Between 2002 and 2010, the team with the #26 pick in the NBA Draft has gotten, on average, the 7th-best player in the draft.
The team that drafts 9th has gotten the 2nd-best player. The team that drafts 24th has gotten the 10th-best player. And the team with the #2 overall pick has only gotten the 6th-best player.
These are some of the crazy revelations we found when we crunched the numbers on the nine drafts between 2002 and 2010.
To get an idea of how well the players at each pick panned out, we averaged win shares per 48 minutes for all the players selected with the same number draft pick between 2002 and 2010 (we excluded 2011 because of the lockout-shortened season). “Win shares per 48 minutes” is a complicated stat that, to put it simply, tells you how good of an all-around player someone is.
Here’s what we found:
Photo: Tony Manfred/Business Insider
Some quick bullet points on this chart:
- Here are the top-10 spots to draft at, in order: 1, 9, 4, 3, 7, 2, 26, 5, 10, 24
- The 26th pick was obviously the stand out: John Salmons, Kevin Martin, Jason Maxiell, Jordan Farmar, Aaron Brooks, George Hill, and Taj Gibson were all taken 26th in their respective drafts.
- The 26th pick averaged 0.095 win shares per 48 minutes. The 2nd pick averaged 0.096.
- The 16th pick was shockingly bad: Jiri Welsch, Troy Bell, Kirk Snyder, Joey Graham, Rodney Carney, and James Johnson were all picked there.
- Teams on the edge of the lottery (picks 14-22), has picked worse players than those picking in the 20s.
A quick note on sample size: We chose to start this as 2002 because we wanted to take into account current trends in how teams draft. Obviously if you went all the way back to the mid-80s, the value #26 pick would regress to the mean. But that wouldn’t accurately capture the conventional wisdom of how teams are drafting right now.
For example, when you look at those guys taken at #26, you see a trend. They’re generally college standouts who stayed in school for at least three years (except Farmar), but still slipped out of the lottery. These guys typically don’t become superstars, but they pretty consistently find their way into NBA starting lineups.
It’s not that the #26 pick is magical, it’s that the same type of player keeps landing there over and over again.
Because teams in the late-lottery and early non-lottery are taking flyers on talented but unproven players. Some of them have hit it big (Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, and to a lesser extent JaVale McGee), but most of these guys flop.
So who should be excited?
The Indiana Pacers hold the apparently lucrative #26 pick this year, the Detroit Pistons hold the #9 pick, and the Cleveland Cavaliers hold the #24 pick.
Who should be running scared?
The Bobcats have the #2 pick, but are desperately trying to trade it. The Rockets have the deadly #16 pick, but they’re rumoured to be trading that as well. And picks #6 and #8, which have been busts recently, are the property of Portland and Toronto, respectively.
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