In the golden days if you drafted a bigman in the Top 5 of any given NBA Draft it was clear that you were probably getting at least an NBA Starter. Sometimes you got a Hall of Famer. Today, where getting picked high in the draft is more a product of unaccounted for potential and equal parts mystery, taking a big high in the draft is no longer such a smart thing to do. After all, bigs come in with the fewest NBA skills (most of the time, guys like Ant Davis break that mold as he grew up as a guard). And the bigs with the most potential usually have played the least basketball. It's an end result, especially in the "one and done NCAA" era, that requires NBA teams to invest heavily in developing these guys.
If you fail to invest in a high draft pick big it means either one of two things: from what you know about the player he is a bust; or your team isn't currently dedicated to full-time development, and shouldn't be drafting project bigmen in the Top 5.
Over the last six NBA Drafts (2008 till 2013) there have been 15 bigmen who were drafted Top 5. Some have produced. some have not. These are their career averages (sorted by most PPG + RPG + APG + BPG combined):
There are three 'zones' here. You have a group of players that get over 20.0 combined BARP per game (not BARPS, I took steals out here). YOu have players that get lower than 12.0 BARPS. And everyone in-between. Before we go too far let's get one thing out of the way. The more you play, the more you have a chance to contribute. This isn't magic, or folklore. This is evidenced by the 0.961747 correlation coefficient between career cumulative BARP and career cumulative MPG.
But there's more to it than just that. There's a correlation coefficient of 0.838016 (still pretty high) between two other factors that we, Utah Jazz fans, should be wary of: BARP / Min and the estimate average number of minutes a player will play over a season if they played 82 games. Why is this something? Well, BARP / Min is just how frequently a player (big) is doing good things on the floor. It's simple, quick, and dirty. And the bigger number is better. It's a good and easy stat to track that isn't too complex or frustrating. (The last thing I want to do is make things frustrating! Not everyone went to school for maths or sciences. I see you Near-Baltic History majors!) The second thing is more complicated. It shows a rate. It shows how many minutes a player would be on track for, if they played 82 games in a season. It eliminates some of the "this data is orphan city" issues that cropped up with this data set: that included a lock out shortened season, and in the case of Love, an 18 game season due to injury.
I've long held that playing 2k minutes in a season is important for a young player. The data I will show below shows that the players on track to play that much, or much more, have been a) the players who actually Do play the most minutes, and b) are the players who are the most efficient "do-gooders" there are in this 15 player list. Unfortunately, we're not solving the "are they doing good because they are good?" vs "are they doing good because they play?" question. The 0.96 and 0.84 correlation coefficients tell me that there is a good deal of both in play here.
The Bigmen drafted in the Top 5 (2008-2013):
(Sorted by highest avg of mins per season per 82 games)
Really no surprises here. Griffin, Love, Davis, Cousins, and Thompson are all the players who have already averaged 2k per season. It'll go up for some of these guys as they finish the season or play in the playoffs (the case for Griffin). It's also no surprise that these players average a ton of minutes per 82 game season. If there were no lockouts, or these guys had the fortitude of Karl Malone (a #13 pick, by the way), then their actual numbers would be closer to these estimations.
Why do we bother with the estimations? We do because sometimes players, like Kanter, still miss games they should be playing in. These estimations don't boost up how many minutes they play in a game, just put everyone on an equal 82 game footing.
When put on that equal footing you see that Favors and Kanter are well behind here too. The average is 2.0497 k minutes per season per 82 games. Derrick is at 1.9228 k (close), and Enes is at 1.5136 k (not as close). But both are behind the likes of Beasley, Valanciunas, and Thompson. We like to think that our guys are better than those three guys. According to their career cumulative BARP scores, though, they are not. And it also shows in how many minutes these players get per estimated 82 games. They perform better, partly because they have more actual NBA experience (in minutes per season), and partly because they play more (as seen in cumulative MPG).
Of course, Favors and Kanter had the benefit of playing behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. That's the tale we tell ourselves. The reality is that our front office was not committed to development, and our coach didn't trust these younger players. As a result they are fundamentally behind the curve based upon the cumulative data of Top 5 pick bigmen from the last six draft classes. And in terms of on court production they are in the middle of the pack, but nearer to the back of the middle, than at the forefront.
I do think part of this is because they aren't approaching their yearly maximums for a normative return on the minutes investments they should be getting. DeMarcus is a nutcase, but he produces. He was given all the opportunities in the world to motivate himself to get better (he didn't have to squire for a non-All-Star for 3 years), and this season he is averaging 22.2 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 spg, and 1.3 bpg. He has gotten better. We like to think Favors is better, but Favors is only producing 12.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.0 spg, and 1.5 bpg. Part of that is coaching. Part of that is Xs and Os. But a huge part of that is that while DeMarcus was supposed to be more talented than Derrick on draft night, since that point in time DeMarcus has improved more as well.
And that is just experience. It's one column 0.96 correlation, and one column 0.84 correlation.
If you do tend away from actual data, and go for the comfortable embrace of folk lore and anecdotal evidence -- you have Michael Beasley. He is someone you could call "over-dipped". He played over 2k minutes his first three seasons in the league, and we think he's trash right now, right? He's not even a real bigman, even if he played PF in college. But you know what? For his career he averages 20.0 BARP per game, while Favors is only at 18.4. And while Favors is at an impressive 0.78 BARP / minute, Beas is at 0.80. By the numbers he does more on the court per game, and also per minute. And yes, he got way more playing time early. The idea here is that we hope that Favors is a billion times better than Beasley. But the theory in practice here is that Beasley is closer to his maximum level (which is lower) than Favors is, and part of that is due to getting experience.
Sure, you can't give every young player a lot of minutes -- especially not if you are trying to make the playoffs. The Jazz have always tried to make the playoffs. And the are 1/4 in their last little go-around (Favors career). The teams that were more committed to developing their Top 5 Drafted bigmen (Timberwolves, Clippers, Pelicans, Kings) seem to have gotten the most out of picks. ('Sota made more space for Love by getting rid of Big Al, like how the Jazz got rid of Dantley to let Karl Malone be the focus)
We have two middle of the pack bigs who are behind where they should be, but we hope they'll one day be great. They're just behind because a) the team didn't commit to them, and b) the coach didn't trust them. The players that had both went farther. The fly in the ointment here is Tristan Thompson, right? Oh, the guy averaging 10.8 ppg, and 8.6 rpg for his career. (Favors is at 9.4 and 6.9, Kanter at 8.1 and 5.3).
Looking at this generation of under-ready bigs who are drafted high based on potential, and have little experience coming into the NBA -- it appears that NBA experience early and often is the key to getting them to maximize their talents quickly, and help the franchise gain a return on the expensive financial investment. A franchise unwilling to invest minutes into these players end up reaping what they sow.
So do you know how many minutes a Top 5 big should be getting? If you want them to be any good, the baseline has to be north of 2,000 minutes a season. Blake just had another triple double last night. He averages close to 3,000 minutes a season. Blake, Love, and Davis were all All-Stars this year, and all get over 2,500 a season (per 82 games).
Our guys are a little behind according to both the 0.96 and the 0.84 correlation coefficient data sets.
And if any team is going to draft an unproven, prospect big in the Top 5 based on potential -- they should pay attention.