If you’ve seen Kubatko’s model before, you’ll quickly recognize that this is nothing new. I’m not inventing anything here; I’m just updating his model to reflect the 2004-2012 NBA drafts instead of the 1977-1991 drafts. I chose 2004 as the cutoff because that was the year when the NBA draft first included all 30 teams in order to include the then Charlotte Bobcats. In particular, I am only looking at the first four years of a draftee’s career, since that is the length of a first round contract. I take the total Win Shares of each drafted player over the first four years of his career and then fit a logarithmic curve to the average Win Shares of each pick. The only difference that I have here is that I attempted to establish a Win Shares replacement level. My goal was to evaluate how teams were using picks in trades, so we have to measure these players against some guy that any team could have gotten for the veteran’s minimum.
Players who don’t play
I evaluated the first four seasons after the player was drafted. If a player didn’t play due to injury, he got a 0 for that season. If a player didn’t play because he was overseas, he got a 0 for that season. My reasoning for this was that I wanted to evaluate players for the value they bring to a team while still on the rookie contract. If a player is hurt, then that is a year on a low salary that is also gone. If a player doesn’t come over from Europe for three years, then he is no longer forced to sign in accordance with the rookie wage scale. Of course, there are players that only play one or two years overseas, but I didn’t think it was fair to count the seasons when they would be a year or two older than expected when they actually started to rack up Win Shares. Thus, I left any player who didn’t play as a 0, which happens for a lot of second round picks, but very few first rounders.
According to Kevin Pelton, a replacement level player is about 83 percent of an average player. I used that number as the basis for creating the Win Shares replacement level. I figured that the average player rates around the 50th percentile, so the replacement player rates around the 41st or 42nd percentile (83 percent of 50). I simply determined the replacement level as the number of Win Shares a player in that percentile has when ranked by Win Shares. The number changes slightly each year, as it should, and hopefully gives us a pretty good idea of where to value the replacement level. For most years, the replacement level came out to about 1.2 Win Shares.
I don’t believe that it’s fair to just sum up the total number of expected Win Shares from draft picks plus the total Win Shares from NBA players traded since roster space is a scarce resource. If you have one player whose production is equal to that of two other players combined, then the one player is more valuable than the two since he can provide the same thing in half the number of total minutes and take up half as many roster spaces. Put another way, if you have an entire roster equal to Lebron James, then the Cleveland Cavaliers have a huge advantage because they have 14 other players that will surely be better than nothing.
The way I am accounting for the value of a roster space is by taking away one-fifteenth of the value for each extra player added. For example, if I trade one draft pick for two picks that I have valued at a total of ten Win Shares, then the value I get in return is actually:
The final formula is:
In graphic form, here is what it looks like when accounting for the replacement level:
The very noticeable thing about this chart is that NBA players dip below replacement level over the course of their rookie contracts once we reach pick 32. The players taken in that spot or a few picks later are usually above replacement level for years three and four, but those first two years drag them below zero expected Win Shares above replacement. Of course, there is still no downside to acquiring second round picks because the contracts are not guaranteed. Therefore, I am counting the second round picks that don’t add any value as a 0. They don’t take up an extra spot and they don’t detract value because the team can choose not to put the player on the roster. If a first rounder happens to decrease the total value of the trade package, then the team is stuck with it because it’s a guaranteed contract.
This year’s trades
Using the model that I just showed and the methodology that I have explained, I will be going through each of this year’s draft pick trades and explaining how well the traded players will have to do in order to make the trade work. I will also be giving my analysis of whether or not that player can get there. Let’s start with the first one:
The Jeff Teague, George Hill Trade
Hawks get: 12th pick (Taurean Prince)
Pacers get: Jeff Teague
Jazz get: George Hill
The Pacers are not involved in a draft pick here, so I won’t be looking at that side but the other two teams involved are very interesting.
