They don’t make #1 picks like they used to

Oden-glass

The other day, when it was announced that Kyrie Irving would miss time with a shoulder injury, Mosi Platt made the following tweet:

I decided to look into this a little bit more. How many games do #1 picks usually miss? I used a very simple method — games played divided by the total number of games a player could have played during the years the player was active. It’s important to note that this method does not discriminate between games missed due to injury, suspension, or benching — although I have counted seasons missed due to injury (as with Blake Griffin’s first season, or Derrick Rose this season) or absence (David Robinson). It also doesn’t account for minutes played, which might be a better way of assessing durability.

To avoid putting a huge table into the post, I’m going to limit this first table to the past 14 drafts (1999-2012). I’ve also somewhat arbitrarily decided on a 14 season cutoff — players drop out of the league with increasing frequency as they age, so we’re only going to count their first 14 seasons.

Player Draft Games Played (first 14 seasons) Possible Games (first 14 seasons) Played %
Dwight Howard 2004 681 706 96.5%
LeBron James 2003 752 785 95.8%
Elton Brand 1999 920 1114 82.6%
Andrea Bargnani 2006 433 541 80.0%
John Wall 2010 165 211 78.2%
Anthony Davis 2012 50 65 76.9%
Kyrie Irving 2011 100 130 76.9%
Derrick Rose 2008 279 376 74.2%
Blake Griffin 2009 212 295 71.9%
Andrew Bogut 2005 426 624 68.3%
Kenyon Martin 2000 702 1031 68.1%
Kwame Brown 2001 607 950 63.9%
Yao Ming 2002 486 869 55.9%
Greg Oden 2007 82 458 17.9%
Average   421 583 71.9%

Note: stats accurate as of March 15th, 2013

In the last 14 seasons, the top #1 picks in terms of games played percentage are Dwight Howard (96.5%), LeBron James (95.8%), Elton Brand (82.6%), and Andrea Bargnani (80.0%). Wow. Elton Brand missed most of two seasons with Achilles and shoulder injuries, and he still finishes in the top three. At the other end, Kwame Brown (63.9%), Yao Ming (55.9%), and Greg Oden (17.9%) finish at the bottom, albeit for different reasons. Kwame has missed a decent amount of time due to injury, but he’s also missed a lot of time due to benching (insert Michael Jordan joke here). Yao Ming had so many injury troubles that he basically only played 7 seasons — and was injured during some of those — before he retired. And as for Greg Oden…well, the image above speaks for itself. Overall, the average games played percentage for #1 picks over the past 14 years is just under 72%.

How does this compare to players taken at another draft position? Well, why don’t we examine how players drafted at #2 fare using this method:

Player Draft Games Played (first 14 seasons) Possible Games (first 14 seasons) Played %
Evan Turner 2010 207 212 97.6%
Kevin Durant 2007 445 459 96.9%
Derrick Williams 2011 124 128 96.9%
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 2012 61 64 95.3%
LaMarcus Aldridge 2006 495 539 91.8%
Michael Beasley 2008 340 375 90.7%
Marvin Williams 2005 545 623 87.5%
Tyson Chandler 2001 786 948 82.9%
Emeka Okafor 2004 574 703 81.7%
Hasheem Thabeet 2009 191 295 64.7%
Darko Milicic 2003 468 786 59.5%
Stromile Swift 2000 547 1033 53.0%
Steve Francis 1999 576 1115 51.7%
Jay Williams 2002 75 868 8.6%
Average   388 582 75.6%

Note: stats accurate as of March 15th, 2013

At first glance, this list of players seems to have played more of their games. Six #2 picks have played in 90% or more of their games, as compared to just two for the #1 picks. Nine #2 picks have hit 80% or more, as compared to just four for the #1 picks. And while there are four #2 picks in the 50s or lower, as compared to just two for the #1 picks, the average games played percentage for #2 picks is over 3.5% larger than the average for #1 picks. But when we take into account the variance of the two samples, it turns out that these two samples aren’t significantly different from each other. However, if we limit the samples to the last eight drafts, the results become significant. So we could say that, over the past eight drafts, #1 picks have been less durable than #2 picks.

For those who are interested, I’ve also put together tables with players from the previous 14 drafts as well. Here are the numbers for #1 picks from 1985-1998:

Player Draft Games Played (first 14 seasons) Possible Games (first 14 seasons) Played %
Michael Olowokandi 1998 500 1100 45.5%
Tim Duncan 1997 1053 1116 94.4%
Allen Iverson 1996 914 1116 81.9%
Joe Smith 1995 950 1116 85.1%
Glenn Robinson 1994 688 1116 61.6%
Chris Webber 1993 822 1116 73.7%
Shaquille O’Neal 1992 941 1116 84.3%
Larry Johnson 1991 707 1116 63.4%
Derrick Coleman 1990 776 1116 69.5%
Pervis Ellison 1989 474 1116 42.5%
Danny Manning 1988 870 1116 78.0%
David Robinson 1987 845 1116 75.7%
Brad Daugherty 1986 548 1116 49.1%
Patrick Ewing 1985 977 1116 87.5%
Average   790 1115 70.9%

The most durable #1 picks in the lottery era have been Dwight Howard (96.5%), LeBron James (95.8%), and Tim Duncan (94.4%). The least durable have been Michael Olowokandi (45.5%), Pervis Ellison (42.5%), and Greg Oden (17.9%).

Here are the #2 picks from 1985-1998:

Player Draft Games Played (first 14 seasons) Possible Games (first 14 seasons) Played %
Mike Bibby 1998 1001 1100 91.0%
Keith Van Horn 1997 575 1116 51.5%
Marcus Camby 1996 831 1116 74.5%
Antonio McDyess 1995 865 1116 77.5%
Jason Kidd 1994 1026 1116 91.9%
Shawn Bradley 1993 832 1116 74.6%
Alonzo Mourning 1992 736 1116 65.9%
Kenny Anderson 1991 858 1116 76.9%
Gary Payton 1990 1109 1116 99.4%
Danny Ferry 1989 917 1116 82.2%
Rik Smits 1988 867 1116 77.7%
Armen Gilliam 1987 929 1116 83.2%
Len Bias 1986 0 1116 0.0%
Wayman Tisdale 1985 840 1116 75.3%
Average   813 1115 73.0%

The most durable #2 picks in the lottery era have been Gary Payton (99.4%), Evan Turner (97.6%), and Kevin Durant (96.9%). The least durable have been Keith Van Horn (51.5%), Jay Williams (8.6%), and Len Bias (0%).

– Devin

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