Making The Case for Jarvis Varnado


I admit that I have somewhat of a bias towards Jarvis Varnado of Mississippi State.  I am a Mississippi State alumnus, and I follow all Mississippi State sports.  When there is a chance that one of my favorite professional teams will draft one of my fellow Bulldogs, I get very excited.  It goes without saying that Jarvis Varnado is one of my favorite players in this draft, even with the obvious flaws he brings to the table.  This is a player that I want to see do well in the NBA.  What I’m going to do in this entry though is try to eliminate the bias I have towards Jarvis Varnado and try to make a case based on the numbers that he should be the Atlanta Hawks pick in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft.

More after the jump.

Needless to say, Jarvis is a player that I have followed from the time he stepped on the floor as a 195 lbs true freshman that looked like he would get broke in half by some of the bigger post players he would go against to the time he became the NCAA’s all time leading shot blocker as a senior.  Jarvis was voted the NCAA Defensive Player of the Year after his senior season in Starkville, MS.  Among all his other accolades, Jarvis can boast that he is the only player in NCAA history that posted 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 blocked shots in his career.  Think about that for a minute.  Out of all the great centers that have come out of college in the past quarter century, Jarvis is the only one that accomplished that feat.

Jarvis is a tremendous defensive player and shot blocker.  Not only is Jarvis the all time leading shot blocker in NCAA history, he tied Shaq’s record for the most blocks in a single season twice.  He had 170 blocked shots as a junior and repeated that number as a senior.  Defensively, Jarvis’s length, athleticism, and timing made him a game changing presence at the collegiate level.  Not only is Jarvis a tremendous shot blocker, he’s also an above average rebounder.   During his senior season, Jarvis averaged 10.3 rebounds per game and 12.9 rebounds per 40 minutes.

Looking at this, I’m wondering why Jarvis isn’t being looked at as a lock for the first round.  I think the only thing keeping him from being a lock to be drafted in the first round is the fact that after four years of college, he is coming into the NBA at 210 lbs.  Because of this, scouts and NBA executives are looking at him and wondering if he can withstand the punishment of playing in the low post over the course of an 82 game NBA season and into the playoffs.  I think this is a legitimate concern and could be the one thing that holds him back.  Remember though, I’m making a case for Jarvis to be drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 24th pick of the draft and not for him to be taken in the lottery.  To make that case, I’m going to look at some of his statistics and compare them to those of players who are expected to go higher than Jarvis in the draft.

When I started thinking about doing this entry, I decided to compare Jarvis to three guys expected to go in the top 20 picks or so: North Carolina’s Ed Davis, Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, and Virginia Commonwealth’s Larry Sanders.

Let’s get the obvious differences away first.  These three players are separated by 3/4 of an inch in height overall, so there really isn’t that much difference there.  The difference is in weight.  Ekpe Udoh is the largest at 237 lbs.  Ed Davis was next at 227 lbs.  Larry Sanders was 3rd at 222 lbs, and obviously, Jarvis brings up the rear in this category at 210 lbs.  The advantage goes to Ekpe in this comparison.

While there is very little difference in height, there is a pretty significant difference between the players when it comes to standing reach.  Larry Sanders has the best standing reach at 9 feet 4 inches.  Jarvis comes in second with a standing reach of 9 feet 1.5 inches.  Ed Davis has a standing reach of 9 feet, and Ekpe Udoh brings up the rear with a standing reach of 8 feet 10.5 inches.  Part of the differences in the standing reaches can be attributed to the wingspan of each player.  Larry Sanders had the largest wingspan at 7 feet 5.5 inches followed by Ekpe Udoh at 7 feet 4.5 inches, Jarvis Varnado at 7 feet 3.5 inches, and Ed Davis at 7 feet.  The interesting thing here is that Ekpe Udoh has a large wingspan but the shortest standing reach of the bunch.  This does not correlate, and I wonder if Ekpe is one of those players who has a long neck that makes up a good portion of his height.

Another comparison between the players is their maximum reach, which I calculated using their standing reach plus their maximum vertical jump.  Ed Davis ranks first in this category with a 12 feet maximum reach while Jarvis Varnado is second with an 11 feet 10 inch maximum reach.  Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh both have an 11 feet 8 inch maxium reach.  Larry Sanders gets dinged in this category because his maximum vertical is only 28 inches.  He’s not quite the jump athlete that the others in this comparison are, so despite his tall standing reach, he falls short in the maximum reach.  Regardless of the differences in this comparison, all four of these players are guys that can alter shots.  None of them did this at the rate Jarvis Varnado did in college though.

All four of these guys are very good run athletes.  Ed Davis has a large edge in this category though with a 3.21 second three quarter court sprint.  That speed combined with his overall athleticism is why he is considered a lottery pick at the moment.  Larry Sanders is the next fastest with a 3.27 second three quarter court spring.  Ekpe Udoh isn’t much slower at 3.29 seconds.  Jarvis is bringing up the rear in this category with a 3.37 second three quarter court sprint.

Now I will get into the on the court numbers each of these players put up this past season.  Courtesy of Draftexpress, I have linked the comparison so it will be easier for you to follow rather than trying to follow what I could type out.

Overall, with the exception of a couple of categories, these four players put up similar numbers across the board.  Larry Sanders is the more productive scorer, but he’s also the least efficient scorer of the group.  Jarvis is by far the better shot blocker.  While 0.4 blocks per 40 minutes adjusted to pace separate the other three, Jarvis is 1.6 blocks per 40 minutes adjusted for pace ahead of the next best guy.

Looking at the numbers, Jarvis’s production is very much in line with what Ed Davis produced during his last season at North Carolina.  What interests me is that Ed Davis is considered a lottery pick while Jarvis is considered to be a borderline first round guy.  Overall, I don’t think there is a large gap that separates the four players in this comparison, and I hope that the comparison in physical ability as well as the production numbers show that Jarvis is a legitimate first round talent even if there are some questions about how well he will hold up to playing in the NBA.

Personaly, I think this comparison does show just that.  I think Jarvis is a player who, at worst, will come off the bench and give a team a shot in the arm defensively and on the boards.  A player that Jarvis gets compared to a lot is Tyrus Thomas.  Tyrus is a player that has not been able to hold onto a starting job in the NBA because he is limited in how far he can play away from the basket, but he is a productive player when he look at the rate he scores, rebounds, and blocks shots at.  Overall, Tyrus is a solid back up in the NBA.  Another player that Jarvis draws some comparison to is Bo Outlaw.  Bo Outlaw was a reserve guy who came into games, played with a lot of energy, defended, and rebounded at a high rate.  In either situation, I think that type of player is very much worth the 24th pick in the draft.  If I’m Rick Sund, then I’m seriously considering taking this guy as Joe Smith’s replacement on the roster.  It would be nice to have a player that can actually play some defense coming off the bench to give Josh Smith a breather every now and then.