Drafting based on NCAA production
The NBA draft is just around the corner. The league's scouts and general managers have more hours of tape and more measurements of standing vertical leaps than they know what to do with. Mock drafts are coalescing around consensus themes. Players are rising (Will Barton) and falling (Jared Sullinger) faster than ever. The word "potential" -- the holy grail to NBA GMs' Pythonian Knights -- is beginning to lose all meaning. And we college basketball fans are sitting around wondering why Meyers Leonard is a projected lottery pick and Draymond Green is not.
You know what that means: It's time for the third annual edition of the College Basketball Production-Only Mock Draft, or CBPOMD or, as I've stubbornly taken to calling it, "the Seebpomd." Three years on, that horrific nickname still doesn't roll off the tongue. But it's too late to rebrand now.
What is the Seebpomd? It's this college basketball writer's look at the NBA draft from an entirely potential-free perspective. Don't get the Seebpomd wrong: I understand why NBA scouts value potential. Production at the college level doesn't automatically translate to the pros; height, leaping ability and length often do. So this feature is less a criticism of the NBA than a look back at the college careers of this current NBA draft class, and where those players would rank if we were drafting based purely on how well those players produced during their time in the college ranks. Consider it a final farewell to the players who have defined our sport, before they move on to bigger, better, significantly more difficult careers.
We've established a few rules since we started this thing, which are as follows:
1. Production-only means production-only. Potential doesn't matter here. This is about the past, not the future.
2. To simplify the parameters, players are judged based on 2011-12 production first, with an emphasis on individual production as measured by Ken Pomeroy's efficiency metrics. That said, particularly impressive long-term careers are considered, as are team success, national titles and the like. One-and-dones are rare on this list, but some are so good in their one season they can't possibly be left off the list.
3. This includes only players currently in the 2012 draft pool. Players who stayed in school another year put their NBA dreams on hold, and with them, their chances of inclusion in the CBPOMD. I'm sure they're devastated.
4. Try not to take this too seriously. Cool? Cool.
The top player in the 2012 College Basketball Production-Only Mock Draft couldn't be more obvious. The rest of the rankings -- and some omissions -- may surprise you. Without further ado:
1. Anthony Davis: There is a certain threshold where the production-versus-potential dynamic ceases to matter one bit, but it doesn't come along very often. Wherever that threshold is, Anthony Davis is miles past it. Simply, he is the most overwhelming combination of talent, production and sky-is-the-limit draft pondering we've seen since Greg Oden and Kevin Durant came along in 2007, and maybe since LeBron James in 2003.
You've seen Davis play. You're aware of his dimensions. But let's also take a moment to remember how crazy-productive this dude's lone season in college hoops was. In 2011-12, Davis averaged 14.2 points on 62.3 percent shooting, with an offensive rating of 133.5 (No. 3 in all of college hoops) and a true shooting percentage of 65.4. He added 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game while committing just 2.4 fouls per 40 minutes.
In the process, Davis won every award a college basketball player can win, while leading his team to a dominant national title run. The forward will always be remembered as one of the most naturally gifted defenders ever to grace the college game, and that defense is his greatest NBA calling. But he was so much more than that.
2. Draymond Green: For as good as Davis' season was, you could make the case -- as Ken Pomeroy's advanced tempo-free individual player rankings did -- that Green had the better overall season individually. Green led Michigan State in points, rebounds and steals and ranked second on the team in assists per game (Green had 3.8 to point guard Keith Appling's 3.9). Green was also a key young contributor on Michigan State's back-to-back Final Four teams as a freshman and sophomore. His career was brilliant throughout.
By the end of 2012, he cemented his legacy as what coach Tom Izzo proudly referred to as the "perfect Spartan" -- a vocal, determined leader who came to define everything Izzo asks of his players. This was a great college career, and it will be fascinating to see what a player like Green -- tweener physical limitations and all -- can bring to a good NBA team. The answer is almost certainly more than most NBA GMs currently think.
