Staturday: Projecting Point Guard Development

USA TODAY Sports

A look into Dell Demps's seemingly obvious plan

Here is a list of all the players from each draft that became a Pelican/Hornet under Dell Demps's regime (along with their birth year, so as not to create confusion between actual age and supposed age in years):

2008 - Eric Gordon (1988), Jerryd Bayless (1988), Alexander (1986. I bet you didn't remember that!), Robin Lopez (1988), Ryan Anderson (1988),

2010 - Al Farouq Aminu (1990), Xavier Henry (1991), Greivis Vasquez (1987)

2011 - Klay Thompson (1990)

That's not even mentioning the several other names he's reportedly targeted before

2008 - Javale McGee (1988), Rush (1985), Jordan (1988)

2009 - Jennings (1989)

2010 - Bradley (1990), Bledsoe (1989)

No to mention the ones he's acquired this week:

2009 - Evans (1989), Holiday (1990)

One thing is pretty clear -- Demps loves young veterans. He loves players who are old enough to have developed and mature games but young enough to still show some potential for growth. They've done a good job of making Jason Smith and Robin Lopez into average players (in the case of Lopez, a wee bit above average).

Demps (and probably Monty) don't like the idea of burdening a 19-20 year old with the weight of playing a large role. We saw this a lot with Davis, Rivers, and Miller last year, where all three would play below 30 minutes when Monty had the choice.

Clearly, the franchise's hope rests on 22-24 year old players improving. This might or might not be the case, but most of us agree: players tend to achieve a certain level of productivity. Because teams pigeonhole them into roles, most players usually stay in that role for their careers. Shooters become shooters, Defenders become defenders, scorers become scorers and rebounders become rebounders. Mix and match, add a spice of it here and there and what you get are players who are set in their ways.

So a lot of us are a little concerned that we are banking our hopes on 22~24 year olds improving. The difference between what Dell is doing and what Oklahoma is doing is this: our targets are usually no longer bound by the rookie contract restriction. That's a big difference. Rookie contracts are cheap labors. They are structured in such a way that rookies who produce, even mildly, are considered bargains primarily because their production far outweighs their restricted contract. Even if they don't produce, because of the unique way rookie contracts are structured (a 5 year contract with the last three years being team options), there's an easy way out if they don't produce the way you like.

If player A produces, we'll maximize his 4 year contract (and then decide on his 5th year or extension after). If he doesn't, we cut bait by not exercising our option. Easy Peasy.

The same cannot be said for these 22-24 year olds that Dell seems to love These players are under a "veterans" contract already -- i.e. these are contracts negotiated by their agents, agents whose primary job is to get his client the biggest paycheck possible. That's where the demand, supply, utility and productivity laws come in. There's a reason why you don't see a lot of players settling for fewer guaranteed years, with the team holding the most power (fully unguaranteed or team options) and with a front loaded contract (since their next contract is dictated by the last year of their current contract).

For what it's worth, Dell's been a master at this. The contracts that Dell has handed out have been superb (well, except one):

1. A one-year deal for Landry

2. A 15.4 million, 3 year back loaded contract for Lopez but with the final two years being either partially or fully unguaranteed

3. A 7.5 million, 3 year flat contract for Smith (with the final year being partially guaranteed)

4. Signing Darius Miller, Lance Thomas, Brian Roberts and Gustavo Ayon into 3 year contracts that are fully unguaranteed and/or have team options.

So I'm kind of confident that Dell's contract offer on Evans will have a lot of things built into it (maybe the total number is lower because of performance incentives? Maybe the final year is partially unguaranteed? Maybe Evans has to shoot like a bazillion jump shots in practice with a shooting coach for him to earn half his money?)

But the biggest problem still remains: these players are more likely to be valued similar to their contracts, as opposed to outplaying their contracts. Take the example of Jrue Holiday.

If we take 58.5 million as the salary cap and we divide it by 41, then each win should be valued around 1.43 million. This means that if all teams spent right around the salary cap, they'll be average. If they spend above it, they should be above average. I'll add a couple of dollars into that just to make it round (and maybe account for some error in the performance evaluation): let's say each win is valued around 1.5 million.

