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Friday, September 23, 2005
Steal of a Pick?
Danny Granger of New Mexico was my favorite player that I never watched last year. That's right - I didn't see him play a single minute, but I'm still fascinated with his game. Lucky for me, several scorekeepers and statisticians did see Granger play and they kept a log of his performance. The picture they paint is certainly an entertaining one.

I'll throw a couple stat lines out so you can see what I mean. First are the standard per game averages.

Min Pts Reb Ast TO Stl Blk
30.0 18.8 8.9 2.4 2.4 2.1 2.0

If you were picking a Mountain West Conference fantasy basketball team last year, I think you could make a good argument for taking Granger ahead of Andrew Bogut. Granger's production was just solid across the board. That's even cooler from an efficiency standpoint because he compiled those numbers in only 30 mpg for a slower-paced team. Ken Pomeroy's stats page estimates that New Mexico's possessions per 40 minutes ranked 211th out of 330 D-I teams last year.

Next are the numbers that I spend a lot of time with, and are the reasons why Granger impresses me so much.

O Rtg %Poss TS% TO% Reb% FTA/FGA Blk/40 Stl%
124 29.4 64.4 16.6 17.8 0.585 2.7 4.3

Explanations for these stats can be found in the Stats Primer. Steal % is one I haven't used much - it estimates the percentage of a team's possessions that a player gets a steal on, while he's in the game. Over 3 % seems good, and being over 4 % is pretty select company, though guys like Eddie Basden and Rajon Rondo were in the 5-6 % range last year.

Granger was the primary offensive weapon for a New Mexico team that won the MWC tournament and went 2-1 against Utah (Granger missed the game they lost) and came close to erasing a huge first half deficit before losing to Villanova in the first round of the NCAA tourny. His possession usage was about as high as you'll see in the NCAA, but he still managed to shoot very well, including 43% from downtown, without coughing the ball up much. His rebounding was also excellent, and included a 24.7% rate at the defensive end, which means he rebounded 1 in 4 of his opponents' missed shots when he was on the court.

What really grabs my attention, though, is that Granger averaged over 2 steals and 2 blocks per game. I don't know how accurate this is, but it seems to me that college players who average over a steal and a block per game generally turn out to be decent defenders when they go pro. I guess it suggests that they possess the jumping, timing, quickness, etc to make it in the NBA. In short, they're great athletes.

Dan Rosenbaum has done some interesting research on individual defense in the NBA, and in the past he stated that the effects of steals and blocks (and players who accumulate them) tend to be underrated. In one paper, "Measuring How NBA Players Help Their Teams Win," he wrote -

Perhaps more importantly, with these adjusted plus/minus ratings I am able to
estimate what game statistics predict better performance on the court; these
results help explain why certain players have such high adjusted plus/minus
ratings. It appears that rebounds are less valuable than typically assumed
and steals, blocks, and avoiding turnovers are more valuable. It also
appears that having three point shooters on the floor helps teams and that
players that can do it all – score, rebound, and assist – are more valuable than
simply the sum of those game statistics.
Steals - check. Blocks - check. Avoid turnovers - check. Do it all - check.

I found it interesting how much New Mexico missed Granger when he was hurt for three games. Against Air Force, BYU, and Utah, the Lobos allowed 114 points per 100 possessions (PPP). When they later played the same three teams with Granger in the lineup, they allowed only 100 PPP. It's clearly a small sample size to draw conclusions from, but Granger appeared to have a big effect on the defense.

Before you say that Granger's numbers need to be downgraded because he played in the MWC, I should point out that the conference was #7 in Ken's rankings last year, and each of the eight teams finished in the top 150. The MWC might not be elite, but it's certainly not a mid-major, either.

To wrap up, I want to compare Granger to a similar player who made the jump to the NBA from the same conference (technically it was the WAC back then), and has made a name for himself on a great team.

Name Height Weight
Granger 6-8 225
Player X 6-7 220

Name Age MPG Pts/40 Reb/40 Stl/40 Blk/40 eFG%
Player X, Jr 20 32.9 22.8 11.3 3.1 2.3 55.3
Granger, Jr 20 32.0 24.4 11.2 1.7 1.8 53.4
Granger, Sr 21 30.0 25.1 11.8 2.8 2.7 58.9

Player X spent his first two years at a junior college before transferring to UNLV for the 1998-99 season. Granger played a couple seasons at Bradley (MVC) before heading to New Mexico.

Think you got it?

* * *

* * *

* * *

I can't fool you - Player X is Shawn Marion, a starter for the Phoenix Suns. He averaged 19 pts, 11 reb, 2 stl and 1.5 blk per game on a team that went 62-20 last year. It's interesting that neither player shot many threes as a junior. Marion went 20-67 and Granger was 24-72. When he got to the NBA, however, Marion developed a nice outside shot, and has hit well over 1 three per game for the last three seasons. Granger is already starting to show a nice jumper, as he hit 45 of 104 (43%) last year.

Marion was already pretty good his rookie season with Phoenix, but he didn't get starter-minutes until his second year in the league. Granger stayed an extra year in college, and improved nicely on his junior season, so perhaps he'll be ready to break out for the Indiana Pacers, who took him 17th in this summer's draft. If his career turns out anything like Marion's, he'll be the steal of the draft. Check back in two years.

Update - Now I have seen Granger play. New Mexico's website has a sweet highlight video from last year. [Granger is #33. Or you could just look for the guy dunking on people's heads, nailing contested threes, and swatting shots off the backboard.] Why don't more schools do this? Tell your local SID to add one to your school's website!
I actually took Granger with my first pick in my MVC fantasy league and won it!

As a Pacers fan I'm really pumped they got this guy. It seems like such an obvious pick and a guy that will really do some damage at the next level. I'm really pretty convinced that I could do an average job as an NBA GM. Well, maybe not average but better than Isiah Thomas for sure.
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