Prospect rankings by the numbers
A stats-based rating of how top NBA prospects project at the next level
- Getty ImagesAdvanced metric projections show Nerlens Noel and Cody Zeller rate among the best NBA prospects.
More and more, NBA teams are turning to analytics in the quest to maximize their return on coveted draft slots, or to unearth the gem farther down the board. When I talk to front-office types around the league, the topic of rating prospects almost always comes up. There is no magic in the process, either objectively or subjectively, and there certainly isn't any particular algorithm that's going to nail every prospect.
However, teams that ignore the analytical side of the game are working at a disadvantage. I've always liked the way Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein describes it: The scouting side is one lens and the quantitative side is the other. It's only when you put both lenses together that the picture comes into focus.
I've been rating prospects for about five years using what I call the ATH system, which I've also used for various purposes on NBA-level topics as well. This year, I've made a few enhancements to the system (outlined in the chart at the bottom of this piece). The goal is to determine how a player's non-NBA production will translate to the game's highest level.
(Each player's prospect score (PROS) is denoted in parenthesis. Any score more than 100 denotes a deserving top-10 pick. Late first-rounders and early second-rounders -- always a gray area -- rate in the 65-75 range. Players fall off the draft board at about 50.)
Top of the crop
1. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky (PROS: 124.2)
Noel is far from the slam-dunk top pick that the system suggested Anthony Davis was last year, but he does grade out as this year's top prospect. Noel's transcendent college blocks numbers help propel him to the board's top athletic rating, and he also rates as the best defensive rebounder. His ACL injury is factored in one respect: During his recovery, Noel has lost a lot of weight, coming in at 206 pounds at the Chicago scouting combine, which are the numbers I use when possible. This may have skewed how the system matches Noel's body type with past prospects.
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