Jrue produced 3.3 wins last season. Under his rookie contract, he earned around 2.6 million last season. This means Jrue outproduced his contract by [4.95 - 2.6] = 2.35 million. Not big, but still -- you saved 2.35 million dollars from Jrue. If that had been his new contract, Jrue would have earned twice as much as his win share would have dictated (since his contract is 9.9 million).

To further drive this point, let's take a look at a player who had a pretty "meh" rookie season: 2nd pick, Michael Kidd Gilchrist. MKG produced 2.1 wins according to win shares. That means Charlotte should only pay him around the vicinity of 3.15 million. Considering MKG was paid around 4.6 million, then Charlotte paid a premium of 1.4 million for MKG's services -- a number that MKG can easily outproduce by his SECOND season (if say he doubles his production).

So with that point driven home, one thing is pretty clear: if Jrue plans on living up to his contract next season (and making this whole New Orleans thing work), he must produce upwards of 8 wins. If he plays somewhere around 34 minutes per game and plays 76 games, that equates to a WS/48 of around .150 -- meaning Jrue needs to produce twice of what his career has been so far (Career WS/48: .071). Can he do it?

To answer this, we examine the odds of players aged 22-24 suddenly becoming better than what they were in their early 20s.

(BIG NOTE: This is a far too simplistic approach, I know. Win Share does not capture everything about a players on-court contributions. I understand that, and I've taken that into consideration.)

Jrue for You!

Here's a list of all the players from 1999-00 to 2009-10, aged 21-23 who played guard, had a WS/48 of .100 or less, played 30 MPG and used 18% of his team's possession for that year (they should also qualify for the MPG leaderboard). A very short list, I know but one that is indicative of the path that Jrue may follow.

I decided to sort it according to Offensive Rating (instead of Win Share). My reasoning: Win Share is a metric that uses Dean Oliver's Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating metric. As you may know by now, Offensive and Defensive Ratings are Dean Oliver's attempt to distribute credit, offensively and defensively, at an individual level. Offensive Rating, for all intents and purposes, is a good measure of a player's offensive ability. Not saying it's all encompassing, but one that gives you a general idea of how good a player is. If he's above 106~107 (the league average usually hovers around that), then he's probably good. If he's below, we don't know for sure but he's probably bad. One reason why Offensive Rating gives us a good idea of a player's offensive production: offense is usually an individualistic thing.

Defense, on the other hand, is different. Defense is, more often than not, a team activity and is therefore dependent on the players you play with and the system. Between the rotating, the communicating, the directing of traffic and the helping -- defense is a five man sport (6 or more if you count the head coaches). Dean Oliver took this into account when he decided to tackle this problem. In fact, a player's individual DRTG is closely tied to his team's DRTG. So it's not really a good indicator of whether a player is a good defender. Ray Allen's DRTG prior to BOS and MIA: 110, 108, 106, 110, 106, 109, 108, 110, 112, 116, 112. Ray Allen's DRTG since then: 103, 106, 108, 104, 101, 107. Ray Allen's MIL and SEA teams were always below average on defense. You can't tell me that Ray Allen suddenly found it within himself to be a good defender, right?

More likely -- Ray Allen has always been a good team defender, one who followed the implemented system well. In a bad system such as SEA and MIL, he was "EEWW". In BOS and MIA, he was "ok" or "good".

So, with that long winded explanation out of the way, here's the list of players I'll talk about to drive a point home on Jrue (and why I chose them):

Raymond Felton, TJ Ford, Kirk Hinrich and our very own Greivis Vasquez (please don't get depressed and stop reading).

Let's start.

Raymond Felton

In Charlotte, Raymond Felton played for three different coaches: Bernie Bickerstaff (the winningest coach in Lakers history, I might add), Sam Vincent and Larry Brown. One thing that characterizes all those teams -- they were just BEGGING to make players inefficient. Those teams took a LOT of mid-range shots. Here are those teams' percentage of shots taken from the "dumb" zone (from 2006 to 2010): 47.9%, 46.3%, 43.3%, 40.9%, 37.5%. That's a team planning to be inefficient.

