Looking Back at the NBA Draft, Part Two

In Part One of this post I looked at the link between college performance and what a player does his first season in the NBA. The analysis revealed that there is a link. Furthermore, it appears that college performance is a better predictor of professional success than a player’s draft position. For example, the college numbers suggested that Renaldo Balkman and Paul Millsap would be more productive professionals than Hilton Armstrong or Rudy Gay. Yet the latter two were taken in the lottery while Balkman and Millsap were afterthoughts for most NBA teams.

In looking at the 2007 NBA draft, who gets to be Balkman and Millsap? And who gets to play the role of Gay or Armstrong?

Table One reports each player’s Position Adjusted Win Score last year in college. The player’s are listed in three general groupings: Big Men (centers and power forwards), Swingmen (forwards, small forwards, and small forwards-shooting guards), and Guards (shooting guards, guards, and point guards).

Table One: Analyzing the 2007 NBA Draft

Before I get to the analysis by position, let me note that the numbers tell us that this was indeed a deep draft. Of the 44 players taken out of college in 2006, only 13 had a PAWSmin above 0.100. In 2007 there were 47 players taken from the college ranks and 18 had a PAWSmin above 0.100. In sum, there were a few more players who played extremely well their last year in college in 2007.

The Big Men

Topping the list in 2007 is Nevada’s Nick Fazekas. His PAWSmin of 0.269 surpassed Paul Millsap’s mark of 0.244. Fazekas, though, is going to the Dallas Mavericks, a team that already has many of the pieces in place. It’s hard to believe that Fazekas will get much playing time in Dallas next year, so it might be awhile to see if the numbers he posted at Nevada will translate into the NBA. Obviously many NBA scouts have their doubts. Again, college numbers are not a perfect indicator of pro success, so it’s more than possible that the scouts could be right. Then again, they could be wrong (have I covered all the possibilities here?).

After Fazekas we see some familiar names. Al Horford, Greg Oden, and Joakim Noah each went in the lottery. Of course one wonders, is Fazekas really going to be a more productive NBA player than Horford, Oden, or Noah? One has to note that Fazekas played at a smaller school, and this does play some role in determining future performance. Plus, one has to acknowledge again that college numbers are not the only factor one should consider. What the numbers tell us is that there is a chance Fazekas could be a pretty productive professional and perhaps some team should have thought of taking him in the first round.

Fazekas was not the only productive college player teams passed on. Noah lasted until the 9th pick of the draft. In terms of PAWSmin, though, Noah ranked 5th. Had he come out in 2006 he would have ranked 4th. So it appears some teams (i.e. Kevin McHale and the Timberwolves) passed on a player that might be more productive than the player they selected.

One team that did not pass on Noah was the Sacramento Kings. Picking after the Bulls, the Kings selected Spencer Hawes. Looking at the PAWSmin rankings, we see Hawes towards the bottom. Such numbers suggest that Hawes is the top candidate among lottery picks to disappoint in 2007-08. One story line that we should follow from this draft is the relative performance of Hawes and Fazekas. I suspect the latter will be a more productive professional. Of course this outcome can come about simply if Hawes fails to produce much at all.

The Swingmen

One player we expect to produce is Kevin Durant, the top player among swingman. After Durant we see two additional lottery picks among the swing men who posted a PAWSmin above 0.100 (Al Thornton and Julian Wright). And then we see three more lottery picks – Jeff Green, Corey Brewer, and Thaddeus Young – who had PAWSmin that were below 0.100. In fact, both of Philadelphia’s other selections from the college ranks were more productive last year than Young.

We also see at the bottom of these rankings the name Wilson Chandler. Chandler was the pick from the Knicks and Isiah Thomas. Looking to replicate his success with Balkman, Thomas took another small forward who was not known for his scoring in college. Unfortunately, Chandler is not known for much else either. Given that Chandler plays the same position as Balkman, if minutes are taken from the 2006 draft pick and given to the 2007 selection, the Knicks will likely have a harder time wining games.

The Guards

Let’s start our discussion of guards at the bottom, where we see the name Arron Afflalo. As one can see, almost every player selected posted numbers that were above the NBA average in college. This is not surprising since the competition in college is not on par with what players see in the professional ranks. Afflalo, though, was one of the few players who couldn’t post above average numbers in school. Now if he couldn’t do this against college players, what are the chances he can post above average numbers in the NBA?

What is truly odd about the Afflalo pick is that the very same Joe Dumars who took Afflalo also selected the most productive guard on the list. Rodney Stuckey of Eastern Washington led all guards in PAWSmin. Like the 2006 draft – where Isiah took a productive Balkman and an unproductive Mardy Collins (two players who lived up to expectations) – Dumars repeated the same pattern in 2007. With his first selection Dumars took a small school player with great numbers. With his second selection he took a player from a better known school but with lousy numbers. Unfortunately, unless the Pistons suffer some serious injuries, it’s unlikely that Afflalo will play enough for us to see if he truly is as unproductive as his numbers suggest.

Looking past the Pistons choices we see that the next two guards on the list both hail from Ohio State. Like Florida – who had Horford and Noah – Ohio State was also more than just a one-man team in 2006-07.

Much further down the list we see Acie Law IV, Nick Young, and Javaris Crittenton. Each of these players is expected to contribute to their respective teams in 2007-08. The numbers suggest that these contributions may not be what their teams require to win many games.

Finally, I want to note two players taken at the very end of the draft. Both Ramon Sessions and Taurean Green were taken after the 50th selection on draft night. Both had the opportunity to play in college with very productive players at Nevada and Florida respectively. Here is the question: Had these players not had such productive teammates, would either have been drafted at all?

In closing, I wish to re-state something I said yesterday. There is a statistical link between college and professional numbers. But it’s not as if this is a crystal ball. Some players at the top of the PAWSmin list will fail miserably next year. Other players towards the bottom might exceed expectations. Still, many of these players will produce according to what we saw in college. And when that happens we should be tempted to ask, why exactly did the Kings take Spencer Hawes in the lottery?

– DJ

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