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Draft Decisions: New Stats Analysis Compares Syracuse Stars to NBA Pros

The New Orleans Hornets pulled off an upset at last night’s NBA Draft Lottery when they beat the odds and snatched the first overall pick in this year’s draft. Aside from that ammo for NBA conspiracy theorists, the top 14 picks fell in relatively predictable order. But where will Syracuse’s stars, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph and Fab Melo, end up? More importantly, what does last season say about the direction of their pro careers? A look at the players they compare most closely with may reveal the key.

On his blog Hickory-High.com, NBA writer Ian Levy has worked on developing a new system that matches current draft prospects with past ones based on statistical production per 40 minutes in the players’ last college season.

“This system is my answer to those tenuous connections made on the most obvious and least meaningful criteria. The idea was to create an objective method for comparing players, instead of having to rely so heavily on subjective observation. For example: ‘Player A is tall, white, and can shoot, therefore he’s the next Dirk Nowitzki.”

We’ve all heard Jay Bilas describe his top 10 available as “incredibly long” or “very athletic.” But what do those characterizations really mean about the type of career these college stars will have in the bigs?

A common comparison we hear at The Fizz is Dion Waiters to Dwayne Wade. Make no mistake, Waiters’ intensity and swagger justify the notion, but what did D-Wade have in his arsenal coming out of college? To be the next Wade is a tall order for Waiters to fill at the next level where the game is faster and more intense. Levy’s system says Dion stacks up better against players like Kirk Hinrich, Rashad McCants, or Xavier Henry.

Can Dion have a similar career? The lackluster resumes of Hinrich (outside roleplayer on the Hawks) and McCants (journeyman who has ventured around the league and most recently been pursued by foreign teams) seems undeserving. While McCants had a decorated career as a Tar Heel complemented by a championship in ‘05, he’s nothing special in the pros. Something about Waiters’ attitude tells me he won’t settle for anything but special at the next level.

Dion’s a physically stronger athlete than Hinrich, but the former Kansas star has found a long career in the NBA by being a jack-of-all-trades. Having Kirk’s run in the NBA is nothing to be ashamed of. Compared to McCants (a career 2-guard), teams have viewed Waiters as a guy who can take a leadership role on a struggling team and play the point as well.

According to their Similarity Scores, Fab Melo compares most closely to Robin Lopez, Solomon Alabi, Josh Boone and Cole Aldrich – all centers. There are a few PF who also rank near Fab on the list, but it’s hard to imagine Melo ever being agile enough to play anything other than the 5 as a pro. To a lesser degree the list includes Joakim Noah and Hasheem Thabeet. Melo would love to the have the niche of Noah, a terrific defender who is a crucial piece on a contender. But Fab is not as active defensively as Noah at this point in his career. He can be much better than Thabeet however, who has been a remarkable bust based mainly on how incredibly raw and unpolished his skill set was coming out of UConn.

Kris Joseph’s stats compare most favorably to Brandon Rush and Kyle Singler. Those may end up being appropriate resumes for K-Jo to try to match. Joseph will have to work hard at perfecting a specific part of his game to remain in the league. The knock on Joseph has been he does many things well, but nothing great. Unfortunately, to survive at the next level some part of your game has to be elite. All is not lost for Joseph, as longtime Piston Tayshaun Prince is closely rated to Kris. Prince though, became an incredible on-ball defender and his value was obvious to title-driven teams. Joseph needs to find a niche like that.

Out of all the Orange looking at the NBA, execs believe Dion can be a star in this league, but it’s hard to guess at the career of such a promising young baller before the draft has even gone down. If last year’s stats are any indication, he could be walking in the footsteps of Xavier Henry. Then again, he could be blazing his own path entirely.

Posted: Jake Moskowitz

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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