Saturday, April 21, 2012

Draft Dreams Part 1: Winning it All

The NBA draft lottery is 5 weeks away and Hornets fans are eagerly awaiting its outcome.  With our new owner and the cap space we’ll have this summer, how well we utilize these draft picks will have a huge impact on how competitive the team is for the next few years.  Lately, I’ve had visions of Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dancing through my head, but I thought it was time to step back and assess how much of an impact we can realistically expect any one draft pick to have on a franchise.

I looked at the top 5 picks chosen in the 10 NBA drafts between 2000 and 2009 and examined how those players’ teams fared.  Team performance was measured by how far a given player’s team went in their most successful playoff run with that player;  A player had to average at least 15 minutes per game during that season or playoff run in order to get credit for their team’s progress.1

The first thing that becomes evident when looking at the data is that it is very difficult to win an NBA championship.  Of the 49 players in this analysis, only 3 of them (6.1%) have ever won an NBA title: Pau Gasol, Tyson Chandler and Dwyane Wade.  Of these 3 players, only Wade won a title with his original team.  

It’s also evident that even talented players need a lot of help to win a title.  Wade won a title with the Miami Heat in his third year in the league (2005-2006 season), but he played alongside future 1st ballot hall of famer Shaq and his head coach was Pat Riley, who had already won 4 titles and appeared in the NBA finals 8 times before that 2005-2006 championship season.  Pau Gasol won titles in 2009 and 2010, but he did so with Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players in NBA history, and his head coach was Phil Jackson, who is arguably the greatest NBA coach of all time.  Tyson Chandler won a title in 2011 with the Mavericks, but that championship wouldn’t have been possible without Dirk Nowitzki (another future hall of famer) having one of the greatest playoff runs in NBA history, future hall of famer Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, terrific coaching from Rick Carlisle, and an epic collective performance from his teammates in the finals.

6 of the 49 players (12.2%) have played in the NBA Finals, but lost: Kenyon Martin (2002, 2003), Drew Gooden (2007), LeBron James (2007), Chris Bosh (2011), Dwight Howard (2009), and Devin Harris (2006).  Of those six players, 4 of them reached the finals with their original teams (Martin, James, Howard and Harris).  Again, most of these guys got serious help in getting to the finals.  Martin had Jason Kidd, Drew Gooden had LeBron, Bosh had James/Wade, Dwight had Nelson/Hedo/Lewis and Harris had Dirk/Terry/Josh Howard/Stackhouse.  The only guy who more or less carried his team to the finals was LeBron in 2007, and even he had Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who was an all-star in 2003 and 2005.

Altogether, 9 of the 49 players (18.4%) have played in an NBA final, 5 of them (10.2%) doing so with their original teams.

In summary, Hornets fans should be excited about the upcoming draft, but we need to temper our expectations.  Even if we draft a perennial all-star, that player still needs to play alongside at least one hall of fame caliber player to win a title and alongside 2 all-stars to reach an NBA final.  Coaching also plays a huge role in determining whether or not a team wins an NBA championship.  Of the 3 players in our analysis who won titles, 2 of them were coached by Pat Riley and Phil Jackson, 2 Hall of Fame coaches with a combined 16 NBA championships and 22 Finals appearances.  This is quite a tall order for our ownership, management, coaching staff and players, but I look forward to watching Benson and company figure it all out over the next decade.  Stay tuned.

Sources:, Wikipedia (info retrieved 4/15/2012-4/21/2012)

1Ricky Rubio was a top 5 pick in the 2009 draft, but he was omitted from the analysis because he played overseas for 2 years after being drafted, so he is effectively a rookie this season (2011-2012).

Notes: Wages of Wins did a similar analysis of high draft picks, but looked at top 3 picks and did so over a much longer period of time.