One draft in the NBA can change a team's destiny. But unlike most sports, you kind of want your draft to be very good or very bad - maintaining an average draft, oddly enough, has huge implications.
To put this another way, in the NBA, you want to be one of the two or three best teams (with a chance to win) or one of the two or three worst teams (with the chance to draft a superstar, leading to being one of the best teams). Being in the middle is sort of no man's land, with little chance to get much better through the draft, resulting in a smaller chance to win the NBA title.
If you're building through the draft, you can't consistently be one of the teams on this list. Some of the squads you will see below built champions through free agency and trades, but many of them have sat somewhat stagnant with regards to the draft. These are a bunch of painfully average drafting teams, though many of them have been good with their other personnel moves.
Without further ado, here are the average drafting teams in the NBA.
If you need a refresher as to what this series is detailing, click here.
20. Brooklyn Nets (-2.4)
Best Pick: Ryan Anderson (+5.2 nERD per season vs. the average nERD at draft slot)
Worst Pick: Kenyon Martin (-4.4)
The critical point of being a bad team is how much luck comes into play even when the ping pong balls do bounce your way. Sometimes you have the first overall pick and LeBron is on the board, and sometimes it's just the 2000 NBA draft. The Nets, unfortunately, got a bit unlucky getting Martin first overall. He represents the worst value of any pick the Nets had since 1999, and there have been quite a few.
The Nets did go to two straight NBA Finals, mostly on the back of Jason Kidd, whom they picked up via trade, but also in large part to Richard Jefferson who represents one of the biggest draft values the Nets have had at +3.5. Additionally, the Nets made a good pick in All Star Brook Lopez, who is currently at a +2.5 nERD so far during his young career.
Like many of the teams in this section, however, the Nets have made their bones building through trades. And their chance to win a championship moving forward will rely on players they ultimately won't get credit for here. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I felt it worthy to note.
19. Philadelphia 76ers (-2.3)
Best Pick: Thaddeus Young (+3.1)
Worst Pick: Evan Turner (-5.5)
The Sixers won't get credit for their Iverson pick here, but even still, Philly has been right where you expect them to be for the most part. Evan Turner has been really awful for the Sixers, particularly at the number two overall slot. Even this year, his fourth season in the league, Turner is shooting an abysmal 24.5% from beyond the arc. Per his shot chart generated through NBA.com, Turner is somewhere between remarkably bad and painfully average from every section of the floor shooting the three.
I do think, however, it will turn around somewhat for Turner, should he work on his jumper. Turner is pretty good at finishing in the paint (about league average), and from just outside the paint in the corners, he is way better than average. Being a shooting guard that can finish is valuable in the NBA, that sort of toughness I believe is more innate than learned. If Turner can turn his career around, even slightly, the Sixers would move up a bit on this list as most of their other picks are pretty much about what you would expect.
18. Los Angeles Lakers (-2.2)
Best Pick: Andrew Bynum (+4.8)
Worst Pick: Javaris Crittenton (-3)
Unfortunately, under this study, the Lakers do not get credit for Kobe Bryant, which would assuredly bring them to some absurd overall value. Most of the Lakers' picks since 1999 have not been terribly valuable either. Between the Shaq-Kobe years and the Pau-Kobe years, the Lakers really have refused to be irrelevant. In fact, it's quite a testament that, in by far their worst year since 1999, the Lakers took what would amount to their most valuable selection: Andrew Bynum.
Bynum has had his struggles recently, and personally I am not sure he ever bounces back. But there's no denying how good he was for the Lakers when healthy. A guy who at his peak was a double-double player, Bynum has struggled to stay on the floor: He's had only one season where he's played more than 65 games, and infamously sat out all of last year after going through rehab only to injure himself bowling.
The fact is, Bynum had two knee surgeries before age 20. That's not a good sign if you plan to run up and down a hardwood floor at a high pace for a living. Still, it's a testament that Bynum, who could not stay on the floor, has such a high nERD - to me that indicates his true potential. Unfortunately, it may never be reached.
