The Importance of a Top 5 Pick

All-NBA Team Players Drive Success

We did a study of twenty years of the NBA draft from 1991 to 2010 in order to figure out where the top players in the league are drafted. But first we needed to define what a top player is. Since All-Star game selections can be somewhat political and unreliable gauges of a players true impact, we have chosen to focus on players who have made either the first, second or third team All-NBA team at least twice in their career.

When examining players that received All-NBA honors (either first, second or third team), we came up with a total of 97 different players during that period that received this honor at least once. Some of those players included those drafted before the 1991-2010 draft period of the study, such as David Robinson and Patrick Ewing.  Included on the list is the Bucks own Michael Redd, who was named to the third team in 2004, and Andrew Bogut, who received third team honors in 2010. However, as noted, each of those players received that honor only once. Sorting the impact players from the merely good players takes place when the criteria of at least a second All-NBA selection is bestowed on a player.

During the study period, 37 players drafted between 1991 and 2010 eventually made an All NBA team at least twice.  These are players who provided more impact to their teams than Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd did, with the point being that Bogut and Redd were arguably the two best players on the Bucks over the past decade.

The reason for the emphasis on these 37 players is that we’ve heard many times from Bucks management that the team’s fortunes can only be impacted by a once in a generation Hall of Fame player such as a Tim Duncan or LeBron James and that acquisition of such a player is a rare event and entirely based on luck. While that makes for a good sound bite, that is not accurate.

First of all, while we agree that the Hall of Fame players are few and far between, the “Tim Duncan” and “LeBron James” types are almost exclusively drafted within the top five picks of the NBA Draft.  As long as the Bucks try to position their team each year to avoid the top five picks, Milwaukee will never have ANY shot at those great players.

Secondly, we do not need to subscribe to the argument that only Hall of Fame players are able “move the needle,” so to speak.  As noted, we’ve listed 37 players who entered the league during the 1991-2011 period and who made at least two All-NBA teams.  These 37 players are as follows (download PDF) :

Player All NBA Team Appearances Draft Position
Alonzo Mourning 2 2
Amar'e Stoudemire 5 9
Anfernee Hardaway 3 3
Ben Wallace 5 Not Drafted
Brandon Roy 2 6
Carmelo Anthony 5 3
Chauncey Billups 3 3
Chris Paul 4 4
Chris Webber 5 1
Deron Williams 2 3
Dikembe Mutombo 3 4
Dirk Nowitzki 12 9
Dwight Howard 6 1
Dwyane Wade 7 5
Gilbert Arenas 3 30
Grant Hill 5 3
Jason Kidd 6 2
Jermaine O'Neal 3 17
Kevin Durant 3 2
Kevin Garnett 10 5
Kobe Bryant 14 13
LeBron James 8 1
Manu Ginobili 2 57
Pau Gasol 3 3
Paul Pierce 4 10
Ray Allen 2 5
Russell Westbrook 2 4
Shaquille O'Neal 14 1
Stephon Marbury 2 3
Steve Nash 7 15
Tim Duncan 13 1
Tony Parker 2 28
Tracy McGrady 7 9
Vin Baker 2 8
Vince Carter 2 5
Yao Ming 5 1

As you can see from that large list, there are many more “move the needle” NBA stars than just LeBron and Tim Duncan.

Equally important is the fact that the large majority of those players were selected with a top-five pick (24 of 37 or 65%).  Of the 13 players selected outside the top five, four of those 13 were high-school draft entrants and thus arguably the NBA scouts were not able to determine how good those players would be since they did not have the benefit of watching them at least one year at an NCAA program.  Does anyone really believe that Kobe Bryant, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tracy McGrady would not have gone “top-five” had they played a year of college ball?  The only questionable non top-five pick high school player is Jermaine O’Neal.

Since the NBA now prevents high school players from directly entering the draft, it is likely that at least three of those four players noted above would under today’s rules be drafted in the top five.  So now we are left with only 10 players who made at least two All-NBA teams that were drafted outside the top five-picks.  Of those remaining players:

  • Four were top-ten picks – Brandon Roy, Dirk Nowitzki, Vin Baker and Paul Pierce  (ironically the Bucks did draft Baker and passed on drafting Nowitzki and Pierce in the 1998 draft)
  • Two mid-first round picks – Steve Nash and Tony Parker
  • Two were second-picks – Gilbert Arenas and Manu Ginobli
  • One high school entrant (per criteria noted above) – Jermaine O’Neal
  • One undrafted player – Ben Wallace

After accounting for the recently changed high school entrance rule, what we are left with is the fact that 73% of the star players as defined by All NBA team appearances were drafted in the top five picks.  

If we expanded the criteria to top ten selections the percentage rises to 84%.  However, that should not be taken to mean that top ten picks are as valuable as top-five picks.  Again, accounting for an adjustment for the high school entrants rule, 27 of the 37 players in the study were selected with a top-five pick.  Only 4 of the 37 players were taken with a pick in the 6-10 range.

Thus, on a statistical basis, over seven out of every ten (73%) of the top-tier players during the study period were picked in the top five, and approximately one out of ten (11%)  were selected with picks 6-10.

Some may critique the high school entrants adjustment, thus let’s take Kobe, Amar’e and McGrady out as “synthetic” additions to the top five pool. Amar’e and McGrady will go into the 6-10 pool as each was selected 9th in their respective drafts.  Kobe comes out of the top ten pool completely as he was selected 13th overall.  Under that analysis, 24 of the 37 were top-five picks or 65% as noted above and 6 of the 37 were in picks 6-10 or 16%.  You are still talking about a major statistical advantage (4 to 1) toward top-five picks over players selected in the 6-10 range.

Further, while some may not accept the adjustments to the pool that we made for Kobe, Amare and McGrady, note that we did not account for some of the “busts” that took place in the high school era such as Kwame Brown, Darius Miles and Shaun Livingston who might have never been a top five selection had they been required to prove themselves for at least one year of college ball.

Finally, there are a number of recent top-five picks who only have one “All-NBA Team” appearance to date but are almost guaranteed at least one more in the next year or two, including Chris Bosh, Derrick Rose, James Harden and Kevin Love. Additionally, Andrew Bogut, Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tyson Chandler could potentially make another All-NBA team in their career. So the statistical analysis above should tilt further in favor of top-five picks in the next season or two.

The moral of the story is that while you can certainly find “nice” players throughout the draft, getting an impact player is not likely outside the top five selections in the draft.  Even a “consolation prize” of picking in slots 6-10 doesn’t do much to improve your odds.

For the Bucks to succeed they need players better than their best of the past decade, i.e. Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut.  These better players are available in the draft.  However, most of them are selected with a top-five pick. Add this to the fact the Bucks franchise has NEVER had consistent success without an all-NBA player selected in the top five, and you come to the inescapable conclusion:


Read on to learn why this upcoming season is so critical to the future of the franchise:

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