So the purpose of this fanPost, which I hope you find more straight forward than my last one, is to do one thing: make you aware of the disappointments that almost every NBA franchise has had to endure in the last 30 years as their efforts to build a contending team through the top 5 picks of the NBA Draft have failed and failed and failed again. This post goes right along with grungedave’s post and his thoughts on how a team in today’s climate can win a ring. He wrote “(1) Obtain a top 2 pick in an NBA Draft the year someone like Duncan, Rose, Durant, Howard or LeBron are available, or (2) Be the Los Angeles Lakers.” Only I would add 3) be as lucky as the OKC Thunder!
It was pointed out to me that my last post (Analysis of the Last 30 years of the NBA Draft) did not accurately handle the truth about building a contending team via the draft because I did not take into account FA and Trades. I understand that criticism but thankfully it is a mute point now because one day after my post AMD took care of my deficiencies in that truly informative read he posted (Composition of an NBA Finals Team). AMD’s composition took into account players that were acquired by the draft, FA and Trades and his analysis showed that acquiring that superstar that takes your team to the ultimate level comes primarily through the draft.
Why this analysis is necessary
Because the Oklahoma City Thunder has completely beguiled, mesmerized and enticed untold fan bases around the league into thinking that the NBA Draft must be the way to go! And as my final analysis will show, that is the BIGGEST LIE that any NBA fan should fall for. Just because one NBA team in the last 30 years has built a contending team through the draft, doesn’t mean we should have that same goal or hope. Everything fell into place perfectly for the Thunder but if you take the time to keep reading you will no doubt see that the same cannot be said for the other 97% of teams that have drafted just as the Thunder did.
And before anyone jumps on me for not giving Chicago their fair shake, you must realize that they now have a possible dynasty only because they had the following drafts: 2000 (4th pick), 2001 (4th), 2002 (2nd), 2004 (3rd), 2006 (2nd), 2008 (1st). For sure they built their team through the draft (kind of) but I don’t think any Rockets’ fan advocating for rebuilding the Rockets though the draft has this time frame in mind.
Would I like to be picking in the 1st and 4th spots in this year’s draft…you bet I would! But only if that is where we ended up because the talent on our current roster couldn’t get us enough wins to avoid it. I think that the evidence will show that any front office that purposely drives a team toward the bottom 5, in any form (throwing games, tanking or simply getting rid of you best players so that losing is inevitable), is really playing Russian Roulette with their team. The FO might miss that bullet but the overwhelming odds in this form of high stakes gambling, this game we call the NBA Draft, might instead kill your team for the next two decades.
Time to read this post
About 20 - 25 minutes if you read the whole thing. But I have included “mini-jumps” that tell you where you can skip some of this information if you just want to get to the meat of this post.
Jump in if you would like to know why it would be foolish for the Rockets' FO to tempt fate by "purposely" trying to rebuild through the draft.
Data and Analysis
1) AMD’s “Composition of a Finals Team” (mini-jump #1, you can skip this part if you just want to agree that the NBA Draft is the most important acquisition tool for reaching the NBA Finals…skip to highlighted portion of his results)
Requisites (cut and pasted directly from AMD’s post – I included the bolded font for emphasis)
The long term goal of any NBA franchise should be to play at a higher enough level to compete in the NBA Finals, and accordingly this is what this article focuses on. What I’ve done is taken each team to appear in the Finals over the past 23 years, identified any players to be selected onto the (first, second, or third) All-NBA team on that team in the year of the Finals appearance, and looked at how that team acquired that player. The data only goes back the last 23 year because the 1988-89 season was this first to have 3 All-NBA teams; previously only 2 were selected per year.
My conclusions, which I believe are supported by the stats, are that acquiring via free agency or a trade an All-NBA caliber player that will propel you into the Finals is unrealistic unless you already have a superstar in place or give up a superstar in return. In the past 23 years there have been no exceptions to this rule.
