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Stars and Busts:
Best/Worst Value Picks

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.]

In the first part of this series on "NBA Player Development" I studied the average performance of players by their draft pick number. In part two I looked at the Best & Worst Drafting Teams. Now we'll look at the players themselves, which picks have been the best value picks? Which have been the biggest busts?

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 only data I have easily on hand, which while not a good player rating system is a decent wag for these purposes. Keep in mind the stats are career per game averages so lower than the peak performance years of a player. Moreover, there is also some bias in that using recent years some of the current players may well spike up their career 'standing' with more years under the belt. This is especially true for this article where guys drafted in the last couple of years have not had a chance to establish themselves in many cases, and are still on the upward swing of their career paths.

To calculate value I compare the Player's career stats to the average stats for his draft pick number. For example, top of the charts Gilbert Arenas averages 22.8 pts per game for his career, but the average for a #30 pick (including Gilbert) is just 5.2 pts per game so he is +17.6 points per game in this category.

Best Value Picks 1989-2008 Career Stats vs. Expected Perf.
 Player Season Pick G Min PTS REB AST RTG G Min PTS REB AST RTG
 Gilbert Arenas 2001 30 431 37.4 22.8 4.2 5.5 32.5 +181 +23.3 +17.6 +1.6 +4.4 +23.6
 Carlos Boozer 2002 34 407 32.5 17.0 10.0 2.4 29.4 +270 +19.8 +12.7 +7.9 +1.2 +21.8
 Dino Radja 1989 40 224 32.6 16.7 8.4 1.6 26.7 +90 +21.1 +12.4 +6.7 +0.6 +19.7
 Kobe Bryant 1996 13 909 36.4 25.0 5.3 4.6 34.9 +462 +13.7 +15.2 +1.6 +2.7 +19.5
 Michael Redd 2000 43 550 34.0 20.5 4.1 2.3 26.9 +322 +21.2 +15.6 +2.0 +1.5 +19.0
 Manu Ginobili 1999 57 465 27.7 14.7 4.0 3.6 22.3 +422 +22.6 +12.8 +3.0 +3.1 +19.0
 Rashard Lewis 1998 32 741 34.5 16.9 5.8 1.8 24.5 +589 +22.8 +12.9 +4.2 +0.8 +17.9
 Dirk Nowitzki 1998 9 801 36.5 22.6 8.6 2.7 33.9 +341 +13.4 +12.4 +3.7 +1.1 +17.3
 Stephen Jackson 1997 42 575 32.2 15.2 3.8 3.0 22.0 +459 +23.5 +12.1 +2.3 +2.3 +16.7
 Cuttino Mobley 1998 41 747 37.0 16.0 3.9 2.7 22.6 +598 +26.9 +12.4 +2.1 +2.0 +16.6
 Paul Pierce 1998 10 778 37.5 22.9 6.3 3.9 33.1 +281 +12.9 +12.7 +1.9 +1.7 +16.4
 Tony Parker 2001 28 574 33.1 16.2 3.1 5.5 24.8 +324 +19.8 +11.1 +1.2 +4.1 +16.4
 Tracy McGrady 1997 9 778 35.0 22.1 6.1 4.7 32.9 +318 +11.9 +11.9 +1.2 +3.1 +16.3
 Zach Randolph 2001 19 481 29.9 16.6 8.3 1.6 26.5 +201 +13.4 +10.1 +5.4 +0.6 +16.1
 Josh Howard 2003 29 375 32.1 15.4 6.3 1.7 23.4 +115 +20.0 +11.3 +4.0 +0.9 +16.1
 Monta Ellis 2005 40 209 31.8 15.7 3.6 3.4 22.7 +75 +20.3 +11.4 +1.9 +2.4 +15.7
 Tim Hardaway 1989 14 867 35.3 17.7 3.3 8.2 29.2 +555 +14.2 +8.9 +0.3 +6.3 +15.5
