A Sunday Kind of Piece: Return of The Draft

“You sure have changed since yesterday

Without any warning

I thought I knew you
I thought I knew you
I thought I knew you well… so well” -Sunday Morning  No Doubt

Sunday kind of piece time. You know the drill. I throw some numbers together add a few charts, hard to read tables and funny pictures. You go away getting your money’s worth. Let the awesomeness begin.

Today was a day for fall cleaning in my household so I had a lot of time to think over what piece I was going to write. Do I start my new feature on the Best/Worst players for every franchise starting with the Nuggets (trust me Andres , you’ll hate it but you’ll love it)?  Do I post the draft rookie model and the second part of the Build (the model loves a certain rookie as a game changer)?. Do I update the Build me a winner manifesto(not quite feeling it yet)? Nah. I count on my readers for inspiration.

Reader Tom Mandel ( in response to my in-depth Wizards piece) asks:

“Thinking again about your remark that ‘you’re better off w/ later, cheaper picks” — you must mean, obviously, *more* later picks. That is, surely a team is better off with a #1 pick than a #19 pick for example — even though the sliding pay scale does somewhat equalize the “value” of picks…”

Tom asks a great question and by now you should know I cannot resist a draft question. I started to answer it in the comments section prior to writing this post but once I broke out excel and went into goddamn Bat-research mode

Been meaning to work this in for a while now.

I realized that inspiration was once again tapping the back of my head with a two by four. Here’s the thing much like in the NFL I’ve come to the conclusion that in most situations I’d prefer drafting later rather than earlier in the NBA. The number 1 pick (particularly recently)  is not a good place to be and to prove it I’m going to rank some rookies.

Now before we go on, let’s review some of the work done previously on the draft and review the theory.

The Recap:

Part 1: Finding Elite Rookies in the NBA Draft or How the NBA Draft is a Lottery

Part1a: The Top 33 Rookies in the Past 33 Years

The WSJ Piece: Arturo Galletti Evaluates 30 Years of the NBA Draft for the Wall Street Journal

Part 2: Ranking 30 Years of Draft Picks

Some quick background
This article uses Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] to evaluate player’s performance.* This measure uses three key components to evaluate a player:

  • The player’s per minute box score statistics
  • The player’s team’s per minute box score statistics
  • The average performance at the player’s position (PG, SG, SF, PF or C)

A full explanation can be found here. To give a general scale, an average player has a WP48 score of 0.100. The very best players in the league usually have a WP48 over 0.300. To put this in perspective; an average player who plays a full season at 24 minutes a game would generate around four wins for their team.  In contrast, a player posting a 0.300 WP48 would generate more than twelve wins in this time on the court.

How good are GMs at finding talent?

Not Very.

  • If we rank picks in terms of Wins Produced we get:
  1. Pick 1
  2. Pick 3
  3. Pick 5
  4. Pick 2
  5. Pick 4
  6. Pick 9
  7. Pick 7
  8. Pick 11
  9. Pick 6
  10. Pick 10
  • If we rank picks in terms of WP48 we get:
  1. Pick 1
  2. Pick 3
  3. Pick 5
  4. Pick 9
  5. Pick 26
  6. Pick 2
  7. Pick 11
  8. Pick 4
  9. Pick 30
  10. Pick 24

So it seems like in general teams get good value from the number one pick. But the data points to a talent evaluation model for NBA teams that is not very efficient at delivering value.

What makes a good draft Pick?

When looking back at draft picks over history it is easy to get confused. We “know” or are told who the best players are .  To prevent this, when looking at draft picks we will use statistics and analysis to come to our conclusions.

The first and most critical question is how do we measure a good draft pick. We should consider the following factors:

  • The players contract is important so we will look at players over the first four years of his career (i.e his rookie contract)
  • Overall productivity (i.e. Wins Produced) is important
  • Per minute performance (i.e WP48 ) is important
  • A small sample size is bad so any player playing less that 1600 minutes ( about 4.9 minutes a game) in 4 years will be excluded .
  • Where the player is picked is important. His value should be compared to relative value at his position. So average Wins produced per pick and average WP48 per pick will be important.

