What Does a Draft Pick Get You? Part III: First-Year Impact


For Part III of our as-yet-to-be-numbered series analyzing the NBA Draft, we’re going to focus on the first year.  Using some of the ideas first presented in Part I and Part II, this will look at the “instant gratification” that may or may not come from the Draft.

One thing that must be reiterated is that this will focus on the players’ performance the year they were drafted.  There were 17 players from the 2009 Draft class that did not play last season.  Some of these, like Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio, are almost certain to play in the NBA in the future.  Others, like Robert Vaden and Robert Dozier, are far more likely to never see NBA game action.  In this collection of draft classes, there have been 179 players (besides the 17 from the 2009 class) who played their “rookie” year later than the rest of the draft class.  Seventeen of these players ended up earning All-Rookie honors in later years, and two — Larry Bird and David Robinson — even won Rookie of the Year.

However, since we’re theoretically trying to look at what might be expected of the 2010 Draft class next season, all of these players show a 0.00 AdjPR100 for their first year.  While some were calculated decisions (Bird, Robinson, Toni Kukoc, Manu Ginobili) and others were not (Greg Oden, Griffin, Rubio), none contributed to their teams on the court the year they were drafted.

An Overview

Let’s start things up again with a look at the Simple Average Adjusted PR per 100 by Draft Slot.

The bars represent the first-year AdjPR100, while the line shows career average.  I don’t find it particularly surprising that the career average is higher in most cases, particularly as you move later in the Draft.  The #3 pick is the one lone outlier, and a quick check shows a number of players whose career failed to match the expectations set by their first-year performance — usually due to injury.  Among these are Bill Cartwright (22.15 vs. 11.78), Christian Laettner (21.67 vs. 14.64),  and Penny Hardaway (20.20 vs. 11.32).

The draft slot that showed the greatest increase after the first year was the #11 pick, and Pacer great Reggie Miller had one of the best improvements (9.42 to 17.11).

I’m going to do this one a little differently from the first two.  Rather than going through each draft grouping in varying levels of detail, I’m going to give you a look at first the 5-Star statistical analysis, then the First-Year Honors.  As in Part II, I’ll use spider charts, which will hopefully give you some sense of motion as you scroll through this post.  For a complete list of each draft grouping, simply click on that group’s header in the 5-Star Rating section.

The 5-Star Ratings

A more detailed explanation of this can be found in Part I of this series.  The charts below represent the AdjPR100 for the year that the player was drafted. Again, this is basically production, adjusted for Pace and Reliability.

Picks #1 to #3

The top three grouping shows, in my opinion, the kind of dramatic production the people hope for out of this area in the draft.  Over 60% of the players selected in this group turned in first-year numbers that rated them at 3-Stars or above (out of a possible 5-Stars).  Of course, the fact that these players are usually being added to teams lacking in talent provides ample opportunity for them to put up numbers.  Later in this post, I’ll break down how much playing time each of these groupings have seen the year they were drafted, but for now, I want to try to move quickly through each of the groups to keep that sense of motion, or “reading the clock” for these spider charts.

Picks #4 to #6

The clockwise motion begins with a sizable swing towards the bottom of the dial.  The 3-Star and above ratings drop to about 40 percent, and only Chris Paul earns 5 stars.  The Rifleman’s — Chuck Person — first year of 19.87 was the second best from this draft grouping, and marks the high-water mark of his career.  This year’s Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans, earns a 4-Star rating with his 18.34.  Pacer bust Jonathan Bender’s 0.42 AdjPR100 marks the worst campaign of the 97 draftees that played with their draft class.

Picks #7 to #9

The 3-Star and above ratings drop to under 30 percent, but the median remains at or above 2-Star.  Indiana Pacer Clark Kellogg posted the lone 5-Star season with a 21.64, but George McCloud’s 1.11 was better than only three of the 98 draftees who played.

Picks #10 to #12

No more 5-Star first-year campaigns, and fewer than 10% are 3-Star or above.  We know that some good players come out of this area of the draft, it’s just that very few of them make an immediate impact.  Reggie’s rookie year had 2-Star production that put him in the top third of this grouping.

There’s more to be gained from the trending of the charts, than there is any comments on each draft group, so just follow the clock for the rest of the sample, and I’ll hit the high points at the end of the section.

Picks #13 to #15

Picks #16 to #18

Picks #19 to #21

Picks #22 to #24

Picks #25 to #27

Picks #28 to #30

Picks #31 to #40

Picks #41 to #50

Picks #51 to #60

A quick way to get a feel for the above charts is to center on the spiderweb for the #1 to #3 picks, then simply page down at a steady rate.  It will give the charts an animation, bringing the clockwise rotation towards “Never Played” to life.  Basically, history says that the chances of your team getting a significant first-year contribution after about the middle of the first round are pretty small.

