Introduction Top 10 NBA Draft Busts Z Menu

Typical NBA Draft Picks (#1 to #10)

Synopsis: When originally preparing my countdown of Top 10 Busts, I reviewed all NBA players drafted since 1970. Of note, I relied on basketball-reference.com in order to compile and analyze the career statistics of these players. By doing so, I was able to create thresholds above or below which they could be grouped. For example, I identified all-time greats, stars, average players, busts, and Top 10 Busts.  In this post, I offer the representative NBA draft picks who help define the categories.


TYPICAL NBA DRAFT PICKS (#1 to #10)

Based on a statistical analysis of every NBA draft since 1970, I only considered top ten overall picks as worthy of consideration for my countdown of Top 10 Busts. In particular, the drop-off in the expected value of subsequent draft picks doesn’t warrant the stigma. Said differently, most drafts aren’t deep enough for later picks to be worthy of high expectations. Good players can be found later in the draft, but they’re the exception and not the rule.

With respect to top ten overall picks, the following tables summarizes the thresholds above and below which players can be classified.

TYPICAL NBA DRAFT PICKS – #1 OVERALL
Representative NBA Draft Picks - Yao Ming
2002 #1 Overall Pick Yao Ming

 

Bottom 10% Bottom 25% Median Top 25% Maximum
Player Kwame Brown (21) Glenn Robinson (40) Yao Ming (66) Elton Brand (110) Kareem Abdul Jabbar (273)
Career Stats 9 yrs
7 ppg, 6 rpg, 1 apg
9 yrs
20 ppg, 6 rpg, 3 apg
6 ½ yrs
19 ppg, 9 rpg, 2 apg
14 yrs
16 ppg, 9 rpg,  2 apg
20 yrs
25 ppg, 11 rpg,  4 apg
Other Honors 8 All-Star Games 2 All-Star Games 6 MVPs
2 Finals MVPs

Notes: Win shares in parentheses. The years listed under each player reflect years of service instead of seasons played. For instance, Yao Ming played in eight different seasons but missed approximately 1½ years due to injuries

As reflected by this table, a team with a #1 overall pick should expect to get a player as productive as Yao Ming. Of note, Ming would have ranked higher if he could have stayed healthy enough to play more than the equivalent of 6 1/2 seasons. Regardless, his overall production put him in the middle of the pack.

On average, a player as unproductive as Kwame Brown gets taken 1st overall every ten years. For me, that threshold should be used to define a bust. To date, no #1 overall pick has been unproductive enough to be a Top 10 Bust. However, Anthony Bennett may become the first. Of note, the 2013 #1 overall pick has averaged four points and three rebounds per game through the 2015-16 season. If his career ended today, which seems more likely than not, Bennett will be a prime candidate.

TYPICAL NBA DRAFT PICKS (#2 to #5)
Representative NBA Draft Picks - Drew Gooden
2002 #4 Overall Pick Drew Gooden

 

Bottom 10% Bottom 25% Median Top 25% Maximum
Player Darko Milicic (7) Stromile Swift (21) Drew Gooden (44) Lamar Odom (77) Michael Jordan (214)
Career Stats 6 ½ yrs
6 ppg, 4 rpg, 1 apg
7 yrs
8 ppg, 5 rpg, 1 apg
10 yrs
11 ppg, 7 rpg, 1 apg
12 yrs
13 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 apg
14 yrs
30 ppg, 6 rpg, 5 apg
Other Honors 6th Man of the Year 5 MVPs
6 Finals MVPs

Note: Win shares in parentheses. The years listed under each player reflect years of service instead of seasons played.

When combined with the prior table, this one shows the significant drop-off in expected value from a #1 pick to a #2 pick. For instance, a 2nd to 5th overall pick typically offers approximately 60% of the production of the 1st overall pick. Perhaps helping make the point even clearer, imagine the difference between getting someone like Yao Ming instead of Drew Gooden.

On average, a player as unproductive as Darko Milicic gets taken with a 2nd-5th overall pick once every 10 years. Based on his limited production, Milicic certainly was a bust. In order to be declared a Top 10 Bust, however, he needed to be even less productive. In general, Top 10 Busts occur at each draft position once every 40 years.


TYPICAL NBA DRAFT PICKS (#6 to #10)
Representative NBA Draft Picks - Chris Kaman
2003 #6 Overall Pick Chris Kaman

 

Bottom 10% Bottom 25% Median Top 25% Maximum
Player Yi Jianlian (3) Ron Mercer (9) Chris Kaman (25) Jamal Crawford (54) Dirk Nowitzki (199)
Career Stats 3 ½ yrs
8 ppg, 5 rpg, 1 apg
5 ½ yrs
14 ppg, 3 rpg, 2 apg
10 yrs
11 ppg, 8 rpg, 1 apg
13 yrs
16 ppg, 2 rpg, 4 apg
17 yrs
23 ppg, 8 rpg, 3 apg
Other Honors 6th Man of the Year (twice) MVP
Finals MVP

Note: Win shares in parentheses. The years listed under each player reflect years of service instead of seasons played.

As reflected by this table, teams with a #6 to #10 overall pick should expect to get a player as productive as Chris Kaman. Of note, Kaman went 6th overall in the 2003 Draft. In case that year doesn’t jump out at you, he went after LeBron James at #1, Darko Milicic at #2, Carmelo Anthony at #3, Chris Bosh at #4, and Dwyane Wade at #5.

Interestingly, Kaman and Milicic’s careers would be evaluated much differently if they simply switched positions in that draft. Milicic would still be well below average in that case, but not enough to be called a bust. At the same time, Kaman would fall from average to well below average. Such a fall wouldn’t make him a bust; however, he couldn’t escape the label as a Top 10 Worst Draft Pick. After all, any below average player taken before three future Hall of Famers (i.e. Anthony, Bosh, and Wade) deserves that label.

REPRESENTATIVE NBA DRAFT PICKS (#1 to #10)
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