NBA Draft Math: Strength of Draft Class

Published by patrick honner on

After creating a simple metric to evaluate the success of an NBA draft pick, I realized that the same approach could be used to evaluate the overall strength of a draft class.

To quantify the success of an individual draft pick I’m looking at the total minutes played by a player during the first two years of his contract.  As far as simple evaluations are concerned, I think minutes played is as good a measure as any of a player’s value to a team, and I’m only looking at the first two years as those are the only guaranteed years on a rookie’s contract.  This is by no means a thorough measure of value–it’s meant to be simple while still being relevant.

After using this measure to compare the performance of individual draft picks, I used the same strategy to evaluate the entire “Draft class”.  I computed the average total minutes per player for the entire first round (picks 1 through 30, in most cases) of each draft from 2000 to 2009.  Here are the results.

There doesn’t seem to be much variation among the draft classes, but the 2006 draft certainly looks weak by this measure.  Upon closer inspection, that year does seem like a weak draft:  the best players being LeMarcus Aldridge (2), Brandon Roy (6), and Rajon Rondo (21).  The weakness of the 2000 draft also seems reasonable upon closer inspection at

Another approach would  be to somehow aggregate the career stats of each player in a draft, rather than looking at only the first two years, but that would make it difficult to compare younger and older players.

Are there any other suggestions for rating the overall strength of an NBA draft class?

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patrick honner

Math teacher in Brooklyn, New York


Jack H · June 4, 2012 at 10:59 am

It seems as though if you are going to factor in EVERYONE from a draft class then you are going to get pretty average numbers just by rate of attrition–as players get older, younger players need to get more time, regardless of their talent level, and thus you could argue that the quality of the league goes down if there are weak draft classes, but there won’t be less time played by all of the young players (I wrote that strangely but I think it makes sense).

I think it would be interesting to just compare the first two rounds perhaps. Obviously you are going to miss some outliers, but if we’re talking about strength of class, for the most part you are talking about the quality of the top players (you could even the top 10-15 or maybe the first round). Additionally you could probably make an argument that there are an equal-ish number of outliers from year to year, in terms of low draft guys who turned out solid, so that’s less of an issue (that is just a guess, not backed up by data yet!).

If you look at the best draft classes ever, where do most of the best players come from? Is there a significant level of quality coming from the later rounds (or even the second/third rounds)?

MrHonner · June 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm


Your comment suggests that you think I looked at all drafted players over their entire careers, but I only looked at the first two years of the player’s career, and I only looked at those players selected in the first round of the draft.

    Jack H · June 5, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Pat, reading is something I politely refuse to do.

      MrHonner · June 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      That’s ok. I only really skimmed your original comment.

Jack H · June 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm

[As an aside, your links in this post aren’t working for me]

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