I mentioned yesterday that blinders needs to become a widespread scouting term. Having “blinders” means that a player will miss open teammates in favor of creating their own low quality shot. I have repeatedly accused Jabari Parker of being a selfish player, and I believe it may be his undoing as an NBA player. But Kobe Bryant is also considered a selfish player and is one of the all-time NBA greats. Personally I believe he is vastly overrated and am not his biggest fan, but he has been a top 2 player for 5 championship teams so it is not a hopeless cause to build around him. With that in mind, I’d like to analyze the possible impact of Jabari Parker’s selfishness on his NBA career.
Derrick Williams is the best recent example of blinders. As a sophomore for Arizona he posted a whopping 69% TS on 28.9 usage to earn the #2 overall draft slot, as his offensive upside seemed immense. But in the NBA he has failed to score efficiently, and since he doesn’t bring any other strengths to the table he is not a useful player and almost certainly will never become one.
His failure may have been unpredictable to some, but there was a strong sign forecasting NBA struggles in his college stats: he had a paltry 43 assists vs. 100 turnovers in college. This did not badly hurt his efficiency because he was big, strong, and athletic enough to overpower most college defenders. But in the NBA he was just an undersized PF, which meant that most defenses carried two players bigger than him whereas many college defenses carried zero.
To me his failure was exemplified with a single play. Earlier this season the Kings were playing the Pacers in a tightly contested game in overtime (if anybody knows how to find clips from random NBA games this past season, please let me know so I can share the moment). Derrick Williams stole the ball and in transition he had teammate Isaiah Thomas wide open in the corner and opponents Roy Hibbert and Paul George standing underneath the hoop. His options were to kick it out for a wide open, catch and shoot corner 3 that Thomas likely nails about 50% of the time, or to attack two of the top defensive players in the NBA. Naturally Williams didn’t see Thomas, tried to attack, turned it over, and the Kings lost. Let’s take a moment to consider the expected value of either option.
1) The expected value of a 50% 3 pointer is 1.5 points plus the re-draw for the offensive rebound in the 50% that the shot missed. But the Pacers were in a better position to rebound and Williams had a small chance of throwing the pass away, so I can round down and stick with 1.5 points for the decision to pass.
2) Roy Hibbert is a 7’2″ mountain who is a stellar rim protector and Paul George was there too. I can’t fathom that it ends well for Williams to attack them 1 on 2 often. I imagine that if he tried it 100 times, he’d get lucky and draw a handful of fouls, maybe convert 2 or 3 miracle finishes, but mostly get stuffed or turn it over. If I’m being excessively generous I’d say that possession is worth 0.5 points, but in reality it’s probably more like 0.25.
So that single poor decision cost the Kings somewhere in the range of 1 to 1.25 points, which is quite the EV punt for a single play. If each player on the floor makes one decision this poor per game, that is enough to render an average team to a Lakers/Celtics/Magic level of tanking as each team had an SRS in the range of -5 to -6 this past season. Incidentally, this also likely explains Williams’s big drop off in efficiency from NCAA to NBA, as he rarely had players nearly the size of Roy Hibbert awaiting him at the hoop in college.
Kobe may err on the side of shooting when the pass is healthier for the team from time to time, but he doesn’t attempt kamikaze missions like Williams does. He has always had a good assist rate, which explains why he was able to succeed in spite of being a somewhat selfish player. If he sometimes declines a pass that would yield a 0.9 point possession for a shot that is worth 0.8, that’s not a huge deal since he needs to make 10-12 errors of that magnitude to match the EV punt in my Williams example.
Note that some players can suffer from blinders and succeed anyway. Dwight Howard has always had poor vision and a poor assist to turnover ratio, but he has such stellar physical tools that he enable him to make his mark with defense, rebounding, and as a garbage man offensively. He loses value by demanding post touches in spite of his limited skill level and vision, but because he brings so much baseline value with his strengths he is nevertheless able to be a highly valuable player.
On the other hand, Jabari Parker has at best average physical tools, and it will be a happy outcome for the Bucks if he is average defensively. I do think he’s more talented than Williams with superior vision and feel, but he posted a putrid NCAA assist:turnover ratio and seemed determined to score every big bucket in big games. This was exemplified by him shooting 4/14 with 0 assists and 4 turnovers in Duke’s tournament exit vs. underdog Mercer, as he insisted on forcing the issue inside vs. their zone while his team shot 15/37 from 3 off of consistently wide open attempts.
To provide a happy return on the #2 overall slot, Jabari Parker needs to become a highly positive offensive player. At his current rate, he could become a Glenn Robinson or slightly better who posts empty bulk stats and doesn’t help his team win. But I do not believe it’s possible that he becomes an positively impactful player without changing his nature and becoming a more willing passer. If he refuses to pass in obvious passing situations in the NBA as he did in college, he’s going to make too many costly decisions in same vein as Derrick Williams. This will offset the good things he does on offense enough to preclude him from making a great impact on that end. In other words: he needs to become Kobe’s brand of selfish instead of that of Williams. I do believe this is possible as he showed solid vision in feel in blowouts early in the season and reportedly was unselfish in high school. I would be nervous about the prospect of gambling on somebody necessarily changing their nature to succeed at #2 overall, but that’s a different argument for a different day.