Players are ranked based on four factors (WP48,Wins Produced,WP48 -Average WP48 at Pick,Wins Produced-Average Wins Produced at Pick). Once we have a players’ ranks for these four number we will average them and proceed to rank the players based on their composite rank (or Draft Rank). Draft Rank should give us an effective tool for measuring the value and “goodness” or “badness “ of a pick.

But enough with the recap let’s get back to matter at hand.

The Best Draft Picks since 2000

To answer the initial question  (Do I believe that :“you’re better off w/ later, cheaper picks”), let’s take a look at the best 25 draft choices after 4 years from 2000 thru 2006:

The average of pick for these players is 19. In fact if i look at the five best players for every year (Ranked by WP48):

7 Years, 35 Players and only 9 went in the top 5.  The best guys went 43(Redd),2(Chandler),34(Boozer),1(Lebron, yes Cleveland did get the best player in the draft two straight years and in 8 years blow it all away),1 (Howard),4(Paul), and  21 (Rondo).  So if i’m sitting at four I have a better than 50% chance of having the best guy be available and at ten I’m guaranteed a shot at top five talent and he’ll be much cheaper.

Let’s review.  A lower pick:

  • Still gives me a mostly equal opportunity for talent (Equal Reward).
  • Get paid less money and are expected to do less (Lower Risk).

My earlier conclusion stands,  in most situations I’d prefer drafting later (6-15)  rather than earlier (1-5)  in the NBA. If I can find some sucker (sorry fellow GM) to trade me good players or picks as well? Fantastic! At the end of the day, The more lottery tickets I buy, the more likely I am to win the lottery.


48 Comments

  1. 9/19/2010
    Reply

    Here’s the problem (and yes, I’ll probably work on something involving this): Since the MVP was awarded first in 1956, only five teams have won championships without a player who had won or would win an MVP award.

    In fact, the last time a non-Pistons team won a title without someone who had already won an MVP was 1981.

    I didn’t go through the entire list, but the only multi-time MVP’s not taken in the top three were Malone and Nash, both of whom went in the top 15 picks.

    Agreed in full that a team of quality players can compete for and possibly win championships, yet the clearest path nearly requires a top-level pick working out since they rarely change hands and almost certainly will not go to certain teams/markets if not drafted there.

  2. 9/19/2010
    Reply

    Here’s the problem (and yes, I’ll probably work on something involving this): Since the MVP was awarded first in 1956, only five teams have won championships without a player who had won or would win an MVP award.

    In fact, the last time a non-Pistons team won a title without someone who had already won an MVP was 1981.

    I didn’t go through the entire list, but the only multi-time MVP’s not taken in the top three were Malone and Nash, both of whom went in the top 15 picks.

    Agreed in full that a team of quality players can compete for and possibly win championships, yet the clearest path nearly requires a top-level pick working out since they rarely change hands and almost certainly will not go to certain teams/markets if not drafted there.

  3. ilikeflowers
    9/19/2010
    Reply

    Given that the MVP is typically given to the ‘best’ player from one of the best teams in the league, it’s very often essentially just the award for being the most likely to win a championship at some point. Allowing for past MVP awards to count as critical for championships long after the player has been MVP caliber (i.e. Shaq with Miami) further biases this approach. Then there is the situation where a player wins an MVP award only after winning a championship, this would presumably enhance their chances of winning an MVP award in the future. A better criteria for determining the criticality of a top-level pick would be to look at how many teams have won the championship with and without a top-level pick being their best player, using whatever method one wishes in order to define ‘best player’ and ‘top-level’.

    • 9/19/2010
      Reply

      Ils,
      Exactly what I was thinking. The big question is actually high draft pick playing for the team that drafted them. For top three picks, it’s the Spurs in the last ten years.

  4. ilikeflowers
    9/19/2010
    Reply

    Given that the MVP is typically given to the ‘best’ player from one of the best teams in the league, it’s very often essentially just the award for being the most likely to win a championship at some point. Allowing for past MVP awards to count as critical for championships long after the player has been MVP caliber (i.e. Shaq with Miami) further biases this approach. Then there is the situation where a player wins an MVP award only after winning a championship, this would presumably enhance their chances of winning an MVP award in the future. A better criteria for determining the criticality of a top-level pick would be to look at how many teams have won the championship with and without a top-level pick being their best player, using whatever method one wishes in order to define ‘best player’ and ‘top-level’.

