In recent weeks, we've understandably focused our attention on the power dynamics near the top of the 2014 NBA Draft. Our collective emphasis on analyzing potential landing spots for Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Dante Exum makes perfect sense, too: the top of the draft is where you typically find true difference makers, and, in general, the expected value of a pick drops precipitously for selections outside the top five range. This is why tanking exists.
Individual NBA general managers take beatings for selecting bad players with high picks, but when you take a step back it's easy to see that nearly all potential high-end players are snatched up within in the first 10 picks of any draft. As a group, GMs perform fairly well in identifying future stars, which is precisely why a high pick is so important. You can't win the big prize if you don't have a ticket to play. The Bucks finally have a pick that matters, so be sure listen to our podcast episode on the elite prospects before you check out the new podcast on second-round picks and potential steals embedded below.
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If you acknowledge that the expected value of a draft pick drops off quickly after the first 10 selections and settles in somewhere close to zero for the second-round, you can't be that excited about the fact that Milwaukee owns the 31st, 36th and 48th picks in the second round of the NBA Draft. There's always value to be found--2013 second rounder Nate Wolters could certainly qualify--but that's typically the exception rather than the rule. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN summed it up nicely when he said: "second-round picks aren't a reliable venture considering most of them barely even play in the league. For every Ginobili, there are 50 Tiny Gallons."
John Hammond worked hard to add additional second-round picks this year, but it's not necessarily because he wants to gamble on penny stock prospects like Gallon and Darington Hobson again. Second-round picks have become an interesting class of assets under the new CBA. Teams looking to clear cap space for free agents or cut down on a luxury tax bill need every bit of financial flexibility they can get, and this is where the late picks become assets.
Here's how it all works. First-round picks are more expensive than second-rounders, automatically have at least two years of guaranteed salary and count against the salary cap even before they sign a contract. Second-round picks do not count against the cap unless the player is signed, which means the players can be stashed overseas or simply left unsigned until the free agent market closes to preserve maximum cap space. Additionally, second-round picks cost less for luxury tax purposes. I'll let Mark Deeks of ShamSports and SB Nation provide us with a deeper explanation:
Players with more than two years of NBA experience count as only a two-year veteran against both salary cap and luxury tax calculations if they are signed to only a one-year minimum salary contract. For this reason, they are almost always signed to that, and only rarely does a veteran on a minimum salary contract get a second year. Meanwhile, rookies and sophomores signed to the minimum count against the salary cap as their respective minimum salaries, but only against the cap.
For luxury tax calculations, any player signed as a free agent who earns less than the two-year veteran's minimum salary counts as the two-year veteran's minimum salary, unless he was drafted. If he was drafted, he counts only for what he was signed for. Simply put, you can't sign undrafted rookies instead of veterans to pinch some pennies on the luxury tax. You can, however, sign drafted ones. This, then, is where extra value from a late second-round pick can be found.
If you accept that (a) the expected value of a pick descends into long shot territory in the second round and (b) teams with mid-to-late first round picks that are pushing up against the luxury tax or trying to clear cap space may be better off with second-round selections, the outline of a draft-day strategy starts to emerge. However, the Bucks aren't the only team with second round assets to spare. Sixers GM Sam Hinkie has been even more aggressive in hoarding these late picks, piling up a whopping five this year (nos. 32, 39, 47, 52, 54), which makes it only natural that the currently pick-less Knicks are rumored to be interested in dealing with the Bucks or Sixers on draft night.
With these thoughts in mind, we attempted to identify prospects worth targeting on our latest podcast episode. Guys like Elfrid Payton, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are rated as potential steals by statistical draft models such as Layne Vashro's EWP model and Daniel Myers' Advanced Statistical Plus-Minus ratings. In fact, Payton pops up among a very impressive list of point guard in the historical EWP rankings. Are the Bucks better of packaging their second-round picks to move up and grab an advanced stat darling? Or is it better to keep multiple lower picks and hope that one of them sticks? Even players like Jarnell Stokes and Spencer Dinwiddie look like value selections in the making, so there are plenty of possibilities to consider.
The complicating factor for any trade scenario is that it's difficult to gauge the value of prospects who can't crack the lottery. Last season we sincerely weighed the pros and cons of taking Jamaal Franklin at No. 15 overall, only to watch him slide to No. 41 overall on draft night. Meanwhile, I had targeted André Roberson as a potential second-round steal and then the Thunder snatched him up in the first-round using the No. 26 pick. With so many moving parts it's tough to speculate on who might be available at what slot.
Just for fun, here's where some of our favorite underrated prospects are projected to land in the NBA Mock Draft scenario at DraftExpress: Kyle Anderson (No. 23), Jordan Adams (26), Elfrid Payton (27), Mitch McGary (30), Jarnell Stokes (31), Bogdan Bogdanovic (34), Vasilije Micic (36) and Spencer Dwinwiddie (38). Should the Bucks just stay put, or should they move up? Who's your favorite sleeper prospect? Let us know in the comments.
Note: We reference Mitch McGary's shooting ability at one point, but we double-checked and he actually only attempted two threes during his season and change at Michigan. So you probably shouldn't pencil him in as your floor-stretching big man *quite* yet.