Situational Statistics: This Year's Power Forward Crop

Situational Statistics: This Year's Power Forward Crop
Apr 23, 2009, 02:36 am
Though Blake Griffin is clearly the headliner of this year's group of power forwards, we've compiled significant data to thoroughly investigate the depth and versatility of this class from top to bottom to identify trends and make some observations.

Thanks to our friends over at Synergy Sports Technology, we have access to the most thorough situational statistics available today. Synergy keeps track of every possession of a huge amount of college basketball games—thus accumulating an incredible wealth of extremely informative data. Many of these statistics offer excellent insight into the players we evaluate, so we've taken the time to compile and sort through them in an effort to distinguish which players are, for instance, the most productive back to the basket threats, the most effective finishers around the basket, the most likely to draw fouls on a given possession, and the most efficient jump shooters. With 24 of the top power forwards tabulated on our spreadsheet, we've created a short list of the most interesting things we've learned about this year's crop of prospects.

-Situational Statistics: This Year's Center Crop
-Situational Statistics: This Year's Small Forward Crop
-Situational Statistics: This Year's Shooting Guard Crop
-Situational Statistics: This Year's Point Guard Crop

Before you look at our findings, it is important to realize that there are some limitations to our analysis. For example, prospects on lower level teams will have some games and thus possessions missing each year. The exact breakdown of specific possession types can be highly subjective and thus somewhat inconsistent at times as well, which means that this data always needs to be taken with a grain of salt. We've tried to steer away from utilizing data that wouldn't be considered statistically significant, but considering how short the college season is, that's not always easy. Our data obviously does not account for neither the strength of a player's teammates, nor his level of competition.


• Blake Griffin's spot at the top of draft is more than justified by breaking down his advanced statistics, as it truly emphasizes just how impressive a prospect he is from a physical standpoint.

Not only did Griffin garner the most possessions of any PF in the draft at finishing around the basket per game (7.9), but he's also the #1 finisher as well, connecting on an outrageous 75.5% of his short range attempts, not including post ups. While his overall points per possession (PPP) of 1.08 ranks fourth, thanks to the fact that he's fouled on 18.5% of his possessions, has finished 51 of his 61 attempts in transition, and ranks amongst the best finishers when cutting to the rim at 1.52 PPP. Athleticism, strength, and tenacity aside, those numbers alone go a long way towards explaining why he's such a coveted prospect considering he's managed to generate 20.2 total possessions per game (good for 3rd on our list) while still getting the job done in the post (53% on 7.9 Pos/G).

Another player who really stands out with his ability to finish around the rim is Patrick Patterson, who converts 73% of his opportunities around the basket (4th best), on an outstanding 1.48 PPP (2nd best). Patterson's terrific length and athleticism, combined with his huge hands and tenacity made him quite a force at the college level--which also shows up in his ability to produce efficiently in transition and off basket cuts. His jump-shot, post-up game and ability to create his own shot appear to lack polish, though.

• The age old debate over potential and production will be a key point of debate in the lottery.

Looking over the numbers of our top power forwards, we noticed a number of players who are projected as lottery picks that don't look the part on paper. Sitting just behind Griffin in our rankings, we find Jordan Hill, who's overall Points Per Possession of.94 places him slightly below the mean of .98, not quite what one would expect from a potential top-5 draft pick. Looking deeper, we realize that Hill ranks right around the average in a number of areas. He surprisingly connects on just 63.87% of his finishing opportunities not including post ups, and only scores on 49.6% of his logged possessions –sitting just off the mean in both categories. Much of Hill's lack of efficiency can be attributed to the fact that he only gets fouled on 10.4% of his possessions and gets very few touches in transition (16th at 1.1 Pos/g) and basket cut situations (15th at 1.8), two scenarios where he's effective ( 1.33 and 1.43 PPP respectively). The other factor working against Hill is his jumper, which we'll discuss later.

Clearly teams are valuing Hill's upside quite a bit. He's already a productive rebounder and has a lot of potential long-term as a defender, but his offense doesn't stand out amongst his peers. He's raw, but some teams see his physical profile and athleticism and assume he will be a player that develops into a bigger threat on the next level.

Another player in that boat is Earl Clark, but his production looks a bit poor for other reasons.

