That's what the draft is: a series of educated guesses. Some fisherman are better with a bow than others, just as some NBA general managers evaluate talent at a higher level than counterparts. But the difference between floating out into a lake looking for big fish and picking in the lottery of the NBA Draft is the evaluation period. On the water, you have a split-second decision on whether to shoot or not. In the NBA, you have months to look at talent and assess whether each prospect a good shot to take.
Part of that analysis has to be statistical in form, lest some team out there managed to scout every single top-level NCAA Division I-A game, not to mention games in the Big South conference, Euroleague and the Italian Liga A. No matter how violently your scout thrashes against the use of statistics in basketball, he absolutely uses statistics in his analysis. Unless of course he tells you that DeMarcus Cousins "scored a bunch of points, got a bunch of rebounds, too" this season.
As Shoals elucidated, this is a draft of big men, at least where it matters (after John Wall/Evan Turner and before the end of the lottery). As a part of our evaluation of the prospects, then, allow me to provide a look at how the big men of this draft stack up on offense. Offensive rating is a measurement of a player's efficiency, denoted as "points scored or created by 100 possessions." It takes into account shooting efficiency, foul-drawing, turnover avoidance and, in this case, assists. (I typically avoid adding assists in because of questions regarding the value of the assist, but the available college data uses it, so it's in there.)
The counterbalance to offensive rating is usage rate. The joke is that if you used only offensive rating to assess scorers, Fred Hoiberg would have been a three-time MVP. The Wolves guard shot at ridiculously high efficiency over several seasons in the early Oughts ... but usually took very few shots. Usage rate measures what percentage of his team's possessions a player uses while on the court. A starting five who shared shots equally would each have usage rates of 20 percent. The highest NBA rates top out around 35 percent; top college rates come in around there, as well. The idea is that if you're creating a bigger share of the offense, your efficiency is likely to suffer some. If you shoot or create infrequently, it's expected your efficiency will look stronger.
I took all the projected draft picks who are legit power forwards or centers -- so there's no Al-Farouq Aminu here. I also added in prospects from the 2008 and 2009 drafts, though only those who have played NBA ball since. Here's the standard scatterplot.
Players to the right use a ton of possessions. Players up high are more efficient.
You'll notice the highest-usage big man in the country (among draft prospects) was Charles Garcia of Seattle University. You'll also notice he's the second least efficient prospect in the study, behind only Kentucky's Daniel Orton. This is why Garcia is a second-round prospect. He was completely inefficient at Seattle. You'd figure playing with teammates who could relieve some of the workload will help. But will it help enough to make Garcia usable?
The next two prospects in terms of high usage are Luke Harangody of Notre Dame and Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins. The prospects are similar in terms of offensive output: each used more than 30 percent of his team's offensive possessions while on the court, and each was substantially above average in terms of efficiency. Harangody -- a likely second-round pick -- and Cousins -- a top-five guy -- are so far apart on draft boards because of age, size and defensive potential. Cousins, though, looks comparable to Blake Griffin and Brook Lopez as college sophomores (good!) and slightly less prolific than freshman Michael Beasley (yeesh).
The low-usage fellows interest me quite a bit. Cole Aldrich, Ed Davis, Derrick Favors and Ekpe Udoh weren't particularly high-usage fellows. (They are all at or slightly above 20 percent, but for a draft prospect, that's low.) Aldrich is comparable with a junior-year Hasheem Thabeet on offense. That's not an endorsement. But surprisingly, Davis and Favors aren't much better -- they soak up a few more possessions, but lose efficiency. Favors' fans rely on youth and the NBA's increased reliance on athleticism. Davis' backers ... um, I don't really know what to say to them. Sorry. Davis will likely struggle to contribute on offense right away.
There are many more names on the scatterplot, so soak it in. We have a month to go until the draft, so in my opinion it's worth mixing some data with the everpresent analysis.
Many thanks to Ken Pomeroy for his wondrous trove of data.