Rookie Review: Part 2

By Kevin Pelton
For Hoopsworld.com
Dec. 15, 2004

A week ago, I began to take an early look at the performance of this season's heralded NBA rookie crop. In that column, I analyzed players on teams alphabetically through New Orleans, and today I'll finish out the rookies. Again, I'll look to assess the performance of the translation system I used to analyze the NBA Draft this spring with the handful of rookies who have played regularly this season and played major college basketball last season. When available, these statistics will go below the player's rookie numbers.

(Editor's Note: The numbers for each player are through last Wednesday, Dec. 11, which explains any discrepancies between them and the player's current statistics.)

Mike Sweetney, PF, New York

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 4.7   1.3  0.7  0.1  0.320   6.9  0.06  0.310   -5
TS% = points/(2*(fga+(.44*fta))) Pass = 10*(ast/to)*(ast/min) Eff is per-minute efficiency, my own formula explained here VORP = (Eff - replacement level [.43])*min

The loose consensus last June was that the Knicks had one of the best drafts of any team, an opinion I shared, but you'd have a tough time figuring that out from this season's statistics. In 23 games, New York's three rookies -- Sweetney, Maciej Lampe, and Slavko Vranes -- have combined for 42 minutes, all of them by Sweetney. This appears to be the downside of the Knicks' win-now attitude, as best demonstrated by their move to pick up Dikembe Mutombo. At the same time, I'm not sure I believe Michael Doleac, who has played 334 minutes this season, is appreciably better than Sweetney. (Yes, Doleac is a center, the rookies power forwards, but starting power forward Kurt Thomas could back up Mutombo.) In Don Chaney's defense, Sweetney has done nothing in his limited minutes to warrant more action, shooting 4-for-17 and grabbing just six rebounds in 42 minutes. However, Sweetney hasn't really gotten a chance to get into the flow of any game; his career high in minutes is eight. As a result, I'm not too concerned about his numbers. Lampe was one of the most impressive players during summer-league action, but he struggled during preseason play (11-for-40 from the field, 14 rebounds in 97 minutes) and, at age 18, is probably a ways away from contributing. Vranes wasn't even playing overseas and is even further away from being ready to play.

Keith Bogans, G/F, Orlando

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
14.3   3.1  3.3  0.4  0.323  11.2  0.11  0.339  -21
                      0.519   3.3  1.38  0.437

Bogans probably has the most interesting stat line of any of this year's rookies. He's played like an entirely different player than he was in college. While sample size surely has something to do with that, Bogans has played 228 minutes. Bogans' position change, which has him seeing regular action at small forward, is another potential reason. Still, 11.2 rebounds per 48 minutes? I don't think anyone saw that coming. The rebounding is the good news. The bad news is that while Bogans' stats translated to 36.1% shooting from downtown and 68.4% from the line, he's actually shot 1-for-19 from three-point range and 6-for-18 on free throws. Combined with his 30.9% shooting, that has made Bogans unplayably inefficient on offense. However, if Bogans could get to that level offensively while continuing to be a force on the boards, he would be a very pleasant surprise for the Magic.

Britton Johnsen, C/F, Free Agent (Formerly Orlando)

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
14.8   2.8  1.0  1.0  0.431   3.3  0.90  0.343   -5

Why is the Magic 3-19? Johnsen, undrafted out of Utah, was Orlando's opening-night starter in the middle. He started the team's first three games, averaged 18 minutes, and played three minutes off the bench in a fourth game. Then he was waived two weeks later. That isn't the reason, but it certainly doesn't help. Johnsen was the Mountain West Player of the Year as a junior, but there wasn't a whole lot in his college statistics to recommend him in the first place.

Zaza Pachulia, C, Orlando

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
11.5   2.9  3.2  0.3  0.368  13.4  0.10  0.393   -6

With the Magic's weakness in the middle, Pachulia was expected to contribute as a rookie, and he's starting to work towards that. After a slow start, Pachulia has averaged 3.8 ppg and 4.2 rpg during the month of December, playing regular minutes. He's done a good job of rebounding the ball but will have to shoot the ball better to become a valuable player. Just 19, Pachulia has plenty of time to improve.

Reece Gaines, PG, Orlando

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 8.5   0.6  0.9  1.0  0.189   4.8  2.35  0.233  -23
                      0.543   3.2  2.28  0.457

As is shown, Gaines had pretty solid translated college numbers, but I never quite got behind him before the draft (to my regret, I wrote at Supersonics.com that he was "a reach at 14" -- he went 15th). Well, he's been a great deal worse than the statistics, I, or anyone else suspected. Let's try to put just how terrible Gaines has been into perspective. Last year, there were ten players who had worse true shooting percentages than Gaines' current 18.9%. Only one of those players took more than ten shots, New Orleans' Kirk Haston (17), and he was released this year during training camp. Gaines has already surpassed that, shooting 3-for-22 from the field. While Gaines hasn't played a ton, he's played 18 minutes on three occasions and still has yet to score more than two points in a game. Certainly Gaines isn't this bad -- nobody's this bad -- but he has been pretty consistently disappointing since the draft, and I don't think it's too early to wonder whether he's overmatched at this level.

