NBA Draft Success Rates

In a conversation here, a few members of the community were discussing the unfortunate recent draft history of our Minnesota Timberwolves, and others pointed out a few other teams who hadn't been stellar either. On the face of it, I think most people would say the Wolves draft history is pretty bad, but seeing the other teams misses made me think that maybe it's like baseball - .300 is a good average. At any rate I thought it deserved a little more investigation, so here we are at this Fanpost.

To start, I'll use vjl110's helpfully supplied list of other teams' recent failures, both to make us Wolves fans feel better and to establish the formatting of how these lists will appear.


Picks: 2, 5, 3, 8, 9

Okafor!, Felton, Morrison, Wright, Augustin


1, 4, 3, 8, 6, 4

Olowakandi, Odom!, Miles, Wilcox, Kaman!, Livingston


1, 4, 2+4, 2, 7, 3, 9, 1

Brand!, Fizer, Curry + Chandler, Jay Will, Hinrich, Gordon, Noah!, Rose!


4, 5, 2

Conley, Mayo, Thabeet


4, 8, 7, 1

Bosh!, Araujo, Villanueva, Bargnani


6, 7, 5, 6, 4, 2

Foye, Brewer, Love!, Rubio!, Flynn, Johnson, Williams

In case you couldn't figure it out, bold players were good to extremely good picks, players without formatting ended up being decent contributors, and italicized players did not contribute in any meaningful way to the team that drafted them. Of course, the problem with this perspective is that teams who regularly draft in the top ten such as the teams above almost by definition rarely have good draft records. If they were more successful at using their lottery picks, they probably wouldn't be in the lottery long. It's nice to see that other teams are similarly inept at drafting, but this perspective fails to provide a meaningful baseline against which to judge a draft record.

So my solution is simply to look at all of the top 10 picks since 2000 and see how they worked out for their teams. Hopefully this analysis will show a truly randomized version of how often these picks work out, so we can see what the odds are of successfully selecting a quality player in the top ten. I'll provide a list of top ten players from each draft using the rating system above and add comments as necessary. Please also note that my ratings will be somewhat subjective - if a player made an all-star team representing his draft team, that's pretty much going to be a bold player, but other than that I will certainly consider disputes about how well a pick turned out for a team. Without further ado, here are the picks.


Kenyon Martin!, Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer, Mike Miller, DerMarr Johnson, Chris Mihm, Jamal Crawford, Joel Przybilla, Keyon Dooling

This was a brutal draft class in general. It only had one all star in the top ten, and three all stars in the entire draft, and it's not like any of the three all stars were perennially good. I started with this class, once again, to make us feel better, and also because 2000 is a nice round number, about one NBA career ago. Other notables: Jamaal Magloire [19], Michael Redd [43].


Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol!, Eddy Curry, Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Eddie Griffin, DeSagana Diop, Rodney White, Joe Johnson

Tyson Chandler and Joe Johnson both made all star teams, but not with the team that drafted them. Johnson gets partial credit because while he didn't do anything worthwhile in a Celtics uniform, he did contribute to the team by getting traded for Tony Delk and Rodney Rodgers, both of whom were fairly crucial to the Celtics' postseason run that year. Gasol is far and and away the best player of the class. I couldn't decide whether Jason Richardson should be bold or not, so that can be fought out in the comments if you wish. Other notables: Zach Randolph [19], Gerald Wallace [25], Tony Parker [28], Gilbert Arenas [30], Mehmet Okur [37].


Yao Ming!, Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Drew Gooden, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Dajuan Wagner, Nenê Hilario, Chris Wilcox, Amar'e Stoudemire!, Caron Butler

I couldn't italicize Nikoloz Tskitishvili hard enough. This class was kind of a mixed bag, with no real team-carrying superstars (depending on how you feel about Yao Ming), and not much depth beyond this top ten. Other notables: Tayshaun Prince [23], Carlos Boozer [35], Luis Scola [56].


