The new Bird vs. Magic?
Heretical photoshops aside, the forthcoming NBA Draft will have two of the more interesting players in years in Doug McDermott of Creighton and Kyle Anderson of UCLA. Both are supremely skilled players while possessing athleticism normally seen in pickup games at your local YMCA. It is easy to dismiss players like this, given that they look like walking dinosaurs even playing beside their NCAA peers, but my question is, “Is this folly?” Does passing over players like these two, and I should really include North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren here, leave an NBA team open for ridicule once they turn pro?
The case for Doug McDermott
Doug McDermott gets the basketball in the hoop. He does it in a wide variety of ways, despite what you may hear from the mouthbreathers who claim he is a one trick pony, chucking endless three point attempts. He uses screens for both spot up attempts and cuts. The post up game is a big part of his repertoire, despite the annoying college zones McDermott faces. Although he is limited by his foot speed, this is a player who can drive with the ball as well. From a 20,000 foot level, McDermott’s offensive arsenal is really impressively comprehensive, and a lot of it will translate with his entry into the NBA.
Throughout his four college seasons, Doug McDermott has scored, going for 30 or more points 26 times over the course of his college career. Each season was more consistent than the last, ending with his senior campaign, his best by far. Out of 35 games this past season, McDermott scored 25 or more points in a staggering 22 of them. This was all done, despite every team Creighton faced keying their defense to contain McDermott. Man? Zone? It didn’t matter. McDermott was dropping an avalanche on them, and doing it while turning the ball over less than twice per game.
The major question with this player is whether or not he can defend a position on the floor in the NBA. I have my doubts. While watching Creighton games this season, McDermott appeared to be an indifferent defender, to put it kindly. He exerted very little effort. He will not be able to play the game on one side of the court once he reaches the NBA. One guy half-assing it kills a team’s defense in the pros. His steals and blocks totals were mournful over the course of his college career. Whether this was due to a stark inability to defend or the aforementioned lack of effort is debatable. One thing that isn’t debatable – he will have to devote far more energy to his defense if he wants to be a successful professional basketball player in this country.
The case for Kyle Anderson
I can think of no player more divisive right now than UCLA’s Kyle Anderson. According to this model over on APBRmetrics, Kyle Anderson has the highest upside of anyone in this coming draft. Other folks watch him and cannot see any way his lack of athleticism will allow him to even play in the NBA. Some see him as a towering PG at the next level while other pencil him in a point forward from the SF position. Draft rankings have him all over the place, with Chad ford not having him in his top 25, DraftExpress ranking him #19 and NBADraft.net listing him in the top 5. Suffice it to say, the opinions on this player are all over the place.
Anderson, as a college player, is quite simply a handful. He handles the point and both forward positions for UCLA. There is nobody in college basketball that understands passing angles with anything approaching his (I just have to say it here) genius of the subject. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an NCAA player who understands angles in general, both in passing and attacking the rim, as well as Kyle Anderson. He doesn’t move to a spot simply to space himself from the ball handler. He moves to spots on the floor where he has options – options he has already taken note of. If he’s a PG, the ball isn’t in his hands for long. This isn’t a PG who pounds the ball for half the clock; he knows what is happening on the floor and is ready to either make his move or pass the ball. When he is distributing the basketball, players get the ball where and when they need it.
One of the statistical truisms I have used over the past decade and a half is that PGs who rebound well in college will translate into the NBA. There isn’t a NCAA PG I can recall that rebounds like Kyle Anderson. As a freshman, he took down 8.6 rebounds per game. This past season, that increased slightly to 8.8 boards per game. Anderson’s frame is, to be kind, sort of wiry. It is also agreed that he is both slow and cannot jump to save his own life. Again, the ability to understand angles comes into play here. That, and a pair of condor arms combine to make him an excellent college rebounder.
The startling thing about the improvement in Anderson’s game from his freshman season to his sophomore season has been his shooting. He took few shots as a freshman and made fewer of them. His shooting as a sophomore has been a revelation. While only taking one and a half three point shots per game, he made an astounding 48% of them. His finishing around the rim and the mid-range game also improved vastly. Those long arms make it difficult to block or alter his release, despite the glaring lack of athleticism.
As for his NBA prospects, I think Anderson is a PG at the professional level, despite the absurdity of the notion, given that just about every PG in the NBA should be able to blow by him on drives. I believe the help defenses should mitigate the damage this can cause, combined with the potential to pair him with a center who can defend the rim. If you get that straight, there is the potential to run out a gigantic starting five that offers so many matchup problems on the offensive side of the ball as to be ludicrous. With the shooting improvement, teams will not be able to sag off Anderson outside and playing with NBA athletes at the power forward and center positions, Anderson’s pick and roll game has the potential to be death incarnate.
Rec league or NBA ready?
There are two old school, nonathletic players with solid fundamentals. So, are we talking dinosaurs here or are these two real players?
In this person’s opinion, both McDermott and Anderson will have long, productive NBA careers. I see McDermott more as a bench player – someone who can enter a game against the opponent’s bench and be a remorseless bomber. Unless his defense miraculously improves, I don’t see a way he can help a good team in the starting lineup. Some of his scoring will certainly translate and that is a useful thing for NBA teams.
Anderson is riskier. He doesn’t look like a bench guy to me. I believe his impact will have to come from being a starter in the NBA and if his lack of athleticism prohibits him from starting, he will likely bust. Still, the potential for running out a truly unique player at the PG position is a massive attraction. If a team hits on Anderson, you are looking at a player that helps a team win in multiple facets, something this draft is woefully short of.
They may not be fast. They do not jump like NBA players. Despite the hyperbole of the title, they are neither Larry Bird nor Magic Johnson. What they are, are two more players from the forthcoming draft that have the ability to help their team win.