As threes boom in NBA, Payne, McDermott are in-demand prospects

Wednesday May 21st, 2014

Adreian Payne averaged 3.4 attempts from deep per game as a senior, connecting on 42.3 percent of his shots.
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A decade ago, in 2003-04, only two NBA teams took more than 25 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. The average team ratio of threes to overall field goal attempts was 18.8 percent. In 2013-14, more than half of the league (17 of 30 teams) was over the 25-percent mark. Three-pointers accounted, on average, for 26 percent of teams' shots. The NBA's analytics-driven shift to longer-range jumpers has made sweet-shooting prospects more valuable commodities than ever -- especially those with the size to play the 3 or 4 positions. And in the 2014 draft pool, players who fit those profiles are scarce.

The Four

Indiana's Noah Vonleh, who could be selected as high as fifth or sixth, is theoretically in this mold. He's 6-9, rebounded effectively at the four-spot, and his long-range shooting form -- once he got comfortable enough, midway through his freshman season, to put up occasional threes -- looked legit. Teams will have to evaluate him from a meager sample, though: He shot 48 percent from deep as a freshman, but only had 33 attempts.

There's only one power-forward prospect with the physical tools to play the position and a decent sample of effective, long-range shooting: Michigan State's Adreian Payne, who could climb into the middle of the first round on this basis. After attempting just three treys total as a freshman and sophomore, and then 42 as a junior, he got the full green light to shoot as a senior, and connected at a 42.3 percent clip on 104 tries. This chart contrasts him with the rest of the top power-forward prospects:

Payne is unique for his volume of three-point attempts and his effectiveness as a transition shooter. You don't typically see a 6-10 college big man running to the wing on fastbreaks (watch the video below!), but Payne was remarkably good from the wings or as a transition trailer, making 61 percent of his threes*. None of the other power-forward prospects did any serious long-range shooting in transition this season.

Payne also shot this well while dealing with mononucleosis and a nasty foot sprain for the latter half of his senior season. At full health, he could serve as a solid stretch-four in an NBA rotation -- and at a physically mature 23 years old, he could do so immediately. Payne doesn't have much (if any) upside, but once Vonleh is off the board, Payne's the only real option to fill a floor-spacing frontcourt need.

(*The chart's halfcourt/transition splits are estimated by reviewing Synergy Sports Technology-logged film of players' transition scoring attempts, and separating those from season totals. These should be considered unofficial due to the possibility of missing video/incorrect logging, but they're as accurate as I could possibly make them with the available data.)

The Three

In the coming weeks, expect to see some piping #hottakes on Doug McDermott's future. Aside from the Embiid-Wiggins-Parker decision looming for the Cavs at No. 1, there's no riper debate topic than that of a beloved white college star trying to transition to the NBA. My feeling is that it doesn't matter all that much if McDermott can no longer operate on the interior. Given his stats, range and pure form, McDermott would still be a prospect on the basis of his shooting alone.

McDermott attempted the highest volume of threes of any potential first-round small forward, while receiving the most defensive attention, and still posted the highest percentages. He's the one truly elite shooter available who can play the three-spot:

The most amazing thing in that chart is in the farthest-right section, which contains Synergy data on catch-and-shoot efficiency. McDermott's efficiency on unguarded halfcourt catch-and-shoots was a ridiculous 1.95 PPP. He was only unguarded on 28.5 percent of his C&S attempts; that percentage should skyrocket in the NBA, where even Golden State's Stephen Curry gets 46.3 percent of his C&S looks unguarded, and Atlanta's Kyle Korver gets 39.3.

McDermott can't keep converting at a 1.95 PPP clip as a pro, but if he can beat Curry and Korver's 1.46 PPP -- and I legitimately think that's possible -- the Naismith/Wooden winner will be an immense asset to an NBA offense. That's why McBuckets won't fall out of the Lottery. His floor is that of a perimeter weapon, and his ceiling is ... well ... who knows? If he ever becomes an All-Star scorer, remember that he was the most efficient, high-usage college scorer of the past decade -- with numbers that trumped what Curry and Damian Lillard did against weaker competition.

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