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Measuring Kevin O'Connor's Draft Success

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Draft success is a hard thing to quantify. There are many ways to try and determine whether a pick was successful or not, and all have their pitfalls. All-star selections is too dependent on other things (fans, media, competition). Having a Tim Duncan-like career for your team is rare – Duncan has been with the Spurs longer than Kevin O’Connor has been GM’ing the Jazz.

The option I decided to go with is not a runaway "best option" either – while it is nice to be able to look at how many years the player spent with the Jazz (and what percentage of their playing career), there are obvious influences that I’m unable to account for. DeShawn Stevenson’s career is nearing an end (most likely), so it works for him. On the other hand, while Gordon Hayward has spent 100% of his career (so far) with the Jazz, that only accounts for 2 seasons – a far cry from the 12 Stevenson has spent in the league. As a result, Hayward’s impact on this isn’t much – at least for now. The same is true for all of the recent draftees. So there is a slight bias towards players picked earlier in O’Connor’s drafting career. And then there are the two "draft-and-stash" players that O’Connor has taken (well, 3 if you count Raul Lopez). I’m ignoring the years they spent in Europe after getting drafted – that is irrelevant. With Ante Tomic & Tadija Dragicevic though, there are questions regarding whether they’ll ever end up in the NBA. For now though, they sit at 0 NBA years, and 0% of their careers spent with the Jazz.

And I’ve taken a slight liberty or two … while Eric Maynor and DeShawn Stevenson (and others) were traded at various points during a season, I’ve put them all down as having played 0.5 of that season with the Jazz. It isn’t exact, but since this whole thing is full of approximations, what’s one more? Also, Curtis Borchardt and others that he traded for on draft night are included, while guys he traded away are not. If they can’t make it out of draft night on the Jazz, they’re not really worth consideration, in my opinion.

One unfortunate truth – while I can give you numbers and percentages, I don’t have numbers/percentages from around the league to compare them too. So while I can give you numbers for the Jazz, I can’t compare them to other teams. I can’t tell you if the Jazz numbers are above average or below or anything – I can just tell you what the numbers are saying. Ideally, I would have enough time to calculate this for other teams – but I don’t, unfortunately.

With that, a few interesting points of note.

First – the whole "all of his draft picks are in the mid/late-20s" defense of O’Connor’s first round drafting is a lie. Of his 14 first-rounders, only 5 have been picks in the 20s, and the lowest has been #25 (Morris Almond). Five more picks have been in the teens (14, 14, 16, 18, 19), plus one at #12. And then there are the 3 top-10 picks. So 8 of the 14 first-rounders have been after the mid-way point, just a touch above 50%. That is not "all".

Second – of the 14 first-rounders he’s had since taking over in 2000, only 1 (!!!) so far has even made it to a second contract. Now, that will probably change as Hayward/Burks/Kanter get more time in the league (hopefully), but even excluding those 3, you get a ratio of 1 in 11. That one player is, of course, Deron Williams. A couple other players had their rookie contract option "exercised," but all of those players (except Deron) were traded/released before they could make it to the second contract. I don’t know much about first round picks, but that doesn’t seem like an ideal way to build a team.

Third- There are only 3 of the 14 first-rounders still left on the team, and those are the most recent 3. For a team that has never been a champion, and as of recently hasn’t even competed to be in the Finals, you’d have hoped that they would have found some first-round talent to come in and pitch their talents to the Jazz. That has not happened. And the whole "he’s picking late first-rounders" defense is pathetic, in my mind. Other teams are able to find guys in that range that stick around. Which means the Jazz should be able to too. At least once in the five "20s" picks, if nothing else. Other than Stevenson (3.5 years), none of the "20s" guys have stuck around more than 2 years.

Fourth – there have been 12 second-rounders. Three of them have not seen NBA action – Goran Suton, and the two "stashes." A fourth, Kaniel Dickens, saw no time with the Jazz but did get some NBA action with 3 other teams. Like the first rounders, just 3 of the players are still with the Jazz – CJ Miles (for now), Paul Millsap, and Jeremy Evans. Hitting 25% (3 of 12) on second-rounders seems like "finding a diamond in the rough," but hitting just over 20% (3 of 14) on first-rounders is a cause for concern. Is it bad scouting? Is it bad drafting? Is it drafting for a different system than the one the coach implements (if there is a system)? I don’t know. That’s for O’Connor/Sloan/Corbin/Miller to know, and us to argue about on blogs and twitter and all other forms of social media. Before, the Jazz used to find guys that would fit their system – even if they were the type of player that would struggle to find a home once leaving Utah (Shandon Anderson, anyone?). Now, they can’t even find the guys that will perform in Utah – some of them are able to find it somewhere else though (Kris Humphries, for example).

Fifth – Of his 12 drafts so far, Kevin O’Connor has had a first round pick in EVERY draft. This year is shaping up to be the first year without one. He’s had at least 2 picks in every draft – though the 2002 draft ended with just one player due to a 2-for-1 draft-pick trade. The Jazz only have one so far for this upcoming draft. He’s had 2 drafts where he’s had only first round picks (2004, 2011), and this will be the first draft where his only pick is a second-rounder (barring a trade).

Sixth – before I get started, the 26 draftees that Kevin O’Connor has left draft day/night with.

First-rounders: Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, Eric Maynor, Kosta Koufos, Morris Almond, Ronnie Brewer, Deron Williams, Kris Humphries, Kirk Snyder, Aleksandar Pavlovic, Curtis Borchardt, Raul Lopez and DeShawn Stevenson.

Second-rounders: Jeremy Evans, Goran Suton, Ante Tomic, Tadija Dragicevic, Kyrylo Fesenko, Dee Brown, Paul Millsap, CJ Miles, Robert Whaley, Maurice Williams, Jarron Collins and Kaniel Dickens.

