The Best Value Draft Pick for Every Team in Last 20 Years

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

The Best Value Draft Pick for Every Team in Last 20 Years

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    The NBA draft is all about maximizing value. 

    When the 30 teams in the Association sit down on June 26 and attempt to figure out who to take with each of the 60 picks set to be used during the proceedings, they'll be balancing risk with reward. Ultimately, the goal is to end up selecting players whose contributions will exceed their draft slots. 

    If you're picking at No. 5, you want a guy who plays like a No. 1 pick. If you're at No. 30, getting a guy whose performance resemble that of a typical lottery pick is highly beneficial, and so on. 

    It's important to note that under these rules, we're comparing draft picks to the historical expectations associated with their draft slots, not to other people from the same draft class. Using an example from outside the last 20 years, Michael Jordan is a tremendous draft value because he dramatically exceeded the expectations of a typical No. 3 pick, not because he was picked after Sam Bowie. 

    Additionally, we're only looking at the first four years of a player's career. 

    Why? Because that's the maximum length that a player can be controlled under a rookie-scale deal using the current collective bargaining agreement. After that, a player can opt to go elsewhere regardless of his team's desire, so a franchise can only technically count on production during those first four seasons. 

    Now, how is draft value determined? 

    The primary stat used is win shares, as provided by Win shares are an advanced basketball metric calculated so that one win share is exactly equal to one win provided by that player to his team's cause. The full breakdown of the calculation can be found here.

    This stat is inherently flawed because it can't completely sum up a player's value, but it's the best number we have for turning overall production into a single metric, one that's based both on quality of play and time spent on the court.

    Based on a database I've compiled, using data from the NBA-ABA merger through the 2010 NBA draft, I've come up with a logistic regression that can be used to predict win shares earned in the first four years of a career based on draft position: four-year win shares = -5.724*ln(draft position)+24.06. 

    The formula has a coefficient of determination (r^2) of 0.87299, for the statistically minded out there. For those of you without a numbers background, that means it fits really well. 

    Essentially, a player's draft value was calculated by subtracting his expected four-year win shares from the actual total. That residual, as it grows higher and higher, means the player was more and more valuable for that draft slot. 

    As a final note, players drafted in 2011, 2012 and 2013 are not yet eligible for this countdown, which shows each team's best draft value in the last two decades (draft-day trades accounted for), displayed in order of increasing value. They haven't yet played four complete seasons, so they'll only be listed as de facto honorable mentions when one has a slight chance of displacing the franchise's current representative. 


    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from and are current as of June 11, 2014. 


30. Washington Wizards: Jahidi White, 6.4 Win Shares Above Expectations

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    Drafted: No. 43 in 1998

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 2.5

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 8.9


    The Washington Wizards don't really have a stellar draft history, as it's littered with more busts than successful selections over the last few decades. Even John Wall, though he's becoming one of the league's best point guards, might have trouble meeting his expected win shares due to a relatively slow start. 

    Bradley Beal should surpass Jahidi White after he's gotten through the first four years of his career, but for now, the Wizards are represented by a second-round pick from the late 1990s. 

    White struggled during his rookie year out of Georgetown, but he quickly turned things around. He ended up starting most games for Washington over the next three years of his career, topping out in 2000-01 by averaging 8.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. 

    Was he a standout? Nope, but he was a decent starter, which is more than is typically expected from a No. 43 pick. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Bradley Beal

29. Memphis Grizzlies: Shane Battier, 10.9

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    Drafted: No. 6 in 2001

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 13.8

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 24.7


    Shane Battier has become a role player at the tail end of his career, but let's not forget just how good he was fresh off his tutelage at the hands of Mike Krzyzewski. 

    During his rookie season, Battier got off to a quick start. He was on the floor to open all 78 games he appeared in, averaging 14.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest while shooting 37.3 percent from beyond the arc.

    Even then, his analytical mind was probably churning. 

    Battier, who would spend only the first five years of his career with the Memphis Grizzlies, did more than enough to justify his draft position—and then some—during the opening salvo of his career. Earning a combined 9.3 defensive win shares is no easy feat, and that total alone nearly met his expected sum. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

28. Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard, 14.5

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    Drafted: No. 1 in 2004

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 24.1

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 38.5


    Yes, it's possible for a No. 1 selection to be a value pick. 

