Be Careful What You Wish For
Which draft slot pumps out the best players?
by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz
The NBA Draft is never—and I mean never—what it appears. “Sure things” flop. “Can’t misses” miss. Healthy college kids become injury-plagued pros. Spectacular athletes can’t figure out how to use their talents. Shooters can’t shoot. Combo guards and forwards find that they fit at neither position.
But there’s not only disappointment through the Draft. Overlooked guys shine when given an opportunity. Players whose draft stock plummeted because of injury concerns prove they can stay on the court. Kids from mid-majors rise to the challenge at the highest level.
All sorts of whacky stuff happens—year, after year, after year, after year. It seems like the only thing we can all agree on is that a higher pick in the Draft is better. Sorry to be the guy who sweats all over the court, if you will, but I’m here to say that even that is uncertain.
If one were to look back at Drafts since, say, 2000 and break down how each Draft slot (all of the first overall picks versus all of the second overall picks versus all of the third overall picks and so on) has produced, we might see that higher ain’t always better.
Good news! That’s exactly what I did. A few notes before we dig in.
1. It’s early August, so the end of summer is looking less like a foggy haze in the distance and more like a wave of work and bosses and more work and more bosses that’s about to hit us all in the face. For some (college students), it’s a welcome sight. For others (everybody else), it’s the moment we’ve dreaded for months.
Anyway, in the spirit of back-to-school, players will be graded just like schoolwork. Each player taken in the top 10 between 2000-2009 (I’ll explain why it’s those years in just a moment) receives a letter grade, A-F (skipping E, of course).
2. Every player’s grade (A-F) is averaged out, giving the group its Composite GPA. To calculate the GPA, the following system was used: A+=5.0, A=4.0, B=3.0, C=2.0, D=1.0 and F=0.
3. The player pool ranges from the 2000 Draft up to and including the 2009 Draft. You may ask why (or, if not, skip to Note No. 4).
Well, we had draw the line somewhere, and 2000 seemed like an appropriate cut-off. Why? I don’t know.
More important, though, is the 2009 ending point. Since the name of the game is rating each player’s career productivity, it didn’t seem fair to measure a career like that of sophomore Jan Vesley or third-year man Paul George quite yet.
Frankly, I think Vesley will be a bust and George will be a star, but it’s just too early to tell.
Players who were selected after 2009 are still listed, but receive a “N/A” grade. They don’t factor into the GPA, but are listed there for your benefit.
4. Only the top-10 slots (picks 1-10) are counted here. Factoring in picks outside the top 10 and breaking down, say, the entire first round, would bring in bizarre numbers. For instance, MarShon Brooks (’11), Roddy Beaubois (’09) and Nicolas Batum (’08) were three of the last four guys go to 25th overall, excluding this year’s pick. Does that mean that teams picking 25th should feel any sort of certainty? Of course not!
5. There are two ties. The tie-breaker is based on the amount of “F” players a group has. The group with fewer Fs gets the better ranking.
6. Rules are there are no rules! …except for the first five. Those are taken very seriously. Let’s go worst-to-first.
2012: Damian Lillard (N/A)
2011: Jan Vesley (N/A)
2010: Ekpe Udoh (N/A)
2009: Jonny Flynn (F)
2008: Danilo Gallinari (B)
2007: Yi Jianlian (F)
2006: Brandon Roy (B)
2005: Martell Webster (F)
2004: Josh Childress (F)
2003: Chris Kaman (C)
2002: DeJuan Wagner (F)
2001: Shane Battier (C)
2000: DerMarr Johnson (F)
Composite GPA: 1.0
Bam! The group of sixth overall picks getting things started off on the wrong foot here. Six of the last 10 guys taken are Fs. Fs! Like, play poorly for the team for a couple of years, get a team to take a flier because of immense upside, fail again and then struggle to find work type of Fs.
Even Brandon Roy, who, along with Gallinari, keeps this group above a zero-point-somethin’ GPA, has had a disappointing career.
Side note: Battier was probably the toughest guy on this entire project to grade. Of course he’s a remarkable defender and all-around great guy. But career averages of roughly 10 and 5 don’t get you into the NBA’s second tier.
