By Max Feldman
In the space and pace, pick and roll heavy NBA we are currently living in, the glue that holds together a high powered offense is the playmaker who can put his teammates in positions to thrive.
An ideal that FOG has been extremely focused in on as of late is a playmakers ability to separate. If a heady passer can not create on his own and be a threat, their trajectory as a playmaker for others must be capped to an extent. Of the current top 20 leaders in assist in the NBA as of August 6th, the lowest point per game output is Lonzo Ball at 12.1 points per game. Only one player in the top 30 of assist leaders does not average at least 10 points per game (Tomas Satoransky). Help defense and rotations are more focused on than ever now making it an absolute requirement that ball handlers have the ability to draw multiple defenders and manipulate coverages in order to make plays for others.
Evaluating assist numbers of draft prospects simply does not give a clear cut image of who will be high level playmakers at the next level…
The analytical factors involved in the breakdown of playmakers was turnover and assist percentage with usage rate as the plot size.
Turnover Rate is the percentage of turnovers per 100 plays for a player while on the court.
Assist % is the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted on while on the court.
Usage Rate is the percentage of team plays used by a player while on the court.
The combination of these advanced analytics should give a lens into who has the natural instincts, IQ and ability to make plays for others while the infusion of usage rate shows who had the largest volume and pressure on them to create for their team.
LaMelo Ball‘s playmaking in just 12 games with Illawarra was impressive. Long strides, strong change of pace and the feel for the game of a seasoned veteran. Ball simply looks like he has been hooping for 5 more years than anyone else on the court night in and night out and while it won’t look the same in the NBA, his development as a floor general will be leaps and bounds beyond others in this class. He’s deceptively quick when collapsing defenses and knows where the rotations are coming from before they happen. He can get sped up in a similar fashion to what we saw with Ja Morant last year, but that can happen with gifted playmakers who are uber confident and carry a heavy load. For an 18 year old playing with professionals in their 30’s, LaMelo carried a massive usage rate and did not disappoint. 6.8 assists versus just 2.5 turnovers per game while putting up 19 shots per game is simply outlandish for such a young pro, but LaMelo has never held back and it has gone a long way with his development. As always, FOG takes pride in feel for the game over athleticism all day, making Melo’s development wildly enticing.
Killian Hayes‘ flashes as a PnR distributor are extremely enticing, but let’s not ignore that there is plenty of work to do. He placed in the 39th percentile only as a PnR ball handler with only 0.7 PPP. Strangely, when attacking picks Hayes was very poor making reads but when going away from them, he actually was in the 89th percentile. Overall, there is a lot of smoothening out to do here. Hayes still remains my favorite pure playmaker in the class because of the flashes and his physical maturity, but getting on the court, making mistakes and learning from a veteran will certainly be part of his immediate future. I continue to urge that Hayes will take time and his upside is not as high as some tout.
Tyrese Haliburton‘s volume is a bit of a concern. I do believe he is too skilled with the basketball and ultimately has too high of an IQ to never be a bust, but he really is not a creator on his own. His efficiency has always been incredibly high, but that also goes hand in hand with a low volume of 20.1% usage rate on a poor Iowa State team. He is the best spot up shooter in the class and while his star caliber potential is virtually non-existent, his areas of production and rapid development are undeniably credible. I can not imagine a scenario where Haliburton does not serve a starting or important reserve role as his IQ and instincts are too impressive to not make an impact.
Cole Anthony was a poor playmaker in one year at UNC and I really could not be worried less. I felt so strongly about this topic that there is full, lengthy article covering just this. Yes, he can get sped up. Yes, he is turnover prone to a certain degree. But, he is 20 years and is an extremely gifted creator. Creating separation is his mainstay and once he is playing with NBA spacing, his playmaking and scoring output potential is uncapped. The son of Greg Anthony, Cole is a relentless worker. Experience, critiques and mistakes are needed early on to bring on growth with his IQ and maturity. Yet with all that, I am so confident in his star caliber outlook because of his elite level creation, toughness, oozing confidence and pull up shot making ability. I will take all the heat on this one, but Cole Anthony should hover around 7 assists at his peak.
Tyrell Terry‘s playmaking is a pretty big concern. Just 3.2 assists and 2.6 turnovers per game. Terry is an elite shooter with a very strong finishing capabilities but for an average at best athlete and defender, he is going to have to become a high level playmaker if he wants a large role. He was extremely exciting to watch at Stanford thus the reason a lot of people have him in their top 20, but he will never rise that high for me because he is not a natural playmaker at just 6 foot 1 and 160 pounds and he is going to be extremely difficult to put in your lineup for defensive reasons. Wherever he lands, the coach will be in a pickle putting a 6-1 non-distributor/weak defender out there for his shooting and creation because what position is he supposed to guard if you need a playmaker next to him? He is dangerous with the ball in his hands and was handed a ton of volume as Stanford’s first ever one and done, but I am not confident he’ll ever be a mass producer on a competing NBA team.
Malachi Flynn is a guy I remain higher on than just about anyone. The 21st overall player on the FOG Big Board in August is a distributor that will surely have a long career handling the rock in the NBA. He’s intelligent, has elite change of pace tendencies and is a knock down shooter. Different than Haliburton, Flynn creates and distributes in the PnR in a near equal fashion making him an all-around threat. A wildly impressive 1.06 PPP while handling the ball in the PnR, placing in the 96th percentile in all of college hoops this season, makes Malachi Flynn perhaps the safest ball handler in the entire draft. 5.1 assists per game with just 1.8 assists on a 27% usage rate and nearly 24 field goals per game shows how leaned upon Flynn was on one of the best teams in the nation, and he still did not make mistakes. Whether it is as a back end starter who can provide stability or as a bench boosting lead guard, Flynn should put up very healthy numbers as a scorer and distributor. His balance and consistency stand out higher than most. There is a lot of higher end Cory Joseph signs here…
Payton Pritchard continues to scream the potential as a very long term NBA player because of his IQ and 3 level scoring. Molded similar to Malachi Flynn, Pritchard is a deadeye shooter who does not provide as much excitement as others in the class, but is somewhat of a sure-fire contributor at the next level in whatever role he is given. Maturity and a very polished offensive skillset make PP a solid, not spectacular distributor. Carrying a +20% usage rate in 3 collegiate seasons at Oregon show that he used to a heavy load and has improved his scoring versatility throughout his career. Perhaps the most polished ball handler in the class, Payton Pritchard is built to be a solid, consistent producer as a reserve lead guard.
Nico Mannion is a known commodity. While his inability to separate consistently and inconsistency as a defender have been well documented, he remains a gifted ball handler with a crafty finishing ability and extended range. He’s narrow and does avoid contact on both ends, making it difficult to count on production in any area early on. 5.3 assists with 2.6 turnovers on a 24% usage rate was strong, showing advanced reads on PnR’s as well as a sneaky change of pace with downhill tendencies in transition. While Mannion’s floater is strong, he goes to it far too much and only amplifies his lack of rim finishing. The purpose of this piece is playmaking, but Mannion needs to improve in other areas in order to effectively make plays for others at the next level.