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Which NBA Teams Are Best & Worst at Drafting?

Which NBA Teams Are Best & Worst at Drafting?

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Ranking the best and worst NBA teams in terms of draft success is daunting. Not only because of the hours of research, but because I’m a Suns fan. Lifelong Phoenix fans like myself and NBA Gambling Podcast host Ryan McKee know our team’s owner Robert Sarver is just a poor man’s James Dolan. So, I knew the Suns wouldn’t rank well. But, seriously, did they have to come out looking THIS BAD?!

Methodology

How did I determine my ranking, other than just by the ol’ eye test? I calculated whether or not a team maximized their draft slot, regardless of where they drafted. Teams who made shrewd moves late in the draft are rewarded higher than a lottery team who drafted an obvious slam dunk (pun intended) prospect. I looked at who made the most out of the hand they were dealt. That is the best way to judge a front office’s abilities.

First, I ranked each draft class from 2014-18 in order of a player’s career Win Shares, the best all-encompassing NBA stat that Basketball Reference lists. I didn’t include the 2019 draft class because they haven’t played enough games to establish themselves.

Second, I took a player’s draft spot and subtracted his WS from that number. If a player is the top WS producer in his class, but was picked 30th, he scores 29 points for the team who selected him. The team in this example got a player worth 29 places more than the spot where they drafted him.

Breaking Down The Numbers

Here’s a list of the total points all 30 teams have accumulated over the 2014-18 drafts. The numbers represent how many draft slots they picked better – or worse – than.

1 Philadelphia 96
2 San Antonio 86
3 Denver 76
4 Brooklyn 73
5 Houston 69
6 Indiana 46
7 Toronto 34
8 Miami 32
9 Utah 25
10 Milwaukee 20
11 Boston 19
12 Minnesota 13
13 Detroit 11
14 Atlanta 10
14 Dallas 10
14 Lakers 10
17 Washington 1
18 Clippers -6
19 Golden State -6
20 New Orleans -8
21 Cleveland -10
22 Orlando -13
23 Chicago -17
24 OKC -21
25 Charlotte -27
26 Sacramento -39
27 Portland -42
28 New York -55
29 Memphis -57
30 Phoenix -125

The Sixers are the big winners, selecting players worth 96 draft slots better than their draft position. And my beloved Suns were far and away the biggest losers, picking players worth 125 draft slots worse. Yikes. It should come as no surprise that the top 11 teams in this ranking all made the 2020 NBA Playoffs.

However, when we rank it by the average per pick per team, the Suns aren’t quite so bad. Here is how each franchise’s average pick fared.

1 San Antonio 8.6
2 Brooklyn 8.1
3 Houston 7.7
4 Miami 6.4
5 Indiana 5.1
6 Toronto 4.9
7 Denver 4.8
8 Philadelphia 3.6
9 Milwaukee 1.7
10 Detroit 1.6
10 Utah 1.6
12 Dallas 1.4
13 Minnesota 1.2
14 Boston 1.0
14 Lakers 1.0
16 Atlanta 0.7
17 Washington 0.2
18 Orlando -0.9
19 New Orleans -1.1
20 Clippers -1.2
21 Chicago -1.7
22 Golden State -2.0
23 Charlotte -2.5
23 Cleveland -2.5
25 OKC -3.0
26 Sacramento -4.3
27 New York -6.9
28 Phoenix -7.4
29 Portland -8.4
30 Memphis -9.5

HAHA – Memphis and Portland are worse! Take that! The Grizzlies picked players, on average, worth almost 10 slots worse than where they got them. Not good.

No surprise the Spurs came out on top. They’re arguably the NBA’s best run franchise over the past two decades. And, once again, all playoff teams dominate the top of the rankings here.

Finally, let’s take a peek at the shrewdest – and silliest – moves teams’ made during this period.

Shrewd

Denver – Monte Morris – 2017 (+44)

Not a glamorous name, but the advanced stats love Monte Morris, as do Nuggets fans. Denver selected him with the 51st pick in 2017 and he’s delivered the seventh highest Win Share in the draft class. Amazing value.

Charlotte – Dwight Powell – 2014 (+42)

Charlotte picked Dwight Powell at #45 in 2014, but he never played a game for them. Three trades later, the Dallas Mavericks are benefiting from Powell’s solid play.

Denver – Nikola Jokic – 2014 (+40)

Denver again. No wonder this team is a title contender. They got a generational talent at the #41 spot in the 2014 draft.

Silly

Phoenix – Josh Jackson – 2017 (-52)

Oof. Josh Jackson didn’t pan out. A negative-producing WS player picked way up at #4 in 2017. They only passed on Jarrett Allen and Bam Adebayo and John Collins and Donovan Mitchell and OG Anunoby and….

New York – Kevin Knox – 2018 (-47)

The Knicks hit it out of the park snagging Mitchell Robinson with pick #36 in 2018. He’s worth 34 points in this exercise. However, in true Knicks’ fashion, they ruined it with Kevin Knox at #9. He currently ranks as the worst producing player in this draft class (not including players who haven’t seen any NBA action as of yet). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, taken at #11, would look good in a Knicks uniform, wouldn’t he?

New York – Frank Ntilikina – 2017 (-46)

No need for Shai when you have Franky Smokes running the show for you, right?! With pick #8 they selected the third worst player in the 2017 draft class. Ntilikina is only behind the aforementioned Jackson and Dennis Smith, who Dallas whiffed at with pick #9 but New York gladly took off their hands for Kristaps Porzingis.

Jeff Fox is the evil genius behind www.mma-manifesto.com. His work has also appeared in SLAM, Athlon Sports, FIGHT! & Fighters Only magazines, SI.com, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and many other fine establishments across the globe.

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