When you are a sports fan, it is easy to criticize ESPN. They are the behemoth on the sports block and not everything they do is going to be acceptable to every sports fan. That said, I think Grantland is a success. I probably read more articles on Grantland than on ESPN (particularly since I ended my Insider subscription – I was a sucker for all of the meaningless draft prognostication). It took some time for Grantland to find its way. ESPN’s latest offshoot – Nate Silver’s 538 site – may require some “reps” before it is equally excellent. Right now, it seems like many of the articles are of the “here is a chart and here is what it means” variety. Perhaps I should send this article to Mr. Silver because I put together a spreadsheet of the first two rounds of NBA drafts from 1980 to the present and I shall attempt to relate what it means – or at least point to some of the highlights. I won’t bother putting the table on the page (538-style). If you are interested in my copy and paste artistry, I’d be happy to send you a copy.
I started with Jeff Fox’s article from last month, which had the best and worst case for each draft position based on win share per 48 minutes. While I understand why Jeff used average win share, I preferred to look at total win shares. If you are interested in how win shares are calculated, you can see the explanation here. Basically, the win share (or win score, as they call it Canada) is a measurement of individual’s contributions to team success. A player with 100 win shares has had an excellent career (Grant Hill, A.C. Green, and Allen Iverson clocked in with 99 win shares apiece).
Based on this system, you might expect Michael Jordan to be the best player drafted since 1980, and you’d be almost right. His Airness (214 win shares) came in second behind Karl Malone (234.6), although Jordan and David Robinson share the best win share per 48 minutes (0.250). Only one second round pick has topped 100 win shares: Jeff Hornacek. Recent Finals participants Manu Ginobili and Rashard Lewis have plugged in better than 90 win shares over their careers. Other second rounders that came just a hair shy of 90 win shares included P.J. Brown, Dennis Rodman, and Clifford Robinson. It helps to stick around a long time and play for winning teams.
We also know that not all draft picks work out. There are plenty of players who simply don’t play in the league (such as Fran Vasquez, who was picked 11th in 2005 but never made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.) There are players that are so bad that they have negative win scores. Lancaster Gordon, the 8th pick of the 1984 draft by the Clippers, had a fantastic name. Unfortunately, he was the worst rated first round pick. The worst lottery pick was Denver’s Nikoloz Tskitishvili, who had a -1.6 score despite being fifth overall. He was picked ahead of Nene , Amar’e Stoudemire, and Caron Butler, even though the 2002 draft was pretty stinky: the first four picks were Yao Ming, Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Drew Gooden, followed by Tskitishvili and Dajuan Wagner.
I also used the table to find cumulative draft totals based on year. It should come as no surprise that the 1984 draft was the best draft by a healthy margin. Only three drafts since 1980 have had more than three 100+ win share players. The 1984 draft had six (Hakeem Olajuwon, Jordan, Sam Perkins, Charles Barkley, Otis Thorpe, and John Stockton). Jerome Kersey, the 46th player chosen in 1984, contributed 69.5 win shares. The second best draft was 1996, even though it only had three 100+ players (Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, and Steve Nash). The first four picks of the draft – Iverson, Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and Stephon Marbury – each had solid careers.
While comparing draft slots is not always helpful (what exactly do Anthony Davis and Anthony Bennett have in common other than first name?), it is interesting that the first overall pick is significantly better (an average of 67.0 win shares) than any other pick. While picks like Bennett, Michael Olowokandi, and Greg Oden might be memorable, the top pick is generally a very good player. You might assume that the second pick would be next, but you’d be wrong. The third pick is second best at 55.3 win shares and the fifth slot is next at 49.2. The second pick is next at 49.0 and there has not been a contributing second pick since Kevin Durant (those picks have been Michael Beasley, Hasheem Thabeet, Evan Turner, Derrick Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Victor Oladipo). That might be bad news for my Bucks.
The worst lottery pick is the sixth slot, which provides 22.5 win shares (worse than the 14th, 24th, and 18th picks). Damian Lillard may end up being the best sixth pick since 1980. That current title is held by Hersey Hawkins (90.6 win shares), and Brandon Roy (37.4) is the best sixth pick of the last 10 years. Yi Jianlian, Jonny Flynn, Ekpe Udoh, and Jan Vesely have been recent sixth picks.
While these numbers are interesting, I don’t think they are necessarily meaningful for this Thursday’s draft. They can be used to deflate the hype somewhat (which is something I like), but this year’s draft should provide more productive players than last year’s. Other than Joel Embiid likely falling due to injury (what a perfect 76er!), I have not really changed my opinions since my lottery night mock draft. It should be quite interesting and I hope you enjoy the draft.