Looking at the upcoming NBA Draft’s projected lottery picks, most of the players represent the big boys around the nation – Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Florida, Connecticut. But smack in the middle between guys that played in a Final Four is a kid from Weber State. Anybody who follows college hoops or draft scouting surely knows about Damian Lillard, but it’s still surprising to see a player ranked so highly who most fans have never seen play a minute of college basketball. Will Lillard, who is projected to go in the top 10 as the draft’s top point guard, struggle to adapt to the massive increase in competition from the Big Sky Conference to the NBA? We researched lottery picks over the past 15 years from mid-major conferences to judge how successful they were in their transition to the league, grading success based on extended NBA productivity in the form of minutes played and value added. We considered all conferences outside of the top six power leagues as ‘mid-majors,’ so even the Atlantic 10, Conference USA and Mountain West qualify for our criteria.
Will Damian Lillard struggle in his transition from the Big Sky to the NBA? (US Presswire/K. Terada)
Taking a look at recent history, names like Jimmer Fredette and Stephen Curry came from smaller schools yet were still some of the most popular collegiate players in the nation. Just because a player hails from a mid-major school doesn’t necessarily mean he was an unheralded prospect. Nonetheless, the point of our analysis is to determine what, if any, crutch comes along with stepping up from such a wide gap in competition for lottery picks. Even though Fredette was a National Player of the Year winner, he still faced relatively weaker competition on a nightly basis at BYU. Is it more difficult to scout and project success for a mid-major prospect? Let’s take a look at how these players have fared historically. You’ll notice a trend that suggests Lillard should have a great chance at NBA success.
As previously mentioned on RTC (and every other decent site that covers basketball), the NBA held its draft lottery last night. Among the luminaries in attendance were the Basketball Jesus himself Larry Bird, Dwayne Wade of “Fall down 7 times, shoot 14 free throws” fame, Jay-Z, Kevin Durant, Mitch Richmond, Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg, and some lady who has Sacramento Kings season tickets.
As most of you know by now, the Chicago Bulls defied their 1.7% odds to steal the #1 pick. Rounding out the top 3 were the Miami Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves. The losers of the draft were the Seattle Oklahoma City Supersonics who fell from the #2 spot to #4, which I think they deserved after last year (still bitter despite a NBA record 42-win turnaround and a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals).
The top 2 are essentially set in stone although the Bulls lack of an interior scoring presence (not you Joakim) and lack of an elite point guard (sorry, Kirk) means they could go either direction. The Heat will get the “leftovers”. I’m guessing that Pat Riley (still the GM, right?) is hoping that the coachless Bulls take Michael Beasley because it seems like Beasley and Shawn Marion would clash in terms of their inside-outside styles and type of play so he would prefer Derrick Rose, who could be absolutely ridiculous paired with Wade and Marion.
We’ll be putting up draft previews over the next couple of days, but until then we’ll just offer a few thoughts:
(1) If I was the Bulls GM (if Reinsdorf or any one in the organization is reading this, please contact me), I would go with Rose. Even though they lack a great inside scoring threat, I think it’s a lot easier to find a serviceable PF than PG. I also think the impact of a great PG is bigger as Chris Paul and the other great recent vintage PGs have shown everyone the past few years. The Bulls have a lot of talented NBA-quality young guards (Chris Duhon, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Larry Hughes, and Thabo Sefolosha) along with a couple talented unproven youngsters (JamesOn Curry and Shannon Brown). While some analysts may argue that this is a reason to get a big man, I would argue they should take Rose (better than any of the current guards) and make a big package of these young guys to try to get another inside presence to compliment Andre Nocioni, Joakim Noah, Drew Gooden, and Tyrus Thomas along with the team’s only “star” Luol Deng. I’ll have more on this in an upcoming post. . .
(2) I wonder if Mike D’Antoni is starting to think he should have asked the Knicks for more money. He could have had almost the perfect team for his offense if he went to Chicago even before they had the chance to select Rose. I also wonder how D’Antoni is going to handle being on a team that uses its draft pick to select a player instead of selling it for money.
(3) Hoiberg looked like he was going to throw the cancer patient’s teddy bear when the Timberwolves ended up with the #3 pick (falling outside of the Beasley-Rose jackpot). That would have made an even better YouTube moment than it already was (around the 2:20 mark of the clip below).
A couple quick, early links on the NBA Draft:
(1) As always, Chad Ford has a mock draft up with a brief analysis. I swear he must have enough spare time during the year to come up with mock drafts for every possible team draft order combination.
(3) If you want to hate John Hollinger and his ridiculous unproven stats, check out his Pro Potential analysis (ESPN Insider access required). For those of you without access here are a couple of gems:
- Michael Beasley at #1 followed by. . .Blake Griffin at #2 and Danny Green at #4.
- 11 of the top 25 are freshman, which isn’t surprising, but that does not include several notable freshman who didn’t make the list: Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, DeAndre Jordan, Donte Green, and Eric Gordon.
- The list of freshman that Hollinger considers to have more pro potential than those five heralded freshman: DeJuan Blair (Pittsburgh), Dar Tucker (DePaul), Robbie Hummel (Purdue), Andrew Ogilvy (Vanderbilt), and Matt Howard (Butler). The fact that I decided to list the schools these guys play at should tell you how far off the radar most of these guys are as NBA prospects. Hollinger offers an impassioned defense of his system, but I don’t buy it.