 Clifford Robinson 1989 36 1380 30.8 14.2 4.6 2.2 21.0 +1240 +22.0 +10.8 +3.1 +1.5 +15.5
 Cedric Ceballos 1990 48 609 24.2 14.3 5.3 1.2 20.8 +506 +15.2 +11.1 +3.3 +0.8 +15.2
 Luis Scola 2002 55 127 26.1 10.9 6.9 1.3 19.1 +70 +19.3 +8.6 +5.6 +0.9 +15.1
 Dwyane Wade 2003 5 357 37.8 24.5 4.9 6.6 36.0 -195 +9.1 +11.1 +0.0 +3.9 +14.9
 Amare Stoudemire 2002 9 423 34.2 21.0 8.9 1.4 31.3 -37 +11.1 +10.8 +4.0 -0.2 +14.7
 Ryan Gomes 2005 50 258 28.5 11.0 5.3 1.5 17.8 +209 +23.0 +9.0 +4.3 +1.2 +14.6
 Kevin Garnett 1995 5 1043 37.7 20.2 11.1 4.3 35.6 +491 +9.0 +6.8 +6.2 +1.6 +14.5
 Steve Nash 1996 15 898 31.0 14.3 3.0 7.9 25.2 +550 +13.6 +7.7 +0.1 +6.5 +14.4
 Marc Gasol 2007 48 43 30.4 11.1 7.3 1.6 20.0 -60 +21.4 +7.9 +5.3 +1.2 +14.4
 Nick Van Exel 1993 37 880 32.9 14.4 2.9 6.6 23.9 +641 +17.9 +8.7 +0.4 +5.2 +14.3
 LeBron James 2003 1 433 40.8 27.4 6.9 6.6 40.9 -122 +7.9 +10.8 -0.9 +3.9 +13.9
 Zydrunas Ilgauskas 1996 20 670 29.0 14.5 7.9 1.3 23.7 +417 +12.2 +8.3 +5.2 +0.0 +13.5
 Shawn Marion 1999 9 712 37.7 18.0 10.0 2.0 30.0 +252 +14.6 +7.8 +5.1 +0.4 +13.4
 Latrell Sprewell 1992 24 913 38.6 18.3 4.1 4.0 26.4 +563 +18.0 +10.4 +1.1 +1.9 +13.4
 Ramon Sessions 2007 56 61 24.1 9.5 3.0 5.2 17.7 +10 +17.2 +7.2 +1.7 +4.6 +13.4
 Al Jefferson 2004 15 323 27.5 14.6 8.4 1.0 24.0 -25 +10.1 +8.0 +5.5 -0.4 +13.2
 Maurice Williams 2003 47 371 29.2 13.0 3.1 4.8 20.9 +226 +17.0 +8.4 +1.1 +3.6 +13.1
 Vlade Divac 1989 26 1134 29.8 11.8 8.2 3.1 23.1 +886 +14.0 +5.8 +5.4 +1.8 +13.0
 Mehmet Okur 2001 37 496 29.3 13.7 7.2 1.7 22.6 +257 +14.3 +8.0 +4.7 +0.3 +13.0
 Mookie Blaylock 1989 12 889 34.9 13.5 4.1 6.7 24.3 +517 +16.1 +6.9 +0.4 +5.4 +12.7
 Rafer Alston 1998 39 581 29.0 10.2 2.9 4.9 18.0 +435 +19.6 +7.0 +1.7 +3.9 +12.6
 Ron Artest 1999 16 567 34.8 16.0 5.1 3.1 24.2 +203 +16.6 +8.8 +2.3 +1.5 +12.5
 David West 2003 18 340 30.0 14.6 6.9 1.6 23.1 +23 +12.6 +8.0 +3.8 +0.7 +12.4
 Vince Carter 1998 5 741 37.7 23.7 5.5 4.2 33.4 +189 +9.0 +10.3 +0.6 +1.5 +12.3
 Brandon Roy 2006 6 170 36.8 19.1 4.6 5.1 28.8 -236 +11.4 +8.9 +0.0 +3.4 +12.3
 Antoine Walker 1996 6 893 35.3 17.5 7.7 3.5 28.7 +487 +9.9 +7.3 +3.1 +1.8 +12.2
 Al Harrington 1998 25 690 29.6 13.4 5.8 1.8 21.0 +472 +15.0 +8.2 +3.1 +0.9 +12.2
 Toni Kukoc 1990 29 846 26.3 11.6 4.2 3.7 19.5 +586 +14.2 +7.5 +1.9 +2.9 +12.2
 Shaquille O'Neal 1992 1 1077 36.0 25.0 11.4 2.6 39.0 +522 +3.1 +8.4 +3.6 -0.1 +12.0
 Voshon Lenard 1994 46 565 27.2 11.9 2.8 2.1 16.8 +496 +19.2 +9.0 +1.4 +1.6 +12.0
 Sam Cassell 1993 24 993 30.0 15.7 3.2 6.0 24.9 +643 +9.4 +7.8 +0.2 +3.9 +11.9
 Jamaal Tinsley 2001 27 398 30.2 10.4 3.4 7.0 20.8 +105 +14.7 +5.1 +0.5 +5.8 +11.4
 Kevin Martin 2004 26 281 29.4 16.1 3.6 1.7 21.4 +33 +13.6 +10.1 +0.8 +0.4 +11.3

This list clearly points out some of the outstanding "hits" from deep in the draft. If you can land a star or even superstar from a pick typically expected to fill out the end of the bench then you are doing well. Even with this setup though, 11 of the top 50 "value picks" have been top ten picks, including two number ones!

