Thursday, June 13, 2013

Draft Preview: If Hollinger Had Made the Picks

Posted By on Thu, Jun 13, 2013 at 8:30 AM

Tyreke Evans and Jarrett Jack might be wearing Beale St. Blue if current Griz exec John Hollinger had been running past drafts.
  • Tyreke Evans and Jarrett Jack might be wearing Beale St. Blue if current Griz exec John Hollinger had been running past drafts.
A depressing realization of this offseason has been that John Hollinger's annual “draft rater” column — one of my favorite seasonal NBA reads — is no more. Hollinger is still running draft prospects through his rating system, of course. Only now, as VP of Basketball Operations in Memphis, it's for internal Grizzlies use only.

We're two weeks away from the first draft for the Grizzlies' new regime, even if they only have a trio of second-round picks with which to work. And while Hollinger's “draft rater” process certainly won't be the sole determinant of what the team does, it will have a big role in the team's draft-night decisions.

Unique among NBA decision-makers, Hollinger's past pre-draft thoughts are public record. Here are the links for Hollinger's year-by-year draft rater findings, though you might need an ESPN Insider account to read them in full:


Perhaps Hollinger's past assessments can provide a clue to what kind of picks the team will make going forward. And I might attempt to play that game in another draft preview post over the next couple of weeks.

But first, I thought it would be interesting to retroactively apply Hollinger's published draft rater pieces to past Grizzlies drafts. How might these drafts have been different if Hollinger had been making the picks?

First, a few caveats:

*Hollinger's draft rater only runs projections for players with college experience and thus doesn't factor in players making the jump straight from high school (relevant to the earlier drafts) or international players.

*Hollinger only published a full, subjective draft board — adding international players and accounting for factors the draft rater can't measure — for 2011 and 2012. In prior years, only raw draft rater rankings were presented. So it's more of a stretch to say “this is who Hollinger would have picked” in those years, but going strictly by draft-rater rankings still gives a pretty good indication. And better that than trying to predict subjective adjustments. (With one exception.)

*The first draft rater was published in 2007, though Hollinger did a retroactive look at the system's projections for the years 2002-2006 focusing only on lottery-level picks, updating 2007 and 2008 projections with new system tweaks in the process. So there generally isn't enough information to assign second-round picks for earlier years.

All that said, here is how the draft rater suggests Hollinger would have picked for each Grizzlies' draft since 2002, with explanatory notes:

Picks     Real Draft     Draft Rater      Winner

2002 (#4)      Drew Gooden     Drew Gooden      Edge: wash
2002 (#34)     Robert Archibald     Carlos Boozer     Edge: Hollinger
2002 (#48)     Chris Owens     N/A      Edge: N/A

Notes: Hollinger's system had Gooden as the top-rated college prospect (remember, Amare Stoudemire and Yao Ming didn't have draft rater projections) and thus, based on what we know, would have made the same so-so lottery pick as the Grizzlies. The well-traveled Gooden didn't last long with the Grizzlies but has spent 11 years and counting in the NBA. The real prize here is at #34, where Hollinger's system would have gifted the Grizzlies future All-Star Boozer rather than short-termer Archibald. Hollinger's system actually rated Boozer the #2 overall college prospect in that draft. We don't have enough info to project a Hollinger pick at #48.

2003 (#16)      Troy Bell      Josh Howard      Edge: Hollinger
2003 (#20)     Dahntay Jones      Luke Walton     Edge: wash

Notes: A full-out bust, Bell rivals Hasheem Thabeet for worst pick in Grizzlies' history and the Hollinger system would have hit big here with Howard, who averaged 14.3 points per game over a 10-year NBA career and was a quality starter for the Mavericks in his prime. Howard was picked 29th in the actual draft that year, but the draft rater had him as the fifth-best college prospect. With Howard off the board at #20 in this theoretical exercise, the draft rater would have taken Walton with the second pick. Walton probably warrants a slight edge over Jones in total career value, but it's close enough that I'll call it a wash.

2004 (#36)     Andre Emmett     N/A      Edge: N/A
2004 (#37)     Antonio Burks     N/A      Edge: N/A

Notes: Both of these real-world picks came up empty, though Burks had some brief public-relations value. We don't have the info to assign Hollinger picks.

