Thursday, June 18, 2009

Comparing the NBA and NHL drafts

Here's the second part of the 2002 draft comparison I started the other day, looking at the success rates of players in the NBA and NHL drafts. See that post for an explanation of what I'm trying to accomplish and a discussion of some of the limiting factors of this type of analysis. The format is almost the same, but the ratings are tweaked slightly to allow for the differences in each sport; full explanations are below. I've also included the ratings as a column in the actual spreadsheets to make it easier to see how players performed relative to their draft position. I have an analysis of the differences between leagues at the end of the post as well.


[Table from Wikipedia]

5 – All-star (at least one all-star game selection)
4 – Solid (played in 60 or more games last season)
3 – Marginal (played in the NBA last season)
2 – One-off (played at least 100 career NBA games)
1 – Bust (played less than 100 games)

5 – Ming, Butler, Stoudemire: three players, 10.7 per cent of all 28 picks.
4 - Nene, Wilcox, Prince, Salmons: four players, 14.3 per cent of all picks.
3 – Jeffries, Ely, Jones, Dixon, Dunleavy, Rush, Krstic, Gooden: eight players, 28.6 per cent of all picks.
2 – Tskitishvili, Wagner, Nachbar, Haislip, Welsch, Woods, Jacobsen, Dickau: eight players, 28.6 per cent of all picks.
1 – Jay Williams, Borchardt, Humphrey, Frank Williams, Jeffries: five players, 17.9 per cent of all picks.

Notes: The NBA draft is limited to two rounds, so every player taken in the first round got at least some time in the league; thus, the one-off standard is set higher than in any of the other leagues, where just making the big show bumps you from a 1 to a 2. Also, some players play considerable amounts of games but relatively few minutes, inflating their ranking by this method, while others play a lot of minutes but few games thanks to injury, reducing their ranking. The classic examples here are Stoudemire, Wilcox and Jeffries. Stoudemire only played 53 games last season before he was injured, but racked up 1948 minutes; if not for his previous All-Star nod, he would have been a three in this system. Jeffries played 1310 minutes in 56 games before an injury, so he's a three that easily could have been a four. By contrast, Wilcox played 62 games but only recorded 1049 minutes, so he's a four who probably deserves to be a three. The team situation of each player also comes into play; a good player on a terrific team may get less time than a bad player on a lousy team. As pointed out earlier, this isn't intended as an absolute evaluation of any one player, but rather an attempt to measure how these draft picks stack up against those found in other sports.

On specific players: Dunleavy was injured last year and only played in 18 games. Jay Williams, the #2 overall pick, only played in 2003. Tskitishvili hasn’t played since 2006 and Wagner's out of league since 2007. Haislip hasn’t played since 2005; he only played nine games in his last season and 79 in his career. Nachbar was in the league and playing 60+ games until 2008, but went to Europe; he may return this year. Humphrey and Frank Williams haven’t played since 2005, Woods hasn’t played since 2006 and Jacobsen played in 2008 but not last year. Rush played only 25 games last year, while Dickau went to Europe last year but played 67 games in 2008.


[Table from Wikipedia]

5 – All-star (at least one all-star game selection)
4 – Solid (played in 60 or more games last season)
3 – Marginal (played in the NHL last season)
2 – One-off (played in the NHL at some point)
1 – Bust (never played in the NHL)


5: Nash, Bouwmeester: two players, 6.7 per cent of all 30 picks
4: Pitkanen, Upshall, Lupul, Bouchard, Nystrom, Ballard, Eminger, Semin, Gordon, Grebeshkov, Paille, Babchuk, Eager, Steen, Ward, Slater: 17 players, 56.7 per cent of all picks
3: Lehtonen, Higgins, Bergenheim: three players, 10.0 per cent of all picks
2: Taticek, Klepis, Johansson, Toivonen: four players, 13.3 per cent of all picks
1: Niinimaki, Koreis, Vagner, Morris: four players, 13.3 per cent of all picks

Notes: As with the other leagues, some players could easily move between categories. Higgins played 57 games last season, but played 82 the year before, so he could be a four instead of a three. Johannson only played one career game (with the Washington Capitals in 2006), so he could easily be a one instead of a two. Slater notched exactly 60 games last year and has bounced up and down, so he could certainly drop from a four to a three.

Overall comparison:

There's some pretty revealing data here. From 2002, the NFL teams were by far the best at drafting future superstars. The NHL teams were the best at drafting all-star and solid players, though, with 63 per cent of their picks falling into categories five and four compared to 50 per cent in the NFL, 46.6 per cent in MLB and a horrible 25.0 per cent in the NBA. The strength of those NHL numbers may be thanks to the comprehensive junior hockey system; most of the players drafted in the first round have already been competing at a high level for several years, and there isn't as much difference between the junior game and the NHL one as there is between the college and professional games in football and basketball. Not every junior stud becomes an NHL star, but most of them are good enough to hang on to a spot somewhere in the league.

The NBA numbers are quite surprising, actually; there are only two rounds of the draft, so it's not like there's a massive amount of picks competing for spots the way there are in the other leagues. Despite that, an incredible amount of their players still turned out to be marginal at best and complete busts at worst. Part of that may be thanks to the considerable differences between the college and professional styles of play. Another part of that is the time frame we're looking at here; this draft saw a lot of European players without a great deal of high-level experience drafted early on, mostly because of their size and potential. In recent years, there appears to have been a bit of a shift away from that philosophy, perhaps thanks to the large amount of busts from drafts like the 2002 one.

Questions? Thoughts on what it all means, or different ways to evaluate the drafts? As mentioned, this is just a starting point, so leave your ideas on how to improve it here in the comments, or e-mail me at andrew_bucholtz [at]!

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