The Next Iteration of Playmaking Fours

Apr 3, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) celebrates after hitting a shot in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Amway Center. The Orlando Magic won 119-107. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) celebrates after hitting a shot in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Amway Center. The Orlando Magic won 119-107. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /

The “playmaking 4” player archetype is all the rage in the modern NBA. Every team wants the next Draymond Green — a new age 4 who can put the ball on the floor as a chaos-creator in transition, attack closeouts making reads on the move and kill teams for trapping elite perimeter players in advantage situations.

It’s not enough anymore to be a plus contributor as a stretch big without ball-skills. The league has largely figured out the Ryan Anderson/Ersan Ilyasova types: 1) put a wing on them to limit the speed advantage over traditional bigs on closeouts and run them off the 3-point line where they cannot playmake and/or 2) switch in pick and roll where said player can’t abuse mismatches in the post. To be a high impact, all-star level player at the power forward spot now, you have to be well-rounded and be able to playmake. Bigs with perimeter skills are just insanely valuable. Teams gain a significant advantage when its fours and fives can keep defenses in rotation as dribblers and passers instead of sets dying in the hands of stretch bigs without those skills.

The sobering truth is that players of Green’s ilk don’t grow on trees. It’s rare to find a four who can handle, space the floor, pass on the move, post up mismatches, finish reasonably well, rebound his position and provide above average defense. That’s just a lot of boxes to check, and few can contribute across that many categories. Draymond throws in the rare ability to swing to the center position and provide both rim protection and the lower body girth to anchor inside on the glass, which makes him one of the most invaluable cogs in basketball.

There have been a finite amount of playmaking fours over the last decade with a non-exhaustive list including the aforementioned Green, Millsap, Griffin, Diaw, Odom, Dirk, and Love. The following will feature players who have a ceiling outcome to be the next generation of playmaking 4.

Two-Way Playmakers

Ben Simmons

If you followed draft coverage in general, and especially draft coverage on this site, this excerpt shouldn’t surprise, and it will thus be kept short. Simmons has generational ball-skills for a 6-10 athlete. His 5.2 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted mark at LSU was one of the best all time in the DX database for fours. His decision-making profile also encompassed a sterling 1.53 A/TO ratio, another elite mark for a 4. Basically, Simmons is the best passer and ball-handler at his size since LeBron. He shouldn’t be compared to LeBron’s overall game, as Simmons doesn’t possess near the vertical athleticism and finishing acumen, but in terms of a generational vision, it’s there:

Simmons also throws in an elite rebounding (12.9 rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted at LSU) and steals profile (2.1 per 40 pace adjusted) to round out his game. He has the frame and skill level to post mismatches, and is a wizard passer out of the post. His perimeter defense is sub-elite when engaged, as Simmons has fast hands and possesses plus lateral agility. The bugaboo with Simmons is his lack of length (unofficial 7-0 wingspan) and the corresponding rim protection deficiencies, which were noticeable most memorably in playing out of position at the 5 spot for stints at LSU. He profiles similar to Griffin in his inability to provide valuable interior big man defense. Still, Simmons can be a two-way player as a versatile space defender on the perimeter with switching potential. He’ll need to develop some semblance of a shot, but even if defenders play five feet off him in the pros, he has the handling ability to eat up space and create high percentage shots.

Overall, Simmons is an immense talent and more importantly will have the opportunity to fully unleash his skill-set. Speaking of (a potential lack of) opportunity:

Aaron Gordon

If you search Aaron Gordon highlights on youtube you’ll likely descend into a vast rabbit hole of dunks. While incredibly entertaining, only emphasizing the raw explosion and finishing capability does the rest of Gordon’s all-around game a disservice.

Gordon has grab and go handling ability, possessing plus fluidity as a dribbler in space:

He can initiate offense at times from the foul line extended, and his feel for the game as a passer is very underrated (16th in the league for qualified power forwards in assist rate last season per

Gordon really separates himself from other candidates here with his top-shelf athleticism. He has rare speed and burst to get into the lane quickly with the ball before the defense sets:

Gordon also throws in advanced body control, which allows him to finish effectively (61 percent in the restricted area last season per on non-dunk attempts around the rim:

While not yet a plus isolation creator sporting a futile 0.6 PPP last season in isolation playtype (14th percentile) per Synergy Sports, he shows developmental signs especially as the handler in PnR (94th percentile on 37 possession again per Synergy), and certainly has the quick twitch side to side agility with the ball to create space off the dribble:

And again here:

Overall, Gordon marries a burgeoning playmaking game on offense with elite perimeter defense (especially in hedge and recover situations) and some rim protection ability, making his skill-set for the position incredibly rare. Gordon’s biggest developmental obstacles outside of Orlando’s roster crunch and positional confinement to the three spot is his shooting prowess and post up ability. Gordon’s shot chart last year resembled the state of House Tyrell post getting Mad Queen’d:

Aaron Gordon 2015-16 Shot Chart (via
Aaron Gordon 2015-16 Shot Chart (via /

He also posted a horrid 0.71 PPP mark on post ups on an even more damning 31 total possessions. Gordon is a face up attacker/slasher who just doesn’t yet have the post skill or body to anchor. His improvement in both capacities will go a long way in him hitting his ceiling outcome as an all-around playmaking four.

Dragan Bender

Similar to Simmons you can read extensive pre-draft scouting material on Bender at U&M and on my personal site, so I wont go into stark detail for a player who hasn’t played a minute in the league yet.

