NBA Draft 2015: The Young PFs

I like the 2015 draft. I feel it has the potential to be historic in terms of the talent that comes into the league. One position where the talent is ordinary is PF. There are no surefire stars at PF in the 2015 draft. Kristaps Porzingis is apparently wowing ‘em in workouts and interviews, but I have my reservations about him. The PFs who intrigue me are 4 youngsters, 2 freshmen and 2 sophomores.

The statistical benchmarks I look for in NCAA PFs are .580 2-point percentage, 18.0 P40, 10.0 R40, 3.5 SB40 and an A/TO above 0.3. An ability to hit the 3-pointer is a nice skill to bring and may even become necessary as the game continues to get smaller and requires a more diverse skill set. These numbers are not etched in stone as must-haves, but are more of a guideline. Stats that fall below these benchmarks should be considered a red flag.  With young players like these 4 there is room for improvement so the flags are more of a dull pink than red.

Here are the 4 players and their numbers:

Power Forward Prospects 2PP 3PP P40 R40 SB40 A/TO
Bobby Portis 541 467 21.5 11.0 3.0 0.8
Kevon Looney 481 415 14.4 11.4 2.7 1.3
Trey Lyles 536 138 15.0 9.0 1.7 0.9
Christian Wood 563 284 19.3 12.2 3.3 0.5

Bobby Portis, Arkansas: If I had to draft one pure PF in the 2015 draft, and this excludes the center-PFs, I would probably go with Bobby Portis. He has been a solid player for a couple of seasons now. As a sophomore he improved his rebounding and scoring by a fairly significant margin. Here are his freshman numbers along with his sophomore splits:

Bobby Portis 2PP 3PP P40 R40 SB40 A/TO
Freshman Year 537 273 17.5 9.6 3.7 1.2
Nov-Dec 584 571 23.0 10.3 2.7 0.8
January 543 333 22.2 11.7 2.8 0.6
February 583 200 23.5 11.5 4.6 0.8
March 425 500 21.0 13.0 3.0 0.8

The trend was improvement. In February Portis looked like a great prospect. In March he hit a cold spell. One thing to know about the March numbers is there was one game in the SEC tournament, a win over Georgia, where Portis was 1-14. Take that game out and his 2PP for March jumps to .493. That’s still cold, but better than .425. This was Arkansas’s 2nd game in 2 days, as happens in tournaments and Portis could have been fatigued. If that is the case, back-to-backs are fairly common in the NBA and this is something he’ll need to figure out.

The March number aside, Portis is an impressive prospect. His rebounding was a weakness coming into this year and he steadily improved to the point where it is now a strength. The offense has been up and down. He became a more aggressive scorer as a sophomore and had moments when he was very efficient. He needs work on consistency though. His ability to hit a trey is a nice asset for any big to have. The defense has also been up and down, but he finished strong and had moments when he was very impressive. While he isn’t likely to become an all-league defender, he’ll be good enough. He’s an above average passer.

Considering all he has shown in just 2 seasons, I’m a little puzzled Portis isn’t showing up in the top 10 of most mocks instead of the late teens. He has good size and length for the NBA. His statistics are all solid and trending up. He’s young and there don’t seem to be any off court issues. He looks like a player who will have a long, productive NBA career.

Christian Wood, UNLV: Wood isn’t the perfect prospect, but he does a lot of things well, enough so that a case could be made for him as the top PF prospect on the board. Of the 4 players profiled here he’s arguably the best. He enrolled at UNLV as a 17 year-old, so he’s a young sophomore. He’s closer in age to Lyles and Looney than he is to fellow sophomore Portis. He’s also a month younger than Porzingis.

As a freshman Wood was raw and played sparingly, logging just 390 minutes. His numbers were still pretty strong, even as a little-used freshman. Here’s a look at his freshman year and the monthly splits from his sophomore year:

Christian Wood 2PP 3PP P40 R40 SB40 A/TO
Freshman Year 551 220 13.8 9.9 4.0 0.6
Nov-Dec 590 313 20.1 12.5 4.2 0.5
January 582 231 15.1 11.1 2.7 0.6
February 500 318 21.7 13.3 4.9 0.5
March 560 250 22.0 12.1 2.8 0.6

While Wood’s overall numbers haven’t all hit the necessary benchmarks, he has had some good months and the overall trend shows a player who is improving. His scoring efficiency was strong, except for a down February. There were some very good months for defense including  a dominant 4.9 SB40 in February, showing he didn’t go into a total funk when his efficiency was down. All things considered Wood made impressive improvement as a sophomore.

