NBA DRAFT ANALYSIS: Results by Pick Number
The NBA draft lottery gives hope to those teams lucky enough to find themselves out of the playoffs. Expectations mount as each team finds itself closer to that coveted number one spot. The question a person should ask, though, is this: Do the results match expectations?
To answer this question, I have analyzed each of the top 14 picks from 1984 – 2003. The results were very educational and a bit surprising.
Superstars and Busts
There is a statistically a much greater chance that your team is going to draft a player who contributes nothing to the overall success of your franchise than there is a chance of drafting the next superstar. According to my rankings, which carry a bit of subjectivity, there have been 23 superstars drafted in the top 14 picks from 1984 – 2003 and 35 busts. That’s not great news for those lottery bound fans.
As the numbers show, the most likely outcome of a lottery selection is that a team will get a solid starter or a top end bench player. The extremes, superstars and busts, occur only 20% of the time, while the average player is selected the other 80% of the time.
When looking at the data from twenty years worth of drafts, one can quickly summarize that it is far more likely to draft a player who will have no long term impact on your team than one who is going to turn your franchise around. While optimism reigns supreme up until the draft, it quickly dissipates when most of these prospects find their way to training camp. The following is a breakdown of each draft pick in the top fourteen (lottery) from the years 1984 – 2003 (Jordan’s draft to Lebron’s). Hopefully the results are enlightening and help you set your expectations for this years pick.
Top Five Selections
Fans of a team with a top 5 selection have much more reason to be optimistic than those who fall in the 6 – 14 range.
Of the 23 superstars who have been selected in this 20 year range, 16 of them have been selected in the first 5 picks of the draft (70%). Conversely, the top 5 picks in the draft have yielded only 15 bench players or busts. Out of 100 total picks made in the 20 years analyzed, that is a pretty good rate of return for those teams landing in the top 5.
Of the 16 superstars selected, half of them have been selected first overall. Now, this should be good news for Raptors fans this year, but isn’t. Those 8 superstars were all can’t miss prospects. Very few number 1 picks have “surprised” their GM’s and fans by morphing into superstars.
The rankings compiled are purely subjective!
If one takes a close look at the table, a person will quickly realize that the number one pick overall has yielded its fair share of superstars. By my count, there are eight, with Yao Ming on the cusp. The number one pick accounts for nearly a third of all “superstars” drafted in the last twenty years. The majority of the players in the number one spot who have turned into superstars were can’t miss prospects (Duncan, O’Neal, David Robinson, etc…), so the art of drafting those players is not too difficult. Remarkably though after the group of eight and Ming, the rest of the number one picks have been very average.
What does this mean? If your team wins the lottery in a year with a can’t miss prospect, you should celebrate like its 1999 (or 1997 if you’re a Spurs’ fan). But what if you’re a Raptor’s fan and your team wins the lottery in a year like this? Historically, if there is no clear cut number one pick, it doesn’t mean nearly as much. In fact, many of the picks in these thin years rarely stick with their team for more than five years (Kwame Brown, Michael Olowakandi, Joe Smith, Kenyon Martin, etc…). This is why Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo is desperately trying to trade down this year.
Picks #6 to #10
Taking a look at the six through ten picks of the draft, one thing becomes clear: the sixth pick has been a disaster! Whether the number is cursed or GM’s are distraught over not landing in the top five, something is seriously wrong when the best player drafted at the six spot is Kenny “the Jet” Smith.
The fifth pick overall has produced five bona-fide superstars. Drop one pick, and there are no superstars and ten busts. Picks six through eight have not produced one superstar in the time span analyzed. In fact, out of forty picks, seventeen have been busts, with some monumental selections such as Dajuan Wagner, Robert Traylor, and Shawn Respert.
The ninth pick produced three all-world players in Dirk Nowitzki, Tracy McGrady, and Amare Stoudemire. What’s significant about those three selections is that all three players have no US college experience. It appears that GM’s are far more likely to take a risk on a player with a later pick. Kobe Bryant went thirteenth, Jermaine O’Neal went seventeenth overall.
One of the main reasons for this trend to unearth sleepers later in the draft is fan patience. Expectations for early draft picks (1-5) are so high that many of the younger players wilt under this pressure (see Kwame Brown). Players like Amare Stoudemire and Dirk Nowitzki were allowed to develop without the pressure of being a high pick Teams, players, and coaches are all under intense pressure to have their early picks succeed, and succeed quickly.
Picks #11 to #14
The last set of picks that I analyzed were eleven through fourteen. Again there are mixed results with some winners like Kobe Bryant, Reggie Miller and Karl Malone and others like Todd Fuller, Terry Dehere, and Yinka Dare.
This is where reality has to set in for fans. Your team did not make the playoffs, but as a consolation, you get a late lottery pick. You might as well be rolling out the red carpet for a role player, because that’s most likely what you’re going to get. For every one Reggie Miller, Kobe Bryant, or Karl Malone there are nearly ten Mateen Cleaves and Cherokee Parks.
What does it all mean?There are so many ways a person could go with this draft analysis, but the initial objective was to reset fans expectations for their lottery pick. The points that should jump out are this:
*Rankings were compiled with the help of data collected by Paul Gearan, Senior Consultant, Rexer Analytics
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