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Pistons have picked well in last four NBA drafts, but don’t oversell their success

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com tweeted yesterday:


Tough to find team w/ better results last 4 drafts & only 1 lottery pick than Pistons: Stuckey, Daye, Jerebko and Monroe. Solid base.less than a minute ago via web

To start, it’s tough to find teams with exactly one lottery pick in the last four drafts. That immediately eliminates a lot of competition and leaves just seven teams:

  • Pistons
  • Rockets
  • Heat
  • Hornets
  • Suns
  • Jazz
  • Wizards

Ranking the drafts

Langlois didn’t include Arron Afflalo, whom the Pistons dumped to the Nuggets. So, I’m ranking the collective drafts of these seven teams based on the players they each still have.

1. Wizards

  • John Wall
  • JaVale McGee
  • Nick Young
  • Kevin Seraphin
  • Trevor Booker

2. Pistons

3. Rockets

  • Patrick Patterson
  • Chase Budinger

(The Rockets also drafted Aaron Brooks and Carl Landy, both of whom they traded for assets.)

4. Suns

  • Robin Lopez

(The Suns also drafted Goran Dragic, whom they traded with a first-round pick for Aaron Brooks.)

5. Heat

  • Mario Chalmers

(The Heat also drafted Michael Beasley, whom they traded for future picks.)

6. Jazz

  • Gordan Hayward
  • Jeremy Evans
  • Kyrylo Fesenko

(The Jazz also drafted Eric Maynor, whom they gave to the Thunder to escape his salary burden.)

7. Hornets

Yeah, that’s it.

(The Hornets also drafted Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton, whom they traded for assets.)

You can argue about the order of the Rockets, Suns, Heat and Jazz, but as far as the Pistons are concerned, I’d say they’re a sure second.

It’s probably unfair to count just the players still on the team, though. When you draft well, you can usually flip those players for valuable assets. (The Pistons deserve blame for giving away Afflalo.)

If you consider what teams received when trading the players they drafted, the Rockets (Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick) might pass the Pistons.

Expected value of draft picks

On a simple level, the Pistons made 11 picks in the last four drafts – more than any of these other six teams. That gave them more chances to find quality players.

The Pistons have also picked 15th – the best possible pick without it counting as a lottery pick – twice. Again, that’s a great way to add talent while still qualifying for Langlois’ list.

Thanks to Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference.com, we know the expected value of a pick in his first four seasons (in win shares) based on when in the draft he was selected. I totaled the expected win shares for each of the seven teams based on the picks they made* the last four years:

  1. Wizards (62.5)
  2. Pistons (59)
  3. Heat (48.2)
  4. Rockets (45.3)
  5. Jazz (44.2)
  6. Hornets (36.5)
  7. Suns (33.1)

So, yes, the Pistons have the second-best draft haul of teams with exactly one lottery pick in the last four years. They were also, based on when they picked, supposed to have the second-best draft haul of teams with exactly one lottery pick in the last four years.

*I counted the players the teams walked away with on draft day. So, I didn’t count traded picks, but I counted picks a team acquired.

Success before drafts

I inferred that Langlois’ tweet implied the Pistons have had success in the seasons preceding the last four drafts. After all, teams with good records typically don’t pick in the lottery.

Here’s the average record of the seven qualifying teams in the four years before this one:

  1. Suns (54-28)
  2. Jazz (51.5-30.5)
  3. Rockets (50.5-31.5)
  4. Hornets (45.25-36.75)
  5. Pistons (44.5-37.5)
  6. Heat (37.25-44.75)
  7. Wizards (32.25-49.75)

It’s difficult to take solace in finishing ahead of the Heat, who will be better than the Pistons for the foreseeable future, and the Wizards, who hauled in a better collective draft class than Detroit.

The Pistons had considerable more playoff success than the Hornets and Rockets in the previous four seasons, so that helps.

But the Suns and Jazz have legitimately been better.

For a team with exactly one lottery pick in the last four years, the Pistons have played middle of the pack leading up to those drafts.

Conclusions

  • The standard Langlois sets – teams with only one lottery pick in the last four drafts – leaves seven teams.
  • Of those seven teams, based on picks held, the Pistons were expected to make the second-best picks.
  • The Pistons made the second-best picks.
  • Of those seven teams, the Pistons had the fifth-best record in the seasons preceding those drafts.

5 Comments

  • Feb 28, 20119:31 am
    by neutes

    Reply

    How about the actual win shares produced?

    • Feb 28, 20119:38 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      For these young players, it’s as much about their potential as what they’ve done. You can use whatever factors you’d like, but when assessing the collective draft class of each team in this span, you’re best off relying on a single measure.

  • Feb 28, 201110:06 am
    by neutes

    Reply

    Ok fine I’m a stat geek.
     
    The Pistons 4 picks have combined to produce 22.8 win shares so far in their careers, while the Wizards picks have combined to produced 16.1 win shares in their careers.
     
    The Spurs, the model franchise ya know, have not had a lottery pick but have picks James Anderson, Dujuan Blair, George Hill, and Tiago Splitter over the last 4 drafts. Those 4 have combined to produce 23.4 win shares.
     
    As far as win shares per 48 goes, the real measure:
     
    Detroit – 0.082
     
    Washington – 0.061
     
    San Antonio – 0.132
     
    So not only did a lot of people assume the Spurs were eventually going to take the kind of plunge destined for the Pistons, but they’ve actually outperformed the Pistons in the draft without even having a lottery pick. The gap between the two once model franchises is only growing.

  • Feb 28, 201112:17 pm
    by Dan

    Reply

    Thank you for breaking down Keith Langlos’s tweet. I can sleep better tonight.

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