I've read time and again that the 2013 is going to be a weak draft, many point to it as justification for the Mavericks potentially trading their lottery pick this year. I think that is a horrible idea, and by the end of this article I hope you'll agree with me.
First off, let's discuss what the very definition of a weak draft is. Often the term weak draft is misinterpreted to mean there are no good players in the draft. What it really refers to is the number of protected stars which will come out of the Top 10, or the reverse perspective would be how many Top 10 picks see little to no NBA minutes. The success of picks is extremely hard to determine in the first year as many rookies simply will not see solid minutes their first year. So while the 2011 draft at the moment does appear to have a great many more misses than hits across the board, it's nearly impossible to predict which players may blossom with another year or two under their belt. So let's look at the 2006 draft which is often referred to as the weakest draft in modern history. Looking at the how few of the Top 10 players have risen to any level of stardom with five players never really playing any significant minutes, it's hard to argue the draft was largely a bust. However, let's set a bar of averaging 18 minutes a game as being considering contributing to an NBA team. Looking at that very simplified metric, there are 12 players out of 60 who meet the criteria six of which were picked at 13 or later. Here are players who went at 13 or later in 2006:
Nearly half the "impact" players from the 2006 draft came after the 13th pick. Hard to imagine a few of those players went so late, isn't it? Let's also remember that Jose Barea was picked up un-drafted by the Dallas Mavericks that year. Now, scouting isn't an exact science. Trying to judge a young player's upside is a huge gamble. However, some teams seems to have the magic touch. It can't just be dumb luck, teams who value the draft focus more on scouting and do better overall. So, let's look at the Dallas Maverick's biggest division rival, the San Antonio Spurs, and compare draft outcomes.
Let's first just compare how each team values picks. The easiest way to compare this is perhaps to look at how many times each team gave away their first round picks. Dallas has gone seven years since 1999 without a first round pick versus San Antonio's four. Dallas did get some value out of those trades, most notably Jason Kidd, but when we start looking at each teams draft performance over that period. While San Antontio didn't ultimately retain all these players take a look at their best picks since 1999:
Manu Ginobili 1999 57th pick
Tony Parker 2001 28th pick
Louis Scola 2002 55th pick
Leandro Barbosa 2003 28th pick
Tiago Splitter 2007 28th pick
Goran Dragic 2008 45th pick
George Hill 2008 26th pick
DeJuan Blair 2009 37th pick
And how Dallas has done:
Wang Zhizhi 1999 36th pick
Picks traded in 2000, 2001
Mladen Sekularac in 2002 54th, never played in the NBA
Josh Howard 2003 29th
Devin Harris 2004 5th pick via trade
JJ Barea 2006 (undrafted)
Roddy B 2009 24th via trade
Dominique Jones 2010 25th (via trade)
Pick traded 2011
Crowder/Sarge/Cunningham 2012 17th (traded down)
Framed this way you can really see the differences between a franchise who has a front office philosophy of valuing the draft versus one which sees picks more as trade assets. Many have argued that Dallas' late draft position over in recent years made their pick worthless. But digging even a bit deeper, we can see in recent years, high impact players have been drafted fairly late by teams.
Knicks David Lee at 30th in 2005
Lakers Marc Gasol (then traded him) at 48th in 2007
Celtics Tony Allen 25th in 2004
Chicago via Portland Omer Asik 36th in 2008 (traded) and Jimmy Butler 30th in 2011
GS Monte Ellis 40th in 2005
Those were the cherry picked highest performers but there were a great many other solid contributing players. Looking even broader, since 2008 there is a greater than 20% chance of getting a solid contributor at the 13th pick or later. Given Dallas' new offensive coordinator Kaleb Canales ran the NBA combine camp this year and it's the highest pick the team has had in over a decade...Dallas really needs to focus on scouting and value the pick this year. It's bound to pay off in the long run. There are no weak drafts, only weak scouting...