Bender’s stats wont jump off the page coming off the bench for Maccabi all last season in a very limited spot up role, but he put some mouth-watering passing clips on film, most notably this drive and cross body/court kick to the corner:

This is just an incredibly advanced play for in terms of skill and fluidity for a 7-footer and for a mere 18-year old. Bender is a tremendously cerebral player with excellent feel. He’s a few years away physically from being able to beat mismatches in the post consistently, which is currently his biggest question mark to reaching his playmaking 4 potential, but he has already shown the ability to pass effectively out of the post:

Bender doesn’t have incredible burst, speed or vertical athleticism, but for a 7-footer he is tremendously fluid and agile with the ball, showing good footwork on the move:

He has legitimate perimeter skill for a 7-footer as seen by his hesitation dribble in summer league:

Overall, Bender conceptually. in terms of ceiling outcome, profiles the closest to Green with his ability to potentially kick over the 5 spot and provide rim protection there. He can’t hold position there on the glass yet with his undeveloped frame, and is probably best served long-term starting at the 4 and kicking over to the 5 for spurts so he isn’t worn down physically. But in due time Bender can be a versatile playmaking swiss-army knife contributor.

Offensive Playmakers

Jabari Parker

One of the most divisive players in the league, Parker takes some warranted criticism, especially on the defensive side of the ball. It’s easy to lose sight of what a rare offensive talent Parker can be because of his defensive deficiencies, but the reality is Parker could enter rarified air in being a frontcourt player who can be good enough offensively where his defense doesn’t matter.

Parker is insanely fluid and explosive with the ball, possessing guard skill handling in transition, pushing the ball in grab and go situations causing chaos before the defense sets:

His combination of short-area quickness and stop/start athleticism, as well as his general level of explosiveness, is incredibly underrated:

Parker is one of the fastest players at the 4 spot in the league, where he quickly bursts into the lane and finishes with coordinated body control:

He’s not the most adept passer (even in college his 1.5 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted and 0.51 A/TO marks were poor), but he has shown flashes of shot-creation for others passing on the move like the following clip with the pocket pass out of pick and roll:

Parker was an incredibly poor rebounder last year and one of the primary catalysts behind the Bucks struggling on the defensive glass. He needs to improve there to add some value defensively, where he already throws in minus rim protection and gets lost away from the ball. What he can do already is put smaller players in the basket on post ups, generating 1 PPP on 79 post up finishes last year, good for the 87th percentile. He can also finish on drives, averaging 3.6 drives per game in the regular season last year with a robust 45.2 percent from the floor, per Parker’s offensive game hinges on his range development and whether the Bucks take the training wheels off, freeing him to take threes (he only took 35 last year). If he can extend his range it will really open up his drive and finish game, creating a lethal mismatch at the 4 spot.

Trey Lyles

Lyles isn’t the same caliber of athlete as Simmons, Gordon or Parker, as he doesn’t possess that quick burst or immediate acceleration with the ball. Instead, Lyles relies on the combination of his respectable jump shot to gain a half step on the defender, and fantastic length extension finishing around the basket:

He possesses plus body control with soft touch on the move, and his aforementioned long arms allow him to finish around longer players at high speeds in getting the requisite separation:

Perhaps the most masked part of Lyles’ game is his passing acumen. Overshadowed due to role and low usage at Kentucky playing out of position at the 3 spot, Lyles is actually an advanced passer for his size, and puts encouraging plays on tape:

Due to a diminished role at Kentucky and playing behind two high minute frontcourt players his rookie year in Utah we don’t quite know what Lyles is fully capable of. He’s a deadly shooter from the corners (31-71 on corner 3s last year per, but needs to move that success above the break to really unleash his pick and pop attack game. He was a below average, yet not disastrous rebounder last year. The same can’t be said for his defense, where his rim protection metrics and the general eye test were poor. He’s also not a plus finisher at the rim, so he’ll really need to excel as a shooter and passer on the move.

Lyles doesn’t have the same athleticism to fall back on as some of these other players in terms of speed, burst and vertical athleticism, but the hope is that he is skilled enough to compensate with merely above average athleticism and tools. It’s hard to see him ever defending at even a slightly above average level, thus his offensive progression will be paramount.

Dario Saric

“Cursed” with below average top end speed/explosion and minus vertical athleticism, Saric wins on skill and utilizing his frame to generate separation:

He has legitimate grab and go handling ability, and has outlier good vision for his size:

And again:

Saric is adept enough as a handler to operate with the ball in pick and rolls initiating offense:

You can see the athleticism limitations here. He doesn’t have top shelf COD and doesn’t get any lift as a finisher, both of which curb his upside. If he’s going to win in the pros, it will be primarily as a shooter and passer attacking closeouts. Without that gravitational pull towards his shot he won’t be able to create those half step advantage situations to get into the lane and really maximize his skill set.

Similar to Lyles and Parker it’s hard to see Saric being even average defensively. While possessing good size for a 4 he has an even height/wingspan ratio at 6-10, and coupled with his lack of leaping ability he isn’t going to protect the rim at all. He also doesn’t have plus foot speed moving in space, limiting his perimeter switching upside.

If Saric is going to excel as a pro it will be because he shoots in the 37-39 percent range from three which will open up his elite passing acumen on the move (sub 4 assists per 40 figures nearly every season overseas). He’s a truly special passer, and that alone will carve him out a space in the league.

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