Over the summer and continuing into the season there has been a lot of debate over how the Toronto Raptors should develop their team.
Should they tank?
Should they model the Pacers and develop young talent without ever tanking?
Should they do it through free agency?
Personally I have always been pro tank. While building through free agency is effective it really is not an option for the Raptors. They will never sign a Lebron James or Kevin Durant (even if they loved us as children); the money and allure of the big cities is just too much, not to mention the tax breaks. So what it really breaks down to is, should we tank or model the Pacers; who have developed their own talent. While some people could argue the Rockets present another model it is important to remember before James Harden became available they were on the road to tanking; plus it is extremely rare for a young player of that talent to ever be available.
Over the summer I decided to do some research on the quality of players that you are able to get outside of the top 5 in the NBA Draft. What I decided to do was take a look at the players in the last 10 years who have made an NBA All-Star team. Since then I have also done some more research on major award winners.
After going through all the lists of the previous 10 NBA All-Star games I found that out of the 254 All-Star nominations (including injury replacements) that occurred in those 10 years, and there was a total of 109 positions awarded to players that were drafted outside of the top 5. That means that out of the 254 All-Star nominations 145 of them were to players drafted within the top 5. That works out to approximately 57% of the All-Stars over the last 10 years were drafted in the top 5.
Taking it a step further if we were to look at the top 10 players drafted it becomes even more lopsided. Players drafted between the slots of 6-10 accounted for 45 All-Star positions awarded over the last 10 years. Meaning that out of the 254 All-Star positions awarded that 75% of the players who made All-Star games in the last 10 seasons have been drafted in the top 10 of the NBA draft.
Out of the remaining 64 All-Star places that were awarded, 15 of them were first time All-Stars, and 5 players were drafted in the second round and had more than 1 appearance accounting for 12 selections. What does that mean? That the only players in the last 10 years to make more than one All-Star team and be drafted between 10-30 are Rajon Rondo, Jermaine O'Neal, Tony, Parker, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Zach Randolph and David West. While some may argue that players selected in the second round can pan out, they are few and far between and there is a reason they are drafted in the second round. If a GM was really in love with a player they would select them higher and the majority of GMs are passing on these players meaning there is a quality to them that is difficult or impossible to realize ahead of time. The picks do have value but the relative odds of them being high impact players are very slim.
Why is this relevant to the Toronto Raptors? If we decide not to tank and stick with the current roster it appears that we are destined to either just miss the playoffs or just make the playoffs. That would mean our draft position is going to be somewhere in the range of 13-18, where history proves there is very little All-Star talent, outside of players having "flash in the pan" seasons. To find a player that is consistently great in this range is extremely difficult and rare.
What becomes even more compelling is that Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant make up 25% of the All-Star nominations that were awarded to players outside the top 10 (16/64) and both are extreme outliers in the exercise. (See Adam's post from this AM on Nash's surprising rise to superstardom.) If they were excluded it would mean that 80% of the All-Star picks were from the top 10.
When it comes to winning major awards in the NBA the top draft picks simply dominate. There are very few players ever drafted that are outside the top 6 and have won multiple major awards.
Since 1983 there have been 4 players that were not drafted in the top 6 that won the NBA MVP award. Those four players are Karl Malone (2), Steve Nash (2), Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki. The only two that won it multiple times were Malone and Nash.
Since 1990 only 3 players that were drafted outside of the top 5 have won the NBA DPOY Award: Ben Wallace (4), Ron Artest and Marc Gasol. The only one to have won it multiple times was Ben Wallace.
When it comes to the Rookie of the Year award it becomes even more astounding. No player in the last 30 years has won the NBA ROY award and been drafted outside of the top 6! With almost half of those coming from players being drafted 1st overall.
When it comes to arguably the most important award the NBA Finals MVP that awards has been handed to a player that was drafted outside the top 6 only 6 times in the last 30 years. The players who were drafted outside the top 6 were Kobe Bryant (2), Joe Dumars, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Tony Parker.
Aside of Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki no other player in NBA history has won both a finals MVP and league MVP and been drafted outside the top 6. The only players to have won multiple major awards are Kobe, Ben Wallace and Dirk.
The Current Raptor Roster
When it comes to the current roster there are two huge flaws (at least); one is that the current roster just isn't very good but the other is that it has no flexibility. If we are going to take the Pacers approach to building than we must develop our young players, Paul George would not be Paul George if he didn't get to play. Yet if we are trying to develop our young players why do we need Rudy, Hansbrough or Lowry? Internal development can only occur if we are playing the young guys. Rudy will be 28 when his contract is up and starting the downward part of his career (athletically) on his next contract.
