Monday, June 30, 2003

Moneyball, NBA style

With Miami officially jumping off the Big East ship, and interleague play finally coming to an end, I'm sticking with hoops, and that's all there is to it.

There was a whole bunch of hoopla this spring over Michael Lewis'new book Moneyball, in which he reveals a lot about the Oakland A's drafting philosophy. It basically came down to the A's looking at a player's performance rather than his perceived talent, and choosing college players over high school players, because they had a longer track record. Something that has not come up in any of the discussions I've seen on this is that hockey, and more recently basketball, have had to deal with this exact same scenario: How much risk is there in drafting a high school athlete over a college athlete?

Well, if your an NBA General Manager, the answer is none. Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Kevin Garnett are probably three of the top ten players in the NBA, and they didn't spent a day in college. That's a remarkable track record considering the small number of high school players who have come out and reached their prime. So, in the NBA, the story is potential, not performance.

Having said that, it is interesting to look at this year's NBA draft. We know that LeBron went first, and that there were more non-Americans and high school kids than ever before. The question is, has everyone caught on? Are there teams that still would rather take college kids than gamble on the big prize?

I went looking at everyone's picks, and this is what I found:

There were only six teams with two or more picks that selected only college players: Chicago, Lakers, Memphis, Miami, Philly, and Washington. Of these teams, Chicago, the Lakers, and Washington have invested heavily in high school kids in the past. Jerry West, now in Memphis, is the one who took Kobe for LA. But what's important is that this is a very small list. Virtually everyone is on the Potential bandwagon, selecting high school and foreign players. There were even three teams with two or more picks that didn't draft any American college players at all: Detroit, Phoenix, and Portland. Although, what Portland was doing drafting a high school kid named Outlaw and throwing him in with that group of criminals is anyone's guess.

It would seem as though this must revers course at somme point. Rookies sign for five years and then they're loose. Would you rather have them for ages 19-23, or 23-27? Teams that don't or can't compete in free agent markets better start considering this, or else someone else is going to be stuck like the Toronto Raptors, watching Tracy McGrady win the scoring title in Orlando.

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