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November 27, 2012
Early Surprises
Underachievers

by Kevin Pelton

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It's day two of our look at players who have seen the biggest change to their projections using an in-season update incorporating SCHOENE's preseason expectations and performance to date. For more on the methodology, check out yesterday's introduction and look at the players who have improved their projections the most.

Today, we turn our attention to the players whose projections have declined the most so far this season, which is now four weeks old. There are two ways of looking at this list. One is that these players have been disappointments to date. The more optimistic view is they are the group most likely to play better the rest of the year simply because of old-fashioned regression to the mean. We'll try to separate the flukes from players whose projections were initially too bullish. (Sadly, no Chicago players appear on the list.)

1. Jeremy Lin, Houston (.608 projected, .537 updated, -.071)
There are two factors at play here. First, Lin simply hasn't been very good so far with the Rockets, playing at a level barely better than replacement. Beyond that, his initial projection was highly uncertain because of his limited action the last two seasons. Add it up and Lin's projection has dropped far more than anyone else in the league. Of course, when Houston signed Lin, Daryl Morey imagined him in a very different role than the one he is now playing next to James Harden. Lin is best with the ball in his hands, and poor outside shooting (24.3 percent on threes) makes him little threat spotting up. The decline has been even more severe inside the arc; Lin has shot 4-of-23 (17.4 percent) on long twos, per Hoopdata.com, after making 43 percent a year ago. The rest of Lin's game has been solid--his steal rate is back near where it was in garbage time with Golden State as a rookie--so he can live up to his above-average projection for the remainder of the year if he finds his missing jump shot.

2. Gerald Green, Indiana (.523 projected, .477 updated, -.045)
3. James Johnson, Sacramento (.491 projected, .447 updated, -.043)
Johnson probably deserves some of the credit for the Kings' improvement at the defensive end. As the team's starting small forward to open the year, he offered more size and energy at the position. However, Johnson's shot didn't make the move from Toronto to Sacramento with him. Never a good shooter, he's been downright miserable this season, making 10 of his 54 shot attempts away from the rim, per Hoopdata. At some point, Johnson is bound to shoot better, but the slump has cost him the starting job in favor of John Salmons

4. Patrick Mills, San Antonio (.590 projected, .547 updated, -.039)
Really, Mills hasn't even played that poorly this season. He's getting minutes as the Spurs' backup point guard and has been effective in longer stints, including a game with 18 points in 21 minutes. SCHOENE just set the bar incredibly high based on Mills' strong run at the end of last season. League average play is a more realistic benchmark, and one Mills could clear the rest of the way if he cuts down on his turnovers a bit

5. Joel Freeland, Portland (.463 projected, .424 updated, -.039)
Based on his translated Euroleague statistics, Freeland looked capable of helping the Blazers right away. Nothing in his stat line, even last year's down effort, suggested he would miss 17 of his first 18 shot attempts in the NBA. Freeland will obviously shoot better than this eventually. For now, he's also squeezed out of the Portland rotation by solid play from Jared Jeffries and the potential of Meyers Leonard. It may take an injury up front to get Freeland regular minutes.

6. Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee (.579 projected, .541 updated, -.037)
In terms of sheer underperformance to date, few players top Ilyasova, who has posted a .351 winning percentage even after a better effort Monday at Chicago. He ranks just sixth on this list because we had more confidence in Ilyasova's initial projection. As a result, it's safe to assume Ilyasova will break out of this epic slump that has seen him making just 22.2 percent of his threes, fewer than 40 percent of his twos and, most bizarrely of all, 46.7 percent of his free throw attempts. Scott Skiles moved Ilyasova to the bench last night and it's possible that change will get credit for the work of regression to the mean.

7. John Lucas III, Toronto (.539 projected, .504 updated, -.035)
Lucas has had some success beyond the arc, but has made five two-pointers in 27 attempts, good for 18.5 percent accuracy. More troubling is that Lucas' assist rate has been down in the minutes he's played as a backup in Kyle Lowry's absence. Last year's performance in Chicago was out of line with the rest of Lucas' journeyman career, so his projection was overheated. He is likely to be better than replacement the rest of the way.

8. Greg Stiemsma, Minnesota (.496 projected, .463 updated, -.033)
So far, Stiemsma's move from Boston to Minnesota isn't working for any party. The Celtics have badly missed Stiemsma's defensive presence in the paint behind Kevin Garnett, while Stiemsma has fallen largely out of the Timberwolves' rotation in favor of Kevin Love getting backup minutes at center in smaller lineups. Stiemsma is still blocking shots at a high rate, but has struggled with his accuracy from midrange, a key aspect of his value in Boston. His rebounding is also down.

9. Gustavo Ayon, Orlando (.544 projected, .511 updated, -.033)
Ayon has been playing through a sprained left thumb suffered in the preseason. Maybe he just should have let the injury heal, since he's making 42.9 percent of his twos and 50 percent of his free throws after shooting 53.6 percent and 61.9 percent a year ago. Beyond that, Ayon hasn't looked as energetic defensively as he did in New Orleans. That's troublesome in a deep Magic frontcourt with plenty of alternatives. Rookie Andrew Nicholson looks like he's establishing himself as Jacque Vaughn's top option off the bench.

10. Jon Leuer, Cleveland (.458 projected, .425 updated, -.033)
Claimed off waivers by the Cavaliers, Leuer looked like a nice value pickup after a credible rookie year in Milwaukee. In a familiar story, Leuer hasn't been able to buy a bucket this season, shooting 7-of-21 from the field. He's also rebounded like a small forward, which has hampered his efforts to get on the floor. Leuer's rookie effort was in line with his strong track record at Wisconsin, so he's likely to bounce back when and if he gets regular minutes.

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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Book Excerpt (11/26)
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