How to measure the draft success of NBA general managers using baseball's Sabermetrics

Yahoo Sports

An NBA scout recently told me he wished there was a metric to measure draft success. I tried it once way back when, applying baseball’s Sabermetrics to basketball front offices, using Danny Ainge’s stint with the Toronto Blue Jays as inspiration to rate his work at the Boston Celtics’ helm.

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey made me think of this again around his gimmicky trade deadline, because I always figured him for the Billy Beane of basketball — brilliant minds who leverage statistical loopholes to build very good teams that have fallen short of the ultimate goal. Can such analysis work in the draft, where sample sizes are smaller and skills translate differently?

The small-ball Rockets have exceeded my expectations, even if I’m still wary of their playoff odds, but that is a conversation for a different day. I want to circle back to NBA Sabermetrics, see if I can fine-tune my own gimmicky system and apply it to weighing the success of a GM’s draft history.

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This was my original formula:

  • HR: Former, current or potential perennial NBA All-Stars

  • 3B: Go-to options

  • 2B: Front-end rotation players 

  • 1B: Other noteworthy contributors

  • SAC BUNT: Players packaged in trades that benefited the team

  • BB: Picks still developing either overseas or in the D League

  • K: Everyone else

Those simple classifications failed to properly weigh where a player was drafted and how much of his value the team selecting him ultimately extracted. We have to account for all the other options available at a player’s draft position and how his team employed him once his career progressed.

Trading for Josh Richardson’s draft rights in the middle of the second round and dealing him years later for Jimmy Butler? That’s a home run. Trading down two spots for Jayson Tatum? Home run.

You are far more likely to draft a perennial All-Star with a high-end lottery pick, so context matters. Should the New Orleans Pelicans get credit for drafting Zion Williamson with the No. 1 overall pick just because they had some lottery luck? That seems more like a ground-rule double than a homer.

Admittedly, there is a whole lot of subjectivity to this, especially in the gray area of extra-base hits. The Detroit Pistons drafted both Khris Middleton and Spencer Dinwiddie in the second round, but discarded both before either rounded second — a single and an error. Likewise, the Miami Heat identified Patrick Beverley in the second round, only to waive him before he reached base. Error.

Walks are the trickiest. They only included recent picks who were yet to be rostered and may never have been. Let’s expand that to include mid-second-round picks who contributed any value at all.

Every missed pick can’t be a strikeout, either. Late second-round selections are more like sacrifice flies that don’t count against your batting average but still go down as a plate appearance. I’ll do my best as the official scorer here. This is not an exact science, but neither is drafting. Here goes.

It is no surprise that Masai Ujiri, the top executive for the NBA's reigning champions, is among the league's best talent evaluators. (Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
It is no surprise that Masai Ujiri, the top executive for the NBA's reigning champions, is among the league's best talent evaluators. (Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Masai Ujiri, Toronto Raptors (2013-)

  • HR: Pascal Siakam (27th, 2016)

  • 2B: Delon Wright (20th, 2015); Norman Powell (46th, 2015); Jakob Poeltl (9th, 2016); OG Anunoby (23rd, 2017)

  • BB: Dewan Hernandez (59th, 2019)

  • K: Bruno Caboclo (20th, 2014); DeAndre Daniels (37th, 2014)

TOTALS: .750 on-base percentage (OBP), 1.625 slugging percentage (SLG), 2.375 on-base plus slugging (OPS)

Sean Marks, Brooklyn Nets (2016-)

  • 3B: Caris LeVert (20th, 2016)

  • 2B: Jarrett Allen (22nd, 2017)

  • 1B: Rodions Kurucs (40th, 2018)

  • BB: Sasha Vezenkov (57th, 2017); Nicolas Sexton (31st, 2019); Jaylen Hands (56th, 2019)

  • SAC BUNT: Isaiah Whitehead (42nd, 2016)

  • K: Dzanan Musa (29th, 2018)

