NBA Draft 2012: Combo Guards

I’ve already bashed the 2012 PG class and will likely do the same with the SGs early next week. The bright spot of the backcourt class of 2012 are 3 combo guards, Dion Waiters, Tony Wroten and Damian Lillard. All 3 should be drafted in round one.

Dion Waiters, Syracuse, .529, .363, 21.0, 4.1, 3.0, 7.4, 1.9: Even though he was the 6th man at Syracuse this past season, Waiters emerged from a talented group of Orange perimeter players to become the most effective scorer and top perimeter defender on the team. This came after a difficult freshman year, after which he almost transferred. It’s always a good sign when a player accepts a challenge and improves his game rather than looking for greener pastures.

The most impressive number Waiters posted was a 3.0 S40 (Steals per 40 minutes). Combined with his 21.0 P40 and .529 2-point percentage this puts Waiters in some elite company among college sophomore SGs. I found only 3 other SGs who accomplished this in recent years.

Player                         2PP     P40     S40     RSB40

Dwyane Wade .505     24.4    3.4        13.9

Ronnie Brewer           .502     20.4    3.2        9.8

Kim Lewis                 .520     24.1     3.3        12.2

Dion Waiters               .529    21.0     3.0       7.4

This is a small group. Not many sophs have been able to match the scoring/ballhawking pace Waiters had going last year. One is a superstar, one is a solid journeyman and the other did not make it. Because Waiters doesn’t have the RSB40 approaching double figures, I think we can cross him off the potential super-impact, elite-superstar, next Dwyane Wade list. That doesn’t mean he can’t become a productive NBA player though.

There is a lot to like about Waiters. The combination of scoring often and efficiently along with an extremely high rate of steals shows he has good potential on both ends of the court. He looks like he might be capable of playing the point. Jardine was the main distributor for the Orange, so Waiters didn’t get much of an opportunity to play the point. He did post a lot of assists for a non-point guard and kept his turnovers low. I think it would be put best to say there is some evidence he can play the point, which makes him a more valuable draftee than a typical SG.

There are some negatives with Waiters. He put up these numbers in a part-time role and has had the words “character issues” mentioned in reference to him in the past. Neither is a terrible thing, but it’s always better if great prospect numbers are posted by a player who has been a solid citizen playing 35 minutes per game.

But in a draft that’s void of stars after the top pick, Waiters is the type of player who should intrigue teams drafting in the top 10. He’s one of the few players after Anthony Davis who has actually shown some signs of dominance at the college level. Considering his diverse set of skills and the fact that he’s just a soph with a lot of upside, Waiters is a potential all-star who shouldn’t fall out of the top 5.

Tony Wroten, Washington, .483, .161, 20.0, 4.7, 2.4, 9.1, 1.0: He’s raw. If he weren’t a freshman there would be no way he’s considered a prospect with these numbers. As a freshman Wroten didn’t score efficiently enough from inside or outside and committed way too many turnovers. That said, history tells us that players who post a P40 over 20.0 and a RSB40 over 9.0 as freshmen at a major college have a pretty decent history of success, regardless of their other numbers. Here are recent college freshmen who topped 20 P40, 9 RSB40 and 4 A40 like Wroten did:

Player                           2PP     3PP    P40     A40   A/TO   RSB40

Chauncey Billups           .446    .354    20.2     6.2     1.2       9.2

Jerry Stackhouse            .493    .100    23.3     3.8     0.8       12.8

Tyreke Evans                  .514    .274   22.9     5.2     1.1       11.0

Francisco Garcia            .551    .430   20.4     4.0     1.4         9.5

Eric Piatkowski               .568     .346   21.9    4.0     1.4       9.7

Shea Seals                       .446    .408   21.5    4.4     1.4       11.0

Tony Wroten                   .483     .161   20.0     4.7    1.0       9.1

Not a bad group. We have a couple of players with multiple all-star appearances in Billups and Stackhouse, and Evans who may yet join them. Garcia and Piatkowski were decent journeymen, though in different roles. Shea Seals never learned how to make shots on a consistent basis and had a short career because of it. I also want to note that while Garcia looks like the most impressive player here, he was a 21 year-old freshman at the time and played just 22 minutes per game. His percentages faded in a full-time role, which is something to think about with Dion Waiters.