Financially over the next two years we will be committing over 37 million dollars to four players: Rudy, Demar, Amir and Jonas. To be honest that really isn't that bad especially if you look at it from a stand point that Amir, Jonas and Demar will get 20 million. However, what becomes the problem is re-signing these players and how old they are because key players will never be hitting their peak together. When Jonas is entering his prime Rudy and Lowry will be in their mid-30s.
The bigger issue is what happens next year if we want to continue to build. The Raptors already have 60 million committed to contracts without Kyle Lowry. This team with him is not very good, yet if we re-sign him to 10 million a year we would be close to 70 million and have no room to improve our bench. With how our current roster is created to keep these players it would hamstring us financially. When you are over the cap and into the luxury what you are able to do or add in free agency is severely hampered. What this means is for the current roster to even begin to take the shape of something like the Pacers, the Raptors first need to begin to play the younger players. Currently the team is playing guys like Gay, Lowry, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough huge minutes, while the players we want to develop sit on the bench. We also have no flexibility which was key for the Pacers to strengthen their bench this year, along with getting young players like Hibbert and George who are developing at a similar rate and will enter their primes together.
While the issue I am focusing on is whether or not to tank I cannot help but mention Rudy. Aside from his contract Rudy's production on the court has been anything but helpful. When it comes to the basic metrics Rudy is not fairing terrible aside from field goal percentage, turnovers and assists per game. He is averaging: 19.8ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.5spg and 1.3bpg; all very respectable numbers. However, he is shooting a pathetic 38.8% from the field, turning the ball over at 3.4 times a game and only gets 2.2 assists per game. While you could argue there are some positive numbers; the advanced metrics are horrible. Right now Rudy is 5th in the NBA in usage at 30.7%, yet he has a negative Offensive Win Score! (Really makes me think Casey is tanking) Not to mention his pitiful Win Score per 48 minutes of 0.036. He also has a true shooting percentage of 46.6% and an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 42%; both which are career lows. Aside from his awful metrics the team also plays better on both ends with him off the court. With Rudy on the court the Raptors score 104.5 points per 100 possessions, with him off the court they score 111.6 points per 100 possessions which is 7 less points per 100 possessions. With Rudy on the court defensively they allow 105.1 points per 100 possessions and without him on the court they allow 104.1 points per 100 possessions. All that added together means per 100 possessions on each end the Raptors are 8 points better without Rudy. While Rudy puts up basic numbers the advanced metrics show more of the truth; he's really as bad for the team as it looks when watching him. Yet he is still being given huge minutes over the young players we want to develop. If we want to develop young players sitting Rudy is the first step and that won't happen as long as the team is unchanged.
While it is great to have high draft picks it is also necessary to manage the team well. A perfect example of this is San Antonio. While some will argue they did not tank, the result was the same they got the #1 overall pick. Fortunately for them they were able to get Duncan and pair him with Robinson. Of course Duncan is unique, he was an NBA ready-four year college player and is one of the greatest low post players ever; while Robinson was an elite and established player when Duncan was drafted. However since then, the team has continued to be one of the elite franchises in the NBA. They have done this through drafting well, managing their finances and developing talent. You cannot have this level of sustained success without great management and coaching. However, they could not have had this level of success without a true super star. What the numbers have shown us is that it is very unlikely to get that franchise changing talent without a high draft pick. Sure Paul George is proving to be an elite player right now, but to be a franchise changing talent he needs to do it for years and how many players are there like him? More importantly the Pacers have also managed their team well and will hopefully have two stars reaching their peaks together.
While the ability of a GM to draft is vital to a team's success, the team also has to be lucky. If the team is drafting in the 10-30 range history shows that it is much more unpredictable while in the top 6 or even 10 picks it is much easier to judge the talent. To expect the Raptors to add anything more than pieces in the 10-30 range is impractical. So while it could happen remember for every Paul George or Roy Hibbert there are a lot more Joey Grahams and Luke Babbits.
What this team needs is top end talent and to expect it to come from the draft if we are drafting in the 11-30 range is unlikely. If Masai is the General Manager we all hope and want him to be then he needs the flexibility to build his own roster and he does not have that right now. To get that flexibility he needs to trade away some of our current assets. While it is called tanking it is more about building a team properly. The Spurs are not a fluke they are well managed and develop talent extremely well, but without Duncan the franchise would never have been this successful. Before you can build you need something to build around and that is what the Raptors are missing. We are not going to find it in free agency and the numbers are clear; the club is going to have to find it at the top of the draft.