17. Atlanta Hawks (0)
Best Pick: Al Horford (+3.9)
Worst Pick: Jordan Crawford (-4.4)
Atlanta comes in exactly even. Essentially, they have received exactly what they should have expected, in the long run, from their picks. That doesn't mean, however, that Atlanta has not had its share of good picks. Not only has Horford been a good pick, but their Jason Terry pick was also valuable, coming in at a +2.5 nERD per year. Other than that, they don't have a ton of positive guys, though it should be noted that Jeff Teague has been extremely productive this year, even with Horford now out. I suspect Teague will be higher than Jason Terry in terms of cost/benefit analysis by the end of the year.
Outside of Crawford, the Hawks have actually done fairly well in not losing a ton of value. Their next worst pick was Boris Diaw, who clocked in at -1.8. The Hawks have been relatively good at cutting bait with bad picks - other bad picks such as Dion Glover and Acie Law didn't play long in the league, and certainly were not on the floor in a ton of meaningful minutes for Atlanta. Despite finding a lot of guys with slightly negative value, usually those mistakes are not compounded, a trait to be lauded.
16. Dallas Mavericks (+.7)
Best Pick: Josh Howard (+2.2)
Worst Pick: Courtney Alexander (-2.7)
The Mavericks don't get the benefit of their Dirk Nowitzki or their Steve Nash picks, two that would assuredly hoist them towards one of the best drafting teams in this exercise. That said, since Dirk in 1998, there are not a ton of "sexy" picks out there, nor are there a ton of complete busts. But that's sort of to be expected. Based on the picks they actually made, the Mavericks were expected to, in sum, receive a -5 nERD per year. With such a low expectation on their mid- to late-first rounders, to gain such any benefit is to be lauded.
Unfortunately (for my sake) that makes for quite a boring entry. Josh Howard's one All-Star appearance makes him the best pick, but other solid values such as Devin Harris (+1.1) and Etan Thomas (+1.1) do push the Mavericks towards the positive. That said, misses are rare, and, like Atlanta, misses are rarely compounded by continually putting that player on the floor. Outside of Alexander, the worst Mavericks pick is Maurice Ager who clocks in at -1.1. No other player drafted by Dallas is worse than -.6, which is really a marginal at best miss.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
Best Pick: Pau Gasol (+6.9)
Worst Pick: O.J. Mayo (-4.4)
Unlike the last two teams, the Grizzlies have wide swings in value. Gasol provides monstrous value above what's expected at his draft slot, an increase of nearly 7.0 over the expected value. Additionally, Shane Battier provided a +3.8 over his expected value. Ironically, neither player is currently on the team.
That said, one current Grizzly, Mike Conley, Jr., is playing phenomenally right now. Before the season, Conley was about at his expected value, at a -.1. With the improved play of Conley I believe the Grizzlies could move up slightly on this list.
Another Grizzly draft pick, Kyle Lowry, is playing extremely well in Toronto. Entering the season, Lowry was at a +.9 per season. With his play this year, I could see him moving up even more to be one of the best values in the entire NBA.
There is, however, a downside. When you consider where he was drafted, OJ Mayo presents one of the worst values in all of the draft at -4.4. And the issues don't stop there in Memphis. The much maligned Rudy Gay was at a -1.3 entering the season, and this season has been a disaster for Gay. I suspect he will drop possibly as low as Mayo within the next couple of years. The problem with Gay is, while he does not actually "perform" very well, he continues to get tons of playing time and tons of opportunity to shoot the ball. This really is a recipe for a nERD that puts you amongst the worst in the league.
14. Miami Heat (+1.6)
Best Pick: Dwyane Wade (+9.5)
Worst Pick: Michael Beasley (-5.7)
This one sort of surprised me, though I suppose it shouldn't have. Though the Heat are three-time champions with Wade, most of that is due not to guys they drafted but for guys they traded for or signed. With his first title, albeit playing out of his mind in the finals, he had a ton of help from Shaquille O'Neal. And obviously, two of the current Big Three are free agent signings, which were huge in winning their most recent championships.