    • 9/19/2010
      Reply

      Ils,
      Exactly what I was thinking. The big question is actually high draft pick playing for the team that drafted them. For top three picks, it’s the Spurs in the last ten years.

  5. Spider Jerusalem
    9/19/2010
    Reply

    I’d be interested in seeing this data teased out to include the duration of the rookie contract. Evaluating the success (or failure) of a pick based solely on the first year is somewhat misleading, I think. Especially if you’re talking about “building a winner”.

      • Spider Jerusalem
        9/19/2010
        Reply

        This is why I should stop drinking.

        Well played, hangover.

      • 9/20/2010
        Reply

        One little correction on that: Under the current CBA, any team that wants to hold on to their first round pick can have him for five years at the minimum rather than four because of the RFA year and their ability to either sign the guy to an extension, match the contract, or have the player sign that one year deal and then move on (as Ben Gordon did) while not having to worry about the salary cap.

        That fifth year is incredibly important since it is under team control if they want it.

  6. Spider Jerusalem
    9/19/2010
    Reply

    I’d be interested in seeing this data teased out to include the duration of the rookie contract. Evaluating the success (or failure) of a pick based solely on the first year is somewhat misleading, I think. Especially if you’re talking about “building a winner”.

      • Spider Jerusalem
        9/19/2010
        Reply

        This is why I should stop drinking.

        Well played, hangover.

      • 9/20/2010
        Reply

        One little correction on that: Under the current CBA, any team that wants to hold on to their first round pick can have him for five years at the minimum rather than four because of the RFA year and their ability to either sign the guy to an extension, match the contract, or have the player sign that one year deal and then move on (as Ben Gordon did) while not having to worry about the salary cap.

        That fifth year is incredibly important since it is under team control if they want it.

  7. neal frazier
    9/19/2010
    Reply

    so only 9 of 35 top 5 picks actually became top 5 players(hereinafter TT5) – an awful success rate of ~25%, but only 15 of 175 picks 6-30 became TT5 – a success rate of ~8% and only 11 of 210 second round draft picks became TT5 – a success rate of ~5%. If getting one of the TT5 is your goal, then a top 5 pick is still about 3 times as valuable as a later first round pick.

    This begs the question of how big is the difference between someone who became TT5 from someone who became TT6-30 – ie what is the value of a near miss? The 6-30 picks should have a virtually identical, if not somewhat higher, chance of landing someone who was actually a TT6-30 pick than a top 5 pick has. If a TT6-30 pick has nearly the same productivity as a TT5 pick, then the value of a 6-30 pick moves closer to a top 5 pick – just eyeballing your chart it looks like the TT5 guys average around 0.170 WP48. This is substantially higher than the average 0.100 WP48 that TT6-30 guys are likely to be around. Since you would always give up two 0.100 WP48 guys for a single 0.150 WP48 guy, this near miss value is minimal.

    I guess what I am saying is that these numbers convince me that I would trade 2 later first round picks for a top 5 pick in a heartbeat – it gives me 1.5 times (25% to 16%) the chance of getting a TT5 guy and the combined salary of the 2 guaranteed contracts I am getting out of is probably higher than the salary of the one guy that I end up with (not sure how steep the salary curve is…).

    related conclusion – I would never give up 2 second round picks for a later first round pick because I would be decreasing my chances (~10% to ~8%) of getting a TT5 guy and taking on more guaranteed salary – a double loss.

    Seperate topic: I wonder if GMs used to have more success identifying TT5 guys back before players started leaving early – were the top 5 picks from the 80’s TT5 guys more frequently than they are now that the top 5 picks consist almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores?

    • 9/19/2010
      Reply

      Loaded comment. It may require it’s own post to respond :-) .Tomorrow then.

  8. neal frazier
    9/19/2010
    Reply

    so only 9 of 35 top 5 picks actually became top 5 players(hereinafter TT5) – an awful success rate of ~25%, but only 15 of 175 picks 6-30 became TT5 – a success rate of ~8% and only 11 of 210 second round draft picks became TT5 – a success rate of ~5%. If getting one of the TT5 is your goal, then a top 5 pick is still about 3 times as valuable as a later first round pick.

