Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Younger Brothers in the NBA

One of the more interesting things we studied in my psychology classes in college was birth order and the role being the oldest or the youngest in the family has on a child's life. Most presidents, for example, are first-born children. The oldest in the family is the natural leader, looking after and helping to take care of their younger siblings. They have much more experience being leaders than most kids their age.

The youngest child, conversely, tends to be more creative and artistic, as they try to create their own identity in the family. Google "comedians" and "younger brothers" and take a look at how many articles have those phrases in them. Younger children also tend to be better athletes, as they have the opportunity to practice against their older siblings all their lives. They test themselves every day against a bigger and faster player.

Once you start looking for the pattern, you can find it everywhere. Derrick Rose and Stephon Marbury were the youngest of four brothers. Peyton Manning was obsessed with being better at football than his older brother and they usually dragged youngest brother Eli along. Michael Jordan grew up playing in the shadow of his two older brothers. This SI article about Yadier Molina does a great job illustrating the point:

That meant that when the Cubs drafted Jose and the Angels signed Bengie as an amateur free agent in the late spring of '93, Yadi was suddenly alone. He had to make do with brief pay-phone calls from his brothers—six quarters would buy four minutes—and winter visits. He covered the room that was now his with newspaper clippings about Bengie and Jose. Over the next seven years Yadi's drive to do whatever it took to rejoin them only increased.

* There's also an interesting quote from Miguel Cabrera which touches on a lot of the things I talk about when it comes to valuing players: "On my list, he's at the top," says Miguel Cabrera, winner of the last two American League MVP awards. Above Cabrera himself? "The very top," the Tigers slugger confirms. "He can control everything—his pitchers, the games. I play first. I don't have any control, most of the time."

Younger brothers, as a rule, are "old for their age", which is really important in basketball. It's easy for the best young basketball players to get lazy, since they are so much taller than most of their peers. They don't need to push themselves to be the best player on the floor. A younger brother, though, is always pushing himself. No matter how good they are, they are always driven to supplant their older brother.

A guy who enters the league at the age of 19 has a chance to be really good. A guy who enters the league at the age of 19 AND he has an older brother who plays in the league? He has a chance to be a star. None of these guys are Blake Griffin, but he is the perfect example of this phenomenon - his older brother Taylor had a cup of coffee with the Phoenix Suns and now plays overseas.

Jrue Holiday (24)

Older brother - Justin (25), rookie for the Golden State Warriors

Even though Jrue is only a year younger than Justin, he is in his 6th season in the NBA and his brother is a rookie. After three years bouncing around the D-League, Justin just made the Golden State Warriors roster. At 6'6, he has the length to match-up with multiple positions on defense. As long as he can consistently knock down 3's, he has a chance to stick. He's 25, so he can still carve out a long career in the NBA.

They are both good athletes - the difference is Jrue is a PG and Justin is a SG. A 6'4 PG is incredibly valuable, so Jrue was accelerated his entire life. He graduated from high school at 17 and he was drafted at 19. He made the NBA at a really early age and played a small role on a good team. There were guys his age putting up much bigger stats at the college level, but that's not more impressive than what Jrue was doing.

Damian Lillard, who has played three seasons in the NBA, is the same exact age as Jrue, who has played six. Michael Carter-Williams, in his second season, is only a year younger! He doesn't get a chance to put up a bunch of stats - the Pellies slow the tempo and he shares a back-court with two ball-stoppers in Evan Gordon and Tyreke Evans - but he is really nice. Jrue is one of the most complete PG's in the league.

When the Pellies start making the playoffs, Jrue is going to be a real problem for a smaller PG in a seven-game series. He is a better two-way player than almost all of them and his ability to defend, score, shoot and pass at 6'4 200 will be tough to handle. I just like the way he plays the game - he's a very smooth player who is always under control. He is really taking care of the ball this season, with 7.2 assists on 1.8 turnovers.

