FanPost

Winning Takes Balls? A More Detailed Look at Top 5 Picks

The first reactions I had to Save Our Bucks were frustration and skepticism. Yes: I want to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. No: I don’t want an initiative boiled down to a poorly conceived, misrepresentative billboard. Their mission mainly left me asking additional questions, and navigating their website is clumsy and challenging. If you sift through the hyperbole and conjecture you might stumble upon a section of actual substance: a data table of All NBA Team players that provides support to their mission. Combining this data with details provided by their spokesman Paul Henning in this high quality interview on Bucksketball, its clear there are two fundamental goals driving the Save Our Bucks mission: the acquisition of 1) support and funding for a new arena by 2017, and 2) a top 5 draft pick. I want to try and conceptualize this issue for myself, and for the sake of the supporters I know personally (we can get through this). The goal of a new arena is a slippery slope that is too political for this forum; let’s focus on the issue of acquiring a top 5 draft pick.

Unless you follow the NBA draft and All-NBA results closely, the data presented by Save Our Bucks is genuinely striking. 65% of All NBA team appearances from 1991-2011 were selected from top 5 NBA draft picks. Even an anti-tanking advocate would give that data pause. But hold up, says Mr. Antitank Stern, think of the teams achieving success without selecting high picks! The Pacers! The 2012/2013 Nuggets! Not a single top 5 pick on the roster!

Accordingly, I sought out alternative explanations in an attempt to disprove the necessity of a top 5 pick.

1) Teams have success without Top 5 picks don’t they?

It’s tough to say. A quick survey of the league shows that Indiana and Denver are the only current NBA rosters with zero top 5 picks. 59% of 100 Top 5 picks from 1991-2010 have never featured on an All NBA team, but 41% have! There is an obvious difference between the contributions between the #3 pick in the 2008 draft, O.J. Mayo, and the contributions of the #3 pick in the 2009 draft, James Harden. Drafting or acquiring a Top 5 pick doesn’t guarantee a quality player, but a quality player is more likely than other draft positions.

Let’s return to the Pacers. For all the recognition the team gets for their roster construction, according to the recent historical data (scroll down) the composition of their team is an anomaly. The foundation of Roy Hibbert (#17, 2008) and Paul George (#10, 2010) will be recognized by many future All NBA teams, which is unlikely given their respective draft positions. If they both stay on the Pacers, they will be in competition for the NBA title every year. Though some might compare them to the early to mid-2000s Detroit Pistons, the team that most closely approximates them is probably the Jordan-era Utah Jazz, whose roster was fortified for nearly 2 decades by two home-grown mid-1st round talents (John Stockton [#16, 1984] Karl Malone [#13, 1985]) blossoming into superstars.

2) What if the sample was larger?

I took a ride in the way-back machine for this one. All NBA Team data from players taken from the 1969 NBA Draft to the present were considered relevant for this study. For example, Elvin Hayes, a 1968 selection and 2nd Team All NBA player in 1972/3 was excluded, while Lew Alcindor, a 1969 selection and 1st Team All NBA player that same year was included. Data was accessed through Basketball-Reference and distributed into a data table on excel.

Figure 1: All NBA Seasons from 1969-2013 NBA Drafts

1st Team

2nd Team

3rd Team

Total

% All NBA

Picks 1-5

120

106

65

291

56.6%

Picks 6-10

22

37

21

80

15.6%

Picks 11-15

32

17

12

61

11.9%

Picks 16-20

6

15

9

30

5.8%

Picks 21-30

7

14

10

31

6.0%

Picks 31+/undrafted

5

8

8

21

4.1%

Compared to 65% in the 1991-2011 sample, as seen in Figure 1, 56.6% of All NBA selections are accounted for by top 5 picks from all drafts 1969 to the present. This sample is most definitely skewed by data from players drafted from 1969-1990, demonstrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2: All NBA Seasons from 1969-1990 NBA Drafts

