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.