"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hayward and Wade 2 of the only players still alive in the NBA playoffs; ranking the best COLLEGE players still playing

As the NBA “Final Four” tips off shortly, Kevin Durant will be the best former college player on the court still playing for an NBA title. (if you’ve been away, before you read this read the great piece on Marquette taking on Ohio State on the aircraft career.)

Dwyane Wade isn’t far behind and is probably the 2nd best, but since the Value Add database doesn’t go back prior to 2006, I can’t compare him to other pre-2006 players like Tim Duncan at Wake Forest or tell for sure if he would rank ahead of the next best Value Add COLLEGE players still playing, James Harden and DeJuan Blair.  This table ranks the COLLEGE careers of the players on the four remaining teams, for players who were in college since 2006 (Updated table, thanks to LA on MUScoop for catching that I had listed the line for Indiana's Darren Collison instead of Kansas' Nick Collison who unfortunately played for Kansas back in 2003):

rankPLAYERCollegeNBACollege Career Based on Value Add/Class
1Kevin DurantTexasOKCin 2007, he was the 1st freshman to be top Value Add, and Anthony Davis is the 4th
2James HardenAZ StOKCOnly player to be top 10 as a FR and SO in 2008, 2009
3DeJuan BlairPittSAAs a SO in 2009 already 3rd best behind Blake Griffin and Ty Lawson
4Kawhi LeonardSD StSAIn 2011, 2nd best SO behind Derrick Williams
5Russell WestbrookUCLAOKCIn 2008 as a SO already 11th overall
6Mario ChalmersKSMIAIn 2008, 4th best as a junior which is better than 3rd as SR (Cole)
7Rajon RondoKYBOS21st best overall in 2006, first year of database
8Reggie JacksonBCOKCIn 2011 5th best junior, so could continue improvement
9James AndersonOkl StSAIn 2010, 6th best JR, 3 spots behind Jimmy F Butler!
10Cole AldrichKSOKCIn 2009, was 5th as a SO but slipped a little JR year
11Norris ColeCleve StMIAIn 2011 3rd best player, but that was as SR
12Eric MaynorVCUOKCIn 2009 was 6th best, but like Cole that was as SR
13JaJuan JohnsonPurdueBOSSteady improvement until 7th best as SR in 2011
14Lazar HaywardMarquetteOKCAlso steady improvement until 34th at MU, but actually behind Jimmy F Butler even then
15Cory JosephTexasSAIn 2011, 12th best freshman
16E'Twaun MoorePurdueBOSSteady improvement until 63rd as SR in 2011
17Daequan CookOSUOKCIn 2007, 40th best freshman
18Dexter PittmanTexasMIAIn 2009, was top 5% of players as a junior
19Patrick MillsSt. Mary'sSAIn 2009, was already top 10% as a sophomore
20Joel AnthonyUNLVMIAIn 2007, top 10% of all players
21Avery BradleyTexasBOSIn 2010, 46th best FR
22Derrick ByarsVandySAIn 2007 broke top 5%, but that was as senior
23Sean WilliamsBCBOSIn 2007 broke top 10% as a junior
24Terrel HarrisOkl StMIASteady improvement, but still only broke top 5% as senior in 2011
25Greg StiemsmaWiscBOSWas still not in 10% of all players in senior year of 2008

Probably the most overused statement about former college players is, “He was so good in college, I wonder why he wasn’t great in the pros.”

There are 4000 D1 players every year, and even among the top 5% of players every year (ranked 1st to 200th) almost all are wishing they were sitting where Lazar Hayward is with Oklahoma City trying to grab a ring. (Listen to interview with Lazar by clicking here.)

It is very rare to have an NBA player who was not excellent as a college player.  Of the 25 players on the four remaining rosters who played in college since 2006, only Greg Stiemsma did not make it into the top 10% of all college players by his senior year.  This is not a criticism of a former rival, as Stiemsma is in the top 50% of NBA players.  However, the former Badger is one of the rare exceptions like Andre Drummond who is trying to become an NBA player WITHOUT being at least pretty dominant at the college level.

When pulling up the database for the other players on the roster, Durant is clearly the greatest since he was already the best Value Add player in the country as a freshman.  This year Anthony Davis became the 4th freshman to top the Value Add list.

James Harden stayed around for two years, and is the only player I can find who was one of the best 10 players in the country both his freshman and sophomore seasons, according to Value Add.

It’s a close call between him and DeJuan Blair for the 2nd greatest Value Add player in the Final Four.  I give a slight edge to Harden for two incredible years, but actually as a sophomore Blair was better.  He was already the third best player in the country in Value Add behind only Blake Griffin and Ty Lawson, and is on pace to be in the top 10% of all NBA players by the time he hits his peak performance in the next few years.

San Antonio has stayed at the top of the NBA by correctly valuing players like Blair both in drafts and in trades.  In 2009, they didn’t pick until the 37th choice.  The Spurs watched as 36 other teams picked before they grabbed Blair with their first pick.  Many of those picks were on guys who it was clear at the time would never reach Blair’s level.

As for Lazar Hayward’s great career at Marquette, there are really 13 players left in the playoffs who were even bigger stars in college.  Lazar was the 34th best player in the country, but not until his senior year.  Guys who make the top 50 as a freshman or sophomore are usually big stars, and guys like Jimmy Butler who break into the top 10 as a junior usually do very well. 

Norris Cole was the 3rd best Value Add player last year while at Cleveland State, and should be good, but that’s not the same as a guy like Harden, Blair or Wade who is already dominant as a sophomore.

Still, Hayward’s steady climb throughout his MU career gives him the 14th best COLLEGE career of any player still on the court, and the ranking of the 25 above puts them in order.

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