Back to Tony Wroten, the good news is his erratic freshman year hardly dooms him as a prospect. In fact his two biggest negatives, inefficient scoring and a high turnover rate, are flaws that have historically been easiest to fix. It has always been more difficult for a prospect to improve weak defensive numbers and develop a scorer’s mentality and that won’t be a problem for Wroten.

Drafting Tony Wroten with the idea he’s going to step right in and be an NBA PG in 2013 would be a mistake. While there is plenty of upside here, there is also a lot of development left to be done. I have my doubts that he can become a full-time PG. He looks more like a hybrid guard who can run the offense on occasion, but will need help in such a role. There’s also the possibility that he’ll be another Shea Seals who just never figures out how to put the ball in the basket efficiently enough.

Even taking the developmental time and the potential for bust into account, Tony Wroten has to be considered a worthwhile draftee. His high end is an NBA all-star and there just aren’t too many players available in 2012 that I can say that about. I wouldn’t let this guy slip out of the top 10.

Damian Lillard, Weber State, .517, .409, 28.4, 4.6, 1.7, 7.8, 1.7: Lillard’s stock has risen steadily all season. This isn’t surprising, as he has made some nice improvements in his game as a 4th-year junior. My suspicion is the dearth of PG prospects available in 2012 has teams grasping for any player who looks close to being capable and they’re overrating Lillard because of it.

I have trouble seeing Lillard as a pure PG. His top college assist rate in his 4 seasons was 4.7 A40 in his 3rd year, which was less than 300 minutes due to injury. It’s pretty rare for a player to become a top NBA PG without posting an A40 over 6.0 at least once in his college career. We’d have to go back to the 80s when Mark Price and Terry Porter overcame similarly low assist rates to become NBA stars. The best we’ve seen from high scoring/low assist college PGs recently have been gunners like Eddie House or Steve Kerr.

For a look at where Lillard stands here are some recent small college combo guards and their numbers. There have been 3 that topped 27 P40 like Lillard has and went on to pro success. I included some other recent small college players with similar stats, who weren’t as successful.

Player                                2PP   3PP   P40   A40   S40   RSB40   A/TO

Stephen Curry                   .519  .387  33.0   6.4      2.9     8.3         1.5

Rodney Stuckey                .539  .372  29.3   5.0      2.7     8.8         1.2

Lindsey Hunter                 .463  .341  31.5    4.0     3.1     7.6          1.2

Mire Chatman                  .556  .348  29.6    4.3     4.1     10.7        1.0

Lester Hudson                   .544  .388  27.8    4.9     3.1     12.3        1.2

Bo McCalebb                     .535  .405  27.9    5.4    2.9     8.3          1.3

David Holston                   .515   .371  29.6   7.3     3.5     7.7          1.6

Damian Lillard                  .517   .409  28.4   4.6     1.7     7.8          1.7

The thing the top 3 have on the others is all three were 1st round draftees while the others were drafted late or not at all. I can’t say that players like Chatman, McCalebb and Holston would have been successful had they gotten more of a chance. Holston is 5’8”. Chatman and McCalebb had high turnover rates. I will say that both McCalebb and Chatman did go on to have great careers overseas and my guess is both would have been effective NBA players if given the chance. As for Lillard, he won’t have the problem of getting caught in a numbers game, because he seems certain to get the guaranteed contract and opportunity for success that comes with being a first round draftee.

As far as the numbers, he’s a mixed bag. He looks like he can handle the offense, but I doubt he’s a pure PG. The number that worries me most is the 1.7 S40. The others on the list were well over 2.0. Most guards who make a successful jump from small colleges have a dominant steal rate. It’s a statistic, along with others, that shows NBA ability. That Lillard comes up short here is a big cause for concern.

I have my doubts that Damian Lillard can become more than a 3rd or 4th guard in the NBA. At best I see him as an instant offense player off a bench who can fill it up and run the offense semi-effectively for short stretches. At worst he’s just a gunner who doesn’t have the passing or defensive chops to get consistent court time. I wouldn’t use a lottery pick on him and I certainly wouldn’t draft him if a player with the upside of Waiters or Wroten were still on the board.

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