One of the more perimeter oriented players in this pool, Clark earns two dubious distinctions. First, he's the most turnover prone, giving the ball away on 18.7% of his logged possessions. Second, his Points Per Possession of .85 ranks him last on our list. A bit stuck between the three and four position, Clark's poor PPP stems from the fact that he took 5.3 jump shots per game (1st in our sample) and only managed to get fouled of only 9.3% of his possessions (23rd). Unfortunately, his ability to play the three doesn't excuse the fact that he falls below the mean FG% in post ups (46% - even), fast breaks (54% - 16% below), pick and rolls (38% - 11% below), isolations (38% - 4% below), and basket cuts (55% - 13% below).

Given Clark's lack of efficiency across the board, the team that picks him will be banking on him utilizing his athleticism to his advantage to create mismatches and develop the type of consistency he'll need to be productive. Obviously players who have as many tools as Clark deserve some credit for what they could bring to the table down the road, particularly defensively, but how much remains to be seen.

Clark's Big East counterpart, Luke Harangody, not only appears to lack significant upside for the NBA level, but he falls short in many of the key areas we looked at in this study, particularly everything related to efficiency, starting with his post-game, continuing with his jump-shot, as well as his ability to finish effectively around the basket.

• The lack of quality big men in the NCAA allowed DeJuan Blair to overcome his lack of size and then some.

Looking at the post production of the players on our list, Blair's productivity was impossible to ignore. He posted the highest FG% (59%) and the highest PPP (1.12) of any player on our list in back to the basket situations. Standing 6'7, Blair displayed incredible strength in overcoming his height disadvantage, on a nightly basis. However, he would be well served to improve his jumper to help compensate for the issues he's bound to run into trying to score against bigger and more athletic players in the NBA on a nightly basis, which could be tough given that his .2 jump shots per game rank last in our sample. He also isn't a great finisher around the rim on non-post up situations, ranking 4th worst in that category.

• Most college PFs will have to adjust their game significantly to be effective in the NBA. A lot of that starts with their ability to face the basket and make mid-to-long-range jumpers.

Blair wasn't the only player in our database that didn't do a lot of jump shooting, and many of those that did, didn't do so very efficiently. Touching on the players we mentioned earlier in this article, it is clear that the top players aren't exempt from this trend. Blake Griffin made only 9 of the 22 jumpers he attempted this season, meaning he attempted only .7 jumpers per game. Jordan Hill did take more jumpers than the average player on our list at 2.5 per game, but knocked down only 22 of his 76 attempts, or 29%. Earl Clark landed right around the average in terms of FG% on his jump shots at 36% (68/191), but hit a bit more respectable 38% of his pull ups. Clark, along with Damion James and Craig Brackins led the group in jump-shot attempts per game at roughly five, but none of them surpassed 39% accuracy on those attempts.

There are a few bright spots though, the most notable of which is Wake Forest's James Johnson, who shot 48% on his 2.1 pull-up jumpers per game. Though he hit only 39% of his overall jump-shots, Johnson's ability to hit jumpers off the dribble bodes well for his face up game moving forward. He also ranks quite well in his ability to operate out of isolation situations, and gets out in transition at a prolific rate. Xavier's Derrick Brown finished a close second to Josh Heytvelt in jump shot PPP at 1.01 on 138 attempts, but shot under 30% from the field on his 58 pull up jumpers. Clearly he has improved his ability to make shots with his feet set significantly, but still needs to work on his off the dribble attempts. As you can see, even the players that stood out in one area didn't look quite as good in the other.

What about Tyler Hansbrough you ask? He actually fared quite well, in a number of different categories in fact. For one, he ranked third amongst all PFs in points per possession in terms of finishing around the basket, at 1.39. His field goal percentage was fairly average here—64%, just slightly under the mean—but the fact that he draws fouls on an outstanding 20% of his possessions (easily ranking him first) made him substantially more efficient in that regard. He also managed to keep his turnovers extremely low, and also did a nice job converting on his jump-shot attempts—making a very solid 42% on an admittedly small 2.7 possessions per game. His ability to operate out of isolation situations looks very encouraging (50% FG), while he was the second most efficient PF in post-up situations as well. From a pure statistical standpoint, Hansbrough obviously looks like a solid prospect based on his college data.