    After all, even the top pick in a draft has historical expectations, which just happen to be earning 24.1 win shares over the first four years of a career. If someone—like Dwight Howard—shatters those expectations by dominating from Day 1 and continuing to improve, then they're still one hell of a value. 

    Granted, it's a different sense of value. Typically, we compare players to other draft picks in the same class, but this article is looking at them as compared to other selections at that slot throughout the draft's history. 

    For D12, the comparison is extremely favorable.

    He averaged a double-double as a rookie and exceeded the four-year expectations in just three seasons before earning another 12.9 win shares during the 2007-08 campaign. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

27. Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant, 14.5

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    Drafted: No. 13 in 1996

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 9.4

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 23.9


    If more than just the first four years mattered, Kobe Bryant would obviously rank quite a bit higher. After all, he's become one of the best players of all time, carried the Los Angeles Lakers to a literal handful of titles and established himself as the unquestioned face of the storied franchise for quite a long period. 

    However, only the opening four seasons are taken into account here, which doesn't exactly work in the Mamba's favor. 

    After all, he spent the 1996-97 season having a difficult time making the leap from Lower Merion to the Association, and it wasn't until his third go-round—which he spent in a suit for 32 games—that he truly established himself as a dominant player. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

26. Charlotte Hornets: Jamaal Magloire, 15.4

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    Drafted: No. 19 in 2000

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 7.2

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 22.6


    When the Charlotte Bobcats changed their name to the Charlotte Hornets, they were able to subsume the history of the 1990s Hornets, which is quite lucky for them. Otherwise, we'd be looking at Jared Dudley as the best value pick of the more recent portion of the franchise's history. 

    Now, it's Jamaal Magloire, which is a rather sizable upgrade. 

    Magloire, who was selected outside the lottery in the 2000 NBA draft, took only four seasons to make his first All-Star team, which he did by virtue of averaging 13.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 2003-04. 

    That season alone, he earned 7.6 win shares, which is more than the four-year expectations. Beating that latter number in only one year is always a recipe for success. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Kemba Walker

25. Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford, 15.4

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    Drafted: No. 3 in 2007

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 17.8

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 33.2


    The Atlanta Hawks haven't been particularly gifted when it comes to hitting on draft selections, though the franchise hopes that changes under Danny Ferry, who has been more unorthodox since signing on as the general manager. 

    But over the last 20 years, there aren't too many players who have emerged as values. Marvin Williams is not one of them, whether you're comparing him to historical selections at No. 2 or Chris Paul and Deron Williams

    Al Horford, though, has shattered the expectations. 

    During the first two years of his career, the former Gator earned 12.3 win shares. Then he posted double-digit totals during each of the next two.


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

24. Chicago Bulls: Kirk Hinrich, 16.1

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    Drafted: No. 7 in 2003

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 12.9

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 29.0


    Watching Kirk Hinrich now, it's hard to imagine that he was once thought of as a lottery pick, but such was the case during the stacked 2003 NBA draft class. He could shoot the lights out of the gym, distribute the ball quite well and play defense with the best of 'em. 

    Hinrich, who would go on to become the franchise leader in made three-pointers, got off to a roaring start. He made 144 during his rookie season and posted comparable totals each of the next three years. 

    In fact, he and Ben Gordon are the only two players in NBA history to make at least 125 triples in each of their first four seasons. Ironically enough, Gordon is another player who exceeded the expectations when the Bulls drafted him. 

    Kudos to the Bulls for drafting that backcourt pair in back-to-back years. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Jimmy Butler

23. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Love, 16.8

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    Drafted: No. 5 in 2008

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 14.8

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 31.6


    Has Kevin Love ever made the playoffs? Nope. 

    But it doesn't really matter here, as he's been an incredibly valuable player for the Minnesota Timberwolves while asserting himself as one of the best power forwards in recent history. 

    Love didn't begin starting full time until his third season in the Association, but he was already so good as a scorer and rebounder that he made the All-Star squad each of the next two seasons. During the 2010-11 campaign, his third as a pro, he even averaged 20.2 points and a league-best 15.2 rebounds per game. 

    Not too shabby, huh?

    That year alone, he earned over 11 win shares, coming perilously close to surpassing top-five expectations in just a single season. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

22. Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson, 17.2

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    Drafted: No. 18 in 2009

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 7.5

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 24.7


    The speedy point guard took a little while to adjust to the pace of the NBA, where everyone was as quick as the fastest teams in college basketball, but he eventually got the hang of things. 

