On Best Player Available, Upside, and Draft Unknowns

June 3rd, 2015 | by Ben Dowsett
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Often lost in a pre-draft shuffle packed full of proclamations from “experts” up and down the spectrum of legitimacy is a simple fact: None of us are all that good at predicting how draft prospects are going to turn out.

This not-so-bold statement rings true at every level. Regardless how informed or prepared one is, there’s just too much we can’t predict accurately about teenagers with so much mental and physical growth left in their lives. Even the very best scouts and models alike completely whiff a large percentage of the time.

That doesn’t stop us from trying, of course. There’s no doubt elements like historical precedent, measurables, statistics, raw talent assessment and any other number of intangibles serve as useful benchmarks throughout what’s likely the NBA’s least scientific process. But it’s when one of these rough barometers crosses over into a measure of certainty, or becomes a crutch that allows for the ignorance of relevant context, that things begin to fall apart. And in Jazzland over recent weeks, it seems the evaluation of Frank Kaminsky has begun to serve as a cautionary tale in many respects1.

First up is the theme of “best player available.” It’s a macro concept, if not a particularly well-titled one2, but it definitely has its uses, especially for true rebuilding teams. Franchises like the 76ers or Lakers, devoid not only of talent but also of a true team identity moving forward, should absolutely be selecting the player they deem most likely to provide the highest NBA value regardless of his position or projected role.

Separate but related is “upside,” everyone’s favorite buzzword this time of year. These prospects are unfinished projects to a man, and painstaking effort is undertaken to determine not only what a guy can grow into at the NBA level, but how likely it is that he approaches this perceived ceiling. Again, a very useful tool when approached responsibly and with an eye to all variables involved.

Unfortunately, the application of these themes is where the disconnect begins, and Kaminsky is an excellent example.

The “upside” vultures have been picking at him for months now, and they aren’t without some justification. Kaminsky is older, wasn’t dominant until later in his college career, and has a physical profile that suggests his ability to develop from here may be limited compared with his peers. This isn’t too debatable.

What is, however, is the upside of others in his range, and particularly how likely they are to hit that upside. Much of Kaminsky’s panning seems to assume that an alternate selection is certain to approach their own ceiling – this just isn’t the case, or even close to it. Historical precedent suggests that, while several3 will likely succeed, possibly as many as half of Kaminsky’s likely companions in this lottery will never even match his current level of value added. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton put it perfectly on Nate Duncan’s podcast4 last week: It’s hard to predict ability to improve.

Texas prospect Myles Turner is a good example. He has many of the physical tools and several historical trends pointing in his direction5, and at three years younger than Kaminsky will undoubtedly be the better NBA player if he checks a majority of his boxes. But there’s the rub: he hasn’t done that yet, and many in his position over the years have failed miserably. Kaminsky, on the other hand, may not have superstar growth in him – but he’s proven capable of a couple very important skills6 that it seems foolish to assume won’t transfer well at the next level. Which would a team like the Jazz rather have?

Simply put, hard-line BPA doesn’t hold water for a team in Utah’s position. For some reason, the Houston Rockets seem to have become the torchbearer for this line of reasoning. GM Daryl Morey is famously obsessed with the idea of asset accumulation, rejecting all questions of fit or chemistry for years before landing a blockbuster payday in the form of superstar James Harden.

But how many other times has this approach yielded such a result in modern NBA history? Two? Three? The stars truly aligned for that trade to be possible; the assumption that any team that accumulates enough strong assets, even if many overlap each other, can simply move those pieces for equal value down the line is misplaced.

All of this is particularly relevant for the Jazz, who are a few strong moves and a bit of developmental good fortune away from becoming a true contender in the Western Conference. Ignoring fit entirely at this point in favor of a higher-upside prospect or the “best player available,” even if that player fills fewer or none of the team’s needs, is inadvisable at best. Punting on a guy like Kaminsky because he might provide less cumulative value over the next 10 or 15 years is ignoring what he can bring to the table right now that most of his peers simply can’t. Good team-building absolutely does not always entail thinking a half-decade or more down the line with every single draft selection, especially for a team like the Jazz with so many future picks still available.