2005 (#19)     Hakim Warrick      Jarrett Jack      Edge: Hollinger
2005 (#55)      Lawrence Roberts     N/A      Edge: N/A

Notes: Warrick was a short-lived rotation player now barely hanging on in the league while Jack, taken #22 but projected as the sixth-best college prospect in the draft rater, remains one of the league's very best third guards. We don't have the info to assign a pick at #55, where real-world selection Roberts was a Jerry West fave who couldn't quite transition from the SEC to the NBA.

2006 (#8)      Rudy Gay     Rudy Gay      Edge: wash
2006 (#24)     Kyle Lowry     Kyle Lowry      Edge: wash
2006 (#45)     Alexander Johnson      N/A      Edge: N/A

Notes: The draft rater had Gay as the #1 college prospect, so he clearly would have been the pick at #8, and had Lowry ranked #10. A good draft for the Grizzlies that would have been an equally good one for the draft rater. No info to assign a pick at #45, where real-world pick Johnson was a personal fave of mine who wasn't quite polished enough to stick.

2007 (#4)      Mike Conley     Mike Conley     Edge: wash

Notes: The draft rater actually projected Conley second this year, well behind the top-rated Kevin Durant but actually ahead of Conley's Ohio State teammate Greg Oden.

2008 (#3)      O.J. Mayo      Kevin Love      Edge: Hollinger
2008 (#27)     Darrell Arthur     Mario Chalmers     Edge: wash

Notes: This was an odd year for the draft rater, which missed on one-and-done perimeter players such as Derrick Rose (ranked seventh, but still), Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, and, to a lesser degree, Mayo. But Kevin Love came out on top of the rankings, so it's safe to say Hollinger would have taken and kept him rather than make the Grizzlies' mistake of trading up to #3 for Mayo and losing Mike Miller in the process. Chalmers was overrated at #4 on draft rater but would have been a good pick in the late first, as was Arthur. Those are different players but probably of similar overall quality, so I'm calling it a wash.

2009 (#2)      Hasheem Thabeet      Ty Lawson/Tyreke Evans     Edge: Hollinger
2009 (#27)      DeMarre Carroll      Nick Calathes     Edge: incomplete
2009 (#36)     Sam Young      Dajuan Blair      Edge: wash

Notes: The Hollinger draft rater would have avoided one of the worst picks in NBA history at #2. The draft rater actually spit out Lawson at the top of the board this year, which was a little too high but much closer to his real value than his actual draft position at #18. I included Evans here because this is one case where I seriously doubt real-life Hollinger would have followed the rater in making the selection, for two reasons: The consensus ranking had Lawson outside the lottery, making him obtainable much lower, and, in this theoretical scenario, as in the real world, Hollinger would have just taken Conley with a high pick two seasons prior. So, I assume the actual move would have been to trade down or take the next player on the draft rater board, which, in this case, would have been Evans. Either way is golden compared to Thabeet. For what it's worth, among actual lottery picks, the draft rater had Evans, Stephen Curry, and James Harden (well, and Jonny Flynn) all ahead of Thabeet.

At #27, Florida point guard Nick Calathes would have been the highest-rated (college) prospect on the board. Would that have been a better pick than Carroll? Hard to say. Carroll has emerged as a useful role player after a rough first couple of seasons while Calathes went to Europe after the draft and hasn't yet come back stateside. I'll grade it incomplete. In the second round, Young became the only Griz second-rounder to ever make much of an impact. Both Young and Blair — Pitt teammates — were rotation players on good teams early on and have slid back slightly into more back-end rotation/spot-minute options. I'll call it a wash.

2010 (#12)     Xavier Henry     Xavier Henry      Edge: wash
2010 (#28)     Greivis Vasquez     Greivis Vasquez     Edge: wash

Notes: Hollinger's rater — like me, actually — would have drafted this one the same way the Grizzlies did. We were all wrong on Henry and all right on Vasquez, it turns out. Hollinger had both players in the 6-10 range among college prospects.