TOTALS: .857 OBP, 1.286 SLG, 2.143 OPS

Neil Olshey, Portland Trail Blazers (2012-)

  • HR: Damian Lillard (6th, 2012)

  • 3B: C.J. McCollum (10th, 2013)

  • 2B: Zach Collins (10th, 2017); Anfernee Simons (24th, 2018)

  • 1B: Meyers Leonard (11th, 2012); Will Barton (40th, 2012); Allen Crabbe (31st, 2013); Pat Connaughton (41st, 2015); Jake Layman (47th, 2016); Gary Trent Jr. (37th, 2018)

  • BB: Nassir Little (25th, 2019)

  • SAC BUNT: Jeff Withey (39th, 2013); Caleb Swanigan (26th, 2017)

  • SAC FLY: Dani Díez (54th, 2015)

  • K: Tyshawn Taylor (41st, 2012); Marko Todorović (45th, 2013)

TOTALS: .786 OBP, 1.286 SLG, 2.072 OPS

John Paxson, Chicago Bulls (2003-)

  • HR: Joakim Noah (9th, 2007); Jimmy Butler (30th, 2011)

  • 3B: Luol Deng (7th, 2004)

  • 2B: Kirk Hinrich (7th, 2003); Ben Gordon (3rd, 2004); Derrick Rose (1st, 2008); Omer Asik (36th, 2008); Taj Gibson (26th, 2009); Nikola Mirotic (23rd, 2011); Lauri Markkanen (7th, 2017); Wendell Carter Jr. (7th, 2018); Coby White (7th, 2019)

  • 1B: Chris Duhon (38th, 2004); Thabo Sefolosha (13th, 2006); Aaron Gray (49th, 2007); Tony Snell (20th, 2013); Doug McDermott (11th, 2014); Bobby Portis (22nd, 2015); Daniel Gafford (38th, 2019)

  • BB: Paul Zipser (48th, 2016); Chandler Hutchison (22nd, 2018)

  • SAC BUNT: James Johnson (16th, 2009)

  • SAC FLY: Tommy Smith (53rd, 2003); JamesOn Curry (51st, 2007); Erik Murphy (49th, 2013); Cameron Bairstow (49th, 2014)

  • K: Mario Austin (36th, 2003); Tyrus Thomas (4th, 2006); Marquis Teague (29th, 2012); Denzel Valentine (14th, 2016)

TOTALS: .700 OBP, 1.267 SLG, 1.967 OPS

Dennis Lindsey, Utah Jazz (2012-)

  • HR: Rudy Gobert (27th, 2013); Donovan Mitchell (13th, 2017)

  • 2B: Rodney Hood (23rd, 2014)

  • 1B: Trey Burke (9th, 2013); Raul Neto (47th, 2013); Trey Lyles (12th, 2015)

  • BB: Tony Bradley (28th, 2017); Nigel Williams-Goss (55th, 2017); Justin Wright-Foreman (53rd, 2019); Jarrell Brantley (50th, 2019); Miye Oni (58th, 2019)

  • SAC BUNT: Olivier Hanlan (2015: 42nd); Grayson Allen (2018: 21st)

  • SAC FLY: Joel Bolomboy (52nd, 2016); Marcus Paige (55th, 2016); Tyrone Wallace (60th, 2016)

  • K: Dante Exum (5th, 2014)

TOTALS: .733 OBP, 1.200 SLG, 1.933 OPS

Bob Myers, Golden State Warriors (2012-)

  • HR: Draymond Green (35th, 2012)

  • 3B: Harrison Barnes (7th, 2012)

  • 1B: Festus Ezeli (30th, 2012); Kevon Looney (30th, 2015); Patrick McCaw (38th, 2016); Eric Paschall (41st, 2019)

  • BB: Jordan Bell (38th, 2017); Jordan Poole (2019: 28th); Alen Smailagić (2019: 39th)