The theme of a timetable, with the salary cap as a backdrop, is another where Kaminsky could be a preferable option. It absolutely means something that he would be paid under $3 million per year through the 2018-19 season (under $2 million for the first two years) as the 12th pick – a potentially massive bargain should he prove capable with his already-known skills at the NBA level7. Furthermore, he’ll do so while in and around his physical prime from ages 22 to 26, which happens to coincide perfectly with the rough time frame during which the Jazz hope to contend.

Additionally, while it’d obviously be great to nail another star, the career average PER of the 12th pick in the NBA is 12.7, or over two points below league average. Swinging for the fences with a pick that historically produces a bench player is a risky move, especially for a franchise that’s well past the point of needing high risk/high reward youth.

Trading the pick remains a viable option. Patrick Patterson was discussed on this week’s SCH Radio show as a possible option with a couple of similar skills to Kaminsky. But it’s important to remember these sorts of trades carry both risk and cost. The Jazz would have to surrender other valuable assets to make things work, and would sacrifice some or all of their remaining cap space to bring in a veteran. Kaminsky might provide similar value without limiting their ability to participate in the July market.

Some may continue to dislike Kaminsky as a pick for talent reasons alone, and while I would disagree, this is a defensible position. It’s certainly possible that the longer NBA 3-point line gives him issues and he slips from a great shooter to an average or below-average one, or that he’s so weak in other areas that even a third big role is too much to expect of him in the pros.

But this seems highly unlikely to this eye; some scouts have reportedly put him in the same tier as someone like D’Angelo Russell as a pure shooter, and he seems too intelligent and hard-working to allow certain weaknesses to play him off the floor. Furthermore, as noted in my scouting report linked earlier, he’d be drafted into a situation where his positives could be leaned upon while his minuses could be covered or avoided altogether in certain disadvantageous situations.

Conceptually, though, Kaminsky is an excellent example of the way an attachment to concrete rules is inadvisable at the team-building level. Instead, investigating all angles, including talent, upside, fit, and intangibles, is the right approach.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and current in-depth analyst based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Basketball Insiders and BBallBreakdown, and can be heard on SCH Radio on ESPN 700 weekly. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett

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  1. LKA says:

    No guarentee to get it right that is for sure. Ask the Blazers front office. I have heard that the Jazz have a big board at the draft. As players are selected they are taken off. This is why if someone slips (Hood) down to them they can snatch them. I think BPA is fine but need should be taken into account when drafting 12th..I also think teams are starting to follow the Jazz in looking at the person and player. Drafting a guy with red flags might blow up in your face.I like Burke but don’t know if he can even be a second stringer. He might be ok but for that matter I like Jerian Grant. I think Jazz can pick up a backup center in the second round.But if not Grant I think Kaminsky would fit fine with a bench big. He is what he is and could improve but I think he can be avaluable backup big right now.

    • robin says:

      Kaminsky would fit into the Jazz game plan nicely, but so would Devin Booker and a handful of other power forwards in the same tier as Kaminsky. I don;t see Trey Burke as a useful backup guard. I see him as a star in China or Australia, a decent player in Europe but not an NBA player. He really hurt us when he was on the court, both offensively and defensively, but we may be able to package him with Booker in a deal for…

    • Mewko says:

      DL says he has different tiers of his big board. I made up my own.

      1st tier:
      1. Stanley Johnson
      2. Frank Kaminsky
      3. Trey Lyles
      4. Myles Turner
      2nd tier:
      Kevon Looney
      Sam Dekker
      Jerian Grant
      Bobby Portis
      3rd tier:
      Cameron Payne
      RJ Hunter
      Devin Booker

      If they can’t get anyone in the 1st tier, then they should aggressively try to trade the pick for a veteran.

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    Could Kaminsky have a similar game to that of Lamarcus Aldridge? His skill set seems similar and his measurables are similar. He is taller than Aldridge, but has a shorter wingspan. However, his standing reach is 1/2 shorter than Aldridge’s standing reach.

