Does a Stacked NBA Draft Class Make a Pick More Valuable?

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 16 2014 2:31 PM

Does a Stacked Draft Class Make a Pick More Valuable?

Andrew Wiggins of the Kansas Jayhawks waits during a timeout.

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

One of the central conceits of this year's NBA season is the idea that the 2014 NBA draft class is going to be full of great prospects and thus that 2014 lottery picks are unusually valuable.

There's obviously something to this, but general managers would do well to consider the fact that it's somewhat more complicated than that. A No. 1 draft pick, after all, doesn't entitle you to the best player in the draft. What it does is entitle you to the first choice of draft pick. So in a draft where one player is far superior to the others and there is wide consensus on who that player is (LeBron James' 2003 draft, say), then there is an enormous value in being able to draft first rather than not. But the mere presence of lots of talented players doesn't necessarily make high picks valuable if you're facing choice under circumstances of a lot of uncertainty. The best player in the 2007 draft went second, the player who went first ended up having his career derailed by injuries; Marc Gasol went way down at 48th, teams passed on Joakim Noah (ninth) to draft Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, and Brandan Wright.

Which is all to say that to the extent that there are a lot of quality players in a draft, that means your odds of getting someone good without a top pick go up. The value of a high pick—as opposed to any old pick—depends both on the quality of the talent available and also on the obviousness of the choice. And especially as it's become extremely rare for top talent to play multiple seasons of college basketball, it seems to me that the obviousness factor is almost always quite low.


Evaluating 19-year-old basketball players is just really hard. ESPN's Chad Ford says that "All five players at the top of this draft are viable No. 1 picks," which he means in the spirit of hype, but which signals to me a high level of uncertainty that makes draft position not so important.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?


Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 20 2014 3:40 PM Keeping It in the Family Why are so many of the world’s oldest companies in Japan?
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 4:42 PM An Oral History of A Nightmare on Elm Street
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 1:51 PM Will Amazon Lead Us to the Golden Age of Books? A Future Tense Event.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 10:23 AM Where I Was Wrong About the Royals I underestimated the value of building a team that’s just barely better than mediocre.