NBA

A Decade of Drafts: Which Teams Fared Best?

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On Thursday, another 60 prospects will be chosen in the NBA Draft.

Every year, the draft can be a minefield as teams hope to find a franchise-altering player, often choosing among under-developed 18- or 19-year-olds.  Even the most-heralded prospects may not live up to their “potential.”

Simply landing a starter in the draft can be a win, especially for those teams picking outside of the lottery’s top 14 selections.

A team like the Oklahoma City Thunder is a rarity – drafting all five of its current starters.  Having the fortune of landing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (as the Seattle SuperSonics) played a big part, but then so did smart decisions in selecting Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. That group was one win away from an NBA Finals berth.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Portland Trail Blazers chose Greg Oden over Durant.  Oden’s short career was plagued with injury and while he may have been a sensible pick in the moment, Oden’s body just couldn’t take the physical stress at the NBA level and Durant is one of the league’s stop stars.

Meanwhile, the Miami HEAT chose Michael Beasley second in 2008, after the Chicago Bulls selected future league MVP Derrick Rose as the top overall pick.  Next, the Memphis Grizzlies selected O.J. Mayo – both Beasley and Mayo drafted ahead of five-time All-Star in Westbrook, who went fourth.

Then there are steals like Draymond Green (35th in 2012), Marc Gasol (48th in 2007), Paul Millsap (47th in 2006) and Isaiah Thomas (60th in 2011). Or, conversely, disappointments like Anthony Bennett (first in 2013), Hasheem Thabeet (second in 2009) and Andrea Bargnani (first in 2006).  The odds say none of the first group are likely to be All-Stars, while Bennett, Thabeet and Bargnani never neared hopes and expectations.

Even for teams who do pick well, success on the court takes time.  The Minnesota Timberwolves have back-to-back Rookies of the Year in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and yet the franchise finished with just 29 wins last season.

A significant percentage of draft picks don’t last five seasons.  Some never make the league – in fact, guard D.J. Strawberry, taken by the Phoenix Suns in 2007, is the last 59th pick to play on an NBA regular-season roster.

Who will be the star of the 2016 NBA Draft?

Are Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram really that far ahead of the pack?  Or with the benefit 10 years hindsight, will someone like Buddy Hield, Marquese Chriss, Domantas Sabonis, Thon Maker or even Zhou Qi be the player who was foolishly overlooked?

The draft is full of potential – for both success and failure.  That’s why some general managers would happily deal away that long shot at a star for a proven one in trade.

Of course, when a team does hit the jackpot in the draft, they essentially get a decade with a franchise player.

The following tables represent an analysis of the last 10 years of the draft, from 2006 to 2015 (click each team name for a more in-depth breakdown of their picks):

