Falling in Love with Potential on Draft Night

Posted on June 27, 2008 by

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As I noted yesterday, we just moved to Utah.  Although we have a house and I have an office, the television has not yet been set up.  So I was only able to check in on the draft via the Internet. 

Given how much I still have to do to get settled into Utah, what follows is just a quick first impression I had in reading Chad Ford’s coverage of the draft at ESPN.com.  Before I get to my comments, let me note that I am not trying to pick on Ford. I am sure that coverage on TV suffered from the same problem.

And what is the problem?  Talent on draft night is consistently overrated. 

The NBA Draft page (listed to the right in this forum)- which needs to be updated – lists reviews of past drafts from the early 1990s.  One theme runs through each of these reviews: Few players ever become the stars envisioned on draft night.

Consider these facts:

  • Of the 60 players drafted, some will never play in the NBA.
  • Of those that do play – assuming a symmetrical distribution – roughly half will be below average and half will be above average.
  • If we take these points together, we realize that the majority of players taken on Thursday night will not become above average NBA players.

Again, not to pick on ESPN’s Chad Ford, but if he is to be believed the NBA just added a number of star players.  Consider the following descriptions Ford offered:

  • #4 – Russell Westbrook: Overall, he has a chance to be a better version of Rajon Rondo.
  • #16 – Marreese Speights: He is kind of a poor man’s Elton Brand.
  • #23 – Kosta Koufus: He could be the second coming of Mehmet Okur — a sweet-shooting big man who can play inside and outside.
  • #27 – Darrell Arthur: He has a chance to be an Antawn Jamison-type player.
  • #28 – Donte Greene: Lots of scouts compare him to Rashard Lewis.
  • #34 – Mario Chalmers: He’s kind of a poor man’s O.J. Mayo
  • #41 – Nathan Jawaii: a huge player from Australia who looks like a bigger version of Elton Brand.

Okay, here are some quick comments on these players.

  • In his last year of college, Rajon Rondo’s Win Score per minute was 0.252 (an above average mark for a point guard drafted into the NBA). As a rookie, Rajon Rondo posted a 0.189 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].  In his second year, Rondo had a mark of 0.219. Again, each of these marks is well above average.  From Erich Doerr’s analysis of the 2008 prospects, we see that Westbrook’s numbers in college are quite a bit worse than the numbers posted by Rondo.  Yet somehow we are to believe – at this point – that Westbrook is going to be the better NBA player? If that happens, UCLA might want to ask Westbrook why he couldn’t have played better in college.
  • We have two players are compared to Elton Brand (Speights and Jawaii).  Brand has produced more than 100 wins in his career and has consistently posted WP48 marks above 0.200 (average is 0.100).  Speights has a chance to be above average.  But to expect Brand-like numbers seems a bit of a stretch.  And to expect Elton Brand to show up at the 41st pick in the draft is completely unbelievable.
  • Darrell Arthur – who Ford mentioned over and over again – is expected to be another Antawn Jamison.  Jamison has also been an above average player throughout his career.  Again, getting such a player at #27 would be amazing (and judging from Doerr’s analysis, unlikely).
  • Yes, Rashard Lewis was taken in the second round.  But clearly, if team’s could have forecasted his performance better (a forecast that was made difficult by the fact Lewis came straight out of high school), he would have gone higher than the 28th spot.  Donte Greene – the 28th pick this year -did play college basketball.  And from Doerr’s analysis, we see that he posted a below average PAWSMIN [Position Adjusted Win Score per Minute] his one year in college.  So it seems unlikely he is going to become the next Rashard Lewis (a player who has consistently been an above average NBA small forward).
  • Kosta Koufus is another player who posted uninspiring college numbers. And yet we are to believe he can be the next Okur, a player who has been above average in the NBA?
  • And finally, both Doerr and I have noted that O.J. Mayo was not impressive in college. And in the second round – according to Ford — Miami has acquired a poor man’s version of Mayo (Mario Chalmers).  Again, I am not sure the rich man’s version is going to help much.  Hard to see how the poor man’s version makes a big splash.

One could go on and on, but I don’t think that’s necessary.  Although it’s easy to fall in love with potential, in a few years many of these players are going to demonstrate that they are not above average NBA players.  And very few players drafted last night are going to become NBA stars (expect less than five). 

Okay, enough of my first impression.   Much has happened that needs to be discussed. In the next few days (or few weeks) I will try and offer detailed comments on…

  • the O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love trade (Kevin McHale clearly got the better of that move).
  • the Jermaine O’Neal for T.J. Ford trade
  • the Richard Jefferson for Yi Jianlian trade
  • every player taken out of college

All of this, though, will have to wait until another day.  For those who need more Wages of Wins draft analysis today, I once again recommend the following columns by Erich Doerr:

The 2008 NBA Draft Preview

2008 Win Scores NBA Draft Preview

In addition, Erich has also offered the following Draft Recap at Draft Express:

Win Scores 2008 NBA Draft Recap

This recap is quite extensive and definitely worth reading (something you can say about everything Erich writes).

– DJ