But is the problem really the team or the player? Felton, for his part, took his fair share of horrible mid-range shots over the years. The great thing about using Felton as a figure in analyzing: he went from a team with a horrible shot selection team to one with the best -- from an offensive wasteland to an offensive paradise. Between Chandler, Amare, Gallo and Fields, Felton can no longer make the excuse that the lane is clogged and/or he doesn't have teammates who are offensive threats. Did his shot selection improve?

Here is Raymond Felton's shot selection over the years. Note: An optimal shot selection is for the the first two columns to be the highest.

One thing to take away: Shot selection does change when you change teams. Notice the extreme jump in the amount of 3PT shots that Felton hoisted for Charlotte back in 2009-10 (his best season in CHA) compared to NYK (and DEN) back in 10-11. Since then, Felton's taken a big chunk of his shots from 3PT land (and steadily increased his shots taken at the rim and decreased his shots taken from mid-range). It's still not a pretty shot distribution (majority of his shots still come from mid-range) but this can give us hope that Jrue's tendencies with the 76ers under Doug Collins' antiquated offense is a product more of the system than of the player. Note also that his ORTG since leaving Charlotte is 105 (closer to the average) compared to a much lower 102 in five years in Charlotte. By the time Felton moved from Charlotte to New York, he was already 26 years old. So age isn't really a deterrent, which bodes well for Jrue.

TJ Ford

TJ Ford is a different case. TJ Ford experienced a very traumatic neck injury in his rookie season that would sideline him for the rest of his rookie and sophomore seasons. He made a courageous comeback for Milwaukee in his 2005/06 season only to see himself struggle to fit within a good offensive team. He was still inefficient for Milwaukee (ORTG of 97). Discussing TJ Ford's shot chart would be useless -- the guy never learned how to be a good 3PT shooter. He would always take somewhere between 50 to 60% of his shots from mid-range, 10% or lower from 3PT land and the rest are taken near the rim. This is because he's a small dude (just 6'0" and 165 lbs). Discussing TJ Ford in the context of finding clues for Jrue isn't about his shot selection improving - as we've seen from above, if a player is capable of modifying his shot selection (Felton was a big 6'1" guard who's had some semblance of a 3PT shot), he will given the system. That answers our questions on Jrue's ability to modify his shot selection.

Rather, when discussing TJ Ford in the context of Jrue, we need to understand how age, responsibility and a new team can actually make someone better. Here is TJ Ford's percent makes from each spot:

Notice how TJ Ford became better at making shots from all of the spots? TJ Ford worked really hard to become average at finishing plays inside and making mid-range jumpers. It's not a perfect solution, but it is one that allowed him to operate better. Not only that, his assist percentage went up while his astronomically high turnover rate went down. His AST% and TOV% in 2 years in Milwaukee? 32.6% and 21.1%. In 4 years after that? 35.6 and 16.2%. His ORTG in those first 2 years? 97 points per 100-possession (way below average). In 4 years after that? 105 (slightly below average).

Here's why we should be encouraged:

Jrue Holiday has remained remarkably consistent through his first four years in the league. With the exception of 2011/12, Jrue's made 55+% of his attempts at the rim (that's above average), and made somewhere between 38~41% of his midrange attempts (a good number relative to midrange shooters) and he's an above average 3PT shooter (numbers above are expressed as eFG). Couple those with Jrue's AST% and TOV% (which have yet to show a pattern but does show some good signs) and the study above on Felton, then there is some good signs for optimism.

Kirk Hinrich

We've tackled issues on shot selection (Felton) and ability to maintain/improve scoring ability (Ford). With Kirk Hinrich, we'll tackle the issue on whether teammates (and their shooting ability) do improve your efficiency. We've seen this a little bit with Felton - who's been hovering around league average (save for that donut filled season in POR) since leaving Charlotte and playing for teams with shooting talent like NYK (twice) and DEN. Those issues will be further addressed with Hinrich.

