It’s that time of year again. When desolate NBA franchises look forward to a rebirth. When it’s good to be a Clippers or Timberwolves fan (well, good in a relative sense – it’s never really good to be a Clippers or T-Wolves fan). We, of course, are speaking about NBA Draft time. But why, year after year, do some franchises seem to come away smelling like roses after the draft (hello, San Antonio) and some smelling like dead fish (hello, Clippers)? While some of it comes down to just plain luck – the bouncing of the ping pong balls on draft lottery night – most of it is due to franchises making smart decisions when they’re on the clock on draft night.
So which franchise makes the best decisions year in, year out, on draft night? That is what I went about determining using my number crunching super skills. So how did I do this? First of all, I examined every draft from 1989 to 2006 (1989 being the first year the draft switched to its current two round format; 2006 to allow draft picks five full years in the NBA to prove their worth) and ranked the players taken each year in order of career Win Share (which, in my opinion, is the best metric to judge a player’s all-around contribution on the court). I then gave each franchise a score for each pick they made each year based on the player’s Win Share ranking and his position taken in the draft (pick # the player was selected at minus his Win Share ranking). For example, if a franchise drafted the “best player” in a draft (based on Win Share) with pick #10, they got a score of +9 (pick #10 minus Win Share ranking #1). And if they took the tenth best player at pick #1, they would get a -9. Kapeesh? So the “luck” aspect of getting a good lottery pick has been taken out of the equation – we are only judging how a team does in terms of where they are selecting in a draft. In other words, these rankings show how well a franchise’s management are doing their jobs – ie. selecting the best player available when it is their time to pick.
While the team coming in last in the rankings isn’t a shock, the team at the top of the list might be.
Yes, there is a reason Bryan Colangelo was such a well respected NBA executive (before he went to Toronto, of course). Phoenix blew away the field in the rankings, getting a positive score in 16 of the 17 drafts they took part in from 1989 to 2006. Their only slip up was in 2003 when they took Zarko Cabarkapa at pick #17 (but we can blame that on that Dirk Nowitzki guy playing so well, which caused teams to dream of grabbing the next Dirk out of Europe). And, at the other end of the scale, the Clippers suck. But that isn’t big news now, is it?!