From the vault: The value of a draft pick and draft pedigree in the Finals

Hey all. Arturo here. On the eve of the NBA Draft Lottery, I wanted to dust off an oldie-but-goodie to help you brush up on your NBA Draft knowledge. Enjoy!

Just what is a draft pick worth?

It’s surprising that I haven’t actually written this piece before. Long-time readers know that the draft is old and fertile ground for me (see here for a good example). Now, typically I need no prompting to start writing about the draft but in this particular case you can blame squarely at the feet of my partner in crime Andres Alvarez and Truehoop Smackdown champion Benjamin Morris.

The impetus was two-fold:

  • Andres Alvarez (@NerdNumbers) for asking the following on Twitter: “Opinion question. Does getting the #1 Pick in the Draft Lottery really up your odds at a title?”
  • Ben for writing a nice piece in response (see here, seriously, go read it).

Ben’s finding is that yes, it does matter. This spurred my curiosity. Let’s just say inspiration hit like a sledgehammer.

Or like this

Or like this


I dug out some data sets and confirmed that I do agree with Ben. The devil though is in the details. Which of course, I then spent a significant amount of time working out.

The key point in drafting right and knowing when to trade is knowing the value of the asset at hand (i.e. the draft pick). This led me to the question of the actual value of the pick and the idea that we can figure this out.

All I need to do is:

  1. Estimate the value of a win to $1.7 million dollars (approximately the number of wins in a season divided by the the total payroll).
  2. Work out the average number of wins produced by draft picks over their first four years in the league (their rookie contract).
  3. Sprinkle in the Rookie salary.

We can come up with an actual pick value chart. The data looks like so:

And as a graph it looks like so:

And for those lazy readers out there, I can convert this to a relative pick value chart:

With that, now you too can run an NBA draft for your favorite team!

The second part of the equation is the premise that you need high draft picks to win the title. I decided that it would be fun to look at this visually by charting the draft pedigree of all the NBA Finalists since 1978. An important note: I also decided that, to actually count for a team, the player had to crack the Top 6 in the rotation for said team (this is from my Half Baked Notion about the playoffs).

This breaks down like so:

Turns out that Miami-Dallas — bouts one and two — have been the most loaded finals (in terms of top draft picks) since 1991 Bulls-Lakers.

That’s not the poster though.

This is:

[Editor Dre’s Note: The Poster is Really beautiful but it’s also quite large. So rather than have you scroll a ton I figure it’s easier if you click here for it!]

Draft Pedigree of top 6 Players in each Finals

All business in the front and party in the back. Keep a lookout for more.


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