2012: Terrance Ross (N/A)
2011: Brandon Knight (N/A)
2010: Al Farouq-Aminu (N/A)
2009: Jordan Hill (D)
2008: Joe Alexander (F)
2007: Brandan Wright (F)
2006: Rudy Gay (B)
2005: Channing Frye (D)
2004: Rafael Araujo (F)
2003: TJ Ford (D)
2002: Chris Wilcox (D)
2001: Gana Diop (F)
2000: Jamal Crawford (B)
Composite GPA: 1.0
This bunch is just as bad as the sixth overall picks, but it’s a little less in-your-face about it. Hill, Frye, Ford and Wilcox are/were good role players. Even Diop and Wright can contribute a few minutes. Gay is somewhere between a reliable scorer and a genuine go-to guy (call it the Joe Johnson syndrom), and Crawford has been making defenders look silly with his nasty crossovers for over a decade.
Another side note: Crawford was the second-toughest guy to rate on this list after Battier. He’s not really a whole level better than a player like Battier, but he’s been a prolific scorer for a long time. Eight straight years of 17+ points per contest has to count for something, right?
2012: Andre Drummond (N/A)
2011: Kemba Walker (N/A)
2010: Gordon Hayward (N/A)
2009: DeMar DeRozan (C)
2008: DJ Augustin (C)
2007: Joakim Noah (B)
2006: Patrick O’Bryant (F)
2005: Ike Diogu (F)
2004: Andre Iguodala (B)
2003: Michael Sweetney (F)
2002: Amar’e Stoudemire (A)
2001: Rodney White (F)
2000: Joel Przybilla (D)
Composite GPA: 1.5
This bunch has some serious talent, though the overall GPA may warrant academic probation. Failing four out of 10 times doesn’t scream valedictorian. Overall, though, the results are basically what one might expect from the ninth overall pick. By that slot it’s a real gamble (though, really, every pick is).
Noah, Iguodala and Stoudemire are total steals. Guys like DeRozan and Augustin are more-or-less the standard for that area of the Draft. O’Bryant, Diogu, Sweetney and White were complete busts.
2012: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (N/A)
2011: Derrick Williams (N/A)
2010: Evan Turner (N/A)
2009: Hasheem Thabeet (F)
2008: Michael Beasley (C)
2007: Kevin Durant (A+)
2006: LaMarcus Aldridge (A)
2005: Marvin Williams (D)
2004: Emeka Okafor (C)
2003: Darko Milicic (F-minus)
2002: Jay Williams (F)
2001: Tyson Chandler (C)
2000: Stromile Swift (D)
Composite GPA: 1.7
This is absolutely shocking. It’s not as if the second pick has produced bust after bust, but the lack of stars is surprising. Of course Durant and Aldridge—especially the former—are legitimate studs, but the rest just aren’t.
Okafor, Beasley and Chandler are good, not great. Swift and Williams have had pretty similar careers—completely serviceable, but never the guy you want to give the ball to. Perhaps no two players have had more similar careers than Thabeet and Darko.
Yes, Milicic has turned himself into a decent enough boards and blocks guy while Thabeet has done nothing, but Darko won’t be remembered for his mediocre paint presence. Both had the potential to be truly elite big men. Neither panned out.
Williams is sort of an exception because of his bizarre career—he played just one (pretty good) season in the NBA before suffering career-ending motorcycle injuries. Unfortunately, playing in just 75 career games gets you an F. It’s like being a really smart kid that never shows up to class—can’t give him an A because of what could have been.
But back to the main point. The names listed above are the second overall picks. Not lottery picks or even top-five guys. Darko was thought of as the player closest to LeBron in ’03. And Okafor to Dwight Howard in ’04. And Beasley to Derrick Rose in ’08. And Thabeet to Blake Griffin in ’09 and so on.
What’s even more shocking is that it doesn’t really look like the trend is going to be changing any time soon. Evan Turner has produced a little bit for Philadelphia, but seems destined to be a “C” player his whole career.
Derrick Williams had a very disappointing rookie season in Minnesota, averaging shy of 9 and 5 in north of 21 minutes per game. It’s obviously too early to predict what MKG will do, but his draft position was up for debate until the very moment he was selected.
Second overall picks are extraordinarily valuable assets. Owning the second pick in a given draft represents the opportunity to bring in a franchise-changing player, and for cheap, too. But, again, nothing is as it appears when it comes to the Draft. Thabeet is the only guy who, so far, turned out to simply not be good enough to play in the NBA. But teams aren’t looking for players who are good enough to be in the NBA. There are hundreds of those guys. Teams are looking for stars—maybe even superstars—but they’re not finding them here.