There has been plenty written over the years about the harms of the compulsion to compare NBA draft prospects to past and/or present players.
Most recently, Sean Deveney of The Sporting News described at length how these comparisons “...can go tragically wrong”, using the example of the Denver Nuggets drafting Nikoloz Tskitishvili on the assumption that he might become the next Dirk Nowitzki.
However, in the case of a player like Jordan Bell I’d argue that the comparisons are useful for fans insofar as they help us to more concretely imagine how a player without a traditional position might fit into the Warriors’ system — as Deveney describes, it’s a shortcut that allows us to project what the team might look like while we try to kill time during the offseason. What might make Bell’s case particularly difficult is the perceived gap between his strengths and weaknesses: to oversimplify, while his strength is clearly defensive versatility his weakness has been variously described as “offense”. So the comparisons help to answer a simple question: what kind of place could a player like Bell find in the NBA?
The problem is that people like to immediately leap to the most extraordinary mutant superhero upside -- how many players have been compared to Draymond Green in the last couple of years? Or my favorite comparison of all-time: remember when Harold Miner was “Baby Jordan”? He ended up having a shorter career than DeAndre Jordan.
I think we can all agree that it’ss probably more useful to identify realistic comparisons instead of comparing everybody and they mama to perennial All-NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidates...because by definition those guys are rare. And looking over the similarities being bandied about, people have suggested some pretty interesting ones and I’d argue they’re all promising.
Player comparisons for Jordan Bell
The difficulty in projecting just how good Bell might become is probably best illustrated by the range of similarities found by Reddit user kip_chelly in a statistical model designed to identify player ceilings.
Jordan Bell - The only prospect to return a Tim Duncan season. His advanced stats similarity set included Draymond, Roberson, Nerlens, Embiid, Towns, Drummond, Adams, and Kyle Anderson, showing his defensive potential. His three most similar players were Otto Porter, Joel Embiid, and Alex Len, which is one of the weirdest results in the entire system.
That’s so weird that it’s almost useless. The trouble here is that versatility is difficult to project on its own; defensive versatility can be even more difficult.
But going through a quick Google search for player comparisons for Bell, a number of more interesting comparisons come up that all make sense in various ways. I’ve included a few links to sites that actually described the comparisons in more depth.
- Kenneth Faried (Jacob Breece, 8 Points, 9 Seconds)
- Taj Gibson (Dav Favale, Bleacher Report)
- Draymond Green (Sean Deveney, Sporting News)
- Udonis Haslem (Frank Urbina, All U Can Heat)
- Bo Outlaw (Craig Grialou, ArizonaSports.com)
- Dennis Rodman (Zack Shaw, Duck Territory)
- Malik Rose (Mike O’Connor, BBallBreakdown)
- Tristan Thompson (Spencer Davies, Basketball Insiders)
What do all of those guys have in common?
Defense. Energy. Rebounding.
Of course, he wants to model his game after Draymond Green, as widely reported, but I think you have to love that he compared himself to Faried and Thompson as well in Davies’ article. Perhaps the Green and Rodman comparisons are too lofty, but the rest of the comparisons on that list are perfectly attainable and the skillsets pretty much match what we know about him.
But Favale’s comment on the Faried and Gibson comparisons is what really stands out.
Take the rough defensive outline of Taj Gibson, merge it with the boundless vitality Faried runs and rebounds with and presto! You have Bell. And there's a chance he outstrips even this hybrid comparison.
Bell looks more comfortable putting the ball on the floor than either of his archetypes, and he splashed in 49.2 percent of his two-point jumpers as a junior, according to Hoop-Math.com.
Outside of Green, most of the guys on this list couldn’t/can’t shoot outside of 10 feet and certainly wouldn’t be guys you’d expect to handle the ball and make plays for others. As Favale notes, Bell is probably ahead of most of these guys on both fronts.
(Sidebar: as a Michigan alum who feared Green for all four of his years at Michigan State, I have completely dismissed the comparisons to Bell because Green’s offensive game was far more advanced than he gets credit for entering the league. I was stunned by most of the criticisms of him as a prospect and can only assume that most people doubting him simply didn’t watch him play in college. Never did I expect he’d be what he is now, but he could handle, pass, and shoot in college way better than anyone else on this list.)
That aspect of Bell’s game is actually what makes the Bo Outlaw comparison, which originated at NBADraft.net to my knowledge, most interesting (I know that site has had some wild comparisons in the past, but bear with me here). Bell is probably a better shooter than Outlaw ever was, but the versatility that’s just a notch beyond these other guys makes it an interesting comparison to consider. Both Steve Perrin of Clips Nation and Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post wrote retrospectives about Outlaw as a “cult classic” for their respective franchises a few years ago and Dunlap summarized what I think everyone is hoping for from Bell.
...he had the height, standing at 6-foot-8. And he could run fast and jump high...Magic faithful needed a hustling, hard-hat-and-lunchpail sort of player in whom to believe. Bo provided that.
He also proved to be a deft all-around player, a Shawn Marion before Shawn Marion was Shawn Marion: he defended four positions with aplomb, found seams in opposing defenses to sneak in for easy buckets, and made intelligent reads from the high post.
Again, Bell is probably going to be a better shooter than Outlaw ever was, but that fluid athleticism that Outlaw had probably provides as good a role model for Bell as any of the above. From what we know of about Bell, it seems unlikely that he will be the type of guy to be confined to the paint, relying entirely on offensive rebounding to make an impact, or unable to defend the perimeter. For this first season, a few minutes per game of the type of energy Outlaw brought to the Clippers or Magic — whether as a four or small ball five — would be great value as a second round pick. And if he ends up being more like “a rim-protecting version of Kenneth Faried”, as Daniel C. Lewis of Denver Stiffs described his upside, that kind of energy off the bench on a second rounder’s contract could be invaluable off the bench for the Warriors next season.
Reactions to the Bell pick
Paolo Uggetti of The Ringer wrote a positive piece about Bell’s fit with the Warriors, which he concluded by writing, “This is what the Warriors do. They turn ashes into fire and scraps into gold.”
Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer wrote that Bell was one of the top five picks of second round picks of this year’s draft and noted, “He’s exactly the type of switchable big man that teams need to beat the Warriors, and now he’ll be playing for them.”
Drew Shiller of CSN put together an entertaining account of Draymond Green’s first interaction with Bell.
Anthony Slater of the Bay Area News Group did a more in-depth piece about the introductory press conference and included more about Bell’s celebration party.
Andrew Johnson of Nylon Calculus projected Bell to be of about average starter quality in his statistical model.
Seth Davis of SI wrote a really good piece a few months ago that really captures Bell’s approach to the game and how he wants to be like Tristan Thompson rather than someone who “wants to score 40 a game.”
Deveney’s piece from a couple days before the draft is also a good read about why we should temper expectations a bit.
Shaw’s piece about Bell’s development since high school is also very much worth a read.