|Seriously, how could you not love the draft?|
For a serious NBA fan such as myself, the end of the season is a sad time. Month after month of compelling, top end basketball is replaced with…the WNBA? The Marlins replacing their manager for the 186th time? Matt Leinart to the Seahawks rumors? Please, somebody wake me up when it’s November.
Still, as awful as my post NBA playoffs depression normally is, this year is ten times worse. With the specter of an extended work stoppage, and the likelihood of missed games/seasons, I feel exactly like Ron Burgundy when Jack Black punted Baxter over the bridge. NBA! I WANNA LICK YOU! I WANNA LICK YOU!
Thankfully, there’s one last NBA event to immerse myself in before I’m forced to buy an authentic, officially licensed Lisa Leslie jersey (after which I’ll be forced to turn to drinking). THE NBA DRAFT! Just days away, the draft is perhaps my second favorite event on the NBA calendar (behind the playoffs…just ahead of the regular season). Perhaps it speaks ill of me that I prefer the draft to the regular season, or perhaps it just speaks to how irrelevant an 82 game regular season actually is. Either way, I don’t care. I’ve closely followed many of the top prospects from high school and I feel incredibly invested in their careers. Also, I’m the typical armchair GM; always thinking I know better than the actual decision makers. Perhaps that’s a bit arrogant, but then again, Isaiah Thomas spent many years as a GM…so, what am I supposed to think?
Beyond my personal investment in the prospects and in the NBA as a whole, I find the entire draft concept to be fascinating. For one thing, I find it slightly odd that the worst teams (and usually the dumbest front offices) are annually awarded with the opportunity to either A) continue to show their front office prowess by selecting the likes of Kwame Brown or Michael Olowokandi, or B) ruin/waste the early years of the league’s top talent. I’m not necessarily offering a solution; apart from contraction that is; but I definitely think there’s something to be said about the same teams ending up in the lottery year after year after year.
Beyond that, I’m consistently amused at the fans’/media’s perception of the draft as a “franchise altering” event. True, most good teams were built through the draft and a top pick in the right year could forever alter the landscape of, not only an individual franchise, but also the entire league. The fact is, however, the lottery is heavily populated by flame-outs and bums. Apart from holding the top pick in the Lebron draft, it’s extremely difficult to land the type of player necessary to build a contender.
In reality, the draft is perhaps the biggest crap shoot in all of sports. Every pick comes with risk, every prospect has a chance of failing, and the chances of being right back in the lottery next year are high. I’ve mentioned this several times on my podcast, and I wanted to illustrate the point by sharing some of the NBA draft research I’ve dug up over the last few weeks. I looked at every pick from 1989 through 2008 (20 years) and charted the following stats for each player: years played, games played, Player Efficiency Rating, and Estimated Wins Added. Keep in mind, basketball is a very difficult sport to judge through statistics. While PER and EWA are both solid measures of a player’s value, it’s still impossible to fully capture player’s contributions using any single stat. Thus, I collected several stats to get a clearer picture of how these drafts played out. Let’s look at the history of some of the individual picks (with average career numbers listed).
(Note: League average PER is 15.00 for an individual season. Through my research, I’ve concluded a career PER of 14.00 is approximately equal to a borderline starter type of player. PER, however, is an imperfect stat and often gives too much credit to post players. In conjunction with EWA, the statistics seem to be fairly accurate. )
10.3 seasons / 3.7 All-Star games / 3.1 All-NBA teams / 18.9 PER / 65.0 EWA / 6.3 EWA per season
At first glance, the numbers seem pretty good, but the average stats for a top overall pick don’t even come close to equaling a franchise player. For example, here’s the line for Tim Duncan, who is perhaps the best first overall pick of the last 20 years:
14 seasons / 13 All-Star games / 13 All-NBA teams / 24.8 PER / 170 EWA / 12.1 EWA per season
While comparing anybody to Tim Duncan might be a little unreasonable, the numbers don’t lie. Here’s the stat line from another #1 overall pick who almost identically matches the averages:
15 seasons / 1 All-Star game / 2 All-NBA teams / 18.0 PER / 64.3 EWA / 4.3 EWA per season
The fact that this player hung on several years too long skewed the EWA per season, but the PER and overall EWA are almost an identical match. This players name; Derrick Coleman. Good player, yes…franchise cornerstone, no.
