The NBA Draft is a high stakes endeavor with millions riding on it. Teams have purposely tried to tank for decades now to get into that top 5 for a chance at this “elite” talent. My question would be unless there is an obvious once a generation can’t miss prospect like Shaq, Duncan, and Lebron with all the hype that surrounded their draft years should they really?
Roughly 50% of the top 100 players this year came from picks outside of the Top 10. The last 4 league MVP’s have went to two players drafted 15th and 41st. Eight of the last 10 Defensive Player of the Years have come from 15th+ with Gobert accounting for only 3 of those. Let’s take a look back at some of the top 5 picks in the NBA draft for the 15 years between 2006-2020.
|1 Bargnani||1 Greg Oden||2 MIchael Beasley|
|3 Adam Morrison||5 Jeff Green||3 OJ Mayo|
|4 Tyrus Thomas||6 Yi Jilian|
|5 Sheldon Williams|
|2 Hasheem Thabeet||2 Evan Turner||2 Derek Williams|
|4 Tyreke Evans||4 Wes Johnson||3 Enes Kanter|
|5 Ricky Rubio||6 Ekpe Udoh||4 Tristian Thompson|
|6 Johnny Flynn||6 Jan Vessley|
|2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrest||1 Anthony Bennett||2 Jabarri Parker|
|4 Deon Waiters||4 Cody Zeller||5 Dante Exum|
|5 Thomas Robinson||5 Alex Len|
|6 Nerlens Noel|
|3 Jahlil Okafor||4 Dragan Bender||1 Markel Fultz|
|5 Mario Herzonia||5 Kriss Dunn||2 Lonzo Ball|
|6 Willy Cauley Stein||6 Buddy Heild||4 Josh Jackson|
|2 Marvin Bagley||3 RJ Barrett||2 James Wiseman|
|4 De’Andre Hunter||4 Patrick Williams|
|5 Issac Okoro|
The story is not done on a couple of the recent draft classes, but I think we have a pretty good idea already of what the likely outcome is. I think it’s pretty reasonable to say these players were all underwhelming if not complete bust.
That’s not even including players like Andrew Wiggins or D’Angelo Russell who weakly made All Star games and are solid enough starters to avoid this list. That said I doubt anyone would really draft them in the top 2 again either knowing the career trajectory and be excited to over paying them like their draft pedigree has ultimately demanded.
That’s 50% of the top 6 draft picks at least that are pretty much misses. To spend the entire year losing just to have a 50% chance of picking a player that doesn’t suck seems like pretty poor odds to me to trust that process. You need to do it years to come up with one meaningful player in most cases if you ever do. Luck still dictates a lot even at that level. Contrast that to some of the top players in the NBA this year and certainly the last 5 years and where they were all drafted outside of the top 10.
|41st Nikola Jokic||12th Miles Bridges|
|15th Giannis Antetokounmpo||16th Terry Rozier|
|30th Jimmy Butler||35th Draymond Green|
|15th Kawhi Leonard||36th Malcolm Brogdon|
|14th Bam Adebayo||21st Tyrese Maxey|
|13th Donavan Mitchell||39th Jerami Grant|
|13th Devin Booker||19th Tobias Harris|
|11th Domantas Sabonis||22nd Bobby Portis|
|27th Rudy Gobert||11th Klay Thompson|
|UD Fred VanVleet||28th Jordan Poole|
|17th Jrue Holiday||25th Clint Capela|
|27th Pascal Siakam||31st Bogdan Bogdanovic|
|39th Khris Middleton||46th Norman Powell|
|13th Zach LaVine||27th Kyle Kuzma|
|37th Gary Trent||22 Jarrett Allen|
|19th John Collins||UD Christian Wood|
|23rd O.G. Anunoby||29th Derrick White|
|29th Dejounte Murray||30th Josh Hart|
|24th Kyle Lowry||13th Tyler Herro|
|27th Robert Williams||UD Seth Curry|
|16th Nikola Vucevic||16th Jusuf Nurkic|
|11th Shae Gilgeous-Alexander||33rd Jalen Brunson|
|12th Tyrese Haliburton||19th Saddiq Bey|
|11th Myles Turner||29th Keldon Johnson|
|30th Desmond Bane||40th Will Barton|
|45th Dillon Brooks||32nd Montrezl Harrell|
|UD Luguentz Dort||46th Jordan Clarkson|
|27th Bojan Bogdanovic||20th Evan Fournier|
The picture starts to emerge to me that the sweet spot is in the late lottery, starting about 12th. You can actually try to win, and the stakes aren’t nearly as all or nothing as the top 5 in the lottery, where you purposely have to try to lose to get to. If you miss at 11th+ it’s not the end of the world like it is for the tankers who miss about 50% of the time anyway and waste the entire year. Even at 11th to 14th you still have a chance to move up too in the lottery. It’s the lottery for a reason.
For all the crap the teams chasing the 8th seed get, I see value in trying to win and then letting your draft scouting do the rest of the work because there are players to be had after the lottery, clearly. As a fan you don’t have to endure years of a full tank chasing players either. Milwaukee, Miami, the Spurs, Indiana, there are plenty examples of teams that built top 4 teams having never bottom out and through good drafting with mostly non lottery picks.