A few months ago, I updated Jason Kubatko’s NBA draft value chart based on his stat, Win Shares. I will be using that model to show which teams have gotten the most and least value out of their draft picks, relative to the draft slot’s expectation. As we go through this exercise, it is important to keep in mind that I am not saying that these are the best or worst drafting teams. This is merely to show who has gotten more value out of the draft picks acquired. Without further ado, here are the teams who have gotten the most value out of their draft picks between 2004 and 2012:
1. Chicago Bulls (15 selections, 65.20 WS Above Expectation, 4.35 per selection)
It probably doesn’t shock anyone that the Bulls are on top here. They have routinely been at the top of the East with mostly homegrown talent. What may surprise is just how much they are destroying everyone else in this regard. Their 65.20 Win Shares Above Expectation is more than 20 Win Shares better than the next team. Their 4.35 WS Above Expectation per draft pick is more than 2 Win Shares better than the next team. The Bulls were never able to win a title with the likes of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, but the draft was certainly instrumental in building the contender that has been this team for many years.
Jimmy Butler ended up being the Bulls’ pick that panned out the best. Drafted with the last pick in the first round, Butler ended up earning 21.44 Win Shares more than expected during his rookie deal. There aren’t that many players who can accumulate 20 Win Shares over a four-year span in their peak years. It isn’t all that surprising given the player, but Butler ended up returning the seventh highest value of any pick between 2004 and 2012.
What is surprising, is that the Bulls’ second most valuable pick in that time frame was Chris Duhon. Not All-Star Joakim Noah. Not All-Star Luol Deng. Not MVP Derrick Rose. No, it was a fundamentally sound second-round draft pick who returned the second highest value for the Bulls. Duhon ended up averaging over 4 Win Shares per season during his rookie contract, and returned 12.86 WS more than expected. Duhon would never appear on a highlight film (unless doing a travel dance), but the Bulls found good value by seeking a non-flashy, undersized player who does a lot of things well.
In total, the Bulls had the most players return double digit Win Shares Above expectation (5). They had nine players return more than the expectation, and if you add up the absolute values of the Win Shares Above Expectation for those who didn’t, you end up with a lower number than that of Jimmy Butler. How did the Bulls get this done? Well, they didn’t entirely whiff on any high picks. Tyrus Thomas came close, but he was only about one Win Share below the expectation per season. The second thing is that they didn’t go for home runs towards the end of the first round and early in the second. They got Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, and Chris Duhon in this range. Gibson was a big rebounder without much flair. Butler was labeled a good defender, but a work in progress on offense. Duhon just quietly went about his business in a way that ended up helping his team a lot. They inadvertently did knock it out of the park with Butler, but they aren’t looking for big players in that range. They look for solid players who prefer to play smart basketball instead of end up on the SportsCenter Top 10 each night.
2. Indiana Pacers (16 selections, 37.30 Win Shares Above Expectation, 2.33 per selection)
The Pacers actually had more misses than hits here, as nine of their 16 picks ended up returning less value than expected. They wiped out all of that and a lot more with just the two picks of Paul George and Danny Granger. George was the tenth pick in the draft, but quickly became one of the game’s best player. He earned 17.26 Win Shares more than expected, while Granger beat his expectation by 18.85. At different times, these two have been the face of the Pacers’ franchise over the past decade, so it’s no surprise they end up on this list. Sometimes a couple of great picks is all you need.
The Pacers didn’t have many picks where they were just barely positive. In fact, they either hit big or missed. Their lowest positive score in Win Shares Above Expectation was 2.43 (A.J. Price, pick 52). Lance Stephenson (9.00) and Roy Hibbert (7.95) added hefty totals to the one that Granger and George had already produced, and that is almost all of what the Pacers got out of the draft, right there. I can’t tell you whether or not they were purposefully going for big selections the whole time, but it wouldn’t surprise me if their team philosophy from 2004-2012 was to target players with the highest upside. It would certainly explain the hit big or miss results that we see from them.
3. New Orleans Pelicans & Hornets (16 selections, 34.13 WS Above Expectation, 2.13 per selection)
The Pelicans’ success in the draft can be summed up in two words: Chris Paul. Paul was the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, and he recorded 39.38 Win Shares more than the average fourth pick does. There are two incredible things to note about that:
1. If you sum all of the other 15 Pelicans draft picks, you get less Win Shares than expected based on draft slot.
2. Paul beat his draft slot’s expectation by the most. Second best was Paul Millsap … at 22.28 WS Above Expectation.
It’s safe to say that Chris Paul has been the best draft pick since the 2003 class that included LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Not only did Paul beat his expectation by the most, but he also had the most Win Shares over the first four years of his NBA career. Getting that at any pick other than first overall usually means an incredible steal. Actually, it could even be considered a steal with the first overall pick. Paul’s dominance makes up for the rest of the Pelicans’ drafting sins, and there were quite a few of those.
There were some other good picks in there; Anthony Davis (1st overall, 14.24 WS Above Expectation), Marcus Thornton (43rd, 11.49), and Darren Collison (21st, 9.70) each returned really good value. However, they did not outweigh the bad. I’m going to skip the bad here, and go straight to the ugly: Cedric Simmons (15th, -8.63), Austin Rivers (10th, -8.04), Craig Brackins (21st, -7.10), Hilton Armstrong (12th, -6.85), Julian Wright (13th, -5.61). That is a long list of absolute busts in a short span of time. One of them, Brackins, actually had a negative overall Win Shares number through four seasons (-0.2), not just negative relative to the expectation.
