A Search For The Next Jeremy Lin Part 2: Marcus Denmon

In this series of posts, I am highlighting college players who have posted fantastic numbers, but have been mostly overlooked by NBA teams for one reason or another. I am not necessarily suggesting that any of these players should be lottery picks, but merely that they have proven they deserve a shot to play on the big stage. Last week I argued that Liberty University point guard Jesse Sanders deserves a serious look from NBA teams on draft day because he is an extraordinarily productive stat-stuffer. This week, I’m shifting my focus to a much more conspicuous figure.

The Curious Case of Marcus Denmon

Ok, maybe Marcus Denmon isn’t exactly Lin-like. He is the leading scorer on one of the best teams in the country. He has pages of YouTube videos highlighting his game. Hell, he’ll probably even be an All-American. Yet, half of the Mock Drafts out there predict that he won’t be drafted at all. And the ones that think he will suggest it will be very, very late in the second round. So perhaps Denmon is Lin-like after all: good but overlooked. Curiously though, observers seem to recognize Denmon’s ability and potential, even if they casually dismiss it. Indeed, draft analysts are quick to rattle off countless positive aspects of Denmon’s game, but still rate him poorly because of the one weakness they perceive – his size. Consider Chad Ford’s take at ESPN:

Positives: Super efficient two guard, excellent shooter with deep range, good finisher at the basket, rarely turns the ball over;

Negatives: Undersized for his position.

Not surprisingly, Kyle Nelson at Draft Express describes Denmon’s game similarly:

Marcus Denmon [is] one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball … high skill-level and excellent shot selection … He gets excellent elevation on his jumper and has NBA range, showing fluid, consistent shooting mechanics. This is a skill that should translate immediately to the professional level…Elite finisher among NCAA shooting guard prospects ….the least turnover prone guard in DraftExpress’s database…his basketball IQ is quite good…on defense, Denmon demonstrates very good lateral quickness

At 6’3, Denmon is undersized for the shooting guard position and has just an average frame.

To be fair, Nelson also adds subjective weaknesses including Denmon’s trouble creating his own shot and inability to change speeds quickly. Still, the story seems to be the same: Denmon is a very smart, efficient basketball player, but he is too small to play in the NBA. I get the size argument. I do. But does it really trump ultra-efficiency? Have there not been countless undersized players who have been successful in the NBA? (Besides, Denmon is 6-3, not 5-9). Of course, issues with size depend a great deal on a particular player’s strengths. Instead of taking the analysts’ word on Denmon’s strengths, let’s look at the numbers to determine what they are.

The following table compares Denmon’s statistics with the average college small forward and with the shooting guards in Draft Express’s Top 100 Prospects. Before you get confused, let me explain. Because of Missouri’s lack of size this year, Denmon played more minutes at small forward than at shooting guard. Accordingly, it is more appropriate to compare him to players who actually played the same position as him this season. At the same time, Denmon will unquestionably play shooting guard if he plays in the NBA. And since Draft Express categorizes players by their probable NBA position, it is more appropriate to compare him to shooting guards in Draft Express’s Top 100 for the purpose of a future competition comparison.

Stat Avg. SF SGs in DE Top 100 Marcus Denmon
eFG% 48.9% 53.4% 58.4%
TS% 52.8% 57.5% 67.6%
3P% 34.6% 38.2% 41.0%
FT% 71.0% 74.0% 90.2%
Reb40 5.74 5.51 5.89
DReb40 4.11 4.24 4.39
OReb40 1.64 1.27 1.50
Ast40 2.24 2.95 2.61
Stl40 1.34 1.56 1.76
Blk40 0.43 0.46 0.04
TO40 2.45 2.71 1.36
PF40 3.20 2.45 1.08
Points!40 13.89 19.75 21.12
WS40 2.81 4.84 9.04

Marcus Denmon is good at, well, everything. But he is exceptionally good at shooting efficiently and taking care of the basketball. He is great at shooting threes and even better at the free throw line. These strike me as attributes that will translate well into the pro game. Let’s focus again on Nelson’s observations: Denmon shoots with great efficiency because he has a great shot selection; his inability to create his own shot might be an issue. In other words, Denmon doesn’t and won’t force shots. This sounds like a player who could make a substantial positive contribution at shooting guard, which is without question the weakest position in the NBA. And while the position generally weak, teams often put too heavy an emphasis on it (a phenomenon I’ll call the Michael Jordan Effect). Many teams, probably unreasonably, elect to build their offenses around volume shooting 2-guards. In turn, efficient but small guards get overlooked for want of 6-6, 216 guys with “potential.” Well, let me clue you in on a little secret: there is only one Jordan, and he’s busy running the Bobcats organization into the ground.

Sure size is important, but it’s overrated. Marcus Denmon doesn’t have size, but he plays basketball with unparalleled efficiency – he’s effiecient from the field, he’s efficient from the line, and takes great care of the basketball. Because of these things, and despite his shortcomings (pun intended), he deserves a serious look from NBA teams. And not just the ones looking to waste a late second round garbage pick.

-James

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