The greatness of Mark Followill needs to be recognized. Simply put, the TV play-by-play voice of the Dallas Mavericks is one of the best in the league. A major reason for that is his uncanny ability to be a sponge when it comes to information. He can recite information at the drop of the hat. In addition to that, he’s a beast when it comes to doing research.
Part one of this two-part series will break down the success or hit rate on draft picks that are made in the top half of the first round in a draft. Prepare to get your fix of information.
For several weeks I have been looking forward to this draft. The Mavs were in the lottery for the first time since 2000 and while that isn’t a great thing, higher picks in a draft for any team in any sport always seem to generate a sense of excitement about the future.
When it comes to the Mavs, it is clear in recent interviews from owner Mark Cuban that there is a very real possibility of trading the 13th pick. The pick could net a choice in the much deeper 2014 draft, could be used as a sweetener to offload a contract that opens up more cap space for a busy summer, or could be traded for multiple lower picks.
There is always a shot the Mavs throw us all a curveball and keep the pick and select a player they covet who unexpectedly slides to them or could be used on a European prospect who stays overseas for a year or two. The suspense will fortunately come to an end later this week. For now, I still think it’s a good idea to examine what history tells us the Mavs could get at pick 13.
The Recent History of the 13th pick:
Ever since the Grizzlies and Raptors entered the league as the 28th and 29th teams in 1995, the 13th pick has been a lottery choice. Going into this year’s lottery, the Mavs had a 96 percent chance of staying at the 13th slot in the draft — which they did.
Over the last five years, the picks have been Kendall Marshall (Phoenix), Markieff Morris (Phoenix), Ed Davis (Toronto), Tyler Hansbrough (Indiana), and Brandon Rush (Portland, traded on draft night to Indiana). The jury is still very much out on Marshall and Morris. Davis was a part time starter in Toronto who was a key piece in the Rudy Gay trade and got inconsistent backup minutes in Memphis’ run to the West Finals. Hansbrough was a solid rotation player for the Pacers who, like the Grizzlies, were in the NBA’s last four this year. To round out the group, Rush has since moved on to the Warriors, where has developed into a fine 3-point shooter but also missed almost all of last season with a torn ACL.
So, the recent history of the 13th pick isn’t going to grab any headlines. Although, the 13th pick has produced two of the top five scorers in NBA history with Kobe Bryant (1996) and Karl Malone (1985). Kobe was the last 13th pick to make an All-Star team. Since Bryant was drafted, the best player taken in this spot would be Richard Jefferson in 2001, and this selection has a dubious list of busts like Marcus Haislip, Sean May, and Julian Wright.
However, looking at the 13th pick alone isn’t probably the fairest representation of what might be picked in this range. After all team needs, trades, management-agent relationships or any number of things might impact a players ultimate landing spot by a few choices so let’s examine a broader range over a long period of time.
Draft analysis over the long haul
For a long time, I have casually analyzed the success rate of picks at certain areas of the draft. This off-season I decided to look more in-depth at a 15-year stretch of the draft from 1996-2010 and broke down the top 30 picks by groups of five. I separated the players out into three groups: players who made at least one All-Star team, rotation players, and busts.
The line between a rotation player and a bust landed in the range of 350-400 games, which is about five years worth of playing in 70-80 games a season. One could argue that a top 10 pick should be more than just a five-year rotation player and I did drop a couple of top 10 picks into bust territory because of that subjective criterion (Michael Olowokandi and Darko Milicic being examples), though for consistency’s sake I tried to adhere to that number in most every case. Five years is a roughly average length for an NBA player’s career, and by definition means that a player signed at least one short term deal after the conclusion of their rookie contract. Obviously, players selected in 2009 and 2010 haven’t had a chance to play five years in the league yet, so I had to project out my own evaluations about the career prospects of those players. There could be some minor changes if these players exceed or fall short of my expectations going forward, but I feel pretty safe in my projections.
I chose 1996-2010 because examining the last two drafts opens it up to too much speculation, and going back to 1996 is when high schoolers, foreign players and one-and-done college players entering the draft started to inch up noticeably. 1996 also shockingly happens to be the last time there was any All-Star taken in the 11-15 range as Bryant and former Mavs Peja Stojakovic and Steve Nash were drafted 13th, 14th and 15th, respectively. This isn’t a flawless study, but I think it provides a reasonable long term look at the success rate of picks in different spots in the draft.
At the top (Picks in groups 1-5 and 6-10)
I want to quickly address the top of the draft because this is definitely an area with an appreciably higher success rate than anywhere else. If you look at the 75 players taken between picks 1-5 over the 15-year study: 32 have been All-Stars (43%), another 29 have been rotation players for five-plus years (39%) and 14 would be labeled as busts (18%). You generally have landed in a pretty darn good spot in you end up in the top five, with an 82 percent chance of getting something decent.
When look at players taken between picks 6-10, we find 19 All-Stars, 38 non All-Stars rotation players, and 18 busts. So, again, you are looking at better than a 75 percent chance of getting at least a decent rotation player with a pick in the 6-10 range based on this 15-year period. At that point things change very quickly.
Falling off a shelf: A look at picks 11-15
As the Mavs head into this draft at No. 13, history tells us they are actually in one of the most under-performing areas of the draft. Again, to reinforce an earlier note: there has not been an All-Star player taken between 11 and 15 since the run of Kobe, Peja and Nash at 13, 14 & 15 in 1996. That, my friends, is astonishing. Maybe young guys taken in 2011 like Klay Thompson (11th) or Kawhi Leonard (15th) have hopes one day to break the drought. But in a general sense, the late lottery hasn’t offered much in the way of high-level talent.
Here is the 15-year overview: Of the 75 players taken, three were All-Stars (4%), 36 were five-plus year rotation players who didn‘t reach All-Stars status (48%), and another 36 were busts (48%). Dropping from 75-80 percent success in the top 10 to barely better than 50-50 in the 11-15 area is quite significant.
All drafts are different, of course. In some years like 2001, the range produced Richard Jefferson, Troy Murphy and Vladimir Radmanovic, which many would consider a decent trio. However, even in that year, Kedrick Brown was a junior college bust taken by Boston at 11, and Orlando ended up with Steven Hunter at 15, a 7-footer from DePaul who barely met the rotation player criterion for five seasons. In a draft like 2005, the 11-15 range was a disaster: Fran Vazquez, Yaroslav Korolev, Sean May, Rashad McCants and the biggest achiever of the group: former Mav Antoine Wright. Not one single player in the 11-15 group in 2005 even reached 300 games in the NBA.
Are lottery teams striking out as they attempt to swing for the fences? Has the flood of high school, or now one-and-done college players, diluted the draft too much and made talent evaluation more difficult? Perhaps. Maybe what analysts and personnel types say a lot of years is really true. Most drafts have a small number of special players who are usually picked up in the top 10. Then there is a similar grouping of about 20-25 players, some will exceed expectations and some will fall short. Coaching, situation, the players own work ethic, how their skills mesh with teammates and the NBA style and any number of other things have an impact on that.
As it relates to the Mavs, many signals point towards a trade down or a trade out in hopes of a pick next year. It was an option that didn’t sound very palatable at first but in part two of my study coming tomorrow, the odds show it may not hurt their chances at all of landing someone who can help them. The research surprised me and I think it will to many of you, as well.