Preview of the Draft Preview

By Jay Cipoletti

Before we take a look at each team's needs and how to best address them in the Draft (come back tomorrow!), we need to establish some guidelines for reasonable expectations.

Using insights from SAP, let's take a closer look at the 2013-14 rookie class and how they performed this season in relation to team success.

A total of 32 rookies played in at least half of their team's games in 2013-2014. Only eight -- Cody Zeller, Dennis Schroder, Mason Plumlee, Nick Calathes, Pero Antic, Reggie Bullock, Shane Larkin and Tony Snell -- played on a playoff team. Of those eight, only one -- Plumlee (11.4%) -- produced a PIE higher than the 9.5% average of all players appearing in at least 41 games. Additionally, Gorgui Dieng (11.4%), Michael Carter-Williams (10.4%) and Victor Oladipo (9.7%) outperformed the 9.5% average. Most importantly, in terms of setting expectations -- none played on a team that appeared in the Conference Finals.

This year's draft class is projected to be more talented at the top and deeper throughout. Even if it is, expecting a 2014-15 rookie to be a key contributor on a playoff team that survives beyond the opening round is not realistic.

You have been warned.

Now, let's get into the preview.

To further understand each team's needs -- immediate and long term -- we need to first understand the differences between Lottery Teams, Playoff Teams and Conference Finalists. Of course, teams that play in the Conference Finals are better than Playoff Teams, and Playoff Teams are better than Lottery Teams (for the most part -- the Suns' 3.3 Net Rating would have likely made them a No. 4 seed in the East, for example). The question is, how much does a team have to improve to move up a level? The disparity between conferences aside, we will be looking at each team in the context of these three levels.

CategoryOffensive RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating
Lottery Team102.2106.4-4.1
Playoff Team105.5102.03.6
Conference Finalists106.7100.26.5

The simple answer to the question is -- not much. The difference between Lottery Team and Conference Finalist, on average, is just over 10 points per 100 possessions ... only one more scoring possession, or one more stop, per 20 possessions. The gap between an early playoff exit and playing into June is even thinner -- what amounts to one more made, or defended, 3-pointer per 100 possessions.

Keeping the simple theme intact, the difference between Lottery Teams and Playoff Teams is nothing more than the difference in making shots. Fourteen teams had a positive Effective Field Goal Percentage differential; the aforementioned Suns were the only one of the 14 to miss the Playoffs. Conversely, 15 teams had a negative eFG% differential, with only the Grizzlies (-0.2%) and Bobcats (-1.0%) making the Playoffs. The simplest of solutions, then, is to score more points per shot than your opponent.

TeameFG% Differential
*San Antonio Spurs5.50%
*Miami Heat4.30%
*Los Angeles Clippers4.20%
*Houston Rockets4.20%
*Golden State Warriors4.00%
*Oklahoma City Thunder3.20%
*Indiana Pacers3.10%
Phoenix Suns2.20%
*Portland Trail Blazers1.60%
*Dallas Mavericks1.10%
*Toronto Raptors0.50%
*Brooklyn Nets0.50%
*Atlanta Hawks0.50%
*Washington Wizards0.20%
*Chicago Bulls0.00%
*Memphis Grizzlies-0.20%
Denver Nuggets-0.30%
Los Angeles Lakers-0.80%
New York Knicks-0.80%
*Charlotte Bobcats-1.00%
Orlando Magic-1.70%
New Orleans Pelicans-2.00%
Boston Celtics-2.80%
Cleveland Cavaliers-2.90%
Sacramento Kings-2.90%
Minnesota Timberwolves-3.20%
Utah Jazz-3.40%
Detroit Pistons-3.90%
Milwaukee Bucks-4.10%
Philadelphia 76ers-4.90%
*Playoff Team

When viewed in the context of our three categories, the picture becomes much clearer. Lottery Teams allow opponents to shoot like a playoff team; Playoff Teams force opponents to shoot like a lottery team. Conference Finalists are slightly better on both ends of the floor.

CategoryOffensive eFG%Defensive eFG%
Lottery Teams49.0%51.2%
Playoff Teams51.2%49.2%
Conference Finalists52.6%48.5%

The differences among the remaining three of the Four Factors are less pronounced…and more counterintuitive. Conference Finalists turn the ball over at a higher rate than both Lottery and Playoff Teams, and get to the foul line less often than the Playoff Teams they eliminate. Lottery Teams have a positive OReb% differential, while Playoff Teams have a negative OReb% differential. Conference Finalists have an even greater deficit.