    This begs the question of how big is the difference between someone who became TT5 from someone who became TT6-30 – ie what is the value of a near miss? The 6-30 picks should have a virtually identical, if not somewhat higher, chance of landing someone who was actually a TT6-30 pick than a top 5 pick has. If a TT6-30 pick has nearly the same productivity as a TT5 pick, then the value of a 6-30 pick moves closer to a top 5 pick – just eyeballing your chart it looks like the TT5 guys average around 0.170 WP48. This is substantially higher than the average 0.100 WP48 that TT6-30 guys are likely to be around. Since you would always give up two 0.100 WP48 guys for a single 0.150 WP48 guy, this near miss value is minimal.

    I guess what I am saying is that these numbers convince me that I would trade 2 later first round picks for a top 5 pick in a heartbeat – it gives me 1.5 times (25% to 16%) the chance of getting a TT5 guy and the combined salary of the 2 guaranteed contracts I am getting out of is probably higher than the salary of the one guy that I end up with (not sure how steep the salary curve is…).

    related conclusion – I would never give up 2 second round picks for a later first round pick because I would be decreasing my chances (~10% to ~8%) of getting a TT5 guy and taking on more guaranteed salary – a double loss.

    Seperate topic: I wonder if GMs used to have more success identifying TT5 guys back before players started leaving early – were the top 5 picks from the 80’s TT5 guys more frequently than they are now that the top 5 picks consist almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores?

    • 9/19/2010
      Reply

      Loaded comment. It may require it’s own post to respond :-) .Tomorrow then.

  9. 9/19/2010
    Reply

    I think the fact that Cleveland couldn’t hold onto Boozer or LeBron is evidence for contraction. I also agree w/ Leroux’s point – you need superstars to win. Unless it’s a deep draft, I want a top 5 pick. Arturo, you make a good point about holding onto a top draft pick but any GM that doesn’t believe they can re-sign a top draft pick should just quit. So I think successfully pitching the idea of trading a top pick for lower picks because you don’t think you’d be able to re-sign the top pick when their contract expires is easier said than done.

  10. 9/19/2010
    Reply

    I think the fact that Cleveland couldn’t hold onto Boozer or LeBron is evidence for contraction. I also agree w/ Leroux’s point – you need superstars to win. Unless it’s a deep draft, I want a top 5 pick. Arturo, you make a good point about holding onto a top draft pick but any GM that doesn’t believe they can re-sign a top draft pick should just quit. So I think successfully pitching the idea of trading a top pick for lower picks because you don’t think you’d be able to re-sign the top pick when their contract expires is easier said than done.

  11. Tom Mandel
    9/20/2010
    Reply

    Arturo, you clever fellow, what is the statistical strength for the relative productivity of any given draft position, given that you have a sample size of… what? for that position?

    *All* you are measuring is a set of random effects. Is it good to understand how powerful chance is? Sure: as Neils Bohr said in a lecture in the ’40s, “Chance is more basic than causality.”

    But, what else are you showing? Ummmm, not much.

    Lets assume a given GM is an excellent judge of talent and predictor of future productivity: which pick should he want to have? The earlier the better, obviously — the higher the pick the more chance of being able to pick that better player. Duh. And if your response is “no, the better players are taken later, don’t you see…” then stare in the mirror w/o averting your gaze as you think that through *thoroughly* for the petitio principii it is.

    Now lets assume that GMs as a class have *no ability* to judge talent and predict future performance: which pick should a GM have? Makes no difference unless you take rookie salary into consideration, right? Given that the higher rookie salary of a top pick may be reclaimed via the marketing advantages of such a pick, and given the little part rookie salaries play in overall cost of players, the $$ doesn’t much matter. Hence, in this case — as under the previous assumptions (and the 2 do exhaust the field) — it is *not* advantageous to have a later pick.

    Another way to see this point: can you say, based on your data, “it’s better to have pick #19 than pick #1”? Or pick #16, or 21? Or any other individual pick? No, of course not. The fact that Rajon Rondo went #21 is *not* evidence that #21 itself has any advantages, is it?

    Once you repeat the operation for #1 vs. *each* other pick, you understand that no it’s not better to have a later pick.