1st Team

2nd Team

3rd Team

Total

% All NBA

Picks 1-5

30

41

11

82

37.6%

Picks 6-10

15

21

6

42

19.3%

Picks 11-15

18

12

8

38

17.4%

Picks 16-20

6

14

5

25

11.5%

Picks 21-30

6

10

5

21

9.6%

Picks 31+

5

4

1

10

4.6%

Findings

One might argue that Save Our Bucks suffers from selection bias, but in reality, there is merit to their sample. It covers a full 20 drafts, which saw thousands of players enter and exit the league. The draft has irreversibly changed over 5 decades, as teams have become more aware of elements that create effective rosters and access to scouting information has boomed through college basketball, television, and most importantly, the Internet. Let’s see another perspective.

3) Don’t sportswriters and broadcasters vote for All NBA teams? Isn’t there a better method to measure player performance?

Of course there is? Let’s look at two.

a. PER - In basic terms, Player Efficiency Rating is a measure of a player’s productivity that rewards positive contributions and detracts negative contributions, while factoring in league and team pace.

PER from the 1991-92 seasons was considered for this study. Top 10 PER rankings data was accessed through Basketball-Reference and distributed into a data table on excel.

Figure 3: Top 10 in PER 1991-2013

Season

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

6th

7th

8th

9th

10th

1991-92

Jordan*

Robinson*

Malone*

Barkley*

Olajuwon*

Drexler*

Daugherty*

Stockton*

Ewing*

Price*

1992-93

Jordan*

Olajuwon*

Malone*

Barkley*

Wilkins*

Robinson*

O'Neal

Price*

Daugherty*

Stockton*

1993-94

Robinson*

O'Neal

Olajuwon*

Pippen*

Malone*

Kemp*

Ewing*

Barkley*

Price*

Stockton*

1994-95

Robinson*

O'Neal

Olajuwon*

Barkley*

Malone*

Stockton*

Pippen*

Drexler*

Ewing*

Kemp*

1995-96

Robinson*

Jordan*

O'Neal

Malone*

Olajuwon*

Brandon

Barkley*

Sabonis*

A. Hardaway

Johnson*

1996-97

Malone*

Jordan*

O'Neal

Hill

Barkley*

Johnson*

Olajuwon*

Stockton*

Payton*

Sabonis*

1997-98

O'Neal

Malone*

Robinson*

Jordan*

Duncan

Mourning

Stockton*

Barkley*

Payton*

Hill

1998-99

O'Neal

Malone*

Robinson*

Mourning

Hill

Kemp*

Duncan

Barkley*

Olajuwon*

Payton*

1999-00

O'Neal

Malone*

Mourning

Duncan

Robinson*

Hill

Garnett

Payton*

Webber

Carter

2000-01

O'Neal

Carter

McGrady

Malone*

Webber

Bryant

Iverson

Garnett

Duncan

Robinson*

2001-02

O'Neal

Duncan

McGrady

Webber

Nowitzki

Garnett

Brand

Bryant

Payton*

Pierce

2002-03

McGrady

O'Neal

Duncan

Garnett

Bryant

Nowitzki

Pierce

Nash

Cassell

Kidd

2003-04

Garnett

Duncan

McGrady

O'Neal

Bryant

Brand

Cassell

Kirilenko

Nowitzki

Ming

2004-05

Garnett

Duncan

O'Neal

Stoudemire

Nowitzki

James

Bryant

Iverson

Ming

Wade

2005-06

Nowitzki

James

Bryant

Wade

Garnett

Brand

Iverson

Ming

O'Neal

Arenas

2006-07

Wade

Nowitzki

Ming

Duncan

Bryant

James

Garnett

Gasol

Ginobili

Boozer

2007-08

James

Paul

Stoudemire

Garnett

Nowitzki

Duncan

Ginobili

Bryant

Bosh

Billups

2008-09

James

Wade

Paul

Howard

Duncan

Bryant

Roy

Parker

Nowitzki

Jefferson

2009-10

James

Wade

Durant

Bosh

Duncan

Howard

Paul

Nowitzki

Gasol

Stoudemire

2010-11

James

Howard

Wade

Love

Bryant

Paul

Durant

Westbrook

Rose

Nowitzki

2011-12

James

Paul

Wade

Durant

Love

Howard

Griffin

Rose

Westbrook

Bynum

2012-13

James

Durant

Paul

Anthony

Lopez

Duncan

Wade

Westbrook

Parker

Bryant

* Player selected before 1991 NBA Draft

Top 5 picks account for 66.8% of those finishing in the Top 10 of PER from 1991 to 2013.