While getting a player like DC is a great thing, you really need to land a franchise player with the number one overall pick. The odds of getting one are obviously much higher here, but it’s far from a sure thing. Of the 20 top overall picks I researched, there were only six clear franchise players among them (Shaq, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Lebron James, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose). Three others were borderline franchise guys (Chris Webber, Elton Brand, Yao Ming). Even if you want to count them among the franchise players, that’s only 9 out of 20! The other 11 are populated by fringe All-Stars (Derrick Coleman, Larry Johnson, Glenn Robinson), solid starters (Kenyon Martin, Andrew Bogut, Andrea Bargnani), role players (Pervis Ellison, Joe Smith), real life Benjamin Buttons (Greg Oden), and monumental busts (Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown).
10.1 seasons / 1.7 All-Star games / 1.1 All-NBA teams / 16.7 PER / 52.9 EWA / 5.2 EWA per season
The draft’s “consolation prize” isn’t really all that consoling. With the second overall selection, you’d think you would be able to get more than 1.7 All-Star games! While a 16.67 PER is significantly above the league average PER, there’s a monumental gap from #1 overall to #2 overall.
#1 Overall Tier 1 Players: Shaq, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Lebron James, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose
#2 Overall Tier 1 Players: Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, Jason Kidd, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant
Perhaps it’s a bit too obvious to point out that #1 overall is better than #2 overall. The reason in doing so is to illustrate the difference between the NBA and the NFL. For some reason, fans strive to draw similarities between the two leagues that simply aren’t there. The assumption is that, if one thing is true in the NFL, then it must be true in the NBA (and vice versa). Our friend Nate Dunlevy at 18to88.com wrote an article about a week ago illustrating one specific example of this and how parallels between the two leagues are usually incorrect. This is another example. The predictability of the NFL draft is much more unpredictable than its NBA counterpart. The difference between #1 and #2 is minimal, as is the difference between #5 and #10.
While the long term value of an individual NBA draft prospect is highly unpredictable, the overall value of a particular draft slot is extremely predictable. The first pick is better than the second pick, and the fifth pick is much better than the tenth pick. Thus, receiving the second overall pick in the draft lottery is one of the most bittersweet moments in sports. You’re bad enough to pick second, but there’s typically no adequate “consolation prize” to save your franchise. Among the Tier 1 players I listed, Kevin Durant is the only true franchise player in the group. Payton, Mourning, and Kidd were all very close to that group, but none were good enough to win a championship as the best player on the team.
Despite the dearth of franchise players available here, the last 20 years have provided a wealth of solid fringe All-Stars. Kenny Anderson, Antonio McDyess, Keith Van Horn, Mike Bibby, Steve Francis were all excellent players in their primes; injuries having robbed McDyess and Van Horn of better careers. At the present, Tyson Chandler and Emeka Okafor are quality big men in their primes, and Michael Beasley looks to have finally found his scoring touch (also, he might not be high 100% of the time). Still, like the #1 overall pick, #2 has provided us with a few good punch lines, having produced such stars as Danny Ferry, “The Human Poster” Shawn Bradley (he’s getting dunked on in all the posters), Stromile Swift, Jay Williams, Darko Milicic, and Marvin Williams.
9.8 seasons / 1.8 All-Star games / 1.1 All-NBA teams / 16.6 PER / 50.09 EWA / 5.1 EWA per season
10.3 seasons / 1.6 All-Star games / 0.7 All-NBA teams / 16.6 PER / 51.3 EWA / 5.0 EWA per season
10.0 seasons / 2.2 All-Star games / 1.0 All-NBA teams / 15.8 PER / 50.3 EWA / 5.0 EWA per season
I grouped picks 3-5 together to illustrate how similar picks 2-5 are and how devastating it really is to land the 2nd overall pick. Look at the numbers…there is almost no difference! They’re the same pick! Right around 10 seasons per player, right around 2 All-Star games, right around 1 All-NBA team, right around 16.5 PER (#5 overall being slightly lower), right around 50 EWA, right around 5 EWA per season. THEY’RE THE SAME PICK! Did I say that?
