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June 22, 2011
2011 Draft by Similarity
Player Comparisons

by Kevin Pelton


Player comparisons are probably as old as the NBA Draft. As we seek to understand how players will translate to the NBA, using the experience of players with similar skills is helpful. Yet the danger is that subjective comparisons will be colored by irrelevant factors. Our similarity scores take a different approach, using NCAA statistical performance adjusted both for the transition from college to the pros and strength of schedule. Players are compared in 13 categories, including height and weight, to their predecessors within six months of the same age at the time they were drafted. (See here for more details on the process.)

Going by a single player comparison can be dangerous. Most players have a group of comparables that are diverse in terms of their NBA success. Using age at the time the player is drafted limits the pool of possible comparisons, as does the fact that our database goes back only to 2000 and is not complete until 2006 or so. (Before that, it was difficult to track down team statistics to adjust for pace.) If the next Michael Jordan really was in this draft, we wouldn't be able to make the comparison. So don't read more into these comparisons than is really there, especially in cases where the similarity score is low. (They're scored out of 100, with 95 indicating a decent match and 90 generally the cutoff for any real similarity.) Still, these comparisons are fun and can be enlightening at times.

Players are ranked by their current spot in DraftExpress' mock draft. A handful of players from overseas, most notably Davis Bertans, are not listed because of insufficient stats.

 1  Kyrie Irving         Duke             PG    Derrick Rose       95.7
 2  Derrick Williams     Arizona          PF    J.J. Hickson       95.4
 3  Brandon Knight       Kentucky         PG    Jerryd Bayless     95.3
 4  Enes Kanter          Kentucky         PF    -                  

Kanter too does not have a comparison because there are no stats by which to go by for him. From this perspective, he's the most mysterious draft prospect since the early entry rule was enacted.

 5  Kemba Walker         Connecticut      PG    D.J. Augustin      96.5
 6  Jan Vesely           Partizan          F    Andrew Bogut       95.4

In the case of Vesely, and all the other international prospects, these calculations are based on standard SCHOENE similarity scores using the NBA player database and translated European stats. In this case, the numbers don't really see Vesely as a small forward; all his comparisons are to big men, most of them centers. His poor free throw shooting is part of the explanation.

 7  Jimmer Fredette      Brigham Young    PG    J.J. Redick        96.3

I didn't like seeing this comparison come up because it feels so stereotypical. To go a different direction, Jodie Meeks was essentially tied with Redick. Fredette's senior year was not really comparable to true point guards.

 8  Jonas Valanciunas    Lietuvos Rytas    C    Dwight Howard      90.3

In this case, because Valanciunas is so young, the pool of potential matches is very small. Take out age as a factor and Tyson Chandler pops up repeatedly, which is why we used him for Sebastian Pruiti's breakdown.

 9  Kawhi Leonard        San Diego St.    SF    Joe Johnson        96.5

This might be the strangest comparison in the group. We'll see what sense Sebastian makes of it tomorrow, in his final Clipboard comparison.

10  Marcus Morris        Kansas           PF    Ronald Dupree      96.1
11  Klay Thompson        Washington St.   SG    Kirk Snyder        95.9

I'm pretty sure Thompson would prefer someone slightly lower on his list: Kevin Martin. Physically, the comparison makes a lot of sense. Thompson has a lot of work to do to become as efficient as Martin, however.

12  Chris Singleton      Florida St.      SF    Dante Cunningham   94.4
13  Tristan Thompson     Texas            PF    Darrell Arthur     97.5
14  Bismack Biyombo      Fuenlabrada       C    Sean Williams      94.1
15  Marshon Brooks       Providence       SG    Desmond Mason      97.7
16  Nikola Vucevic       USC              PF    Troy Murphy        96.7
17  Markieff Morris      Kansas           PF    D.J. White         96.3

This comparison might sound negative in some quarters, but I'm a believer White can play. Although I'm not sure anyone outside of the Carolinas noticed, he was an above-average player for the Charlotte Bobcats during the season's final two months.

18  Donatas Motiejunas   Treviso           C    Yi Jianlian        94.4
19  Alec Burks           Colorado         SG    Jerryd Bayless     95.6

Despite the fact that Burks' assist rate was nothing special, nearly all of his best scores are to shoot-first point guards. I'm not sure what to make of this fact.