    Ty Lawson began his professional career as an incredibly efficient point guard, one of the few who was capable of shooting over 50 percent from the field. But as he started to earn more playing time for the Denver Nuggets, he began to sacrifice a bit of his shooting pickiness for overall offensive effectiveness, and the results were quite positive. 

    Though he still hasn't made an All-Star team, the North Carolina product has still become an upper-tier point guard in the Association. That happened during the 2012-13 campaign, when his 7.4 win shares nearly matched his four-year expectations. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Kenneth Faried

21. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin, 17.8

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    Drafted: No. 1 in 2009

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 24.1

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 41.9


    The second No. 1 pick to appear in this countdown to the best value pick of the last 20 years, Blake Griffin took advantage of a delayed start to his professional career. Even though he was drafted in 2009, his fourth season technically came in 2013-14, as he didn't make his debut until the 2010-11 campaign. 

    All he's done in the NBA is assert himself as a top-10 player and the best power forward in basketball while making four All-Star teams. He even averaged 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game as a rookie. 

    Just take a gander at these win share totals over the last four years: 

    • 2010-11: 9.8
    • 2011-12: 9.2
    • 2012-13: 10.5
    • 2013-14: 12.2

    I'd say he's more than justified going at No. 1. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

20. Golden State Warriors: Gilbert Arenas, 18.5

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    Drafted: No. 30 in 2001

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 4.6

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 23.1


    Long before Gilbert Arenas had trouble in locker rooms and ended up making a premature exit from the Association, he was an incredibly dynamic offensive player. Dynamic enough to average 25.5 points and 5.1 assists per game during his fourth season in the NBA. 

    Of course, that came with the Washington Wizards, as he signed there as a free agent just two years into his professional career. While that hurts his status in Golden State Warriors history, it doesn't affect his status as a draft steal, as win share totals are compiled regardless of the team for which they were earned. 

    Even though he played for both the Wiz and the Dubs during his first four seasons, Arenas still managed to submit two separate campaigns in which he exceeded his four-year expectations—2002-03 (6.5 win shares) and 2004-05 (11.5)., writing back in 2007, even called Arenas the best No. 30 pick of all time: 

    In this day and age of advanced scouting and information overload, players still manage to fall through the cracks. See Gilbert Arenas, who played at a big-time college program at the University of Arizona, making his omission even more shocking …This three-time All-Star blossomed into one of the league’s premier scorers and entertainers in D.C. after playing his first two seasons with the Warriors.

    Not bad.


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Draymond Green, Klay Thompson

19. Houston Rockets: Cuttino Mobley, 18.6

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    Drafted: No. 41 in 1998

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 2.8

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 21.4


    Cuttino Mobley's prime was quite short and didn't lead to even a single All-Star appearance, but he peaked during the opening years of his career. 

    The shooting guard was never better than he was in either 2001-02, when he averaged 21.7 points, 4.1 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game for the Houston Rockets, or 2001-02, when he had less impressive per-game numbers but earned a career-best 8.2 win shares. 

    Either way, he shattered the expectations typically associated with a No. 41 pick. 

    In fact, he earned more than the expected 2.8 during three of those first four seasons, falling short only as a rookie when he posted just 2.3.

    That said, Chandler Parsons, who was picked at No. 38 in the 2011 NBA draft, is on pass to surpass Mobley. Expected to pick up 3.2 win shares in the first four years of his career, the Florida product already has 18 through his first three seasons. Another campaign like the last two, and he's there. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Chandler Parsons

18. Brooklyn Nets: Richard Jefferson, 18.6

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    Drafted: No. 13 in 2001

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 9.4

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 28


    It's hard to believe now, after he's been massively ineffective and overpaid for a few years, but Richard Jefferson was a high-quality player during his prime. 

    Even though he played only 33 games during the 2004-05 season, his fourth in the NBA, he still managed to shatter the expectations. The year prior, he averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 49.8 percent from the field and 38.6 percent beyond the arc, and he made quite a few defensive contributions as well. 

    In fact, Jefferson earned 13.6 defensive win shares during the first four years of his professional career. He literally could have sat down on offense, refused to contribute whatsoever and still done better than the expectations. 

