Drafting has long been the key to building a successful NBA team. While free agent signings can be huge for any club, true dynasties aren’t built through spending money, but instead by investing time and energy into finding and developing talent. The proof is right before your eyes; take a look at the last three championship teams. The Spurs of 2014 built their core upon their homegrown stars: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and of course Tim Duncan. The Warriors in 2015 took home the title on the backs of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Even the Cavaliers last year finally got Cleveland a championship by following the lead of LeBron James (who they did originally draft) and Kyrie Irving.
However, not all of these stars were the highly touted draft selections that players such as LeBron and Tim Duncan were. Tony Parker, a Hall of Fame candidate with four titles to his name, was taken with the 28th pick of the 2001 draft – 27 picks after Kwame Brown.
The key to building rosters such as the Cavs, Spurs, and the Warriors’ is not tanking, as the 76ers would like to have you believe. Because while having high selections is definitely helpful, it is much more important that a team finds value with the pick they have.
Because of the success of these teams, we were curious about what the numbers would say about who the top value draft picks were over the last several years. We created a formula by assigning each draft choice a value between 1 and 30, with pick 1 having a value of 30 and pick 60 having a value of 1. From there, we selected the four best measures of a player’s productivity – PER, Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 minutes, and VORP – and weighted them so they would all have equal merit, then combined them together along with the pick value. The final formula we developed was:
(15 – Pick Value) + (PER/2) + ((WS X (2 X WS/48)) X 5) + (VORP X 1.5)
The theory behind our methodology was that, yes, if a team drafts LeBron James with the first overall pick, that is still a great choice, as LeBron is arguably the best player in the NBA and has more than returned the value that comes with being the first selection. However, taking LeBron with the 60th pick would be a much better selection, as the value he provides much exceeds what is commonly expected out of that choice. Make sense?
With that being said, here are the rankings of the top 25 best value selections of the drafts between 2010-2014 (we decided to exclude rookies). Their values are listed in parentheses next to their names. Please feel free to contact us with any questions. Enjoy!
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets (41.03)
“Will the Thrill” offers an interesting case. Taken with the 40th pick in 2012 by Portland, Barton was a bit of a late bloomer, not playing significant minutes until being traded to Denver in the middle of his third season. However, after that, his numbers improved across the board and he became a consistent presence on the up-and-coming Nuggets. Barton still has a lot of potential to improve and could move farther up this list in the future.
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets (41.36)
After being taken with the 22nd pick of the 2011 draft out of Morehead State, “The Manimal” immediately proved to be a pleasant surprise for Denver, averaging over 10 points per game during his rookie season while playing with one of the highest motors in the league. However, while his never-stalling energy remained, he hasn’t progressed at the rate the Nuggets would have wished. Regardless, his consistent positive presence was enough to place him here.
#25 to #20:
- Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies (41.44)
Parsons came in with few expectations as the 38th choice in 2011, but soon transformed himself into a key rotational piece. Parsons has been known throughout his career to give a little bit of everything. He usually slots in as a small forward, but blessed with a 6’10” frame he can also slide over to the 4 in small ball lineups. He puts up points, rebounds, passes and defends all at solid levels and was immediately viewed as a steal when the Rockets snagged him in the second round.
- Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz (41.72)
Hood came on strong this year after a mediocre rookie year, when he was selected with the 23rd pick in the 2014 draft. His numbers went up across the board in his age-23 season, and the Duke product is viewed as one of the core members of a Jazz team that should be extremely competitive this season.
- Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder (41.91)
Kanter is a strange case by the numbers. Although he’s an important piece on a good Thunder team, Kanter has never truly been seen as very good despite strong statistical measures, such as a 24.09 PER. This is because of his defense. Even though there have been efforts to create trustworthy defensive advanced analytics, it’s difficult to quantify a part of the sport that is all about effort, intensity, and athleticism. Because of this, his bad defense doesn’t really show in his strong numbers. I’m not disputing that Kanter is a good player – it clearly takes skill to put up his offensive numbers. However, his terrible defense knocks him down a couple of pegs in my mind despite his ranking here. That and the fact that he was once a third overall pick, and Kanter probably shouldn’t be ranked this high.
- Ed Davis, Portland Trail Blazers (42.22)
Davis is the best player nobody knows about. He was drafted in a pretty good spot (13th), has played on some pretty good teams (Toronto. Memphis, Portland), has put up some pretty good numbers (18.76 PER), and has played pretty good defense. He lets his pretty good teammates on his pretty good teams make some pretty good plays (he has a low usage rate), and when he is called upon, he does, well, pretty good.
- Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (42.43)
Drummond is an absolute monster who rebounds like few the NBA have ever seen. His traditional statistics have improved every year, while his advanced statistics have remained elite despite his usage climbing higher each year. The only thing holding him back here is his high draft status, as a ninth overall pick. Despite his ranking here though, I don’t know if the Pistons would rather have anyone but him. He’s huge, improving, locked up long term, and still only 23.
- Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves (43.07)
Dieng has become one of the core members on a young, upcoming Timberwolves team after being drafted with the 21st pick in 2013. After a mediocre rookie season, Dieng showed shocking development for an already-24 mid-range draft pick, averaging 9.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2 apg, and 1.7 bpg (up from 4.8, 5, .7, and .8 respectively). He’s improved his defensive and shooting skills each year, and has proven himself as a solid starting-caliber center.
Check out the blog later this week to see #19 to #1. Data courtesy of ESPN, Basketball Reference, and Sports Reference. Thanks for reading!
Written by Ben Koch
Cover Photo Credits: Getty Images