The Hawks were not going to sign Jeff Teague after this season, as they have been impressed with the play they have received from Dennis Schroder. For one year of Teague, the Hawks received an expected 5.2 Win Shares above the replacement player over the course of four years. Teague has pretty consistently been right around 6.0 Win Shares per season, which puts him just under five wins above the replacement level each year. In other words, he comes very close to the value of the 12th pick over four years in just one season. In a vacuum, the Hawks look like they did not get nearly enough in return for their starting point guard, and you can certainly make that case. However, the team will likely improve marginally from this trade because Schroder is a starting caliber point guard. He hasn’t been as good as Teague, but he is still only 22 years old. I understand why the Hawks made this move, but I think they could have, and should have, gotten much more for Jeff Teague.
The other team involved in the draft pick trading was the Utah Jazz. Utah gets George Hill for one season in exchange for the pick, and it’s a good move. Hill is also right around that six Win Shares mark, too, so he should provide close to the value of the 12th pick in that one season. With Exum coming back from a torn ACL, the Jazz were wise to find a one-year point guard, and it looks like they found one for fifty cents on the dollar. Of course, they have to pay Hill more than they would a rookie, but the difference in play caliber will be great enough that the Jazz still come away with very good value.
The Thaddeus Young Deal
Pacers get: Thaddeus Young
Nets get: 20th pick (Caris LeVert), future 2nd round pick
Larry Bird is staying true to his word; he wants the Pacers to get faster and smaller. Young has oddly been traded for what seems to be less than what he’s worth three times now, as he is far better than the 2.5 Win Shares above replacement that the Nets can expect to receive from the 20th overall pick. The Pacers have Young for three years on what is now a very reasonable contract. He should be around three Win Shares above the replacement level in each of those seasons. He’ll fit what Bird is trying to do as a stretch forward and provide more than three times as much value as that draft pick in one less season.
As for the Nets, they wanted to get younger, shed salary, and start over. I’m not sure that this was the way to do it, though. They’re not getting any great free agents now, and they could have gotten a better pick next year when there would be less money left on Young’s deal. I get the general idea, but they definitely did not get enough draft capital for an above average player. Young is a good starter, but you’re hoping for a decent role player with the 20th pick.
The Marco Belinelli Deal
Hornets get: Marco Belinelli
Kings get: 22nd pick (Malachi Richardson)
The draft chart has the 22nd pick as 1.9 expected Win Shares above replacement level, but Marco Belinelli was below replacement level last season. Granted, he rated much better the two seasons prior to this past one, but those were with the Spurs. Everyone plays better in San Antonio. He has two years remaining on his contract, so to make this work for the Hornets, Belinelli will have to be about .8 Win Shares above replacement during those two years. He doesn’t have to match the exact value of the pick since it’s better to have that production packed into fewer seasons from a value standpoint, but he does have to come close. Sacramento seems to be a bad place for shooters, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hornets did get that much out of Belinelli. The winner of this trade, though, is Sacramento because they acquired a pick that they should be expected to do more with than the player they got rid of. The trade for the Hornets is pretty much a wash, but they get positive production sooner rather than later.
The Kings and Suns swap picks
Suns get: pick 8 (Marquese Chriss)
Kings get: pick 13 (Georgios Papagiannis), pick 28 (Skal Labissiere), rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic (27th overall pick in 2014), and a future second round pick
This is one of the few trades that happen in the NBA that involve only draft picks or players yet to come over. Thus, we can use the model to evaluate this one.
I keep hearing that Marquese Chriss was one of only eight players with a shot to start in the NBA. However, I am not going to pretend to be a draft expert, so I will just assume that he will get 7.4 Win Shares above the replacement level for the next four years, just like the other players drafted in this slot. The Kings, on the other hand, get a total value of 5.04, according to my method of evaluating trades. That is a significant drop from the 7.4 value points that the Suns got. If Bogdanovic comes over, then he will also be guaranteed a roster spot. That is more bad news for the Kings since he will likely be just a little more than replacement level. I can’t use my model to rate him since he will have had an extra two years before coming over, but he likely will not push that 5.04 number much higher, if he even increases it at all.