3. Jordan Taylor: Jordan Taylor's senior season was awfully good -- he was arguably one of the best 10 players in the country, and you could even rank him higher -- but it was not his finest. That was his junior season, when Taylor posted a 126.9 offensive rating, a 30.4 percent assist rate, a turnover percentage of just 8.5 (the second lowest in the country) and a 42.9 mark from long distance despite being hounded throughout Wisconsin's trademark long possessions, which Taylor often ended with contested 3s late in the shot clock. According to John Pudner's Value Add formula (which SI's Luke Winn used to rate the 10 best point guard seasons of the past decade), Taylor's 2010-11 season was one of the two best point guard seasons of the past decade, the highlight of an otherwise excellent four seasons.
He may or may not be a sleeper. To be honest, I'm just as torn as the scouts. But we'll always have 2010-11.
4. Jared Sullinger: Ohio State's latest great big man had a similar two-year trajectory to Taylor: His 2011-12 sophomore campaign was a letdown only because he set the bar so high as a freshman. Pomeroy's system calculates similarity scores for players' individual seasons, and Sullinger's 2010-11 comps are as such: 2007-08 Kevin Love, 2005-06 Tyler Hansbrough, 2007-08 Blake Griffin, 2007-08 Matt Howard and 2006-07 Greg Oden. That's lofty stuff.
Sullinger returned to school in pursuit of a national title, posted a very-good-but-not-great sophomore season, and suddenly finds himself the subject of concern not just over his perceived lack of athleticism but also some lingering back-flexibility issues that have almost totally scared off NBA doctors. He will have to overcome that, but his back-to-back All-American performances in in his two college seasons rank among this draft class's most productive.
5. Robbie Hummel: That Hummel's career ended the way it did -- with dual knee injuries hampering his athleticism -- borders on the tragic. Even so, at no point in his career did he fail to produce at a high level. Last season, after the devastating injuries, Hummel posted the lowest individual turnover rate in the country (7.0), rebounded efficiently, scored from distance, and led a team with no true post presence to an NCAA tournament run that included a classic farewell performance, with 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-9 from 3, in a 3-point loss to Kansas. The great career didn't end as it should have, but Hummel more than acquitted himself all four seasons.
6. Terrence Jones: Statistics can tell us only so much about a player's defense, which is why I think it was so easy to overlook Terrence Jones as a sophomore. It didn't help that Jones was playing next to the aforementioned Davis, who was quite obviously a world-destroying talent, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who selflessly took on the role of defensive stopper for most of Kentucky's best opponents.
But Jones submitted a more-than-worthy two-year career in his own right. As a freshman, he was the best overall player on a team that upset Ohio State and went to the Final Four. As a sophomore, he took on a much smaller role for a much better team, but still posted 12.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while submitting some of the nation's best and most versatile power forward work on both ends of the floor.
7. Thomas Robinson: Robinson wasn't as efficient offensively in 2011-12 as some of his contemporaries on this list, but made up for it by doing everything else extremely well, particularly on the glass. He led the nation in defensive rebounding percentage (30.5 percent), then complemented that by being more than capable on the offensive boards (11.2 percent), and providing Kansas' only truly consistent go-to option in the low block. Meanwhile, Robinson led KU in usage rate and shot rate. He was a bona fide star.
It would be a mistake to overlook Robinson's sophomore campaign, when he was one of the nation's best all-around rebounders while backing up the Morris twins. Robinson may have to play such a role at the start of his career in the NBA. Plan on watching him grab a lot of boards.
8. Tyler Zeller: There is nothing particularly flashy on Tyler Zeller's résumé -- just three fantastic years of steady improvement, culminating in an excellent 2011-12 season (16.5 boards, 9.3. rebounds, 55.3 percent shooting, an offensive rating of 121.0) during which Zeller was handily North Carolina's most consistent, productive option. You won't see many Davis-ian dunks in Zeller's highlight reel, but you will see lots of boards, lots of stick-backs, and more than his fair share of hook shots over both shoulders. If all goes well, Zeller's NBA career should take a similar trajectory -- low on flash, high on production.
