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Joe Dumars’ draft track record is strong

Assessing Joe Dumars’ draft record too often becomes an exercise in cherry picking.

He chose Darko, so he’s terrible! He found Tayshaun Prince in a weak draft, so he’s great!

That sort of analysis is unhelpful. Dumars has made some great draft picks. He’s also made some terrible picks. That’s true of anyone whose been a general manager as long as he has.

To truly gauge Dumars’ drafting ability, we should look at the entire body of work. Thankfully, Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference.com developed a system to do just that.

Kubatko created a chart of win shares a player should earn during his first four seasons, based on draft position. Using just the first four years – the length of rookie scale contracts – most fairly links a draftees’ play with the executive who picked him, rather than skewing the numbers with the player’s production long after he’s drafted.

The drawback to this method is just the draft classes that have spent four years in the NBA can be assessed. That means Austin Daye (likely a bad pick), DaJuan Summers (likely a bad pick), Jonas Jerebko (already earned more win shares than expected), Greg Monroe (certainly a good pick), Terrico White (almost certainly a bad pick), Brandon Knight (tossup), Kyle Singler (tossup) and Vernon Macklin (tossup) can’t be evaluated yet.

I think that’s fair. If we truly want to grade Dumars’ drafting, there’s no point declaring someone like Knight a success or failure at this very moment.

I also think it’s fair to include his 2008 draft picks, even though they’re not four seasons removed from being drafted. Two – Trent Plaisted and Deron Washington – never played in the NBA and likely never will, and the one who did – Walter Sharpe – might be even less likely to join an NBA team in the future.

Here’s Dumars’ draft history, from 2000-08, with each player’s expected and actual win shares through the first four seasons of his career:

Year Rd Pk Player College Expected Actual Diff.
2000 1 14 Mateen Cleaves Michigan State 9.9 -0.8 -10.7
2000 2 44 Brian Cardinal Purdue 2.7 7.4 4.7
2001 1 9 Rodney White North Carolina-Charlotte 12.7 1.8 -10.9
2001 2 37 Mehmet Okur Turkey 3.8 26.0 22.2
2002 1 23 Tayshaun Prince Kentucky 6.7 24.7 18.0
2003 1 2 Darko Milicic Serbia and Montenegro 22.1 4.1 -18.0
2003 1 25 Carlos Delfino Italy 6.2 8.4 2.2
2003 2 58 Andreas Glyniadakis Greece 0.9 -0.2 -1.1
2004 2 54 Rickey Paulding Missouri 1.4 0.0 -1.4
2005 1 26 Jason Maxiell Cincinnati 6.0 12.1 6.1
2005 2 56 Amir Johnson Westchester H.S. (Calif.) 1.1 6.4 5.3
2005 2 60 Alex Acker University 0.7 -0.2 -0.9
2006 2 51 Cheik Samb Senegal 1.7 -0.1 -1.8
2006 2 60 Will Blalock Iowa State 0.7 -0.1 -0.8
2007 1 15 Rodney Stuckey Eastern Washington 9.4 13.6 4.2
2007 1 27 Arron Afflalo UCLA 5.7 14.1 8.4
2007 2 57 Sammy Mejia DePaul 1.0 0.0 -1.0
2008 2 32 Walter Sharpe Alabama-Birmingham 4.7 -0.1 -4.8
2008 2 46 Trent Plaisted Brigham Young 2.4 0.0 -2.4
2008 2 59 Deron Washington Virginia Tech 0.8 0.0 -0.8
        Total 100.6 117.1 16.5

A +16.5 in win shares is significant. That’s enough leeway to for all of Dumars’ picks through Monroe to retire today and still have Dumars come out ahead. Put another way, you could add a No. 5 pick who never played a minute in the NBA to the ledger, and Dumars would still have a positive draft record.

Granted, maybe Dumars shouldn’t get too much credit for a couple of his late picks drastically over-performing when he missed (12) more picks than he hit (8).* But most of Dumars’ misses came between picks 51 and 60, a range where the difference between a hit and a player never making a roster is minimal.

*Remember, this is based on historical production by pick, not the common over-hyped perception of draft picks. So the league average of hits is 50 percent (give or take).

In many ways, the draft presents a perfect setup for outside evaluation of a general manager.

