Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Could it be Durant?

With the NBA draft just a day away,'s John Hollinger has unveiled a mathematical formula that he claims is a useful predictor of success for collegians entering the league. I'm usually all over stuff like this because I prefer my evidence to be statistical, not anecdotal, objective, not subjective. I'm very much on the Moneyball side of the argument, believing that there are objective measures that are more trustworthy than our eyes. Still, I haven't quite wrapped my mind around Hollinger's formula. His greatest claim for the efficacy of his method is based on the 2002 draft, and there's no denying that the results were impressive. Carlos Boozer, who has been the most productive pro chosen that year, was selected with the 26th pick, but he was the clear number one in Hollinger's system. And Udonis Haslem, another solid pro who has been a starter since late in his rookie campaign, ranked eighth under the formula despite the fact that he went undrafted.

Still, I'm not sure that there's enough evidence yet to claim that the thing works. Hollinger has run numbers for only the past five drafts, and it's a little early to make judgments about players selected the past two years. But for 2003, the numbers have Mike Sweetney projected ahead of the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kirk Hinrich and Josh Howard. Pity the GM who would have made that move. And Tyrus Thomas, who absolutely mopped the floor with the competition last year (his score was 756.8; number two was 583.1), hardly tore it up in his rookie season (four starts on the year, 5.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game).

That said, the formula is an intriguing idea, and one thing jumps out of this year's projections: Kevin Durant crushes the competition. Durant's score (870.7) dwarfs the previous high in the five-year span (Carmelo's 781.3 in 2003), and totally eclipses second place finisher Greg Oden (667.9), the draft's presumptive top pick. In fact, the difference between Durant and Oden is as great as the difference between Oden and D.J. Strawberry, who ranks number 21.

Apparently, Durant had a sensational individual workout for the Trailblazers, who own the top pick, while Oden's effort was comparatively lackluster. And Portland GM Kevin Pritchard is a believer in SABRmetric-style analysis. He's using an algorithim designed by an MIT alum to assist him in the process.

Will the numbers be enough to overcome to temptation to draft a dominant center? Kevin Pritchard has the toughest job in the NBA today. Seattle GM Sam Presti, who'll be picking second, has the easiest.