Nba Draft 2010 Analysis Essay

The 2010 NBA Draft began Thursday night with the Washington Wizards' selection of Kentucky point guard John Wall. But many more picks were made. The first 30 selections included numerous trades, and the draft will inevitably include both steals and busts. Scroll down for each of the first round picks, and scroll further for the AP's summary of the draft. Who did best on draft night?

(AP) NEW YORK - John Wall is heading to Washington, and a record number of Kentucky teammates are following him to the NBA.

Wall went to the Wizards with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft Thursday and four more Wildcats were among the top 30 selections, making them the first school ever to put five players in the first round.

After falling short of the Final Four even with all that talent around him, Wall is ready to help Washington bounce back from a season that was embarrassing on the court and in the locker room.

"I feel like I had pressure since I became No. 1 in high school and was one of the top players," Wall said. "I always got there hungry wanting to fight hard and compete in every game, so when I step on the court I'm going to take on any challenge there."

The SEC player of the year is the first Kentucky player chosen first overall. He goes to a team still reeling from Gilbert Arenas' season-ending suspension for bringing guns into the team locker room.

Wall could replace Arenas as the Wizards' point guard, or perhaps play alongside him in a potential high-scoring backcourt. He'll try to become the third straight freshman point guard to win Rookie of the Year honors after Chicago's Derrick Rose and Sacramento's Tyreke Evans -- who like Wall also played for John Calipari.

The pick came shortly after a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press that the Chicago Bulls had agreed to trade veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick in the draft, Kevin Seraphin, to the Wizards. Hinrich is a solid veteran defensive guard who could help with Wall's transition to the NBA.

After his name was announced to begin the draft, Wall hugged family members and donned a blue Wizards cap before climbing onto the stage to shake commissioner David Stern's hand.
Predicted to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference last season, the Wizards' season quickly spiraled out of control, reaching its low point on New Year's Day when news broke of the altercation involving guns between Arenas and fellow guard Javaris Crittenton, who also was suspended for the year. Washington eventually traded fellow stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler in a dismal 26-56 finish.

Arenas is eligible to return, but Wall is ready to take charge of the team.

"I was always a leader by example being the first in the gym and the last in the gym," Wall said. "But I'm a leader that doesn't mind speaking up to the older guys."

Kentucky landed a second top-five pick when DeMarcus Cousins was taken by Sacramento at No. 5, then put two more players in the top 18 when the Houston Rockets chose Patrick Patterson at No. 14 and Oklahoma City took guard Eric Bledsoe four spots later. Daniel Orton then went to Orlando with the 29th pick, breaking the previous record of four first-round picks from one school.

"It's a big day and they are all behind us right now and they won't stop texting and tweeting and calling me, so this will be a big day," Cousins said.

The Philadelphia 76ers took national player of the year Evan Turner from Ohio State at No. 2. The notoriously tough Philadelphia fans at Madison Square Garden liked the choice, loudly cheering and chanting "Evan Turner! Evan Turner!"

"I don't have any pressure. I have a lot of demands of myself," Turner said. "If Philly expects me to be great, then we have a mutual understanding."

Derrick Favors became the second freshman taken in the first three picks when the New Jersey Nets chose the Georgia Tech forward.

"I pretty much knew John was going to 1 and Evan was going 2, but I had no idea I was going to the Nets, and when they called me I was just excited," Favors said.

The Minnesota Timberwolves then grabbed Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson, whom the Nets also had considered. Stern seemed impressed by the Christmas-colored slacks worn by Johnson, who held up his leg to show them off.

Baylor's Ekpe Udoh also is headed to Northern California, chosen by Golden State at No. 6. Detroit kept up the run of big men by selecting Georgetown center Greg Monroe with the seventh pick, before the Los Angeles Clippers went for Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu.

Butler's Gordon Hayward went ninth to Utah, one spot before the Indiana Pacers would've faced pressure to pick the hometown star. Instead, they chose Fresno State forward Paul George before Kansas teammates Cole Aldrich (New Orleans) and Xavier Henry (Memphis) went with back-to-back picks.

Aldrich's rights were later sent to Oklahoma City along with veteran swingman Morris Peterson for the rights to the Thunder's Nos. 21 and 26 picks, which became Iowa State forward Craig Brackins and Washington guard Quincy Pondexter.

