Looking Back at the 1995 Draft or An Antidote for the Potential Drug

Posted on October 14, 2007 by


The 2007 exhibition season has now started and fans are finally getting their first glimpse at the players taken in the 2007 NBA draft. And already many are drunk on the “potential” drug. 

Although dreaming about potential is fun, a stroll down memory lane suggests that many of the players we think have “potential” today are going to be tomorrow’s journeymen and has-beens.

This past summer I made this point in reviewing the 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994 NBA draft (you can see these reviews at the NBA Draft page)  Today I want to continue this analysis with a look at the 1995 draft.

The 1995 Lottery

My approach in these studies has been to look at the overall career productivity of each player drafted.  This analysis will be presented, but I wanted to start with a different perspective. 

The draft is first and foremost about the teams that did not make the playoffs.  Unless a trade was made, it is these teams that select in the NBA lottery.  And it’s the lottery picks that are expected to help turn a non-playoff team around.

Back in 1995 there were 13 lottery picks.  Of these, how many can we say truly helped the team who selected the player?

To answer this question, I looked at how productive each lottery pick was for the team choosing the athlete on draft night.  For example, Joe Smith was taken with the first overall pick by the Golden State Warriors. After producing at a slightly above average rate his rookie season, Smith was decidedly below average in 1996-97. And after continuing his below average play at the onset of 1997-98 season, Smith was traded to the 76ers.

When we look at the two seasons Smith completed with the Warriors, we see a player who produced 7.8 victories and posted a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.064.  Given that average is 0.100, Smith was hardly what the Warriors hoped for on draft night.

The story gets somewhat better for the second pick. Antonio McDyess was selected by the LA Clippers, but traded to the Nuggets.  After two seasons in Denver, McDyess posted a WP48 of 0.00. This happened because his Wins Produced in his rookie season of 2.6 was completely offset by a -2.6 offering in his sophomore campaign.  Then McDyess went to Phoenix for one season, only to return to Denver for the next four years.  The second time around, McDyess was a much better player.  In all, McDyess played six seasons in Denver, producing 27.6 victories and a WP48 of 0.108.

I could go on with each draft pick, but that’s a bit tedious.  So let’s just turn to Table One, which reports what each lottery pick did for the team choosing the player in 1995.

Table One: The Productivity of the 1995 Lottery Class

As Table One illustrates, only Kevin Garnett, Bryant Reeves, and Corliss Williamson completed more than three seasons with their original team. And only Reeves played his entire career in one spot. 

On average, these players only lasted 3.3 seasons (and that number is clearly inflated by Garnett). And it seems that teams basically gave up on these players a bit too fast.

Looking at the Entire Draft Class

That can be seen when we see the career performance of all players selected in the first and second round of the 1995 draft.

Table Two: Looking Back at the 1995 Draft

Ideally I would have created a table with just the career performance of the lottery picks.  But I didn’t. Still, let me save everyone the trouble of hunting through Table Two and note that the following lottery picks posted a career WP48 that was better than the mark posted for the team selecting the player: J. Smith, McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Shawn Respert, Ed O’Bannon, Kurt Thomas, Cherokee Parks, and Corliss Williamson.  Yes, almost all of these players got better after they went elsewhere (although for many of these players the improvement was slight).

That being said, it’s not the case that many of these lottery picks ever became extremely good players.  In fact, of these lottery picks, only Garnett, McDyess, Thomas, and Gary Trent have a career WP48 that is currently above the 0.100 mark.  And only Garnett has been substantially above average.

When we look at the entire draft class, we do see a few other players who produced at an above average rate.  This list includes Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Eric Snow, Bob Sura, Greg Ostertag (a subject of one of the first posts at the WoW Journal), Fred Hoiberg, Theo Ratliff, and Mario Bennett.  Of these, only Barry (the 15th player selected) and Hoiberg (a second round pick I discussed HERE) were able to post a WP48 above 0.200. And if Barry repeats what he did last year, he will be only the second player from this draft class (the first is Garnett, of course) with more than 100 Wins Produced in his career.

A Familiar Story

In looking back at this draft we see a familiar story.  Although all of these players were considered blessed with much potential in 1995, many never developed into great players.  This story needs to be remembered when we look at the draft picks of 2007.  Which players from this draft class will look like great players in 2019?

If great is defined as a career WP48 above 0.200, the answer is “three or less.”  At least, when we look back at the drafts in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995 (which you can see at the NBA Draft page), we never see more than three players clear this mark.  In fact, none of the players selected in 1993 have posted a career WP48 above 0.200.

Keep this in mind when you look at Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Jeff Green, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, etc… Right now these players look like they are all going to be “great” (at least to the people who invested a lottery choice in the player).  But as time goes by, we will see that most of these players will fail to develop into the great players we envision today.  And in fact, if the study of 1995 can be generalized (and I need to look at this for more years to reach any firm conclusions) if these players ever do develop it may happen for some other team. And this thought should be more than an antidote for the “potential” drug noted at the onset of this column.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The equation connecting wins to offensive/defensive efficiency is given HERE

Wins Produced and Win Score are discussed in the following posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say