LeBron James!, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony!, Chris Bosh!, Dwyane Wade!, Chris Kaman, Kirk Hinrich, T. J. Ford, Michael Sweetney, Jarvis Hayes

This is the famous draft class that was so stacked that Darko got drafted second. It was a little top heavy, but there were a few decent players later on as well. I'm going to go ahead and call this draft an outlier. Other notables: David West [18], Ndudi Ebi [26], Kendrick Perkins [27], Leandro Barbosa [28], Josh Howard [29], Mo Williams [47]. (Just for the record, if the Wolves hadn't drafted Ebi, they could have gotten the best center in their history up to then [Perkins] the best SG in their history [Barbosa] or the best SF in their history [Howard]. While Garnett was in his prime. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go staple my tongue to this wall.)


Dwight Howard!, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Shaun Livingston, Devin Harris, Josh Childress, Luol Deng!, Rafael Araújo, Andre Iguodala!, Luke Jackson

Another pretty good class. Okafor certainly performed under expectations, but he was still relatively solid for Charlotte. Deng has been overrated, but he's still pretty darn good, and I think he's exceeded expectations, so he's bold. Other notables: Al Jefferson [15], Jameer Nelson [20], Tony Allen [25], Kevin Martin [26], Anderson Varejao [31].


Andrew Bogut!, Marvin Williams, Deron Williams!, Chris Paul!, Raymond Felton, Martell Webster, Charlie Villanueva, Channing Frye, Ike Diogu, Andrew Bynum!

Not a very talked about draft class like 2003, but Paul and Williams have obviously been stars, Bynum has been the second best center in the league the last few years, and Bogut has been one of the better defensive big men when healthy. You can't not look at that whiff by Atlanta though, needing a point guard and missing on Paul and Williams. This was a pretty deep draft, too. Also, good news! This was the first year the Wolves got to actually use their first round pick again! Bad news! We used on it Rashad McCants. Other notables: Danny Granger [17], Jarrett Jack [22], David Lee [30], Monta Ellis [40], Louis Williams [45].


Andrea Bargnani, LaMarcus Aldridge!, Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams, Brandon Roy!, Randy Foye, Rudy Gay!, Patrick O'Bryant, Mouhamed Sene

This draft sucked. There were basically five good players, and the Wolves managed to draft one of them. Yeah, you know what happened next. The thing that stands out about this draft to me is that if a player wasn't really, really, good, then he was terrible. There was no middle ground. Other notables: Rajon Rondo [21], Paul Millsap [47].


Greg Oden, Kevin Durant!, Al Horford!, Mike Conley, Jr., Jeff Green, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, Brandan Wright, Joakim Noah, Spencer Hawes

One transcendent player, two all stars, a handful of solid guys, and a lot of crap. This might be kind of your prototypical draft class, replete with a bust for the #1 pick. Other notables: Arron Afflalo [27], Marc Gasol [48].


Derrick Rose!, Michael Beasley, O. J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook!, Kevin Love!, Danilo Gallinari, Eric Gordon!, Joe Alexander, D. J. Augustin, Brook Lopez!

This seems like another hit or miss draft like 2006, where either you hit the jackpot or you crap out, except with a few decent players sprinkled here and there. This was obviously a much deeper draft though, and thank God the Wolves happen to be one of the teams that hit the jackpot, not once, but twice. One other note: We'll see how Eric Gordon's career goes, but any time you're the centerpiece in a trade for Chris Paul, you're getting bolded. Other notables: Roy Hibbert [17], JaVale McGee [18], Ryan Anderson [21], Serge Ibaka [24], PEEEEKKKKK!!! [31], Omer Asik [36], Goran Dragic [45].


Blake Griffin!, Hasheem Thabeet, James Harden!, Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio!, Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry!, Jordan Hill, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings

There are a weird number of Timberwolves and former Timberwolves in this draft including the two in the top ten, plus Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Dante Cunningham, and Chase Buddinger. With the exception of Lawson, I like the players we have, and am glad the former Wolves are gone. This class is hard to judge because most of them have only had a few seasons. Other notables: Ty Lawson [18], Taj Gibson [26], Chase Buddinger [44].

It's probably a bit too early to evaluate the 2010 and 2011 draft class, so I'll leave it at that. There are a few obvious stars among those two classes like Kyrie Irving, but I don't feel comfortable judging almost anyone else. Anyway, capping my analysis at 10 drafts makes the math a lot easier. So where does that leave us?