Outside of the Beasley pick, the Heat also completely whiffed on Daequan Cook, who had a -2.8. Though Dorell Wright has been somewhat decent at a +1.5, the awful Beasley and Cook picks really hurt the Heat and their ranking here. That said, Beasley is getting his second chance in Miami, and though he probably will never live up to his value as a number two overall pick, he could slightly improve his stock by playing quality minutes this year. I don't suspect it will change Beasley all that much, but any little bit helps. He, quite honestly, could not be a much worse pick.
13. Boston Celtics (+1.7)
Best Pick: Al Jefferson (+3.7)
Worst Pick: Gerald Green (-2)
The Celtics have been a huge bastion of consistency. When your worst pick is only a -2 and only a few years into his career, you are doing something right. No other player drafted by the Celtics is worse than a -.8 (Kedrick Brown, Joseph Forte, and Marcus Banks) with one exception: Avery Bradley, who finished at -1.6.
That said, Bradley has been better this year, and was probably playing out of position before coach Brad Stevens came in. Additionally, Bradley is young, and I believe will have a Nerd that moves up much higher than where it is right now.
Two picks really define this era in terms of good picks for the Celtics: the aforementioned Al Jefferson, and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics have not drafted a superstar since Paul Pierce (who, for purposes of this exercise, is not a factor), but at +2.9 for Rondo, they got a ton of value in that pick. How much that had to do with Rondo playing with the original big three is something we may never know, but I do believe that in terms of getting value out of late rounders, Celtics fans could not ask for much more. Most other picks fall into a barely above or below expected value range, but the Celtics have shown a propensity to hit on their later picks.
12. Portland Trailblazers (+2.5)
Best Pick: Brandon Roy (+5.6)
Worst Pick: Sebastian Telfair (-4.3)
The Trailblazers are an interesting case. Their biggest "bust" pick, at least colloquially, is not much of a bust at all in Greg Oden. Though Oden is widely considered to be a bust, he is only at a -1.3. This being because nERD factors playing time in only in a cumulative way; players are not necessarily "detracted from" because they are not on the floor except for that they have less of a chance to accumulate nERD. As a result, a guy who plays a lot, and plays poorly, is actually the least valuable player - that being Bassy - Sebastian Telfair.
People forget the hype Telfair had coming into the league. Bassy graced the cover of SLAM Magazine in high school with LeBron James, but burnt out and failed pretty miserably. That said, he played consistently, and was always given chances, which actually make this guy a worse pick than a guy who does not play at all since, on the floor, he is actively making your team worse.
Similar to Oden is the best Blazers pick of Brandon Roy. Roy, when healthy, was one of the best players in the NBA. He never really "faded away" as much as he "disappeared" - basically he had his time, never had a chance to get worse, and just stopped playing because of injury. As a result, the value Portland received was extremely high. Though he could not replicate it year after year, if Roy was on the floor he was making your team much better.
The real two guys I want to talk about are LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, who did not have a big enough sample size for this project, I suspect that these three are going to be some of the biggest draft-day values in the NBA on one team playing for the team that drafted them. Because of the complications that came with factoring in a guy's value when he left the team, I chose to focus on a team's ability to find talent. Not only have the Blazers found tremendous talent relative to their position, but they have (so far) been able to retain said talent, which is even more important. Though criticized for possibly forcing players to play injured, I want to dole out kudos to the Blazers on a phenomenal drafting and personnel job.
11. Golden State Warriors (+3.5)
Best Pick: Troy Murphy (+3.1)
Worst Pick: Vonteego Cummings (-3.9)
Rounding out part two is possibly the most exciting team in the league, the Golden State Warriors. Though Steph Curry didn't make the "best pick", as he is only at a +2.4 nERD per season above his drafted expectation heading into this year. I certainly expect that to change within the next year or two.
On top of being an exciting player to watch, Curry has unlimited range and, I would venture to say, is the most exciting player to play in the NBA when he gets hot. There's just not a spot on the court he is afraid to shoot from, and with good reason. Just look at Curry's Marco Belinelli who now plays for the Spurs. The Warriors have seen value in most cases on players they drafted, and on top of making solid personnel moves in snagging David Lee and Andre Iguodala, they have a superstar player in Curry, who could vault this team in the top ten if we did this same project again.
Stay tuned for the top 10 in Part Three.