We don’t know which trades Dumars has turned down and proposed. We don’t know which free agents would and wouldn’t consider Detroit, and of those who would, how much money they’d want to sign here.

But we know which players Dumars can draft, because the players have little to no choice in the matter.

Sure, win shares aren’t a perfect measure, though I don’t see a player on the above list that they misrepresent. And some drafts are stronger than others, but given how long Dumars has run the Pistons, I think that evens out.

My conclusion isn’t an approval of Dumars’ reign as GM. The Pistons have obviously struggled to develop too many of their draft picks, and that’s certainly an indictment of Dumars. But that point is moot unless he drafts good players.

He’s shown, over the long run, he does that better than most.

13 Comments

  • Feb 6, 20122:34 pm
    by frankie d

    Reply

    dont know if i’d call him strong, but i would give him a passing grade.  somewhere in the b-/c+ range.
    the biggest problem is just the general philosophy.
    i get that drafting the best player available is often what you need to do.  but any rigid adherence to any philosophy is not good.  
    and there is always a certain weight that is given players for whatever reason, that may raise or lower a player’s grade.  this is not mathematics.  grading players is more art than science, always with a certain level of subjectivity. .  and i think that joe d has a real affinity for combo guards and versatile forwards  - guys like tay and stuckey – who remind him of how he played.  and so when it comes to grading players out, those guys always get a little bump up.
    also, if you always draft the best player available, but do not put proper resources into developing players, you get the situation that exists and has existed for years: a glut of wings and no big guys.  and because those wings don’t get developed, they end up lacking lots of market value that would allow you to recoup something on your initial investment in them.  
    you end up being similar to a hoarder who just accumulates items that might be valuable, but lose their value as they sit and collect dust and become obsolete.  it would be one thing if he only drafted the best player available and then turned those players into tradeable assets.  but to draft them and let them rot, because you have lots of those guys already is kind of  crazy.  
    for instance, what the heck was ever the point of drafting terrico white?  who cares what he graded out to…there was never any way he was going to see the court for the team.  which was obvious when they drafted him and turned out to be the case. yes, a good drafter chooses good players, but the goal is not simply to simply accumulate talent.  the goal is to build a team that can win, and drafting is one tool in a GMs toolbox.
    when you consider that the team only invested one draft pick – on trent plaistaid – after ben left in ’06 to drafting monroe in ’10, i think you seriously have to question such a rigid adherence to that philosophy.
    and the drafting of walter sharpe, while passing on deandre jordan – a guy who some had projected as a lottery pick, presciently, as it’s turned out – was inexcusable.  whoever did the grades that year obviously blew it.  to pass on a talented big guy like him when you needed a big guy, in order to take another wing player when you had lots of them….well…that was just sort of crazy, imho.  and the type of move that has led to their current mess. and an understanding of that fact has to negatively effect any analysis of joe’s drafting record.

    • Feb 8, 20123:03 pm
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      Because the draft is such a crapshoot, I’d rather take the best prospect available (current ability * potential). Then, build around those players based on position through trade and free agency.

      The odds of getting a quality player in the draft is already low enough. Reaching to fill a positional need makes them too low. Plus, by the time the draft pick develops, a team’s positional needs might change.

  • Feb 6, 20122:38 pm
    by frankie d

    Reply

    “when you consider that the team only invested one draft pick – on trent plaistaid – after ben left in ’06 to drafting monroe in ’10,”

    this should have referred to the team only investing one draft pick in big men after ben left via free agency.
    sorry for the lapse in editing.

    • Feb 6, 20122:42 pm
      by TakMac

      Reply

      I’m not much of a Dumars defender, but I do disagree with the idea that his failure to target positions is a mark against him as a DRAFTER. I think it speaks to the very poor job he’s done at overall roster construction, but I’d rather a guy draft a player he thinks will succeed. If that guy is at a redundant position then the solution is to turn him into a player at a more valuable positions.

      E.g. the problem wasn’t taking Afflalo, it was in misevaluating Afflalo and not getting value for him when he was traded.

  • Feb 6, 20122:39 pm
    by TakMac

    Reply

    I will admit that his record is better than I thought it was. While there is room to complain, he has generally successfully identified talent.