Please note that the numbers of All-NBA selections used below refer to appearances, not players. For example, Michael Jordan has been an All-NBA player and appeared in the Finals in the same year 6 different times, and so he is counted 6 times, once for each occurrence.
Teams to reach Finals in past 23 years: 46
Number of teams in past 23 years to reach NBA Finals without an All-NBA selection: 5
Number of teams in past 23 years to win NBA Finals without an All-NBA selection: 1
All-NBA selections reaching finals in year of selection in past 23 years: 61
Method of Acquisition:
Draft: 40 (66%)
Trade: 16 (26%)
Free Agency: 5 (8%)
Pick in Draft:
1-5: 23 (57.5%)
*6-14: 14 (35%)
* my note – there were no players on AMD’s list that included a player drafted in the 6th to 8th spots
14-30: 3 (7.5%)
Second Round: 0
2) 4theluvofthegame’s “Analysis of the Last 30 years of the NBA Draft” (mini-jump #2, you can skip this part if you just want to agree that it is very difficult to draft a player in the top 5 picks and then win (or even appear) in the NBA Finals with that same player still on the roster…skip to results)
Since AMD’s post made the valid point that it is unrealistic for a team to believe it can acquire an All-NBA caliber player by FA or in a trade unless you have a superstar in place or give up a superstar in return, my data will only be used to analyze the draft “method of acquisition.” (which accounts for 66% of All-NBA caliber player appearances in the NBA Finals in the last 23 years)
Since we currently have no All-NBA caliber player on our Rockets roster and therefore have no shot at acquiring that superstar via FA or Trade (*just stating what the data suggests), I would say analyzing that 66% (the draft) would be beneficial to the Rocket’s fan base.
*Note. I understand the 23 years of data but I don’t whole heartedly agree with it because just six months ago Morey had a trade in place to bring the Rockets a 2nd Team All-NBA player (Gasol) without us having an All-NBA caliber player on our roster to include in that trade.
A player had to have been drafted in the top 5 spots in the draft and remain on the on the same team’s roster when that team reached the NBA Finals (without having been traded and then returning at a later date)
- Only (6) teams since 1981 have WON the NBA Championship with the same player they drafted in the top 5 spots still on the roster.
- Drafting the franchise “superstar” that wins you that NBA Championship = 6/150 (30 years x 5 draft spots) = 4% chance
- The average number of years from drafting a player in the top 5 spots to WINNNING first championship was a little over 7 years.
- Only (9) other teams since 1981 have made an APPEARANCE in the NBA Finals (without winning) with the same player they
drafted in the top 5 spots still on the roster.
- Drafting a “superstar” that takes you to the NBA Finals Appearance = 15 (6+9)/150 (30 years x 5 spots) = 10% chance
- The average number of years from drafting a player in the top 5 spots to reaching the finals WITHOUT EVER WINNING the championship was a little over 5 years.
3) Additional data and analysis (necessary to read in its entirety)
As I want everyone to continue reading this post by keeping it as short as possible, and yet walk away understanding it with ease, I have decided to share only the results of the analysis without the raw data (not that this was very difficult; all I did was categorize essentially).
I have listed every NBA franchise within the last 30 years that has drafted in the top 5 spots in consecutive drafts. I didn’t worry about a single year of drafting in the top 5 because I don’t think this would be considered building a competitive team through the draft.
I have not listed a draft year in which a team drafted in the 6th position unless it was contiguous to two other consecutive draft
years.I didn’t think that quarreling over 1 draft position was enough to leave out the fact that a team essentially had three (or more)
consecutive years of drafting in the top 5 spots. I did not use any draft spots higher than 6th and I only used a 6th pick in this method eight times.
