Shot creation is a vital part of basketball, as any NBA offense needs at least one guy who can be relied on to create offense for the team off the dribble.
But at the same time, it is prone to being overrated by casual fans who can discern scoring more easily than nuanced abilities such as passing, defense, and efficiency.
Let’s explore the topic through the lens of two polar opposite prospects– Jalen Green whose value largely centers around shot creation, and Franz Wagner who offers everything but volume scoring.
Green’s appeal can be summarized with this one highlight where he crosses his defender and then dunks on 3 help defenders shortly after turning 19. He is exceptionally athletic and shows scoring potential rarely seen that young. He also showed promise as a jump shooter, making 35.8% 3P and 78.6% FT in his small shooting sample for G League Ignite.
But otherwise he is full of warts. He did not officially measure, but is likely around 6’5″ with a 6’8″ wingspan and a thin frame. He is a small SG who can only guard 1.5 positions, and not particularly well as his effort and fundamentals are both lackluster. And since he is being drafted to score and most of his energy will be devoted to doing so, he is not a strong bet to make major improvements on defense. He isn’t drawing dead to be a neutral or better defensive player in the NBA, but he is a clear underdog.
Further, he is not much of a passer averaging barely more assists (2.8) than turnovers (2.7), as he is clearly a score first guard. Passing is a significant part of creation, and being a non-elite passer puts a cap on his offensive upside. It also likely necessitates that he plays next to another distributor, which tends to skew small and further hurts the defense.
In terms of comps, Zach LaVine or Devin Booker are the guys that Green matches the most closely. Perhaps there is wiggle room for him to be slightly better than those guys, but it is difficult to find a clear example historically.
Vince Carter would be the highly optimistic comp, but he was approximately 1″ taller, 3″ longer, and much stronger and more capable of matching up with a wider range of opponents. That’s a significant enough difference in size such that it’s not a reasonable comparison to make.
Historically there is a cap on the upside of little guys who aren’t great passers, and it’s right around the Booker or LaVine level.
Franz lacks the explosive athleticism of Green as well as the volume scoring, as he posted a pedestrian 19.2 usage rate as a sophomore for Michigan.
But otherwise he is absolutely dripping with goodness. This lottery is loaded with good passers, but Franz has the best assist:TOV of the entire crop:
He is better than Giddey who is a historically good passing prospect. He is above Davion who is 3 years younger, 8 inches shorter, and inexplicably projected to get picked higher than him. He is about 50% higher than Barnes and Suggs who are the same age and very good passing prospects. And he nearly 3x’s the rate of Mr. Cunningham, the consensus #1 overall point forward.
He has a lower volume of creation for both himself and teammates than most of these guys, but his turnover rate is microscopic. And this embodies Franz in a nutshell– the guy almost *never* makes mistakes. And even though his volume is low, he is not racking up easy assists– he often finds the big for a layup with an impressive wraparound pass off the dribble.
His lack of mistakes is also apparent in his defensive play. He moves his feet about as well as any 19 year old prospect ever, which is especially valuable given his excellent dimensions at 6’9″ with 7’0″ wingspan. He is also a highly intelligent defender and rarely makes mistakes on this end, and it shows in his ridiculous on/off splits:
This doesn’t necessarily mean he will be a generational NBA defensive player, as his lack of strength and athleticism led to pedestrian rebounding. But he is going to be good on this end and possibly excellent.
He only made 32.5% from 3 in NCAA, but he shot a decent rate of 3PA and made 83.5% FT. He should develop NBA 3 point range in due time.
And he isn’t a slouch at creating. He has a competent handle, and uses smooth footwork to step through seams in the defense and finish. Now let’s get on to comps:
Porter and Franz are physically similar hyper-efficient wings with a similar statistical profiles in college:
At a glance, Otto seems slightly better across the board. But if we dig deeper, he has a few fake advantages over Franz. He has a significantly better steal rate, except everybody on Georgetown racked up steals whereas Juwan Howard massively suppresses steal rates of everybody who comes to Michigan:
|Player||Stl% for Other Coach||Stl% for Juwan||Difference|
Collectively Franz got 29.1% of his team’s steals vs 23.8% for Otto in spite of playing a slightly lower % of his team’s total minutes (15.8% vs 16.9%). He likely would have had a 3%+ steal rate playing for an ordinary college defense.
Otto has a slightly higher assist rate, but Georgetown ran the Princeton offense where *everybody* gets a boost to assists. He had a lower assist rate than starting center Nate Lubick (20.1%) while fellow frontcourt mates Nate Lubick (14.7%), Mikael Hopkins (13.7%), and Greg Whittington (13.2%) weren’t too far behind.
Meanwhile Franz had a higher assist rate than everybody but PG Mike Smith, and among frontcourt players only Isaiah Livers (11.6%) was in double digits. In tandem with his higher assist:TOV ratio, it seems reasonable to say that Franz was the better passer at the same age.
