On Tuesday, I kicked off this series on the NBA Draft by doing a little number crunching. Now, it’s time to look where the award winners came from in the draft.
Breaking Down the Players
Most everyone knows the value of accolades like MVP awards, All-NBA selections or All-Star team nods. It’s true these are subjective by nature, but their record is fact. You could argue that Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant should have won the MVP the years they were awarded to Steve Nash, but the fact is that Nash actually won them. Even in disagreement, the shared understanding is sufficient to provide proper perspective.
Let’s start by looking at how many players actually received a major award/accolade during their careers. In order to avoid duplication, the chart below shows where players who were drafted peaked during their career.
One of the things that immediately jumps out at you is exactly how hard it is to get any of these accolades. Of the 1,553 drafted players in the sample that saw floor time since 1978, only 209 have been able to achieve one of these seven accolade categories. Almost twice as many draftees never played as were honored in these tiers. It’s also important to note that the All-NBA Third Team was not added until the 1989 season, and that could have impacted some of the players who peaked as All-Stars prior to that.
Most Valuable Player
The single most exclusive club in the NBA. When discussing this with Jared, I had initially put Hall of Fame at the top of the pyramid. However, Jared made the simple point that it’s easier to draft a Hall of Famer than it is to draft an MVP. The point is driven home by the fact that every single NBA MVP that is eligible for the Hall of Fame is in the Hall of Fame. (Also, the fact that four of the seven men who won ABA MVPs — Mel Daniels, Spencer Haywood, George McGinnis and Artis Gilmore — are not enshrined leaves an ugly black mark on the HOF’s soul.)
This chart paints a pretty clear picture. The scale is set at 100% to put the odds in the proper light. Only 15 players drafted in this sample have earned MVPs, representing less than 1% of the total, and none were drafted later than 15th. These 15 men account for 27 of the 33 MVPs handed out during this period (with the others — Mosses Malone, Bill Walton, Kareem Adbul-Jabbar and Julius Erving — all having been drafted before 1977.)
Here is a break down of the 15 players by pick:
Picks #1 – #3: Eight Players
#1 – Magic Johnson (x3), Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan (x2), LeBron James (x2)
#3 – Michael Jordan (x5)
Picks #4 – #6: Three Players
#5 – Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett
#6 – Larry Bird (x3)
Picks #7 – #9: One Player
#9 – Dirk Nowitzki
Picks #10 – #12: Zero Players
Picks #13 – #15: Three Players
#13 – Karl Malone (x2), Kobe Bryant
#15 – Steve Nash (x2)
Picks #16 and Up: Zero Players
Of the over 1,400 players selected after the 15th pick in the last three-plus decades, not a single one has been named MVP. The message to those picking outside of the Top 3: Don’t count on an MVP. The message for Washington, Philly and New Jersey: Only 8 of 99 players taken in the Top 3 over the last 33 drafts have become MVPs, so … Don’t count on an MVP.
Hall of Fame
It should be acknowledged that it is impossible to get a complete list of the Hall of Famers from these draft classes simply because so many of them are either still playing or not yet eligible. Of the 1,922 draftees from 1977 to 2009, there are 1,255 who are Hall of Fame “eligible.” (That is to say that they have been out of the league for the five-year requirement.) The number that are actually Hall of Fame “worthy” is only a tiny percentage of that.
Seventeen have been inducted into the Hall.
Once again, the top three dominates this grouping, making up over 50% of the total. Here’s the full breakdown.
Picks #1 – #3: Nine Players
#1 – Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson
#2 – Isiah Thomas
#3 – Kevin McHale, Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan
Picks #4 – #6: Three Players
#5 – Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen
#6 – Larry Bird
Picks #7 – #9: Zero Players
Picks #10 – #12: Zero Players
Picks #13 – #15: Two Players
# 13 – Karl Malone
# 14 – Clyde Drexler
Picks #16 – #18: Two Players
# 16 – John Stockton
# 18 – Joe Dumars
Picks #19 – #50: Zero Players
Picks #51 – #60: One Player
# 60 – Drazen Petrovic
This is a bit like the MVP; you should only go into the draft thinking that you will select someone headed to Springfield rarely, if ever. The 17 inductees represents 0.88% of the total draft pool. Again, seeing this on the 100% scale should show you how hard this is to achieve. Other than the concentration in the first two groupings, the occurrences seem almost random. Nothing between 6th and 13th, then four selectees between 13 and 18. Looking far out to the right shows you Drazen Petrovic, the Nets shooting guard killed in an automobile accident before his 30th birthday. His NBA career had just started to blossom, and he earned his slot based largely on his career in Europe.
In looking at this sample, I’d say there’s probably not more than another 50 guys — at the most — out of this almost 2,000 draftees that will finish with careers worthy of Hall consideration. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was less than half that number, making this pretty rarified air. Most of the ones that I can think of are still playing — like the seven active MVP’s above. Gary Payton seems to be a lock, and Pacer fans certainly expect Reggie Miller to join this club sometime in the next two or three years.