Results

Team Picks All-Stars A.S.
Games
A.S. Games for Draft Team Starter Not in NBA Picks 1-15 Picks 16-30 Picks 31-60
Philadelphia 76ers 29 1 (3.4%) 1 1 7 (24.1%) 13 (44.8%) 8 6 15
Portland Trail Blazers 29 3 (10.3%) 10 9 4 (13.8%) 12 (41.4%) 7 8 14
Oklahoma City Thunder 27 3 (11.1%) 16 12 7 (25.9%) 13 (48.1%) 8 8 11
Minnesota Timberwolves 26 1 (3.8%) 3 3 5 (19.2%) 9 (34.6%) 10 4 12
Detroit Pistons 25 1 (4.0%) 1 1 8 (32.0%) 12 (48.0%) 7 1 17
Houston Rockets 25 0 0 0 1 (4.0%) 11 (44.0%) 3 7 15
Boston Celtics 23 1 (4.3%) 4 4 2 (8.7%) 12 (52.2%) 2 9 12
Brooklyn Nets 23 1 (4.3%) 1 1 2 (8.7%) 14 (60.9%) 3 9 11
Cleveland Cavaliers 22 1 (4.5%) 3 3 6 (27.3%) 10 (45.5%) 5 5 12
Utah Jazz 22 1 (4.5%) 3 0 4 (18.2%) 9 (40.9%) 7 5 10
Milwaukee Bucks 21 0 0 0 7 (33.3%) 9 (42.9%) 7 2 12
New York Knicks 20 0 0 0 4 (20.0%) 10 (50.0%) 3 7 10
San Antonio Spurs 20 1 (5.0%) 1 1 1 (5.0%) 13 (65.0%) 1 7 12
Atlanta Hawks 19 2 (10.5%) 5 5 2 (10.5%) 7 (36.8%) 4 5 10
Los Angeles Lakers 19 1 (5.3%) 2 0 3 (15.8%) 9 (47.4%) 2 3 14
Memphis Grizzlies 19 1 (5.3%) 2 0 3 (15.8%) 9 (47.4%) 5 7 7
Phoenix Suns 19 0 0 0 3 (15.8%) 9 (47.4%) 7 5 7
Charlotte Hornets 18 0 0 0 6 (33.3%) 5 (27.8%) 9 3 6
Golden State Warriors 18 3 (16.7%) 6 6 4 (22.2%) 9 (50.0%) 7 4 7
Sacramento Kings 18 2 (11.1%) 3 2 6 (33.3%) 6 (33.3%) 9 2 7
Washington Wizards 18 1 (5.6%) 3 3 2 (11.1%) 8 (44.4%) 5 6 7
Chicago Bulls 17 3 (17.6%) 7 7 5 (29.4%) 3 (17.6%) 5 7 5
Orlando Magic 17 0 0 0 2 (11.8%) 8 (47.1%) 5 3 9
Dallas Mavericks 16 0 0 0 0 13 (81.3%) 0 6 10
Indiana Pacers 16 2 (12.5%) 5 5 2 (12.5%) 5 (31.3%) 4 4 8
Los Angeles Clippers 16 1 (6.3%) 5 5 4 (25%) 8 (50%) 4 3 9
Denver Nuggets 15 0 0 0 5 (33.3%) 6 (40.0%) 1 6 8
Toronto Raptors 15 1 (6.7%) 2 2 5 (33.3%) 5 (33.3%) 5 2 8
Miami HEAT 14 0 0 0 2 (14.3%) 5 (35.7%) 2 3 9
New Orleans Pelicans 14 1 (7.1%) 3 3 1 (7.1%) 8 (57.1%) 5 3 6
Totals: 600 32 (5.3%)  86 73 115 (19.2%) 270 (45.0%)      

Each team links to a breakdown of their 10-year performance.

Note: Players are associated with either their drafting team or the franchise that acquired them on a draft-day trade.  For instance, Gasol is on record a pick of the Lakers – even if they traded him before he joined the league (to the Grizzlies to acquire his brother Pau Gasol, prior to Marc Gasol).

Adams was a Thunder pick, acquired prior to the draft from the Houston Rockets for James Harden – another stellar pick from the Oklahoma City franchise.

The Indiana Pacers technically selected Kawhi Leonard, but he’s considered a San Antonio Spurs’ pick, via draft-day trade for George Hill.  Wiggins is credited to the Cleveland Cavaliers, dealt two months later to the Wolves for Kevin Love.

To qualify as a starter in this analysis, a player needed to start a minimum of 50 games for at least 40 percent of their career.  “Not in NBA” includes players who were not on a team’s roster to finish this past year, who played fewer than six seasons in the league.

Additionally, the results for the most recent drafts will evolve over time, more so than older classes.

Baseline

The following table shows the league averages from 2006 to 2015, by tier:

Pick All-Star Starter Not in NBA
1-5 12 (24%) 30 (60%) 3 (6%)
6-10 8 (16%) 30 (60%) 7 (14%)
11-15 2 (4%) 12 (24%) 8 (16%)
16-20 3 (6%) 10 (20%) 8 (16%)
21-25 2 (4%) 8 (16%) 15 (30%)
26-30 1 (2%) 5 (10%) 20 (40%)
31-40 1 (2%) 11 (11%) 52 (52%)
41-50 2 (2%) 8 (8%) 70 (70%)
51-60 1 (1%) 1 (1%) 87 (87%)
Total 32 (5.3%) 115 (19.7%) 270 (45.0%)

Top Teams

The Bulls have selected three All-Stars in just 17 drafts, the best rate in the league at 17.6 percent.  Unfortunately, injuries have slowed former league MVP Rose, but the team also found Joakim Noah in 2007 with the ninth overall pick and stole Jimmy Butler at 30 in 2011.  The Bulls also chose starters in Thabo Sefolosha (2006-13th) and Omer Asik (2008-36th), although both found most of their success outside of Chicago.  Only three of the Bulls’ picks were out of the league within five years, best in the league at 17.6 percent.

