Repeating the Rookie of the Year Award at Each Level of Experience

Posted on May 8, 2011 by


Today’s post is about the Rookie of the Year.  And the post is going to begin by covering some very familiar territory.

Blake Griffin was a unanimous choice by the media for Rookie-of-the-Year in 2011. This was not a surprising choice.  As the following table illustrates, Griffin scored more than 700 points than John Wall, who finished second in voting for this award.

As is often noted, scoring dominates player evaluating in the NBA.  And this award illustrates this observation.  Every player who received votes scored at least 750 points in 2010-11.  And all the players who did not receive votes scored fewer than 750 points.

Such a vote leads one to wonder (okay, led me to wonder), what would this award look like if we focused on all that a player did via Wins Produced?  When we look at these players via WP, we see that Griffin is easily the most productive player.  Wall, though, was only the 5th most productive rookie.  And DeMarcus Cousins – whose WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] was in the negative range — was only the 46th most productive rookie.

If we look at the top 5 in WP – in the following table – we see that Landry Fields, Greg Monroe, and Ed Davis might have received a bit more attention from voters.

All of this is a familiar story.  Once again, Wins Produced is not completely consistent with popular perception.

Rather than spend more time on that story today, I thought I would focus on something that has not been explored in the past.  The Rookie of the Year is the only award that looks at how players compare to other players with the same level of experience.  So what would happen if we looked at the top players in 2010-11 at each level of experience?

The following table reports the top 5 players who — at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season — had played 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, and 6 years in the NBA.

If we look at Sophomores, the top player is Serge Ibaka.  Tyreke Evans – the Rookie of the Year in 2010 – only ranked 17th (of course, Evans was hurt this past year).

The class of players with three years of experience should be led by Derrick Rose.  After all, Rose was the number one pick in 2008.   And the media declared he was the Most Valuable Player in 2010-11.  Although Rose is a “good” player, he is not nearly as productive as Kevin Love (Rose, though, does have much better teammates than Love).

Rose was not the only player taken first in the draft to fail to reach the top of these rankings.  In fact, when we look at experience levels from 7 years to 13 years, we see that Dwight Howard and LeBron James are the only former number one picks who also appear at the top of their respective experience rankings.

So what do we learn in looking at these rankings?

  • As noted, the first players chosen in the draft isn’t always the most productive NBA player in that draft class.  This is not only true when you take a snapshot of a single season.  It is also true when you look at career-performance (something we discuss in Stumbling on Wins).  So if you follow a team that didn’t make the playoffs this year, it is not the end of the world if that team doesn’t get the first pick in the 2011 draft.
  • There is also a significant drop-off as we move from the productivity of the first person listed at each experience level down to the 5th player listed.  This result reflects the observation that most wins in the NBA are produced by a small number of players.  And that also tells us that most players taken in the draft are not going to help much (a story you will not hear told on draft night).
  • And finally, these results reveal that each level of experience didn’t have the same level of productivity in 2010-11.  Players in the 2nd and 11th season in 2010-11 failed to produce one player who produced more than 10 wins this past season.   Players in their 5th year, 9th year, and 13th year only had one player produce more than 10 wins.  In contrast, 7th year and 10th year players had four such players.

So the top pick isn’t always the best.  Every players isn’t going to help.  And every draft class isn’t equal.

Let me close by noting that I suspect these stories are the same if we focus overall career performance or performance on a per-minute basis.  But I think I have made enough tables for one day.

– DJ