Figure 4: Top 10 in PER 1991-2013

11849203514_85eee33863_medium

Removing players who were drafted before 1991 returns even more resounding results. Of players selected after 1991, Top 5 picks account for 70.9% of those finishing in the Top 10 of PER.

Figure 5: Top 10 in PER for Players Selected in 1991-2013 NBA Drafts

11849581286_d5282c474b_medium

Perhaps PER data beyond the Top 10 might influence different results, but the data presented indicate the Top 10 PER players are overwhelmingly from the Top 5 picks in the NBA Draft, especially for those players drafted after 1991.

b. Win Shares - In basic terms, Win Shares are estimates of a player’s offensive and defensive contributions to their team’s win total.

Offensive contributions include:

  • · Team/league pace
  • · Estimated offensive possessions/points
  • · League average possessions/points

Defensive contributions include:

  • · Team/league pace
  • · Player/team minutes
  • · Estimated defensive possessions/points
  • · League average possessions/points

View additional details at http://www.basketball-reference.com/about/ws.html

Win Shares totals from the 1991 to 2013 seasons were considered for this study. Top 10 Win Share rankings data were accessed through Basketball-Reference and distributed into a data table on excel.

Figure 6: Top 10 in Win Shares 1991-2013

Season

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

6th

7th

8th

9th

10th

1991-92

M. Jordan*

K. Malone*

H. Grant *

D. Robinson*

J. Stockton*

P. Ewing*

C. Drexler*

S. Pippen*

D. Rodman*

C. Barkley*

1992-93

M. Jordan*

H. Olajuwon*

K. Malone*

C. Barkley*

D. Robinson*

B. Daugherty *

R. Miller*

L. Nance *

P. Ewing*

J. Stockton*

1993-94

D. Robinson*

S. O'Neal

H. Olajuwon*

K. Malone*

J. Stockton*

P. Ewing*

R. Miller*

S. Kemp *

S. Pippen*

C. Oakley *

1994-95

D. Robinson*

S. O'Neal

J. Stockton*

K. Malone*

D. Schrempf *

D. Barros *

S. Pippen*

G. Payton*

C. Drexler*

R. Miller*

1995-96

M. Jordan*

D. Robinson*

K. Malone*

A. Hardaway

J. Stockton*

T. Brandon

S. Pippen*

G. Hill

G. Payton*

A. Mason *

1996-97

M. Jordan*

K. Malone*

G. Hill

J. Stockton*

S. Pippen*

G. Payton*

T. Hardaway*

M. Blaylock*

K. Anderson

R. Miller*

1997-98

K. Malone*

M. Jordan*

D. Robinson*

T. Duncan

G. Payton*

R. Miller*

T. Hardaway *

D. Mutombo

D. Schrempf*

V. Baker

1998-99

K. Malone*

S. O'Neal

T. Duncan

D. Robinson*

J. Kidd

A. Mourning

D. Mutombo

G. Hill

G. Payton*

A. Iverson

1999-00

S. O'Neal

K. Malone*

G. Payton*

T. Duncan

A. Mourning

D. Robinson*

V. Carter

K. Garnett

J. Stockton*

C. Webber

2000-01

S. O'Neal

D. Nowitzki

R. Allen

T. Duncan

K. Malone*

V. Carter

S. Francis

T. McGrady

D. Robinson*

A. Iverson

2001-02

T. Duncan

E. Brand

D. Nowitzki

S. O'Neal

P. Pierce

K. Garnett

K. Bryant

G. Payton*

B. Barry

B. Wallace

2002-03

T. Duncan

D. Nowitzki

T. McGrady

K. Garnett

K. Bryant

S. O'Neal

S. Marion

S. Nash

J. Kidd

K. Malone*

2003-04

K. Garnett

P. Stojakovic

T. Duncan

S. Cassell

A. Kirilenko

D. Nowitzki

Y. Ming

C. Billups

R. Jefferson

K. Bryant

2004-05

K. Garnett

D. Nowitzki

A. Stoudemire

L. James