The Kings got good value for Belinelli, but in order to get enough for the number 8 pick, they should have demanded the eighth and next year’s draft pick from Phoenix. In order to get enough to equal the number eight pick, they would have needed to get 7.9 expected Win Shares above replacement across two players. According to my chart, the 13th plus the 17th pick would have made this deal equal, which means this trade should not have gotten done. Phoenix knows that their pick will likely be higher than that next season and wouldn’t be willing to part with it, but the Kings really should not have been content with the garbage that Phoenix threw in to make this deal look better.
Celtics and Grizzlies Swap Picks
Celtics get: 2019 first round pick that was owned by the Clippers
Grizzlies get: pick 31 (Deyonta Davis), pick 35 (Rade Zagorac)
Deyonta Davis was supposed to go in the middle of the first round, so you can see why the Grizzlies were eager to get him. However, giving up a first round pick for that 31st pick is not smart. The 35th pick is expected to be below replacement level, so I am only counting the 31st pick. As for the first rounder, I think it would be foolish to try to project any team three years out, so I am going to assume that the pick lands in the middle of the first round. That means we should expect about four wins more than the replacement level for those four years out of whoever the Celtics draft. That is much more than the .1 Win Shares of value that Davis should contribute based on draft slot.
The Celtics have been really good at finding ways to get future first round draft picks for much less than they should have to pay. This is another example of that team knowing the situation and working the draft system well in order to get the most value out of it.
The Serge Ibaka trade
Magic get: Serge Ibaka
Thunder get: Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, pick 11 (Domantas Sabonis)
We’ll finish with the one that shook up draft night, as the Thunder moved what used to be one of their core pieces in Serge Ibaka. In an effort to get better defense out of their wing players, Oklahoma City traded Ibaka for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Ilyasova will be waived to create cap space, so I won’t be looking at him here.
Let’s start with the biggest wildcard, which is Ibaka. Before the Thunder wrongfully tried to turn him into a stretch four, he was getting more than 9 Win Shares each year. Once he was asked to move to the perimeter, he dropped down to 5.6 and then 5.5 Win Shares. I don’t have a clue how the Magic plan to use him, but we can expect him to earn at least 5.5 Win Shares this season. That gives him at least 4.3 Win Shares above replacement for the last year of his contract.
The player going in the opposite is Oladipo, who may be able to match Ibaka in Win Shares this year. He has had phenomenal growth in that category for his first two seasons; he started at 1.3 in the 2013-14 season, and just reached 4.9 Win Shares last year. If Ibaka doesn’t return to old form, then Oladipo may beat him in Win Shares next season, not to mention the large difference in money owed. Oladipo is also in the last year of his rookie deal before he hits restricted free agency, so the big advantage for Oklahoma City is the cap savings.
The last part of the trade, the 11th pick, is what really swings this trade towards Oklahoma City’s side. That pick is worth 5.7 expected Win Shares above replacement over four seasons, so about what either of the other two players should be expected to do next year. But the fact that the Thunder get more value out of this trade for next year and get a draft pick who can contribute for three extra years is incredible. Also, Oladipo is only a restricted free agent, so it will be easier for the Thunder to keep him than it will be for the Magic to keep Ibaka. Ibaka will have to seriously outperform Oladipo next year to make this trade a good one for the Magic. He can do that if he gets back to what he was doing two or three years ago, but it won’t be easy. For now, the Thunder are more likely to come away with the better end of the deal.
Second round pick trades
Since all second round picks save for the 31st should be below replacement level over the course of their rookie deals, I didn’t discuss them here. Those picks don’t have guaranteed contracts, so they should not be making the roster (but a lot of them do anyway). I will just assume that teams will be making smart moves.
The flip side of this is that you shouldn’t be mad at your team for selling a second round pick. Sure, it’s an opportunity for a player that can help, but one with a low probability to work out. You could argue that there is no risk to drafting a player since you aren’t forced to give him a contract, but getting money in return is not the worst idea in the world.
In the coming weeks I will be analyzing more from the draft chart that I made for this exercise. I will be evaluating Sam Hinkie’s trades, the players who outperformed or did not meet their draft slot expectations, and which teams have consistently gotten more value from their picks than the rest of the league.