Measuring the Value of a Draft Pick

Written by Matt Weiss

With the draft coming up in a few days you will hear lots of talk about swapping picks. Teams will trade for a variety of reasons – some will target a player and go all in for them, others will have “too many” picks and see value in swapping some of them for an established player. Regardless of the reason, when a team moves a pick there is always debate over the value of that pick. Obviously who is picked ultimately trumps all. Manu Ginobili was the second to last pick of the 1999 draft. Jonathan Bender was taken 5th overall that year. Clearly Manu at 58 was a much better pick, but no one is ever going to trade the 58th pick for the 5th pick. There is a clear value in drafting higher, the question is, how much value is there per pick?

I used BBall Refernce to track win shares by pick for every player picked from 1990-2000 (hence why there are only 58 picks). I also didn’t count picks that never played in the league. You see lots of this in the late second round, but in recent years, unless a team was desperate to not pay a player, most players drafted have come over.

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You can see here that with the exception of a blip form 16-20, the value of a pick decreases throughout the first round. This shouldn’t come as a shock. Most years its easy to identify the clear top players and they get snatched up early. Even teams that are bad at evaluating talent, usually do a good job with very high picks. What the smart teams are able to do is find value later in the draft. The picks from 21-25 are on average more valuable then picks 16-20. Is this that teams there are able to draft players and develop them, are they taking chances on players that were passed on earlier because of red flags that have higher upside? I am sure those are all factors, but the clear message here is that there is a lot of value late in round one.

What about the second round? There are lots of rumors about the knicks buying a pick there. The red line represents the average win shares of a second round pick, and the blue line represent the value of each specific pick. As you can see, there really isn’t a huge difference in value by pick. Also, the overall value of a second round pick on average is just slightly less than a player picked late first round.

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Here is the breakdown of the end of round 1 and all of round two, in clusters of 5. As you can see, there is pretty much equal value throughout the round, so the better drafting teams are rewarded regardless of where their pick lands.

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So what does this mean for Thursday’s draft? It means if the knicks are able to snag a second round pick, we should be pretty happy. While the likelihood of this player being an all star isnt that high, there is a good chance they are a contributing player, and given the Knicks cap flexibility (or lackthereof) this is probably the best way for them to add young cheap talent.

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