Is it worth it to take a foreign player in the lottery?

Below is another post from Shut Up and Jam, a new blog in the Wages of Wins Network from James Brocato. 

The NBA Draft is coming up, and experts are projecting it to be a big year for drafting foreign players. In fact, 4-5 foreign players are projected to go in the lottery. But, doesn’t it seem like foreigners are usually flops? Think Darko Milicic or Andrea Bargnani. On the other hand, players like Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki, though they are rare, have been perennial stars in the league. Still, it seems like there is more risk in drafting a foreign player than a college player. This observation can be at least somewhat contributed to the difference in foreign style of play and the lack of familiarity of scouts with the foreign leagues compared to American college basketball, which is largely due to the fact that there are a number of different leagues across the world form which NBA teams choose players. So I thought I’d raise the question: is it worth it to take a foreign player in the lottery? The following is a table showing the success of foreign players (who didn’t play at an American college) drafted in the lottery in the last 10 years:

Year Player Drafted Career Minutes Career Wins Produced Career WP48
2001 Pau Gasol 3 26258 118.4 0.217
2001 Vladimir Radmanovic 12 15265 1.1 0.003
2002 Yao Ming 1 15815 73.2 0.222
2002 Nikoloz Tskitishvili 5 1945 -6.8 -0.167
2002 Nene Hilario 7 15621 46.1 0.142
2003 Darko Milicic 2 8161 -1.4 -0.008
2003 Mikael Pietrus 11 10645 7.4 0.033
2004 Andris Biedrins 11 9863 47.3 0.230
2005 Fran Vazquez 11 0 0.0 0.000
2005 Yaroslav Korolev 12 169 -0.5 -0.137
2006 Andrea Bargnani 1 11095 -15.0 -0.065
2006 Mouhamed Sene 10 260 -0.1 -0.011
2007 Yi Jianlian 6 5835 -3.5 -0.029
2008 Danilo Gallinari 6 5263 5.5 0.050
Averages 9014 19.4 0.103

Though this is a relatively small sample size, what immediately jumps out is the lack of players around the average mark. While together the data comes out right about average, only two players, Nene and Gallinari, come within .050 of the mark of an average player, which is 0.100. Perhaps more alarming is the number of foreign lottery picks who have actually cost their teams wins over the years. 6 out of the 14 foreign lottery picks in the last 10 years, which is about 43%, have produced in the negative range. But is this out of the ordinary? Consider the averages of all lottery picks from 2001 to 2005. These players have on average produced at a rate of 0.131 Wins Produced per 48 minutes over their collective careers. And only about 16% of those players have produced in the negative range. About half of the lottery picks over the five year period have been above average for their careers, while only one third of the foreign lottery picks have. But is the possibility of the reward worth the risk? About 20% of the foreign players have produced at star level (0.200) over their careers, while 16% of all the lottery picks have hit this mark. So it doesn’t seem like it is worth it to pick a foreign player high without a great deal of confidence in the pick. The probability of drafting a flop is just too high.

It should be noted that these numbers are not entirely conclusive. The sample size of foreign players picked in the lottery is very small. Perhaps more importantly, every player is unique. It might be unfair to lump all foreign players into a category together because each is a different player. Still, the results are interesting. To cap this post off, here are the Win Scores of the foreign players in DraftExpress’s top 100 prospects for the 2011 draft (7.1 is average):

DX Rank Player Age Position Height Weight Team PAWS40
4 Jonas Valanciunas 19 C 6’11″ 240 Lietuvos Rytus 12.6
6 Jan Vesely 21 SF/PF 6’11″ 240 KK Partizan Belgrade 8.2
7 Bismack Biyombo 18 PF/C 6’9″ 240 Baloncesto Fuenlabrada 8.8
8 Enes Kanter 19 C 6’11″ 260 Kentucky 1.4
9 Donatas Motiejunas 20 PF/C 7’0″ 215 Benetton Treviso 6.6
18 Nikola Mirotic 20 PF 6’10″ 210 Real Madrid 9.5
22 Lucas Nogueria 18 C 7’0″ 225 MMT Estudiantes N/A
28 Davis Bertans 18 SF 6’10″ 210 Union Olimpiga Ljubljana 7.2
33 Bojan Bogdanovic 22 SG/SF 6’7″ 216 Cibona VIP Zagreb 5.9
51 Jeremy Tyler 19 PF/C 6’11″ 260 Tokyo Apache 7.8
59 Michael Dunigan 21 C 6’10″ 240 BC Kalev/Cramo Tallinn 7.2
62 Xavi Rabaseda 22 SG/SF 6’7″ 205 Baloncesto Fuenlabrada 4.2
63 Giorgi Shermadini 22 C 7’1″ 248 Union Olimpiga Ljubljana 8.3
67 Jamine Peterson 22 SF/PF 6’6″ 230 New Mexico Thunderbirds 7.3
69 Joffrey Lauvergne 19 SF/PF 6’10″ 220 ES Chalon-Sur-Saone 6.5
70 Leon Radosevic 21 PF/C 6’10″ 210 Cibona VIP Zagreb 6.8
71 Furkan Aldemir 19 PF 6’9″ 220 Pinar Karsiyaka 10
79 Milan Macvan 21 PF 6’9″ 265 KK Hemofarm 10.8
80 Nihad Djedovic 21 SG/SF 6’6″ 195 Lottomatica Roma 7.8
81 Antonie Diot 22 PG 6’4″ 188 Le Mans Sarthe Basket 8.2

It looks like whoever takes Enes Kanter, who is projected to go top 5 in a lot of mock drafts, will be very disappointed. Oh, and Ricky Rubio, who it looks like will finally make his debut for the Timberwolves after being drafted a few years ago, posted a Win Score in 2010-11 of about 7.7.

Beware of these numbers because many of these players played in different leagues against different competition.

-James

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