2011 (#49)     Josh Selby     Greg Smith      Edge: Hollinger

Notes: Smith went undrafted but Hollinger had him rated 24th overall and he would have been the pick here. He was a starter in Houston for much of last season but is more likely to settle in as a back-up center, and a good, cost-effective one. Would have been a nice pick at #49.

2012 (#25)     Tony Wroten      Quincy Miller      Edge: incomplete

Notes: Wroten played more than Miller, but neither of these one-and-dones really did much as a rookie. We'll call this incomplete.

The Hollinger picks line up with the actual Grizzlies picks surprisingly often — Gooden, Gay, Lowry, Conley, Henry, Vasquez. In the times where they don't, however, Hollinger tends to win big: Boozer over Archibald. Jack over Warrick. Lawson or Evans over Thabeet. Smith over Selby.

What's most striking, though, is there's not a single pick over 11 seasons that warrants an “Edge: Grizzlies” designation. Even the five second-round picks where there's not a “Hollinger pick” for comparison would be a wash at worst; all five Griz picks busted.

This comparison looks great for Hollinger, but I will say it probably overstates his record a little bit. Moving a couple of those picks down a notch or two would create some pretty bad misses. (How about Joe Alexander over Brook Lopez?) And the Grizzlies' draft record over this time period is probably an at least slightly below-average one. But a thorough read through Hollinger's draft rater pieces reveals that his projection system has generally out-performed actual draft results, and even more so when you subjectively weed out major outliers or account for injury history and off-court questions.

This means the Grizzlies are in great shape for this month's NBA draft, right? Well, let's take a quick look at this from a different perspective. Instead of giving the Hollinger draft rater the Grizzlies' past picks, let's give it the picks the Grizzlies have in this draft: #41, #55, and #60. In this case, we can only go back to 2007 to find published draft rater results that go deep enough to assign picks:

Pick #41     Real Draft     Draft Rater     Winner

2007      Chris Richard     Kyle Visser     Edge: wash
2008      Nathan Jawai      Darnell Jackson      Edge: Hollinger
2009     Jodie Meeks      Nick Calathes      Edge: incomplete
2010      Jarvis Varnado      Sylven Landesberg      Edge: real draft
2011      Darius Morris     Greg Smith     Edge: Hollinger
2012     Tyshawn Taylor     Doron Lamb      Edge: Incomplete

Notes: Smith, again, is the big win here. The draft rater also found a marginal NBA player in 2008 in Jackson. Calathes, again, is the mystery. Meeks has been useful enough that you can make a strong case that pick deserves to give the real draft the edge, but since I was/am also a big Calathes fan, I'm putting my thumb on the scale to call it incomplete.

#55     Real Draft     Draft Rater     Winner

2007     Herbert Hill     Herbert Hill      Edge: wash
2008      Mike Taylor     N/A      Edge: N/A
2009     Patrick Mills      Paul Delaney      Edge: real draft
2010     Jeremy Evans     Omar Samhan      Edge: real draft
2011      E'Twan Moore     Giorgi Shermadini      Edge: real draft
2012     Darius Johnson-Odom     Furkan Aldemir     Edge: incomplete

Notes: No hits for Hollinger here, though there's not enough published data to make a pick for 2008. In the real world, Mills, Evans, and Moore have all hung around so far.

#60      Real Draft      Draft Rater      Winner

2007      Milan Rakovic      Zabian Dowdell     Edge: wash
2008      Semi Erden      N/A      Edge: N/A
2009     Robert Dozier     Aaron Jackson      Edge: wash
2010     Dwayne Collins     Manny Harris     Edge: Hollinger
2011     Isaiah Thomas      Rick Jackson      Edge: real draft
2012      Robert Sacre     Kostas Sloukas      Edge: incomplete

Notes: Harris hung around long enough to register as a “hit” this late in the draft, but not on the order of Thomas, one of the great late second-rounders in recent years.

Over these 18 mid-to-late second-round picks, the real draft has beaten the draft rater, but only a couple of picks — Thomas and Smith — are really significant. The lesson here, I'd say — and not an unexpected one — is that picks outside the Top 40 are a crapshoot no matter who's making the selections.

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