The Historical Data That Proves the NBA Draft is a Crapshoot

The Historical Data That Proves the NBA Draft is a Crapshoot article feature image

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Arizona Wildcats forward Deandre Ayton

The Highlights

  • We’re a day from the NBA draft and there is no consensus best player.
  • Teams would prefer to have the first pick, but history says the draft is a crapshoot.

The 2018 NBA draft tips off Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. With this loaded class, teams with a top pick have to like their chances of landing a franchise-altering star. DeAndre Ayton is expected to go No. 1 to the Phoenix Suns but there is no consensus best player. Some experts prefer Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III and Mohamed Bamba to the Arizona big man.


Obviously, teams would prefer to have the first pick, but what if I told you that draft position matters less than you think? The NBA draft is truly a crapshoot.

To prove it, I went through 30 years of drafts from 1984 to 2013 and looked at how many of the top 10 picks turned into All-Stars. I excluded the 2014-2017 drafts because most of these players are still developing, plus only three of the 40 players taken with the top 10 selections in those drafts have been named to an All-Star squad.

There is a reason teams tank for the top spot in the draft. Players taken first overall are the most likely draftees to turn into All-Stars. In the 30 drafts I analyzed, 22 (73.3%) of the No. 1 picks made at least one All-Star game.

After the first pick, it gets hairy. Teams are nearly as likely to find an All-Star at the back end of the top 10 as they are with the No. 2 pick.

Since 1995, the draft has become even more difficult to evaluate. First it was high schoolers; now the one-and-done and foreign players give NBA front offices headaches. The top overall pick is still the most likely to turn into a star, but it’s no guarantee.

Still, the Suns and the rest of the teams drafting in the top 5 on Thursday will be happy to have the picks. From 1984 to 2013, teams with a top 5 pick had a 46.6% chance of finding an All-Star. Franchises picking in the 6-10 range drafted an All-Star only 23.3% of the time.

It could be years before we know which player was the best from the 2018 NBA draft, but odds are it won’t be the player you think. That’s because the draft is a crapshoot.

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