TrueHoop: Next Level

NBA Draft: Which 'big' is best?

June, 25, 2013
By Ryan Feldman

Getty ImagesAlex Len, Nerlens Noel and Anthony Bennett are three notable big men in this year's NBA draft.
Who’s the best big man in this year’s NBA Draft? The answer may surprise you.

Using advanced analytical data, let’s compare the top big man prospects that played college basketball last season: Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, Anthony Bennett, Steven Adams, Cody Zeller, Mason Plumlee, Kelly Olynyk, Gorgui Dieng, Jeff Withey and Tony Mitchell.

Jump shots

The best stretch big man appears to be Bennett, who led the top big men in jump shots made and effective field goal percentage (min. 15 attempts) –- a shooting percentage statistic that gives more value to three-pointers.

Bennett's 52.8 effective field goal percentage on jumpers was slightly better than Trey Burke and Allen Crabbe.

Dieng, who shot 50 percent on jumpers, is the darkhorse candidate for a stretch big man. Despite rumblings about his potential to knock down perimeter jumpers at the next level, Zeller was just 9-of-24 on jump shots last season (37.5%).

Len and Mitchell were at the bottom of the barrel, both shooting 28 percent. Noel attempted only three jump shots, although he did make two of them.

Finishing at the rim

Withey shot 79 percent around the basket on non-post-up plays, the highest percentage in the country (min. 100 attempts). Olynyk wasn’t too far behind at 70 percent.

Mitchell and Adams were the only two of the top big man prospects to shoot below 60 percent around the basket, as both were just over 56 percent.

Post-up plays

Olynyk was the most efficient post-up scorer last season, scoring 1.07 points per post-up while shooting 58 percent on those plays.

The only player other than Olynyk to shoot better than 50 percent in the post was Plumlee, who has improved in terms of points per play and field goal percentage on post-up plays in each college season.

Dieng was by far the least-efficient post-up scorer of the group. He shot 26.5 percent and scored 0.57 points per post-up play.

Post defense

Adams, Noel, Withey and Zeller all measured as outstanding post defenders last season. Each of them held opponents to 30 percent shooting or lower and fewer than 0.60 points per post-up play. Adams was the best of the group –- his opponents shot 25 percent and scored 0.46 points per play in the post.

Olynyk didn’t fare as well as the other big men defending the post. His opponents shot 48 percent and scored 0.92 points per post-up play –- twice as many points per play as Adams allowed.

Rebounds and blocks

Dieng measured as the best rebounding big man of the top prospects. He and Adams both grabbed more than 17 percent of available boards. The worst rebounder of the group was Mitchell (15%).

Withey and Noel both blocked more than 13 percent of their opponents’ field-goal attempts while they were on the court. Adams was the only other player above 10 percent. Bennett, Zeller and Plumlee were the only big men of the group below 5 percent.


Of the 10 big men evaluated using these metrics, Withey is the only one who didn’t rank in the bottom four of any of the six categories. Noel is the only one to rank in the top two of three different categories.

Perhaps surprisingly, the worst of the group were Len and Zeller. Len didn’t rank in the top four of any of the six categories, while Zeller ranked in the bottom three in four of the six categories.

Lin, Howard would be nice pick-and-roll duo

July, 18, 2012
By Micah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith Jeremy Lin now officially a member of the Rockets, is Dwight Howard next?
It’s official: Jeremy Lin is a Houston Rocket... but that doesn’t mean Rockets GM Daryl Morey is done wheeling and dealing. With Lin in the fold, how might he fit in a potential partnership with Houston’s other target, Dwight Howard?


In addition to being a defensive force, Howard is the best pick-and-roll finisher in the NBA. He averaged 1.38 points per play as the roll man on pick-and-rolls last season, best in the league among players with at least 35 plays.

On the surface, it might not appear Lin would be the ideal pick-and-roll point guard to pair with Howard. On all of his passes out of the pick-and-roll, Lin ranked in just the 40th percentile in points per play.

However, when going exclusively to the roll man, Lin ranked in the 72nd percentile (fifth of 35 point guards with 100 plays). That compares favorably to both Howard’s current and preferred point guards.