The draft hadn't even started and already the buzz was on free agency, which opens in exactly a week with LeBron James leading perhaps the deepest class ever. There were even a few chants for the league's MVP, whom the Knicks are expected to make a run at.

Moves were made with July 1 in mind, such as the Bulls' deal with Washington that opened additional salary cap space for perhaps a second top player. Toronto drafted North Carolina's Ed Davis at No. 13, a potential replacement if the Raptors lose Chris Bosh in free agency.

"I know they have big free agents coming up with Chris Bosh and people are saying he's not going to be there, but right now I'm just going to try to work hard and earn the starting job," Davis said.

There were a flurry of trades near the bottom of the first round, including a deal that sent forward Martell Webster from Portland to Minnesota for Ryan Gomes and the rights to the No. 16 pick, Luke Babbitt.

PHOTO GALLERY

NBA Draft 2010: Star Or Bust?

Why Did the NBA Miss On Jeremy Lin?

(Photo: DvYang)

In my last post, I reviewed how difficult it was to evaluate quarterbacks in the NFL draft. Essentially, I noted that there were several factors connected to where a quarterback was selected in the draft. But those factors failed to predict future performance. Given how difficult it was to just predict the future performance of veterans in the NFL, the difficulty people have forecasting the NFL performance of college quarterbacks is not surprising.  In sum, “mistakes” on draft day in the NFL simply reflect the immense complexity of the problem.

In the NBA, though, it is a very different story. Veteran NBA players – relative to what we see in the NFL – are far more consistent over time. And although we cannot predict future NBA performance on draft day perfectly, we certainly know something. Part of that “something” that we know is that NBA teams make mistakes by focusing on the “wrong” factors. To illustrate, let’s talk about Jeremy Lin.

Right now, people are wondering how a player like Lin could have been missed by NBA decision-makers. The research I published with Aju Fenn and Stacey Brook in the Journal of Productivity Analysis last year (research discussed inStumbling On Wins) might help some shed some light on this issue.

Our paper looked at the NBA draft from 1995 to 2009. The first issue we considered was which factors impacted where a player was drafted.  The following table (fromStumbling On Wins) lists the factors that we considered. On the left are the factors that we found statistically impacted draft position, and on the right are the factors that we found didn’t matter.

What Explains Draft Position in the NBA?

Improve Draft Position

Don’t Help Draft Position

Points Scored*

Rebounds*

Shooting Efficiency from Two-Point Range

Turnovers*

Shooting Efficiency from Three-Point Range

Free Throw Percentage

Assists*

Player’s Race

Steals *

Playing Center

Blocked Shots*

Playing Power Forward

Height, relative to position played

Playing Point Guard

Playing in the Final Four the year drafted

 

Playing for an NCAA Champion the year drafted

 

Playing in a Major Conference

Lower Draft Position

 

Players age when drafted

 

Personal Fouls*

 

Playing Shooting Guard

 

* – per 40 minutes played, adjusted for position played

In the above table we see that being able to rebound, avoid turnovers, and hit free throws doesn’t impact a player’s draft position. However, there were seven box score statistics that did matter.  Of these – as the following table (again, taken from Stumbling on Wins) notes – points scored had by far the largest impact on draft position. Such a result is consistent with past studies of free agent salaries, research on who gets cut from NBA teams, the voting for the All-Rookie team (by the NBA coaches), and the coaches’ allocation of minutes.  Yes, scoring dominates player evaluation in the NBA and the domination begins on draft night.

The Impact of a One Standard Deviation Increase in Statistically Significant Performance Variables

Variable

Draft Slots Gained from a One Standard Deviation Increase

Points

6.3

Blocked Shots

3.9

Personal Fouls

2.5

Assists

2.2

Two point field goal percentage

1.9

Steals

1.4

Three point field goal percentage

1.3

Given these results, let’s look at Jeremy Lin’s stats when his college career ended in 2010.  Here is what we knew about Lin at that point:

