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The word “tweener” has become a common draft lexicon to describe players who are stuck between positions.  It normally carries a negative connotation, but is not always fleshed out.  And not all tweeners are created equally, in some cases it can be a strength.  It largely depends on how each player’s offensive fit meshes with his defensive fit.  I’ll run through some examples from this draft to demonstrate my interpretation of a few players’ tweener relevance:

Good Tweener: Jabari Parker

Parker’s concern is that he is too small to play PF and too slow to play SF.  This is valid to an extent, but nobody is projecting him to be a positive defensively.  He only needs to not be a sieve so teams can get his offense in the lineup, and I believe he certainly has the tools for that.  I quite like him as a PF, he’s 6’8 235 lbs with a 7’0 wingspan.  He plays like he weighs 300 lbs, as he doesn’t mind getting physical in the post and rebounds well for his size.  Further, his length enables him to average 1.7 blocks per 40 minutes.  Playing at PF mitigates the impact of his lack of quickness, as he will spend less time defending wings on the perimeter.  He is listed as having an 8’8 standing reach at DraftExpress, which is lower than you’d expect for a player with his height + length and is a mild concern.  But I’d like to see how he measures at the combine before harping on this too loudly, as reach measurements are not always done with precision.  For reference Carmelo Anthony is half an inch shorter with the same wingspan and measured with a 8’9.5 reach, and he has performed extremely well as a small PF paired with Tyson Chandler at C.  Parker shows similar potential to be an elite stretch 4, as if you surround him with a strong defensive center and three shooters, you have a synergistic NBA lineup.

While I would err on the side of giving Jabari PF minutes, he also does have the capacity to play SF.  He has the perimeter skills to play on the wing offensively, and his size and length may atone to prevent his quickness issues from holding him back too much.  Further, it is possible that he proves to be more adept at defending the perimeter than the post, so this gives an alternative means of success if his lack of reach causes him to struggle to defend bigger PF’s.

Although he’s not a perfect fit at either position, the fact that Parker can fit in well enough at either position to get his offense into the lineup is a bit of a bonus.  And even if he doesn’t find a niche where he can play solid defense, his offense still may outweigh his defensive shortcomings as is the case for his upside comparison Carmelo Anthony.

Bad Tweener: Aaron Gordon.

Earlier I wrote about Aaron Gordon’s shooting woes.  He almost certainly will not be able to play the wing offensively in the pros, and needs to focus on adding strength and developing a post game.  PF is clearly going to be his niche offensively, but his main appeal is the defensive upside that his tools offer.  And as far as I can tell, he has much better tools to be a perimeter stopper than a post presence.  He is listed at 6’9 with a  6’11.5 wingspan and an 8’10.5 reach, which is adequate to play PF, especially with his athleticism.  But he only weighs 212 pounds, and being below average in all of length, reach, or strength it makes it a bit more daunting of a proposition.  Further, using him at SF does not capitalize on his lateral quickness that offer promise for his potential as a perimeter defender.  His ideal situation would be to pair him with a perimeter shooting PF such as Ryan Anderson, and play him in the post offensively and on the perimeter defensively.  But that makes it a pain to build around him as an integral part of your core, as it disqualifies the majority of starting PF’s as plausible pairings and precludes an offense from ever being perfectly spaced with 4 shooters.  His synergy between his offensive and defensive skill sets are quite messy, and frankly he doesn’t offer enough upside promise to be worth the hassle as a top 20 pick.

Tweener comparison: Kyle Anderson vs Dario Saric

I have mentioned that these players strike me as similar, as they are both tall ball handlers who lack burst.  They also both have questionable outside shots, and offer much more appeal playing as primary ball handlers than complementary pieces on offense.  They are both best served to play PF, since it is easier to pair them with a SF who can shoot than it is to find a floor spacing PF.  It also is ideal to mitigate the defensive issues caused by their lack of quickness.  There is quite a bit of value to these two players fitting into NBA lineups at PF.  Saric is 1.5 inches taller (6’10 vs 6’8.5) and DX lists him as a possible SF/PF whereas Anderson is listed as a possible SF, so one may initially be inclined to give the edge to Saric.  But Anderson has a much longer wingspan at 7’2.25 vs 6’10, and his 9’0 standing reach is likely greater than that of Saric as well.  Further he is listed at 233 vs 223 and is possibly slightly stronger.  It’s not by an enormous margin, but if Anderson does indeed have the edge in all of length, strength, and reach it is a significant advantage over Saric.  Ability to defend bigger positions is always a bonus, but it is especially helpful for players in their offensive mold.

Bad Tweener That Isn’t Too Bad: Nick Johnson

Johnson is the classic SG in a PG’s body.  He has good tools and defensive acumen defending the perimeter for the best defense in the nation, but he is just a bit small to regularly defend SG’s.  DraftExpress lists his height at 6’2.5″ with a 6.5.5″ wingspan, which makes him big enough to only situationally defend SG’s.  But since he doesn’t have the PG skills to run an offense, he will likely be available in the 2nd round.  But that doesn’t make him necessarily difficult to fit into NBA lineups.  If his outside shot develops well he can be a 3 + D PG in a lineup where a taller player runs the offense.  A team with a big PG such as John Wall, Deron Williams, Michael Carter-Williams, Marcus Smart, or Dante Exum could pair him with their bigger point guard and cross match accordingly.  He also fits well alongside ball dominant stars such as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as he could fill the Mario Chalmers role in Miami.  There is a common perception that the smaller player on the court should necessarily run the offense, and this isn’t true.  He’d be a significantly more appealing prospect if he was 2-3 inches taller + longer, but he remains an appealing 2nd round flier for a team that has a bigger ball-handler to pair him with.