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Phoenix Suns Draft 2012: Dion Waiters May Skyrocket Right Past Suns

To the moon, Alice!
To the moon, Alice!

Syracuse sophomore SG Dion Waiters (6'4", 221 lbs) got a promise from some team in the lottery on Day 1 of the NBA PreDraft combine that they would pick him when their turn came up on June 28. That team somehow convinced Waiters to hang up his sneaks for a few weeks, ignore calls from other NBA teams and generally hide out until the draft.

Rumor had it that Toronto, Portland or Phoenix were the promising team. Since then, both Toronto and Portland GMs adamantly denied they were the promissor, leaving a quiet Suns front office as the default answer. Many BSotS fans thought that draft promise was idiotic, especially to a kid who - at the time - was ranked in the 15-20 range on most media draft boards and didn't even start for his Orange team in college.

What a difference a week and a half makes. Despite refusing to attend any individual team workouts or interviews, Waiters is rising quickly up everyone's draft boards. His ability to get his own shot no matter who's defending him along with his passing ability and alpha-dog mentality has NBA front office salivating over his potential. In fact, the lowest you'll see him these days is at the Suns #13 spot. But don't hold your breath that Waiters will be there anymore when the Suns pick.

Even though they didn't make any promises to Waiters, there are a lot of whispers around the media that Toronto (#8) still loves (and needs) him, as does Portland (#6 and #11). Even New Orleans (#10) is being floated as a spot for him. Add in the potential for all three of those teams to trade their pick to team willing to give them a veteran wing player (who would then probably need a new wing player in return), my guess is that Waiters is long gone by the time the Suns #13 pick comes up.

But is that a bad thing? How the heck did Waiters rise so quickly?

One reason Waiters is because teams have stopped watching players (and stopped focusing on the fact that he didn't start at Syracuse) and started doing analytical models for projections. And when those models spit out results, it appears that Waiters is one of the best NBA prospects in the draft. It's no wonder that the Suns, with their new analytics department, identified Waiters early on as a high draft pick.

According to mothership statistician John Hollinger, Waiters is the 4th-best prospect in the entire draft (behind only Davis, Robinson and MKG) in terms of projected NBA PER, which is entirely weighted in productivity stats and void of defensive numbers beyond rebounds and steals. Hollinger's Draft Rater "analyzes college stats to predict NBA performance" in the form of "a giant regression model that gets incrementally smarter as we fill it with more data each year."

According to Hollinger, his Draft Rater does its best work on wing players. He admits that it overrates bigs and underrates point guards (and is a total crapshoot on Euros), but the projections for wing players has been remarkably strong. Waiters projects to a 14.12 PER in the NBA. Of the 8 wing players his model has rated above a projected lifetime PER of 13 in the past decade (he explains in his article why 13 is a good thing, so let's just go with it), the worst of them was Josh Childress -- who, remember, was a 6th-man-of-the-year candidate back in his Atlanta days. Five of the 8 have been all-stars, a sixth is Rudy Gay and the other one is Kawhi Leonard.

So, according to Hollinger, Dion Waiters will be a very productive and efficient pro. Again, the model does not predict defensive value -- it focuses on stats and shooting percentages.

The Suns' only chance to get Dion Waiters at #13 at this point is to hope teams won't spend a lottery pick on a kid who wouldn't work out for them. Fat chance there, but at least the Suns tried (if it's true that they are the promissor).

But if the Suns don't get Waiters, is that really a bad thing? The other shooting guards mentioned for the Suns (Austin Rivers, Jeremy Lamb and Terrence Ross) all projected lower than Waiters but no too shabby either. In fact, Lamb projected lowest of the four.

Yet Hollinger admits that guys like Lamb, Ross and Rivers are not ideal for his modeling tool. Ross and Lamb provide defense, which is ignored in this model. And Rivers was a one-and-done freshman, which doesn't provide enough data for predictable projections.

So Waiters is now a "sure thing", and the other three are still where they are.

For reference, Hollinger predicted Ty Lawson's pro success by rating him #2 overall in 2009. Lawson still went 18th, but turned out to be a steal. Hollinger also predicted a terrible NBA career for Goran Dragic in 2008, and a great career for someone named Sylvan Landesberg a few years ago too. So, his model is not all-powerful, to be sure.

Projecting stats from one situation into a completely different, higher-caliber situation is fraught with danger. But it is a tool, and can help you make decisions when all other things are equal.

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