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Ranking the Rookies:
Projected Fantasy Stats for the 2005-06 Rookie Class

NBA Statistical Analyst Kevin Pelton

by Kevin Pelton, 10/11/05


One of the more controversial aspects of the Oakland Athletics philosophy, the subject of so much scrutiny in recent years, has been the A's strong preference for drafting players out of college instead of high school. In the best-selling book Moneyball, author Michael Lewis attributes much of this thinking to the A's ability to make use of these players' statistics.

"From Paul's [De Podesta, the A's former assistant GM and now the GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers] point of view, that was the great thing about college players; they had meaningful stats," wrote Lewis. "They played a lot more games, against stiffer competition, than high school players. You could project college players with greater certainty than you could project high school players."

The same is true in basketball. In fact, given that players go directly to the NBA and don't pass through several levels of minor-league play, I'd argue college statistics are even more valuable in the NBA. While teams may be making use of these stats without publicizing what they're doing, NCAA statistics have gotten precious little attention from NBA analysts, with a couple of exceptions.

One of those exceptions is Ed Weiland, who looked at college (and international) stats before this year's draft, something he's done for several years.

The other exception is the author. Borrowing from our baseball friends, particularly Baseball Prospectus' Clay Davenport, I've looked at how NCAA statistics have historically translated to the NBA in several key categories, using this history with the NCAA statistics of rookies to rank them before the draft for Hoopsworld.com in 2003 and 2004.

Looking back, I feel pretty good about what I said about the 2003 Draft, considerably less good about 2004. Trying to actually rank prospects introduces several additional problems - my own biases and the difficulty of evaluating defenses leading that list. As a result, I'm sticking to the statistics this year and looking to make use of these projected stats in a place where the numbers are all that count - fantasy basketball.

I've translated the stats for every NCAA Division I player drafted in 2005 or signed to a contract since then, and then subjectively projected their role this season. Then I plugged these statistics into the formula I've used to simulate value in a standard nine-category league (PPG, RPG, APG, SPG, BPG, TOPG, FG%, FT%, 3PM/G) and ranked the players compared to last year's actual NBA rankings. Since they're the only ones really worth talking about, I've presented statistics and commentary only for the top dozen players, which also neatly encompasses the top ten in the draft.

Andrew Bogut

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
30.0 11.5  8.2  2.0  0.7  1.3  1.9  .532  .678  0.1  1.17

Projected Rank: 92
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Tyson Chandler
Projected Role: Starting PF/C

The translation doesn't expect Bogut to be a big scorer as a rookie - which makes sense subjectively if you know that the Bucks already have plenty of scoring on the perimeter with Michael Redd, Bobby Simmons and Desmond Mason - but his overall game should be very solid. With incumbents Dan Gadzuric and Joe Smith both back, it's tough to say exactly what Bogut's role will look like, but I assume he'll slide one of those guys to the bench and all three will play regular minutes. Bogut is a useful fantasy player, but I suspect he'll probably be a little overvalued (as many rookies are).

Sean May

Projected Rank: 110
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Joe Smith
Projected Role: Key Reserve PF/C

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
26.0 11.3  8.2  1.6  0.9  0.8  2.0  .486  .748  0.0  0.38

May likely finds himself on the other side of a three big man rotation, coming off the bench behind incumbents Primoz Brezec and Emeka Okafor. The two combined for 68 minutes a game last year, which still leaves plenty of time for May. If his college numbers translate, May should be a solid force down low. May's height is a concern, but the best comparison I subjectively see, Sonics big man Danny Fortson, has been able to overcome his height to be very productive. One cautionary note: May still isn't all the way back from arthroscopic knee surgery he underwent before training camp.

Chris Paul

Projected Rank: 121
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Mike James
Projected Role: Starting PG

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
28.0  8.1  3.0  5.5  1.6  0.0  1.9  .385  .820  0.6  0.09

Paul sets himself apart from the other point guards selected in the top five with his steals; he had 2.4 per game last season at Wake Forest. Paul's role is a little difficult to pin down, as the Hornets have a decent incumbent point guard in Speedy Claxton and, at 5-11 and 6-0, Paul and Claxton will have a tough time playing together in the backcourt. In Paul's favor? Claxton has missed an average of 26 games a season the last three years, and there's no other point guard on the roster. Given the makeup of the Hornets roster, I'd bet on Paul scoring a little more and handing out fewer assists than that projection would indicate.

Marvin Williams

Projected Rank: 141
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Al Harrington
Projected Role: Occasional Starting SF/PF

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
28.0  8.9  6.4  0.9  1.1  0.5  1.6  .431  .817  0.3 -0.65

I figure the Hawks will use multiple different starting lineups this season to rotate Josh Childress, Harrington, Josh Smith and Williams through three spots in the lineup. All should play heavy minutes. From a fantasy standpoint, Williams doesn't project to stand out in any particular category, making him a draftable option in larger leagues but not anything special. Given how relatively deep the North Carolina team Williams played on was last season, he'll probably score a little more, but possibly at the expense of his field-goal percentage.

Channing Frye

Projected Rank: 165
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Theo Ratliff
Projected Role: Backup C

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
18.0  6.0  3.5  1.1  0.5  1.0  0.8  .476  .813  0.0 -1.32

Frye seemed to get lost in the hype over Nate Robinson's summer-league performance, but he didn't actually play that poorly in Las Vegas (13.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg in 23.0 mpg). Trying to read Larry Brown's mind is a fool's errand, but Frye has both opportunity at center in New York but also competition with several power forwards who can play center. The upside is that even if he only plays a few minutes, Frye projects to shoot high percentages from the field and the free-throw line while blocking some shots.

