The Fallacies of the NBA Draft

Can BC unearth another gem with the ninth pick?

Can BC unearth another gem with the ninth pick?

I love the NBA Draft. I wish there was one each week.

No surprise there as long-time readers know that the last Thursday in June is essentially my version of Christmas.

Perhaps it’s the drama involved in the entire process.

Maybe it’s because I’m such an ardent college basketball fan and have been following many of these players for years.

Or possibly it’s as simple as wanting to see which NBA teams again make bizarre choices come that Thursday:

-"Rodney White has a sketchy background but man that kid can jump – let’s grab him."

-"Nikoloz Tskitishvili dominated in those one-on-pylon workouts we put him through, plus he’s European – we can’t miss!"

"Rafael Araujo a perfect fit for our team since we need a center – it’s a no-brainer!"

And so on and so on.

Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above but in any event, there aren’t many more people who look forward to the draft more than myself.

Interestingly, over the past few years, there are suddenly an army of me’s.

Everyone has their own mock draft, and suddenly there seems to be a legion of folks devoted to the "science" of the NBA Draft.

Case in point – ESPN.com’s D.R.A.F.T. Initiative.

Besides its cute little acronym which stands for "Data-Related-Analysis for Truth," (don’t you just love when organizations put in nonsensical words to fill out the acronym they want? Seriously, ESPN makes is sound like they are trying to get to the root of the Kennedy Assassination here), it is admittedly a very ambitious endeavour. Essentially, they are looking at the real value of the draft from all angles; which position teams are choosing from, what value to expect at different draft slots, which teams have fared the best in the process…you name it.

Our associate Jonathan Givony, who we’ll be having our annual pre-draft chat with soon, and his site Draftexpress.com, are the pioneers in this field of course, and continue to provide amazing insight into individual player attributes and prognostications on their NBA futures. But ESPN’s recent work is taking the concept of "the science of the draft" one step further by analyzing things from an overall NBA perspective.

However what I found most interesting from this D.R.A.F.T. initiative was that after all of ESPN’s "science" and investigation, ironically, their research team came to the conclusion that draft impact is overrated and really, you can throw all that "science" out the window. After about the tenth pick in the lottery, you might as well be picking one of the remaining 25 names out of a hat.

This to me was quite remarkable as I always believed that if you had a good scouting service and a competent management team, you could and would always find value no matter where you were drafting from. Perhaps that’s why many of us at the HQ tend to be more excited about the draft’s second round. It’s a bit like some women stumbling upon a vintage Christian Lacroix piece at Goodwill – there are diamonds in the rough to be had.

To that end, ESPN actually took a look at how all 30 NBA teams fared since the NBA Draft was first pared down to two rounds in 1989. To no surprise, teams like San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers received A+ grades for unearthing gems like Tony Parker and Derek Fisher late in the draft.

However it may surprise some that receiving an A grade was none other than the Toronto Raptors.

While to me this was slightly unexpected given the Hoffas and Chris Jeffries that have turned up in the Dinos’ draft history, that could easily be countered with Morris Petersons and Tracy McGradys, players who performed at a much higher level than expected given the spot they were selected at. And basically that’s what ESPN’s methodology was; using John Hollinger’s "Player Efficiency Rating" (how efficient a player is on a per-minute basis) and various other factors, the D.R.A.F.T. team analyzed every draft choice the past 20 years to produce an "Estimated Wins Added" (EWA) statistic. This is quite similar of course to the "Wins Produced" metric that Dave Berri and the folks at Wages of Wins use.

Therefore ESPN was able to measure how many wins a certain draft player averaged for the team that selected him, and compare that to the average "wins added" score for wherever said player was drafted.

Example – let’s say Morris Peterson produced an EWA score of 2.4. That means throughout his career, Peterson added almost two and a half wins to whatever team he played for. That doesn’t sound like much however Peterson was selected twenty-first overall and ESPN concluded that over the past 20 years, the 21st pick has only produced 0.7 wins. Therefore Peterson well overshot the threshold for being drafted at that spot, and therefore that reflects quite well on the Toronto Raptors. Add in enough players like this, and this is how you get an A grade.

Another team that got an A grade interestingly was the Phoenix Suns, and with choices like Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire outside of the top 5, it’s not hard to see how this score came about either. I found this extremely interesting as Bryan Colangelo had a good hand in that Phoenix score, and while only a minimal impact on the Raptors’ score to date, from this perspective one could argue that the Raps are in good hands going into the upcoming draft.

However what ESPN’s analysis fails to do is to look at the EWA of players teams have passed on. So while statistically, selecting Joey Graham at 16 may not seem like a mistake considering the EWA score of most sixteenth picks, it’s obvious that choosing someone like Danny Granger would have resulted in a much higher EWA score at that spot for Toronto.

But really, that’s not what the point of this whole exercise was for ESPN.

Really, what they set out to do was to determine just how important the draft process is in the grand scheme of things, and as mentioned, after the top five picks, it’s just not that certain of a process. And after the top 10 picks, it really becomes a crapshoot.

From the ESPN Insider article:

"There've only been 28 superstar players (players with an EWA greater than 10 -- think Kevin Garnett or Jason Kidd) in the past 20 drafts -- one or two per year. In 1996, the Halley's Comet of draft classes, there were four: Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. There have been many more (110) star-caliber players (EWA greater than 5) during those 20 years.

That number means there are maybe five Rasheed Wallaces in any draft class. That's it. And they're usually pretty easy to spot."

So if you consider those five usually are gone within the top seven or eight picks, where does that leave the Raptors at 9?

Well interestingly enough, the ninth pick historically is the one spot according to the ESPN data, that has traditionally produced players that have exceeded expectations while picks six to eight have been atrocious. That of course doesn’t guarantee that the Raps end up with a gem come 10 days, but it’s indeed possible that they find someone who can help their cause sooner rather than later.

From the sounds of things, the Dinos will have another group of potential "gems" in tomorrow for a look-see.

Once again we’ll hopefully have someone from our HQ team there to get a closer look, and it sounds like names like DeRozan and Henderson may be in attendance, even just for interviews even if not for full-on workouts.

Some of these players will undoubtedly draw the praises of us onlookers and in the individual settings, appear to be a nice fit going forward for the Raps.

However after piling through all of the recent draft "science," the bottom line probably is that for Toronto to get out of the basement next year, the players they need to bring in will have to come via free agency, not the NBA draft.

FRANCHISE

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