However, the selection process for the Hall is very “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”-ish. A quick scan of names shows me that neither Chris Mullin nor Buck Williams are members, nor is Bernard King or Sidney Moncrief. I mentioned some ABA guys in the MVP section, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that neither Slick Leonard nor Roger Brown have busts in the Hall.
I’m not going to try to start this debate right now, but the mention of Petrovic and his late selection made me wonder about other late picks who might make it. Here’s a question I don’t know the answer to: Is Manu Ginobili, drafted #57, a future Hall of Famer? Here’s another one: Why isn’t Arvydas Sabonis (drafted #24) in the Hall?
The Hall of Fame gives me headaches.
Though it gets less buzz in the general public’s conversation than All-Star appearances, making an All-NBA team is an achievement that carries more weight. There are fewer spots awarded each year (15 vs. 24), and these accolades are never skewed by fan voting. In the chart below, you can see the percent of each draft group that achieved All-NBA status. (Note: The NBA has been awarding 1st Team and 2nd Team nods for the entire span of this sample, but they have only added the 3rd Team since 1989.)
There are 99 All-NBA players from these draftees, or just a tick over 5% of the draft picks. Once again, high draft picks drive this group, accounting for over two-thirds of the total. It starts to get reasonable to hope/expect your selection to earn this honor if you’re drafting in the top three. For the rest of the draft, it’s still a long shot.
Here’s the full break down of the 41 First-Teamers by draft position:
Picks #1 – #3: Twenty-One Players
#1 – Allen Iverson, Chris Webber, David Robinson, Dwight Howard, Hakeem Olajuwon, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan
#2 - Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton, Isiah Thomas, Jason Kidd, Kevin Durant
#3 – Penny Hardaway, Dominque Wilkins, Grant Hill, Kevin McHale, Marques Johnson, Michael Jordan
Picks #4 – #6: Seven Players
#4 – Chris Paul
#5 - Charles Barkley, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Scottie Pippen, Sidney Moncrief
#6 – Larry Bird
Picks #7 – #9: Five Players
#7 – Bernard King, Chris Mullin
#9 - Amar’e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Tracy McGrady
Picks #10 – #12: Zero Players
Picks #13 – #15: Five Players
# 13 – Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant
# 14 – Clyde Drexler, Tim Hardaway
# 15 – Steve Nash
Picks #16 – #18: One Player
# 16 – John Stockton
Picks #19 – #21: Zero Players
Picks #22 – #24: One Player
# 24 – Latrell Sprewell
Picks #25 – #27: One Player
# 25 – Mark Price
Picks #28 and Above: Zero Players
First Team All-NBA is a pretty impressive accomplishment, as it means that you were considered among the top five players in the game that season. Thirty-five of these 41 elite players also have Second-Team honors, while 25 have been Third-Teamers It’s at this level that you begin to see other current young talents like Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant, all top five picks — and likely Hall of Famers (baring injury). Still, only one in five players drafted in the Top 3 have attained this height, and it’s even more rare beyond that.
Thirty-three players have topped out as Second-Teamers. The highest peaking Pacer, Jermaine O’Neal, is in this group. Other names include Ralph Sampson, Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Buck Williams and Chauncey Billups. The top 10 picks account for the bulk of these awards, with later picks including JO (#17), Sam Cassell (#24) and Gilbert Arenas (#30).
Rounding out this section are the 25 players who have peaked as Third Team All-NBA. As noted above, this has only been awarded for 22 of the 33 years in the study, which helps explain the smaller total. While concentrated in the high picks, this group actually has six players drafted after the 25th pick. Dennis Rodman (#27) is the highest of them, Manu Ginobili (#57) was the one taken the latest and the others are Tony Parker (#28), Carlos Boozer (#34), Michael Redd (#43) and Anthony Mason (#53). This was the highest accolade that Reggie Miller earned during his storied career with the Indiana Pacers.
Fans of the Blue and Gold will be harboring a distant hope that their selection this year will join Eddie Jones, Joe Johnson, and Paul Pierce as #10 picks with “All-NBA” on their resume.
To see a complete listing of the All NBA Players taken over the last 33 years, please click here.
In everyday conversation, the most common appellation thrown around is “All-Star.” Players are described as “All-Star level” or “Borderline All-Star.” Everybody understands the general intention of the statement, but it seems that there is a disconnect between what people (including me) think makes an All-Star, and what players have actually been All Stars. As an example, I’m sure virtually everyone would agree that Josh Smith is an “All-Star level” player, yet he has not made a single appearance. Meanwhile, guys like Jayson Williams, Tyrone Hill and Dana Barros all have “All-Star” on their resume. (Jalen Rose, meanwhile, never got to play in the mid-season event.)
One of the problems is in the disjointed selection process. Starters are voted in by the fans, leaving it open for some odd results, most notably Allen Iverson’s selection to this past season’s starting five. Reserves are voted on by the coaches. While there may be subjectivity in the other awards, at least the votes are coming from the same cross-section. That can’t be said for All-Star. The other thing that comes up are injury substitutions. Since an actual game is being played, there have been many seasons where more than the allotted 24 are credited with All-Star appearances. In those cases, both the original selection (who is unable to play) and his replacement are “All-Stars.” (Congratulations Mo Williams.)