  • SAC FLY: Ognjen Kuzmić (52nd, 2012);

  • K: Nemanja Nedović (30th, 2013); Damian Jones (30th, 2016); Jacob Evans (28th, 2018)

TOTALS: .692 OBP, 1.077 SLG, 1.769 OPS

Tim Connelly, Denver Nuggets (2013-)

  • HR: Nikola Jokic (41st, 2014); Jamal Murray (7th, 2016)

  • 2B: Gary Harris (19th, 2014); Monte Morris (51st, 2017); Michael Porter Jr. (14th, 2018)

  • 1B: Joffrey Lauvergne (55th, 2013); Jusuf Nurkic (16th, 2014); Juan Hernangomez (15th, 2016); Malik Beasley (19th, 2016) 

  • BB: Vlatko Čančar (2017: 49th); Bol Bol (2019: 44th)

  • SAC FLY: Erick Green (46th, 2013); Nikola Radičević (57th, 2015); Petr Cornelie (53rd, 2016); Thomas Welsh (58th, 2018)

  • K: Emmanuel Mudiay (7th, 2015); Tyler Lydon (24th, 2017); Jarred Vanderbilt (41st, 2018)

TOTALS: .611 OBP, 1.111 SLG, 1.722 OPS

Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics (2003-)

  • HR: Rajon Rondo (21st, 2006); Jayson Tatum (3rd, 2017)

  • 3B: Al Jefferson (15th, 2004); Marcus Smart (6th, 2014); Jaylen Brown (3rd, 2016)

  • 2B: Kendrick Perkins (27th, 2003); Delonte West (24th, 2004); Tony Allen (25th, 2004); Glen Davis (35th, 2007); Avery Bradley (19th, 2010); Terry Rozier (16th, 2015)

  • 1B: Ryan Gomes (50th, 2005); Leon Powe (49th, 2006); Jared Sullinger (21st, 2012); Kelly Olynyk (13th, 2013); Semi Ojeleye (37th, 2017); Robert Williams III (27th, 2018); Grant Williams (22nd, 2019)

  • BB: Abdel Nader (58th, 2016); Romeo Langford (14th, 2019); Carsen Edwards (33rd, 2019); Tremont Waters (51st, 2019)

  • SAC BUNT: Marcus Banks (13th, 2003); Gerald Green (18th, 2005); Bill Walker (47th, 2008); Semih Erden (60th, 2008); E’Twaun Moore (55th, 2011)

  • SAC FLY: Brandon Hunter (56th, 2003); Orien Greene (53rd, 2005); Luke Harangody (52nd, 2010); Kris Joseph (51st, 2012); Colton Iverson (53rd, 2013); Ben Bentil (51st, 2016); Kadeem Allen (53rd, 2017); Jabari Bird (56th, 2017)

  • K: Justin Reed (40th, 2004); Gabe Pruitt (32nd, 2007); J.R. Giddens (30th, 2008); Lester Hudson (58th, 2009); JaJuan Johnson (27th, 2011); Fab Melo (22nd, 2012); James Young (17th, 2014); R.J. Hunter (28th, 2015); Jordan Mickey (33rd, 2015); Marcus Thornton (45th, 2015); Guerschon Yabusele (16th, 2016); Ante Zizic (23rd, 2016); Demetrius Jackson (45th, 2016)

TOTALS: .512 OBP, .930 SLG, 1.442 OPS

Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder (2007-)

  • HR: Russell Westbrook (4th, 2008)

  • 3B: Serge Ibaka (24th, 2008); James Harden (3rd, 2009); Steven Adams (12th, 2013)

  • 2B: Kevin Durant (2nd, 2007); Jeff Green (5th, 2007); Reggie Jackson (24th, 2011)

  • 1B: Andre Roberson (26th, 2013); Terrance Ferguson (21st, 2017); Hamidou Diallo (45th, 2018)