20  Jordan Hamilton      Texas            SF    Casey Jacobsen     96.4
21  Kenneth Faried       Morehead St.     PF    Paul Millsap       95.9

Undersized power forward central casting.

22  Tobias Harris        Tennessee        PF    Kris Humphries     97.1
23  Iman Shumpert        Georgia Tech     PG    Ronnie Brewer      97.7
24  Kyle Singler         Duke             SF    Brian Cook         95.6
25  Tyler Honeycutt      UCLA             SF    Earl Clark         95.7
27  Chandler Parsons     Florida          SF    David Noel         96.6
28  Justin Harper        Richmond         PF    Malik Hairston     98.0
29  Nikola Mirotic       Real Madrid      SF    Nicolas Batum      96.7

No, there are not any bonus points for having similar first names.

30  Travis Leslie        Georgia          SG    Antoine Wright     97.1
31  Reggie Jackson       Boston College   PG    Ben Gordon         95.9
32  Jimmy Butler         Marquette        SF    Derrick Brown      96.5
33  Josh Selby           Kansas           PG    Keyon Dooling      90.9

Of the college players in this year's draft, Selby has the lowest similarity score. His Kansas stats don't appear telling about his NBA potential, either positively or negatively.

34  Charles Jenkins      Hofstra          PG    Acie Law           96.8
35  Darius Morris        Michigan         PG    Deron Williams     96.5

Unofficially, Morris wins the award for player whose agent is most likely to come across this article and frantically email it out to teams on the morning of the draft.

36  Nolan Smith          Duke             PG    Acie Law           99.1

Smith's similarity to Law is the highest of any player in this year's draft. I'd make a joke about how they're like twins, but their similarity score is much higher than the Morris brothers are to each other (95.8).

38  Malcolm Lee          UCLA             SG    Wayne Ellington    93.3
39  JaJuan Johnson       Purdue           PF    Ryan Humphrey      96.8
40  Norris Cole          Cleveland St.    PG    Sean Singletary    97.5
41  Shelvin Mack         Butler           PG    Ben Gordon         96.0
42  Trey Thompkins       Georgia          PF    Joe Alexander      98.0
43  Bojan Bogdanovic     Cibona Zagreb    SG    Lamond Murray      96.1
44  Keith Benson         Oakland           C    Loren Woods        97.1
45  Diante Garrett       Iowa St.         PG    A.J. Price         96.7

This year's award for "NBA player who appears as a comparison many times" goes to Price, who will become familiar the rest of the way.

46  Jordan Williams      Maryland         PF    Brandon Bass       95.5
47  Jon Leuer            Wisconsin        PF    Brian Cook         96.4
48  E'Twaun Moore        Purdue           PG    Marcus Thornton    96.7
49  Ben Hansbrough       Notre Dame       PG    Keith Bogans       98.0
50  David Lighty         Ohio St.         SG    Royal Ivey         96.9
51  Demetri McCamey      Illinois         PG    A.J. Price         96.5
52  Isaiah Thomas        Washington       PG    Andre Barrett      97.5

When Thomas gets drafted, he will inevitably be compared to Oklahoma City guard Nate Robinson, who paved the way for sub-6-foot guards playing off the ball at the University of Washington. However, their similarity was just 94.6; Thomas is a substantially better playmaker than Robinson, though not quite in his class as a shooter.

53  Andrew Goudelock     Charleston       PG    A.J. Price         97.2
54  Scotty Hopson        Tennessee        SG    Joe Crawford       97.0
55  Malcolm Thomas       San Diego St.    PF    Othello Hunter     96.9
56  Jereme Richmond      Illinois         SF    DeMar DeRozan      93.5
58  Greg Smith           Fresno St.       PF    DeMar DeRozan      95.2

Of all the random comparisons here, two consecutive DeRozan comps might be the oddest--especially since the latter is to a 250-pound big man.

59  Cory Joseph          Texas            PG    Daniel Gibson      96.1

Because schools have distinct styles of play, it's not uncommon for prospects to end up getting compared to their predecessors. This year, we only have one such match in the case of Longhorn tweener guards Joseph and Gibson.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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