Computers vs. Scouts
With 16 days left before the draft, teams are busily working out prospects, haggling with agents and breaking down game tape. Could there be an easier way? Last week we were talking about computer rating systems that purport to identify the best draft prospects, without the messy work of actually watching games, administering brain profile tests and trekking through rundown former Soviet airports. The two systems that have garnered the most attention were designed by Erich Doerr, a David Berri disciple, and ESPN’s John Hollinger. A good summation and explanation of the systems was posted here last year:
The short version: Doerr’s “PAWS” (Pace-Adjusted Win Score) rating looks solely at college game statistics, ranking players using Berri’s winscore metric. He adjusts for strength of schedule (40 points against Kansas means more than 40 points against Helen Keller). Doerr’s posts are not easy reading, but it appears he simply takes the best-ranked players and assumes that those are the best NBA prospects.
Hollinger starts with a similar approach, using his PER (Player Efficiency Rating), calculated with college game statistics. Unlike Doerr, he makes a number of adjustments. In essence, this puts Hollinger closer to mainstream draft gurus. He finds that players who are tall for their position tend to do better in the pros. He also finds that certain statistics – like steals – are specific markers of athleticism. Unlike Doerr, Hollinger also takes age into account. An 18-year-old prospect with the same numbers as a 22-year-old prospect (or even a 19-year-old) gets a significantly higher rating.
Even the creators of these systems would say that they are only a tool, and very much a work-in-progress. A smart drafter might use them to identify promising players to whom he or she hadn’t paid much attention, or to raise red flags about prominent players who might be overrated. Here’s a comparison of what the Hollinger & Doerr computers spit out last year, along with the actual draft order. Since both systems rate only college players, for the sake of side-by-side comparison I left Yi Jianlan and Marco Belinelli off the actual draft list. That’s right, these methods won’t tell you who’s tearing up the Italian League, or whether OJ Mayo’s high school career was more impressive than that of LeBron James.
Oh, and Nick Fazekas? He only played 269 minutes as a rookie, but per 40 minutes he scored 15.9 points and had 13.2 rebounds, along with a TS% of 58.2 and a rebound rate better than David Lee or Zach Randolph.
Hollinger Doerr Actual 2007 Draft
1. Kevin Durant Nick Fazekas Greg Oden
2. Greg Oden Kevin Durant Kevin Durant
3. Mike Conley, Jr. Al Horford Al Horford
4. Thaddeus Young Greg Oden Mike Conley, Jr.
5. Brandan Wright Joakim Noah Jeff Green
6. Al Horford Jared Dudley Corey Brewer
7. Nick Fazekas Jason Smith Brandan Wright
8. Josh McRoberts Morris Almond Joakim Noah
9. Rodney Stuckey Julian Wright Spencer Hawes
10. Jared Dudley Brandan Wright Acie Law, IV
11. Joakim Noah Rodney Stuckey Thaddeus Young
12. Glen Davis Al Thornton Julian Wright
13. Sean Williams Mike Conley, Jr. Al Thornton
14. Jeff Green Glen Davis Rodney Stuckey
15. Kyle Visser Daequan Cook Nick Young
16. Herbert Hill Marcus Williams Sean Williams
17. Javaris Crittenden Jeff Green Javaris Crittendon
18. Wilson Chandler Sean Williams Jason Smith
19. Julian Wright Corey Brewer Daequan Cook
20. Daquean Cook Derrick Byars Jared Dudley