S. Marion

C. Billups

T. McGrady

S. Marbury

G. Arenas

P. Pierce

2005-06

D. Nowitzki

L. James

C. Billups

K. Bryant

K. Garnett

E. Brand

S. Marion

D. Wade

G. Arenas

S. Nash

2006-07

D. Nowitzki

L. James

T. Duncan

K. Bryant

S. Nash

S. Marion

E. Brand

C. Billups

L. Deng

A. Stoudemire

2007-08

C. Paul

L. James

A. Stoudemire

K. Bryant

C. Billups

D. Howard

D. Nowitzki

K. Garnett

P. Pierce

A. Iverson

2008-09

L. James

C. Paul

D. Wade

P. Gasol

D. Howard

B. Roy

K. Bryant

R. Allen

D. Nowitzki

Y. Ming

2009-10

L. James

K. Durant

D. Howard

D. Wade

D. Nowitzki

G. Wallace

P. Gasol

T. Duncan

A. Horford

N. Hilario

2010-11

L. James

P. Gasol

D. Howard

C. Paul

D. Rose

D. Wade

K. Durant

P. Pierce

K. Love

D. Nowitzki

2011-12

L. James

C. Paul

K. Durant

K. Love

T. Chandler

J. Harden

B. Griffin

J. Noah

R. Anderson

P. Gasol

2012-13

L. James

K. Durant

C. Paul

J. Harden

R. Westbrook

M. Gasol

S. Curry

K. Bryant

D. Williams

B. Griffin

*Player selected before 1991 NBA Draft

Top 5 picks account for 58.6% of those finishing in the Top 10 of Win Shares from 1991 to 2013.

Figure 7: Top 10 in Win Shares 1991-2013

11848834105_0c0543ba11_medium



Removing players who were drafted before 1991, Top 5 picks account for 63.8% of those finishing in the Top 10 of Win Shares.

Figure 8: Top 10 in Win Shares for Players Selected in 1991-2013 NBA Drafts

11849581166_27da242b5c_medium


Findings

Again, a sample including players outside of the Top 10 each year might indicate different results, but the data presented support findings from both the Top 10 PER players and All NBA teams regarding the importance of Top 5 draft picks.

Discussion of Data

Top 5 picks in the NBA Draft, especially for those players selected after 1991, are most likely to constitute the most effective players in the NBA as measured by All NBA teams, PER ratings, and Win Shares. These rating systems aren’t perfect, but they provide effective estimations of the most important assets in the NBA. These assets are overwhelmingly likely to be selected with the Top 5 picks in the NBA Draft.

Final Thoughts

Though the Pacers model is exemplary, the franchise has reached this level because they acquired high quality assets that have had success beyond historical trends. The Bucks might be beginning to do that as well, though on a lesser scale. Larry Sanders, John Henson, and Giannis Antetokounmpo qualify as high quality assets, all of which might go down as steals at their respective draft positions. After drafting these players, the next step the Pacers took was to supplement these assets through wise trades, free agency, luck, and the draft. Regardless of what free agency and the trade market holds for the Bucks, based on the data presented, Top 5 picks are the highest performing players in the NBA by a significant margin. Accordingly, I’ve come around on at least one element of Save Our Bucks, as long as Milwaukee acquires a Top 5 pick. Lets save the billboard for another day. What information leads you to support or rebel against Save Our Bucks? Leave your thoughts and comments.

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