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NBA DRAFT ANALYSIS: Results by Pick Number

NBA Statistical Analyst Ryan Reed
by Ryan Reed, 6/22/06

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.

Bench Players

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!

 #1  #2  #3  #4  #5
 Hakeem Olajuwon  Jason Kidd  Michael Jordan  Chris Bosh  Kevin Garnett
 Shaquille O'Neal  Gary Payton  Grant Hill  Dikembe Mutumbo  Charles Barkley
 Tim Duncan  Alonzo Mourning  Carmelo Anthony  Glen Rice  Scottie Pippen
 David Robinson  Mike Bibby  Anfernee Hardaway  Rasheed Wallace  Dwayne Wade
 LeBron James  Steve Francis  Chauncey Billups  Antawn Jamison  Vince Carter
 Patrick Ewing  Rik Smits  Pau Gasol  Lamar Odom  Ray Allen
 Allen Iverson  Marcus Camby  Sean Elliot  Stephon Marbury  Mitch Richmond
 Elton Brand  Kenny Anderson  Baron Davis  Sam Perkins  Steve Smith
 Yao Ming  Keith Van Horn  Jerry Stackhouse  Jamal Mashburn  Jason Richardson
 Chris Webber  Wayman Tisdale  Shareef Abdur Rahim  Chuck Person  Juwan Howard
 Brad Daugherty  Armon Gilliam  Chris Jackson  Xavier McDaniel  Kendall Gill
 Danny Manning  Antonio McDyess  Christian Laettner  Jim Jackson  Mike Miller
 Glen Robinson  Danny Ferry  Billy Owens  Dennis Scott  Laphonso Ellis
 Larry Johnson  Tyson Chandler  Charles Smith  Reggie Williams  Isaiah Rider
 Derrick Coleman  Shawn Bradley  Raef LaFrentz  Donyell Marshall  Kenny Walker
 Kenyon Martin  Stromile Swift  Benoit Benjamin  Chris Morris  Tony Battie
 Joe Smith  Sam Bowie  Dennis Hopson  Antonio Daniels  Jon Koncak
 Pervis Ellison  Jay Williams  Mike Dunleavy  Drew Gooden  J.R Reid
 Michael Olowakandi  Darko Milicic  Darius Miles  Eddy Curry  Jonathan Bender
 Kwame Brown  Len Bias  Chris Washburn  Marcus Fizer  Nik Tskitisvilli
 Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)
 Chris Webber  Wayman Tisdale  Shareef Abdur Rahim  Chuck Person  Juwan Howard
 Brad Daugherty  Armon Gilliam  Chris Jackson  Xavier McDaniel  Kendall Gill
 Superstars  Superstars  Superstars  Superstars  Superstars
 8  3  3  0  5
 Busts  Busts  Busts  Busts  Busts
 3  8  8  7  7

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.

 #6  #7  #8  #9  #10
 Kenny Smith  Chris Mullin  Detlef Schrempf  Dirk Nowitzki  Paul Pierce
 Hersey Hawkins  Kevin Johnson  Rex Chapman  Amare Stoudemire  Horace Grant
 Antoine Walker  Richard Hamilton  Ron Harper  Tracy McGrady  Joe Johnson
 Wally Szcerbiak  Alvin Robertson  Larry Hughes  Shawn Marion  Jason Terry
 Shane Battier  Kirk Hinrich  Andre Miller  Charles Oakley  Ed Pinckney
 Chris Kaman  Damon Stoudamire  Kerry Kittles  Otis Thorpe  Eddie Jones
 Tom Gugliotta  Jason Williams  Vin Baker  Rony Seiklay  Kurt Thomas
 Bryant Reeves  Lorenzen Wright  Brian Grant  Derrick McKey  Erick Dampier
 Stacey King  Tim Thomas  T.J. Ford  Rodney Rogers  Caron Butler
 Joe Kleine  Luc Longley  Chris Wilcox  Joel Pyrzibilla  Lyndsey Hunter
 DeMarr Johnson  Lamond Murray  Olden Polynice  Samaki Walker  Johnny Dawkins
 Ron Mercer  Walt Williams  Jamal Crawford  Mike Sweetney  Willie Anderson
 Calbert Chaeney  Nene'  DeSagana Diop  Stacey Augmon  Pooh Richardson
 Felton Spencer  Lionel Simmons  Adonal Foyle  Clarence Weatherspoon  Brian Williams
 William Bedford  Chris Mihm  Todd Day  Willie Burton  Danny Fortson
 Mel Turpin  Roy Tarpley  Bo Kimble  Tom Hammonds  Jarvis Hayes
 Doug Smith  George McCleod  Randy White  Eric Montross  Adam Keefe
 Sharone Wright  Eddie Griffin  Marc Macon  Ed O'Bannon  Rumeal Robinson
 Robert Traylor  Bobby Hurley  Lancaster Gordon  Brad Sellers  Keyon Dooling
 Dajuan Wagner  Tim Perry  Shawn Respert  Rodney White  Leon Wood
 Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)
 Stacey King  Tim Thomas  T.J. Ford  Rodney Rogers  Caron Butler
 Joe Kleine  Luc Longley  Chris Wilcox  Joel Pyrzibilla  Lyndsey Hunter
 Superstars  Superstars  Superstars  Superstars  Superstars
 0  0  0  3  1
 Busts  Busts  Busts  Busts  Busts
 10  7  8  10  5

