NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Players (like Kemba Walker and Kyle Singler) usually get picked too high

This year’s draft features two NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Players: Kemba Walker and Kyle Singler. If history is a judge, they will be drafted too high.

If each draft was redone based on career win shares – admittedly, not a perfect measure, but they should give us a decent idea of a player’s value – the previous 20 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Players wouldn’t fare well. Thirteen would fall in the draft, and just four would rise.*

*Three weren’t drafted. Two, Donald Williams and Anderson Hunt, never played in the NBA. The other, Jeffrey Sheppard, played just 18 games. There’s no evidence they should join the group of underrated MOPs.

Season Player School Drafted Win Share rank Difference
2009 Wayne Ellington North Carolina 28 33 -5
2008 Mario Chalmers Kansas 34 14 20
2007 Corey Brewer Florida 7 31 -24
2006 Joakim Noah Florida 9 3 6
2005 Sean May North Carolina 13 37 -24
2004 Emeka Okafor Connecticut 2 5 -3
2003 Carmelo Anthony Syracuse 3 4 -1
2002 Juan Dixon Maryland 17 23 -6
2001 Shane Battier Duke 6 4 2
2000 Mateen Cleaves Michigan State 14 57 -43
1999 Richard Hamilton Connecticut 7 10 -3
1998 Jeffrey Sheppard Kentucky N/A N/A N/A
1997 Miles Simon Arizona 42 52 -10
1996 Tony Delk Kentucky 16 21 -5
1995 Ed O’Bannon UCLA 9 31 -22
1994 Corliss Williamson Arkansas 13 12 1
1993 Donald Williams North Carolina N/A N/A N/A
1992 Bobby Hurley Duke 7 54 -47
1991 Christian Laettner Duke 3 5 -2
1990 Anderson Hunt Nevada-Las Vegas N/A N/A N/A

I don’t think this is a coincidence.

What makes someone the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player? For one, he must be good. That obviously should positively influence NBA teams. The other key criterion: he must win a national title. All 22 of the MOPs in this case study won the national title the year they won the award. This shouldn’t be nearly as important to NBA teams as it is.

A player winning a title involves a lot more than the player’s individual contributions. He must have good teammates. He must have good coaching. His team must be hot at the right time. I’d argue a huge factor in whether a player wins a national title is his ability in high school. The best high school players get the opportunity to play for the best college teams, the teams most likely to win a national title.

How much should any of those elements matter in the draft? Very little, if at all.

But that’s probably not the case, as the table shows. General managers talk about drafting winners and leaders. Players like Kemba Walker supposedly have shown these great intangibles that will make them huge successes in the NBA.

I just don’t see it.

Teams can’t draft UConn. They can draft Kemba Walker.

Evaluate Walker – what he’s done, what he can do. Do your best to separate that from what UConn did. That’s the recipe for drafting him with an appropriate pick.

I don’t think it’s coincidence, either, that two of the players who would’ve risen in a redone draft – Joakim Noah and Corliss Williamson – returned to school after winning MOP. NBA teams had more time to gauge the meaningful elements of their games and weren’t as influenced by their emotional reaction to some award that won’t mean much in the NBA.

On the other side, five players who would’ve fallen in a redone draft – Miles Simon, Donald Williams, Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner and Anderson Hunt – returned to school after winning MOP.

Simon returned for his senior season, and scouts learned more about his game. None of the previous 22 MOPs were drafted lower than Simon.

Williams probably would’ve been a lottery pick had he left school after his MOP, but like Simon, scouts learned more about his game and relied less on misguided criteria.

Hurley and Laettner remained high in the draft. Laettner helped Duke win another title, which probably influenced teams just as much as his MOP. Hurley was involved in a car accident during his rookie year, and his production plummeted. Still, he was averaging just seven points and six assists per game and shooting 37 percent from the field and 13 percent on 3-pointers before the accident. It’s unlikely he would’ve been picked as high in a redone draft, anyway.

Hunt probably would have benefited from staying a second year after winning MOP. He stayed at UNLV long enough to expose his shortcomings, but not long enough to correct them.

Conclusion

NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Players can outperform their place in the draft, but it’s rare. It’s even rarer for MOPs who entered the draft immediately after winning the award.

Kemba Walker fits both categories.

Maybe there are good reasons to draft Walker, but I don’t think his college success is one of them. If the Pistons are relying on that – and I fear they are, because I don’t see enough other reasons to consider him so high – I hope they don’t draft him.

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