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Thursday, November 10, 2005
 
Dropping The Ball
While my primary sports obsession is college basketball, I also have an interest in the NBA, particularly in following the careers of college players I admired. Since my thought process has shifted largely toward statistical analysis over the past year, I'm also starting to track the professional successes and failures of those statistical freaks that stand out in college ball. Take Andrew Bogut for example. His rebounding, statistically, far surpassed anyone in the country last year, but many questioned whether he had the toughness to be worth the number one pick in last summer's draft. Through four NBA games, he's grabbed a solid 9 rpg in about 33 mpg, and is shooting 53% on top of that. I'll be keeping an eye on his progress.

Not every great college player can play well in the pros, clearly, but when guys possess both the size and the statistical resume to thrive in the league, I expect them to be at least respectable pro players. With that in mind, it's fun to look back on past NBA drafts and see which players met those criteria but were overlooked and eventually made their mark in the league anyway. One prime example is former Purdue Boilermaker Brad Miller.

Miller manned the post for Purdue from 1994-95 to 1997-98, and was rather productive for Gene Keady. His four years looked like this -

Per Game
Year Min Pts Reb Ast Blk Stl FG% FT%
94-95 17.9 6.5 4.8 1.2 1.1 0.6 58.2 66.0
95-96 21.3 9.6 4.9 1.4 0.8 1.0 51.8 73.8
96-97 31.0 14.3 8.3 2.9 1.5 1.8 53.6 77.7
97-98 29.2 17.2 8.9 2.5 1.6 1.2 63.2 78.0

A senior season of 17 points and 9 rebounds per game might not jump off the page, but that output came in only 29 minutes a game. That means Miller was scoring 23.5 points and grabbing 12.2 rebounds for every 40 minutes of playing time, both of which are very productive. On top of that, he was a career 57% shooter and hit 78% of his free throws for his last two years, both indicators of his outstanding efficiency.

One illuminating stat I didn't include was how often Miller got to the free throw line.

FTA / FGA
Fr - .820
So - .751
Jr - .921
Sr - .844

A go-to-guy who draws fouls that frequently and hits nearly 80% of his foul shots is certainly valuable. Miller was shooting over seven free throws a game as a junior and senior, despite the low playing time. A guy who can who can do that and shoot 60+% from the field knows how to get his name in the scoring column, and should be an asset to any offense.

But Miller was more than just an efficient scorer - he managed to get his teammates involved. He has earned a reputation as one of the best passing big men in the NBA, and judging by his college assist totals, it's a skill that he has long possessed. Assists are far from a perfect stat, but it's hard to ignore a center who averages over three assists per 40 minutes over his entire college career.

So a center who can effectively score, pass, and rebound would be pretty draft-worthy, no? Here's a list of all the centers who were drafted in 1998.

1. Michael Olowokandi, Pacific
3. Raef LaFrentz, Kansas
6. Robert Traylor, Michigan
12. Michael Doleac, Utah
13. Keon Clark, UNLV
17. Radoslav Nesterovic, Italy
22. Brian Skinner, Baylor
27. Vladimir Stepania, Slovenia
29. Nazr Mohammed, Kentucky
33. Jelani McCoy, UCLA

***yawn***

35. Bruno Sundov, Croatia
36. Jerome James, Florida A&M
37. Casey Shaw, Toledo
43. Jahidi White, Georgetown
44. Sean Marks, California
48. Ryan Stack, South Carolina
50. Andrew Betts, Long Beach State

Notice a name that was not on this list? Teams thought so lowly of Miller that he couldn't even make the second round. Granted, he was only about 240 pounds at the time, but it's not like Ryan Stack or Andrew Betts ever lit the world on fire.

Miller wound up starting the 1998-99 season in Italy before Charlotte gave him a chance in January of 1999. He endured a couple rough shooting seasons in Chicago, but even then he was shooting (and making) so many free throws that he was still a good scorer. With the entire package of skills that he brings to the court, Miller has consistently ranked as one of the NBA's top five centers for the last five or six years, according to John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating. Not bad for an undrafted player, but not surprising for a guy with his college stat line, either.
Comments:
I loved this post. I've been a long time fan of Brad Miller myself. He is such a great combination of soft hands, court vision, a shooting touch, and underrated toughness. You've got to love a guy who was so willing to body up on Shaquille O'Neal and refuse to back down even when Shaq took a swing at him.

It saddens me as a Bulls fan to think that we could still have Brad Miller, Elton Brand, and Ron Artest on our roster...
 
I'd say there's at least three teams wondering what the hell happened with their top ten pick. I'd forgotten that Traylor went 6th overall. How did that happen?
 
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