So everything is great with Wood? Not really. There’s this from Chad Ford at ESPN. This is “insider” material so the link might not get you there. The report was that teams don’t like Wood’s focus and motor based on interviews and workouts and he may slide into round 2.

I have no reason to doubt this report. I just not sure how serious it is. He had enough focus and motor to post some of the best big man numbers of any player in the nation as a young sophomore. He improved his game a lot from his freshman season to his sophomore season, which had to take some level of focus. If by focus, they’re referring to work ethic, then that’s a problem. If they mean he seemed a little indifferent, it could simply be a case of a 19 year-old not knowing how to handle himself in a job interview, which just doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.

I don’t mean to make light of this. If several teams are passing on this guy because he’s turned them all off with focus/motor issues there obviously is a problem here. Keeping in mind that he’s still just 19 years old, I would think he could learn both how to focus properly and rev his motor to a level that has NBA personnel experts nodding in approval.

Everything about his numbers tell me Christian Wood is a solid NBA PF prospect. He has all the necessary skills. He has great size and length. He can hit the 3-pointer so he fits the new PF prototype. If not for the focus/motor issues, I would rank him ahead of Portis. The thing is a player with this much upside rarely falls as far as he seems to be falling. Even if there’s some heavy lifting involved in molding Christian Wood into an NBA player, he has the upside that makes him worth the effort.

Kevon Looney, UCLA: Kevon Looney posted a sub-.500 2-point percentage as a freshman. That has historically been a red flag for any prospect. The only two recent bigs I can find who have gone onto NBA success after posting such a number are Al Horford and Kris Humphries. So Looney has that working against him. He does have some strengths though. Here are his freshman splits:

Kevon Looney 2PP 3PP P40 R40 SB40 A/TO
Nov-Dec 495 176 15.6 12.7 3.4 1.1
January 474 545 15.0 11.2 2.5 1.6
February 420 692 13.9 9.9 2.4 0.6
March 541 333 12.3 11.6 2.0 3.0

The positives in order would be: solid rebounder, good 3-point shooter, commits few turnovers and improved his efficiency in the final month. The negatives are that he doesn’t score the ball very often or efficiently and his defensive numbers are too low.

He does have youth on his side. At the high end, he’ll harness his length and upside to become a better defender and a more efficient inside scorer and become a useful NBA PF. That’s a possible scenario. More likely Looney is nothing more than a stretch 4 role player. He’s a solid rebounder with a good outside shot and he doesn’t turn the ball over very often. That’s someone who can be useful, but not a player who should be drafted in the top 20 of a deep class.

Trey Lyles, Kentucky: Like Looney, Lyles brings unimpressive PF prospect numbers to the table, but he played for a team that had a loaded front court and that could have negatively impacted his numbers. Here are his splits:

Trey Lyles 2PP 3PP P40 R40 SB40 A/TO
Nov-Dec 610 143 15.2 11.3 1.8 1.2
January 429 333 11.1 6.9 1.8 0.9
February 718 0 19.8 7.7 0.6 1.3
March 436 0 14.6 8.6 1.5 0.6

Lyles had a couple of months where he was super efficient and a couple others where he wasn’t so good. His defense was poor and his rebounding dropped to anemic levels as the season wore on. He attempted 29 three-pointers and made only 4 of them. I assume he’s a better shooter than that but he never had the opportunity to bust out of that cold streak.

I do believe his numbers were hurt by playing on a talented team and that he’s a better prospect than the stats show him to be. He has the necessary size and teams seemed impressed enough by his athleticism that he’s safely in the late lottery in most mocks. He’s young so there will be more improvement with Lyles than with a junior or senior. That’s the positive spin on Trey Lyles.

The negative is there is very little in his numbers that suggest he can be an effective NBA PF. The only dominant stat is the .718 2PP in February and that could be a fluke. The defense and rebounding are weak. He had some moments on offense, but overall that was also substandard. With Looney I can see where he would fit on a team as a steady stretch 4 off the bench. With Lyles I see a prospect who needs a lot of work on every part of his game and seems unlikely ever to develop into a useful NBA PF.

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