and Kemba Walker at 9, and liked the trade which landed them the 7th pick. They may take a short-term hit in essentially giving up Steven Jackson for youngsters, but I like the moves for the MikeCats in the long-term, and think yesterday's actions were a promising sign that the surprising hire of Rich Cho as GM has finally brought a sense of rationality to the decision-making process in Charlotte.

-- On the flip side, I thought Minnesota could have done better overall, though the grade is still incomplete. I think Derrick Williams is the 2nd-best prospect, but a bad fit for Minnesota because he overlaps with Kevin Love. We'll see if the Timberwolves can turn Williams into a better fit via trade, but I think Minnesota should have considered Biyombo at 2, primarily because he fits their needs very well (I concur on that point with Stop-n-Pop above) and also because I don't think there's a wide gulf between the two prospects. I think Williams is better, yes, but I could see Biyombo's defense being better than Williams' offense in the league.

Couple that with the Timberwolves' somewhat comical slide backwards with a serious of trades - I was amused that I thought they made good value picks at each slot, only for it to be continually revealed that these picks were made for other teams - for nothing more than money, a top-14-protected future pick, Brad Miller, and Malcolm Lee (who I do like at 43, but still) and I thought the end result was underwhelming.

I was also a little surprised that Toronto didn't take the plunge on Biyombo at 5, to go all in on a culture change with defensive-minded Dwane Casey taking over as head coach of the league's worst defensive team.

-- Otherwise, I liked what Chicago did in picking up Nikola Mirotic for the future at 23. Givony had him ranked at 7 among this year's prospects, while Jay Aych considered him a lottery-worthy prospect in his recent Mirotic scouting report here.

Mirotic slipped because he recently signed a long-term deal with Real Madrid, and won't be coming over for another two-to-four years. He's only 20 now, and has already produced at the highest levels of European competition. He could be a nice battle-tested piece ready to slip into Chicago's rotation and help them continue to compete for championships as the decade moves on. I am concerned about Mirotic's average athleticism, but the value of this pick was unquestionably exceptional.

-- Meanwhile, I thought Sacramento had a terrible day, with a mind-boggling trade which both made its team worse and caused it to drop from 7 to 10. I am generally pro-Jimmer Fredette. I think he can be a potent scoring guard off the bench, but I worry that the expectations for him seem to be growing too high. I see him being expected to play a prominent role in Sacramento, and I think that's too much to ask, especially right off the bat. Given what transpired, Sacramento would have been better sitting at 7 and selecting one of the many available prospects better than Jimmer.

-- I thought that the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks made an intriguing low-risk move in essentially acquiring Rudy Fernandez for the 26th pick. Mark Cuban claims he hired Rick Carlisle because analysis showed that players produced much better for him than for other coaches. Rudy should be a good test case of this phenomenon - I'm always amazed at how Rudy plays with an entirely different style for the Spanish national team – he seems to be much more aggressive, attacking and crashing the boards – than he has in Portland, where he has underachieved.

If Carlisle can extract more of Rudy’s talent, this could be a sneaky little move for the champs. If not even Carlisle can, Dallas will likely be Rudy’s last NBA stop on the way back to Spain.

After a promising rookie year in 2008-09, with a 15.5 PER, Rudy has regressed, with PERs of 13.1 and 13.4 in the last two years. In looking at Rudy's numbers, his decline seems to have come mainly in his shooting numbers, as his true shooting percentage dropped from .588 as a rookie to .522 last year. A comparison of his 2-point and 3-point field goals are what fascinate me:
               2P%   3P%   FG%
    '08-09 .470 .399 .425
    '09-10 .395 .368 .378
    '10-11 .453 .321 .370
After a strong-shooting rookie year, Rudy's FG% numbers have plummeted down to the 37-38 range, but for entirely different reasons in the two years. In 2009-10, he couldn't make a two to save his life (possibly a result of his back injury), but last season, his two-point shooting rebounded, and it was his inability to hit a three which sunk him. If Carlisle and Dallas can coax a season out of Rudy in which he can synch up his shooting on twos *and* threes, they may have added a solid rotation piece.

-- Other thoughts... I am mystified in general by the postseason rocketing up the charts by Klay Thompson, and in particular by Golden State’s infatuation with him. It seems like the Warriors would have been better off with one of the more defensive-minded players still on the board at that point.

I thought that Washington continued to take small, smart steps forward in its rebuilding process, continuing to pile up young assets with the picks of Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack. I'm torn on Vesely - I like his strengths, but worry that his whole is less than the sum of the parts; I just wish he had more production. I think it's going to be vital for Washington to take advantage of Vesely's post-up game, which is underrated and should be effective given Vesely's height advantage vs. NBA small forwards. In any event, the Wiz should be fun to watch with Vesely and Singleton being two more athletes who can get out and run with John Wall.

Also, I liked the value Houston got after starting the night at 14 and 23, acquiring Marcus Morris, Donatas Motiejunas and taking a flyer on Jonny Flynn.... Smart move by Oklahoma City, as usual, at 24 in grabbing Reggie Jackson, who should be able to fill the void whenever Eric Maynor inevitably leaves to become a starter elsewhere.... And it must be reiterated that the Clippers are losers on this night after trading away what became the no. 1 pick, as Irving would be a perfect fit for their young club. I still don't fault the logic of the trade, and its grade can't be completed until we see if the Clips are able to do anything with the 2012 cap space they opened up in the deal.

-- Finally, one question in looking at college-conference breakdowns: what the heck is up with the Big Ten? JaJuan Johnson was their only first-rounder last night, and he was taken at 27. That makes just three first-rounders in the last three years, with Evan Turner in 2010, and the immortal B.J. Mullins in 2009. They've been dwarfed by other power conferences over that timeframe. The Big 12, for example, had four players selected in last night's lottery alone.


At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good analysis. On Rudy, I wonder if the Mavs were purchasing a little Barea insurance. Assuming there is a season next year, it's possible Barea could command an offer that would make it difficult for the team to resign both him and Chandler. Rudy does some of what Barea does, and at a dirt-cheap price, plus he's in a contract year. Here's hoping Rudy returns to his previous form. He seemed a bit stifled in Portland.

At 12:58 AM, Blogger Ryan said...

I definitely agree on the Jimmer point.

Seems as if Jimmer and Tyreke are now the backcourt...which is far from poor, but doesnt Sac want Reke to play more 2 guard? Jimmer is not really a 1...more of a scorer off the bench like you said.

Stones really got lucky with Knight falling to them. Biyombo was their focus, but just too much risk with that. Point guards over raw rebounders any time.

At 12:11 AM, Anonymous Tyler said...

Nice, comprehensive post, but one thing: I kinda think Cleveland dropped the ball. Kyrie Irving was the pick at No. 1, but I feel the drop off between Kanter and the next player available is (in this case they went with Thompson) is significant. They were obviously in a tough position, but maybe consider taking D. Williams at #1 (forcing Minnesota into an impossible situation) and then maybe grabbing B.Knight at #4? Would love to hear your thoughts:

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