The second overall NBA Draft pick has yielded the likes of Isiah Thomas, Jason Kidd, Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton, Steve Francis, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant. It’s also yielded its fair share of less-than-desirables: Sam Bowie, Stromile Swift, Jay Williams and—shudder—Hasheem Thabeet. Tell an analyst to rank the worst draft picks of the last decade and they might reference three No. 2 picks.
Draft picks are inherently scrutinized from the moment they enter the league to the moment they depart it. Outspoken agent David Falk—who exclusively speaks in declaratives—implored the Wizards last year to shop No. 1 overall draft pick John Wall before he “became Nene”, posited that Wall “doesn’t have a feel for the game” and “only knows how to play one speed.” It’s worth noting that Falk used to manage a stable of high-paid, elite talent (Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, etc.) and is one of the most influential agents the sport has ever seen. However, his throng now includes Jared Sullinger, Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, Otto Porter Jr. and Evan Turner. Turner, if you remember, fell to No. 2 behind Wall in the 2010 draft.
The irony here is that Wall, according to Sports Illustrated, is one of the 31 best players in the NBA, and Turner is … well, not in the top 100. Turner is part of a tantalizing trend of subpar talent to be taken at the No. 2 overall position, causing many in the sportswriting community to grimace and ponder if there’s a curse regarding the NBA draft’s version of the silver medal.
Since Aldridge and Durant were taken in subsequent years, the second pick has come with a caveat: I just might bust. Sure, Orlando’s Victor Oladipo had a remarkable 2013-14 season, finishing second in rookie of the year voting (by 88 first-place votes). But prior to Oladipo, over the last five years, the No. 2 overall picks have been Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Derrick Williams, Turner, Thabeet and Michael Beasley. Not necessarily household names or players that general managers are willing to unload significant pieces and cash to bring into their systems.
But is the second pick providing that much less for teams when compared to lower picks? Not really.
As Ian Levy pointed out earlier this week, per minute averages have their share of shortcomings, smoothing over important differences. To level the playing field, per 100 possession data will be used to assess variance.
The No. 1 draft pick (2,008 minutes played) has been, perhaps obviously, more productive than the No. 2 pick (1,723 minutes played) recently. Here’s the two picks compared over the last six years:
The top overall pick has been used more for back-court talent in recent years, which explains the rebounding disparity. But with five of the last six top picks already making the NBA all-star team (Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis), it’s hard to argue that the second pick has brought more to a team in the last six years.
Here’s the No. 2 pick’s numbers compared to the No. 10 draft picks (1,575 minutes played) the last six years:
The second pick clearly has gone toward big men in recent years, whereas the 10th overall pick seems to—with the exception of Lopez—be targeting length on the perimeter and shooters.
Here’s the No. 2 pick’s numbers compared to the No. 18 overall draft picks (1,189 minutes played) the last six years:
The glaring variables here are games and minutes played. Despite Thabeet averaging less than one-fourth the minutes played per season (471.4) that Turner has accrued (2214.75), the second pick is averaging eight more games, 148 minutes more playing time than the 10th pick and 13 more games, 534 minutes more playing time than the 18th pick. Intangibles, like production, are clearly important, but so is staying healthy and simply being present and usable on a given night.
There are anomalies at every position of every draft. There are ubiquitous busts, which is part of what makes the draft exciting/maddening/the best/the worst. Though Turner has been incessantly ridiculed since coming into the league, the second overall draft pick is far from haunted—even if the names called the last six seasons might not be NBA all-stars.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Rivals, Denver Post, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. He currently writes for Wall Street Journal Sports, the ESPN TrueHoop Network and The Cauldron. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).