While Otto did have the slightly higher usage, Franz created his own shot at the rim in the halfcourt more frequently (0.99 per 40 vs 0.40). And while Franz ORtg doesn’t fully justify the the usage gap, Michigan did face better defenses by 3.6 pts per 100 and Otto shot 42.2% from 3 vs 34.3% from Franz. But if you look at their sum shooting stats from both years in school, Franz has the slightly better signal:
Eventually Otto developed into a 40%+ 3 point shooter and Franz is a clear underdog to catch him here, but he clearly has upside based on his FT% and 3PA rate.
Physically, Franz is ~0.5″ taller and Otto is ~1.5″ longer, and neither are explosive athletes. Franz was listed 15 pounds heavier (220 vs 205), and didn’t measure at the combine while Otto measured underweight at 197. In spite of that, Otto showed more willingness to mix it up on the offensive glass and drew more free throws, which is his one clear advantage over Franz based on the numbers.
Otto was an incredibly rare prospect, but after digging in Franz is similarly rare with a similar distribution of strengths and weaknesses. Both guys showed a unique ability to dominate with dimensions and outlier avoidance of mistakes. Porter is THE comp for Franz.
The next best comp is likely Mikal Bridges:
Make no mistake about it– Franz is just better than Mikal at the same age as he is 3″ taller with better defense and more creation ability and no substantial advantages for Mikal.
Mikal eventually developed into a good shooter which is not guaranteed for Franz, but it is difficult to see how his shooting is bad enough to such that he is not at least as good as Mikal based on his passing, defense, creation, and size advantages.
Bridges is a good floor comp, although ultimately Franz is clearly better and closer to Otto Porter.
Otto Porter vs Devin Booker
If we assume that Franz is the next Otto and Green is the next Booker, then who should be valued higher?
The casual fan likely will say Booker because you need a star who can create to be an elite team. But there are a few reasons to believe otherwise
Once you have one undersized, one dimensional isolation scorer, there is no value in having another. Whereas you cannot have enough Otto Porters. You can comfortably play a lineup with 3 Otto Porters or maybe even 4 in certain occasions, as long as there is one star playmaker to facilitate the offense.
Further, if you have an actual superstar like LeBron or Luka or Giannis, you are better off pairing them with an Otto Porter than a Booker or LaVine. LeBron has shown that he provides maximum value surrounded by efficient role players. Then when he teamed up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami, adjusted plus minus essentially said that they were going to break NBA basketball. But because of their poor synergy, they were not even better than LeBron’s final 2 years in Cleveland in their first season together.
The 73 win Golden State Warriors were great because they had one elite creator in Stephen Curry and 3 excellent role players in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala who provided significant value without needing the ball. Harrison Barnes was a decent enough 5th wheel to round out the death lineup since he is big enough to match up physically with most opponents and capable of making open shots.
Let’s say we replace Barnes with a LaVine or Booker. That screws the defense, because it gives opponents 2 little guys to hunt and makes the overall lack of size weigh heavier. Second, it is questionable how much it helps the offense, because do you really want an isolation scorer taking away 3PA from Steph and Klay? Devin Booker’s career high eFG% is 54.4%, and the Warriors as a team shot 56.3% when they won 73.
But if you replace Barnes with Porter, you get a guy who fits the system and makes the team even more overpowered by doing everything Barnes did with much greater efficiency.
If you really want to break the NBA, you need to load up on elite well rounded role players. Isolation scorers provide diminishing returns and cap team level upside with too many of them
Creation is important but it is not scarce
There are diminishing returns to having too many shot creators, but it is still necessary to have at least one guy to be competitive. There is some value to having a Russell Westbrook keep your team out of the basement even if it results in a round 1 playoff loss.
But how many teams are sorely missing a shot creator and need a Booker type more than a Porter type? Looking at this year’s playoffs, the obvious answer is Philadelphia as they were sorely missing a perimeter creator which played a large role in their upset loss to the Hawks. After that, the Knicks could have used somebody other than Julius Randle to get buckets, although a Devin Booker still likely would not be enough to get them out of round 1.
But other than that? Forgetting injuries, the Nets obviously need a Porter type role player more than another star scorer. Ditto for the Bucks with Giannis, Middleton, and Jrue. Hawks already have Trae. You could argue that the Heat need more than Bam and Jimmy, but they were good enough to make the finals last year. Celtics have Tatum and Brown to create and a lineup with 3 big wings can create some interesting defensive possibilities. Wiz clearly need a role playing wing with two small creators in Russ and Beal.
Utah has Conley + Mitchell but could use an upgrade on Bojan or O’Neale. Suns already have 1 Devin Booker, no room for another. Nuggets already have Murray and Jokic. Clippers have PG and Kawhi to create and could use a Morris/Mann upgrade. Mavs have Luka. Blazers have Dame and CJ. Lakers have LeBron and AD. Grizzlies have Ja Morant.
Essentially 14 of 16 playoff teams already have sufficient creation and could use an elite role playing wing more than an undersized volume scoring SG. And even going slightly lower. The Warriors already have Steph and Klay, Spurs have Dejounte and DeRozan, Kings have Fox, Buddy, and Haliburton, Pelicans have Zion and Ingram, Hornets have LaMelo, Bulls have LaVine.
