Hassan Whiteside and College Prospect Rating (CPR)

By Stephen Shea, Ph.D.

February 25, 2015

Hassan Whiteside?

When the 2014-15 season began, nobody was talking about Hassan Whiteside.  The 2010 second round pick had played a total of 111 minutes in the NBA, and had spent the last two seasons completely out of the league.  So, where was Whiteside and what was he doing in the months leading up to this season?  He shared, “Three months ago—ask anybody in Charlotte at the downtown Y—I was just there just chilling, working my game. I couldn’t even get a team to pick up the phone.” Several months ago, no NBA team was interested in Whiteside, but now no one can stop talking about him.

In the last couple years, Whiteside has played in China and Lebanon, but his basketball journey led him back to the U.S. in 2014-15.  Whiteside found a training camp spot with Memphis before joining the D-League. In 4 games in the D-League, Hassan averaged 21.8 points, 14.8 rebounds and 5 blocks.  Those were impressive numbers.  Perhaps it was that D-League production that finally convinced one NBA team to give Whiteside another chance.  After years away from the NBA, on November 24, the Heat signed Whiteside.

There isn’t usually much fanfare around a D-league signing, and this was no exception.  It wasn’t until Whiteside starting seeing some regular playing time that everyone (perhaps the Heat included) realized what Miami had found.  On January 11, Whiteside put up 23 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in less than 29 minutes against a talented Clippers team.  On January 25, Whiteside had 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks in less than 25 minutes against the Chicago Bulls.  The 12 blocks were a Miami record.  Later, Hassan posted 5 double-doubles in 6 games.  In those 6 games, Whiteside had 92 rebounds.  There is no denying now that Whiteside has talent.

In a league short on talented bigs who can protect the rim, many are wondering how so many teams missed Whiteside.  Whiteside stands 7 feet tall and has a 7’6” wingspan.  He is a tremendous athlete for his size.  In more ways than one, he is tough to overlook.  Why did no one draft him in the 1st round in 2010?  Why did no one pick him up in those 2 years he played overseas?  Why were there no rumors of other teams interested in Whiteside this season prior to his signing with the Heat?

Since not many players travel between certain foreign leagues and the NBA, it can be hard to objectively judge the quality of competition that Whiteside faced in Lebanon and China.  However, we have a long history of players moving from NCAA to the pros.  So, we can go back and see if his college production showed any signs he would turn into the player he now appears to be.

Can draft projection models work?

It is easy to be highly skeptical of models attempting to project pro performance from college box score statistics.  There is a seemingly endless list of reasons why such an endeavor would yield minimal returns.  Many of the best college prospects leave college after one season.  That one season provides only approximately 30 games upon which to judge that potential pro.  Now add in that these kids are just 18-19 years old, are moving to a new location, jumping up a significant level of competition, adjusting to new teammates, and taking direction from new coaches.  In some cases, the players are hitting the weight rooms hard for the first time, attempting to (in less than a year) morph a gangly high school body into a chiseled frame that will elicit praise from gawking NBA scouts.

There’s still more.  Even highly touted freshman have to prove their worth.  They must earn their minutes from more experienced upper classmen.  A young player’s role can change drastically over the course of their first college season.  Consider Kansas’s freshman guard Kelly Oubre.  Oubre was ranked 11th on ESPN’s top 100 recruits for 2014.  He was highly touted, but didn’t play more than 17 minutes in any of Kansas’s first 9 games.  9 games into the season, he had yet to score in double figures.  His usage has increased significantly since then.  He’s scored 10 or more points in 11 of his last 19 games.

One college season is a small sample upon which to judge a player.  Add in all of the adversity for these young athletes, and it’s no wonder their freshman production can be terribly inconsistent.  In case the task of projecting the pro potential in these prospects still seems remotely possible, let’s add that the best available measures of their play are box score statistics.  Box score statistics are at best an incomplete record of production, and at worst grossly misleading.

Box score statistics won’t measure the pass before the pass, or when a defender deflects a ball only to allow his teammate to scoop up the steal and break for an easy dunk.  Box score stats won’t see good help defense that forces the opposing guard to put up an awkward runner he has no hope of hitting or good post defense that doesn’t allow the entry pass.  Box score statistics don’t record the screens on offense, or when a weak side 3-point threat prevents his defender from helping on the drive.

The above are just examples of on-the-court actions that a box score can’t measure.  What about a player’s athleticism?  What about a player’s court sense or basketball IQ?  What about a player’s will to improve?  What about a player’s heart?

It is easy to be highly skeptical of models attempting to project pro performance from college box score statistics.  It seems the list of obstacles to the success of such a system render the task hopeless.

Or maybe not.

