The 2017 NBA Draft is less than a week away. Teams dream of getting that cornerstone piece that turns the franchise around. But how often do they get them, after the smoke from all the tanking and taking on max contracts clears?
I went through the drafts from 1978 to 2012 to see how frequently a team took the player that has ended up with the highest career Win Shares, among all available draft options, at each draft position.
Obviously, picking earlier gives you the best chance of hitting on a big pick, based on opportunity. But this gives us a sense of the hit rate.
Teams that have pretty much their pick of the entire draft hit on getting the best remaining player almost 20% of the time, and get one of the best five about half the time. And most of those are Hall of Famers.
But after the top 10, the hit rate on being able to identify the best remaining option falls to where it is about twice as likely as simply pulling a name out of a hat, selecting based on the number of letters in the last name, or some other random option. There’s barely more than a 5% chance that your team on the clock will correctly identify the best of the remaining options.
You can understand it a little more in football, where there are so many different positions that rely on completely unique skills and physical tools to evaluate. In basketball, other than having true posts on one end and point guards on the other, there is a lot of flexibility and crossover in skills: dribbling, shooting, passing, defending, jumping ability and speed. Teams interchange positions, go small or big all the time and don’t have to have a set number of certain types on the floor.
Nevertheless, players slip through and the draft isn’t so certain. The Golden State Warriors are reaping the rewards of drafting so well a few years ago: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were among the best possible picks at their slots, a hit rate way above the typical team. So while they may have formed a “super team” by signing Kevin Durant, they were in that position because they have been better than most at getting the best options out of what was available during the draft.