    The only thing I might really argue with is the amount of value doesn’t account for value gained on other teams. I’d think of this as the Afflalo Problem.

    If you draft player and bury him. Then that player accumulates value outside of your organization do you get credit for it? Memo Okur’s value also includes his great work in Utah.

    Also, I forgot that we picked Maxiell instead of David Lee. I’m not holding that against Dumars. I’m just bitter generally.      

  • Feb 6, 20122:45 pm
    by neutes

    Reply

    I’d consider Dumars average when it comes to drafting. Every GM has good picks and every GM has bad picks. Should the weight be carried more so on how good his good picks were and vice versa, or how often he made a good pick? And could you not judge him on the players he passed on?

    Look at the Monroe draft. Monroe right now is the best player to come out of that entire draft. Nobody picked behind Monroe is better. He nailed it. Then again, what if Golden State picks Monroe and Dumars takes Udoh? There are plenty of players picked later in that draft better than Udoh. I think I’ve heard the same argued for Stuckey as well. Not very many players picked after Stuckey turned out to be better.

    But then you have the Daye pick. A ton of talent got passed Dumars in that draft. And the Knight pick. The draft might have been weak, but there are players better than Knight that Dumars passed on.

    Not horrible. Not Great. Just average. This team is now in a position where we are depending on the draft to get better, so we’re going to need him to be much better than average over the next few drafts.

    • Feb 6, 20127:57 pm
      by Laser

      Reply

      How are you going to give Joe credit for picking Monroe? He was the one and only choice. The right barometer for a good pick is not how many better players were picked after him; that’s more useful in evaluating a bad pick. He made the right choice. Big deal. So did the GM who took Lebron first overall. There was no decision to be made.

      • Feb 8, 20123:04 pm
        by Dan Feldman

        Reply

        If the Pistons had the sixth pick in that draft and took Monroe with it, would you have given Dumars credit?

  • Feb 6, 20122:51 pm
    by David

    Reply

    Interesting analysis. And fair. I do think the Darko pick unfairly tainted Dumar’s drafting successes. The one criticism I have with Kubatko’s breakdown is that it compares a pick against an abstract average. Sure, Darko pretty significantly underperformed expectations for an average 2nd pick. But what about comparing Darko against other players Dumars could/should have picked. Shouldn’t we compare Darko’s 4.1 win shares not just to the 22.1 expected win shares, but also to Carmelo(27.7), Bosh(32.4), and Wade(38.8)? There’s probably more variation at the top of draft classes from year to year, where “deep” draft classes vs “weak” classes truly do show a lot of difference, and picking wrong with the number 2 pick in a deep class is worse than picking poorly in a weak draft class. 

    Put another way, isn’t picking Darko over Wade significantly more of a miss than the Grizzlie’s picking Hasheem Thabeet over James Harden or Ricky Rubio or even Tyreke Evans? That doesn’t seem to get included in Kubatko’s analysis.

    • Feb 6, 20126:59 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      I was gonna say something really similar. I feel like there should be a different scale for expected win shares for each year because some drafts are just so much stronger than others. And it wouldn’t be that much more difficult to do.

    • Feb 6, 20128:01 pm
      by Laser

      Reply

      Darko unfairly taints Dumars’s record, and Monroe unfairly boosts it. Both players get drafted at their respective positons regardless of who’s making the pick.

      • Feb 7, 201212:31 am
        by tarsier

        Reply

        But part of what makes a GM good or bad is what they do in obvious spots. Taking Udoh when everyone else would take Monroe is a major knock against whoever was GMing the Warriors. I still give Dumars minor props for Monroe and some flak for Darko because why have a GM if he will just do what everyone else will? Also, it becomes much harder to numerically assess a GM’s drafting if you try to take situations like that into account. Kinda like how when we look at players’ stats,w e don’t make disclaimers that so and so gets 3 ppg and 2 rpg that “any player” would have gotten there. You just assume some of that happens for everyone and sorta cancels out.

  • Feb 7, 20123:54 pm
    by Tads

    Reply

    Did you compare this to any of the other GMs in the league who had a steady tenure of picking at the same time?  I can see that Joe Dumars is above average, but how does he compare to other GMs?  Did anyone compare the Pistons picks to the Sonics/Thunder, or the Spurs? 

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