What Does a Draft Pick Get You? – #26

As part of prepping for the 2012 NBA Draft, we’re going to try to leverage the work we’ve done in the “What Does a Draft Pick Get You?” series. For more detail, please see the seven parts of the original series:

Thanks to their great regular season (fifth best in the NBA), the Pacers won’t be drafting until 26th. This is the latest first round pick Indiana has earned since 2004, when they picked 29th.

Pick #26

Number of Draftees: 35
Top Rated Player:
Vlade Divac (#26, 1989) – 16.68
Lowest Rated Player:
Geert Hammink (#26, 1993) – 0.03

Never/Has Not Played:
3

For a complete list of all 35 players, click here.

Star Distribution:

If you’ve read the previous posts I’ve made in this series … or any other study done on the value of draft picks … or have followed the NBA in more than a passing sense … then it should come as no surprise to you the #26 pick doesn’t have a very high historical hit rate. In fact, only 7 of the 35 players in this sample ever did much more than carry the bags on road trips. So … unlikely Indiana will find the guy that will launch the Pacers past Miami or Oklahoma City, leading to a half-decade era of dominance. But … ya know … we can pretend.

Or perhaps, “hope” might be a better word. The truth is that there is almost certain to be at least one solid or better player available when the Pacers go on the clock. History say this is true.

The chart above shows that 34 of the 35 draft classes included in this study produced players who had (or are having) 2-Star or better careers. This doesn’t even take into account players taken after the 60th pick (all drafts prior to 1989 had more than two rounds) or undrafted players.

In the 2012 season, players taken at or after the 26th pick accounted for over 127,000 minutes, while undrafted players added over 40,000 more minutes. That’s about one third of the players (151) and accounts for roughly 35% of the minutes played in the NBA last season.

While the vast majority of these players were fringe players, this group is not without some impressive names. Among the draftees were Monta Ellis, Paul Millsap, Tony Parker, Marc Gasol, Marcin Gortat, and the Pacers’ own George Hill and Leandro Barbosa. The most visible names among the 79 undrafted players are Jose Calderon, Wesley Mathews, Udonis Haslem, Gary Neal, and Jeremy Lin.

So, there will be someone there. The unbelievably hard part is knowing who that guy is.

More Success Recently

One positive is that late draft picks have been more successful in recent years. The chart above shows the last dozen classes have started to produce more players, with the hit rate for the 2000 through 2011 classes being about 42% higher than the ’77 through ’99 classes. Of course, that means going from 7.9% 2-Star or better to 11.2%, but that’s still sizable.

The #26 pick has been a significant contributor to this improvement. From 1997 through 1999, the #26 pick was very unsuccessful. It rated 40th out of the 60 draft picks in terms of average AdjPR100 at 2.48. It wasn’t much better in terms of Average Win Shares produced, either, ranking 31st at 8.7. The latter number skewed greatly by the long, successful career of Vlade Divac (1989), who was the top rated 26th pick under both metrics.

But things have changed quite a bit since the turn of the century.

The blue bars above represent the first 23 classes in this study, and the #26 was an almost complete disaster. Only two of the 23 three players – Vlade Divac and Jerome Williams – rated out as 2-Star or higher. Of the 214+ Win Shares produced by this group of players, Divac produced 96 of them.

The red represent the last 12 classes – 2000 through 2011.  From these classes come Samuel Dalembert, Taj Gibson, Kevin Martin, George Hill, John Salmons, and Aaron Brooks. These six players combine for an AdjPR100 of over 12, and the group as a whole was over 10. While the 23 players from the first 23 classes produced 214 Win Shares, these 12 classes produced 199, with over 165 coming from the six listed above. These numbers placed the #26 slot as the 13th most productive pick slot during the 12-year period according to average AdjPR100, and these 12 players produced the 9th highest average in Win Shares.

Of course, one major reason for later draft picks having more success is simply that there is more opportunity for them. Expansion took the league from 22 teams in 1977 to 29 teams in 1996, and finally, 30 by 2005. The first dozen #26 picks in this study were actually Second Round picks. More teams means more available court time.

