A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Is the NBA worse at evaluating prospects than results suggest?

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While the NBA can often miss on high lottery picks, the consensus opinion is the “grouping” of prospects is relatively well done. Meaning it’s very rare for a starter or rotation player to not be a 1st rounder. And almost all all-stars and especially superstars are picked in the top 10.

So on the surface, it would starter and all-star talents don’t slip past the collective wisdom of the group. This is contrast to sports like the NFL, NBA, MLB where stars fall outside of the 1st round more regularly.

However, here’s something to remember: Because the NBA allows prospects to return to school and choose to declare as a freshman, sophomores, juniors, seniors, talented prospects may not declare until they’re projected to be picked high enough in the draft to be worth it.

In other words, how high the NBA projects a player’s draft ranking, is a huge factor in whether he’s in the draft to be selected. So a major reason many starter and all-star talents don’t fall to the 2nd round or go undrafted, may be that they don’t stay in the draft if they’re projected lowly. These talented prospects then have the chance to stay in college enough for their talent to shine as juniors or seniors, allowing them to get picked high and deserving of their talent. If star talents don’t stay in the draft if they’re rated in the 2nd round, the NBA can’t miss on them in the 1st round. Many are either rated in the top 20 or hope for better luck the next season.

The NHL drafts everyone at high school graduation age (around 18) and then teams send them to the minor leagues until they’re physically ready. The MLB system is similar. If NBA teams did this, successful older prospects like Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Victor Oladipo, Kenneth Faried, David West, among others, may not have been on the radar enough to even be 1st round picks, or in some cases even 2nd round picks. Although in the present system if the NBA extended the draft to 5 or 6 rounds it would lead to very few starting caliber talents, if they drafted everyone at 18 and had 5 or 6 rounds, it’d more likely to be full of steals like Lillard and Curry in later rounds.

There is a 2nd reason the NBA’s results may mask their drafting ability, which I’ve discussed recently. The players who get picked higher in the draft, also get believed in more. This increases their chance of getting thousands of minutes early in their career to mark out their place and gives them extra chances on 2nd or 3rd teams if they fail the first time. A prospect picked in the lottery may be given 5,000 minutes+ until the NBA knows they aren’t talented enough to be worth it. A prospect picked in the 2nd round may not get more than a few hundred minutes, or be forced to cut it in the D League. If the 2nd round prospect still has starter or all-star talent, he should still shine enough in these opportunities to make it, but where this weeding process may really have an effect is on bench players. There may have been tons of 2nd round and undrafted players over the years who were 5,000-10,000 minutes of development away from being a 7th or 8th man. But if this is all the talent teams saw in him, chances are they wouldn’t be too excited to spend all this resource (time) on a limited return on investment. Whereas an equally talented top 10 pick may only have 7th or 8th man talent, but the team who drafts him sees a starter or all-star in him. So they develop him for years under the impression they’ll get a big return on investment and even if they were wrong about this, the player still ends up getting the time to be a 7th or 8th man for the next decade. This is in addition to the fact that 1st round prospects get guaranteed contracts and are in the NBA 2 years at minimum, at least 3 in all but rare cases. If forced to pay them, teams may as well develop them to see what they have. All in all, it seems more likely 1st round and lottery prospects become rotation players than 2nd round/undrafted players of equal talent, due to just opportunity and being pushed into success by their teams.

Written by jr.

May 9, 2014 at 11:58 am

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

Tagged with ,

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