The Value of a Draft Pick

Published: June 2, 2010

It’s time for my annual “Value of a Draft Pick” post, where I attempt to lower expectations, dash dreams and crush hopes with cold, hard numbers – right before I spend the next couple weeks desperately hoping for something amazing out of the draft.

As always, I’ll start by explaining my methodology and ranking system, and then summarize the value of picks in the draft before getting to the Hornet’s pick specifically.  If you only care about what the 11th pick will do for you, then skip to the last section of this post.

Determining the Value of a Pick

To determine the value of a pick, I assigned an overall career ranking based on a bastardized Wages of Wins Win Score and applied it to all the players who have been taken in the drafts since 1984.  I also cut off my evaluation of players after 2006 since most players don’t reach their true level of play until after their third full season.  Finally I jammed those numbers into a simple Grade ranking. Below is what each grade means, and I give an example player the Hornets drafted:

  • N/A – the player never logged an NBA minute. (Tim Pickett, Andrew Betts)
  • F – The player never developed and earned only minor garbage time minutes – or was really, really bad. (Hilton Armstrong, Cedric Simmons. Yay 2006 draft!)
  • D – A substitute – possibly in the rotation, but a 7th or 8th man at best. (Lee Nailon, Julian is headed here)
  • C – A fringe starter, sixth man sort. (JR Smith)
  • B – A solid starter (David West, Jamaal Magloire)
  • A – A star (Baron Davis, Chris Paul)

The picks fell rather logically into groups based on their average rating so I’ve collated those groups in the below table and then determined the % chance of receiving each classification of player.

Pick(s) “A” Ranking “B” Ranking “C” Ranking “D” Ranking “F” Ranking “N/A” Ranking
1 57% 13% 22% 4% 4% 0%
2-5 34% 23% 24% 13% 5% 1%
6-10 17% 17% 22% 28% 16% 0%
11-18 8% 13% 20% 28% 30% 1%
19-27 5% 8% 20% 31% 32% 3%
28-37 2% 5% 10% 28% 40% 15%
38-60 1% 2% 10% 19% 29% 40%

So what does this tell us? The 1st pick is worth a lot more than any other pick, period. With the 1st pick of the draft, there is a 70% chance to land a major player.  However, as soon as the pick drops to any of the spots between 2nd and 5th, only a little more than half the players are starter quality, and one out of five will be awful(D ranking or worse). I should also note there is no significant difference between picking 2nd and picking 5th. The players taken in those spots produce almost equally in the NBA.

The next group are Picks 6-10. As you can see, the odds of picking up a starting-caliber player or better has dropped to one in three. Still, with one of these picks, there is a great chance of landing a useful player(54%), and a solid 17% chance you’ll get a star.

Picks 11-18 are where the numbers start bottoming out. While still likely to land a rotation player, the chance of getting a star is small.  You are also more likely to get a total bust(31%) than you are to get a starter.(22%)

19-27 continues the trend, with more players falling into grade D and lower(66%) though it is still possible to land a good player.  The odds are that one(Darren Collison, anybody?) of the nine players picked in this range will at least be a starter, and another two will land in a rotation.  The rest?  Yuck.

Picks 28 through 37 are essentially the last chance to get anyone worth drafting. Almost half the players taken here will only stick with a team for a couple years while a rare few will pan out and be good.(7%) The bad news is a team has the same chance that a draft pick will never play an NBA minute(15%) as it does finding a valuable contributer.(16%)

Players taken after 37 are pretty much throw-aways. Almost half will never play in the NBA, and a bare 2% will ever be considered good.  Two teams will probably dig up decent rotation players, but they’ve clearly beaten the odds.

Looking at these numbers again, it’s freakish how well last year’s draft worked out.  Based on Collison and Thornton’s current ranking, they had a 13% chance to snag a player of Collison’s quality or better at his spot, and a 3% chance with Thornton.

What will the 11th pick do for me?

To wrap this post up, here are the stats specifically for the 11th pick of the draft, which is currently held by the Hornets:

Pick A B C D F N/A
11th 13% 9% 22% 43% 9% 4%

As you can see, it has not historically been a pick that performs well, and indeed marks a major fall-off in how picks perform.(The average ranking drops from 3.1 ranking to a 2.6 ranking at this point.  Think of that in GPA terms.)  Recent history, in particular, hasn’t been kind to the 11th pick in the draft.  In drafts from 1999 to 2007, the roll call of 11th picks is decidedly uninspiring: Trajan Langdon, Jerome Moiso, Kedrick Brown, Jared Jeffries, Mickael Pietrus, Andris Biedrins, Fran Vazquez, JJ Redick, and Acie Law.  I’d only welcome a couple of those guys onto the Hornets.(Particularly Biedrins)

In the past, however, the pick has produced some gems like Reggie Miller, Terrell Brandon, and the polar playoff opposites: Robert Horry and Nick Anderson.  Oh – and the much overrated Allen Houston was an 11th pick too.  So it is possible to get a pretty solid player out of the pick.

Normally, my worry here would be that the Hornets would reach for a big man with potential at this spot – something that almost never pans out – but I’m not sure that is something that should be a concern after last year’s draft.  It appears to me that Jeff Bower is going to take the best player that can help right now in the draft, regardless of position. (Picking Collison when Paul was on the roster?)  That, at least, is comforting.  I’m always skeptical about any big man prospect that comes with the tag of “project” next to their name. 

Hassan Whiteside, Daniel Orton, and Ed Davis scare the crap out of me.  Right now, my one feasible hope for a player to slide would be for Greg Monroe to  somehow fall to the Hornets.  His passing and defensive rebounding were tremendous in college.  The Hornet’s need the rebounding – and imagine him and West dropping bounce passes to a cutting Thornton or Collison.  Makes me drool.

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