  • BB: Alex Abrines (32nd, 2013); Kevin Hervey (57th, 2018); Darius Bazley (23rd, 2019)

  • E: Cole Aldrich (11th, 2010)

  • SAC BUNT: Domantas Sabonis (11th, 2016)

  • SAC FLY: DeVon Hardin (50th, 2008); Robert Vaden (54th, 2009); Latavious Williams (48th, 2010); Ryan Reid (57th, 2010); Semaj Christon (55th, 2014); Dakari Johnson (48th, 2015); Daniel Hamilton (56th, 2016); Devon Hall (53rd, 2018)

  • K: D.J. White (29th, 2008); Byron Mullens (24th, 2009); Tibor Pleiss (31st, 2010); Perry Jones III (28th, 2012); Grant Jerrett (40th, 2013); Mitch McGary (21st, 2014); Josh Huestis (29th, 2014); Cameron Payne (14th, 2015)

TOTALS: .433 OBP, .833 SLG, 1.266 OPS

Pat Riley, Miami Heat (1995-)

  • HR: Caron Butler (10th, 2002); Dwyane Wade (5th, 2003); Josh Richardson (40th, 2015); Bam Adebayo (14th, 2017)

  • 2B: Eddie House (37th, 2000); Mario Chalmers (34th, 2008); Justise Winslow (10th, 2015); Tyler Herro (13th, 2019)

  • 1B: Rasual Butler (53rd, 2002); Norris Cole (28th, 2011)

  • BB: KZ Okpala (32nd, 2019)

  • E: Patrick Beverley (42nd, 2009)

  • SAC BUNT: Martin Muursepp (25th, 1996); Charles Smith (26th, 1997);

  • SAC FLY: Corey Brewer (51st, 1998); Rodney Buford (53rd, 1999); Ernest Brown (52nd, 2000); Ken Johnson (49th, 2001); Matt Freije (53rd, 2004); Robert Dozier (60th, 2009); James Ennis (50th, 2013)

  • K: Mark Sanford (30th, 1997); Tim James (25th, 1999); Jerome Beasley (33rd, 2003); Albert Miralles (39th, 2004); Wayne Simien (29th, 2005); Daequan Cook (21st, 2007); Michael Beasley (2nd, 2008); Dexter Pittman (32nd, 2010); Jarvis Varnado (41st, 2010); Da’Sean Butler (42nd, 2010); Justin Hamilton (45th, 2012); Shabazz Napier (24th, 2014)

TOTALS: .355 OBP, .871 SLG, 1.226 OPS

R.C. Buford, San Antonio Spurs (2002)

  • HR: Kawhi Leonard (15th, 2011)

  • 3B: George Hill (2008: 28th); Dejounte Murray (29th, 2016); Derrick White (29th, 2017)

  • 2B: Davis Bertans (42nd, 2011)

  • 1B: Beno Udrih (28th, 2004); Tiago Splitter (28th, 2007); DeJuan Blair (37th, 2009); Nando de Colo (53rd, 2009); Cory Joseph (29th, 2011); Kyle Anderson (30th, 2014); Lonnie Walker (18th, 2018)

  • BB: Chimezie Motu (49th, 2018); Luka Samanic (19th, 2019); Keldon Johnson (29th, 2019); Quinndary Weatherspoon (49th, 2019)

  • E: Ian Mahinmi (28th, 2005)

  • SAC FLY: Romain Sato (52nd, 2004); Sergei Karaulov (57th, 2004); Malik Hairston (48th, 2008); James Gist (57th, 2008); Jack McClinton (51st, 2009); Ryan Richards (49th, 2010); Adam Hanga (59th, 2011); Marcus Denmon (59th, 2012); Deshaun Thomas (58th, 2013); Nemanja Dangubic (54th, 2014); Nikola Milutinov (26th, 2015); Cady Lalanne (55th, 2015); Jaron Blossomgame (59th, 2017)

