In-Depth Look at Talent Dispersion per Draft Class from 1989- 2011

Undrafted Seniors Matter

A couple of months ago a posted a very simple and rudimentary table that showed what, on average you can expect from a talent pool in an average draft class. This time im breaking it down into rounds, looking just how much potential value you get from players in the first round, the second round, as well as players who went undrafted.

For those who missed the first reddit post, here is the link:

I separated players in the following tiers, and looked just how many from draft to draft fit each description.

MVP- Won the Award at least 1 time

All Star – Made 3 or more All Star Teams

Borderline All Star- Made 1 or 2 All Star Teams

Starter – 30 plus minutes, or 28 plus if starts 80% of games for 3 or more years

Rotation – played between 28 and 15 minutes most night for 3 or more years

End of the Bench – played less than 15 minutes and more for 3 or more years

Filler – Spent a year or two in the league but barely played

Never Played – Pretty self explanatory

Undrafted Free Agents

As you can see, there are around 20 guys who go undrafted in an NBA draft every year. Eventually they end up in the NBA. Some of them get NBA contract right away, some after 3-5 years. Many of them, 60%, end up as only filler on teams, staying for a year or two, with minimal playing time.

But that’s no reason to be pessimistic, there are between 7 or 8 guys on average who stick in the league. On average you will get 7 guys who are between a rotation player and an end of the bench guy. The most surprising thing all to me was that in 4 out of 5 drafts a player will go undrafted and end up peaking as a starting caliber player in the NBA. The undrafted players who usually stick in the NBA are college seniors, almost exclusively, with a few overseas guys sprinkled in as well.

In the period of draft history that I looked at, there were two players whose peaks eclipsed that of a starter, one became and legit multi time All Star, the other a Borderline All Star.

In 1996, an undersized center, and best player in the CIAA, went undrafted. After a very short stint in Italy, literally a game, he got a contract with the Wizards, spent a year in Orlando and finally landed in Detroit, the rest was history. You guessed it, that undrafted undersized center was non other than Ben Wallace, one of the most dominant defensive players of all time, a 4-time All Star and 4-time DPOY.

In 1998, Brad Miller, a then senior out of Purdue also went undrafted. The 6 11 , 240 big, had a slow rise to fame at Purdue, becoming a starter only in his junior year. He finished his senior season averaging 17 points, 17 points 9 rebounds 2,5 assists and close to 3 stocks per game. That wasn’t enough to impress NBA scouts, so he had to spend a year in Italy, playing for Livorno and experiencing one of the best cuisines in the world. After dominating in Italy, he got a contract with the Hornets, spent some time with the Bulls, came into his own in Indiana, where he made his first All Star selection, and had a 5-year run as a starter for the Kings, where under Rick Adleman they had two 59+ win seasons, which to the average NBA fan now seems like science fiction. Because Vivek (Stauskas… Stauskas).

In terms of extreme ends of the spectrum, five draft classes gave 2 starters among its undrafted players. Those were, 89-91, 93 and 2009. There were 3 classes which gave more than 10 productive players. In 1992, there were 12, 8 end of the bench guys, 3 rotation players and 1 starer. In 2002, there were 10 productive players, out of which 4 were end of the bench guys, 5 were rotation players and 1 was a starter. In 2005 we got 13, but 8 of them were end of the bench guys and 5 ended up peaking as rotation level players.

The worst undrafted class was without doubt the 1994 one. Sixteen players got NBA contracts, only one stuck in the league for more than 2 years and he was an end of the bench guy.

The Second Round

A lot of second round draft picks don’t really amount to anything. In large part that is due to stashing picks. There have been 10 drafts where 10 or more second round picks never signed an NBA contract. On average 18 out of 30 picks in the second round were either filler players, or never signed an NBA contract to begin with, 60% of them.

But there is a lot of talent in the second round that gets unnoticed. The 12 picks that hit, stick in the league, some of them hit heights that not even teams that drafted them hoped they would achieve.  In ever single of these second rounds, there has been at least 1 player who was a starter or better at his peak. In the 23 year window I looked at, there have been 17 All Star players drafted in the second round, or in other words, 3 out of 4 drafts are hiding a All Star in the second round, usually a borderline one. There have been 3 legit, multi time All Stars who went to in the second round.

 In 2001 the Golden State Warriors selected Gilbert Arenas in the second round of the draft. He would make 3 All Star games in his career, but not for the team that drafted him, but the Washington Wizards. In 2006, the Utah Jazz picked Paul Millsap as the 47th overall pick. He made 4 All Star teams during his stint in Atlanta, and was close to making a few more his last few years in Utah. The very next year, the Memphis Grizzlies took Marc Gasol with the 48th pick. In his case, and in the case of MVP Nikola Jokic, the saying, Fat is untapped potential, truly turned out to be true. Marc Gasol made the All Star team 3 times and won one Defensive Player of the year. In total, there are three guys on average who will be a starter or better in the NBA, even tho they have been selected in the second round. The 2001 second round was the most productive, giving one All Star, one Borderline all Star and 3 starter caliber players. A bunch of seasons gave up to 4 high end peaks, but there were also 3 different drafts where all you got was a single starter. With around 10% odds of landing a starter or better player in the second round, Maybe Sam Presti isn’t all that crazy to hoard all those picks.

The First Round

The NBA teams and their scouting departments are great at discovering top NBA talent. In this time period, every single MVP was a first-round pick. In terms of multi time All Stars, you are 18 times more likely to hit on one in the first round than in the second and you are 4 more times more likely to draft a Borderline All Star in the first round than in the second round. They do miss out on guys as well, but only on a small scale. On average there are two guys per draft who are just fillers in the league. Between 3 or 4 per draft on average end up end of the bench guys. Which means that around 24 or 25 players who do get selected in the first round will peak as at least rotational players.

While on average, there is an MVP every other draft, in reality drafts are extremely top heavy. For example, between 1989 and 1994, there was a single MVP drafted. Between 1999 and 2006 also only a single MVP. But years like 1996 had three, 2008 and 2009 both had 2. The before mentioned 1996 year was the most productive in terms of top talent, meaning Borderline All Star peak or better. In that draft there were 9 players drafted in the first round who made at least 1 All Star Team. Which included 3 MVPs and 5 legit All Stars! The worst first round in terms of top end talent was the one in 2000, which only had 2 Borderline All Stars.


Looking just how different the number of players per category can be in a given draft

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