However, there is another factor worth looking at with these players. Of the six players listed above, only Samuel Dalembert played fewer than three years of college ball, and he played two at Seton Hall. Hill, Salmons, and Brooks all entered the draft after their senior year. Gibson only played three years of college ball at USC, but entered as a 24-year old rookie. Kevin Martin was only 21 as a rookie, but played three years at Western Carolina. This phenomenon is somewhat representative of one school of thought surrounding late first round draft picks: take older, more complete players who are more likely to make an immediate impact but may not have a “high ceiling.”

As a philosophy, it makes a decent amount of sense. All first round draft picks have guaranteed money for two years, and that fact can take a little bloom off the rose for later first round slots. From a financial perspective, the first few picks of the second round can be more attractive than the last few of the first round. This motivation also could lead a risk averse General Manager to be even more conservative in his selection process.

Of course, age and experience doesn’t always equate to “NBA Ready” or maturity. Each player is different. Pacer fans can point to Paul George, the youngest 1st round pick the Pacers have taken since Jonathan Bender, but was arguably more “mature and NBA ready” than any other recent Pacer pick, other than perhaps Danny Granger. Still, this type of information could argue that players like Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli, or Jeff Taylor would be better choices than a Marquis Teague or Quincy Miller.

Ballparking Trade Value

Of course, it’s possible the Pacers may not be wanting to use their #26 pick. On local radio this past Friday, Mike Wells said he expected the Pacers to either make a big move up in the draft – perhaps for a Top 10 pick – or to trade out of the first round. Some thoughts on that.

First, the #26 probably only has marginal value on the market, and it’s mostly psychological value. A late draft pick represents the opportunity to pick up a player on a pretty cheap contract (less than $900,000 to start), and to be active on draft day. However, it’s probably not coveted enough to land a player of much merit, and seems more likely to be sold or dealt for future/other picks.

It can be used as filler to try to move up in the draft. It’s not an unattractive thing for teams to be able to stay in a draft by trading back, particularly if they aren’t in love with anyone scheduled to go around the pick. For the Pacers, the most commonly discussed premium they could add has been Darren Collison. Collison appears to be the odd man out after losing his starting job to George Hill late last season.

So, what are they giving up in Collison?

Over his three seasons in the NBA, Darren Collison has been very productive – especially for a #21 pick. His AdjPR100 of 13.14 is 4th out of the 35 #21 picks, and would be an above average career even for a Top 10 pick. Further, he’s produced 11.0 Win Shares in his three season. That’s 10th most from his 2008 class, and would be tracking towards the 4-year average for the #7 pick according to a study done by Basketball-Reference  back in 2010.

In other words, Collison has had a pretty good NBA career thus far. The numbers get augmented by the fact that he was part of one of the most effective lineups in the league last year, and played a big factor in the Pacers’ first round victory over the Magic. So, to give him up is to give up quite a bit. In fact, he’s been as good or better than many players taken 10th over the last 35 years.

Is it a prohibitive price? Maybe. Maybe not.

DC has his flaws, too. He’s undersized and doesn’t control the offense the way you’d like to see from a point guard. Defensively, he had been awful his first year in Indy, but a revelation in the first round against Orlando. Disconcertingly, this was attributed to his shortened minutes, with Danny Granger and Frank Vogel both attributing his better defense to his limited minutes. Not exactly what you hope to hear for a potential starter.

And beyond that, there are the always important questions of fit and need.

Perhaps the most distorting factor when trying to gauge trade value at draft time is merely context. Darren Collison has reached the point in his career where most people think of him in terms of what he can’t be. A draft pick, however, is generally only thought of in terms of what could be. While that seems somewhat minor, the negative or positive starting point frames the entire discussion.

Historical and statistical analysis isn’t meant to erase those thoughts, so much as it’s meant to provide a counterbalance. Building an NBA team is far more art than it is science, and in cases like these, the decision really has to come down to what the decision maker – Larry Bird – believes. However, belief needs to be tempered with evidence.

And that’s basically the purpose of looking at it from multiple directions. This analysis is one direction that should be folded in, if for no other reason than to remind us of what’s at stake vs. what can be.

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Tags: Darren Collison What Does A Draft Pick Get You?

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