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Comparing the NBA Draft to the NFL Draft

The NBA Draft is coming up this week, and we get to talk about who is in the lottery picks, and who will wear what. Comparing the NBA Draft to the NFL Draft is a fool hardy venture, surely, whether it be on the court/field to the clothing choices. After all, everyone knows that the top picks in the NBA Draft are way more valuable than in the NFL. We did, for example, just see a team led by former top five picks LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Juwan Howard and Eddy Curry win a NBA Title.

Fool that I am, though, I had this crazy thought that the talent evaluators were about equal, if we only accounted for the different number of starters. Football has 22 (setting aside the special teamers) and Basketball has 5, a ratio of 4.4 to 1 in favor of football. That ratio also applies to the overall roster sizes, and approximately, to the total number of players drafted in the respective sports.

In other words, if the NFL only had 5 position starters — let’s say, just for argument, quarterbacks, wide receivers, and defensive ends to simulate the C-F-G dynamic — the top picks would appear just as valuable. The top pick in the NFL Draft would then be vastly more valuable than the last lottery pick, and way more valuable than a mid-second round selection.

So, to test this, I looked at the draft history from 1978 to 2007 for the two leagues. For the NBA, I used career win shares for each player drafted between picks 1 and 50. For the NFL, where we don’t have the level of personal statistics to evaluate all positions, I used the “approximate value” at pro-football-reference.com. I then found the average for each draft slot in the NBA, and the average career approximate value for the corresponding group of picks (after multiplying by that 4.4 ratio) in the NFL Draft.

For example, the first pick in the NBA draft was compared to the top four picks in the NFL Draft. The 10th pick in the NBA Draft was equal to the 41st through 44th picks in the NFL Draft. If my theory held up, the last lottery pick (14th overall) should be about equal to a late second round pick in the NFL Draft (picks 58 to 62).

To normalize it (since I was using two completely different scales, win shares versus approximate value), I divided each position’s value by that of the 10th overall pick in the NBA Draft (for NBA picks) or the corresponding picks in the NFL Draft (41 to 44) for the NFL.

Bored yet by all that mumbo jumbo? Well, here’s the cool visual chart.

Well, look at that. Once you account for the differing number of starters in the NFL versus the NBA, the shape of the draft curve is almost identical. The NBA Line (in blue) is bouncier because of the smaller sample sizes (30 players at each point, rather than 120-150 for the NFL). The top overall pick in the NBA Draft is worth a little more than a top four pick in the NFL, at about 220% of the value of the 10th pick. However, the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft has the same ratio (220%) compared to picks 41 to 44.

From pick 2 to pick 30 in the NBA Draft, though, the drop off is identical to the drop from picks 5 to 132 in the NFL Draft, with just random noise from the NBA above and below the NFL’s draft value line. For later picks, the NFL late rounders are slightly more valuable than the NBA’s second round picks, though the shape of the curve slows down for each and becomes mostly flat.

If you want to know who the closest thing to Tom Brady (famously taken at pick #199) in the NBA Draft is, I suppose it would be Jeff Hornacek of the Utah Jazz, the best player selected at around pick #46. While much will be made of being selected in the lottery or not, performance wise, it is the equivalent of going late second rounder or at the top of the third round in the NFL Draft. The drop off from pick #2 to pick #7 in the NBA Draft is the equivalent of going from #5 to the last pick of the first round in the NFL.

If you want to compare the trades and how values are treated, this gives a pretty good estimate for translating from the NBA Draft language to the NFL. If in doubt, it’s a pretty good guess to just multiply by 4.4.

[photo via US Presswire]

 

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