Arturo Galletti Evaluates 30 Years of the NBA Draft for the Wall Street Journal

Posted on June 23, 2010 by


David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal has once again referenced Wins Produced in telling a story.  Biderman’s story — Good News, Nets: Third Pick’s Better Than the Second – offers evidence that the second pick in the NBA draft is not necessarily better than the third pick.

As noted, Biderman’s evidence is based on Wins Produced.  And although these numbers started with my calculations, it was the work of Arturo Galletti – as Biderman notes – that allowed us to see the productivity of each draft pick since 1977 (the numbers are after four years in the league).

Biderman’s article is only 300 words long.  And his table only has 13 rows.  So there is a bit more we can say with the numbers Galletti provides.

One issue we have to address is that players taken earlier in the draft will get more minutes.  And the increase in minutes – as published research from Colin Camerer and Roberto Weber (1999) indicates – is independent of player performance.  So if we are going to evaluate the NBA draft, we can’t use aggregate measures.  Top draft picks will produce more wins simply because they will get more minutes.  So to evaluate the productivity of players at each draft position, one should probably consider per-minute (or per 48 minute) performance.

With that in mind, let’s look at the total minutes played, total Wins Produced, and WP48 [i.e. total Wins Produced divided by total minutes played multiplied by 48] at each draft position.

As one can see, the NBA appears to do a good job identifying wins producers at the top of the draft.  The top five spots in the draft rank among the top seven spots in Wins Produced.  Yes – as Biderman notes – the third spot is somewhat better than the second pick.  But it looks like NBA decision-makers can generally identify players like LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Chris Paul, etc… 

What do these players have in common?  Each player can do many things well.  Consequently, it is easier for decision-makers to see that these players will be able to contribute.

Once we get past the top five slots, though, you then have players who can’t do everything well.  Now decision-makers have to evaluate players who can only score (think Allan Houston) and others who primarily rebound (i.e. Dennis Rodman, Anderson Varejao, Charles Oakley, etc…).  As noted in Stumbling on Wins, decision-makers on draft day clearly favor scorers.  And rebounds in college– again, as noted – do not really impact a player’s draft position.  So we should not be surprised that after we get past the players who do everything (i.e past the first five slots), productive players can be found throughout the first round. 

There are many more stories to be with Arturo’s numbers.  And all these stories will be told eventually.  But not in the next post.  Hopefully the next post will be about the 2010 NBA draft.

– DJ