Enough of my pondering though – on to the numbers! (Yes, there are numbers – and no, they’re not as awesome as Amar’s. I used a lot of approximation and rounding, and the simple "sum" and "average" functions in Excel to put this together.)

The first thing I did was look at how many seasons the players have spent with the Jazz (so far) and how many they’ve spent in the NBA (so far). Simple math shows that between the 26 draftees, 109 seasons have been spent in the NBA thus far. Of those, 59 seasons have been spent with the Jazz – 54.2%. The average Jazz draftee, therefore, spends a touch over 50% of their NBA career with the Jazz. Of course, higher is better here, but on its own (again, no league comparison), 54% isn’t bad. And you have to hope/think that with Burks/Hayward/Kanter on the roster, that number will go up – even as older draft picks counter this (Deron, for example).

Breaking it down further by round… of the 14 first-rounders, the one with the smallest percentage of his career spent with the Jazz (so far) is Aleksander Pavlovic, at 0.111 (1 year with the Jazz out of 9 years total). Even with that number though, the first-round picks are spending an average of 61.5% of their NBA careers playing for the Utah Jazz. So, for every 10 seasons in the NBA, the draftees are spending 6 seasons with the Jazz. Or to put it more into Jazz first-round pick terms, for every 5 seasons in the NBA, 3 are spent with the Jazz. In comparison, the second rounders (even with the four "0 seasons spent with the Jazz" players) are spending 51.7% of their careers with the Jazz. This means 1 thing, at least to me. The Jazz are hitting on a lot of second-rounders. When you can include four 0’s in an average, and still get to above 50%, something is going right. And if you take out the two draft-and-stash players (which is random, I admit), then that ratio rises to 62.1% for the remaining second-rounders (including Suton & Dickens). For the second round picks that aren’t kept in Europe, 62% of their careers are spent with the Jazz! These are picks taken in the round where the motto seems to be "if you find someone that’s great, if not then it is no big loss." And the Jazz keep finding players.

That said, these numbers are obviously not very strong as evidence of success for one reason – the averages considers all ratios equally. Jeremy Evans’ "1" carries as much weight as Jarron Collins’ "0.8," despite the fact that Evans has spent 2 years in the league and Collins’ spent 10. So if you try to fix that, you end up looking at numbers (number of years spent on the Jazz and number of years spent in the league), and not a ratio of the two.

Just to build the suspense a bit more, I’ll start with the number of years spent in the league. The average time spent in the league (thus far) for the 14 first-rounders is 4.57 years. That number, obviously, will increase. It is pulled down a little bit by the short careers of Raul Lopez & Curtis Borchardt, but the extended careers of guys like Stevenson & Humphries, plus the just started careers of our youngsters will shoot that number up. As for the second-rounders – well, the average is 3.75 years (hurt, obviously, by the three guys that haven’t played any NBA ball). But then, the average second-rounder isn’t expected to stick in the league very long (there’s a reason they were a second round pick), so maybe 3.75 years isn’t bad. Again, I don’t have any other numbers to compare this against. That said, if you take out the 2 "stash" picks, the Jazz average shoots up to 4.5 years – right around the number of years for the first-rounders. So, again – either the Jazz are really good at hitting on their second round picks, or they’re really bad at this first-round thing. (Or both.) Though I can’t tell you which is true until I have numbers for other teams to compare them with.

But then, that’s NBA careers. We don’t care about that (not really, at least). Of more interest to us are the careers they’ve had with the Jazz. Because, you know – great for Kris Humphries that he found a home in Jersey. (No, really.) But that doesn’t say anything about O’Connor’s drafting, or the Jazz ability to develop players (maybe it speaks to the contrary?), or anything.

My goal with this was to see how well the Jazz are able to develop/implement the guys they draft (after all, that is the point of the draft). Generally, the first round is filled with guys that should stick in the league longer – after all, that is why they go one round earlier and get the guaranteed money. It doesn’t always work out that way, but in a perfect draft, it should.

So the first-rounders for the Jazz – their average timespan with the Jazz is … 2.07 years. Yes. Just over 2 years. That’s less than half of their average NBA career (4.57 years). Even if you get rid of the injury-plagued Lopez and Borchardt, that average only rises to 2.08 years. Now, I know he’s had a "ton" of late 1st round picks (if you say so) and I have no team comparison and all that, but 2 years seems to be really, really low. That’s generally not even enough time for the player to start playing in the system (at least not any significant minutes) before he’s handed his walking papers.

How about the second-rounders? "Specialists." "Not as good." "Lucky if they stick around for a few years." And on and on. Kevin O’Connor would like to laugh at that remark, as he has done the exact opposite. Even with the 4 guys who never played for the Jazz, the average Jazz career for the 12 players is 2.5 years. Remove the "stash" guys, and it jumps up to 3 years. The second-rounders, on average, stick around with the Jazz for a full year more than the first-rounders. Yes, most of this is thanks to Miles, Collins, Millsap and Fesenko, but even if you just look at them – that’s 4 "hits" in 12 picks. Going 33% in the second round, on a team that despises playing youngsters because it constitutes "tanking" or something like that, is really impressive.

Again, I don’t know league averages. I don’t know why the Jazz first-rounders can’t stick with the team while second-rounders can. Those are questions that I don’t know if anyone can really answer, short of maybe someone admitting that the first round list is full of players that don’t fit the Jazz system or something to that extent.

What I do know is that O’Connor has been pretty good using the second round to find players that will stick with the team. As we enter a draft where the Jazz only have a second round pick, that is a reason to hope that this draft isn’t going to be a "wasted" draft from the start. Time to get excited - the draft is coming!

(Of course, all bets are off if the Jazz take another "stash" player.)