At the same time, the weakness of our limited stats rating system is in evidence...Antoine Walker as a top value pick? Yuck!

Another interesting fact is that of these top fifty values, 19 or 38% did not go to a US college, but came from either High School (8/50) or from international play (11/50). Now that the high school doors to the NBA are closed and the international game is fully on the radar, we may see less of this trend.

All right, let's look at the other side...the biggest busts.

Worst Value Picks 1989-2008 Career Stats vs. Expected Perf.
 Player Season Pick G Min PTS REB AST RTG G Min PTS REB AST RTG
 Nikoloz Tskitishvili 2002 5 172 11.3 2.9 1.8 0.7 5.4 -380 -17.4 -10.5 -3.1 -2.0 -15.7
 Patrick O'Bryant 2006 9 63 5.0 1.7 1.3 0.3 3.3 -397 -18.1 -8.5 -3.6 -1.3 -13.3
 Kwame Brown 2001 1 435 23.0 7.2 5.5 1.1 13.8 -120 -9.9 -9.4 -2.3 -1.6 -13.2
 Saer Sene 2006 10 46 5.5 2.2 1.5 0.0 3.7 -451 -19.1 -8.0 -2.9 -2.2 -13.0
 Serge Ibaka 2008 24 0 -350 -20.6 -7.9 -3.0 -2.1 -13.0
 Jonathan Bender 1999 5 237 15.0 5.6 2.2 0.6 8.4 -315 -13.7 -7.8 -2.7 -2.1 -12.7
 Fran Vasquez 2005 11 0 -389 -19.4 -7.5 -3.5 -1.4 -12.4
 Shelden Williams 2006 5 167 14.9 4.7 4.2 0.4 9.3 -385 -13.8 -8.7 -0.7 -2.3 -11.8
 Michael Olowokandi 1998 1 500 26.3 8.3 6.8 0.7 15.8 -55 -6.6 -8.3 -1.0 -2.0 -11.2
 Darko Milicic 2003 2 305 17.6 5.6 4.1 0.7 10.4 -278 -12.0 -7.3 -1.8 -2.1 -11.2
 Luke Jackson 2004 10 73 9.9 3.5 1.2 0.8 5.5 -424 -14.7 -6.7 -3.2 -1.4 -11.2
 Pavel Podkolzine 2004 21 6 4.7 0.7 1.5 0.0 2.2 -378 -16.1 -7.1 -1.8 -1.9 -10.9
 Frederic Weis 1999 15 0 -348 -17.4 -6.6 -2.9 -1.4 -10.8
 Greg Oden 2007 1 37 23.2 8.6 7.2 0.7 16.5 -518 -9.7 -8.0 -0.6 -2.0 -10.5
 Danny Ferry 1989 2 917 19.8 7.0 2.8 1.3 11.1 +334 -9.8 -5.9 -3.1 -1.5 -10.5
 Rich King 1991 14 72 4.3 1.9 1.0 0.3 3.2 -240 -16.8 -6.9 -2.0 -1.6 -10.5
 Joseph Forte 2001 21 25 5.0 1.2 0.7 0.7 2.6 -359 -15.8 -6.6 -2.6 -1.2 -10.5
 Andrea Bargnani 2006 1 189 25.6 11.5 4.1 1.0 16.6 -366 -7.3 -5.1 -3.7 -1.7 -10.4
 Tyrus Thomas 2006 4 188 17.5 6.6 4.4 0.9 11.9 -397 -13.0 -7.1 -1.1 -2.2 -10.3
 Adam Morrison 2006 3 117 24.8 9.4 2.5 1.7 13.6 -418 -7.1 -5.8 -2.6 -1.8 -10.2
 Marcus Haislip 2002 13 79 10.3 3.6 1.5 0.2 5.3 -368 -12.4 -6.2 -2.2 -1.7 -10.1
 Bobby Hurley 1993 7 269 15.5 3.8 1.1 3.3 8.2 -214 -11.3 -7.1 -3.2 +0.7 -9.6
 Yaroslav Korolev 2005 12 34 4.9 1.1 0.5 0.4 2.0 -338 -13.9 -5.5 -3.2 -0.9 -9.6
 Scott Haskin 1993 14 27 6.9 2.0 2.0 0.2 4.2 -285 -14.2 -6.8 -1.0 -1.7 -9.5
 Pervis Ellison 1989 1 474 24.5 9.5 6.7 1.5 17.7 -81 -8.4 -7.1 -1.1 -1.2 -9.3
 Rafael Araujo 2004 8 139 11.4 2.8 2.8 0.3 5.9 -258 -11.5 -6.5 -1.1 -1.6 -9.3
 Dontae Jones 1996 21 15 6.1 2.9 0.6 0.3 3.8 -369 -14.7 -4.9 -2.7 -1.6 -9.3
 Kirk Haston 2001 16 27 5.0 1.2 1.0 0.3 2.5 -337 -13.2 -6.0 -1.8 -1.3 -9.2
