How Pick Bias Is Affecting Projections for Kevin Love and Andrew Wiggins
Analysts are all over the place on the argument of whether the Cavs should invest in Andrew Wiggins or Kevin Love. The pro-Love side shouts to his numbers last year and how Wiggins hasn't even played a single game in the NBA yet. The pro-Wiggins side points at Love's lack of playoff appearances and padded stats on mediocre Timberwolves squads.
In order to make this decision, we need to have as accurate of a projection for Andrew Wiggins as possible. Obviously projections aren't perfect and at this point, there is still a wide range of potential outcomes for the young wing's career.
But here is a question that this article will seek to tackle: How good does Wiggins have to become to be as good as Kevin Love is right now?
When you look at it this way, it's a little bit easier to carve out a projection. We aren't comparing Wiggins to the entire history of the league; now, we're just comparing him to one single player as he currently stands.
So let's look at the history of number one draft picks to see how they compare to Kevin Love, and perhaps we can start to hone in on where Andrew Wiggins fits in the picture. The following table shows the number one picks from 1985 to 2009 (I stopped there to make sure we have at least five seasons of data).
Last year, Kevin Love accumulated 14.3 win shares. The third column here - "1st Y > 14 WS" - shows us when these first picks first hit that 14 win share mark, if ever. The next column shows how many 14 win share seasons that player had over their career. Finally, the last column shows the player's highest win share season and the age in which it happened.
|Year||Player||1st Y > 14 WS||# Seasons > 14 WS||Highest WS (Age)|
|1985||Patrick Ewing||Never||0||13.5 (27)|
|1986||Brad Daugherty||Never||0||12.7 (27)|
|1987||David Robinson||1||5||20.0 (28)|
|1988||Danny Manning||Never||0||9.8 (25)|
|1989||Pervis Ellison||Never||0||6.9 (24)|
|1990||Derrick Coleman||Never||0||9.9 (26)|
|1991||Larry Johnson||Never||0||10.1 (26)|
|1992||Shaquille O'Neal||2||4||18.6 (27)|
|1993||Chris Webber||Never||0||11.0 (27)|
|1994||Glenn Robinson||Never||0||6.7 (28)|
|1995||Joe Smith||Never||0||6.8 (20)|
|1996||Allen Iverson||Never||0||11.8 (25)|
|1997||Tim Duncan||5||2||17.8 (25)|
|1998||Michael Olowokandi||Never||0||1.6 (26)|
|1999||Elton Brand||7||1||14.8 (26)|
|2000||Kenyon Martin||Never||0||7.1 (25)|
|2001||Kwame Brown||Never||0||4.9 (21)|
|2002||Yao Ming||Never||0||11.4 (23)|
|2003||LeBron James||2||9||20.3 (24)|
|2004||Dwight Howard||7||1||14.4 (25)|
|2005||Andrew Bogut||Never||0||7.5 (25)|
|2006||Andrea Bargnani||Never||0||4.2 (24)|
|2007||Greg Oden||Never||0||4.6 (21)|
|2008||Derrick Rose||Never||0||13.1 (22)|
|2009||Blake Griffin||Never||0||12.2 (24)|
Out of the 24 first picks listed above, only six of them had a season comparable to the one Kevin Love had last year.
And this seemingly brings out an issue in how we evaluate players: pick bias.
There's a bigger percentage of a player's perceived value tied up in where they were selected in the NBA Draft than how they actually perform. For example, last year Kyrie Irving was statistically inferior to Isaiah Thomas. However, Kyrie was a number one pick, and Isaiah was picked 60th, the last pick of the draft. Despite what the on-court numbers were, Kyrie got a max extension this summer, while Thomas couldn't even get the Kings to match the Suns offer for $7 million, roughly one-third of what Kyrie got on the open market.
Because Andrew Wiggins was selected first overall, his perceived value is much higher than his actual projected value. Let's say the Cavs had gotten the 12th pick in the draft and for some reason Wiggins fell to them. Would the Cavs be more willing to trade him? Of course they would.
Wiggins didn't suddenly get better or worse by being selected in a certain position, so if his on-court projection is the same, why would the Cavs think differently about him? Pick bias.
There are some great players listed in that table above that never had a season as good as Kevin Love's season last year. Patrick Ewing is a Hall of Famer, and he never cracked the 14 win share plateau. Allen Iverson, Larry Johnson, and Chris Webber never even really got close.
So here's how we can try to think about Andrew Wiggins. Putting bias aside and making it not exclusively Wiggins versus Love, we can now say it's Wiggins versus Ewing, or Wiggins versus Iverson, or Wiggins versus Webber. Can he be better than all those players? Love just did it last season.
Love is also right at the beginning of his basketball prime. The average best year for the players above is about 25 years old, which is Love's age. A basketball aging curve also puts the average player's prime at 27 years old. This is a window of a special player that the Cavs could get to maximize the rest of LeBron's prime years.
Wiggins could very well end up a fantastic player in the NBA, and it may even be sooner than most analysts project. However, the Cavs should know that Wiggins, in order to match Love's production from last season, would have to be all-time great and do something that only a few number-one picks have done historically.
Could he do it? Sure. Would I rather bet on a guy who did it as recently as last year? Absolutely.