There are more condemning brands of blinders, as Andrew Harrison is the gold standard for incorrigible tunnel vision that precludes him from ever becoming a useful NBA player. Julius Randle is a less severe example, as he is a willing passer but seems incapable of changing his decision to pass vs. shoot once he puts the ball on the floor.
Blinders do come in varying degrees and flavors, and I’m not certain that it always spells certain death. But I do believe poor vision is a flaw that is not fixable, and my hypothesis is that this is an unseen wart that is severely harmful for translating to higher levels. It gets underplayed by popular draft sites, so this is my primer as it is a concept that I will cite regularly going forward. For any player who is projected to make a big time offensive impact, I believe blinders is the worst red flag that can appear on his scouting report.
Derrick Williams is one of the more interesting busts to me lately. From a talent perspective the pieces look there to be good. Not an all-star but 12th or 13th best PF in the league and a nice fit in the spacing friendly NBA? Sure, why not. Notably Williams being undersized has always been mostly a myth in both length and weight
One inefficiency I’ll mention for Williams is this. Most of us know that athletic wing guys with shaky handles are scary offensively. The weaker handles makes them play less athletic offensively by limiting their drives. Unfortunately for Wolves fans Wes Johnson is an awesome example of this. But could we be underrating the same effect for stretch big? Williams plays like a perimeter player, thus even if a 4 his handles could be “neutralizing” his athleticism for the same reasons. I use the term “physically impacting the game” on my blog and Williams is certainly not doing that for his size and athleticism. The handling may hurt here but Williams may just be an enigma or soft. There were questions in college about his motor and it may have played out.
I mean there are likely to be multiple issues with Williams…the handling is probably an issue as you noted and who knows about his personality. But the blinders is definitely an issue too that has priced into his demise.
As for Jabari my main gripe is straight forward. The man’s skill level is overrated. Badly.
Shooting – Not a top 5 3pt shooter on Duke. Lauded for midrange scoring potential but his shot chart is sketchy there, like low 30 %s from long 2 areas. FT mid 70s.
Passing – HS career showed promise but at Duke… Not even close
Ballhandling – This is probably the most decisive one because people see him dribbling in transition. In the half court I don’t see the dribble drive game, not like they’re running pnr ball handler sets with him or even Toronto Bosh “iso drive” plays. Not impressed here either
Posting up – Better than average here. I still think he relied on power and prospects like Embiid Randle Vonleh had better moves
So where is the extraordinary skill level? This is a guy who’s supposed to star out on skill alone. Sure for a PF he will have plus shooting range and post skills but I get the impression people highest on him are rating him as either a super skilled 3 or a WTF matchup skilled 4
Not to sound condescending to others but fittingly, I feel blinders have been worn with Jabari. It should not be hard for the smart basketball community to recognize the POTENTIAL FOR DOOM of this pick. I’ve seen great posters salivate over the idea of Jabari creating his own high volume of shots at midrange at the SF and posting them up 10 feet from the basket and that he’s a 20ppg! scorer. In 2014 why do we still think this style of play is automatically good? Rudy Gay is now the butt of our jokes for playing like that.
Completely agree with this, the potential for doom is big and he’s getting hyped as some ultra safe bet because people think he’s a good kid. I’ll add to your skill gripes is that he doesn’t have super long arms to always get shots off or Melo’s quick release so even if he becomes a great shooter how does he get ++volume?
Nice article, Dean. It might also be an issue of processing or spatial induction speed for Williams. Guys like him seem to have a hard time dealing with the fact that help defense means defense comes in “layers” so to speak. seeing the different layers isnt just about having photons hit your retina, its about processing where people were in space and predicting where they are going to be when you get past the first layer of defense. If you are weak at this you might not even be interested in trying to pass too often because turnovers are so costly and loathed by coaches; better to at least get some plaudits for aggressiveness.
Argh. I meant “inference” not “induction”.
I’m guessing this sort of stuff plays a big role in feel for the game in general. I feel like this is a description of what Julius Randle is poor at, as it takes him forever to predict where the opponents are going on both ends.
On the other extreme, Chris Paul is an example of somebody who sees everything and I feel that he was underdrafted because it’s not the sort of thing that scouts price in heavily.
Just to play devil’s advocate, if you look at the 5 All-Star SF-sized guys who played college ball (PG, Melo, DeRozan, Joe Johnson somehow, Durant) and toss in Kawhi Leonard and Parsons, that sample of guy’s posted an average A/TO as freshman of 0.86 (with Melo and Parsons being the only 2 with ratios >1) and last year they averaged 1.62 in the NBA with none lower than 1.22. Now Jabari’s 0.51 would put him as the second worst in that sample (Durant being the worst at 0.46) and while I’m not saying Jabari will necessarily develop enough to improve as those guys have (certainly not anywhere near Durant levels), but I think you’re really jumping to extremes to assume guys at 18 are ultimately final products. I mean, these guys get coached A LOT in the NBA despite stereotypes to the contrary.
