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NBA Draft Analysis:
Best/Worst Draft Year

by Roland Beech, 82games.com

[Thanks to an assist from the wonderful Basketball-Reference.com web site, I gathered together the last twenty NBA Drafts (1989-2008) with an array of intended analysis in mind.]

Previously in this "NBA Player Development" series I've looked at:
- average performance of players by their draft pick number
- Best & Worst Drafting Teams
- Which players have been the best and worst "value" picks?
- Performance of drafted players by College

To recap a few principles, since B-R provides career games, and then per game points, rebounds, assists and minutes, I have gone with an admittedly highly simplistic look on things with:
Rating = points/game + rebounds/game + assists/game

Why use this definition? It's the data I have easily on hand, which while not a good player rating system is a decent wag for these purposes. Then I group players as follows (including a new category for this):

  • Superstar -- 30+ rating
  • Star -- 20+ rating
  • Solid -- 15 to 19.9
  • Role Player -- 10 to14.9
  • Deep Bench -- 5 to 9.9
  • Complete Bust -- less than 5
  • DNP -- (never played in the NBA)
Keep in mind the stats are career per game averages so lower than the peak performance years of a player. Moreover, there is also strong bias against the recent years as some newly drafted players may well spike up their career 'standing' with more years under the belt.

Since the drafts have grown in number of picks over the years (54 in 1989, 60 nowadays) it is necessary to adjust the career stats by the average for that draft pick number. For example, Kobe Bryant averages 25.0 pts per game for his career, but the average for a #13 pick (including Kobe) is just 9.8 pts per game so his year gets credit for +15.2 points per game for his pick and so on.

Draft by Year Pick Performance vs. Expected Perf.
Year
Picks
Gms
Pts
Reb
Ast
Rtg
Gms
Pts
Reb
Ast
Rtg
Super
Star
Solid
RoleP
DeepB
Bust
DNP
 1998 58 354 7.4 3.1 1.4 11.9 100 1.5 0.5 0.2 2.2 3 9 7 7 22 8 2
 1990 54 400 6.8 3.1 1.4 11.3 131 0.6 0.4 0.1 1.1 6 10 12 18 6 2
 1992 54 395 6.8 3.1 1.4 11.3 127 0.6 0.3 0.1 1.1 1 7 11 10 9 10 6
 1996 58 355 6.5 2.8 1.4 10.7 101 0.6 0.2 0.1 1.0 3 9 3 10 13 9 11
 2003 58 217 6.6 2.6 1.5 10.7 -37 0.7 0.0 0.3 1.0 4 5 5 16 10 6 12
 2005 60 143 6.3 2.7 1.3 10.3 -102 0.5 0.2 0.1 0.8 1 5 8 15 16 9 6
 2001 57 263 6.2 3.1 1.3 10.6 6 0.2 0.4 0.1 0.7 2 8 6 8 14 11 8
 1999 58 276 6.2 2.8 1.4 10.4 23 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.6 2 11 2 7 16 8 12
 1989 54 369 6.5 2.6 1.6 10.7 100 0.3 -0.1 0.3 0.5 10 4 10 16 8 6
 1995 58 346 5.8 2.8 1.2 9.8 93 -0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0 1 6 5 9 21 8 8
 2002 57 202 6.0 2.8 1.1 9.8 -55 0.0 0.1 -0.2 -0.1 1 5 7 13 16 5 10
 1997 57 302 6.0 2.5 1.3 9.8 45 0.1 -0.2 0.0 -0.1 2 3 9 11 15 7 10
 1994 54 333 5.9 2.7 1.3 9.9 64 -0.3 0.0 0.0 -0.3 1 5 6 12 16 5 9
 2004 59 153 5.5 2.6 1.2 9.3 -96 -0.3 0.0 0.0 -0.4 1 7 8 6 16 8 13
 2000 58 260 5.7 2.6 1.1 9.4 6 -0.2 0.0 -0.2 -0.4 4 8 14 16 8 8
 1991 54 326 5.7 2.5 1.4 9.7 58 -0.5 -0.2 0.1 -0.6 6 8 11 14 5 10
 1993 54 330 5.6 2.3 1.3 9.2 61 -0.6 -0.4 0.0 -1.0 1 7 4 10 10 11 11
 2007 60 55 4.8 2.4 0.8 8.0 -190 -0.9 -0.2 -0.4 -1.5 4 9 7 15 10 15
 2006 60 96 4.6 2.1 0.9 7.6 -149 -1.1 -0.5 -0.3 -1.9 3 5 10 17 16 9
 2008 60 20 4.3 1.9 0.8 7.0 -225 -1.4 -0.7 -0.4 -2.5 4 7 5 16 6 22

The first thing to notice is how strong the recency bias is...the three worst drafts at this point are the three most recent seasons. If we compared rookie season averages, chances are good that 2008 will actually shine, with already so many players establishing themselves that there are four stars in Rose, Mayo, Westbrook, Lopez, with Beasley, Gordon, Augustin, Love, and Thompson knocking on the door.

So if we assume over time things will improve for the 2006-2008 span (Kevin Durant as Superstar class of '07 by next season?) then the worst drafts of the past twenty years are 1993 and 1991.