9. Kendall Marshall: Marshall has his fair share of flaws, particularly his shooting, which was prohibitively inconsistent for a player who doesn't excel at beating opponents off the dribble. But that's for the NBA scouts to figure out. At the college level, Marshall was one of the best pure passers we've seen in a decade, and maybe longer. He easily broke the ACC's decades-old all-time record for assists as a sophomore. His assist rate was 45.1 percent, third highest in the country. As a freshman, he dished the ball on 40.7 percent of available possessions, good for No. 7 overall.
In 2011, Marshall's takeover of the UNC point guard position changed the trajectory of Roy Williams' team. It will be fascinating to see how far his singular, intuitive passing talent can take him now.
10. Damian Lillard: Lillard averaged 18.4 points per game in four seasons at Weber State, but his senior season was the true coup de grace. Lillard finished with 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game on 47 percent shooting and just over 40 percent from beyond the arc. Not only was he efficient, but he posted some of the highest usage numbers in the country; he carried his team more often and more effectively than any player not named Doug McDermott. There's a reason a 6-foot-2 guard from the Big Sky Conference is considered the best point guard prospect in the same draft as the ACC's all-time assists leader: By last December, Lillard became impossible to ignore.
11. John Jenkins: How productive was John Jenkins in college? For two straight seasons, he led the SEC -- the conference the Vanderbilt Commodores share with the NBA-lottery-talent machines that are Kentucky and Florida -- in scoring. But Jenkins didn't just get his numbers with volume. He was the league's third-most efficient player in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, posting back-to-back offensive ratings of 124.4 and 126.6, the same seasons he finished No. 1 in scoring in the league. He was just that good (44.3 percent for his career) from beyond the arc. He should be a nice piece for any NBA team in need of a long-range threat, but he was utterly ruthless as an amateur.
12. Kevin Jones: The West Virginia forward got unlucky with timing: By the time he had morphed into the upperclassman star we all expected him to become, he was on a team with a "bunch of freshmen that don't have any idea what the hell they're doing," as WVU coach Bob Huggins put it near the end of Jones' stellar senior season. Jones was a workhorse as a senior -- he played the 10th-highest percentage of his team's available minutes (93.4 percent) in the country, posted a 124.3 offensive rating, and contributed great rebounding and defense while avoiding foul trouble to the tune of just 1.3 fouls per 40 minutes -- but he was also a key part of West Virginia's run to the Final Four as a sophomore in 2010.
13. Tu Holloway: Holloway's Xavier legacy was threatened by his role in this season's infamous Cincy-Xavier brawl, which Holloway played a large part in instigating and a large part in later worsening. But Xavier eventually found its stride just in time for Holloway to make his third Sweet 16 appearance in four seasons, and the program's fourth out of its past five. His junior season, when he averaged 19.7 points, 5.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game, while playing 94.5 percent of his team's available minutes, was his best, but the entire four-year body of work is worthy of commendation.
14. Andrew Nicholson: Speaking of an entire body of work, Nicholson ranks among the best four-year players on this list. His ability to shoot like he did in 2011-12 (60.1 eFG, 63.8 true shooting, 59.3 percent from 2, 43.4 percent from 3) combined with his 6-foot-9 frame made him one of the toughest covers in the country for years. In the past few months, NBA scouts have had a chance to see Nicholson's touch up close. But he'd been scorching A-10 defenses long before the rest of the country took notice.
Honorable mentions: Tyshawn Taylor, Harrison Barnes, Will Barton, Orlando Johnson, William Buford, J'Covan Brown and everyone in the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats rotation who wasn't already listed (particularly Kidd-Gilchrist, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb).