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Vander Blue’s draft equivalent: Malcolm Lee

Coming out of UCLA as a junior, Malcolm Lee was a lot like Vander Blue.

Coming out of UCLA as a junior, Malcolm Lee was a lot like Vander Blue. (USA Today)

Specific comparisons from one player to another–especially regarding NBA draft stock–is near impossible. Each player is different regardless of what the stats say, and each team is looking for various needs each and every draft. No two drafts are alike, making no two players from different years alike. Earlier in the week we spoke with an NBA scout who said Vander Blue could be a “poor man’s Tony Allen.” Staying in line with that comparison, we found one player who both fits that bill and matches up almost exactly with Blue as a collegiate player.

Malcolm Lee arrived at UCLA in 2008 as a McDonald’s All-American, the 20th ranked player in the class. Expectations were high for the 6-foot-5 shooting guard and he found himself on an ultra-talented team that included guards Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Jrue Holiday.

Lee averaged just 10.7 minutes as a freshman, but saw that number jump to almost 35 minutes as a sophomore following the departures of the three aforementioned guards. In his junior year, Lee took on more of a scoring role, focusing less on crashing the glass and handing out assists and more on getting to the basket.

Here is Lee’s scouting report from 2011, per WalterFootball.com (yes, they do basketball, too):

Strengths: Terrific on-the-ball defender, length helps him guard, can defend either guard position, athleticism, excels in transition, creating his own shot, slasher

Weaknesses: Three-point shooter, inconsistent outside shooter, never came close to reaching potential, decision making on offensive end, is he a point guard or shooting guard?

Summary: Lee’s decision to enter the 2011 NBA Draft is surprising since he is not a first-round prospect. He had a very underwhleming career at UCLA like many Ben Howland-coached guards have, which leads some to believe that his best basketball is ahead of him. Until he develops a consistent offensive game, he will have to find niche in the league as a defender since he was one of the best in college basketball.

Sound familiar? Sound identical?

Lee made his mark on the defensive end while scoring efficiently, and was a fringe prospect after his junior season, certainly not a first-round lock. He ultimately decided to leave, and was drafted 43rd overall by the Chicago Bulls. On draft night he was traded to Minnesota, signing a rare three-year contract as a second-round pick.

Knee and hip injuries have derailed his career, as he has played just 35 games in two seasons. His career averages of 4.0 points on 38.5 percent shooting and 1.9 rebounds leave plenty to be desired, but he was drafted and is earning a living in the NBA, the goal for any collegiate prospect.

So the measurements add up–Lee is 6-foot-5 and weighs 200 pounds–and their respective college careers took similar paths. But the more direct link between the two is how each performed in their junior seasons. Again, every player and team is different and schemes, roles and opponents will never be exact. But take a look at the advanced statistics and see just how similar these two players are.

Despite playing shooting guard, Lee was never a threat from beyond the arc, making 71-of-255 (27.8 percent) threes. But his quick first dribble and strength allowed him to finish at the rim, where he made an absurd 72 percent of his attempts, per Hoop-Math.com. Consider this: last year Davante Gardner made 67 percent of his shots at the rim.

Looking at each players’ respective junior seasons, Blue was more aggressive as a scorer–which led to increased turnovers–and shot a better percentage from both two- and 3-point range. Still, all things considered the base numbers were almost mirror images; UCLA and Marquette needed both to score, and both did so while defending well on the perimeter. Lee had more scorers around him, leading to a lower percentage of shots taken (%shots in Table 2), but the numbers are near identical.

mlee2

Digging a bit further, Lee had the higher offensive rating thanks to his fewer attempts and slightly better assist-to-turnover ratio, while Blue’s defense was a tad bit more efficient, with a higher steal percentage and defensive win shares (DWS). But look below at the 3-point numbers, both players’ weakness heading into the draft.

If Lee was able to earn a three-year deal with those numbers, it’s possible Blue can, too. Lee has not played point guard at the next level–something Blue says he will attempt to do–but it didn’t hurt his stock; he was drafted to be a shooting guard, and that’s what he’s done, even without much of an outside shot.

mlee1

Vander Blue is not Malcolm Lee, and when June 27 rolls around Lee’s numbers and subsequent draft positioning won’t mean anything to the 30 NBA teams who potentially could select Blue. Lee has an extra inch of height on Blue, while the Marquette guard has a bit more quickness in his first step. It’s easy–and fair–to get picky finding differences between the two, but if you’re one for comparisons, look no further from the kind of player Lee was heading into the draft for an almost exact comparison to Blue.

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