    I think, at worst, Kaminsky will be a decent backup center/power forward, who will not have much problem matching up with most backup centers/power forwards.

    Even if the Jazz believe that Ante Tomic is likely to come over to play backup center for the Jazz, Kaminsky still might be a good pick at #12, as a stretch big for the Jazz.

    I also like Trey Lyles at the #12 pick for the Jazz, or perhaps Kevon Looney, Devin Booker or Kelly Oubre.

    It will be interesting to see what happens, because there could be some surprise draft picks anywhere between the 5-20 range.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      I meant to say the Kaminsky’s standing reach is only 1/2 inch shorter than the standing reach of Lamarcus Aldridge.

    • Scottie Kramer says:

      No way he resembles Aldridge! More like Kelly Olynyk

      • UtahsMrSports says:

        Kaminsky is longer than Olynyk. No one is saying that Frank is as good as LMA or anything, just saying that his body type is similar and so is his skillset.

  3. cw says:

    This is an excellent post because you agree with what I wrote a week or so ago. In terms of fit, floor, and cost, Kaminski (if he can bring his game to the NBA) is a pretty good pick. I have heard some people talking about Trey Lyles here but then when I read the scouting reports it seems like his ceiling is where Kaminski is at right now. I think the example a Damian Lillard might be useful here, a college senior who dominated with NBA translatable skills.

    Now, if there are stretch 4s out there who have a higher ceiling and are only a year or two away for what Kaminski (potentially) can bring right now, then I would be interested.

    One thing that doesn’t make sense is to take another wing that would just rot on the bench. Jazz needs are point guard and stretch 4. You are not going to get a rookie PG that will be better than Exum/Burke at 12 in the draft so if the jazz want to go that way that would be a trade or a FA. I think the Jazz can get some help at stretch 4 in the draft but I also wonder if Trevor Booker just might take control of that position. All he has to do is start taking and making more 3s. He actually reminds me of Milsap and he was able to do it. IF he can do that, then the only negative is his future cost. If Kaminski or whoever can contribute significantly on that, soon to be crazy cheap, rookie salary, that will be a big bonus. The jazz are going to have to extend Rudy and the sign Hayward and Exum (if he pans out) in the next couple of years. Rudy and Hayward are both going to want max to near-max.

    So I think for money reasons I would definitely lean towards getting a stretch 4 in the draft if I thought there was one that could contribute.

    • Spencer says:

      I agree with you CW. When we say stretch 4, I think you have two types of stretch fours. First the type of player like a Kaminski who shoots outside, but won’t defend the wing very well (Think of him trying to guard LeBron, Kawaii or Durant when they play the 4 as they often do.) Then you have a player like Looney, Portis, Dekker, Johnson or even Oubre who have the footspeed to guard on the wing. They all have the height or length to guard most fours who are perimeter oriented much better.

      Favors is our 4/5 hybrid, I think we need a 4/3 hybrid who can excel in these matchups.

      To me the need we are talking about is the same, but the way we fill it could use a little bit of a broader definition when we say stretch 4.

      One last note: It is possible that Myles Turner could defend well enough on the wing to be a rare 3/4/5…

      • cw says:

        Your 4/3 point is a really good one I hadn’t considered. But I wonder if making a big guy a small ball 3 makes more sense than making a 3 a small ball 4. And also, what ever stretch 4 the Jazz play is going to replace favors or Gobert, right? So the Jazz would just (try and fail) to guard Lebron or Durant with a three like they do now and Kaminski (or whoever) would guard Tristan Thompson or Ibaka.

        What about a line up of Hayward, Booker, Hood, Burks, and Kaminski? The thing about Kaminski is his offensive game seems so complete, and a good coach could do so much with it, that it might be worth giving up that ability to guard perimeter 3s.

        What would really be cool is if you could spend a draft pick on a 3 point shot for Favors.