Hinrich was the Jrue before Jrue -- decent in a lot of things, turned the ball over a lot with awful teammates and was an excellent defender. In his rookie year (playing with Hall of Famers like Marcus Fizer, Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford, Kendall Gill and Antonio Davis), Hinrich only produced 101 points per 100 possessions. A big part of his inefficiency was his turnovers - he turned the ball over on 18.5% of his possessions used (not far from the 17.9% Jrue posted last year). Luckily, the next year, Chicago drafted Ben Gordon, traded for Deng and signed Nocioni. All three would be regulars in that year (and the year after that). The net result? Since then Kirk's been a steady player with his turnovers. Here's a list of Hinrich's six teammates with the highest minutes played in descending order (along with their ORTG differential for that year). I'm also putting Hinrich's ORTG and TOV in there (in bold) to help us see the relationship.

2003/04 - Jamal Crawford (-8), Eddy Curry (-9), Antonio Davis (-8), Kendall Gill (-17), Jerome Williams (+2), Eddie Robinson (-10) Hinrich [ORTG: 101, TOV%: 18.5%]

2004/05 - Chandler (+5), Duhon (-5), Gordon (-7), Nocioni (-13), Antonio Davis (-4), Eddy Curry (-4) Hinrich [ORTG: 104, TOV%: 12.6%]

2005/06 - Deng (-1), Gordon (-5), Nocioni (+3), Duhon (+4), Chandler (0), Songaila (-5) Hinrich [ORTG: 108, TOV%: 13.4%]

2006/07 - Deng (+5), Gordon (+5), Wallace (-1), Duhon +1), Brown (-12), Nocioni (-1) Hinrich [ORTG: 113, TOV%: 13.9%]

2007/08 - Gordon (+4), Deng (0), Nocioni (-3), Wallace (-8), Noah (+2), Duhon (+2) Hinrich [ORTG: 104, TOV%: 15.4%]

That would be the final year when Hinrich would have any sort of similarities with Jrue. Since then, Hinrich has operated more without the ball than with it. If we divide this list by two (top 3 and bottom 3) and look at how many were below average and above average in each bracket (with the goal being the guys with more minutes i.e. top 3 are more efficient). For reference here's my "scoring list"

If it's -8 and below, he's AWFUL. If it's -7 to around -3, he's serviceable. If it's between -2 to +2, he's average. If it's +3 and above, good. If it's +8 and above, he's great.

For 2003/04 -- Top 3: All AWFUL. Bottom 3: One average, 2 awful

2004/05 -- Top 3: 3 serviceable players. Bottom 3: 2 serviceable, one awful

2005/06 -- Top 3: one average, one serviceable and one good player. Bottom 3: One good, one average and one serviceable.

2006/07 -- Top 3: Two good players, one average player. Bottom 3: two average players, one awful player.

2007/08 -- Top 3: One good player, one average, one serviceable. Bottom 3: One awful, two average players.

Now, Jrue's case is different from Hinrich in a lot of ways. While Hinrich was tasked to be the primary ballhandler in Chicago, Jrue's first few years were characterized as "secondary". He played with Iggy and Lou Williams -- two very good/average scorers (at that time). But this season, with both of them gone, Jrue was thrust into the spotlight and performed similar to rookie Hinrich. Also -- spacing. When you're a ball-handler, spacing is key to everything. And spacing is born out of shooting, particularly three-point shooting. Here is Chicago's three-point percentage and attempts in the 4 years with Hinrich as the primary ballhandler:

2003/04 - 34.2% 18th, 1256 13th

2004/05 - 35.7% 11th, 1433 11th

2005/06 - 37.9% 5th, 1477 8th

2006/07 - 38.8% 2nd, 1237 23rd

2007/08 - 36.3% 14th, 1305 24th

By comparison, PHI ranked 13th last seasons in three-point shooting while ranking 25th in attempts. The only comparable year with Hinrich is the 2003/04 -- the year where they had no one who could shoot.

In New Orleans, Jrue will play with a team that ranked 11th in three-point shooting last season and 22nd in attempts. Not a big improvement from his days in PHI, but still an improvement.

Greivis Vasquez

Jrue will be filling up the spot that Vasquez held last season, so I think it's important to note how Vasquez fared in Monty's system. First, here's a player comparison (comparing their 2012/13 seasons).

