To say the NBA Draft process is a crap shoot undervalues how easy crap shooting is. Seriously, the miss rate on first-round draft picks in the NBA is becoming increasingly high and it’s one of the many reasons the NBA was pushing for a higher age limit to enter the NBA. Ultimately that was a fight not worth winning in next labor deal, but it remains a problem every team must manage in their own way.
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There are a few myths with regards to draft picks, the biggest being that a draft pick must be a cornerstone of the future. While that is often true of top overall picks, it’s rarely true of any other pick.
Take a look at the second overall selection over the last 20 seasons; only three are still with or finished their career with the team that drafted them, and all three of them are currently on their rookie deals.
When you look at the third overall selection, the numbers get slightly better, with five players still with the team that drafted. But Bradley Beal is the only one not on a rookie-scale deal.
A former NBA executive once joked that draft picks are either your franchise’s future or the chip you cash in to get a future.
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Most fans point to the Cavaliers’ decision to trade top overall pick Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love as a colossal mistake. However, that decision yielded Cleveland their first NBA championship. So was that a bad move? History may judge it differently down the road, but the trade-offs teams make to move up in the NBA often include moving drafted players.
Being a top-level pick rarely equates to being a long-term piece.
The other myth is that first-round draft picks stick around. More and more that’s become less true. From the 2012 NBA draft, just eight first-round players are still with the team that ended up with them on draft night. From the 2013 NBA draft, just three drafts ago, only 15 players are still with the teams that had them at the end of the first round. In 2014, that number is 20 first-rounders still on the team that ended with them on draft night.
Over the last few years, the NBA has seen more physical draft pick movement than at any point in the NBA’s history, but the movement of the picks themselves is equaled only by the frequency of the players ultimately selected with those picks either being traded or simply washing out of the league.
Being a first-round draft pick is an amazing thing that very few players get to experience, but the days of being a first-round pick with equally long-term security and success seem to be over.
Curious about how specific picks have panned out? Here is the history of the NBA Draft by draft pick. Here is the history of the NBA Draft by team. Clearly some teams have done better in the draft than others, and there is no shortage of bad selections with specific pick numbers. But if you really look at the data, what becomes increasingly clear is even the best of franchises make colossal draft mistakes, and some of the best players in the NBA were not taken with a top-three pick.
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