by Keir Chapman, Mr. Sports
College basketball freshman phenoms are regularly guaranteed a high selection in the NBA Draft, as scouts are searching for potential superstars, and will jump at the chance of drafting a youngster who may not be pro-ready on day one, but shows glimpses of transcendent talent.
This influx of “one and done” players has created a negative bias towards those who choose to stay in school for four years to develop their abilities to NBA standards. Often, four-year students will find themselves selected in the second round of the draft, or not at all, and must earn their way onto a roster.
Because of this view of the more seasoned rookies, two notable players slipped through the cracks, and are making major contributions for their respective teams. They are: Norman Powell out of UCLA and Malcolm Brogdon of Virginia. These two have so far defied what is expected of a four-year college player, and will be all-stars if their numbers continue to trend upwards.
Bruins fans will remember Norman Powell as the extremely athletic shooting guard, whose emphatic dunks could bring Pauley Pavilion to its feet, or quiet a raucous crowd when UCLA was on the road.
Aside from being a four-year player, there were two major knocks on Powell that caused concerns for NBA front offices. First, at 6 feet, 4 inches, Powell appeared to be too undersized to defend guards at a higher level. And second, his 32 percent 3-point shooting left a lot to be desired for someone in his position.
While the shooting woes were valid, Powell posted a defensive rating of 98.9 points per 100 possessions in his final year at UCLA. His defense was pivotal in allowing the Bruins to hold their opponents to 68 points per game in the 2014-15 season.
However, due to these concerns, as well as the fact that Powell would be entering the league at 22 years old, he went to the Toronto Raptors with the 16th pick in the second round of the NBA Draft.
Powell’s first year found him riding the bench for most of the season, until March of 2016, where he registered 21 minutes per game. In his extended time on the court, Powell posted eight points per game on 42 percent from 3-point range. This led to more minutes in the month of April, where his scoring average sky-rocketed to 15 points per game.
Despite glimpses of Powell’s potential, he still found himself struggling for minutes, as incumbent backup shooting guard Terrence Ross was still the more trusted scoring option off the bench for coach Dwane Casey.
This caused Powell’s numbers to dip back down at the start of the 2016-17 season, where he averaged just seven points per game before the All-Star break. That’s when Toronto made a move that strengthened its starting five, while also allowing Powell to break free.
The Raptors picked up power forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic in exchange for their first round pick in 2017, and Ross. With the move, Powell became the go-to option off the bench, posting 11.7 points per game post All-Star break, and improving his rebounding from two per game, to 3.5, since becoming the primary backup.
Powell’s advanced stats, while promising, show that there have been some growing pains in his transition to an everyday player. His eFG percent sits at slightly under 50, while his defensive rating has dropped from 106.7 points per 100 possessions in his rookie season, to 109.9.
His offensive numbers, however, have already improved from a season ago. Powell scored 1.24 points per field goal attempt, and has an offensive rating of 109.1 points per 100 possessions, almost two points higher than the 107.4 he held last year.
Since the beginning of March, the first full month after trade that sent Ross away, the Raptors have struggled to replace Ross’ ability to score. The team averages just 99 points per game, the first time its scoring has dipped under 100 all season, and makes 44 percent of their shots, which is the lowest for the year as well.
Defensively, the Raptors have made vast improvements in March, allowing opponents to score just 97.5 points per game, Toronto’s best total since October, and grab just 41.4 rebounds per game, five less than the 46.4 the Raptors collect per game in the month.
With the postseason more or less a guarantee for Toronto at this point, Powell’s biggest test will come in the playoffs. He will be tasked with stopping the likes of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul George, and many other big name players that can get on a role offensively.
If the Raptors can make a deep playoff push due to contributions from Powell, he will likely earn a starting spot for next season, and the chance to grow even more.
Despite being at the helm of a successful Virginia Cavaliers team, Malcolm Brogdon didn’t always receive the national attention some of the younger college stars did.
Even after putting up 18 points per game with an eFG percent of 53, an outstanding offensive rating of 122.7 points per 100 possessions, and an even stouter defensive rating of 98.9 points per 100 possessions, Brogdon slipped to the sixth selection of the second round, where the Milwaukee Bucks were glad to take him.
The main concern that caused Brogdon to fall so far was the fact that he had redshirted during his 2012-13 season of college, meaning he would be 23 at the time he would be drafted. With the average peak years of an NBA player being 27-30, Brogdon’s proximity to his maximum potential without ever playing in an NBA game was cause for concern.
After acquiring Matthew Dellavedova from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bucks felt comfortable using a second round selection on a project guard like Brogdon, who might not have panned out, but would make Milwaukee look like geniuses if he did.
So far, so good for the Bucks, as Brogdon has continued where he left off at Virginia, efficiently scoring the ball while dishing out a high number of assists. The only difference from college to the pros is that Brogdon is producing from the bench in 26 minutes per game.
Aside from Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, both playing in the NBA for the first time despite being drafted in 2014, Brogdon leads all rookies in scoring with 10 points per game with an eFG percent of 51. He is also the leader in the 2017 rookies class with 4.1 assists and 1.15 steals per game.
For Milwaukee, Brogdon accounts for 23 percent of the assists generated while he is on the court, and scores 1.2 points per field goal attempt en route to an offensive rating of 110 points per 100.5 possessions.
These efficient numbers in limited minutes help mask the flaws that Brogdon has had in overall defense, as well as turning the ball over. Among all rookies, he is fifth in turnovers with 1.5 per game. As a team, the Bucks sit right in the middle of the NBA on points allowed to opponents off of turnovers, with 16 per game.
Brogdon also allows opponents to score 111.9 points per 100 possessions while he is on the court, numbers that suggest he is still learning to lock down the bigger players that populate the NBA. However, in just his rookie year, he has already logged 20 games as a starter, showing the Bucks he has the potential to be their point guard of the future.