Why will Nerlens Noel be an NBA star? Steals

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Just off an ESPN conference call with the network’s NBA Draft expert Chad Ford, who said he still thinks Nerlens Noel will be the No. 1 overall pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night. Even if the Cavs pass on Noel, Ford thinks the Orlando Magic will take the former UK center with the second pick.

Ford said he thinks there is a chance Archie Goodwin could go in the first round and expects the former UK guard to go anywhere from 25-40.

But when asked about the analytics craze in the NBA right now, Ford used Noel and Maryland center Alex Len, who some have projected as going No. 1, as an example of analytics carving out a predictive difference between prospects.

In this case, it all comes down to steals.

“As far as analytics go, here’s the irony about analytics,” Ford said. “Analytics is supposed to be a more objective, logical way of rating prospects. Unfortunately, anyone that puts a system together is a human being. And you have to value all the different factors and try to put a formula together that you think best captures production and projecting production at the next level. And so every analytical system that I see doesn’t agree with each other. And it sounds a lot like scouts, right?

“And they don’t agree with each other because different systems value different things. Let me give you one example, because this is taking over the league.┬áMore and more you see all these young general managers being hired right now. And they’re being hired because they have their systems, they have their ways of analyzing and using their analytics to predict the best players and they don’t agree.┬áBut this is just an example: What’s the difference between Nerlens Noel and Alex Len analytically?

“All the analytics say Nerlens Noel should be a star. Almost all of them, but not all of them, most of them say Alex Len shouldn’t. And it really comes down to one number. They find a predictive quality in steals. When big men get steals they have found that number is predictive of NBA success. You get a lot of steals as a big man, the people who have done that in the past in college have gone on to have great NBA careers. If you don’t get steals, it shows the opposite, that big men who can’t get steals in college when they get to the NBA they fail.

“What do you have? You have Nerlens Noel 2.2 steals a game, which is phenomenal for a big man. What do have in Alex Len – 0.3 steals per game, horrible even for a big man. All of a sudden there’s the big change. Even though Alex Len does other things better than Noel, you weigh those various factors and try to find out which ones predict NBA success. And the analytics guys will fight about this.

“And Noel and Len will be a really interesting case because it’s really clear what separating the two in the analytical systems. And we’re going to find out if that really holds true in this case, the fact that Alex Len did not get steals at Maryland was it predictive of some sort of problem he had as a player, whether it’s motor or athleticism or quickness that’s going to haunt him at the NBA level.”

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