Vasquez was a very inefficient guy prior to this season: -10 in Memphis, -6 last season. And a lot of that is from his 20.9% turnover rate in his first two seasons. He improved marginally in that category (bringing it down to 18.6%, still high) and the fact that he takes a lot mid-range jumpers (he took 42.5% of his shots from mid-range in Memphis, 51.4% of his shots from mid-range in his first year with New Orleans).

In his first full year as a starter, Vasquez took it upon himself to score for the team. He increased his shots near the rim from 22.8% in his first year in NOLA to 27.1% as a full time starter. He declined somewhat as a finisher (from 57.1% to 54%) but volume and added attention should be considered. Vasquez, however did offset this with an improved three-point stroke (34.9% this year).

You know what's funny? Both these guys are VERY similar offensively.

1. Good finishers at the rim.

> Vasquez' % makes near the rim (2010-2013): 66.7%, 57.1%, 54%

> Holiday's % makes near the rim (2009 - 2013): 55.1%, 55.2%, 52.3%, 55.7%

2. Good midrange shooters

> Vasquez' % makes from midrange (2010-2013): 38.4%, 42.4%, 41.8%

> Holiday's % makes from midrange (2009-2013): 40%, 41.6%, 40.3%, 38.1%

3. Vasquez' shot selection in 2012/13 mirrors Holiday's shot selection for his career:

Player (Year) At the Rim Mid Range 3PT
Vasquez (2012-13) 27.1% 48.9% 23.5%
Holiday (career) 29.7% 48.3% 21.8%

4. Both are high assist, high turnover guys

> 44.5% vs 36.5% and 18.6% vs 17.3% (Vasquez vs Jrue)

One key difference between the two though - Holiday is a better (and I mean WAY better) three-point shooter than Vasquez. And he's been consistent in all his years (which bodes well).

> Vasquez's % makes from downtown (2010 - 2013): 30.5%, 31.9%, 34.9%

> Holiday's % makes from downtown (2009 - 2013): 39.7%, 36.8%, 37.8%, 37.3%

Conclusion

People talked about PHI being among the teams with the worst shot selection (they shot 50.7% of their shots from either the rim or from the 3PT line, a below-average number) to one with a "decent" shot selection (56.5%, an average number). If Felton, TJ Ford, Hinrich and Vasquez are any indication, we should be mildly and conservatively happy. Tons of analyses are already available both here and on Bourbon Street Shots. I won't delve much into that. I was merely looking at what history shows us about 21-23 year old, inefficient, ball dominant guards. So far, the signs seem to point to a positive direction. Some of the other names in the list who share qualities with Jrue (Curry, Conley, Bibby, Ellis) were already good offensive players who played for bad defensive teams. So no point in bringing those guys up. The moment those guys played for on better defensive teams, they also got better WS/48.

Now going back to the initial question: Can Jrue outproduce his 9.9 million salary?

If Vasquez can produce 105 points per 100-possession in New Orleans (who's very similar to Holiday AND is a better 3PT shooter to boot), then Holiday producing somewhere in the vicinity of 108~109 isn't out of the question. Which is good. Considering Holiday is a clear upgrade over Vasquez defensively, then reaching a WS/48 of .150 (and in the process, producing north of 8-9 wins) isn't out of the question. In fact, it's pretty much in the conversation.

One thing is clear: We got a definite upgrade and depending on how the roster shapes out (as of this writing, our roster supposedly includes Gordon, Anderson, Davis, Evans, Withey, Smith, Thomas, Roberts, Rivers, Jackson and Miller), this trade might be a winner. And like I said, Dell has been FANTASTIC in free agency (I mean, how could he steal Evans, Withey and a 2nd round pick for Vasquez and Lopez?). If he continues on this path, then the Pelicans might be competing for a playoff spot as soon as 2013/14 -- which is good. Hard to imagine that two years ago, we lost Chris Paul/David West and practically all semblance of playoff contention. Two years later, we have a roster filled with young players (with as many as 5 of them being "young veterans"). Did I mention that Holiday is just 23 years old? I didn't? Sorry, he's 23 years old.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed researching about it.

(Credit goes to NBA.com for the player shot charts, HoopData for the team shot charts and to Basketball Reference for the rest of the information)

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