Friday, May 4, 2012

Draft Dreams Part 3: Point Taken

In Draft Dreams Part 2, I measured the success of recent top 5 NBA draft picks by how far their teams advanced in the playoffs after acquiring them.  To recap, I looked at the top 5 picks chosen in the 10 NBA drafts between 2000 and 2009 and examined how those players’ teams fared.[1]  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 series in order to get credit for their team’s progress.[2] 

The most recent Draft Dreams post provided a high-level overview of the progress of the 49 players in this study.  This time around, I’ll do break down these draft picks’ playoff progress by position.  For the sake of comparison, players were divided into 4 groups: big men (power forwards and centers listed at 6-10 or taller), swingmen (small forwards and shooting guards), point guards, and tweeners (power forwards and centers listed at 6-9 or shorter; Kenyon Martin is one example).  The following table summarizes playoff progress by position:

Point guards were the most likely to have won at least one playoff series (77.8%); in fact they were 2 times more likely than bigs to have won at least one playoff series.  The only 2 point guards who haven’t won a playoff series are Jason Williams, whose career was ended after one year by a motorcycle accident, and Raymond Felton, who has played most of his career for the Bobcats.[3]  Point guards were also the most likely to have reached the conference finals (44.4%).  There’s a huge drop off after that for point guards; only 1 in 9 has reached the NBA Finals (Devin Harris, 2006), and none of them has won an NBA championship.

I think that at least part of the reason why the point guards in this study haven’t won a championship is age.  The 4 best PGs in the study are Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.  All four were drafted in the second half of the study period (2005-2009), so they haven’t had as much time to win a title as the players taken in the first half of the study.  In fact, 2 of the 3 NBA champions in the study were drafted in 2001 (Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol), and did not win a championship until 8-10 years after being drafted.

I also think that there may be some sort of plateau effect, where a really good point guard immediately makes the really bad team that drafted him better - so good in fact, that the team no longer drafts in the lottery and thus loses one of the primary avenues to getting solid complimentary talent.  If those players play for a tight-fisted owner and/or play in a small market, those players’ teams will not be able to attract quality free agents either and thus will tend to plateau.  I think this happened to Chris Paul in New Orleans (owner) and Deron Williams in Utah (market), which caused them to leave their original teams in search of better competitive opportunities.  Russell Westbrook plays in a small market, but was able to avoid this fate because he wasn’t a very good player in his first year, allowing the Thunder to be bad enough to pick James Harden (#3 in 2009), a guy that really allowed that franchise to take the next step.  Players at other positions often take longer to affect wins and losses, so their teams will generally still have chances to draft in the lottery during subsequent years.

It will be very interesting to see what the Hornets end up doing with their draft picks.  History suggests that point guards make the most immediate impact, but there isn’t a Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Derrick Rose in this draft.  Also, the three most dominant teams in the past 20 years (Jordan-era Bulls, Lakers & Spurs) didn’t have an all-star caliber traditional pass-first point guard, so maybe we should focus on other positions and upgrade at PG through free agency. 

I’m looking forward to seeing how this all plays out and I’m glad we have a great GM at the helm for this pivotal draft.

Thanks for reading, future posts will cover bigs and other positions.

Sources:, Wikipedia (info retrieved 4/15/2012-5/4/2012)

[1] Ricky 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).
[2] For example, Mike Miller played in the 2011 NBA Finals with the Heat, but only averaged 11.9 minutes per game, so he does not receive credit for that playoff run.  Kwame Brown played for the Wizards during the 2004-2005 season during which the Wizards did go to the playoffs, but he only appeared in 42 regular season games and only played in 3 of the team’s 10 playoff games, so he doesn’t get credit for making the playoffs.
[3] Tyreke Evans has been moved over to shooting guard/small forward this season (2011-2012), so while recognizing that there are good arguments for considering him a 1, I chose to categorize him as a swingman.

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