If you want to know why Chris Paul never got far in New Orleans, just check the team’s next few drafts. From 2006-2008, the team drafted five players, and none of them returned any value relative to the draft pick slot. Combined, they were 26.91 Win Shares below expectation. If the Pelicans had just gotten what their draft slot suggested, they could have added an extra five wins per year.
I don’t mean to be too harsh on New Orleans. Identifying Chris Paul as the player you want is something that changed the course of their franchise, and they deserved credit for that. The point really is that there are many ways to do well in a draft, and you don’t have to be that consistent to get a lot of value from your draft picks over a long period of time. As Chicago, Indiana, and New Orleans showed, there is no “one size fits all” method of drafting. Many different strategies can work, it’s just a matter of getting a little lucky when your draft slot comes around. Whoever is on top of your board is the one you are going to take, so if he is the one player you whiff on, then your draft record looks much worse than it should. Two of these teams were able to hit often, and one got Paul, but they all had very different draft strategies.
Now for the teams that got the least value from their draft selections:
28. Washington Wizards (16 selections, -37.37 Win Shares Above Expectation, -2.34 per selection)
The Wizards just look like a team that was never able to hit it quite right in the draft. Their three picks that returned the most value, in order, are Trevor Booker, JaVale McGee, and Andray Blatche. That sounds like a recipe for disaster. However, they never had a player earn more than ten Win Shares less than he was expected to. That’s an arbitrary number, but 14 teams drafted a player who did worse than that mark from 2004 to 2012. I am cherry picking a bit, since Jan Vesely did “earn” -9.72 Win Shares Above Expectation, but they weren’t a team that was consistently whiffing. Rather, they just consistently missed small.
I suppose the Wizards could be the counter-argument to what I said about the Bulls; if you don’t go for home runs, then maybe you end up just missing by enough each time. However, the Wizards generally just stuck to the consensus draft board. They took John Wall first overall in 2010, Bradley Beal third in 2012, and Chris Singleton 18th in 2011. None of those picks returned the expected value, but they did what many teams would have done in their situation. This is a perfect example of what I described in the beginning. All of those misses don’t necessarily make the Wizards a bad team; they just happened to run into situations where their board had the wrong guy on top in the moment that they were forced to pick. Now, maybe their entire draft board did stink, but they took a lot of players that everyone had rated highly. If they are bad drafters because of these picks, then so is the entire league. Vesely is the only one that I see where they really deviated from what people expected. That didn’t work out, but otherwise, they appear to have a similar board to all of the draft pundits.
29. Charlotte Bobcats and Hornets (17 selections, -45.12 Win Shares Above Expectation, -2.65 per selection)
After years of drafting at the top with little to show for it, the Charlotte Hornets were bound to end up on this list. The pick that sticks out the most is Adam Morrison (-18.99 Win Shares Above Expectation). Not only was he well below his draft slot expectation, but he was also in the negative in terms of raw Win Shares. As the number three overall pick, Morrison really hurt Charlotte’s efforts to build a contending team.
In all, Charlotte’s drafting problems were both in the number of misses and the magnitude of those misses. Twelve of their seventeen draft selections between 2004 and 2012 ended up returning less value than their draft slots indicated that they should have. Of those twelve, four of those players accounted for -43.16 Win Shares Above Expectation. Just the four of Alexis Ajinca (-6.87), Sean May (-7.21), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (-10.09), and Adam Morrison would have given the Hornets the second lowest payout relative to the expectation.
Is this enough to say that Charlotte is bad at drafting? Maybe. At some point they should have just gotten lucky and hit on more than five of seventeen selections. And it is very unlikely that nearly one-quarter of their selections would have ended up more than six wins worse than what the average team would get in their position. I am not comfortable coming to the conclusion that a team can’t draft well without seeing the rest of its draft board, but if there ever was a team where you could decide that, the Hornets might be that team.
30. Minnesota Timberwolves (21 selections, -64.51 Win Shares Above Expectation, -3.07 per selection)
Before you start blasting the T-Wolves, keep in mind that one area of weakness in my model is players drafted from foreign countries. They don’t come over right away, but if they come over soon enough, then they can still get an entirely new rookie contract. I purposefully left them out because of the possible age gap that comes with allowing a player to start two years later.
Enter Ricky Rubio. And a bounty of second round picks that the Timberwolves were not able to get rid of. The Wolves spent countless picks on draft-and-stash guys that ultimately never wound up with a rookie deal. Among them are Loukas Mavrokefalidis, Henk Norel, Paulao Prestes, and Nemanja Bjelica. These players totaled 0 Win Shares across four seasons, and brought the Wolves well below their expectation. Rubio ended up playing two seasons, but actually added 6.5 more Win Shares during his rookie deal that aren’t counted here. In total, there are probably 20 Win Shares counting against the Timberwolves total that they don’t deserve. So why count those players? Well, the Wolves still get dinged for not being able to use those assets, which brings me to the real point.
The Timberwolves stockpiled many draft picks in this time frame, but they wasted them. They spent picks on players they didn’t even want to come to the United States, which means that they threw away something of value. Sure, second round picks often end up returning a value below replacement level, but use them in trades or take a chance on someone. You can always cut a player with no contract! The Timberwolves made terrible use of the assets they were in control of, so they find themselves at the bottom of this list.
Best and Worst For Every Team