Perception is everything.
Robin Lopez has become known as the Suns draft pick taken over Roy Hibbert, and in turn, has been labeled a mistake.
In reality, Lopez is somewhere between an adequate to solid two-way big man, who has carved out a nice niche for himself in the NBA.
That doesn’t matter to most people though — it’s not what will follow his name around.
This is what concerns me with Kansas guard Ben McLemore and Indiana guard Victor Oladipo — two players on the Suns’ radar with the number five pick.
I like both players, Oladipo more than McLemore, but expectations for each need to be tempered.
When I hear McLemore compared to Ray Allen or Oladipo compared to Dwyane Wade, it makes me cringe.
With where McLemore and Oladipo are in their development as players it’s completely unfair to them. Both were low usage players with a possession rate at about 22. They were allowed to play within themselves, not having to force or get out of their comfort zone.
“I don’t think it has that much of an impact (in regards to each transitioning to the NBA from the role they had in college),” says Suns general manager Ryan McDonough. “It depends for me on how you view them in their role. If you view them as a primary scorer there might be a little adjustment period.
“They were pretty efficient with the shots they took, they shot the three ball well. It just depends how you are going to use them going forward. I think those guys are going to be good players. I don’t know if they’re a primary offensive option, but not many guys are — a lot of teams don’t even have a primary offensive option in the NBA.”
To demonstrate the efficiency McDonough discussed, Oladipo had a true shooting percentage of 67.1, eighth-best in the entire NCAA, and McLemore’s was 40th at 63.2.
I see McLemore playing a Kyle Korver-type role and Oladipo sliding into a Kawhi Leonard-type role in the NBA. These are roles both players could step into immediately and be successful.
According to Synergy Sports technology, 85 percent of Korver’s offense comes from spot ups, off screens and transition. For McLemore those three categories made up 60 percent. McLemore is a more capable creator than Korver, so it isn’t a perfect comparison, but the more you limit McLemore to catch and shoot jumpers, off screens or spot ups and plays in transition, the more efficient he will be.
It’s weird to compare Leonard and Oladipo because of the positional difference, Leonard is considered a three or four, while Oladipo is pigeonholed as a wingman.
If you really look at how the Spurs forward plays offensively, it’s a role that could be filled by certain guards. Thirty-three percent of Leonard’s shots came from behind the arc and 23 percent of those were specifically from the corner. Sixty-six percent of his offense consisted of spot up, transition and cuts. According to hoopdata.com, 65 percent of Leonard’s baskets were assisted on.
During Oladipo’s junior year transition, spot up, offensive rebounds and cuts were his main source of offense. Situations where he was more of a finisher than a creator, just liked Leonard. Oladipo should be able to hit threes from the corner, he was 30-of-68 from the college line last season. They both are at their best working off other players.
Just because this is what they are now doesn’t mean they can’t evolve into more with time.
“A lot of it’s projection,” explained McDonough. “That’s one of the good things here in workouts you get to see them do some things outside of their college system. You get to see those two guys make some passes, handle the ball a little bit more than you got to see in college because a lot of the time they were catch and shoot.
“A big part of my job is projecting based on what I’ve seen, and what they’ve done so far trying to figure out what’s the next step for them. Both those guys are young enough, they’re talented enough, they work hard enough that I think they will be able to add more aspects and elements to their game. It’s just how much are they willing to work and how much better than they can get is what I have to determine.”
A perfect example of a low usage guard in college who ended up having a successful career as a high usage player is former Suns guard Joe Johnson. In Johnson’s sophomore year at Arkansas, his final season at the school, his possession rate was just under 24 percent, only about two percentage points higher than Oladipo and McLemore.
In five of Johnson’s first six years in the NBA, his usage percentage was below 20. It took until year seven for Johnson’s usage percentage to jump up to 24.6, and it stayed between that number and 28.3 for the next seven seasons.
The transition in style is possible, but it isn’t a one-year process, it takes time, patience and work.
Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore both have a place in the NBA, but it’s about keeping the right perspective about what it is now and what it could potentially be.
Thank you to NBA.com, basketball-reference.com, hoopdata.com, statsheet.com and Synergy Sports for the statistics used in this story.