Contrary to what Mark Cuban may believe, rebuilding an NBA contender takes many years. During that time, a team has to make smart decisions about talent identification at every opportunity, from free agency to trades to the draft. But as Sam Guertler wrote Tuesday, your odds of picking up a talented player really are vastly higher in the top five draft spots.
So what happens when you never get a shot at one of those coveted top-five picks? The Dallas Mavericks may find themselves once again in that position, waiting just outside the top five in search of their next foundational piece.
Today we examine the kind of player available to teams running the treadmill of mediocrity. When faced with picking in the middle of the lottery year after year, how lucky can a team reasonably hope to get?
The best player a team can hope for
We looked at picks six through nine over the last twenty drafts (per basketball-reference.com) and their performance throughout their NBA careers. It takes time for players to develop, so we’ve excluded from parts of our analysis players who’ve been in the league for fewer than five years. But homing in on the best player from each group shows the wide range of potential. It’s easy to split hairs when determining the most effective or accomplished players of any given group. But looking at basic stats (points, rebound, assists), career length, time spent as a starter, and career recognition and awards, the best of the pool is fairly easy to identify:
It may not be completely scientific, but it gives you a sense of the ceiling for this range.
What the team can expect from the player
To start, it doesn’t seem likely that you’re drafting a future Rookie of the Year or MVP. Of the 80 players listed, only three have won the top rookie honor (Amar’e Stoudemire, Brandon Roy and Damian Lillard), while only two have been crowned league’s most valuable (Dirk Nowitzki and Stephen Curry). Of the 76 possible players in picks six through nine from 1998-2016, 36 of them landed on the All-Rookie team (47 percent).
But longterm, looking past rookie production, here are some quick hitting numbers on the careers of players drafted in this window:
- Of the 44 players who could have 10 seasons of NBA play under their belt (1998-2008), 28 have played 10 or more (63 percent).
- 47 out of the full 80 players listed have been a starter for at least half of their games (58 percent). Additionally, there is only one year (1999) where all four players were majority starters for their career. And there were two years where only one player became a majority starter (2001 and 2005).
- Of the 76 possible players (1998-2016), 44 had their best season with the team that picked them (58 percent).
- Focusing back in on 1998-2012, there have been 15 players make an all-star appearance (25 percent), and nine players make an All-NBA team (15 percent).
Looking at these numbers, the picture becomes a little clearer. A team has decent odds of drafting a player that will play 10 years in the league. Though the probability that he will be a starter, or have his best season with the team that drafted him is a little less certain.
There is a long history of value all over the draft, from pick No. 1 to undrafted gems. It is the job of the front office to identify players that work for the team and to develop these prospects for the long term. It doesn’t just mean hitting on a top-five pick, though that’s a good start. In a salary cap driven league, having cheap controllable assets that can establish the future of your franchise is becoming increasingly paramount. It may not be easy outside of the top five, but history shows us that it is possible.