  • K: Viktor Sanikidze (42nd, 2004); Marcus Williams (33rd, 2007); James Anderson (20th, 2010); Livio Jean-Charles (28th, 2013)

TOTALS: .471 OBP, .735 SLG, 1.206 OPS

Vlade Divac, Sacramento Kings (2015)

  • 3B: De’Aaron Fox (5th, 2017)

  • 1B: Harry Giles (20th, 2017); Marvin Bagley III (2nd, 2018)

  • BB: Justin James (40th, 2019); Kyle Guy (55th, 2019); Vanja Marinkovic (60th, 2019)

  • SAC BUNT: Justin Jackson (15th, 2017)

  • SAC FLY: Isaiah Cousins (59th, 2016)

  • K: Willie Cauley-Stein (6th, 2015); Georgios Papagiannis (13th, 2016); Malachi Richardson (22nd, 2016); Skal Labissiere (28th, 2016); Frank Mason III (34th, 2017)

TOTALS: .500 OBP, .667 SLG, 1.167 OPS

Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets (2007-)

  • 3B: Chandler Parsons (38th, 2011); Clint Capela (25th, 2014)

  • 2B: Aaron Brooks (26th, 2007); Montrezl Harrell (32nd, 2015)

  • 1B: Carl Landry (31st, 2007); Chase Budinger (44th, 2009); Patrick Patterson (14th, 2010); Donatas Motiejunas (20th, 2011); Terrence Jones (18th, 2012); Isaiah Hartenstein (43rd, 2017)

  • E: Marcus Morris (14th, 2011); De’Anthony Melton (46th, 2018);

  • SAC BUNT: Joey Dorsey (33rd, 2008); Jeremy Lamb (12th, 2012); Isaiah Canaan (34th, 2013)

  • SAC FLY: Brad Newley (54th, 2007); Maarty Leunen (54th, 2008); Alessandro Gentile (53rd, 2014); ; Vince Edwards (52nd, 2018)

  • K: Donte Greene (28th, 2008); Jermaine Taylor (32nd, 2009); Sergio Llull (34th, 2009); Royce White (16th, 2012); Nick Johnson (42nd, 2014); Sam Dekker (18th, 2015); Chinanu Onuaku (37th, 2016); Zhou Qi (43rd, 2016)

TOTALS: .417 OBP, .667 SLG, 1.084 OPS

Donnie Nelson, Dallas Mavericks (2005-)

  • HR: Luka Doncic (3rd, 2018)

  • 1B: Jae Crowder (34th, 2012); Jalen Brunson (33rd, 2018)

  • SAC BUNT: Shane Larkin (18th, 2013); Dennis Smith Jr. (9th, 2017)

  • SAC FLY: Renaldas Seibutis (50th, 2007); Shan Foster (51st, 2008); Ahmad Nivins (56th, 2009); Satnam Singh Bhamara (52nd, 2015); A.J. Hammons (46th, 2016); Ray Spalding (56th, 2018); Kostas Antetokounmpo (60th, 2018)

  • K: Maurice Ager (28th, 2006); Nick Fazekas (34th, 2007); Reyshawn Terry (44th, 2007); Rodrigue Beaubois (25th, 2009); Nick Calathes (45th, 2009); Dominique Jones (25th, 2010); Jared Cunningham (24th, 2012); Bernard James (33rd, 2012); Ricky Ledo (43rd, 2013); Justin Anderson (21st, 2015); Isaiah Roby (45th, 2019)

TOTALS: .143 OBP, .286 SLG, .429 OPS

The 16 remaining executives across the league were all hired in 2017 or later, leaving too small a sample size and too little time to evaluate a draft pick’s trajectory properly. Los Angeles Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka, for example, has made just one selection in three years — Talen Horton-Tucker, a second-round pick who has played all of two games. Let me know how you think this system could be tweaked and who you think I wildly underrated or overrated.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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