Well, the numbers break down like this:

All Star Caliber players in the top ten by year:

1, 1, 2, 4, 3, 4, 3, 2, 5, 4

Solid players in the top ten by year:

2, 3, 4, 3, 3, 3, 0, 4, 2, 3

Busts in the top ten by year:

7, 6, 4, 3, 4, 3, 7, 4, 3, 3

Solid or better players who slid out of the top 10:

2, 5, 3, 5, 5, 5, 2, 2, 7, 3

Note: This last category is very unscientific because I basically just picked names that jumped out at me rather than going down the list and seeing all the players that were good. But it's safe to say at least that these were all players that should have been drafted higher.

A couple trends jump out at me before I do a percentage breakdown. First, the drafts seem to be getting more talented as time goes on. The 2000 and 2001 drafts were pretty bad, and then they just steadily get better excepting the stinker of that 2006 draft. This might be a short term trend, but it definitely explains why the league seems so deep right now. Also, the number of busts in the top ten seems to have a lot more to do with the quality of the draft than teams simply picking badly; the years with a high number of top ten busts tend to have very few good players that also slip a lot to later picks. Also, I didn't notice a lot of amazing or even good picks in the 11-15 range - teams seemed just as likely to draft a good player in the 20s as in the early teens, if not more so.

So with that all said, the number of busts in the top ten averages out to a surprisingly low 3.7, and if you take out the putrid 2000 and 2006 drafts, it falls all the way to 2.875. So realistically if you have a top-10 pick, there is a 65%-70% chance you'll get at least a decent player, and about a 30% chance you'll get an all star level talent. If we narrow our numbers to just the top two picks, it's closer to a 50% chance you'll get an all star, but interestingly, every single year I checked has at least one of the top two picks busting except Okafor in 2004. 78% of the time, the player who busted was the second pick. The other one is always an all star except in 2001 when the all star slipped to third. This also means that there hasn't been any draft where the best two players were selected with the top two picks. If Evan Turner (2010) and Derrick Williams (2011) end up busts (both real possibilities), only three of the last 12 #2 picks will have had even an adequate NBA career for the team that drafted them.

I'm not sure if this is supposed to make me feel better or worse, but there you go. I don't believe in curses, but I'm pretty sure the #2 pick is cursed, and the only way it works out is if the team with the #1 pick screws up by drafting Greg Oden or Andrea Bargnani. The good news is that the trend disappears in drafts before 2000. The previous #2 picks, in reverse order: Steve Francis, Mike Bibby, Keith Van Horn, Marcus Camby, Antonio McDyess, Jason Kidd, Shawn Bradley, Alonzo Mourning, Kenny Anderson, and Gary Payton. All of those players were good at a minimum.

Anyway, let's get back to the Wolves' draft record to see how it compares with these averages:


6, 7, 5, 6, 4, 2

Foye, Brewer, Love!, Rubio!, Flynn, Johnson, Williams

For those scoring at home, that's a 71% bust rate, which is forty points worse than the average. The good news is that the two we hit on were all star talents, which is about the average of 30%, being 29%. It would have been nice if the team had filled that 40% difference with decent players, but at least we got our all stars.

If we extend that list out to all of Timberwolves history, it looks like this:


10, 6, 7, 3, 5, 4, 5, 5, 6, 6, 7, 5, 6, 4, 2

Pooh Richardson, Felton Spencer, Luc Longley, Christian Laettner, Isaiah Rider, Donyell Marshall, Kevin Garnett!, Stephon Marbury!, Wally Sczcerbiak, Randy Foye, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love!, Ricky Rubio!, Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson, Derrick Williams

Donyell Marshall gets points because he gave us value by being traded for Tom Gugliotta. So that ends up being a much more manageable 47% bust rate, and luckily, when we draft our stars, we do it two years in a row. Our star percentage is still close to average, at 27%.

Take from this overlong post what you will, but next time you want to complain about how the Wolves draft, just think that it could have been a lot worse. At least we got our all stars.

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