    Considering he was a lottery pick in 2001, that's quite significant. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Mason Plumlee

17. Sacramento Kings: Kevin Martin, 18.8

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    Drafted: No. 26 in 2004

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 5.4

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 24.2


    As good as Kevin Martin was early in his career, it seems likely that Isaiah Thomas will end up dethroning him once he's played the necessary number of seasons. 

    After all, the diminutive point guard who was Mr. Irrelevant in the 2011 NBA draft has already earned 17.1 win shares during his career, a total bolstered by the 7.7 he racked up during the 2013-14 campaign. So long as he can earn another 2.5 during the next season, he'll move past Martin, considering No. 60 picks are historically expected to finish up the four years at 0.6. 

    But Martin still gets the featured spot, and for good reason. Despite hearing 25 names called out before his during the 2004 NBA draft, it took him only three years to start scoring over 20 points per game in remarkably efficient fashion.


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Isaiah Thomas

16. Indiana Pacers: Danny Granger, 19.1

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    Drafted: No. 17 in 2005

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 7.8

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 26.9


    Paul George exceeded the expectations by 10.9 win shares. Lance Stephenson came out 2.9 win shares above his projected total. 

    Both might be better than Danny Granger now, but during this analysis, they can't touch the man who used to lead the Indiana Pacers in scoring. 

    Granger's NBA career got off to a slow start after he left New Mexico behind, but he steadily improved during the opening portion of his career. During his fourth season as a professional, he made his first and only All-Star team, averaging 25.8 points per game en route to a season with eight win shares. 

    Even though he was never a superstar, he was a consistent two-way presence for a team that desperately needed a leader. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

15. Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Redd, 19.7

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    Drafted: No. 43 in 2000

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 2.5

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 22.2


    Well, this wasn't supposed to happen. 

    Coming out of Ohio State, Michael Redd wasn't exactly a highly coveted prospect. He fell all the way into the middle of the second round, despite the historically awful nature of the 2000 NBA draft, though that wasn't exactly known at the time.

    All he did was blow away the expectations. 

    Eventually becoming the fourth leading scorer in the history of the Milwaukee Bucks, Redd managed to make the All-Star team by the time the first four years of his career had come and gone. That came in 2003-04, when the 2-guard averaged 21.7 points per game. 

    Expected to earn 2.5 win shares over four years, Redd nearly quadrupled that in 2003-04 alone. If it weren't for the minus-0.1 win shares he accumulated as a rookie while playing only 35 minutes all season, he'd rank quite a bit higher. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

14. Philadelphia 76ers: Andre Iguodala, 19.9

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    Drafted: No. 9 in 2004

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 11.5

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 31.4


    The obvious challenger here is Michael Carter-Williams, who went from being the No. 11 pick in a weak 2013 NBA draft to earning Rookie of the Year in rather decisive fashion. 

    As an 11th selection, MCW is expected to earn 10.3 win shares in the first four years of his career, which means he'll need 30.3 in order to top Andre Iguodala in terms of beating the expectations. After his first go-round saw him earn just 1.3, that could be rather difficult. 

    I'm still listing him as a challenger due to his prominent spot in the lineup, but he'll have to play far better. His ROY was based more on opportunity than production, as his inefficiency actually led to minus-0.8 offensive win shares in 2013-14. 

    Iguodala, though, was a versatile two-way player fresh out of Arizona. It took him just over a season and a half to break past his expected win share total after racking up 6.6 during his rookie year. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Michael Carter-Williams

13. Oklahoma City Thunder: Serge Ibaka, 21.0

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    Drafted: No. 24 in 2008

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 5.9

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 26.9


    The obvious names here are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but Serge Ibaka beats both of them. 

    Durant, although he'd go on to win multiple scoring titles in the first four years of his incredible career, exceeded the expectations by "only" 18.1 win shares. That's the problem with being the No. 2 pick and having your coach try to stick you at shooting guard during your rookie season, thereby depressing your efficiency. 

    Westbrook, while he improved each and every season early on in his career, beat his own expectations by 9.3 win shares. 

    Ibaka has the luxury of falling out of the lottery. Though there were certainly financial ramifications to only going at No. 24 in the 2008 NBA draft, it's helped him exceed the projection by a huge amount. His shot-blocking and mid-range shooting have done wonders for the Oklahoma City Thunder, after all. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

12. New York Knicks: David Lee, 21.4

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    Drafted: No. 30 in 2005

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 4.6

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 26.0


    It's hard to believe that David Lee was only barely a first-round draft pick when he was coming out of Florida. 