    Look one more time at the model. In how many drafts was e.g. pick #12 better than pick #1. If in more than half the drafts, then pick #12 is the better pick, yes? If in fewer than half the drafts, it’s not — right?

    In short, the fact that *some* other pick is better than #1 every year (were this so) is not an argument that #1 is anything other than the best pick.

    You with me?

  12. Tom Mandel
    9/20/2010
    Reply

    Arturo, you clever fellow, what is the statistical strength for the relative productivity of any given draft position, given that you have a sample size of… what? for that position?

    *All* you are measuring is a set of random effects. Is it good to understand how powerful chance is? Sure: as Neils Bohr said in a lecture in the ’40s, “Chance is more basic than causality.”

    But, what else are you showing? Ummmm, not much.

    Lets assume a given GM is an excellent judge of talent and predictor of future productivity: which pick should he want to have? The earlier the better, obviously — the higher the pick the more chance of being able to pick that better player. Duh. And if your response is “no, the better players are taken later, don’t you see…” then stare in the mirror w/o averting your gaze as you think that through *thoroughly* for the petitio principii it is.

    Now lets assume that GMs as a class have *no ability* to judge talent and predict future performance: which pick should a GM have? Makes no difference unless you take rookie salary into consideration, right? Given that the higher rookie salary of a top pick may be reclaimed via the marketing advantages of such a pick, and given the little part rookie salaries play in overall cost of players, the $$ doesn’t much matter. Hence, in this case — as under the previous assumptions (and the 2 do exhaust the field) — it is *not* advantageous to have a later pick.

    Another way to see this point: can you say, based on your data, “it’s better to have pick #19 than pick #1”? Or pick #16, or 21? Or any other individual pick? No, of course not. The fact that Rajon Rondo went #21 is *not* evidence that #21 itself has any advantages, is it?

    Once you repeat the operation for #1 vs. *each* other pick, you understand that no it’s not better to have a later pick.

    Look one more time at the model. In how many drafts was e.g. pick #12 better than pick #1. If in more than half the drafts, then pick #12 is the better pick, yes? If in fewer than half the drafts, it’s not — right?

    In short, the fact that *some* other pick is better than #1 every year (were this so) is not an argument that #1 is anything other than the best pick.

    You with me?

  13. Tom Mandel
    9/20/2010
    Reply

    Btw, the data you provide to answer no to the question “How good are GMs at finding talent?” seems to answer the question with a pretty strong *Yes,* rather than your no.

    The correlation is not perfect, obviously, but it is pretty significant. Moreover, there is much room for random effects (injury, etc.) over the 4 year rookie contract. Random effects, being… random, *inevitably* introduce noise into the ranking, changing stuff.

    • 9/20/2010
      Reply

      TM,
      Not what I meant actually. It’s all about market inefficiencies. The perceived value of the number 1 pick is worth more than the actual value of this pick because GMs are ineffective at selecting talent so you can trade the asset for more value and still get the player you want (assuming you build a model to give you a leg up). Check my followup post (and the comments for detail)

  14. Tom Mandel
    9/20/2010
    Reply

    Btw, the data you provide to answer no to the question “How good are GMs at finding talent?” seems to answer the question with a pretty strong *Yes,* rather than your no.

    The correlation is not perfect, obviously, but it is pretty significant. Moreover, there is much room for random effects (injury, etc.) over the 4 year rookie contract. Random effects, being… random, *inevitably* introduce noise into the ranking, changing stuff.

    • 9/20/2010
      Reply

      TM,
      Not what I meant actually. It’s all about market inefficiencies. The perceived value of the number 1 pick is worth more than the actual value of this pick because GMs are ineffective at selecting talent so you can trade the asset for more value and still get the player you want (assuming you build a model to give you a leg up). Check my followup post (and the comments for detail)

  15. Tom Mandel
    9/21/2010
    Reply

    Ah — I do agree. And it’s not just #1 picks; the delta in value between picks is overestimated. Take a look at how Darryl Morey managed the 2008 draft for an example of taking advantage of that delta.

  16. Tom Mandel
    9/21/2010
    Reply

    Ah — I do agree. And it’s not just #1 picks; the delta in value between picks is overestimated. Take a look at how Darryl Morey managed the 2008 draft for an example of taking advantage of that delta.

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