The Pacers could use a shot of creation to help Sabonis and Brogdon. But there are just such few teams like this that qualify outside of the really terrible bottom feeders like Orlando, Detroit, and Houston.
Why is creation valued so highly?
The fact of the matter is that creation is not that hard to find, and there are diminishing returns on it, yet teams often pay a massive premium to acquire it. Why?
The answer is likely because the best players are all elite shot creators, and it is an important part of team building to find a star who can do it efficiently. But the premium should be placed on finding a well rounded shot creator who provides value in the form of passing and/or defense, as that is what makes a superstar.
As good as Devin Booker has become, he is clearly not the best player on his team. The Suns didn’t have their breakout until adding MVP candidate Chris Paul. They also built around him perfectly with efficient guys who do not demand touches in DeAndre Ayton, Jae Crowder, and Mikal Bridges. Yet they are still a 2nd tier contender who needed massive injury luck to reach the finals.
Booker is a clearly good player and the Suns would not be as good without him. But he not some special prize that makes team building easier the way it would to land a hyper-efficient and versatile role playing wing like Otto Porter.
Back to Green vs. Franz
Bearing in mind that Franz is the more scarce commodity who fits into a wider range of lineups stylistically, let’s discuss who is more likely to provide raw value between him and Green.
It is not difficult to estimate Jalen Green’s offensive upside. Players of his size without elite passing typically cap out around +4 to +5 points per 100 offensively. Looking at 538’s RAPTOR, Bradley Beal is the gold standard with +4.3, +5.2, +5.4 in the past 3 seasons. LaVine is +1.3, +1.2, +3.9, Booker is +3.6, +4.8, +3.1, CJ McCollum is +3.3, +2.5, +3.7, Jamal Murray is +2.3, +3.0, +3.2. And all of these seasons range from like 0 to -3 defensively.
Even though his athletic scoring ability looks highly impressive, it is much more difficult to replicate consistently than somebody like Kevin Durant who can shoot over the defense with ease whenever he wants. There is a limit to the usage and efficiency a guy like him can realistically post. And he just is not going to be a Harden level passer to put him in the top tier of offensive upside.
Defensively, perhaps there is a chance he is average. He did lead his G League team in steal rate. But he is undersized with bad IQ and effort right now, and he is being drafted top 3 to get buckets. Most of his energy has historically gone toward developing his offense, why would that change now?
Green’s realistic upside is approximately +4/-1, and his optimistic upside is +5/0. But that’s REALLY optimistic since the more energy that goes into offense, the less likely he is to have acceptable defense.
Otto Porter peaked around +2 to +3 offensively during his best seasons according to RAPTOR– specifically +2.1/+1.2 and +2.9 /+1.5 which seems reasonable for him. It may be tough for Franz to match this given that Otto shot 43.4% and 44.1% from 3P in those seasons, but it was on low-ish rate of attempts and Franz may be the better creator and passer. And while I never scouted Porter’s defense in college, Franz is essentially pristine on that end and is only limited by his lack of strength and explosiveness.
So it’s really tough to say with Franz. He needs very little to go right to be +1 on either end, and +2 is clearly attainable as well. Being +3 on either end is a difficult ask for him, but he is so uniquely well rounded and good at avoiding mistakes you cannot rule it out.
Intuitively, these guys project to have similar raw values given an ideal lineup in their best cases…and it seems that Franz becoming +3/+2 is slightly more realistic than Green becoming +5/0, since he only needs to be half a point better on D than peak Otto, and when Beal and Booker get to +5 offense it tends to come attached with -2 to -3 defense.
Creation is a significant part of upside, but it is not everything. When it comes in an undersized and one dimensional player it does not necessarily create more upside than a perfectly well rounded role player.
And as another sneaky bonus– if they hit their boring outcomes, and Franz ends up as 0/+1 and Green +3/-2, Franz can be extended for a reasonable price whereas Green still likely commands a max deal for a player who isn’t that good and creates a TON of lineup friction.
The narrative that shot creation yields big upside needs to be overhauled into being well rounded and versatile is important for high upside.
While creation is very important, there is only a finite amount that can fit onto any team. At any given moment, 90% of the players on the floor are not touching the ball, and to truly build an overpowered lineup like the Warriors’ death lineup, you need to load up on players who provide value outside of scoring.
Franz Wagner is uniquely good at defense, passing, avoiding turnovers, and is still a passable handler and creator. Jalen Green is the inverse player. This creates all sorts of subtle advantages for Franz.
He sneakily may have more upside than Green, he is easier to fit into a wider range of lineups, he is the more scarce commodity, and you simply have more potential to build an elite team with Franz.
Their overall values are still fairly close, and it is fairly likely that Franz will be the more useful player while casual fans believe that Green is better. Green will always have sexier highlights, and may end up with more all-star selections and jersey sales.
But if you want to build an NBA team that wins, Franz would be my choice and it would not be a particularly difficult one. Green being valued so much higher by consensus as a top 3 pick vs Franz currently at #11 is not just an inefficiency in the draft– it is an inefficiency in the common perception of basketball.