Editor's note: Before this column was posted but after it was written, the Knicks dealt for Eddy Curry, giving them a pair of highly-paid centers. While Frye should find some minutes behind the two of them and at power forward, he doesn't really have any fantasy-league value at this point.

Jarrett Jack

Projected Rank: 189
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Travis Best
Projected Role: Backup PG

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
20.0  5.9  2.2  2.6  0.9  0.0  1.6  .453  .851  0.4 -2.05

Jack is unlikely to play as much as the rookie point guards drafted in the lottery, but he's projected to be more valuable than a couple of them. Though Jack comes into the season as a backup, Sebastian Telfair hasn't totally entrenched himself and it's easy to see the two in a fairly equal minutes-sharing rotation. Jack's field-goal percentage will likely be the best shot by any of the rookie point guards taken in the first round, but his stats indicate something important about this method - it considers only the player's senior year. Jack was a better passer as a sophomore, but less effective as a scorer.

Joey Graham

Projected Rank: 201
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Devin Brown
Projected Role: Backup SG/SF

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
20.0  7.5  3.2  1.3  0.5  0.1  1.4  .457  .871  0.3 -2.59

Graham's per-game statistics aren't eye-popping (that could improve with more minutes; with Jalen Rose, Morris Peterson and Eric Williams at the two and the three in Toronto, it's a pretty fluid situation), but he projects to a solid field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage. If Rose or Peterson goes down with an injury, Graham becomes a useful fantasy player.

Raymond Felton

Projected Rank: 202
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Devin Harris
Projected Role: Split Time at PG

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
25.0  6.4  2.7  5.4  1.3  0.2  2.3  .395  .686  0.7 -2.59

I found it interesting that Harris was out there with a similar fantasy rating in 2004-05, given he was the fifth pick a year ago and is also a point guard who came out after his junior season. At the same time, it might be a little pessimistic, given Harris only played 15 minutes a game as a rookie. Why will Felton play more? Three reasons: Brevin Knight is not as good as Jason Terry, the Bobcats aren't trying to win now and Knight will almost inevitably be injured at some point (last year was the first time in five years Knight played even 60 games, and he still missed a fifth of the season). I'd take Felton ahead of Graham because of the importance of point guards and Knight's injury risk.

Danny Granger

Projected Rank: 206
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Jason Kapono
Projected Role: Fringe Rotation at SF

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
12.0  4.9  2.8  0.9  0.7  0.6  0.8  .458  .740  0.3 -2.72

Exhibit A in how projecting for fantasy-league purposes differs from projecting actual ability. Even given the relatively weak schedule he played at New Mexico, Granger numerically looks like a stud. Unfortunately, with Jonathan Bender and Austin Croshere competing for minutes as backup forwards, Granger probably won't get to show his skills much this season unless Ron Artest is suspended again (in which case, pick Granger up quickly).

Ike Diogu

Projected Rank: 207
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Zaza Pachulia
Projected Role: Fourth Big Man (PF/C)

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
18.0  7.2  3.8  0.7  0.2  0.9  1.4  .490  .776  0.1 -2.74

See above. Diogu's stats at Arizona State were outstanding, but with Troy Murphy and Adonal Foyle as the incumbents and 2004 lottery pick Andris Biedrins considered a likely breakout player, I don't see where Diogu is going to get a ton of minutes this season.

Editor's Note: On Oct. 9, Diogu broke a bone in his left hand. While he'll probably be able to return shortly into the season, the injury won't help him in the battle for playing time.

Charlie Villanueva

Projected Rank: 222
NBA Fantasy Comparison: Mikki Moore
Projected Role: Key Reserve PF/C

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
25.0  8.2  6.2  1.2  0.5  1.4  1.8  .435  .658  0.1 -3.01

I dunno whether Villanueva will start or the Raptors will continue starting Rafael Araujo and playing him a dozen minutes a night; either way, Villanueva should get plenty of run. He'll put up rebounds and blocks, but his field-goal percentage projects to be on the low side for a big man, which limits his fantasy value.

Deron Williams

Projected Rank: 247
NBA Fantasy Comparison: None
Projected Role: Starting PG

 MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  SPG  BPG TOPG   FG%   FT% 3MPG  FANT
---------------------------------------------------------
30.0  7.3  2.5  6.0  0.7  0.1  2.0  .389  .667  0.7 -3.57

Given Williams was the third pick of the draft, this is presumably the most surprising result I offer in this article. Despite playing on a team deep with offensive contributors, Williams wasn't a particularly efficient scorer at Illinois, shooting 42.2% for his career and 43.3% as a junior. In a Jay Williams alert, he was also a poor free-throw shooter (68.5%). The third fantasy strike against Williams is that he averaged just under a steal per game last year, significantly less than Paul and Felton. Assuming he wrests the starting job away from free-agent pickup Milt Palacio, Williams stands a great shot of leading rookies in assists. That still won't make a worthwhile fantasy player, however.

Kevin Pelton formerly wrote the "Page 23" column for Hoopsworld.com. He provides original content for both SUPERSONICS.COM and storm.wnba.com, where you can find more of his analysis of both the NBA and the WNBA.
He can be reached at kpelton@hoopsworld.com

Also see Kevin's previous columns for 82games.com:
The Year in Stats
Why I'm an APBRmetrician
Wanted: Open Minds
Investigating Dwyane Wade's Injury Risk
Eddy Curry vs. Mike Sweetney


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