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Top 10 NBA Draft Picks Aren’t As Valuable As You Think

Top 10 NBA Draft Picks Aren't As Valuable As You Think

Can you name this #1 overall NBA Draft pick?

So you’ve got a top 10 NBA draft pick, do you? You think you’ve got it made in the shade. Well, not so fast my friend. Not all NBA draft picks are created equal, and there are no sure things. The NBA draft is still very much a crapshoot.

As I showed recently, some teams are much better than others when it comes to evaluating and drafting quality players, no matter where they pick in the draft. Now I decided to endeavor to find out what level of player a team can reasonably expect to end up with depending on their NBA draft position.

But, before I get to my results for that, I stumbled across a very interesting fact. Like my previous article, I used Basketball Reference and their Win Share stat to get a picture of a player’s complete performance on both ends of the floor and in every aspect of the game. I analyzed the top 10 picks from the drafts from 2008-18 inclusive (the 2019 players haven’t seen enough NBA action yet to get a good snapshot of their abilities). So, about that surprising thing I found. Below is a ranking of Total Win Shares for each draft position in the NBA draft from 2008-18 (top 10 only to make this manageable for me).

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Most Valuable NBA Draft Picks By Total Win Shares

Pick # Total Win Shares
3 379.9
1 366.4
9 283
7 270.9
10 186.1
5 184.6
6 181.7
4 163.2
2 125.6
8 119.2

The #1 pick is overrated! Actually, some real tiers of picks expose themselves. Pick #3 and #1 are the top tier; #9 and #7 are a step down; #10, #5 and #6 another step down; #4 a notch down from that; then picks #2 and #8 are the worst. The #2 pick in the draft has been three times less valuable than picks #1 and #3. Wild.

James Harden, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Joel Embiid, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Luka Doncic were all picked at the magical #3 spot during this 10 year span. O.J. Mayo and Jahlil Okafor are the only busts drafted here. That means Charlotte should be sitting pretty this year, right? Just sit back and wait for the best player available to fall to you (sounds easy but Charlotte has a way of screwing things up).

Most Valuable NBA Draft Picks By Average Win Shares per 48 mins

Let’s get down to the task of seeing what type of player a team can expect to get on average from a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft.

First, here’s the Average Win Share per 48 minutes for each draft position from 2008-18. Note that the average player racks up 0.100 WS/48; stars are around 0.200; superstars 0.250 (Giannis led this year with 0.279)

 

Pick # Average Win Share/48
3 0.137
1 0.125
6 0.095
7 0.093
9 0.088
5 0.08
10 0.077
2 0.074
4 0.052
8 0.05

Once again, pick #3 rules the roost with 0.137 WS/48. So you’re getting an above average player, on average, at pick #3 in the NBA draft. For reference, here are some players that scored in that range this past season: Jayson Tatum (0.146), Brook Lopez (0.145), Fred VanVleet (0.145), Devin Booker (0.143), Kristaps Porzingis (0.138), Trae Young (0.133), Al Horford (0.128).

Basically you’re getting yourself an All-Star. Same goes for pick #1, which wasn’t too far behind at 0.125. However, outside of those two spots and pick #6, more often than not you are going to end up with a slightly below average NBA player.

Odds of Getting an Average Player in Top 10

How about the odds of getting at least an average player in the top 10? Here are the odds for each pick:

#1 – 70%
#2 – 20%
#3 – 80%
#4 – 40%
#5 – 40%
#6 – 30%
#7 – 40%
#8 – 10%
#9 – 30%
#10 – 20%

You’d expect to see a gradual decline with each draft slot, but instead it’s all over the map. Basically, you don’t want pick #2 (sorry Golden State). Overall, top 10 picks produce an average NBA player 38% of the time, and a superstar level player 4% of the time. Superstar players truly don’t grow on trees.

What are the conclusions here? In conjunction with my previous article, it’s very apparent that success in the NBA Draft is less a matter of where you draft and more a product of who you have making the decisions behind these selections. Well run NBA front offices will find gems at whatever spot in the draft they end up choosing at. The whole draft process is set up to reward bad teams, yet we see the same teams drafting high pretty much every year. That tells you all you need to know.

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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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