Statistics can be a useful tool to evaluate NBA Draft prospects if they’re used in the right context and supported by adequate eye-test footage.
However, many casual fans, media and even executives can get fooled due to factors like small sample size, team context and player development potential.
Not all college hoops stats are proportionate because not all conferences and schedules have comparable talent. The same thing goes for overseas leagues. And in many cases, prospects aren’t utilized in an optimal way during their pre-NBA days.
All of these variables make sifting through stats murky, so it’s vitally important to do with as much contextual research as possible.
Let’s take a closer look at some misleading stats surrounding several 2020 NBA hopefuls. It’s good news for a few of them, and not so rosy for others.
Nico Mannion’s Three-Point Shooting (32.7 percent)
There are a few concerns surrounding Nico Mannion’s NBA candidacy, but shooting proficiency shouldn’t be one of them.
While the Arizona freshman wasn’t efficient from deep, he showed enough shot-making prowess throughout the season. He has the mechanics, versatility and touch to become more than an above-average NBA shooter.
Mannion isn’t off the hook for his lackluster numbers from the arc, however.
His body mechanics aren’t perfect, and he could improve his shot selection as well. However, I’m buying stock in his long-term shooting value.
He has a great feel for finding pull-up jumpers by setting up defenders with his handle and footwork. Mannion already has a relatively quick shooing release, and I can only envision it getting smoother and swifter.
He also looks comfortable on catch-and-shoot attempts, whether they’re spot-ups or coming off screens:
In his scouting report for The Stepien, Zach Milner noted how Mannion’s jump-shooting passes the eye test with flying colors:
(Mannion has) very advanced shotmaking off the dribble for his age. Can stop on a dime and quickly pull up before allowing the defense to get a hand up to contest…
Good catch-and-shoot player who can also shoot threes off movement. Reads the defense well when running around screens (knows when to curl, fade, come straight off, etc).
If Mannion was a four-year college star with a career three-point percentage of 32.7 and little visual improvement, it would be fair to question his potential. Fortunately, he’s a freshman with the tangible skills to become a successful shooter.
As a side note, here are a few other prospects whose mediocre college three-point percentages belie their lofty potential from downtown: Syracuse’s Elijah Hughes (career 34.2 percent), Washington’s Jaden McDaniels (33.9 percent), and Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey (29.2 percent).
Cole Anthony’s Production and Efficiency
If you want to knock Cole Anthony, it’s unfair to simply rattle off his inefficient stats or UNC’s record. He was in one of the least optimal situations I’ve seen for a blue-blood prospect in recent years.
The 2019-20 Tar Heels weren’t nearly as talented as most Roy Williams squads, and their lack of floor spacing prevented Anthony from maximizing his potential.
Here are his per-game stats and percentages from last season: 18.5 points, 4.0 assists, 3.0 turnovers, 38.0 field goal percentage (6.0 makes/15.7 attempts), 34.8 three-point percentage, 50.1 true shooting percentage.
Those numbers, particularly the shooting marks, would normally be unsettling. But when you watch a few North Carolina games, it’s clear that he routinely had to navigate traffic jams.
Williams frequently used two-big lineups that made it easier for help defenders to stymie Anthony and limit his passing outlets.
Situations like the one Jackson Frank of The Step Back displays below were not the exception last year. Notice the congested lane and void of shooters. These setups shrank the floor for opposing defenses, depriving Anthony of ideal angles and options:
The lack of spacing Cole Anthony had to operate with this season is just absurd pic.twitter.com/WbMdtJMq3i
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) April 9, 2020
Depending on what NBA team he lands with, Anthony could share the floor with 3 or 4 capable three-point shooters. He might mesh well with a proficient pick-and-pop big, and his slashing talent would be amplified by shooting specialists who stretch the defense.
He certainly has his warts. He’ll need to improve his shot selection, passing vision and finishing ability if he wants to be a top-tier guard. But before we make a hasty condemnation, let’s see how he fares in a more suitable offensive environment.
Tyrese Haliburton’s Assist Numbers (6.5 apg, 7.0 per 40 min, 10.0 per 100 possession)
“Assists” are generally an incomplete stat. They’re a metric that’s too dependent on teammates and opponents to give a fully accurate illustration of a passer’s strengths and weaknesses.
Tyrese Haliburton’s assist numbers don’t automatically portend big NBA playmaking numbers. He’s a smart player and will pitch in as a part-time facilitator, but it’s hard to envision him as a full-time creator in the pros.
He did a great job making reads and finding open teammates in Iowa State’s offense during his breakout sophomore season. However, creating against NBA defenses is a different animal, and Haliburton may not even get enough touches as a primary playmaker.
He doesn’t consistently shake his defender to get separation off the dribble, so he won’t likely get the reins of an offense.
This isn’t as much of an indictment on Haliburton’s playmaking ability as it is a projection of his NBA role.
He was a fine passer in college, but it may be tougher for him to generate opportunities to facilitate now. He’s not as shifty as the Association’s upper-tier, dynamic ball-handlers. Thus, Haliburton may fare better as an off-ball guard who intermittently facilitates within the flow of the offense.
Any NBA fans hoping he could be your team’s long-term savior at point guard should pump the brakes.
Would he be a nice addition? Sure, but Haliburton probably won’t put the franchise on his back as the primary floor general.
Deni Avdija’s Single-Game STAT LINES
When evaluating international prospects, it’s important to understand their competition. Some European Leagues like Spain’s ACB League, Turkey’s BSL League or the Adriatic League are brimming with talent. The Israeli BSL League is not nearly as competitive, with most of its teams playing well below Euroleague level.
Thus, Macabbi FOX Tel-Aviv star Deni Avdija sometimes faced quite underwhelming foes.
He’s a promising young forward worthy of mid-lottery attention in the 2020 draft. Just don’t get too hyped or deflated by headline-grabbing box score numbers before checking the competition.
For example, Avdija posted 23 points and five assists for Tel-Aviv on Sunday, but it was against Maccabi Ashdod, Israel’s defensively-porous cellar dweller. And he enjoyed some of his other season-best performances against lower-tier teams like Hapoel Eilat (26 points) and Hapoel Beer Sheva (20). Meanwhile, his numbers against non-Israeli Euroleague opponents are a bit different.
To his credit, Avdija is holding his own for a teenager, and his long-term upside remains robust. He has the versatility and makeup to become a top-end role player or better.
However, don’t get swayed too much by big single-game stat lines like Sunday’s, letting them dramatically impact his draft stock and projections.
Dan is a TBW staff writer. After playing college ball at Franciscan University, he covered the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report for four years and the FRS Network for three years. He now co-hosts the Unlimited Range podcast and continues to campaign for Doris Burke’s promotion to lead analyst at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter: @DanO_Bball