Looking Back at the 1994 Draft

Last week I looked back at the 1993 NBA Draft. Today I thought I would discuss the 1994 draft.

This draft is one that stands out in my memory. The 1993-94 season did not go so well for the Detroit Pistons (the team I have always followed). And as I recall, that was not my expectation during the summer of 1993. That summer the Pistons had two lottery picks, which they used on Allan Houston and Lindsey Hunter. I can still remember Dick Vitale telling us that Houston was going to be a star. As for Hunter, he was supposed to be the future Isiah Thomas, or at least someone more than capable of taking Isiah’s place in the starting line-up. As I reported last week, each player has produced a combined 34.6 wins in their careers. Their combined WP48 is only 0.033. In sum, I think Dickie V was just a bit off with respect to Houston. And Hunter has been no Isiah.

Still, back in the summer of 1993 people thought differently. In addition to adding these “future stars” the Pistons had also added Sean Elliott. Elliott was an All-Star small forward, and the Pistons got him from the Spurs for Dennis Rodman. Again, I thought this trade was a great idea at the time. With Elliott on board the Pistons had Isiah at the point, Joe Dumars at shooting guard, and Elliott at small forward. Off the bench were Houston and Hunter. This much talent at the 1, 2, and 3 spots meant the Pistons were definitely contenders.

When the 1993-94 season ended the Pistons had won 20 games. Only the 1979-80 edition of the Pistons – partially coached by Vitale – finished with a worst record. So clearly the assessment of Detroit’s talent was just a bit off.

Although the 1993-94 season was a disaster, the team was rewarded with the third choice in the NBA draft. The Milwaukee Bucks chose first, and selected Glenn Robinson. The Dallas Mavericks – coming off a 13 win season – took Jason Kidd. That left the Pistons with Grant Hill.

When the 1994-95 season ended, it looked like the Pistons had chosen well. Hill produced 10.5 wins his rookie season. Kidd was above average, but only produced 8.7 wins. And Robinson only finished with 3.4 wins.

If you looked at this draft after six seasons, you would still place Hill on top. After the 1999-00 season, Hill had produced 100.6 wins, Kidd had offered 79.6, and Robinson’s career wins production stood at 23.9.

Since this point, though, Kidd has been the star of the class. In the past seven seasons Kidd has produced 143 victories. Hill, who was first seriously injured in 2000, had one health problem after another. Consequently he has only produced 21.6 wins since leaving the Pistons in the summer of 2000, leaving his career production at 122.3. As for Robinson, he is now out of the NBA. His career production finished at 40.7 wins. In sum, he never came close to the productivity of Kidd or Hill.

What of the rest of the class? Table One reports the career wins production — at the conclusion of the 2006-07 season – of every player taken in the first round in 1994.

Table One: Re-Living the 1994 NBA Draft

The average player taken in the first round in 1994 had a Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] of 0.123. Given that average is 0.100, this draft was “good” (which means above average). The leaders of this class were of course Kidd and Hill. After these two, though, were Eddie Jones, Donyell Marshall, Brian Grant, Aaron McKie, Charlie Ward, and Wesley Person. All of these players produced at least 50 wins and posted an above average WP48.

The top pick in the draft, Glenn Robinson, was only the 9th most productive player in terms of career wins. If we look at career WP48, though, Robinson falls to 13th best. So he didn’t quite work out as the Bucks thought.

Robinson was not the only pick that didn’t quite work out. Sharone Wright and Eric Montross were both lottery picks who produced nothing in the NBA (or in Wright’s case, less than nothing). Lamond Murray and Juwan Howard are also below average players. Murray, though, was in the NBA Summer League where he posted an above average PAWSmin (Position Adjusted Win Score per minute). So perhaps Murray is on the verge of turning his career around.

Okay, that was a bit of a joke. Obviously Murray really likes playing basketball. But I am not sure why professionally he is playing summer league basketball.

Although Murray was a lottery pick that did not develop into a consistently above average NBA player, five other lottery picks from 1994 were above average players. In 1993 we saw only three lottery picks develop into “good” players, so the 94 lottery was a bit better.

Still, many lottery picks are more like Houston and Hunter. And few become Kidd or Hill. This is the lesson such analysis teaches. Our optimism at this point for the 2007 draft is at an all-time high. But when we look back at the historical record, we learn that many players fail to live up to the expectations of Dickie V (or anyone else, for that matter).

– DJ

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