Historical Context for Zion Williamson with CBSR

Historical Context for Zion Williamson with CBSR

The Lottery Mafia

Historical Context for Zion Williamson with CBSR

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A holistic approach to talent evaluation involves qualitative and quantitative analysis. However, a few times in every generation a talent shines so bright that all it really takes is the good old “eye test” to take notice. It only took a few minutes of watching Zion Williamson in a Duke uniform to see the obvious – he is something special that we haven’t really seen in college basketball before. The intellectually curious urge is to contextualize his play against the other top NBA prospects from recent drafts. But how do we do that without establishing a metric or baseline for comparative purposes? With Zion’s impact this college basketball season serving as convenient inspiration, my goal was simple – create a statistical profile or rating system that can be reasonably used to compare production amongst college basketball players across different seasons. This College Basketball Statistical Rating (CBSR) doesn’t exactly have an acronym that rolls off the tongue so all name suggestions are very welcome.

The first step was to determine which variables to use as inputs for my metric and to weigh those measures as effectively as possible to adequately assess Zion and the top prospects in this draft class against their counterparts in previous drafts. This immediately removed all players that didn’t play college basketball. There is no justifiable method to aggregate Euroleague statistics against NCAA basketball while adequately accounting for the disparity in level of competition and style of play/coaching. So Luka Doncic fans will have to settle for my thoughts on him in earlier works: here, here, and here.

For the initial purposes of this analysis I went through all the lottery picks back to the 2012 Anthony Davis draft class, as he was the natural pivot point of the last time I remember seeing a young man stand out so remarkably on the college basketball stage. So what measures would I need to account for in creating an admissible metric?

  • Physical Profile: Age, height, and wingspan were the obvious physical measures to start with. It was imperative to adjust height and wingspan by positional category. Length is slightly more important protecting the rim than on the perimeter, which is why it would be weighed differently by positional category: guards, wings, and bigs. Naturally it was necessary to account for a 22-year-old senior having fewer development years and room for improvement ahead of them than an 18-year-old freshman.
  • PER: John Hollinger’s player efficiency rating does a solid job of netting a player’s per-minute positive and negative impacts into a rating, much like what I was trying to accomplish. There was some apprehension with PER’s predilection towards bigs with impactful per-minute rebound and block totals. I wanted to incorporate PER as a lightly weighted input that could be used as a baseline, while sticking to my positional category breakout.
  • SOS: Strength of schedule isn’t a perfect measure but it was necessary to adjust for the level of competition. Prospects facing tougher teams in stronger conferences deserve a bump over mid-major and smaller schools. Damian Lillard dropping 41 against San Jose St. isn’t the equivalent to Zion doing the same against an ACC team.
  • WS/40: Winning matters, right? Bill James’ win shares credits players for their contributions towards their team’s wins and the WS/40 measure essentially converts it into a percentage of their team’s wins. This mitigates some of the noise PER creates by overvaluing per-minute monsters that play 15 minutes a night. Sorry Zach Collins.
  • Offensive & Defensive Ratings: Admittedly there is noise in using a “team” stat like offensive and defensive rating when evaluating an individual, as we can’t truly account for the nuance in the value of the nine other players sharing the court with them. The weight for this measure was extremely low, effectively giving a tiny bonus point bump for prospects that were part of lineups with highly efficient offenses and extremely effective defenses.
  • Shooting Profile: This included TS% and 3PM. With a deeper three-point line and the value of spacing and shooting in the NBA continuing to grow, it was important to bump players that had sterling true shooting percentages and 3Pt makes. These were weighted accordingly within each positional category. NBA teams can get away with drafting a big that can’t shoot 30 footers, but are they really targeting perimeter players without a jump shot?

I’ll save the dull technical breakdown of the formula for a follow up because at this point everyone is ready to hear where Zion stacks up. Before sharing the entire list of players evaluated I want to share each player within the context of their positional category, which I defined by the position that they will primarily defend in the NBA.

