Daft Draft Analysis

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Will

Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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  1. Avatar Sonny Bunch
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    I sometimes feel like NBA front offices are stuck in the same mode that MLB franchises were in the pre-Moneyball era; they’re far more infatuated with upside than, um, present-side. Beane’s decision to target college players with track records instead of high schoolers with live arms was just brilliant. The other thing NBA teams stupidly focus on is age: If I hear one more draft commentator dismiss a college senior because he’s 22 in favor of some unproven 18 or 19 year old because the team might “get fewer years out of him,” I’m going to go nuts. (To be fair, this is less of a problem in recent years because of the age restriction, but it still comes up from time to time.) I think Yglesias made the point the other day that there are so few people who can physically play basketball — i.e., be tall enough — that it makes scouting talent just that much harder. Combine that with the fact that one impact player can forever alter a team, and you see teams chasing possibility instead of proven fact. This is not the way to build teams.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Sonny Bunch
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      Sounds about right to me, though it’s easy to get infatuated with raw talent. I was watching Ricky Rubio highlight clips pretty obsessively before the Wizards decided to shoot themselves in the foot.

      One factor that may contribute to the problem is that nobody is ever held accountable for bad draft picks. It’s like the League has come to some bizarre consensus that the draft is basically a crap shoot and therefore no one is responsible for screwing up their picks.Report

      • Avatar Sonny Bunch in reply to Will
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        The only problem with the Wizards drafting Rubio is Gil: unless they could convince him to move to the shooting guard slot (and I don’t think they could), they’d then be saddled with an angry player with an untradeable contract. Never a good position to be in in the NBA…Report

        • Avatar Will in reply to Sonny Bunch
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          That’s an interesting take. I just assumed that as a shoot-first point guard, Arenas would be OK with moving over to the 2 as long as he gets his touches.Report

          • Avatar Sonny Bunch in reply to Will
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            That’s the problem with shoot first point guards like Gil (and AI); they don’t just want to hoist up way too many shots, they want to walk the ball up the court as well. They’re what we called “ball hogs” back in school. Announcers are just too polite to do that on national TV.Report

    • Avatar Mark in reply to Sonny Bunch
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      says:

      Sonny…where to begin? Beane targeted college players until approximately 2003 because 1) they were undervalued; 2) he lacked the funds to scout high schoolers. But “Moneyball” was not about drafting moderate-upside college players instead of high-ceiling preps – it was about exploiting a market inefficiency. That was OBP and college draft picks in the 1990s, but those two tracks have been overvalued for years. Over the last five years, we’ve seen Beane exploit high groundball rate pitchers, compensatory picks for mediocre free agents, outfield defense (cf – three center fielders), overvaluation of players with one year left on their contracts, and a host of other things that aren’t readily apparent.

      But believe me, Beane is completely infatuated with upside. A roster with 25 major-league average players will win 81 games. In order to win your division, you need stars at several positions, and finding stars outside of the first 10 picks in the first round of the draft takes risk.

      There is no way to discount the impact of age, particularly in baseball, which allows a team to control a player’s rights for up to 11 years. A player who dominates A-ball at 18 is one of your top five prospects; a player who does it at 22 is just another guy who needs to prove he can do it against guys his own age in AA. Who was the more valuable 23-year-old last season? Dwight Howard? Or the very projectable Corey Brewer, drafted three years later? Ignoring age is very much not a “Moneyball” thing to do…Report

      • Avatar Sonny Bunch in reply to Mark
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        says:

        Come on now, Mark; for every Dwight Howard, there are three Kwame Browns. I’m not saying you should draft solid but unspectacular four year college players with the number one pick. But NBA teams were killing themselves by drafting high school kids with no track record in the early and middle first round because they had trememndous upside potential (to quote Hubie Brown) and were a couple of years young than guys who went to college for two or three years and were proven commodities. That’s why David Stern raised the minimum age.

        And it’s been a while since I read Moneyball, but I distinctly remember one of the things that Beane loved about college guys was that they had a track record and stats that could be quantified. High school kids simply can’t be followed the same way. He thought it was nuts to use high draft picks and huge portions of the signing bonus budget on unknown quantities.Report

        • Avatar Mark in reply to Sonny Bunch
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          The three American high schoolers taken at #1 were Dwight Howard, Lebron James and Kwame Brown. Just because Michael Jordan was a terrible scout doesn’t mean high schoolers weren’t good risks. Amare Stoudamire and Tracy McGrady went 9th, and Kobe went 13th. Having talent like that fall that far means there are market inefficiencies to be exploited.

          Moneyball was a book that didn’t necessarily capture the subtleties of Billy Beane’s strategy, and it took place in another era. In July 2008, the A’s gave Michael Ynoa, a 16-year-old Dominican pitcher, a $4.25 million signing bonus, the largest ever in Latin America. Beane’s organization did not have had the money to scout high schoolers effectively enough to make them first round draft picks, but that does not mean he is unaware of their higher ceilings.Report

        • Avatar Mark in reply to Sonny Bunch
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          says:

          Incidentally, American high school basketball players picked in the top 20 produced, on average, 25% more Win Shares at Age 23 than a draft pick who came via another path (using 1981-2005 average per slot). High school picks in the top 5 (there were nine of them) produced 13% more at Age 23. High-school players are higher-risk, higher-reward – and the average reward exceeds the risk.Report

  2. Avatar ChrisWWW
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    says:

    Will,
    Thanks for defending Psycho-T. Someone has got to represent for the Tar Heels.Report

  3. Avatar Mark
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    says:

    Will,

    I think there’s a huge justification for taking risk to get upside at #13. Look at the 1996 draft:

    13 – Kobe (HS)
    14 – Peja Stojakovic (Euro Pro)
    15 – Steve Nash (WAC)
    17 – Jermaine O’Neal (HS)
    20 – Ilgauskas (Euro Pro)

    I’m not saying it turns out like that every year, but those are the only good players drafted outside of the top 6. The 22-year-old guys from name colleges may have been projectable, but they were projected to be the 2nd or 3rd man down the bench – talent you can pick up any year you think you might have a shot at the title.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Mark
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      says:

      Mark –

      I didn’t say that you should *never* take prospects with big upside potential; only that there’s a reasonable case for taking a surefire rotation player at number eight instead of a guy like Earl Clark who may or may not pan out. In the SI article I link to, the author seems to assume that the only option is to shoot for the moon with the unproven prospect. I think that’s pretty silly, particularly in such a weak draft.Report

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