Real Time Analytics

A Statistical Analysis Of The NBA Draft

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA looks forward to the 2017 Draft this summer, it’s time for us to look back at which teams have been the best drafters over the past decade.

As with many years, the trade deadline has become a turning point for many teams regarding their plans for the rest of this season. Some teams will try to go all in and make a push for the playoffs, while others go the opposite direction and hope for ping-pong balls to bounce their way.

As we enter the final month of the regular season, more and more teams begin to fall into that latter category; but, as they begin to look forward, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back.

Attached below is an Excel sheet with information about every draft pick between 2006 and 2015. Using that information, I will attempt to figure out who have been the best and worst drafting teams in the league over that decade.

(Apologies for the link being small within the post, but if you click the bottom right button on the black bar, the Excel sheet will open up in a new tab and should be easier to read.)

At first glance it will likely look like a mess of colors, but I will try to clarify the madness. Adjacent to each player there is both the team that drafted them and two columns: “value“ and “net value.

I will explain what the numbers represent in a moment, but first the colors. All 600 players were divided up into nine tiers based on their career performance (or projected performance for younger players) with each tier having an associated color.

Tier 1 (Purple)
MVP10 Points
Tier 2 (Blue)Perennial All-Star8 Points
Tier 3 (Dark Green)One-time or Infrequent All-Star7 Points
Tier 4 (Light Green)Very Good Starter6 Points
Tier 5 (Yellow)Started 60% of Career Games5 Points
Tier 6 (Orange)Started 50+ Games over Career3 Points
Tier 7 (Brown)Role Player2 Points
Tier 8 (Red)Minimal Player1 Point
Tier 9 (Gray)Never Played0 Points

The column to the far right with the point allocation corresponds to the first number next to each player labeled valueValue represents each player’s achievements over their career, regardless of where in the draft they were selected.

Each draft was then broken up into six separate groups in order to bunch players based on similar draft position. Those groups were: 1st overall, 2nd-3rd Overall, the Lottery (4th-12th), the rest of the First Round (13th-30th), the first half of the Second Round (31st-45th), and the second half of the Second Round (46th-60th).

Using those group breakdowns, I then calculated the average value for every player over those 10 drafts. That number was then rounded to the nearest half number for easier math, and then each player in that group would be given a net value based on how their value compared to the average.

The average value is essentially what quality of a player a draft pick is expected to yield, so a player’s net value is essentially how much better or worse they performed than their exceptions. On average, the later a draft pick, the less value they bring. So when comparing players of the same tier but drafted in a different group, the player drafted later will have the higher net rating.

Now that the basics are taken care of, let’s take a look at how many players are in each tier.

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This breakdown isn’t only expected, but the goal when creating the parameters for each tier. The majority of drafted players become just role players or marginal starters over their careers, and very few end up in the top “All Star-caliber” tiers.

Now, going back to the excel sheet, if you scroll all the way to the right you will see each NBA team with four numbers next to them. Those numbers are, in order, their total number of draft selections, their total value (the sum of all their picks’ values), their value/pick (total value divided by number of picks), and their total net value (the sum of their players’ net values).

Teams that did well in total value were usually those with several picks or those who managed to find multiple All Star players with their selections.

Top Five Teams “Total Value”Bottom Five Teams “Total Value”
1. Portland (78)26. New Orleans (39)
2. Minnesota (77)
27. Miami (37)
3. Oklahoma City (75)28. Orlando (36)
4. Philadelphia (69)29. San Antonio (35)
5. Utah (66)30. Dallas (28)

Portland has the most number of picks out of any team with 30 and so their total value is very high, based largely on the sheer number of players they selected. Minnesota and Oklahoma City both do well because they both selected multiple All Star-caliber players as well as found talent after the lottery.

Interestingly, San Antonio and Dallas, two pretty intelligent franchises, are the bottom two teams in the league. However, their low rankings have pretty simple explanations. Both franchises have been consistent playoff teams who, instead of looking for starters, were looking for role players and those who fit into their system, and therefore aren’t getting the total talent that other teams might be looking for.

Similarly to total value, value per pick rewards teams who both find lots of talent but also those who consistently find second round players who find roles in the league.

Top Five Teams “Value per Pick”Bottom Five Teams “Value per Pick”
1. Sacramento (3.61)26. Orlando (2.40)
2. Chicago (3.56)27. Houston (2.29)
3. Charlotte (3.38)28. Detroit (2.28)
4. Atlanta (3.33)29. San Antonio (1.67)
4.  Golden State (3.33)30. Dallas (1.65)

When you think of consistency in the NBA, you’d be forgiven if the Kings aren’t the first team that comes to mind. While I was admittedly pretty surprised to see Sacramento rank so highly in value per pick, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

While some of their recent picks haven’t panned out, Sacramento has been able to find a couple stars later in the draft. The Kings get credit for drafting both Isaiah Thomas and Hassan Whiteside in the Second Round, which significantly helps their numbers.

However, considering the state of their franchise at the moment, their top spot may not be a thing they can hang their hat on. While the Kings should absolutely get credit for identifying talent late in the draft, the fact both players only succeeded after leaving Sacramento speaks volumes to the franchise’s current problems.

Both total value and value per pick are helpful in identifying which teams have gotten the most talent, but those numbers are biased towards teams who routinely pick in the lottery. In my opinion, total net value is the stat that most accurately shows which teams are the best drafters.

Top Five Teams “Total Net Value”Bottom Five Teams “Total Net Value”
1. Denver (+10.5)26. Portland (-4.5)
2. Milwaukee (+10)27. San Antonio (-5)
3. Chicago (+9.5)28. Phoenix (-5.5)
4. Los Angles Lakers (+9)29. Cleveland (-8.5)
5. Indiana (+8)30. Dallas (-9)

Chicago makes the top three almost entirely based on Derrick Rose, one of only three Tier 1 players in the entire list. Milwaukee and Denver have both been successful recently in finding extremely talented players outside the top-10 in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, respectively. They have also both been identified multiple late-First and Second Round talents, which bumps them up above some of the other teams on the list.

On the bottom, Cleveland was middle of the road for the most part, but falls to the bottom largely due to the biggest net negative on this list, Anthony Bennett (-4.5). San Antonio, despite drafting Kawhi Leonard, is so low because the only consistent starters they drafted over the 10 years were Leonard and George Hill.

And finally, bringing up the rear, Dallas finishes last for the third time in three categories. Widely considered one of the smarter franchises in the league, it really surprised me how poorly Dallas did in this exercise. Not only have the Mavericks failed to draft an All-Star in well over a decade, but Dallas is the only team on the list to not even manage two net positive picks. Since the Mavericks did win a title in 2011, we can give them some slack for poor drafts; but if they want to return to being a championship contender, they are really going to have to turn their fortunes around soon.

While this is not a perfect answer as to who the best drafters in the league are, I hope it has at least been somewhat illuminating. The inability to be completely objective when evaluating players, as well as limitations on sample size and number of tiers means any information gleaned from this exercise should be taken with a grain of salt. There will always be ways to improve the data, but hopefully this has been an interesting and somewhat informative look into one of the most important but hidden parts of the NBA.

Edited by Emily Berman, Coleman Gray.

How many second round picks have become NBA All Stars since 2006?
Created 2/28/17
  1. 6
  2. 5
  3. 2
  4. 3

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