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The Steal Of The 2020 NBA Draft

November 21, 2020
SIS recently announced an expansion into providing basketball data to NBA teams and media. Wednesday's NBA Draft marked our first foray into looking more closely at the sport.

Evaluating a basketball player before they enter the NBA is very difficult. But we’re trying to make it a little easier.

Over the last six months at SIS, we’ve developed and executed on a framework for capturing winning basketball plays that goes well beyond the box score, applying our methodology to the 2020 NBA Draft prospects as a proof of concept.

To say that NBA prospect projection is hard isn’t groundbreaking analysis, as evidenced by around 50% of 1st-round picks from drafts over the last 10 seasons not contributing to an NBA rotation. One of the consistent themes among players who were overlooked was their ability to impact winning from Day 1.

It sounds obvious, but too often the focus is on a prospect’s physical tools and athleticism rather than their ability to play basketball well. If I’ve learned anything throughout my years doing this, it’s that a prospect has a much higher ceiling if they have a high floor.

Figuring out a prospect’s ceiling can consume an evaluator, focusing too much of their energy on what a player could theoretically become rather than what they are now.


While it will take more backfill data to build the predictive models that will offer more confident quantitative evidence of a player’s ceiling, our dataset currently does an excellent job of measuring a player’s floor.

Our evaluation framework has been constructed to quantify areas that directly translate to success on an NBA court. We’ve been unable to share our data publicly due to our current NBA clients, but now that the Draft has passed, we’re excited to begin informing the public more on what we’ve developed.

Win Like Flynn

Where we’d like to begin is focusing on the winning players who were overlooked due to age or positional size but will come into the league and contribute to their teams immediately. There’s no player in this draft who better captures that than Malachi Flynn of San Diego State.

It’s no surprise that the team who ended up taking Flynn at the end of the 1st Round was the Toronto Raptors, who have had immense success in the Draft outside the Lottery over the last few years: Pascal Siakam (No. 27), Fred VanVleet (undrafted), OG Anunoby (No. 23), and Terence Davis (undrafted). While their player development system deserves a lot of the credit, they’ve also identified players who fit the mold of a winning NBA player.

Based on the 1,000+ possessions of data we collected for the 60 prospects in the SIS Hoops database, Flynn had the fourth-highest Net Winning Impact per Offensive Possession.

Note: Winning Plays are defined as any play, on-/off-ball, where a player either significantly increases his team’s chances of scoring or decreases his opponent’s chances of scoring; Losing Plays are simply the opposite.

Even more telling — and before our data existed impossible to quantify — is that despite his positional size Flynn led the entire database in Defensive Winning Impact. It’s not surprising that San Diego State went from 21-13 in 2018-19 to 30-2 in 2019-20 after Flynn joined the team.

Flynn will be able to help Toronto’s offense right away both on-ball (where he rated 9th in Creating On-Ball Advantages, 8th in Passing/Playmaking) and off-ball (4th in Outside Shooting).

Similarly, on defense he will be able to defend ball-handlers at the point-of-attack (5th in Point-of-Attack Defense) and can be relied upon to be disciplined (3rd in Defensive Discipline & Maturity) and active (6th in Defensive Willingness & Activity) away from the ball.

Here's the most important thing to take away from our evaluation: No other prospect we analyzed rated in the Top 10 in all of those crucial categories. He's a unique player in this draft class.

Over time we will give more background on how these ratings have been derived, but for now one thing is clear: Flynn will be on the floor in big games next season for a team that’s striving for a second championship. And all the teams that passed on him and decided to take big swings on upside will again be wondering: Why didn’t we just take the sure thing?

Offensive Winning Impact Leaders
Among NBA Draft Prospects

Player Draft Team
1. LaMelo Ball Hornets
2. Killian Hayes Pistons
3. Kira Lewis Jr. Pelicans
4. Malachi Flynn Raptors
5. Tyrese Haliburton Kings

COMMENTS (2 Comments, most recent shown first)

I know this is very late; only just noticed this article.

This looks like excellent work -- impressive system, and very well presented.
1:28 PM Dec 6th
I don't care about basketball, but this seems neat. Well done!
10:55 AM Nov 24th
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