Willie Green, SG, Philadelphia

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 8.5   1.9  0.8  0.2  0.378   4.5  0.07  0.298  -17

Green had a pretty big preseason, scoring 18 points in consecutive games, and there was some degree of concern that the Sonics had given away a great player (they drafted him and traded him to Philadelphia for the rights to the 50th pick, Paccelis Morlende). That was probably unfounded. Green had a big senior season, averaging 22.5 ppg, but previously had been an unremarkable player playing for the University of Detroit-Mercy, and even during his senior season Green shot 49.0% against a low level of competition. Green has quickly come back to Earth during the regular season, shooting 32.4%. He tore a ligament in his right thumb last week and will be out a couple of months.

Kyle Korver, SF, Philadelphia

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 4.1   1.1  0.6  0.1  0.315   7.1  0.11  0.321   -8

I wrote last week about the oddity of Cleveland's Jason Kapono shooting much better on threes than twos. Kapono has nothing on Korver. Not only have 70% of Korver's shots been threes, 21 of 30, he's shooting 23.8% from beyond the arc and 1-for-11 (9.1%) from inside it. Again, I have to wonder what kind of twos Korver has been taking. Like Kapono, Korver is only valuable in this league when he's shooting the basketball well. So far he hasn't. The caveat is that, like Sweetney, Korver has gotten his minutes in small bunches, which is especially difficult for shooters, who need to be in rhythm.

Zarko Cabarkapa, PF, Phoenix

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
12.7   6.5  3.4  0.5  0.563  12.7  0.13  0.493    9

Unfortunately, at this point Cabarkapa is known less for his game than for being flagrantly fouled by Danny Fortson last month, a play that left Cabarkapa on the injured list with a broken wrist. That was a shame because Cabarkapa was looking like a very promising player early in his NBA career. It should be noted that unlike many European imports, Cabarkapa was a relatively finished project; he's already 22. Then again, so are a lot of college players who aren't playing very well. Cabarkapa was shooting 50% and rebounding the ball well. His only trouble spot was something I wrote about frequently last week (and will the remainder of this column), turnovers. With nearly seven (!) turnovers per 48 minutes, Cabarkapa would lead the league if he had played enough minutes. Nonetheless, Cabarkapa looks like a nice option along with Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire up front for the Suns for years to come.

Leandrinho Barbosa, PG, Phoenix

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 7.1   3.2  0.4  0.5  0.516   2.6  0.44  0.447    2

When Jerome James was new to the Sonics, I liked to refer to him as a stat-sheet stuffer because of the big per-48 minute numbers he put up in categories both good and bad. It's early, but in his 92 minutes Barbosa has shown the same potential. Per 48 minutes, he is averaging 4.2 steals, 6.3 turnovers, and a remarkable 8.9 three-point attempts. This is a guy who's going to get his money's worth when he goes on the court. For a rookie point guard trying to learn the language and the culture, Barbosa has been pretty decent. His playmaking ability does have to be an early concern, however. He reportedly played a lot like a shooting guard in Brazil, and so far has just seven assists against 12 turnovers.

Matt Carroll, SG, Portland

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 4.2   1.3  0.2  0.1  0.597   2.3  0.12  0.391   -2

Though he went undrafted, Carroll had pretty solid stats at Notre Dame (not reproduced here because he's played so few minutes that the comparison wouldn't be fair). The Knicks apparently really liked Carroll during training camp, but didn't have room to keep him (in part because of the presence of Vranes), and he signed with Portland, where he's been used sparingly. In his one extended outing against Dallas, Carroll played well, scoring seven points on 3-for-5 shooting. He shows signs of being a solid shooting specialist.

Travis Outlaw, SF, Portland

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 2.0   1.0  0.7  0.0  0.307  16.0     -  0.388    0

As I wrote last week, Outlaw is essentially redshirting. His numbers this season won't be particularly important.