    Now that he's been one of the better offensive power forwards in basketball for a few years running and has established himself as a constant threat on the glass, it's inconceivable that he was passed on 30 times during the 2005 NBA draft.

    Then again, there's his defense...

    Regardless, Lee was expected to earn only 4.6 win shares during the first four years of his career, all of which took place well before he was traded to the Golden State Warriors. Remember, that's the total. 

    Lee earned 2.7 as a rookie, then kept improving until he nearly doubled the four-year expectations during the last of his eligible go-rounds. As a result, he's become one of he biggest steals in recent memory. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Tim Hardaway Jr.

11. Portland Trail Blazers: Brandon Roy, 21.6

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    Drafted: No. 6 in 2006

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 13.8

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 35.4


    While it's a shame that a lack of functioning knees ended Brandon Roy's career way too soon, let's not forget just how good he was early in his career. After dominating during his rookie season, the 2-guard made the All-Star game each of the next three seasons while establishing himself as the future of the shooting guard position. 

    That future never came, unfortunately, but Roy played long enough to leave his expected win share total in the dust. He earned 13.5 in his third year alone. 

    That said, can Damian Lillard dethrone him as the Rip City representative? 

    In order to do so, the No. 6 pick of the 2012 NBA draft would have to earn 35.4 win shares during his first four professional seasons. Through two campaigns, he's sitting pretty at 15.4. 

    It's possible, but it'll take some pretty remarkable play. Basically, the Weber State product has to improve rather significantly on defense, as he's earned a total of 2.5 defensive win shares thus far. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Damian Lillard

10. Toronto Raptors: Vince Carter, 21.9

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    Drafted: No. 5 in 1998

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 14.8

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 36.7


    Even if Toronto Raptors fans might feel bitter when seeing Vince Carter back in those awesome purple threads (though I maintain that it would be cool to see him finish his career north of the border), it's impossible to deny just how dominant this swingman was early in this career. 

    After all, Air Canada could fly like few others ever have. 

    What's particularly amazing is that he racked up 36.7 win shares during the first four years of his career even though the 1998-99 season was shortened by a lockout. If you prorate his season to account for the missed opportunities, he'd jump from 5.0 to 8.2 win shares as a rookie. 

    And, of course, that would push the amount by which he exceed expectations to 25.1, moving him up another two spots in these rankings. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

9. Detroit Pistons: Mehmet Okur, 22.6

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    Drafted: No. 37 in 2001

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 3.4

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 26.0


    Mehmet Okur might be one of the most nondescript All-Stars in recent memory. 

    Granted, his All-Star appearance came during his fifth professional season, so it's not exactly relevant here, but it does underscore just how good this big man was during his prime. He spent the first four years of his career playing for both the Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz, topping out with 9.3 win shares during the last season eligible for this analysis. 

    Now, the question of Andre Drummond.

    What does he need to do in order to supplant Okur and give Detroit a representative who actually played for the Pistons over more than two seasons?

    He's earned 14.4 win shares in the two years since he was picked at No. 9 out of Connecticut, and he has to get to 34.1 in order to beat Okur. 

    That's not an easy task, but it's certainly possible if the 20-year-old big man keeps developing so quickly. Stan Van Gundy should help move the process right along. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Andre Drummond

8. Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade, 24.0

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    Drafted: No. 5 in 2003

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 14.8

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 38.8


    If the entire career mattered, Dwyane Wade would fare even better. But that's not how this works, so only the first of his three rings with the Miami Heat matters, and even that postseason performance doesn't technically factor into this breakdown. 

    Still, though, think about how good Flash was during the 2006 run to the title, one that came at the expense of the Dallas Mavericks and was buoyed by quite a few free-throw attempts. He was pretty darn excellent during the regular season as well, averaging 27.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. 

    That regular season alone, Wade earned 14.4 win shares. It's not easy to justify a top-five pick in only one year, but that's exactly what this future Hall of Famer did. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

7. Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James, 25.3

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    Drafted: No. 1 in 2003

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 24.1

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 49.4


    It's inconceivable that a No. 1 pick can be the No. 7 value in these rankings.