#3 Overall –Anfernee Hardaway, Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis, Pau Gasol, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Al Horford
#4 Overall – Glen Rice, Dikembe Mutumbo, Jamal Mashburn, Rasheed Wallace, Stephon Marbury, Antawn Jamison, Lamar Odom, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook
#5 Overall – Steve Smith, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Jason Richardson, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love
Very similar top tier of players. There’s a couple franchise players in each group, along with some fringe All-Stars. Behind them were a few solid starters I didn’t take the time to list. The point is, picks 2-5 give your team an excellent chance at landing a good player, but only a 10-20% chance of landing a superstar. (FYI – Negative points to #3 overall pick group for Adam Morrison and extra donuts to #4 overall pick group for Eddy Curry)
7.5 seasons / 0.5 All-Stars / 0.1 All-NBA teams / 13.5 PER / 20.4 EWA / 2.7 EWA per season
8.7 seasons / 0.2 All-Stars / 0 All-NBA teams / 14.0 PER / 26. EWA / 3.1 EWA per season
7.6 seasons / 0.2 All-Stars / 0.1 All-NBA teams / 13.3 PER / 22.0 EWA / 2.9 EWA per season
8.5 seasons / 1.4 All-Stars / 1.3 All-NBA teams / 15.1 PER / 38.1 EWA / 4.5 EWA per season
9.4 seasons / 1.0 All-Stars / 0.3 All-NBA teams / 14.9 PER / 37.0 EWA / 4.0 EWA per season
This is where the wheels really fall off. Again, this perfectly illustrates the difference between the NFL and NBA drafts. The sixth overall pick in the NFL draft is supposed to be a Pro Bowler, but the sixth pick in the NBA draft is lucky to be a league average player. #9 and #10 overall are propped up greatly by Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki, and Shawn Marion (all in consecutive years) at #9, and Eddie Jones, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry at #10. Other than that, there’s an awful lot of bad in these five picks:
#6 busts – Stacey King, Felton Spencer, Doug Smith, Calbert Cheaney, Sharone Wright, Bryant Reeves, Ron Mercer, Robert Traylor, DerMarr Johnson, Dajuan Wagner, Martell Webster, Yi Jianlian (12 of 20, 60%)
#7 busts – George McCloud, Lionel Simmons, Luc Longley, Bobby Hurley, Lamond Murray, Chris Mihm, Eddie Griffin, Randy Foye, Corey Brewer (8 of 20, 40%...I was being generous on this one)
#8 busts – Randy White, Bo Kimble, Mark Macon, Todd Day, Shawn Respert, Adonal Foyle, DaSagana Diop, Chris Wilcox, Rafael Araujo, Brandan Wright, Joe Alexander (11 of 20, 55%)
#9 busts – Tom Hammonds, Willie Burton, Eric Montross, Ed O’Bannon, Samaki Walker, Rodney White, Mike Sweetney, Ike Diogu, Patrick O’Bryant (9 of 20, 45%)
#10 busts – Rumeal Robinson, Adam Keefe, Lindsey Hunter, Keyon Dooling, Jarvis Hayes, Luke Jackson, Saer Sene, Spencer Hawes (8 of 20, 40%)
That’s 48 busts out of 100 picks! Nearly 50% of players drafted from #6 to #10 can’t even stick on an NBA rotation! Not even as a backup! And I left out bums like Charlie Villanueva and T.J. Ford because they were “too good” to be considered busts!
Believe me, I have plenty more data I could throw on here, but I’m guessing you’re not as interested as I am. The numbers after #10 are staggering, bottoming out to an average PER of only 11.04 for the final pick of the first round. Like I said, the NBA draft is a giant crapshoot, with teams striking out more than Adam Dunn. I, for one, have hope for the depth of this draft, but no one should be surprised if 20 or more first rounders end up being busts. And, with no sure fire franchise guy at the top, this could go down as one of the weakest drafts in recent years. Sorry Cleveland…did you really expect anything else?
If you would like to see the spreadsheet I put together with all my draft research on it, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to send you a copy It really is fascinating data if you're into that kind of thing. Also, there will be plenty more draft content as the week goes along. I’ll go over some prospects I like and don’t like on Tuesday and I’ll post my mock draft on Wednesday.