CBSR is best at evaluating players against their positional peers. So let’s start off with some takeaways from Zion’s group. Note the asterix for the 2019 prospects is their position on my current Big Board, speaking of which, there will be a teaser of the board at the very end.

Wings
Year Pick Name Rank CBSR
2019 1* Zion Williamson 1 104.536
2013 3 Otto Porter 2 86.04
2019 3* R.J. Barrett 3 83.95
2018 10 Mikal Bridges 4 83.462
2016 14 Denzel Valentine 5 82.298
2019 11* De’Andre Hunter 6 81.094
2014 11 Doug McDermott 7 80.752
2014 2 Jabari Parker 8 79.18
2016 2 Brandon Ingram 9 77.764
2014 14 T.J. Warren 10 77.048
2014 8 Nik Stauskas 11 76.256
2016 1 Ben Simmons 12 74.754
2018 12 Miles Bridges 13 74.006
2015 8 Stanley Johnson 14 72.568
2017 3 Jayson Tatum 15 72.488
2015 10 Justise Winslow 16 71.932
2017 4 Josh Jackson 17 69.18
2019 19* Keldon Johnson 18 68.506
2019 6* Cam Reddish 19 67.342
2014 4 Aaron Gordon 20 66.046
2012 7 Harrison Barnes 21 66.012
2012 2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 22 65.514
2015 12 Trey Lyles 23 65.306
2018 9 Kevin Knox 24 64.046
2019 5* Romeo Langford 25 62.992
2018 14 Michael Porter 26 62.646
2013 14 Shabazz Muhammad 27 62.378
2016 12 Taurean Prince 28 62.346
2019 16* Kevin Porter 29 62.25
2019 15* Nassir Little 30 61.812
2016 3 Jaylen Brown 31 56.134
2019 14* Sekou Doumbouya EUROPE
2018 3 Luka Doncic EUROPE
2015 5 Mario Hezonja EUROPE
2014 12 Dario Saric EUROPE

Wings

  • In terms of statistical production Zion is in a completely different galaxy from everyone else in his peer group. He’s also the only prospect in the entire player pool evaluated to crack triple digits.
  • Zion’s teammate R.J. Barrett is a pleasant surprise, ranking much higher than expected. His usage levels were already very high and he will get a little bump with Zion missing some time recovering from injury. CBSR clearly rates Barrett as a star in college. The biggest question talent evaluators will have over the next few months with him is determining whether he can translate into a star in the NBA. Don’t think he will be comfortable as a role player.
  • What CBSR seems to be demonstrating is the idea that it is relatively harder to make an immediate impact at the college level as a wing. Many of the higher rated players were upperclassmen that spent time adjusting to the college game, gradually improving their skills. Guards have the ball in their hands and the big men impact rim protection and finishing in easily quantifiable measures that translate seamlessly to statistical analysis and ratings.
  • Several surprisingly low-rated players are understandable upon further reflection. Ben Simmons was impressive but seemed disinterested at LSU, while Jaylen Brown’s time at Cal was a mixed bag.
  • Some of the highly-touted wings this year are having very inconsistent performances and CBSR punishes them for it. This includes Reddish, Langford, Little, and Porter. Speaking of Langford, I had some consternation as to whether to group him with the guards or wings.
  • Remember CBSR is NOT saying that Nik Stauskas was a better prospect than Ben Simmons. The rating is simply evaluating their performance in college with statistical benchmarks. Think of it this way: based on the things we value in the NBA to the best ability that we can statistically interpret them with a rating that illustrates their performance in college, Nik Stauskas graded out as having played more effectively at Michigan than Ben Simmons did at LSU. Does that make sense?
Guards
Year Pick Name Rank CBSR
2018 5 Trae Young 1 83.767
2015 2 D’Angelo Russell 2 82.928
2016 6 Buddy Hield 3 82.564
2012 6 Damian Lillard 4 80.942
2019 2* Ja Morant 5 80.524
2013 2 Victor Oladipo 6 80.423
2013 9 Trey Burke 7 79.633
2013 8 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 8 78.795
2013 10 C.J. McCollum 9 78.657
2017 2 Lonzo Ball 10 77.663
2016 7 Jamal Murray 11 76.743
2017 13 Donovan Mitchell 12 75.254
2017 1 Markelle Fultz 13 74.546
2017 12 Luke Kennard 14 74.224
2013 7 Ben McLemore 15 73.794
2019 7* Jarrett Culver 16 73.227
2014 6 Marcus Smart 17 72.845
2017 11 Malik Monk 18 72.163
2015 13 Devin Booker 19 71.588
2014 1 Andrew Wiggins 20 70.77
2012 12 Jeremy Lamb 21 70.625
2012 4 Dion Waiters 22 69.041
2012 3 Bradley Beal 23 68.18
2019 10* Darius Garland 24 66.946
2018 8 Collin Sexton 25 66.799
2015 14 Cameron Payne 26 65.531
2018 11 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 27 65.434
2017 5 De’Aaron Fox 28 64.729
2013 11 Michael Carter-Williams 29 62.363
2012 8 Terrence Ross 30 62.041
2017 9 Dennis Smith 31 61.929
2016 5 Kris Dunn 32 57.347
2018 13 Jerome Robinson 33 56.289
2012 10 Austin Rivers 34 56.003
2014 13 Zach LaVine 35 50.932
2012 13 Kendall Marshall 36 50.414
2014 10 Elfrid Payton 37 47.824
2017 8 Frank Ntilikina EUROPE
2015 7 Emmanuel Mudiay CHINA
2014 5 Dante Exum AUSTRALIA