I’m not assuming anybody is a final product. I said I think Jabari has the capacity to overcome his poor passing.
I think Randle is a bit more doomed but I’m leaving some room for him to surprise me.
My point in general is that this is something that can be difficult to overcome that is easy to identify in college with the aid of assist:turnover (which is a solid indicator but not a perfect predictor of vision).
I feel that for Jabari coaching is fairly important, but unfortunately his coach is Jason Kidd. I don’t think any coaching could have saved Derrick Williams though, if you can’t see your teammates that’s not something that a coach can fix.
I know PER isn’t everything, but JP posted a nearly 30 PER in his freshman year. Do people overstate the safeness of him as a pick? Sure, but he is a safe pick compared to the other five or six top guys, whether due to injury or a demonstrable lack of skill in various arenas (Embiid–injuries, Wiggins–handle/finishing/WIM, Gordon–offense, Exum–mystery box). Smart is the only player I rate as having a more complete game than Jabari, and I had him going #1. I feel like you’re grasping a little with this blinders thing–Parker is a capable passer with very good court vision; that he chose to pass less than he should have is maybe a red flag, or maybe it’s a sign of WIMiness, or maybe he was treating his year at Duke as a draft audition, who knows?
With evaluating a star player’s freshman season, I would focus more on skills they demonstrably do or do not have, and less on how much they use them. I find Parker’s lack of defensive ability and quickness to be a far more damning and persuasive wart than whether or not he passed enough to Rasheed Sulaimon.
I do like the blinders thing, though. But I think Randle is a much better example of this flaw. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of Randle, and Randlesque players like DWill, seeming to decide in advance what their move will be and then forcing it come hell or high water. “Blinders” seems like a very good descriptor of this, rather than applied to something like Jabari/Kobe/Melo, for whom there is already a good descriptor, i.e. “ballhog.”
Jabari is definitely a different beast than the traditional case…for him it’s just excessive alphaness i think. But it nevertheless resulted in him making bad decisions against defenses that had the size to stop him, which explains his plummet in 2p% against tougher matchups.
I suppose I’m grouping him because it still resulted in the same outcome even if it’s fixable. Whether you don’t pass bc you can’t see your teammates or you just don’t care that they are there, it can cause a bunch of highly -EV decisions.
Right, but it seems to me that misusing or underusing an ability is much more fixable than not having one. I’ll take Jabari’s warty offense over Wiggin’s non-existent one all day. In other words, I think there’s more of a chance that Jabari’s offensive game will evolve in a positive, win-producing manner in the pros than that Wiggins will learn to do things like dribble and finish. Defense being a different story, of course.
Basically, I like the guys who looked like they’re good, if flawed basketball players, during the year (Jabari, Smart) versus guys like Wiggins and Gordon that will be great if they learn to do x, y, and z.
I agree with this comment like 95%. Jabari can improve, and I think being already good at basketball is clearly underrated.
I also think Jabari can evolve in a positive player because he doesn’t have any inherently debilitating flaws. And he also has a strong baseline skill level, a decent enough physical profile, and plenty of WIM.
But I don’t think he is currently in the mold of a good basketball player. I was going to make the biggest bet of my like on Tennessee taking down Duke in the tournament because I was so positively certain that Stokes would own Jabari. Of course instead he owned himself vs. Mercer. Then I didn’t want him to come back for his sophomore season because I was worried that his selfishness would undermine Duke’s riches of talent once again. These were the intuitive clues that drove me to inch him down my big board.
So I differentiate between somebody like him (weakness: must stop being a giant cancer) vs Smart (weakness: must improve offensive skill level). Jabari is as overrated by PER as a player can be.
Honestly I liked Jabari a ton early in the year and I would get my popcorn out to watch his aggressive ways. But he was such a consistent disappointment vs. tough defenses for the same reasons every time, it became exhausting to root for him by the end of the year and I am relieved that he’s gone.
So it all boils down to whether he can re-wire his intentions. I honestly have no idea how likely this is. I totally get your perspective and think it is valid. At this point I’m just excited to see how it plays out and even though I rated him low I wouldn’t mind seeing him prove me wrong.
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I would like to agree with your article, but how exactly would you quantify “blinders” in player evaluation in a way that isn’t already included in the normal evaluation, like basic assist numbers (ast:TO ratio, ast%, etc.)? Also, I’m not sure if it’s the “blinders” that is the main problem.
Derrick Williams may seem to wear “blinders” these days, but his overall problem (in my humble opinion) is that much of his success at the college level was due to simply bullying the competition and given his lack of versatility (no passing, ballhandling or defensive skills to speak of) I think his success at the next level largely depended on his ability to hit the 3 at a high clip (which would have made him a very difficult matchup). That said he probably was an ok pick though, given the information at the time.
Jabari Parker basically needs to be an effective scorer to have success at the next level because much like Derrick Williams, he may not have much else to fall back on and he may really struggle defensively as well. On the other hand, I think much like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant his skillset as a scorer is rare at that age which along with his competitive nature and work ethic gives him the benefit of the doubt. Btw Durant had a worse assist:TO ratio than Parker and he turned out ok.