Teams that have drafted in the top 5 spots at least eight consecutive years
Vancouver/Memphis (expansion franchise since 1995) 1995 (6th pick), 96, 97, 98, 99, 2000, 01 (6th pick), 02 then 2007, 08, 09
Teams that have drafted in the top 5 spots at least five consecutive years
Minnesota (expansion franchise since 1989) 1992, 93, 94, 95, 96 then 2008, 2009 (5th and 6th picks),10, 11
Philadelphia 1993, 94 (6th pick), 95, 96, 97 then 2010
Teams that have drafted in the top 5 spots at least four consecutive years
Atlanta 2004, 05, 06, 07
Charlotte Hornets/New Orleans (expansion franchise since 1988) 1989, 90, 91, 92 then 1999 then 2004
Dallas 1981, 82, then 84 then 1991 (6th pick), 92, 93, 94
L.A. Clippers 1985 then 1987, 88 (1st and 6th), 89 then 1995, 1996 (6th pick) then 1998, 99, 2000, 01 then 2004 then 2009
Washington 1992 (6th pick), 93 (6th pick), 94, 95 then 2001 then 2004 then 2010
Teams that have drafted in the top 5 spots at least three consecutive years
Charlotte Bobcats (expansion franchise since 2004) 2004, 05, 06
*Chicago 1983, 84 then 1991 then 2000, 01, 02 then 2004, 06, 08
Denver 1990, 91, 92 then 1997, 98 then 2002, 03
Portland 2005 (6th pick), 06 (4th and 6th picks), 07
Seattle/Oklahoma City 1981 then 1985 then 1987 then 1990 then 2007, 2008, 2009
Golden State 1986 then 1988 then 1993 then 1995 then 1998 then 2001, 02
Teams that have drafted in the top 5 spots at least two consecutive years
Golden State 1986 then 1988 then 1993 then 1995 then 1998 then 2001, 02
**Houston 1983, 84 then 2002
Indiana 1982 then 1984, 85 then 1988
New Jersey 1987, 88 then 1991, 92 then 2010
New York 1985, 86
Orlando 1990 then 1992, 93 then 2000 then 2004
Sacramento 1982 then 2009, 10
Toronto 1996 then 1998, 99 then 2003 then 2006 then 2011
Rest of the NBA Teams in the same 30 years (since 1981)
Boston 1986 and 1997
Cleveland 1986, 2003 and 2011 (1st and 4th picks)
Detroit 1994 and 2003
***L.A. Lakers 1982
****Miami (expansion franchise since 1988) 1989, 1991, 2003, 2008
Milwaukee 1994, 1996 and 2005
******San Antonio 1987 and 1997
Utah 1982, 2005 and 2011
VERY IMPORTANT The following teams were one of the 6 teams (the 4% chance) that had drafted a player in the top 5 picks and was still on the roster when they won the championship.
* Drafted Jordan with the their 3rd pick in the 1984 draft. (had won 27, 28 and 34 games in the three years before drafting Jordan) NOT A GOOD TEAM BEFORE JORDAN GOT THERE
** Drafted Olajuwon with the 1st pick in the 1984 draft. (had not made it to the playoffs the two previous years and basically built around Olajuwon after Ralph Sampson had to stop playing due to injury) NOT A GOOD TEAM BEFORE OLAJUWON GOT THERE
*** Drafted Worthy with the 1st pick in the 1982 draft. (Lakers already had Kareem and Magic) ALREADY A GREAT TEAM BEFORE WORTHY GOT THERE
**** Drafted Wade with the 5th pick in the 2003 draft. (had won 25 and 36 games the two previous seasons and started 5-15 the first 20 games of the season after Wade arrived) NOT A GOOD TEAM BEFORE WADE GOT THERE
***** Drafted David Robinson 1st in 1987 and Duncan first in 1997. (had won 28 and 35 games the two previous seasons before Robinson arrived and then they reached the playoffs 8 of the next 9 seasons but never reached the NBA Finals…then Robinson was injured in the 1996/97 season which allowed S.A to select Duncan #1 in 1997…then, well you know the rest of the story) A DECENT TEAM BEFORE DUNCAN GOT THERE BUT NOT GREAT LIKE THE LAKERS
The sixth team was Detroit who drafted Isaiah Thomas with the 2nd pick in the 1981 draft (in the previous 10 drafts (back to 1971) they had drafted some guy named Leon Douglas #4 in 1976 and somebody else named Greg Kelser #4 in 1979) (had not reached the playoffs in the previous five years before drafting Isaih, including a 16 win season and a 21 win season) NOT A GOOD TEAM BEFORE ISAIAH GOT THERE
Except for the Lakers who were already great, these six teams that had drafted a player in the top 5 picks and was still on the roster when they won the championship have two things in common. 1) The team was not good when the top 5 pick arrived 2) they received no more top 5 picks in the proceeding years. So what does that tell us? The player drafted was a GAME CHANGER! Plain and simple. The FO got it right in these drafts and then they built a team around him by acquiring players without using the draft.