        But all that aside, the more things a player can do the better, and I don’t think Kaminski is ever going to be a good perimeter defender. The question is, is there a better big defender out there with the potential to pass, shoot 3s, and score in the post like Kaminski. Would you rather have Batum or Kaminski? Because that’s kind of what we are talking about.

  4. UtahsMrSports says:

    First of all, great write up! As I have said in several places, I am all in on Frank the Tank.

    The draft is such a funny thing. Just for the heck of it, I went through the drafts and compared who I wanted with who the Jazz got and how it worked out.

    2006- Drafted 14th, took Ronnie Brewer. I wanted Muhammad Saer Sene. Once he was off the board, I wanted Rodney Carney. I am glad I wasn’t drafting that night, as Ronnie turned out to be a decent player and at worst was certainly more impactful than either of the stiffs I wanted.

    2007-Drafted 25th, took Morris Almond. I wanted to draft Almond or Rudy Fernandez. This pick didn’t work out for me or the Jazz.

    2008- Drafted 23rd, took Kosta Koufus. In my best Thanos (marvel nerds will get this!) voice, these late first round picks bore me!!!! I wanted Jason Thompson or Roy Hybert, as it was becoming apparent that we needed length in the front court. We took Koufus. Hes done ok, and he helped bring in Big Al two years later.

    2009- Drafted 20th, took Erick Maynor. Meh, I dont remember who I wanted. I was kind of hoping for Tyler Hansborough, but nobody in our range excited to me, so I was ok. Right before we took Maynor, Jrue Holliday, Ty Lawson, and Jeff Teague went off the board. But that was ok, because we had a franchise point guard who would be here for years to come who was just coming into his best days………right?

    2010- Drafted 9th, took Gordon Hayward. I wanted Luke Babbit. Badly. I had done my research! This guy was going to be awesome! I was one of those who boo’d Kevin O’connor loudly and proudly! The thing I remember about that draft is being so excited I could hardly sleep and focus on work. I mean, the 9th pick for the Jazz!?!?!? Other memory: there was a video on youtube of that poor fan announcing the pick and then the boos started. Right after he announced it, amid the boos, there was one lady who just went crazy excited, and then stopped when everyone else was booing. It was like she was going to cheer wildly no matter what……….”with the 9th pick in the 2010 NBA draft, the Utah Jazz select………….the homeless guy who always plays music for people on Jazz game nights on the north side of the arena!” “YEAH!!!!!!!!!!! WAHOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    2011- Drafted 3rd and 12th, took Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. I wanted Derrick Williams at 3 and anyone but Jimmer at 12. Gotta be honest, for all of my draft blunders, there was a part of me that really wanted Kawhi at 12. Who knows what would have happened here instead of being in SA, but I had seen him twice at the JMHC during his college days and knew there was something about him. I hated the Kanter pick the moment it happened, but it was not for a basketball reason, I am just morally opposed to anyone from the dung heap called Kentucky.

    2012- As they say on CinemaSins……….Skip!

    2013- Drafted 9th (after trade) and took Trey Burke, which is who I wanted. I was so excited for this. I thought Trey might be the best player in that draft. I thought we had just pulled off a steal! Trey burke for an immature bozo like Shabazz and a stiff like Dieng! Oh man! We won big time! Not working out just yet………

    2014- Drafted 5th, took Exum. I wanted Aaron Gordon because I figured that none of the big 4 would slip to us. There was an individual in the Jazz online community who could not shut up about what a disaster Ty Corbin had been for not ensuring that we got a top 4 pick because this was a “4 player draft” (a different topic for a different day, but labeling any draft an “x player draft” before the draft, let alone before the season is as dumb as it gets; ranks right up there with Draft night grades.) to that individual I said then and I say now…….HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!! Boom Shaka Laka!

    Point being: the draft is crazy and no one knows anything. So its best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

  5. Winter Soldier says:

    The Jazz fans obsession with white players is perverted. Anyway I would want the Jazz to take either Johnson, Oubre, Turner, Lyles or Looney in that order.

  6. Pingback: Ben Dowsett’s Jazz Big Board: Part I | Salt City Hoops

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