Maybe there is more information in those freshman year box score statistics than we realize.  Maybe a player’s basketball IQ or court sense will be properly assessed by his coaches, and the player’s playing time and role in the team’s offense will reflect that assessment.  Maybe a player’s athleticism is reflected in their steals, blocks and offensive rebounds.  In fact, these “applied athleticism” stats may have better predictive value than measuring the player’s vertical, broad jump, or shuttle run because these box score stats are records of athleticism translating to basketball events.  A player could jump through the roof, but lack the positioning and anticipation to pull down many boards.  And maybe we shouldn’t care that a player doesn’t jump so high if he can block 8 shots in a division 1 game.

Maybe a player’s drive is why he grabs his 14th and 15th rebounds on tired legs to secure his team’s victory.  Maybe a player’s many hours working on his shot in the gym translates to higher shooting percentages on the court.  Maybe a player’s heart shows when he’s already scored 25 and played 35 minutes, and the opponent is using every defensive strategy to stop his penetration, but he manages to get to the hoop and score his team’s last 8 points down the stretch of a close conference game.

A freshman season is a roller coaster, but if you choose not to dwell on the lows—the bad games when the 18 year old is pulled early for a few mental lapses on defense—and instead look at the highs—the times when all of that player’s work, his desire, his athleticism, and his ability come together—you’ll see more than glimpses of the player’s potential to succeed at the next level.

College Prospect Rating (CPR)

College Prospect Ratings (CPR) are unique in that they intentionally turn a blind eye to a player’s poorest performances.  Instead, CPR compares players based on how great they can be when they are at their best.

Calculating CPR for a prospect requires full game-log data for that individual.  Unfortunately, this data is not organized and presented neatly in any one location.  Thus, running historical CPR scores is an ongoing process.

Among the scores that have been calculated, it is hard to say that CPR has missed on any player that rated above 10.  The 10+ club includes Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan, DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin, and Greg Oden.  Other than Oden, whose career was derailed by injuries, all of these players have shown enough already to say with certainty that they are elite players.  The 10+ club also includes Jabari Parker.  Parker’s rookie campaign has been cut short by injury.  The jury is still out on how great Parker can be.  Among the 2015 draft class, D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor have good chances to end up with scores above 10, but it’s unlikely any others will join them.

There have been drafts where no prospect was close to a score of 10.  In 2011 and 2013, no player scored above 8 (although Kyrie Irving might have made a run at it if he didn’t get hurt).

Scouts have tended to agree with the CPR ratings.  I have only found 1 player that scored above 10 and that was not drafted in the top 5 in the NBA draft.  It takes such remarkable college production and typically remarkable college production by a freshman to register a score above 10 that its hard to imagine any player achieving such a feat and not getting drafted in the lottery.  That statement is all the more true for prospects that project as true centers.  The scarcity of available big men only increases their value relative to other prospects.

This brings the story back to Hassan Whiteside.  After his freshman season at Marshall, Whiteside posted a CPR of 14.6.

Hassan Whiteside had a CPR of 14.6

Of the scores I have calculated, only Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony have posted a higher CPR than Hassan Whiteside.

A score of 14.6 suggests dancing on the table if he slides to your team’s pick outside of the top 20.  It’s certainly high enough to monitor the player’s overseas play very closely should his first stint in the NBA not be a success.  A score of 14.6 is so rare that it deserves at least a monthly check in with a scout local to Whiteside’s team to see if he shows any signs of realizing the potential his CPR suggested.  After all, he could be signed on a very team friendly and low risk contract.  The score of 14.6 is so high that it’s scary for a supporter of the CPR methodology.  It’s hard to imagine any team that used and believed in CPR not taking a shot on Whiteside before the Heat signed him in November.

Final Thoughts

Objective draft models only provide a piece of the information teams need to decide who they will draft.  A CPR score alone does not suggest where a player should be drafted.  It is entirely conceivable that a player because of serious injury concerns or high-risk character flaws should not be drafted even if they scored exceptionally high in CPR.  However, to my knowledge, Whiteside did not have any serious red flags.

There is also the question of fit within any given organization.  However, it is hard to find a team in today’s NBA that prioritizes rim protection and cares less about polished offensive post skills that couldn’t find a role for Whiteside.

CPR is far from a polished metric.  I am currently working on a number of modifications for the next version.  In many ways, CPR is like the college freshman with loads of raw potential, but occasionally inconsistent production.

Whiteside’s CPR of 14.6 is so high that it’s scary for a supporter of the methodology.  Whiteside is not Love or Cousins (at least not yet).  There is still a chance that Whiteside turns out to be CPR’s biggest bust.  Then again, CPR is only meant to measure the player’s potential.  There are a number of things that can occur after the player is drafted that limit his development and decrease his odds of realizing that potential.  (See Greg Oden.)  The more Whiteside plays, the more confirmation we have that CPR accurately assessed his potential as a rim-protecting center in the NBA.

The fact that Whiteside slid to the 2nd round of the 2010 draft and that it took an NBA team so long to sign him after his failed try in Sacramento suggests that teams are not using draft projection methodologies comparable to CPR.  You could say that CPR is as relevant to their draft strategy as a player playing in China is to their current playoff aspirations.  You could say that there is a little Hassan Whiteside in CPR.

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