Jun 27, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Rudy Gobert shakes hands with NBA commissioner David Stern after being selected as the number twenty-seven overall pick to the Denver Nuggets during the 2013 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Draft Stats: The Relative Value Of Picks

The NBA draft is a bit of a mystery; every year there are busts and surprises and even for the smartest people working in NBA offices picking the right players is very difficult.

The value of the draft is obvious: Grab the next Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki and you might be set for the next 20 years. People tend to talk about the lottery and how it affects the bottom feeders of the league, but it can be just as important for a team trying to become good enough for title contention or a team trying to extend its window.

Memphis, for example, could really use a draft night coup, a la Kawhi Leonard (who went 15th and was traded on draft night to the Spurs). They are a very good team, but probably still a piece away. The twilight years of Dirk Nowitzki don’t look like they will bring another title to Dallas either; Dirk is already 35 and he is surrounded by players ranging from “OK” to “pretty good,” but they don’t have another real blue chip All-Star caliber player, something you desperately need to win a title. Dallas hasn’t hit on their version of Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili in the draft in a decade.

On the other end of the spectrum, teams that are in the lottery year after year are under insane pressure not to fail. If you fail once or twice, the rebuilding process can get dragged out forever, and you’ll quickly find yourself alienating your fans and ridiculed by the rest of the league. Just ask the Kings, who are on a eight year playoff drought. Thomas Robinson is already on his third team and even someone like Tyreke Evans, a former Rookie of the Year, didn’t somehow pan out and is now in New Orleans. Among that all the chaos they still have success stories buried in there: Isaiah Thomas was the 60th pick in the draft, and now a very productive starting point guard.

Apr 4, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) knocks the ball loose against Denver Nuggets forward Jan Vesely (24) during the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 4, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) knocks the ball loose against Denver Nuggets forward Jan Vesely (24) during the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It’s just hard to get quality players, and even the best GM’s make mistakes(except maybe the people who have worked for the Spurs, they can’t do anything wrong ). Just in the past few years we have tons of examples of this. Evan Turner, Anthony Bennett, Jan Vesely, Wesley Johnson — anyone remember that Derrick Williams was projected to be an All-Star?

It’s easy to say afterwards what could, would and should have been done. The truth is that it’s just really difficult to know how players will translate into the NBA game. Keep that in mind when people are touting this year’s crazy draft class. Out of the top 10 prospects it’s more than likely that at least one of them will fail horribly on the next level.

I looked at every player that had been drafted in the past 19 years and filtered in based on players who had played more than 200 minutes in the NBA. The findings were surprising and I had to go back and double- and triple-check some of these stats.

What you’d expect is a pretty rapid decline after the first pick, and then again after the first few, and after that an incremental progression downwards. But by filtering out all the players who had played less than 200 minutes in the league (which is a ridiculously small amount, and originally I realized to put a small minutes filter on it was become of some guy who was drafted in the second round and played six minutes in the NBA going for a higher statistical mark than LeBron James and Michael Jordan combined), what  happens is far different.

Yes, there’s a semi-linear downward trend from after the first pick, but not as much as you’d think, and at the tail end was gigantic. What the graph below seems to say is that: “If you are able to make the league and get your career started, you have a pretty decent shot at becoming a good player.” This might actually indicate that there are more Jeremy Lins than we would have imagined, guys who could succeed if given the opportunity and right circumstances to succeed.

The odds of getting a player who’s at the very least an All-Star and, at best, an MVP is somewhere around 70 percent for the first pick in the draft. After this the odds decrease rapidly and in the second round you only have about a 1-in-50. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t solid contributors to be had in the second round. Chandler Parsons and Draymond Green are just a few of the guys that have been picked after No. 30 in the draft in the past few years.

So when teams are trading around or hoarding second-round picks (like the Sixers, who will have nine first-rounders in the next two years), you shouldn’t scuffle at them, they have surely looked at this and come to the conclusion that they can get great value out of it with a bit of luck. And considering what you have to pay a second-rounder, the gathering of picks looks really smart. It’s statistically absolutely true to say that you’d rather have two picks in the mid-30s than one in the mid-20s.

The 57th pick is rated higher on this graph than the first pick, that is because out of the 19 players selected, only two made this list, and they were Marcin Gortat and Manu Ginobili. It seems surprising until you add together the flops that were Greg Oden, Kwame Brown, Anthony Bennett, Michael Olowokandi and other just pretty good players like Elton Brand and Kenyon Martin who went as the first pick in the draft.


Win Shares/48 by Draft Selection. Stats per Basketball-Reference.com. By: Mika Honkasalo

Win Shares/48 by Draft Selection. Stats per Basketball-Reference.com. By: Mika Honkasalo

All stats per Basketball-Reference.com

Tags: Nba Draft Nba Draft Pick Value

  • Chuck Porter

    Would be interesting to know – pick by pick – how many players actually qualified. You said that the 57th pick rated higher because only two qualified… how many qualified at each pick? Perhaps more importantly, how many qualified in year two?

    • mikahon

      My bad I should have put that in for each year! I’ll probably talk about it some other time and post more details there. But good comment and question thanks!

  • cfk

    Why are teams that have fallen on hard times “bottom feeders?” Thanks. Didn’t bother reading the rest of your opinion.