Should the Hornets Draft a Big Man?

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Published: June 15, 2009

Thanks to the excellent Bret Lagree of the Hawks blog Hoopinion, I have access to normalized stats for the top 90 or so US college prospects in the NBA draft.  “Normalized” means he’s adjusted all of the stats for pace of teams by figuring out the players points, assists, turnovers, steals, and blocks per 100 possessions – as well as a player’s rebound rate.(% of available rebounds they grab while on the floor)

These numbers prove invaluable, considering I haven’t seen enough college basketball this season to be able to speak authoritatively about . . . well . . . almost anyone.  Still – the numbers at least give us a frame of reference.

First and foremost, we do need to simply accept this draft will not fill the Hornet’s biggest need.  The crop of big men is very, very thin.  Outside of Blake Griffin, every major big man prospect has some pretty big flaws.  The other four big guys most likely to be taken before the Hornets draft have some issues:

Hasheem Thabeet is a terrible rebounder.  His rebounding rate puts him only in the middle of the pack amongst power forwards, much less centers.  His scoring is efficient, but infrequent, and his passing is awful.  Awful.  He does block a big number of shots.  Honestly – if I had to pick a player going in the top 5 who is going to be a bust, it would be Thabeet.

DeJuan Blair is an incredible rebounder, particularly offensively, but he’s a mediocre shooter, and despite his bull-like method, draws very few free-throws.  His lack of height scares people, but there’s a lot here to like.

Jordan Hill‘s calling card is rebounding.  Sort of.  While he ranks a nice-sounding fourth – he’s not elite at all.  In fact, he’s closer to being ranked 11th than he is being ranked 3rd.  As for scoring, scoring efficiency, steals, blocks, assists, and turnovers he falls right in the middle of the pack of the Power Forward position at everything.  You’d expect a top-10 prospect to excel at something.

James Johnson ranks in the bottom half at rebounding, but shows solid steals and shot-blocking numbers, which usually indicate solid athleticism.  His scoring efficiency is good, though he does take one out of every five of his shots outside the three-point line, where he’s not much of a shooter.

According to the Mock Drafts at DraftExpress, ESPN, NBADraft.net, there are a few big men who could fall to the Hornets.  Personally, I don’t actually want any of them, but here’s how I’d rank them:

Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech

Lawal is a slightly above average rebounder, and is right in the middle of the pack at scoring.  His scoring efficiency suffers because he draws few free throws and hits a horrible percentage of them.  His shot-blocking and steals numbers are solid, but not spectacular.  He’s young, so you’d expect him to improve, but it’ll take a few years.  He seems to me to be a lesser verion of Jordan Hill – who doesn’t really inspire me much. (Update:  Gani Lawal has withdrawn from the draft)

Tyler Hansbrough, PF, North Carolina

Hansbrough scores efficiently, showing a nice shooting touch and a strong ability to draw free throws, but his rebound rate is terrible, a fairly damning piece of information for someone who is expected to make a living in the NBA as a hustler.  His blocks are 2nd from the bottom at his position, and his steals are merely ordinary.  His passing isn’t anything to write home about.  The Hornets need scoring, sure – but they need rebounding even more.(Recent Mock drafts have him going earlier than 21st anyways)

BJ Mullens, C, Ohio

Mullens would be perfect for the Hornets – if they are looking for someone to duplicate Hilton Armstrong’s abysmal production.  Mullens has an awful rebound rate that would place him in the bottom 8 amongst power forwards, much less centers.  He gets less assists than the black hole Thabeet, and turns the ball over much more often.  He’s the least efficient scorer among centers, shoots free throws like Shaq, yet still rarely draws free throws.  He also pretty much sucks at blocking shots, ranking a distant last amongst centers.  He’s young, sure – but give me SOMETHING to work with.

I’ll be moving on to the guards and wings next.  There are some pretty interesting possibilities there – and though I don’t see many stars available at 21, there are some specialists who could be pretty valuable.  I can’t say the same about the big men.

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