Recently, Matt Pacenza took a look at some recent highly drafted big men, top five picks in the NBA draft, and their playing time, in a guest post titled “An Historical Review of Playing Time for Highly Drafted Big Men.”
It’s a good read, but isn’t really complete, historically speaking. Matt, and Salt City Hoops’ proprietor, Spencer Ryan Hall, both insist that the 2004 cut-off for the big men included in the article were the intentional parameters, lacking any sort of agenda.
— Clint Peterson (@Clintonite33) March 1, 2013
I have a couple of problems with the presentation of this data. First off, this isn’t really comparing players, but rather a hand-picked set of recent draft picks. This was a point Matt conceded in the course of our Twitter conversation a couple of tweets later.
One of Matt’s points in the article is that Favors and Kanter play less than any other draft picks of their respective classes drafted so highly, while at the same time comparing them to classes previous, not their current crops of players. I can rebut a couple of those points in a recent post I did for the Utah Jazz about Derrick Favors, where I compared both playing time and players, not just a hand-picked group that compares favorably.
As noted in the Favors piece, the best big man from Favors’ draft class may ultimately be a player who has played 1,300 less career minutes than him to this point, Larry Sanders. Let’s not forget that the Jazz didn’t draft Favors — GMs miss on picks all the time. Simply being a lottery pick shouldn’t automatically secure playing time for a young player.
A year ago, many were saying in hindsight that Derrick Favors would have been the first pick in that draft. A year later, assumptions have shuffled considerably. Sanders, now starting after making the most of his limited minutes, is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Secondly, the crop of draft picks selected to compare by Matt does indeed imply that Favors and Kanter should not only be starters at this point of their careers, but implies they’d excel at it merely by being top five draft picks. If we raise the sample size to a more truly historical, recent level, by looking back at the six years before what was presented, we find three number one overall complete bust big men, and a total of eight clear big men busts selected in the top five overall in those six years alone.
— Spencer Ryan Hall (@saltcityhoops) March 1, 2013
From 1998 to 2003, almost half of the 18 big men drafted in the top five overall in the NBA turned out to be busts, and Yao Ming, while not a bust as I would describe one, had a very short career due to typical big man health troubles. This changes the historical outlook of the data considerably.
Sure, GMs may have gotten better at drafting big men from the years 2004 to 2011, but this seems highly unlikely. It’s far more likely that they’ve simply gotten lucky, or the data was presented in a favorable manner, and that it’s as yet incomplete. Eddy Curry, a 4th overall pick in 2001 looked to be on track for multiple All-Star Games, but took major dive after his first four seasons.
Absolute big man busts from 1998 to 2003
• Michael Olowokandi, drafted 1st overall. Played 13,129 NBA minutes in nine seasons. Never had a PER higher than 12.4, finished with a career PER of 10.7. Had a negative Win Shares per 48 minutes six times to a barely positive WS/48 only five times in a season
• Jonathon Bender, drafted 5th overall. Played 3,847 NBA minutes in eight seasons. Highest PER, 15.7 in a season he played 12.9 MPG, career PER of 10.9. Bender was a super-thin 6’11″ big man who shot .371 from the field in his first three seasons and pulled down 2.2 career rebounds
• Stromile Swift, drafted 2nd overall. Played 10,804 NBA minutes in nine NBA seasons. Swift had excellent PERs of 17.2, 18.0, and 19.2 in his second, third, and fourth NBA seasons, then quickly nosedived the remainder of his career, but did finish with a career 16.1 PER. Early numbers returns are similar to Favors at this point in their careers
• Marcus Fizer, drafted 4th overall. Played 6,032 NBA minutes in six NBA seasons. Posted a career best PER of 17.9 backing up Eddy Curry in 2002-03, finished with a career PER of 13.4. Fizer was drafted by the Bulls with the assumed intention that Chicago would trade Elton Brand to make room for Fizer’s development. However, that trade never came. He bounced around the NBA before signing overseas to stay in 2006
• Kwame “I Have Small Hands” Brown, drafted 1st overall. Has played 13,389 NBA minutes to date in 11 NBA seasons, currently playing 12.2 MPG for the Philadelphia 76ers. Kwame’s best PER came in year three with the Washington Wizards with a 15.7. He has a career PER of 12.5.
• Eddy Curry, drafted 4th overall. Has played 13,109 career NBA minutes to date in 11 NBA seasons. Curry started his career strong posting a PER of at least 17.0 three times, including three times in his first six seasons. However, Curry, currently playing overseas after two appearances for the Dallas Mavericks earlier this year, hasn’t posted a PER higher than 3.6 in his last four years, and a negative PER in two of his last four
• Nikoloz Tskitishvili, drafted 5th overall. “Who?!” I know, right? Played 1,946 NBA minutes, including 1,320 his rookie season for the Denver Nuggets, who quickly gave up on the 7’0″ forward-center. Tskitishvili would play for four NBA teams in four seasons, posting a negative Win Shares per 48 minutes in each but his last. That final season, in 2005-06 for the Phoenix Suns, he would post his best PER of 10.6 in 86 total minutes, to boost his career PER to a whopping 5.2
• Darko Milicic, drafted 2nd overall. My only comment here will be “You’ve been Darko’d.”
Middling big men from 1998 to 2003
Players that have posted nice NBA careers, but likely aren’t Hall of Fame’rs or award winners:
• Raef LaFrentz, 3rd overall, 1998
• Antawn Jamison, 4th overall 1998
• Elton Brand 1st overall, 1999
• Lamar Odom, 4th overall, 1999
• Kenyon Martin, 1st overall, 2000
• Yao Ming, 1st overall, 2002 (Who might end up in the HOF, and I wouldn’t complain if he did)
• Dwight Gooden, 4th overall, 2002
• Chris Bosh, 4th overall, 2003
This group of players account for a total of 21 All-Star appearances, although Yao and Bosh can account for eight of those each. Jamison (2), Brand (2), and Martin (1) are the other five appearances. Yao made the All-Star Game each of his first three seasons, Brand in his third seasons for the first time. Brand posted a PER of 20.8 in his third NBA season.
• Pau Gasol, drafted 3rd overall, 2001
• Tyson Chandler, drafted 2nd overall, 2001
Gasol has four All-Star appearances, two championships, and a 61% probability of making the Hall of Fame, while Tyson Chandler, whose career started out relatively innocuous and quietly, is the current reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year and just made his first All-Star Game in his 12th season, 22,176 NBA minutes deep into his career.
As a young player, like Favors, Chandler was often in foul trouble limiting his on-floor use, and had back trouble his third season limiting him to 35 games. He was on pace to play 5,044 NBA minutes through his first three NBA seasons. Adjusted for the 2011-12 lockout, and estimating the current season, Derrick Favors is on pace to play 5,011 NBA minutes in his first three NBA seasons.
Where Favors and Kanter fall into both Matt’s and these draft picks examined ultimately remains to be seen. But to simply hop onto the Playing Time Train for a lottery pick doesn’t always pan out. Historically speaking.