Darius Songaila, PF, Sacramento

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
14.7   5.4  3.5  1.2  0.541  11.4  1.40  0.509   21

Why do I think Geoff Petrie is the best GM in the game? Because of guys like Songaila. Petrie gave up a pair of second-rounders, both of them probably late in the 50s, to get the rights to Songaila before this June's Draft. Songaila had solid stats at Wake Forest and had done well overseas in Russia last season, so Petrie was confident he could get some minutes out of him. Casual fans don't even notice a move like that, but when Chris Webber goes down, who's there to step up as a backup power forward? Songaila, who's been about as good as any rookie outside of the LeBron-Carmelo-Bosh triumvirate. Seriously. Songaila's 46.8% shooting isn't great, but he's getting to the free-throw line regularly, where he's shooting 26-for-31, which is why he's been so efficient. Songaila's upside isn't huge, but he's a very nice reserve option at the moment.

Luke Ridnour, PG, Seattle

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
17.5   6.5  1.6  2.5  0.459   4.3  2.46  0.444    4
                      0.507   3.9  3.90  0.454

I thought this was going to be a redshirt season for Ridnour, despite his three years of experience at Oregon, but he's played well enough and hard enough that he's forced Sonics coach Nate McMillan to keep him in the rotation. Like most rookie point guards, Ridnour's shooting hasn't been great and he turns the ball over plenty (3.9 turnovers per 48 minutes is horrid overall, but actually decent for a rookie point guard). Still, there's a palpable change in the Sonics' intensity when he's on the court, one that's backed up by the numbers at 82games.com. Ridnour's "Roland Rating" -- the team's point differential per 48 minutes with him on the court minus the differential without him -- is tops amongst Sonics regulars. In addition to shooting better, Ridnour will need to start setting up teammates more frequently (that's the reason his pass rating is lower than his translated college numbers), but I think he's on track so far.

Richie Frahm, F/G, Seattle

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 7.0   2.6  1.1  0.5  0.730   7.7  2.86  0.598   19

No, those statistics are not misprints. After making the Sonics as a training-camp invitee, Frahm has been nothing short of spectacular. His "Roland Rating" backs up his individual numbers -- Frahm is at +18.6 per 48 minutes, and Ridnour is second on the Sonics at +8.2. Obviously, Frahm isn't the MVP his per-minute statistics make him look like, and they are thrown off by the fact that Frahm has played so many of his minutes in garbage time. Still, nobody's putting the ball in the basket for Frahm, and he's made 10-for-18 from three-point range and is shooting 57.7% overall. He's also been remarkably sure-handed, committing just two turnovers in 113 minutes. Frahm looks like he definitely belongs in the NBA.

Chris Bosh, C/F, Toronto

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
32.7  11.7  6.8  0.7  0.548  10.0  0.11  0.485   38
                      0.546  11.0  0.26  0.454

If I may be allowed to toot my own horn a bit, I was trying to tell everyone I could that Bosh could play before the draft. In my "Draft Preview Blowout" in this space, I wrote, "If I hear one more person refer to Bosh as 'a project', Iím going to scream. DeSagana Diop was a project. Travis Outlaw is a project. Bosh can play. He was one of the better players in the difficult ACC last year as a freshman, and while his skinny frame might cause us to downgrade his excellent translation a little, Bosh has all the makings of a superstar. . . . I expect that Bosh will start right away and will only get better." To be technical, I was wrong. It took Bosh 12 games to crack the starting lineup. Other than that, however, he's been even better than his statistics at Georgia Tech predicted. The reason his efficiency is so much higher is that his translated stats showed him as a relatively minor part of the offense, averaging 9.5 ppg. He's actually scored more than two points more. Bosh may not score as many points, but he very much deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as LeBron and Carmelo. He's that good. Between him and Vince Carter, the Raptors have the makings of a serious contender in the East for years to come.

Raul Lopez, PG, Utah

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
22.2   7.7  2.3  4.6  0.522   4.9  3.95  0.444    7

Lopez missed two years with knee surgeries between the time the Jazz drafted him in 2001 and he finally made his NBA debut this season, but he has shown so far he was worth the weight. At age 23, Lopez isn't exactly a typical foreign rookie, but he's performed very well indeed for a rookie point guard, starting ten games with Carlos Arroyo out. Lopez is turning the ball over plenty, but that's okay when you're also in the league's top ten in assist rate, as he is. Lopez's 33-for-37 shooting from the free-throw line has made him a reasonably efficient scorer to go along with his distribution.

Maurice Williams, PG, Utah

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
17.8   5.9  1.8  2.6  0.426   4.9  3.21  0.404   -5
                      0.472   4.3  2.48  0.398

Like Lopez, Williams has been forced into a larger role by Arroyo's injuries. Williams has been Lopez's backup in those spans, and he's done a credible job. Based on his stats at Alabama, Williams looked like a definite shoot-first point, but he's improved his playmaking in the NBA (though there is a certain thought that Jerry Sloan's system is responsible for that). Just 20 years old, Williams has a chance to put together a nice NBA career.