• Players whose teams play at a slower pace tend to have better efficiency numbers.

Arguably the biggest winner of our analysis was Jeff Pendergraph, who ranked first with 1.19 PPP overall and second in finishing around the basket at 75.36%. A consummate hustle player, the only areas where Pendergraph didn't rank near to the top in terms of efficiency were post up PPP, where he was about average at .91, and jump shooting, where his 1.05 is well above average, but came on just .6 attempts per game. Arizona State's methodical half court offense clearly allowed Pendergraph to become an incredibly efficient player. The same can be said for Southern California's Taj Gibson, who shot 75.36% on his finishing attempts (3rd), but seemingly sports no face-up game whatsoever.

• Guard play is hugely important to the efficiency of many of the prospects at the power forward position.

Craig Brackins is getting plenty of love these days from various NBA decision makers, but he was obviously not a very efficient player at the collegiate level, as his situational stats indicate. Brackins indeed ranks dead last in overall efficiency (44.3%) of the 24 PFs, which tells us a little bit about his shortcomings, but also quite a bit about how he was utilized at Iowa State.

Brackins ranks last in possessions finished around the basket (which does not include post-ups)—indicating the problems Iowa State's guards in creating easy looks for him around the rim. He shot quite a few jumpers, with mixed results (making just 32%), many of which he had to generate on his own in tough off the dribble situations. He saw a considerable amount of time grinding with his back to the basket in the post—over 10 possessions per game, second amongst all PFs to just Luke Harangody—and only saw moderate success there as well (45% FG).

Iowa State rarely got out in transition from what we could see (Brackins ranks last in that category), and Brackins rarely saw the ball as a pick and roll finisher or moving off cuts to the rim either, which helps explain his lack of efficiency compared with the Jeff Pendergraphs and Patrick Pattersons of the world.

These are all things Brackins will probably think about when he makes the final decision to return to school or not next year. With that said, Brackins' excellent skill level still does jump off the page when you see how favorably he ranks in his ability to operate out of isolation sets (being the second most prolific PF in this category, while converting on 49% of his attempts), as well as his ability to make pull-up jumpers (he ranks 3rd).

One thing to keep in mind is that Iowa State is one of the teams that Synergy's is missing stats for from their much weaker out of conference schedule—they currently have data for about 71% of Brackins' possessions.

Damion James found himself in a similar situation as Craig Brackins, with one significant different. While ISU's guards weren't talented enough to take pressure off of their star, Texas had ample talent in their back court, but didn't have an ideal distributor, or one that could even scratch the surface of what D.J. Augustin brought to the table. James is one of the most perimeter oriented players on our list, shooting 5.3 jumpers per game, ranking him at the top of our list in that category. He only got 7.9% of his offense in the post last season, and saw his touches coming from cuts and offensive rebounds turn into additional one-on-one chances –he got nearly 15.5% of his touches on isolations. Scoring on only 43.8% of his possessions, James is another hustle player who isn't benefiting from the guards around him or his efforts to become a small forward.

• The stylistic gaps between Europe and the NCAA are apparent from this perspective.

A rookie in the ACB, Henk Norel was one of the least involved players in our rankings, getting only 5.4 possessions per game due to the 7+ fouls he was committing per-40 minutes pace adjusted. Though his 15.9% turnover rate and 48.8% scoring percentage sit right around the average for this group, his situational stats highlight the unique characteristics of the European game. For instance, Norel gets 15.2% of his touches as a roll man in pick and roll situations –more than 10% higher than average and almost 5% more than the next highest player on our list.

That discrepancy is not a unique product of the system he's playing in, but rather a notable characteristic of the European game. His .53 PPP on post ups offers more insight. That figure is only slightly more than half of the average of all the players in the pool. After examining the numbers, Norel isn't alone in that regard, as most European players have a significantly smaller PPP in the post than the NCAA players they are jockeying with for draft position.

The European game is a man's game after all—players like Norel are forced to go up against grown men who are physically developed, while the game is called much looser by referees in terms of the amount of contact they allow in the lane. These major differences are a prime example of why NBA teams employ scouts specializing in the European game alone. The contrasts in situational composition and statistical evidence make such a position very necessary.

You'll see more evidence of the difference between the College and European game as we look through the other four positions as well.

Stay tuned for that over the next few days.

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