Jrue Holiday is still so young that so much of his NBA future is unwritten. You don't say that very often for a six-year veteran, but not many six-year vets enter the NBA at 19. The number of seasons played in the NBA is a pretty good proxy for a guy's talent - Jrue will be a 10-year veteran at 28 and a 15-year veteran at 33. There's a reason for that and that's because he's doing a lot of things not captured by many statistics.

Cody Zeller (22)

Older brothers: Luke (27) had a few cups of coffee in the NBA. Tyler (24) is a third-year player for the Boston Celtics.

Between the Zellers and the Plumlees, two Indiana families of 7'0 produced five NBA players in recent years. At the college level, the Zellers (Luke, Tyler and Cody) were more skilled and the Plumlees (Miles, Mason and Marshall) were more athletic. Cody progressed much faster than his older brothers, who both needed four seasons in school. The youngest Zeller would have been a lottery pick after only one.

One of the reasons I think Cody is a little underrated is that it's really hard to put him in a box and compare him to another NBA player. Guys with his skill-set don't typically enter the league as young as he did. At 7'0 240, he is still physically underdeveloped in comparison to Tyler, who is closer to 250-255. As Cody adds more weight to his frame as he moves into his mid 20's, he should be a really difficult match-up for a lot of guys.

It's still early, but his numbers as a second-year player have improved across the board from his rookie season. With Josh McRoberts gone, there are a lot of minutes to be had in Charlotte and Cody is grabbing a lot of them. He's a power forward with the size of a center and the speed of a perimeter player. He has great ball-handling and passing ability for a 7'0 - you have to remember that most guys his size can barely catch a ball.

Like with most perimeter-oriented big men, Cody's ceiling will depend on his outside shot. I don't think he even needs to be a three-point shooter - as long as he can consistently knock down the 15-20 footer and force defenses to respect his shot, it will open up the rest of his game. He has the skill to play in the half-court with Al Jefferson and the speed to play in the open court with the rest of the Hornets young players.

Aaron Gordon (19)

Older brother: Drew (24) is a rookie on the Philadelphia 76ers.

Drew Gordon is a lot like Justin Holiday, in that he has bounced in and out of the NBA since graduating from college without ever finding a home. At 24, he still has time to make a name for himself in the league, but it is running out. If he doesn't make it soon, he will probably be better off making some money overseas. He is a decent athlete with a good amount of skill, but he's nowhere near as skilled or athletic as his younger brother.

Drew is a 6'9 240 PF while Aaron is a 6'9 215 SF who can swing between a number of positions on defense. He is an elite athlete with the ball-handling and passing ability of a PG who can defend every position but center. Maybe the best college game I saw all season was the Pac-12 CG between Arizona and UCLA, where AG had 11-8-8 and Kyle Anderson had 21-15-5. Those two guys were out there playing basketball.

People don't realize this because Arizona had a couple of quality guards, but you could have put Gordon in the Kyle Anderson role and UCLA wouldn't have missed much of a beat - he has the feel and unselfishness of a true PG. Unfortunately, you probably won't see too much of that in Orlando, as they have two ball-dominant guards - Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton - who are going to force AG to spend a lot of time off-the-ball.

When AG is 25 (which won't be until 2020!), he has the chance to be a 6'9 Andre Iguodala and I say that as someone who thinks AI has been one of the most underrated players in the league for awhile.* For now, though, you are only going to get rare flashes of that, as he will need to improve his outside shot to force defenses to guard him off the ball. If the D doesn't have to close-out on AG, it's going to be hard for him.

* Andre is also a younger brother - he had an older brother who played D1 ball at Dayton.

He's the perfect example of what I mean by a guy being young for his age. He just turned 19, so he should really be a freshman in college right now. However, he was already so good there was no point in holding him back. Either way, he should probably still be working on his scoring and shooting in college, but he's still good enough to be an NBA role player already, despite the holes in his game. The same general thing happened to MKG.

Here's a name to put in your back pocket - Utah PG Delon Wright, the younger brother of Dorrell. He's a 6'5 PG and he averages 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks a game on 56% shooting. You will be hearing a lot more about him this season.

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