 Julian Wright 2007 13 77 10.7 3.7 1.9 0.7 6.3 -370 -12.0 -6.1 -1.8 -1.2 -9.1
 Casey Shaw 1998 37 9 1.6 0.2 0.3 0.0 0.5 -230 -13.4 -5.5 -2.2 -1.4 -9.1
 Antonio Daniels 1997 4 825 23.2 7.8 1.9 3.5 13.2 +240 -7.3 -5.9 -3.6 +0.4 -9.0
 Yinka Dare 1994 14 110 9.1 2.1 2.6 0.0 4.7 -202 -12.0 -6.7 -0.4 -1.9 -9.0
 Efthimi Rentzias 1996 23 35 4.1 1.5 0.7 0.2 2.4 -333 -15.3 -5.3 -2.4 -1.2 -9.0
 William Avery 1999 14 142 8.5 2.7 0.7 1.4 4.8 -170 -12.6 -6.1 -2.3 -0.5 -8.9
 Mark Sanford 1997 30 0 -250 -14.1 -5.2 -2.6 -1.1 -8.9
 Joel Freeland 2006 30 0 -250 -14.1 -5.2 -2.6 -1.1 -8.9
 Petteri Koponen 2007 30 0 -250 -14.1 -5.2 -2.6 -1.1 -8.9
 J.R. Giddens 2008 30 0 -250 -14.1 -5.2 -2.6 -1.1 -8.9
 DeSagana Diop 2001 8 471 14.6 2.1 3.9 0.4 6.4 +74 -8.3 -7.2 +0.0 -1.5 -8.8
 Shaun Vandiver 1991 25 0 -218 -14.6 -5.2 -2.7 -0.9 -8.8
 Luther Wright 1993 18 15 6.1 1.3 0.7 0.0 2.0 -302 -11.3 -5.3 -2.4 -0.9 -8.7
 Troy Bell 2003 16 6 5.7 1.8 0.7 0.7 3.2 -358 -12.5 -5.4 -2.1 -0.9 -8.5
 Tony Battie 1997 5 721 22.6 6.5 5.5 0.7 12.7 +169 -6.1 -6.9 +0.6 -2.0 -8.4
 Brandon Armstrong 2001 23 108 6.5 2.2 0.6 0.2 3.0 -260 -12.9 -4.6 -2.5 -1.2 -8.4
 Deon Thomas 1994 28 0 -250 -13.3 -5.1 -1.9 -1.4 -8.4
 Tiago Splitter 2007 28 0 -250 -13.3 -5.1 -1.9 -1.4 -8.4
 Ed O'Bannon 1995 9 128 16.1 5.0 2.5 0.8 8.3 -332 -7.0 -5.2 -2.4 -0.8 -8.3
 Cal Bowdler 1999 17 142 9.7 3.0 1.9 0.2 5.1 -255 -10.6 -5.1 -2.0 -1.2 -8.3
 Shawn Respert 1995 8 172 13.7 4.9 1.3 1.0 7.2 -225 -9.2 -4.4 -2.6 -0.9 -8.0
 Roy Marble 1989 23 29 6.7 1.9 1.1 0.4 3.4 -339 -12.7 -4.9 -2.0 -1.0 -8.0

Now 13 of the worst 50 values were drafted in 2006 or later so have a chance for redemption, and Oden, Bargnani, Tyrus Thomas, and Julian Wright all look likely to get off this list in the coming years.

Another 10 of the 50 are players who have never played in the NBA, mostly because they've stayed in their own countries.

That leaves us with the likes of Tskitishvili whose career 3 pts/game average from a #5 pick does underwhelm, and Kwame Brown who still of course plays in the NBA but looks like a dim possibility of raising those career numbers beyond where they are now.

Some guys like Bender can plead injury excuses, but for the most part these are indeed picks most of the teams would rather have back again for do-overs!

Another thought I had for looking at both this player value and team drafting was to compare the pick taken to the one immediately following! In those cases you would see some of the misses like, going back even further, Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan say...or for what looks increasingly to be the case, Greg Oden over Kevin Durant.

Next up, a breakdown of value by the college a player was from!


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