The distribution starts to spread here, indicating that getting All-Stars is a possibility throughout the First Round. Six players taken at #10 (Eddie Jones, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Caron Butler, Horace Grant and Jeff Malone) made All-Star Appearances. If you’re top 3 pick doesn’t become an All-Star, then he’s a disappointment. It drops pretty quickly thereafter, so it is more of a hope than an expectation from that point. (In the second round, it can probably be reclassified as a wish.)
Of the peak tiers listed here above All-Star, you would think that all of those guys (Hall of Famers, MVPs, All-NBA Teamers) would have been All-Stars, as well. But that is not the case, as four of those 99 players were never All-Stars. Andrew Bogut earned 3rd Team All-NBA honors this season, despite never appearing in any All-Star Game in his five-year career. Point guards Phil Ford and Rod Strickland both got Second Team nods, yet somehow never represented their conference in the midseason event. (Deron Williams was a similar case until this year, having a 2nd Team accolade on his mantle but no All-Star jersey in his closet.) Finally, Drazen Petrovic has a bust in the Hall of Fame, but no All-Star jerseys.
Despite the quirkiness of the selection process, it is an accomplishment — and probably represents the upper end of expectations for players drafted outside of the top 10. One could make the argument that it marks the upper end of reasonable expectations even for top 10 picks. There are still some pretty damn good players who completed their careers without being recognized beyond All-Star. Included in this are former Pacers Mark Jackson, Rik Smits and Dale Davis, as well as Jack Sikma, Maurice Cheeks and Charles Oakley.
This group also includes some youngsters apparently destined for bigger and better things — Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Al Horford — and one that all Pacer fans hope is, too: Danny Granger.
For a complete listing of all of this sample’s All-Stars, please click here.
The last award we’re going to look at are the 1st Team and 2nd Team All-Defense. In most cases, these are guys who are/were excellent defenders, but either didn’t have enough overall game or notoriety to get All-NBA or All-Star nods.
While this is at the bottom of the listing here, it’s still an exclusive, arguably elite club. Unlike the “All-Star” tier, where almost all of the higher award tiers players could claim to be an All-Star as well, All-Defense was not just a stepping stone to the next level. Less than a quarter of the 181 players identified in the higher tiers can also tout All-Defense on their resumes. This is the area that recognizes the special contribution of players like former Pacer Derrick McKey, Shane Battier, Tayshaun Prince, Nate McMillan, Paul Pressey and Thabo Sefolosha.
Because this is where defensive “specialists” can be rewarded, you will see the distribution be flatter across the draft groups. However, that could be more reflective of the fact that fewer high picks become All-Defense than any other factor.
Horace Grant and Eddie Jones are the only #10 picks to win the award, but you can see a few selections even into the Second Round. Getting an All Defense player at #10 would be a very nice way to maximize this draft for the Pacers. If you know who that’s gonna be, be sure to let Larry Bird know.
For a complete listing of all of the All Defense selections from the 1977 through 2009 draft, please click here.
Reviewing these accolades is a good exercise because it’s a relatively common language. However, I must remind everyone that only 209 of the 1,922 draftees have earned these honors. There are plenty of good players who aren’t included anywhere in the above discussion. Quality veterans like Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller and Jason Terry. There are plenty of young guys like Brook Lopez, Russell Westbrook, O.J. Mayo, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings and Steph Curry for whom it’s likely just a matter of time before they make this list.
The way I look at it is, if you drafted a player who lands on this list, you’ve done a good job regardless of draft position. At the same time, if your guy isn’t an “award winner,” that doesn’t preclude the possibility of it still being a “good” pick. As a final visual presentation, let’s look one more time at where these award winners are drafted.
With a radar or “spider” chart, you can see the relative distribution changes. The shaded areas indicate the distribution, and the simplest way to think of these is to imagine you are reading a clock.
There are 13 sectors, with the #1 to #3 Group at 12 o’clock position. Starting with the MVP Chart, you can see that the shaded area is contained almost entirely within the first sector. As you read through the charts below, you’ll see the shading (distribution) creep clockwise, encompassing more of the later draft picks.
Like the MVPs, the draft picks from the top 3 slots dominate the group, but you see some activity further down the draft board. You can see a slight flaring to the left of the “12 o’clock” radial, and that represents Drazen Petrovic, who was drafted 60th.
As you look at the three All-NBA teams, you begin to see more significant involvement of the rest of the top 10, then…
Moving onto the All-Star level broadens the distribution, until…
Finally, the All-Defense teams show more penetration into the later First and even Second Round.
It’s important to understand that individual awards don’t always translate into team victories. As LeBron’s Cavs so startingly demonstrated, one great player cannot do it alone. This season will mark the 21st time in the last 33 years that the regular season MVP’s team did not win the title. Taking it a little further, of the 25 players who have won MVPs and/or made the Hall of Fame, 10 have not won titles. Seven have retired, and never will. Two — LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki — are still active and at the top of their game. The tenth is Allen Iverson.
Part III of this series will be coming out early next week. In it, I’ll review the first-year impact of the draftees. This will look at both how they did as rookies on the 5-Star scale, and what awards they won — including Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie Teams.