Guards

  • At the top there is very little between Young, Russell, Hield, Lillard, Morant, and Oladipo. Morant finds himself in good company with the other five building on their college experiences with successful transitions to the NBA.
  • Beal, Wiggins, Fox, and LaVine have all outperformed their college production in the NBA. All of them besides LaVine were drafted at the top of the draft because scouts saw enough in their play to feel confident in their skills translating.
  • Several of the lower rated guards should be no surprise.  There were significant concerns for how they would adapt at the next level. Accordingly Payton, Rivers, Marshall, and Robinson were drafted at the bottom of the lottery.
  • Dunn, Smith, Ross, and Sexton were interesting to evaluate because they all had significant roles on their college teams with high usage rates and low efficiency. So far early returns on their NBA careers have been mixed.
  • CBSR clearly rates the 2019 guard class to be very weak.
Bigs
Year Pick Name Rank CBSR
2012 1 Anthony Davis 1 96.4
2019 4* Bol Bol 2 94.048
2015 1 Karl-Anthony Towns 3 91.772
2018 2 Marvin Bagley 4 85.566
2018 6 Mohamed Bamba 5 85.354
2018 4 Jaren Jackson 6 85.28
2017 10 Zach Collins 7 84.718
2019 9* Brandon Clarke 8 84.698
2019 8* Jaxson Hayes 9 84.582
2018 1 Deandre Ayton 10 83.854
2013 13 Kelly Olynyk 11 83.62
2018 7 Wendell Carter 12 83.578
2016 9 Jakob Poeltl 13 83.152
2015 3 Jahlil Okafor 14 82.74
2014 3 Joel Embiid 15 82.306
2019 12* Bruno Fernando 16 82.208
2017 7 Lauri Markkanen 17 81.56
2013 4 Cody Zeller 18 81.348
2015 9 Frank Kaminsky 19 80.128
2013 1 Anthony Bennett 20 77.816
2017 6 Jonathan Isaac 21 77.8
2015 11 Myles Turner 22 76.766
2019 17* Rui Hachimura 23 76.414
2013 6 Nerlens Noel 24 74.452
2016 11 Domantas Sabonis 25 74.15
2012 5 Thomas Robinson 26 73.242
2019 13* Jontay Porter 27 70.058
2014 7 Julius Randle 28 68.952
2019 18* Daniel Gafford 29 68.8
2013 5 Alex Len 30 68.65
2012 11 Meyers Leonard 31 68.154
2017 14 Bam Adebayo 32 68.032
2015 6 Willie Cauley-Stein 33 67.968
2013 12 Steven Adams 34 67.26
2014 9 Noah Vonleh 35 66.914
2012 14 John Henson 36 64.25
2016 8 Marquese Chriss 37 63.746
2012 9 Andre Drummond 38 55.992
2016 4 Dragan Bender EUROPE
2016 10 Thon Maker POSTGRAD
2016 13 Georgios Papagiannis EUROPE
2015 4 Kristaps Porzingis EUROPE

