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. So far, I’ve argued for Liberty’s stat-stuffing point guard Jesse Sanders, Missouri’s king of efficiency, Marcus Denmon, and Lehigh’s scoring machine, C.J. McCollum. This time I’m turning to the two players who battled for Big East Player of the Year, Jae Crowder and Kevin Jones. That’s right, it’s a two-for-one.
Big East Bosses
When I came up with the idea to look at guys who weren’t getting their fair share of attention in the upcoming NBA draft, I assumed I’d be focusing almost exclusively on relative unknowns – guys from small schools in small conferences with low scoring totals. Instead, for the second time, I find myself writing about All-Americans. The fact is, I don’t care how well-known a guy is. If he isn’t getting the attention he deserves, I’m gonna point it out. And these two, despite reigning as the kings of one of the best conferences in America, might not even be drafted. Why?
Crowder quickly went from unknown junior college transfer to Big East Player of the Year. His will to win is impressive and his versatility is almost unparalleled in college basketball. But ESPN’s Chad Ford lists him as 58th on his Big Board, and Draft Express has him at #48 of its Top 100 Prospects. There are 60 spots in the NBA draft. So, evidently, he’ll be lucky to get drafted late in the second round. Big East Player of the Year; undrafted. With this alarming discrepancy, there’s gotta be something wrong with Crowder, right? So, what do the experts say? According to Jonathan Givony at Draft Express,
Crowder’s biggest weakness as a small forward prospect is his inability to create his own shot. A below average ball-handler, he has a difficult time scoring in isolation settings, not looking very fluid with the ball, and struggling to change directions on the fly.
With all due respect to Mr. Givony, this doesn’t tell us a whole lot. The notion of “creating” shots has been explored extensively on this site in the past; it’s hard to define, harder to measure, and frankly, an overrated skill. Yes, there is some value in getting yourself open. But that value will generally show up in the stat sheet – as a made shot or as an assist for finding the open man when his defender rotates to guard you. If Crowder is so bad at creating shots, why does he shoot such a high percentage with the second highest usage rate on his team? Besides, we’re not talking about a guy here that you want chucking up 30 shots a night. Crowder is the kind of player you want doing a little bit of everything for you. As for his below average ball-handling and difficulty in isolation settings, I have a simple solution: don’t make him your point guard and don’t run isolation sets for him! To build on the ball-handling criticism, I can’t see how you can be concerned about a guy who turns the ball over 1.60 times per 40 minutes and only 7.1 times for every 100 possessions he uses (for those of you who don’t pay attention to turnover numbers, Crowder is really good at not turning the ball over)!
Chad Ford similarly fails to offer us much; Ford’s only criticism of Crowder is that he is “a bit of a tweener.” In other words, Ford is saying, basically, he isn’t big enough to play power forward and he isn’t quick or skilled enough to play small forward. Frankly, I don’t buy most size arguments. Two of the best power forwards to ever play the game, Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman, were 6-6. Regardless, the general consensus seems to be that Crowder will play small forward in the big league, and I tend to agree with the general consensus because of Crowder’s versatility. However, I do think he is capable of playing both positions.
Ok let’s move past the subjective criticisms and focus on the things that we can measure. The following table compares Jae Crowder to the average college power forward, and the small forwards in Draft Express’s Top 100 Prospects.
|Player||Avg PF||DE Top 100 SF||Jae Crowder|
While he’s above average nearly everywhere, Crowder excels significantly in shooting efficiently, forcing turnovers, and taking care of the basketball. In fact, Crowder ranks second in steals per 40 minutes among NCAA power forwards who played at least 100 minutes. He ranks sixth in turnovers per 40 minutes among all NCAA players who average at least 20 points per 40 minutes. With a win score per 40 minutes of 11.35, markedly higher than the 6.96 posted by the small forwards in Draft Express’s top 100, he is a very appealing prospect. If you want to draft potential and if you believe that a few nominal subjective criticisms should push one of the best players in college to a late second pick, maybe Crowder isn’t your guy. If you’re looking to draft a skilled, versatile forward who has excelled in doing all the little things that will help your team win, take a good look at Jae Crowder. Hell, I wouldn’t hesitate to take him early in the lottery.
Crowder edged out Jones for the Player of the Year, but Jones wasn’t far behind. He led the conference in scoring and rebounding, and earned a spot on the All-Big East first team as well as the AP All-American Second Team (an honor Crowder isn’t lucky enough to claim). But like Crowder, Jones isn’t getting much hype in the upcoming draft. He is expected to be drafted, but just not very early.
Like all the other prospects I’ve looked at in this series, perceived physical limitations are what hold Jones back. Sure, he’s 6-8 and he has a 7-4 wingspan, but he plays a style of basketball that analysts like to call “below the rim.” According to Kyle Nelson at Draft Express, “he is an underwhelming athlete and very much a below-the-rim player at this level.”And according to Chad Ford, “Jones’ lack of size combined with a game that is decidedly below the rim have kept him on the margins for the past two seasons.” Okay, so maybe there is a size issue? Man, what is it with these NBA guys and size? 6-8 isn’t big enough for a power forward anymore? Patrick Minton sarcastically captured this mentality best
it doesn’t matter if he actually produces as if he were 6’10”, he has to actually be 6’10”. Cause, you know. Whatever, dude.
Anyway, apparently players have to be high flyers to be any good these days. I guess that’s why so many analysts completely ignore all statistical analysis and proclaim Blake Griffin to be better than Kevin Love. Jones may play his basketball “below the rim,” but he’s been able to produce regardless, so I don’t see it as a real issue.
Enough with subjective analysis, how does Jones stack up against his peers from an objective standpoint?
|Player||Avg PF||DE Top 100 PF||Kevin Jones|
Compared to the other power forwards in this year’s draft, Jones is particularly adept at grabbing offensive boards (4th in the nation in offensive rebounds!), taking care of the basketball (.068 TO%!), and avoiding personal fouls. In addition, Jones has played more minutes over the past three seasons than all but three players in the entire NCAA. This is a testament to his durability, which is an important, albeit often overlooked, attribute of a basketball player. Like Crowder, Jones is a good all around player with a wide range of skills that serve to help basketball teams win. And like Crowder, Jones should be a first round pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Of course, it may turn out that if they go later that they could earn close to their real value.