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The best value in the first round of this week's NBA draft might come from a wing player picked in the top five who left college early. The worst value might be a senior big man selected late in the lottery.
That's what an analysis by The Associated Press of past NBA drafts suggests. An evaluation of the 10 first rounds from 1995-2004 revealed several trends:
162; Low-post players were the most popular selections but were much less likely than their counterparts at other positions to develop into All-Stars.
162; Players who stayed in college four years were less likely to become All-Stars than younger players picked in the same range of the draft.
162; Half of top-five picks became All-Star caliber players. That dropped to about one-quarter of draftees taken in spots six through 10. But the odds of getting a future All-Star were about the same &
10 percent &
whether a team selected around No. 11 or No. 21.
162; The franchise that seemed to get the least bang for its buck was the Los Angeles Clippers, with eight top-10 picks in that span but no All-Stars to show for it.
162; There's huge variation from year to year in how many impact players are produced. The 1996 draft featured nine players who have made multiple All-Star appearances. The 2000, 2001 and 2002 drafts combined produced just seven who were chosen for even one All-Star team.
The abundance of &
and lack of production from &
big men drafted wasn't a surprise to some NBA front office personnel. But changes in the NBA's playing style may shift that trend.
The dearth of quality post players in the league leaves teams willing to take a chance on a big man.
"If you're going to make a mistake, you make a mistake big," the Utah Jazz's director of player personnel, Walt Perrin, said of the prevailing philosophy.
Low-post players accounted for 117 of the 286 selections from 1995-04 who played in the NBA. Only 17 of them (15 percent) went on to make an All-Star team (or, for players drafted in 2003 and '04, came close to that level early in their careers).
Eighty-nine of those big men (76 percent) had at best a limited impact in the league.
In contrast, 21 percent of other draftees went on to become All-Star caliber players, with 57 percent making no more than a limited impact.
Further complicating matters is that bigger guys tend to develop slower, so teams often have a harder time predicting how effective they will be.
Just because a post player never becomes a star, though, doesn't mean he was a wasted pick.
"The way the NBA is today, most people are getting their scoring out of other positions," said Donnie Nelson, the Dallas Mavericks' president of basketball operations and general manager.
"They may not be a great scorer," Perrin said, "but they can still have legitimate NBA skills in rebounding and blocking shots."
Are teams as desperate for big men these days, anyway, with the increased reliance on small ball? With power forwards becoming more skilled and perimeter-oriented, Nelson said, there's less demand for traditional post players.
That was reflected in the last two drafts, when just 16 of the 57 draftees who played in the league were big men.
The prevalence of players turning pro early has left few college seniors whom NBA executives deem worthy of high picks. But even the few who were taken in the top 10 have less of an impact than their younger counterparts.
Of the 19 seniors drafted that high, only three became All-Star caliber players (16 percent). That compares with 41 percent (31 of 75) of Americans picked in the top 10 who didn't attend college or didn't complete their eligibility.
The results do suggest that the rule keeping high school players out of the draft will increase the chances of elite prospects developing into stars. The production of players who turned pro out of high school was very all-or-nothing: for every LeBron James, there was a Kwame Brown.
Five of the 12 high schoolers taken in the top 10 became All-Star caliber players, but another five made limited contributions at best. Of the top-10 picks who spent some time in college but did not complete their eligibility, only 29 percent (18 of 63) had no more than a limited impact.
In addition to the Clippers, the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle SuperSonics also got little out of their picks. The Blazers and Sonics can rectify that this season, drafting 1-2 with Greg Oden and Kevin Durant available.
Other teams seem to excel at taking players who thrive for other franchises. The Boston Celtics selected Chauncey Billups and Joe Johnson. The Phoenix Suns helped themselves with Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, but Michael Finley and Steve Nash developed into All-Stars with the Mavericks (although, of course, Nash returned to the Suns and became a two-time MVP).
Analysis shows NBA posts are popular, but hardly a sure thing
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