Bigs

  • Finally we have some competition for Zion’s CBSR throne. It comes from his ideal counterpoint for the purposes of this analysis: Anthony Davis. At least we have some confirmation that reminiscing of Davis’s exploits at Kentucky was not merely foolish nostalgia.
  • One of the more surprising results coming from this was how CBSR positively rates this year’s big men. Bol Bol in particular prior to his injury exceeding KAT was not something I was expecting to see. Bol Bol will likely fluctuate on a lot of draft boards. I can see him as high as No. 2 and as low as No. 20.
  • Who says analytics can’t be artistic? It’s beautiful how tightly the 2018 triumvirate of Bagley, Jackson, and Bamba rated out: within 0.3 CBSR points of each other. Take that for data!
  • Are all statistical profile rating systems destined for a big man bias? Or is it a product of the big men having the easiest path to produce at the college level with the physical advantage between top level talent being less drastic in the pros?
All Prospects
Year Pick Name Position Rank CBSR
2019 1* Zion Williamson WING 1 104.536
2012 1 Anthony Davis BIG 2 96.4
2019 4* Bol Bol BIG 3 94.048
2015 1 Karl-Anthony Towns BIG 4 91.772
2013 3 Otto Porter WING 5 86.04
2018 2 Marvin Bagley BIG 6 85.566
2018 6 Mohamed Bamba BIG 7 85.354
2018 4 Jaren Jackson BIG 8 85.28
2017 10 Zach Collins BIG 9 84.718
2019 9* Brandon Clarke BIG 10 84.698
2019 8* Jaxson Hayes BIG 11 84.582
2019 3* R.J. Barrett WING 12 83.95
2018 1 Deandre Ayton BIG 13 83.854
2018 5 Trae Young GUARD 14 83.767
2013 13 Kelly Olynyk BIG 15 83.62
2018 7 Wendell Carter BIG 16 83.578
2018 10 Mikal Bridges WING 17 83.462
2016 9 Jakob Poeltl BIG 18 83.152
2015 2 D’Angelo Russell GUARD 19 82.928
2015 3 Jahlil Okafor BIG 20 82.74
2016 6 Buddy Hield GUARD 21 82.564
2014 3 Joel Embiid BIG 22 82.306
2016 14 Denzel Valentine WING 23 82.298
2019 12* Bruno Fernando BIG 24 82.208
2017 7 Lauri Markkanen BIG 25 81.56
2013 4 Cody Zeller BIG 26 81.348
2019 11* De’Andre Hunter WING 27 81.094
2012 6 Damian Lillard GUARD 28 80.942
2014 11 Doug McDermott WING 29 80.752
2019 2* Ja Morant GUARD 30 80.524
2013 2 Victor Oladipo GUARD 31 80.423
2015 9 Frank Kaminsky BIG 32 80.128
2013 9 Trey Burke GUARD 33 79.633
2014 2 Jabari Parker WING 34 79.18
2013 8 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope GUARD 35 78.795
2013 10 C.J. McCollum GUARD 36 78.657
2013 1 Anthony Bennett BIG 37 77.816
2017 6 Jonathan Isaac BIG 38 77.8
2016 2 Brandon Ingram WING 39 77.764
2017 2 Lonzo Ball GUARD 40 77.663
2014 14 T.J. Warren WING 41 77.048
2015 11 Myles Turner BIG 42 76.766
2016 7 Jamal Murray GUARD 43 76.743
2019 17* Rui Hachimura BIG 44 76.414
