Re: ESPN Insider - The Official Thread
Rookie Watch: Let's be real
Why Harrison Barnes, Dion Waiters haven't been as good as they may seem
Harrison Barnes and Dion Waiters fit the old star mold, but the advanced stats tell a different story.
Some readers have questioned why Harrison Barnes and Dion Waiters aren't higher in my rankings. So let me take this time to explain how I evaluate the rookie class and talent overall.
In the past, we would look at raw numbers and proclaim with some confidence that a particular player was playing effectively. If the player was putting up double-digit points and his team was not successful, then the blame was cast on his lower-scoring teammates, bad defense, poor rebounding, turnovers, etc.
But thanks to John Hollinger, Dean Oliver, Roland Beech and the huge assortment of advanced metrics they and others have made available online, we now have little excuse when it comes to evaluating a player's contributions on the court. For instance, we shouldn't rush to call Waiters and Barnes successes simply because they are high-scoring dynamic players.
We're keeping track of every NBA rook. Here are the latest Top 50 rankings.
Are these two rookies talented? Do they have a lot of upside? Are they capable of playing great for a game here and there? Yes, absolutely. But, while it's understandable to get excited about those things, it's not accurate to think that a few good games surrounded by a lot of poor ones is superior to playing more efficiently and consistently in fewer minutes. Just because a player scores more points does not mean he is playing well.
I've used Adam Morrison as an example before, but his story bears repeating. He exploded out of the blocks as a rookie, averaging over 15 points per game in November on 37.5 percent shooting from 3. This sounds promising, considering how well he had played in college -- he was no project. He then earned a spot in the Rookie Challenge at the All-Star break and started almost a third of his 77 games played, finishing the season with an impressive 11 points per game average while shooting better than 33 percent from 3.
But look closer and you'll find his advanced stats were scary bad, as was his overall field goal percentage (37.6 percent). So while fans were excited and the general consensus was that he was doing exactly what was expected of him, deeper analysis showed red flags everywhere. The truth was he was awful as a rookie, despite his solid raw stats. Then he got hurt, before basically losing his confidence that he could help an NBA team win games. And now he is out of the league and considered one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.
Make no mistake, Barnes and Waiters are playing far better than how Morrison did in his rookie season, but their seasons thus far are similar. They have elite physical skills, so their margin for error is much greater than Morrison's was, but if they don't learn how to play with their minds, they won't be important pieces of solid winning teams.
Waiters' problems start with -- you guessed it -- shot selection. A true shooting percentage south of 47, which ranks very low on any scale you measure it with, drives down his player efficiency rating to 12.59. Too many step-back jumpers, too many contested long 2s with 10 seconds on the shot clock, and too many over-penetrations into the teeth of the defense, which forces difficult shots -- a big reason why he's making just over 40 percent of his shots at the rim. I worry about the latter problem the least, because players like Waiters often figure out how to finish once they become better at reading defenses. But the shot selection stuff can linger for years; that's a problem Waiters must address now.
Barnes has an issue with assertiveness, though in his defense, playing alongside quick triggers like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson does not give him ample opportunities to shine. His team is not strong at moving the ball. The Warriors like to isolate players (Barnes included sometimes) more than a lot of teams, which does not give Barnes the green light to attack his defender unless he's the one in isolation. Still, the bottom line for Barnes is that he looks special at times during games, yet ranks nowhere near the top 10 rookies in PER (11.33) and other metrics.
In many respects, analyzing a player requires the understanding of a basic principle -- if one player shoots, then no other player can shoot on that possession. So every time a player takes a poor shot, his team is less likely to score than when any player takes a good shot (no player makes a respectable percentage of bad shots). A good shot is defined as one that a player has a good chance of making within the constraints of time, score and rebounding/defensive balance.
It sounds simple, but if the goal is to help your team win -- and yes, that is the ultimate goal evaluators have to keep in mind -- then players who take bad shots often can be considered less valuable than other players who may be producing less in terms of raw numbers. Because the numbers those other players are producing are more conducive to winning plays.