Superstar Search in the NBA Draft

Posted on June 14, 2009 by


Here is an interesting factoid about the NBA Finals.  Since 1978 (the first year we can calculate Wins Produced) no team has won an NBA title without one regular player (minimum 41 games played, 24.0 minutes per game) posting at least a 0.200 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].  Only one team – the 1978-79 Seattle Super Sonics [led by Gus Williams with a 0.208 WP48] – managed to win a title without a regular player crossing the 0.250 threshold. And only four other champions didn’t have at least one player surpass the 0.300 mark. This tells us – and hopefully this is not a surprise – that to be an elite team you must have at least one elite player.

Okay, now let’s connect this factoid to the draft.  Since 1995, no player who posted a below average college PAWS40 [Position Adjusted Win Score per 40 minutes] his last year in college managed to post a career WP48 above the 0.200 mark (after five seasons, minimum 5,000 minutes played).  So although college numbers are not a crystal ball (and really, college numbers are not perfect predictors of what a player will do in the NBA), it does seem like players who don’t play relatively well in college are not likely to become superstars in the NBA.

Now let’s apply these two pieces of information to the upcoming NBA draft. What do Jrue Holiday, Jonny Flynn, DeMar DeRozan, and Jordan Hill have in common?

1. These four players represent picks 7 through 10 in Chad Ford’s current mock draft.  

2. All four players posted below average PAWS40 numbers last season.

An average player drafted since 1995 posted a PAWS40 of 10.13.  Here is what this quartet offered last year:

Jrue Holiday: 9.17

Jonny Flynn: 8.64

DeMar DeRozan: 7.76

Jordan Hill: 9.95

 And when we look at picks 11-20 we see the following names and numbers:

Gerald Henderson: 9.70

Austin Daye: 9.23

Earl Clark: 8.53

B.J. Mullens: 7.74

Jeff Teague: 9.97

Sam Young: 8.33

These players were also below average with respect to PAWS40 last season.  And given what we have seen in the past, none of these players are likely to become superstars in the NBA.  So if Chad Ford’s latest mock draft is accurate, we have some evidence – before any of these players start playing in the NBA – that half of the first 20 players selected will not become NBA superstars.  And it is likely – before we ever see the broadcast on draft night – that at least some of these players will be touted as potential superstars when they are drafted.

One last note on the subject of superstars: Since 1977-78 there have been 848 teams.  Of these, only 216 – or about 25% — had a regular player with a WP48 beyond the 0.300 mark.  Another 183 teams – or another 22% — had a player with a 0.250 WP48.  So this means over half of all teams did not have one player that seems a prerequisite to win a title.  And it tells us that New York, Toronto, Utah, Phoenix, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Washington, Denver, New Jersey, Memphis, and Sacramento have at least one move to make if they wish to contend for the 2010 title.

– DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also 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

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.