Evaluating Jordan Hill

Posted on June 11, 2009 by


Once again it is time for the NBA draft, that wonderful time of the year where we discover that there are suddenly an abundance of future stars just waiting to join your favorite NBA team.

Looking Back at 2008

To see this point, here is what Chad Ford – the draft expert at ESPN.com – had to say last year:

  • #4 – Russell Westbrook: Overall, he has a chance to be a better version of Rajon Rondo.
  • #16 – Marreese Speights: He is kind of a poor man’s Elton Brand.
  • #23 – Kosta Koufus: He could be the second coming of Mehmet Okur — a sweet-shooting big man who can play inside and outside.
  • #27 – Darrell Arthur: He has a chance to be an Antawn Jamison-type player.
  • #28 – Donte Greene: Lots of scouts compare him to Rashard Lewis.
  • #34 – Mario Chalmers: He’s kind of a poor man’s O.J. Mayo
  • #41 – Nathan Jawaii: a huge player from Australia who looks like a bigger version of Elton Brand.

One year later here is what this collection of future “stars” has accomplished:

  • Russell Westbrook: 4.0 Wins Produced, 0.071 WP48
  • Marreese Speights: 1.6 Wins Produced, 0.063 WP48
  • Kosta Koufus: 0.8 Wins Produced, 0.070 WP48
  • Darrell Arthur: 0.2 Wins Produced, 0.008 WP48
  • Donte Greene: -2.4 Wins Produced, -0.161 WP48
  • Mario Chalmers: 6.6 Wins Produced, 0.120 WP48
  • O.J. Mayo: 2.3 Wins Produced, 0.035 WP48
  • Nathan Jawaii: yet to play in the NBA

An average NBA player has a 0.100 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minute]. Of these players, only Chalmers surpassed the mark of an average player.  To put that in perspective, here is how some of the players these future “stars” were compared to performed at the start of their respective careers.

  • Rajon Rondo: 7.0 Wins Produced, 0.184 WP48
  • Elton Brand: 9.7 Wins Produced, 0.155 WP48
  • Mehmut Okur: 3.1 Wins Produced, 0.109 WP48
  • Antawn Jamison: 4.9 Wins Produced, 0.220 WP48

Rashard Lewis was drafted out of  high school and only played 145 minutes his rookie season.  In his second season, though, he produced 4.7 wins with a 0.142 WP48.  

So we see the actual stars each produced from the start of their career.  The players identified by Ford, though, have so far struggled.

To be fair to these players, most rookies struggle.  And most rookies do not develop into NBA stars.  But this is not the story we hear when the NBA draft season is upon us.

Evaluating Jordan Hill

To illustrate this point, consider what Doug Gottlieb had to say about Jordan Hill (insider access required):

What I like: Has played basketball for only the past six years competitively. Hill has played hurt, played tough and loves a physical game. Hill, like Thabeet, is more used to getting his points off the rim and not off the pass, making it an easier transition as a team’s fourth or fifth offensive option.

What I don’t like: Is not great at any one thing, and seems more like Etan Thomas than Brian Grant.

Best case: A Brian Grant-type

Jordan Hill – a power forward out of Arizona – is generally thought to be a lottery pick (Ford’s latest mock has him going 10th to Milwaukee). Although Grant and Thomas are not considered “stars”, each had productive seasons in the NBA. Across 12 seasons, Grant produced 60.3 wins and posted a 0.135 WP48.  Most of these wins were produced for Portland and Miami.  In seven seasons with these two teams, Grant produced 51.3 wins with a 0.167 WP48. 

Again, Gottlieb thinks Grant is the best case scenario for Hill.  And that doesn’t look to bad. But what if Hill is actually Thomas?  Thomas had had trouble staying healthy, but he has produced 17.3 wins with a 0.125 WP48 in his career.  His third season was the only time he managed to appear in more than 75 games, and that season he produced 5.6 wins with a 0.143 WP48.

So it appears the best case and worst case for Hill looks pretty good.  But did Gottlieb get this analysis correct?  One check is to compare what these players did in college.

The average power forward taken in the draft since 1995 posted a 12.5 Win Score per 40 minutes (WS40) his last year in college.  Last year, as a junior, Hill posted a 12.3 mark. So he was slightly below average.  Grant as a junior, though, posted a 16.4 WS40 while Thomas had a 13.7 mark.  In other words, both were above average as juniors (and each was also above average as seniors). 

Now Win Score in college is not a perfect predictor of NBA performance.  But players who are below average in the college tend not to develop into above average performers in the NBA.  So the team that drafts Hill is probably not getting an NBA star (or even Grant or Thomas).

Hill or Blair?

All that being said, it does appear that after Blake Griffin, Hill will be the next power forward taken.  This means some lottery team is going to pass on DeJuan Blair to take Hill.  Let me close this post with a quick comparison of these players.

Table One: Comparing Jordan Hill to DeJuan Blair

As Table One indicates, Blair offered more than Hill with respect to everything except free throw percentage and personal fouls.  Once again, performance in college is by no means a perfect predictor of what we see in the NBA.  And there are suggestions that Blair might have a problem with his knees.  But there is an immense difference between what these players did last year in college.  So even if Blair is a health-risk, there does appear a good chance that if he stays healthy will be a very productive NBA player (which is not the story the numbers suggest for Hill).

Let me close by noting potential subjects for posts leading up to the drafts (each of these is taken from Chad Ford’s big board):

  • Is Blake Griffin the next Carlos Boozer (or as Gottlieb suggests as possible, a more athletic version of Karl Malone)?
  • Is Tyreke Evans the next Jerry Stackhouse?
  • Can we compare DeMar DeRozan to Kobe Bryant?

By the way, if anyone sees any more comparisons like this, please post in the comments.

– DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.