Today I am going to look back at the 1993 NBA draft. You might ask why I am doing this. Or you might not. Regardless, here is the reason. My research this summer is focused on the NBA Draft. I have a few other projects, but my study of the NBA Draft is the one project I really, really want to finish (to my co-authors on other subjects: this doesn’t mean our work is not important to me. Our research is still extremely important to me. Really, I mean that).
Yesterday I was playing around with the data and managed to replicate what we did in The Wages of Wins for the 1996 draft for the draft in 1993. Basically, I looked at how many career wins each player produced from the 93 draft and compared this to where the player was selected. I am not sure of the value in such analysis, but it seems kind of interesting. At the very least, it’s worth a Friday post.
Let me start this story by noting that summer in the world of NBA basketball is a time of optimism. Teams have just drafted the next set of future stars. The free agent season has now opened and teams are now adding the pieces that are going to turn last year’s failures into next year’s contenders. Or so the story is told.
Of course it takes years for us to learn that we may have over-estimated a player’s abilities. And by then, we tend to forget how excited we initially were about a player’s talents.
To see this point, let’s consider the 1993 draft. Fourteen years have now passed and most of these players have completed their NBA careers. So we now can fully assess how this draft has turned out.
Table One reports the career wins of each player chosen in the first round of this draft.
As we can see, this draft had some hits and misses. The two top talents from this draft were Chris Webber and Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway. On draft night the Warriors and Magic traded these two players. The Warriors got the services of Webber (for only one season) while the Magic acquired Hardaway. Fourteen years later we see that C-Webb leads this draft class with 112.2 Wins Produced. Penny has a career mark of 84.2. When we turn to Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48], though, we see that each player was about equal. Webber’s career WP48 is 0.175 while Hardaway’s mark stands at 0.173.
The player chosen in between Webber and Hardaway was Bradley. Bradley has generally been though of as a bust. But in 12 seasons he managed to produce 50.9 wins, which is the 5th best mark in this draft class. His WP48 of 0.125 ranks 6th, which tells us that had decision-makers had a crystal ball in 1993 (and used Wins Produced to evaluate talent), Bradley would have still been a lottery pick.
A crystal ball would have also placed Sam Cassell and Ervin Johnson (not Magic, the other Ervin Johnson) higher in the draft. Cassell was the third most productive player taken in 1993, producing 81.4 wins across his first fourteen seasons. It’s entirely possible that Cassell will pass Penny in career wins and take the second spot in this draft class.
One interesting feature of this draft is how few players have posted an above average WP48. The average NBA player has a WP48 of 0.100. This first round draft class, though, has an average mark of 0.084. Of the 27 players taken in the first round, only seven had a career WP48 above 0.100. Three of these were chosen in the lottery (first 11 picks). But three others – Cassell, Johnson, and Scott Burrell – were chosen in the 20s.
Okay, what lesson (if any) do we learn from this exercise? As noted, in The Wages of Wins we offered similar analysis of the 1996 draft. Both studies demonstrate that many players who were once thought of as “great” players did not produce much in the NBA. From the 1993 draft every lottery pick after pick #3 finished their career with a below average WP48. It’s important to remember that on draft night in 1993, all of these lottery picks were described as future stars. But most of these players did not end up performing like stars.
When we look at the 2007 draft we should learn the basic lesson this exercise teaches. Most lottery picks do not become “stars.” Most first round picks do not become extremely productive players. In fact, few players are productive during their rookie season, and now we see many never become very good.
So before we get too excited about the players selected this year, imagine how these players will look in 2021. I suspect many players – and I am not just talking about Spencer Hawes – will not be thought of as very productive NBA players. And I also suspect that on draft night in 2021, every lottery pick from that night will still be described as a future “star.”