If we compare these six teams to the last 30 years of teams whose FO’s have failed countless times to draft the next GAME CHANGER, what might does that tell us? That you have to get reeeaaalllyyyy lucky to draft the next GAME CHANGER! There is no science to it. You can do all the homework you want but at the end of the day you can draft all the #1’s in a row and still strike out big time. Number 1’s like Danny Manning, Pervis Ellison, Derrick Coleman, Larry Johnson, Joe Smith, Michael Olowokandi, Elton Brand, Kwame Brown, Andrea Bargnani, or even Ralph Sampson,Yao and Oden who would probably have lived up to their potential but were constantly hurt (what FO can do anything about those three guys).
I am a die-hard Rockets’ fan who watched The Dream and Co. hang up two banners in a row on LIVE TV. I want nothing more than to watch another 3, 4 or 5 banners raised like tomorrow. How can that be done you might ask? Well I really don’t know the answer to that question BUT I do know that I sure don’t want to have to endure multiple seasons watching us play horrible ball as we continue to whiff on the next GAME CHANGER until we then have enough decent talent to become first round exits again and then have to do it all over again.
So think about it. We can say look how OKC rebuilt through the draft and then try to model it as if they had done something different than any other team in the last 30 years. But that would be false assumptions right there. They didn’t “get it right,” they got lucky. Their FO didn’t have a better plan than the other 29 FO’s, they just rubbed the genie or rabbit’s foot the right way. Again think about it. Their first top 5 draft pick in 2007 was a GAME CHANGER, their second top 5 pick in 2008 was a GAME CHANGER and their third top 5 pick in 2009 was a, YEP YOU GOT IT! So now, what FA is not going to want to come and partner up with them? (especially since said FA would not look like a terrible human being for choosing OKC as his destination, unlike if he decided to go to South Beach). And what trade can’t OKC pull off with all that youth, talent and flexibility etc.? Sure it is a good place to be but let’s not act like we can duplicate it anytime soon.
Can Morey do that? Sure he could if he was as lucky as the guy that did it for OKC. But if he did do it, it wouldn’t be because he was that much smarter than all the other GM’s in the game today or those that have been trying over the last 30 years to draft the next GAME CHANGER. It would be because we got LUCKY!
As for Chicago. Well they finally got their GAME CHANGER but that is because they had 6 chances in 9 years to get lucky! And they finally struck gold! Good for them!
So why don’t I talk about any other team right now? Well for one I am not going to talk about the team that is the anti-rebuild-through-the-NBA-Draft (you know, those guys who are still waiting to break open those bottles of champagne they have been on ice since some guy made a decision). If you are a GM right now, what other team do you want to be working with? I for one would want to be working with the two teams who seemingly have the brightest futures, not only because of their age and talent, but also because of the financial situation they are in. (Chicago at No. 11 highest team salary with $69 mil and OKC at No. 27 with 57 mil).
If the Rockets’ FO decides to “purposely” rebuild through the draft next year (or whenever) then I would love nothing more than to have to apologize for wasting 30 minutes of everyone’s time. I really would. And if it works like it did with OKC then I will praise them for making that tough decision and I will gladly eat crow for a month as I watch our Rox hang banner after banner during this next decade.
But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we had just out-smarted everybody else. We should just be happy that we had just looked down the barrel of history and lived to tell about it!