2014 8 Nik Stauskas WING 45 76.256
2017 13 Donovan Mitchell GUARD 46 75.254
2016 1 Ben Simmons WING 47 74.754
2017 1 Markelle Fultz GUARD 48 74.546
2013 6 Nerlens Noel BIG 49 74.452
2017 12 Luke Kennard GUARD 50 74.224
2016 11 Domantas Sabonis BIG 51 74.15
2018 12 Miles Bridges WING 52 74.006
2013 7 Ben McLemore GUARD 53 73.794
2012 5 Thomas Robinson BIG 54 73.242
2019 7* Jarrett Culver GUARD 55 73.227
2014 6 Marcus Smart GUARD 56 72.845
2015 8 Stanley Johnson WING 57 72.568
2017 3 Jayson Tatum WING 58 72.488
2017 11 Malik Monk GUARD 59 72.163
2015 10 Justise Winslow WING 60 71.932
2015 13 Devin Booker GUARD 61 71.588
2014 1 Andrew Wiggins GUARD 62 70.77
2012 12 Jeremy Lamb GUARD 63 70.625
2019 13* Jontay Porter BIG 64 70.058
2017 4 Josh Jackson WING 65 69.18
2012 4 Dion Waiters GUARD 66 69.041
2014 7 Julius Randle BIG 67 68.952
2019 18* Daniel Gafford BIG 68 68.8
2013 5 Alex Len BIG 69 68.65
2019 19* Keldon Johnson WING 70 68.506
2012 3 Bradley Beal GUARD 71 68.18
2012 11 Meyers Leonard BIG 72 68.154
2017 14 Bam Adebayo BIG 73 68.032
2015 6 Willie Cauley-Stein BIG 74 67.968
2019 6* Cam Reddish WING 75 67.342
2013 12 Steven Adams BIG 76 67.26
2019 10* Darius Garland GUARD 77 66.946
2014 9 Noah Vonleh BIG 78 66.914
2018 8 Collin Sexton GUARD 79 66.799
2014 4 Aaron Gordon WING 80 66.046
2012 7 Harrison Barnes WING 81 66.012
2015 14 Cameron Payne GUARD 82 65.531
2012 2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist WING 83 65.514
2018 11 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander GUARD 84 65.434
2015 12 Trey Lyles WING 85 65.306
2017 5 De’Aaron Fox GUARD 86 64.729
2012 14 John Henson BIG 87 64.25
2018 9 Kevin Knox WING 88 64.046
2016 8 Marquese Chriss BIG 89 63.746
2019 5* Romeo Langford WING 90 62.992
2018 14 Michael Porter WING 91 62.646
2013 14 Shabazz Muhammad WING 92 62.378
2013 11 Michael Carter-Williams GUARD 93 62.363
2016 12 Taurean Prince WING 94 62.346
2019 16* Kevin Porter WING 95 62.25
2012 8 Terrence Ross GUARD 96 62.041
2017 9 Dennis Smith GUARD 97 61.929
2019 15* Nassir Little WING 98 61.812
2016 5 Kris Dunn GUARD 99 57.347
2018 13 Jerome Robinson GUARD 100 56.289
2016 3 Jaylen Brown WING 101 56.134
2012 10 Austin Rivers GUARD 102 56.003
2012 9 Andre Drummond BIG 103 55.992
2014 13 Zach LaVine GUARD 104 50.932
2012 13 Kendall Marshall GUARD 105 50.414
2014 10 Elfrid Payton GUARD 106 47.824
2019 14* Sekou Doumbouya WING
2018 3 Luka Doncic WING
2017 8 Frank Ntilikina GUARD
2016 4 Dragan Bender BIG
2016 10 Thon Maker BIG
2016 13 Georgios Papagiannis BIG
2015 4 Kristaps Porzingis BIG
2015 5 Mario Hezonja WING
2015 7 Emmanuel Mudiay GUARD
2014 5 Dante Exum GUARD
2014 12 Dario Saric WING

So what does this all mean?