CategoryFTA RateTOV%OReb%Opp FTA RtOpp TOV%Opp OReb%
Lottery Teams0.28015.2%26.2%0.29414.9%26.0%
Playoff Teams0.28815.0%24.8%0.27615.2%25.1%
Conference Finalists0.28315.5%23.7%0.27315.4%24.6%

From top to bottom throughout the League, it is clear that absent the eFG% metric, very little separates the best teams from the worst teams. In fact, Conference Finalists drag down the averages of Playoff Teams in three of the Four Factors. Which means the difference between winning and losing, between making the playoffs and being in the lottery, boils down to shooting, and that is where Conference Finalists distance themselves from the rest of the League.

It isn't that they just have great shooters -- several teams do. It is that they understand that teams shoot better when they take better shots. Better shots as defined by zones on the floor, better shots as defined by how closely defended the shooter is, and better shots as defined by how it is created.

To understand that, all you need to do is watch this clip of the Spurs.

Conversely, on the defensive end, those same Conference Finalists take away better shots and force opponents to make tougher ones. The Pacers, with Roy Hibbert anchoring the Restricted Area defense and their length harassing perimeter shooters, are built on this premise. You might remember this play.

We started with the understanding that asking a rookie to be a key contributor to a Playoff Team is unrealistic. We now see that if they are going to contribute, it will be by having an impact on their team's Effective Field Goal Percentage differential.

In The Zone

Lottery Teams take more shots than Playoff Teams, who take more shots than Conference Finalists. While Lottery Teams also allow more FGAs than Playoff Teams, and Playoff Teams more FGAs than Conference Finalists, it is Conference Finalists who get outshot the most by volume.

CATEGORYFG AttemptsFG Attempts AllowedShot Margin
Lottery Team6,8846,811+73
Playoff Team6,7096,773-64
Conference Finalist6,6066,755-149

In the NBA, quality trumps quantity. Lottery Teams take more shots than their opponents -- due in part to sending them to the foul line more often -- but also due to settling for more low value shots. In the hierarchy of shot zones, the Restricted Area and Corner 3s stand alone at the top, with Above The Break 3s a notch below and shots In The Paint or from Mid-Range on the bottom rung.

Shot Distribution by Zone

Lottery Team33.5%14.9%26.8%6.0%18.8%
Lottery Team Defense33.2%14.3%26.2%7.0%19.3%
Playoff Team31.4%15.0%26.9%7.2%19.5%
Playoff Team Defense31.7%15.5%27.5%6.3%19.0%
Conference Finalist32.1%14.2%27.5%7.8%18.3%
Conf. Finalist Def31.6%15.1%27.8%6.4%19.1%

The picture starts to come into sharper focus when we concentrate on the shot distribution of only the highest value shots.

Lottery Team33.5%6.0%39.5%
Lottery Team Defense33.2%7.0%40.2%
Playoff Team31.4%7.2%38.6%
Playoff Team Defense31.7%6.3%38.0%
Conference Finalist32.1%7.8%39.9%
Conf. Finalist Def31.6%6.4%38.0%

Remember how thin the margins were between Lottery Teams, Playoff Teams and Conference Finalists? Lottery Teams allow 0.7% more shots in the high value zones than they take; Playoff Teams take 0.6% more than they allow; and Conference Finalists take 1.9% more. The bulk of that difference comes from one zone -- Corner 3s. Lottery Teams actually take more RA shots than they allow, unlike the teams that play into the postseason.

Lottery Team2,30759.4%41637.9%2,723
Lottery Team Defense2,25962.4%48039.5%2,739
Playoff Team2,10862.2%48339.5%2,591
Playoff Team Defense2,14959.4%42738.6%2,576
Conference Finalist2,12063.8%51840.0%2,638
Conf. Finalist Def2,13457.2%43338.2%2,567

The most striking difference between the three levels is in the quantity and quality of shots taken in the C3 zone. In both the RA and C3 zones, mirroring the eFG% difference, Lottery Teams allow opponents to shoot like a Playoff Team, and Conference Finalists are slightly better on both ends. In the RA, Playoff Teams force opponents to shoot like a Lottery Team. It is on the offensive end, in the C3 zone, where Lottery Teams look most like a lottery team. They attempt fewer than even Conference Finalists allow their opponents to shoot, and make them at a lower rate.

As 26 teams look to move up a level and four teams strive to remain at the highest level, they would be well advised to focus their attention on how their pick will impact the quality, and quantity of shots they take and allow in the Restricted Area and from the Corner 3 zones.