Who is Being Helped by Appearing in the Final Four?

Posted on April 2, 2011 by


Mosi Platt – of the Miami Heat Index – sent along the following tweet from Chad Ford of ESPN.com.

Same scouts/GMs that said NCAA tournament doesn’t affect NBA draft stock now in love w/ Jamie Skeen, Shelvin Mack, Jeremy Lamb. Hmmmm ….

This comment by Ford should be considered along side a recent column by Ian Thomsen of SI.com.  Here is how the Thomsen column begins:

How much does a strong showing in the NCAA tournament help an NBA prospect? The question has never been more relevant, as more than a dozen potential first-round picks had led their teams into the Sweet 16 convening Thursday night.

Here’s the answer: Not as much as you might think.

“When I was a scout,” a current GM said, “this was the time of year when I’d go to Europe. I’d always scout Europe during the NCAA tournament.”

He wouldn’t ignore the NCAA results. But he also didn’t want his judgment to be led astray by the madness.

Although I am sure scouts don’t wish to admit this, our research indicates — contrary to Thomsen’s argument — that the appearing in the Final Four has quite an impact on a player’s draft position.  Specifically, here is what Stumbling on Wins (and a paper I published with Stacey Brook and Aju Fenn) argued:

All else being equal, players will be drafted higher if the player is younger, recently appeared in the Final Four, and is relatively taller.  The Final Four result is especially noteworthy.  A player who appears in the Final Four can improve his draft position by about twelve spots.  This effect, though, is only seen if the player enters the draft the year he appeared in the Final Four.  If a player appears in the Final Four and then returns to school, the value of the Final Four appearance vanishes. This result suggests that decision-makers in the NBA are overly influenced by recent observations.  Looking past the fact that a Final Four appearance might only show that a player has good teammates, it’s odd for decision-makers to take into account a Final Four appearance in the year the player is drafted, yet completely ignore an appearance in earlier years.  After all, if a Final Four appearance meant something, surely the meaning would last more than a few months. 

So despite what Thomsen contends, I think the Final Four will help someone this weekend.  And that leads one to ask… exactly who is being helped this weekend?  Looks like Ford has started constructing a list of candidates…

– DJ