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ESPN Hates LA Basketball

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No, not really ESPN. Just one guy, John Hollinger. And not all LA basketball, just the local college guys awaiting their fate in Thursday’s NBA draft. (In fact, given the deluge of Kobe stories that the Leader has been trumpeting, you would probably argue that ESPN’s love for the Lakers is only surpassed by its obscene coverage of Yankees-Red Sox).

Hollinger, ESPN’s resident stats guru, published an article today (currently Insider free preview) with a rankings methodology for college players entering the draft. His formula uses such their statistics from last season, adjusted for factors like strength of competition, age, and height. Interestingly enough, the most important stats by his calculation are steals, blocks, rebounds, 3-pointers, and a variant of the assist-to-turnover ratio, which attempt to provide some objective measure of athleticism, activity, and ability.

His results? Seemingly pretty accurate as it pertains to the last five years. But not so pretty if you support our local college heroes. He has USC’s Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt, as well as UCLA’s Arron Afflalo, all out of his top 30, the number of picks in the first round (where the guaranteed money is). In fact, the last section of his article is titled “The two USC guys look like total busts.”

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Excerpts from Hollinger's vendetta article after the jump:

There have been players to make the NBA with scores lower than those of Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young, and a couple of them even turned out to be halfway decent. But many more of the players who scored that low had disappointing pro careers, so clearly this is not the way to bet. Truth be told, Pruitt and Young both have major red flags to overcome. Pruitt's rebound rate of 4.9 is shockingly bad for a 6-4 guard alleged to have above-par athleticism, and he just didn't do much of anything else to set himself apart from the countless other guards trying to play their way into the league.

Young is an even deeper mystery. If this guy's such a good athlete, how'd he have only 27 steals and 10 blocks this past season? As I mentioned above, his pure point ratio is hold-your-nose awful for a guard, his rebound rate is only OK, and it's not like he put up these numbers against stellar competition. Why exactly are we supposed to be excited about this guy?

Actually, this formula doesn't seem to be kind to players from L.A. Arron Afflalo rated even worse than the two Trojans; Afflalo, Nevada guard Ramon Sessions, and Florida guard Taurean Green are fringe first-rounders who are best to be avoided.

Although Hollinger's conclusions may be foreboding to the long-term success of Young, Pruitt, and Afflalo in the NBA, draft projections suggest that they are held in much higher regard by NBA GMs. Young is expected to be a mid-first round pick, perhaps on the fringe of the lottery, while Pruitt and Afflalo are considered borderline first-rounders. The three stud perimeter players, along with Cal St. Fullerton point guard Bobby Brown, comprise the strongest collection of local prospective draft picks since 1995, when UCLA's championship squad had two first-rounders (#9 Ed O'Bannon and #22 George Zidek) and a second-rounder (#47 Tyus Edney).

Young is thought to have the highest upside, with a long 6'6" frame, terrific mid-range game, and ability to create his own shot. While Hollinger's stats seem to indicate his athleticism is overrated, tell that to the top defenders he repeatedly schooled as the go-to guy for the Trojans' Sweet 16 team last year. He has the goods to be a solid slasher and scorer at the next level. Pruitt made a solid return to the court after sitting out with academic ineligibility during the first part of the season, unselfishly switching from his more natural position at shooting guard to point guard to fulfill a huge hole in USC's roster. He is a solid defensive player, a good decision maker, in short a glue guy that has the potential to be an effective combo guard if put in the right position.

Afflalo is one of the most decorated Bruins in the post-Wooden era, a first-team All-American and undisputed leader of two consecutive Final Four teams. He's been panned for a lack of athleticism as compared to the players he'll face at the next level, but ask anyone who watched UCLA last season and they'll tell you he was their fiercest competitor, always wanted to defend the opponent's top offensive perimeter player, and always wanted the ball down the stretch. Like Pruitt, he'll be a great asset to a contending team that needs a role player to play within a system; over time he could easily evolve into a slightly smaller version of the Spurs' Bruce Bowen with a better offensive game.

Ever since Michael Lewis' Moneyball was published, the use of complex statistical analysis to evaluate has become an accepted, mainstream technique, though not as much in basketball. While traditionalists scoff at the notion that computers can spit out conclusions that fly in the face of what the naked eye sees, there can be little argument that statistics add value to the process based on the results of its practitioners. However, in isolation, solely relying on statistics while throwing out common sense can be just as dangerous an exercise. Here's hoping that the intangible qualities of leadership, clutch play, and heart which can't necessarily be measured by a stat sheet prove that Hollinger is off-base, at least when it comes to the boys from Galen and Pauley.