You can't truly evaluate the draft until several years down the line. However, that shouldn't stop us from taking a look back at this past season and evaluating the early returns on the 2011 draft. Here is a list of this year's rookies in order of the draft position:
For a breakdown and analysis, continue below the fold.
I don't really trust any numbers looking at fewer than 1,000 possessions, so here is a list that only includes players with > 1,000 possessions ordered by PA100 differential:
The Raptors, Kings, Pistons, Bucks, Suns, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers, Knicks, and Blazers should feel really stupid. The Cavs, Wolves, Jazz, Wizards, and Bobcats should feel really stupid X2. The 21st pick in the 2011 draft, Kenneth Faried, posted the highest per possession PA100 differential of any power forward in the NBA in his first season. He is an awesome player, and I challenge that anyone using the "eye test" to say otherwise is more likely relying on the 'media hype test." Faried was a fucking terror. I breathed a deep sigh of relief whenever he went to the bench against the Wolves. Some other rookies had nice seasons, but Faried was the only player to prove immediately that he is a dominant NBA player.
The other big takeaway from this list is that teams are either very stupid, or more likely, drafting on potential rather than immediate impact. There is a -0.23 correlation between draft position and rookie performance. The big reason for this is that the vast majority of underclassmen simply aren't ready to compete in the NBA. Among the top 10 rookie performers we have five 4-year college players (one via D-League) and two Euro vets (one older and one younger), all with established track records of good production. These are the kinds of players who hit the ground running.
Only three underclassman-aged rookies posted an above average differential: Leonard, Irving, and Rubio. If you factor in the "HLP" impact these players had on their teammates defensively, it is pretty difficult to say which of the three was the best. I took a negative tone in a recent post about Rubio's "here and now" impact on the Wolves, but performing above average at his age is a big deal and reason for excitement. Most young rookies are getting paid a lot of money and wasting a lot of good minutes in hope of future returns. For example, Brandon Knight's 3,413 possessions at -5.88 production made him the single biggest anchor on any team this year. Detroit wasn't going to be a good team this season, but force-feeding minutes to Knight buried them. Other guys costing a lot of money and a lot of wins in the hopes of "figuring it out" include Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, and our very own Derrick Williams. These players will need to become really good over the next two years to even begin to compensate for their immediate cost in terms of wins and money.
Breaking it down into offense and defense the age factor is even more obvious:
The best defensive rookies are geriatrics (i.e. 23+) and a Manther. Kudos to Ricky and Kawhi for also posting positive defensive ratings at a young age. This strong correlation between age and defense probably isn't surprising to anyone. The idea that defense comes with experience is typically assumed by NBA analysts, and these numbers support it. Based on this year's rookie crop, you can find defense in the draft, but as Ayon and the Steamer show, you are better off just signing an established non-NBA player.
I'm not knocking the strategy of drafting on potential. The draft is the best way for non-LA/NY/MIA teams to find the NBA's greatest asset (superstars), and I have no doubt that these rankings will look quite different three years from now. However, this pattern does have implications for how the Wolves handle their 18th pick this offseason. Do the Wolves really have the luxury of using money and roster space on a player who almost certainly will not contribute positively for another year or two, and who very likely will never pan out? I think we would be well advised to either draft an established older prospect or move the pick for a veteran. But maybe I'm just over-invested in the "win now" mentality... Thoughts?
Before closing, I'll throw out some quick PA100 awards for the 2011/2012 rookies:
Rookie of the Year: Kenneth Faried
Offensive ROY: Kyrie Irving (above Faried for the sake of avoiding redundancy)
Defensive ROY: Gustavo Ayon
Steal of the Draft: Isaiah Thomas (above Leuer because of possessions played)
Bust of the Draft: Jan Vesely (with Brandon Knight nipping at his heels)