Aleksandar Pavlovic, SF, Utah

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
11.4   4.8  1.3  0.6  0.505   5.5  0.53  0.452    5

Pavlovic has some impressive stats as a starter: 18.0 ppg on 80% shooting. Unfortunately, he's only started one game. I wasn't quite sure if it made sense for the Jazz to take a guy who's primarily a small forward when they already had Andrei Kirilenko and Matt Harpring, but Sloan has found a regular role for him and he's done a solid job. Pavlovic is shooting the ball well, including 5-for-12 from downtown, but he needs to do some other things. His rebound rate is extremely poor for a small forward, and he hasn't recorded many assists or steals either.

Curtis Borchardt, C, Utah

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
16.7   3.7  3.5  1.0  0.445  10.1  0.53  0.381  -12

Borchardt struggled with injuries during his college career, and they've marked his pro career so far as well. He missed all of last season with a stress fracture in his right foot before starting this season on the injured list with a broken finger. Borchardt hasn't been worth the wait quite like Lopez has been. He is shooting just 38.2% and his rebounding has been subpar for a big man. Borchardt has plenty of athleticism for a guy his size and eventually put together a great season at Stanford, but injuries could keep him from reaching that potential in the pros. Fun fact: Borchardt's wife, Susan, is a starting guard for the Stanford women's basketball team.

Ben Handlogten, F/C, Utah

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 7.2   3.1  2.4  0.1  0.728  16.0  0.03  0.592   12

I think a pretty good argument could be made that Handlogten is the most obscure player in the NBA. A 1996 Western Michigan grad, Handlogten is an NBA rookie at age 30. He has put together some remarkable numbers, albeit in just 72 minutes, most of them garbage time. Then again, is it really garbage time when you help lead a comeback to bring the team back, like Handlogten did in Sunday's two-point loss to the Lakers?

Jarvis Hayes, SF, Washington

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
34.0  10.5  4.5  1.6  0.427   6.4  0.38  0.392  -27
                      0.545   5.2  1.49  0.467

Hayes started the season hot, averaging 13.5 ppg on 45.3% shooting, sparking talk that he was a darkhorse Rookie of the Year candidate. Nobody's mentioning Hayes with Carmelo and LeBron at the moment, not with him barely in double-figures scoring and shooting 38.7% (25.6% from three-point range). In December, Hayes has been simply awful, shooting 29.8% from the field and averaging 6.6 ppg. Frankly, Hayes has to be scoring and scoring efficiently to be valuable, because he's a relatively one-dimensional player. So at this point he's a drain on the Wizards lineup, but they can't really replace him as a starter because Jared Jeffries has been equally bad and Jerry Stackhouse remains on the injured list. Hayes hasn't really played so poorly as to drastically change expectations for him, but, as his translation shows, his play has definitely been a disappointment.

Steve Blake, PG, Washington

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
14.3   2.9  1.1  2.2  0.386   3.5  2.39  0.344  -22
                      0.474   4.1  4.68  0.393

Based on his translated college stats and watching him play at Maryland, I thought Blake was a fine college player who couldn't play in the NBA. Amazingly, he's been even worse than his college numbers indicated but is still a regular in the Wizards' rotation. Obviously, Washington didn't draft Blake because of his shooting ability (that true shooting percentage is overstated because Blake took relatively more threes and free throws in college; Blake's translated field-goal percentage is 32.5%, and he's actually shooting 31.8%). As a result, he's going to have to dramatically improve his assist-turnover ratio, slightly better than 1.5, if he wants to stick around in the NBA.

Well, that's it, 46 rookies. This column is already far too long, but I would like to summarize my premature observations. The biggest thing I continue to learn from the performance of this year's rookies is that rookie point guards perform poorly. If you go down the list, virtually all this year's rookie point guards are struggling with turnovers and poor shooting. Celtics fans were somewhat irked when I dismissed the possibility of Marcus Banks starting for them this season. Lo and behold, Banks is shooting 33.9% and has a 1.25 assist-turnover ratio. In the case of lottery picks, they should probably play anyway, but teams hoping to make the playoffs should be extremely conservative with rookie point guards.

While there are players like Gaines and Hayes who have done much worse than their college numbers would indicate, I think in general translated college statistics show themselves to be a useful tool in projecting players' NBA performance, at least as rookies.

I also think it's important to note that with the NBA Draft the way it is, with players continually coming into the NBA younger and younger, contributors can be found overseas or in the NBA's minor leagues through good, aggressive scouting. Players like Elson, Haslem, and Songaila exemplify this trend, and even more obscure players like Frahm can also be valuable as specialists.

Kevin Pelton is an intern for the Seattle SuperSonics and is responsible for original content on Supersonics.com. He writes "Page 23" for Hoopsworld.com on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached via e-mail at kpelton@sonicscentral.com.