Detroit Pistons are the sixth best drafting team of the past decade

I figured I might as well start a fire in the comments heading into the weekend with this one. In a must-read article on competitive balance and payroll by ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, he includes an analysis of the best drafting teams of the last decade. The Pistons are sixth in the NBA over that period when it comes to finding value in the draft. I would block quote a portion here, but seriously, just go read the whole thing.

If you scroll down to the chart, you can see how each team compares. Not only have the Pistons been sixth best at finding value, but they have the second highest winning percentage of the decade among top 10 teams (even with their lousy performances over the last three seasons) and they’ve spent the second lowest amount of money in the top 10.

Noam Schiller of Hardwood Paroxysm had a reaction that I think a lot of people shared: Uh … Detroit? Really?

But amongst the several nuggets from the piece, what caught my attention was the 6th best drafting team on the chart. The Detroit Pistons are best remembered for flopping on Darko Milicic in the stacked 2003 lottery, but that didn’t prevent them from ranking above 24 other franchises in drafting acumen this past decade.

Schiller asked Haberstroh on Twitter how that was possible. Here was Haberstroh’s response:

@noamschiller DET credits: Okur +5.1, Monroe +3.9, Prince +3.7, Amir +2.8, Stuckey +2.7, JJ +1.2, Maxiell +.7. Debits: Darko -5.6, RW -3.1

And Schiller again:

Striking gold with an all-star in the second round (Okur) is nearly as valuable as flopping on the second overall pick (Darko) is hurtful. A mid-lottery hopefully future star (Monroe) is as big a coup as a solid 10 year starter in the lower first round (Prince), and both of them more than make up for the pain of a blown mid-lottery pick (White).  And any value you can get from later in the draft – even if they are flawed players such as Johnson, Stuckey and Jerebko – acts as gravy in a process that is ultimately a crapshoot.

I bring this up not to start another round of let’s defend Joe Dumars. It’s important to note that Detroit’s winning percentage over that period is a result of mainly of veteran players who were acquired in trades or free agency, not through the draft. But I think one of the biggest areas where general fans misunderstand the NBA (and maybe pro sports in general) is the notion of how rare it is to find players late in drafts who can even hang around in a rotation, let alone turn into productive NBA players. A significant number of players taken after the lottery just don’t pan out. And as we’ve seen, a lottery picks aren’t a sure thing either.

Joe Dumars has a skill at identifying talent that others have missed, even if their best work in some cases (Afflalo, Johnson, Delfino) has happened elsewhere. Dumars finds value late in drafts at an extremely high level. It doesn’t absolve him of other personnel mistakes (like giving up too soon on some of those finds or spending way too much money on marginal free agents). But it is a definite skill that Dumars has shown a knack for. Now if he and the organization could get that ‘development’ aspect right when they do find that hidden talent, the Pistons would really be onto something.

Also, while we’re on the subject of Dumars, I thought tarsier had a great comment the other day worth highlighting:

Also, something I always find pertinent to discussions of how good a GM is. Most GMs average probably at most two very significant moves per year with a couple more of moderate significance and some more meaningless ones (most second round picks, signing min contract players, involvement in a trade that doesn’t add or remove any players from your top 7, etc). So evaluating a typical GM over his career gives you little more to work with than evaluating a player based on one game. You can absolutely say whether he played well or not, but not whether or not he is a good player (i.e. how well he would play in the future).

Anyway, consider the fire started. Have a good weekend. And Laser, seriously, don’t spend your entire weekend writing thousands of words rebutting this data. It’s supposed to be nice out. Go on a hayride or something.

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