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.

 #11  #12  #13  #14
 Reggie Miller  Mookie Blaylock  Karl Malone  Tim Hardaway
 Kevin Willis  Greg Anthony  Kobe Bryant  Dan Majerle
 Terrell Brandon  Muggsy Bogues  Richard Jefferson  Peja Stojakovic
 Allan Houston  Austin Croshere  Jalen Rose  Luke Ridnour
 Robert Horry  Vladimir Radmonovic  Corliss Williamson  Troy Murphy
 John Salley  Etan Thomas  Dale Davis  Walter Berry
 Nick Anderson  Nick Collison  Corey Maggette  Michael Cage
 Will Perdue  George Lynch  Derek Anderson  Eric Williams
 Bonzi Wells  Michael Doleac  Loy Vaught  Michael Dickerson
 Tyrone Hill  Vitaly Potapenko  Bryant Stith  Fred Jones
 Mickael Pietrius  Tim McCormack  Jay Humphries  Maurice Taylor
 Gary Trent  Harvey Grant  Keon Clark  Malik Sealy
 Jared Jeffries  Khalid Reeves  Courtney Alexander  Travis Mays
 Olivier St. Jean  John Williams  Marcus Banks  Rich King
 Todd Fuller  Melvin Ely  Marcus Haislip  Tellis Frank
 Trajan Langdon  Kenny Green  Dwayne Washington  Alfredrick Hughes
 Kedrick Brown  Cherokee Parks  Jeff Grayer  Scott Haskin
 Jerome Moiso  Harold Miner  Joe Wolf  Mateen Cleaves
 Keith Lee  Alec Kessler  Mike Smith  William Avery
 Carlos Rogers  Alex Radoevic  Terry Dehere  Yinka Dare
 Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)  Average (Median Player)
 Tyrone Hill  Vitaly Potapenko  Bryant Stith  Fred Jones
 Michael Pietrius  Harold Miner  Jay Humpries  Maurice Taylor
 Superstars  Superstars  Superstars  Superstars
 1  0  2  0
 Busts  Busts  Busts  Busts
 7  10  11  9

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:
  • Top 5 picks should be coveted. The results are significant that the top 5 picks in the draft produce starters or better 80% of the time.
  • Overwhelmingly, the most likely player a team is going to end up with from the lottery is a solid starter (44%). The next most likely is a bench player (25%).
  • Fans expecting a superstar should ice their expectations, especially if your pick is out of the top 5. Of the 180 picks from 6 – 14, only 7 turned into superstars (4%).
  • On the other side, 77 players selected from 6 – 14 turned into bench players or busts (43%).
This analysis should not dampen the excitement around the pick, but hopefully it sets our expectations at a reasonable level. Optimism should reign supreme on June 28th, but hopefully it is followed by a shot of realism!

*Rankings were compiled with the help of data collected by Paul Gearan, Senior Consultant, Rexer Analytics

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