  • Lin was 22 years old, so he was relatively old for an NBA prospect (older players – as the above table notes – are taken later)
  • Lin is about 6ft. 3in. tall, or only about an inch bigger than an average point guard. So Lin isn’t short, but he isn’t exceptionally large either.
  • Lin did not play in the Final Four, NCAA Championship, or in a major conference. All of those would have helped his draft position. We should note, appearing in the Final Four only matters in the year the player is drafted; appearing in other years does not matter. Apparently, being a “winner” is a characteristic that wears off.
  • Lin averaged 16.4 points per game.  This is about average for a point guard selected out of the college ranks by the NBA from 1995 to 2009. So Lin did not excel at the box score statistic that matters the most.
  • Lin was above average with respect to shooting from two-point range, steals, and blocked shots. But he was below average with respect to shooting from three-point range, assists, and personal fouls.
  • Finally, he was above average with respect to rebounding (for a point guard).  But no matter how we considered rebounding (per game averages, per minute average, or rebounding percentages) we never found rebounding to impact a player’s draft position.

When we put the entire picture toge
ther, we should not be surprised that Lin wasn’t drafted.  After all, he was a relatively old player from a minor conference that didn’t excel at scoring.

Of course Lin’s performance with the Knicks suggests that decision back in 2010 wasn’t correct. Was there anything in Lin’s college performance that would suggest that Lin would be a productive NBA player? Before we get to those numbers, it should be emphasized that college numbers are not a crystal ball into a player’s pro career. However, they are much better at predicting performance than whatever methods the NBA employs when making choices in the draft.

Let’s start with a summary of Lin’s numbers. Wins in basketball are primarily about shooting efficiency (i.e. the ability to put the ball in the basket), and your ability to gain and keep possession of the ball (i.e. rebounds, steals, and turnovers).  The importance of these factors drives the calculation of Wins Produced.  This model can be simplified into Win Score, which is calculated as follows:

Win Score = Points + Steals + Offensive Rebounds + ½*Defensive Rebounds + ½*Assists + ½*Blocked Shots – Field Goal Attempts – ½*Free Throw Attempts – Turnovers – ½*Personal Fouls

An average point guard selected in the NBA draft from 1995 to 2009 posted a 5.8 Win Score per 40 minutes (WS40) in his last year in college.  In 2009-10, Lin posted an 8.0 WS40, which meant he was an above average prospect.

Lin’s above average Win Score was driven by his ability to excel at shooting efficiency from two-point range, his ability to get rebounds, and his ability to get steals. When we look at which college factors predict an NBA player’s productivity, we find that it is these very same factors that matter: shooting efficiency from two-point range, rebounds, and steals.

Now what factors don’t matter? We found that a player’s height, age, and other box score numbers are not associated with more NBA production later on. In addition, appearing in the Final Four – a factor that clearly impacts draft position – doesn’t suggest higher production in the future.  In sum, what Lin didn’t have in 2010 wasn’t related to his future NBA prospects.  Consequently – contrary to what people in the NBA thought back in 2010 — people outside the NBA argued (again, back in 2010) that Lin might be worth a look.  

The last team to overlook Lin was the Houston Rockets — they cut Lin back in December.  At that time, the point guard the Rockets decided to keep was Jonny Flynn.  Back in 2009, Flynn – after posting a 4.7 WS40 at Syracuse in 2008-09 (that is a below average mark) — was the 6th player taken in the NBA draft.  As of last December, Flynn had played more than 3,300 minutes in the NBA and again posted below average numbers. Despite all this evidence that Flynn is not an above average basketball player, the Rockets kept Flynn over Lin.

What explain this “Flynnsanity”?  Not only do NBA decision-makers focus on the wrong issues on the NBA draft, they also are slow to let these decisions go.  A player’s draft position impacts minutes played – even after we control for performance – several years into a player’s career.  So it’s not surprising that Flynn – who did not play well in college or in the NBA – was chosen by the Rockets over Lin. Flynn was supposed to be a star in college. He was supposed to be a star when he was drafted. And I am sure, people still believe Flynn may someday be a star in the NBA.  

But given the consistency of NBA performance, it seems unlikely Flynn will ever be a star. And although the sample is still quite small, we now have even more evidence that Lin – contrary to what was thought by many (but not all) back in 2010 — will be a productive NBA player.

All this tells us is that although it’s much easier to evaluate talent in the NBA than the NFL, the results for teams in both leagues appear to be the same. And until decision makers in the NBA can do a better job of focusing on what matters – and ignoring what doesn’t – decisions in the NBA are likely to continue to look very much like what we see in the NFL.


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