Golden State built a championship roster with four starters (three All-Stars) in 19 picks, with Stephen Curry (2009-7th), Klay Thompson (2011-11th), Harrison Barnes (2012-7th) and Green.  Finding an All-Star in the second round is very rare — just four so far over the past decade.

The Pacers got both Paul George (2010-10th) and departed center Roy Hibbert (2008-17th) in the draft, a high percentage of All-Stars (12.5 percent) in just 16 picks – but the pair represents the only starters thus far.  Rookie Myles Turner (2015-11th) showed great potential last season as a possible third.  Only five of the team’s picks were quickly out of the NBA (31.3 percent), third-best in the league.

The Hornets, formerly drafting as the Bobcats, have yet to land an All-Star in the draft, although Kemba Walker (2011-9th) made a strong case this past year.  Charlotte found six starters in 18 tries (33.3 percent) – among the best in the league, although only Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2012-2nd) and Walker remain on the roster.  Charlotte is also second to the Bulls with only 27.8 percent of players falling out of the league within five years.

Oklahoma City’s trio of Durant, Westbrook and Harden have combined to play in 16 All-Star games, although Harden’s four were with the Rockets.  Even at 12, the Thunder eclipse the next-best team in the Trail Blazers, who generated 10 All-Star appearances among Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge (nine in Portland) and Brandon Roy.

The Kings also have better than average numbers, finding six starters (33.3 percent) in 18 tries.  In addition to All-Star DeMarcus Cousins (2010-5th), Sacramento made one of the best picks over the last 10 years in Thomas at the end of the 2011 draft.  Thomas has since moved on to the Suns and now the Celtics, where he earned his first All-Star berth this past season.

Minnesota’s trade record may not be reflected just yet in the numbers, but recent draft picks may yield a different result in a year’s time.

Bottom Teams

Of the Mavericks’ 16 picks, 13 didn’t last five years (81.3 percent).  To be fair, Dallas hasn’t picked in the top 15, with 10 picks (62.5 percent) coming in the second round.

Boston’s best pick was Rajon Rondo (2006-21st), but the team has only found two starters in 23 picks (8.7 percent) with 12 out of the league (52.2 percent).  The Nets are worse, also with two starters in 23 selections, but 14 didn’t last five years (60.9 percent).  In addition to their lone All-Star (Brook Lopez, 2008-10th), the Nets dealt Derrick Favors (2010-3rd) to the Utah Jazz for an injury-plagued Deron Williams.

The Grizzlies have drafted one All-Star in 19 picks: Kyle Lowry, who earned the honor with the Toronto Raptors.  They found three starters (15.8 percent), but made two major gaffes in choosing Thabeet over Harden and Mayo over Westbrook.

The Pelicans, formerly the Hornets, have found one just one starter in the league in 14 tries, worst in the league (7.1 percent).  That their one success was Anthony Davis (2012-1st) is enough to make up for the other misses – but then, how hard was the decision once the team won the lottery in 2012?

Finally, the Spurs have a reputation for finding steals in the draft, but outside of Leonard, who was undoubtedly a tremendous pick at 15th overall in 2011, San Antonio hasn’t found any other starters in 20 tries. And only the Mavericks have a higher percentage of picks out of the league within five years. While 13 of the Spurs’ 20 picks are not in the NBA (65 percent), 18 were in the 26 to 59th range.

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About Eric Pincus

Eric Pincus

Eric Pincus is a Senior Writer for Basketball Insiders, with a focus on the business side of the game.

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