1993 featured one superstar in Chris Webber, and some solid although troubled players in Mashburn, Cassell, Penny Hardaway, Vin Baker, Van Exel, Rider and Houston. Some top ten underperfomers though in Shawn Bradley (#2), Calbert Cheaney (#6), Bobby Hurley (#7) as well as few 'late hits'.

1991 pales in comparison despite the better overall net. The top performer by this simple pts+reb+ast is Larry Johnson, then you also got Brandon, Kenny Anderson, Mutombo, Billy Owens, and Steve Smith as "star" types. Top ten disappointments include Doug Smith (#6), Luc Longley (#7), Mark Macon (#8), Stacey Augmon (#9).

Enough of negativity though! The best year by far on this scoring system was 1998 which produced three superstars so far in Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Pierce, with Jamison (29.4 career) still with a look at being a fourth. Then you add in Mike Bibby, Rashard Lewis, Mobley, Hughes, Ricky Davis, Al Harrington, Michael Dickerson and Jason Williams (the pg) all at 20+ career pts+reb+ast. Of the less stellar results, it's Olowokandi (#1), LaFrentz (#3), Traylor (#6).

For pure superstar power, 2003 makes a case with LeBron, Wade, Carmelo and Bosh. Hinrich, Josh Howard, David West T.J. Ford and Mo Williams for 'star' players as well. Darko (#2), Sweetney (#9) and Jarvis Hayes (#10) were the top ten strugglers.

Another superstar rich year was 1996 with Iverson, Kobe, and Marbury as the qualifying 'supers' while Ray Allen and Steve Nash don't quite get to the 30+ rating but are clearly mega-stars in their own right. Then you also have Camby, Jermaine O'Neal, Ilgauskas, Stojakovic, Abdur-Rahim and Antoine Walker as 'stars'.

The big picture might be that you usually discover about two superstars per draft, with another 6-7 solid types. The rarity of the superstars makes misses all the more costly. Consider:

  • 1995: Joe Smith, McDyess, Stackhouse all taken ahead of Garnett (#5)
  • 1996: Camby, Abdur-Rahim, Marbury, Antoine Walker, Lorenzen Wright, Kittles, Samaki Walker, Dampier, Todd Fuller, Potapenko all taken before Kobe (#13)
  • 1997: Van Horn, Antonio Daniels, Battie, Mercer, Tim Thomas, Foyle all taken ahead of McGrady (#9)
  • 1998: Olowokandi, LaFrentz taken before Carter (#5) and Traylor, Jason Williams, Hughes taken ahead of Nowitzki and Pierce
  • 2001: Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler taken ahead of Pau Gasol, and then another 26 players taken ahead of Arenas (#30)
  • 2002: Jay Williams, Dunleavy, Gooden, Tskitshvili, Wagner, Chris Wilcox taken ahead of Amare (#9)
  • 2003: Darko taken ahead of Carmelo (#3), Bosh (#4), Wade (#5)...arguably the biggest miss of the past twenty years!
  • 2005: Bogut, Marvin Williams taken before Paul (#4)
  • 2006: while not a superstar yet on career averages Brandon Roy (#6) makes the Bargnani, Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams picks look bad
  • 2007: keep an eye on Oden taken ahead of Durant...
  • 2008: too soon to tell conclusively perhaps, but Gallinari and Alexander over Brook Lopez (#10)?
  • An alternative evaluation is to look at only the top ten picks per year:

    TOP TEN PICKS Pick Performance
    Year
    Picks
    Gms
    Pts
    Reb
    Ast
    Rtg
    Super
    Star
    Solid
    RoleP
    DeepB
    Bust
    DNP
     1999 10 630 15.7 5.5 4.1 25.3 2 7 1
     2003 10 356 15.2 5.4 3.5 24.1 4 2 1 3
     1998 10 667 15.5 5.5 3.1 24.1 3 4 2 1
     1996 10 761 15.0 5.9 3.1 23.9 2 5 2 1
     1992 10 778 13.5 6.4 2.0 21.9 1 6 2 1
     1994 10 758 13.1 5.8 2.7 21.6 1 4 4 1
     1997 10 694 12.7 5.4 2.4 20.5 2 2 3 2 1
     1995 10 706 12.4 5.7 2.3 20.4 1 5 2 2
     1993 10 721 12.8 4.8 2.8 20.4 1 4 2 2 1
     2002 10 341 12.4 5.5 2.0 19.8 1 4 3 1 1
     2005 10 243 11.6 4.8 3.3 19.7 1 3 3 2 1
     2004 10 266 11.6 5.3 2.3 19.2 1 4 3 2
     2008 10 38 12.1 4.1 2.5 18.7 4 4 2
     1990 10 615 11.5 4.0 2.7 18.2 5 1 3 1
     2001 10 472 11.0 5.5 1.7 18.2 1 2 3 3 1
     1991 10 682 10.6 5.1 2.4 18.1 5 1 4
     2007 10 99 9.5 5.2 1.5 16.3 2 4 3 1
     2000 10 466 9.7 4.4 1.7 15.8 3 2 4 1
     1989 10 662 9.7 4.1 1.9 15.7 3 1 5 1
     2006 10 149 9.8 3.8 1.6 15.2 3 2 2 1 2

    Here we see 2008 is already climbing the charts, while 1999 has settled in as the best overall, with only one non productive pick in the ten.


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