From 16 to 60, the “best” first year performance was turned in by Mark Jackson for the Knicks in 1988.  As the #18 pick, Jackson posted a 4-Star 20.87 on his way to being the latest Rookie of the Year drafted in this sample.   However, that is far from representative.  Again, using our own A.J. Price for perspective, his 1-Star 4.51 rating was in the top 20% of all first-year performances under this rating system.  Of the 272 players drafted between 51st & 60th in this sample, he had the 12th “best” first-year performance.

One thing that is worthy of further study is whether this is an ongoing phenomenon or if this is actually changing.  The 2009 rookie class saw immediate impact from players taken in the late first or early second round.  Among these were Darren Collison, Taj Gibson and Omri Casspi from late first round, and Jonas Jerebko, DeJuan Blair and Marcus Thornton from the second round.  While it’s likely to remain true that the chances are slim with these picks, it would be interesting to see if there has been a significant increase in the hit rate over the last decade or so. That will have to wait for another part in this series.

Awards and Honors

The “Awards and Honors” we’ll talk about here are Rookie of the Year and First Team and Second Team All-Rookie.  (Note:  Second Team All-Rookie was not awarded until the 1989 season.)  Again, I want to use visuals as opposed to commentary.

Picks #1 to #3

Picks #4 to #6

Picks #7 to #9

Picks #10 to #12

Picks #13 to #15

Picks #16 to #60

Consistent with the 5-Star system, charting out the awards gets a bit pointless after the 15th pick, so I just condensed picks #16 through #60 on one chart.  Of the 1,427 players drafted between the 16th and 60th pick in this study, only 14 made First Team All-Rookie.  Another 33 made Second Team, and one (Mark Jackson) was named Rookie of the Year.  Given that less than 3% of these players were even a blip on this radar, the #16 to #60 chart equates to the “Line of Death” — the near-flat, bold line running at a 45% angle from upper left on the chart to the bottom right, tracing from “Did Not Play” to “None.”  If I were to show you all of the individual Draft Groups, they would all be virtually identical.

Still, rookie awards are not the final word on a player’s career, so while “Line of Death” is fun to say, it’s not 100% accurate.  Of the 209 players discussed in Part II of this series, 99 of them received no Rookie Honors.  Of the 263 players earning All-Rookie honors, 143 (excluding this year’s group) have received no other honors.  Like the Awards and Accolades over the career, these tell only a portion of the story for players

The Super Rookies

Over the last 33 years, some players have been able to achieve non-rookie honors during their rookie season.  Here’s a look at those “Super Rookies.”

All Stars (16) – Walter Davis, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Cartwright, Isiah Thomas, Buck Williams, Kelly Tripucka, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Dikembe Mutombo, Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, Yao Ming

All Defense (3) – Hakeem Olajuwon (Second Team), David Robinson (Second Team), Tim Duncan (2nd Team)

All NBA (6) – Larry Bird (First Team), Tim Duncan (1st Team),  Michael Jordan (Second Team), Walter Davis (Second Team), Phil Ford (Second Team), David Robinson (Third Team)

There were no rookies between 1978 and 2010 who won the MVP and Rookie of the Year, but Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1960, and Wes Unseld repeated the feat in 1969.

Playing Time

The standard fan mantra for their new rookie’s playing time is “more,” so I’m not even going to try to address the issue of what’s “enough.”  Each situation is unique, but here’s a little overview of what kind of action these players have seen.

There’s nothing particularly revelatory here: high draft picks play more during their first year than later picks.

Still, here are some nuggets about first-year playing time:

  • Only 21 players drafted over the last 33 years have started all 82 games in the year they were drafted.  Only two were selected outside of the Top 10 — Kelly Tripucka (#12) and Mario Chalmers (#34).  Larry Bird started all 82 games his rookie year, but he did not play with his draft class.
  • In this sample of 1,922 players, only three played more than 3,200 minutes in their first year.  Surprisingly, Tim Duncan (#1) was the only “high” draft pick, playing 3,204 minutes.  Michael Finley (#21) played 3,212 minutes, and Mark Jackson (#18) led everyone in this group with 3,249.
  • Pacers of interest: Only 13 of 272 players drafted between #51-#60 over the last 33 years played more during the year they were drafted than Price’s 865 minutes.  Of the 99 players drafted between #13-#15, only 13 played more minutes than Brandon Rush did in the 2009 season.  Tyler Hansbrough is near the bottom with 511 minutes, but he spent most of his 29 games operating under either a 15- or 22-minute medical limitation.  In effect, his 17.6 minutes per outing arguably indicates that he played almost every minute he was available to play.

The End of the Beginning

Over the first three parts of this series,  we’ve more or less laid the foundation of myriad discussions about the draft.  I’ve got some in the works (including an analysis of the #10 pick and a ranking of the last 33 draft classes) but I’m open to ideas on what other subjects to broach.  The feedback from the first two has provided some ideas, and I’m willing to try anything — provided I have the ability to get the data.

The draft is a month away, so there’s plenty of time to fill.