Orlando’s Jameer Nelson ranked 15th among that group of 35 point guards while the Nets’ Deron Williams came in at just 29th on points per play generated on passes to the roll man.


What about Lin playing off of Howard?
Dwight Howard
Despite missing 12 games, Howard still led the NBA with 181 passes to spot-up shooters last season and commanded a hard double-team 5.8 percent of the time he posted up.

Only Andrew Bynum and LaMarcus Aldridge were doubled more frequently so the ability to spot up, spread the floor and punish teams for doubling Howard is important when playing alongside the big fella. Unfortunately, this is not an area in which Lin excels.

Lin shot just 32.0 percent from the 3-point line and ranked in the 55th percentile in spot-up situations (0.94 points per play) last season. He ranked in the 43rd percentile in catch-and-shoot situations (0.86 points per play).


One of the keys to Lin’s success with the Knicks last season was his freedom to make plays. Of the 148 guards with at least 500 minutes last season, Lin’s usage rate of 27.4 ranked 10th. Some players he outranked? Chris Paul, Brandon Jennings and John Wall.

For comparison’s sake, Nelson’s usage rate has been under 23.0 in each of the past six seasons and Lin’s usage rate last season (27.4) would be the second-highest ever among Howard’s backcourt teammates.

The highest rate posted by any guard teammate of Howard’s was 28.4 by Steve Francis during Howard’s rookie campaign in 2004-05.

Despite all the success, plenty of mistakes came along with the freedom Lin enjoyed in New York. Lin averaged 4.7 turnovers per game as a starter, last among the 39 players who made at least 20 starts at the point last season.

Thunder boom in second half to win West

June, 7, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Info

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesKevin Durant led the Thunder's big second-half comeback to beat the Spurs and reach the NBA Finals.
For one half Wednesday night, Tony Parker was well on his way to carrying the San Antonio Spurs to victory and forcing Game 7.

Then Kevin Durant woke up… and Parker’s hot hand went ice cold.

Trailing by 15 points at the half, the Oklahoma City Thunder outscored the Spurs 59-36 in the second half to oust the West’s top seed and advance to their first NBA Finals since 1996, when the franchise was in Seattle. It was San Antonio’s largest blown playoff halftime lead ever.

The Thunder become the first Western Conference champion outside of the Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks since 1998. Coincidentally, Oklahoma City defeated all three during its current playoff run.

Durant, who played all 48 minutes, scored 20 points after halftime to key the Thunder’s huge comeback. He finished with 34 points and 14 rebounds, both team highs, and knocked down 12-of-15 free throws. Russell Westbrook played a solid supporting role with 25 points and eight boards.

Durant joins Xavier McDaniel and Gary Payton as the only members of the Oklahoma City/Seattle franchise with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game.

While the Thunder’s 3-point shooting was a major spark – they knocked down 10-of-18 from beyond the arc – they balanced it by scoring efficiently inside. Oklahoma City was 15-of-25 from inside 5 feet in Game 6, including a blistering 10-of-14 from that distance in the second half.

The Spurs watched their season end on a season-high four-game skid after running off 20 straight wins. After a dominant first half in which they scored 63 points on 54.5 percent from the field, they hit more iron than net in the second half, converting just 32.5 percent of their field goals.

A key was the Thunder limiting the Spurs’ pick-and-roll offense, allowing 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting on such plays (3-of-10, 6 points in 2nd half). The Spurs scored over 20 points on pick-and-rolls just once (Game 5) in the last four games of the series after scoring 30 in each of the first two games.

No player exemplified that more than Parker. The point guard had a first half for the ages, scoring 17 points in the opening quarter and reaching halftime with 21 points (8-14 FG) and 10 assists. He became the first player since at least 1996 to have at least 20 points and 10 assists in a playoff half.

Tony Parker
But Parker could not find his stroke in the second half, going just 4-of-13 from the field for eight points and two assists.

The Thunder become only the third team in NBA history to win four straight games in the conference finals after trailing 2-0 and now will wait to see if they will face the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. With home-court advantage in that series, Oklahoma City has a prime opportunity to win its first title since 1979.