  • It confirms that every time Zion makes our jaws drop with another spectacular performance we shouldn’t question our eyes or our minds. Rather, we should simply accept that we are witnessing something very special.
  • The other interesting outcome from this exercise was that the rest of this 2019 draft class actually graded out higher than we may have expected. A factor to consider is that their current statistical profiles are inflated and will regress to the mean as we get to the conference tournaments and March Madness where they will face greater pressure and locked-in defenses.
  • Comparing draft classes I was curious to see which lotteries may have been the most difficult to evaluate by NBA teams at the time. A standard deviation of the lottery’s CBSR could be useful. Turns out the 2013 Anthony Bennett draft and the 2017 Markelle Fultz draft had significantly lower standard deviations from the other drafts. Looking back at 2013 this makes total sense as it was a weaker draft in hindsight with no clear superstars. It’s too early to judge the 2017 players but early signs are that the lottery should produce at least several stars and high-level starters between Mitchell, Fox, Tatum, Markkanen, Isaac and Ball. Having no stars or having a lot of stars to choose from definitely makes drafting decisions more challenging.
  • It probably goes without saying but any consideration for using CBSR as a predictor for future success would be reckless without extensive qualitative context. This analysis was created solely to provide quantitative context for Zion’s spectacular season. Just wanted to have some disclaimer in here to preclude assumptions that I’m predicting Zion will definitely have a better NBA career than every other player analyzed.
  • Zion being such a unique combination of size and explosiveness, the one caveat with his career longevity is making sure to maintain his health. LeBron is the best example of optimizing his athletic gifts with developments in sports science, diet, sleeping, and workout habits. Zion taking advantage of similar routines earlier in his career can improve his chances of extending it by mitigating the risk of significant injuries. With his power my biggest fear for him is the risk of impact trauma on his body. He’s literally bursting out of his shoes.

If you made it this far, here is a sneak preview of my upcoming 2019 NBA Draft Big Board:

Rank PLAYER POS TEAM AGE
1 Zion Williamson PF/C Duke 18.6
2 Ja Morant PG Murray St. 19.5
3 R.J. Barrett SF Duke 18.6
4 Bol Bol C Oregon 19.1
5 Romeo Langford SG Indiana 19.2
6 Cam Reddish SF Duke 19.4
7 Jarrett Culver SG Texas Tech 20
8 Jaxson Hayes C Texas 18.8
9 Brandon Clarke PF Gonzaga 22.5
10 Darius Garland PG Vanderbilt 19.1
11 De’Andre Hunter SG Virginia 21
12 Bruno Fernando C Maryland 20.5
13 Jontay Porter C Missouri 19.3
14 Sekou Doumbouya PF PB86 18.2
15 Nassir Little SF UNC 18.9
16 Kevin Porter SG USC 18.8
17 Rui Hachimura PF Gonzaga 21.1
18 Daniel Gafford PF Arkansas 20.4
19 Keldon Johnson SF Kentucky 19.5
20 Goga Bitadze C Budocnos 19.6
21 Kezie Okpala SF Stanford 19.8
22 Nickeil Alexander-Walker SG Virginia Tech 20.5
23 P.J. Washington PF Kentucky 20.5
24 Ayo Dosunmu PG Illinois 19.2
25 Coby White PG UNC 19
26 Tyler Herro SG Kentucky 19.1
27 Tre Jones PG Duke 19.1
28 Talen Horton-Tucker SF Iowa State 18.3
29 Grant Williams PF Tennessee 20.3
30 Shamorie Ponds PG St. Johns 20.7

 

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