    Then again, LeBron James is inconceivably good at this whole basketball thing. Take a gander at these win share totals from his first four seasons: 

    • 2003-04: 5.1
    • 2004-05: 14.3
    • 2005-06: 16.3
    • 2006-07: 13.7

    That's just not even fair. 

    Honing in on the 2005-06 season, when James finished in the top two of the MVP voting for the first of many times in his career, LeBron did something that very few have ever accomplished. Throughout all of NBA history, only 18 players have ever topped 16 win shares during one of their first four seasons. 

    Though the Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled drafting in recent years, LeBron wasn't the only excellent pick. Carlos Boozer exceeded the expectations by 19 win shares, and both Andre Miller and Derek Anderson also found themselves on the right side of 10.


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

6. Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki, 25.4

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    Drafted: No. 9 in 1998

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 11.5

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 36.9


    Not only has Dirk Nowitzki established himself as the greatest player in Dallas Mavericks history, but he's easily the franchise's biggest draft value in the last 20 years. Only Josh Howard comes anywhere close. 

    A precocious 7-footer from Germany, Nowitzki made nearly immediate contributions after he was picked at No. 9 well over a decade ago. Though hindered by the lockout, he still earned 0.8 win shares as a rookie and exploded from that point forward. 

    In his third season, Dirk earned 14.6, beating the expectations in just a single season. The next year, he'd make his first All-Star squad, and he's only missed out on those midseason festivities once since then. 

    Much like Wade, LeBron and all the other future Hall of Famers in these rankings, he'd only be aided by more than four seasons counting. Then again, he doesn't fare too poorly with only the opening salvo accounted for. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

5. Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce, 25.5

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    Drafted: No. 10 in 1998

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 10.9

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 36.4


    Paul Pierce was selected just one pick after Dirk, so let's run a direct comparison of their first four seasons: 

     Paul PierceDirk Nowitzki

    It's amazing how comparable those charts are.

    Dirk ended up passing The Truth during the tail end of the relevant period, but they finished separated by only 0.5 win shares. Then again, Pierce was picked one spot later in the underrated 1998 draft class, so he was expected to earn 0.6 fewer win shares. 

    And 0.6 is greater than 0.5, so Pierce comes in just barely ahead of the German 7-footer. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

4. Phoenix Suns: Shawn Marion, 27.1

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    Drafted: No. 9 in 1999

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 11.5

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 38.6


    Remember when Shawn Marion was considered one of the top fantasy basketball draft picks out there? I know, I know. It's hard to think back to all your past drafts, but "The Matrix" should still stand out because of his ability to contribute in every category. 

    During his fourth season, for example, Marion somehow averaged 21.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the field, 38.7 percent beyond the arc and 85.1 percent at the charity stripe. 

    That's insane. 

    Oh, and it led to 13 win shares during that season alone, which single-handedly trumped his four-year expectations. 

    Marion and Nowitzki were both picked No. 9 in back-to-back years, and while Dirk had a better career, Marion got off to the better start. Remember, only those first four years matter, seeing as teams can't guarantee to control a player any longer than that. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

3. Utah Jazz: Andrei Kirilenko, 27.7

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    Drafted: No. 24 in 1999

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 5.9

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 33.6


    Just as Marion was a stat-sheet-stuffer during his athletic prime, so too was Andrei Kirilenko. And while AK47 wasn't quite as good as his counterpart on the Phoenix Suns, he did get picked 15 spots lower, which severely lowered the expectations for the early portion of his career. 

    Kirilenko made immediate contributions for the Utah Jazz, earning an impressive 7.3 win shares during his rookie season alone. In the history of the NBA (since they began tracking all these stats, at least), only 23 players have ever averaged at least one point, rebound, assist, steal and block per game. 

    Not only is Kirilenko on that list, but he earned the sixth-most win shares of any of those players, more than guys like Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce and Patrick Ewing. 

    How's that for a good start to his career? 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: None

2. San Antonio Spurs: Manu Ginobili, 33.2

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    Drafted: No. 57 in 1999

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 0.9

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 34.1


    Sixth Man of the Year. Two-time All-Star. Two-time All-NBA. Three-time champion. 

    That's not a resume that typically belongs to a No. 57 pick in the NBA draft, but Manu Ginobili isn't your typical selection from the back end of the second round. The San Antonio Spurs landed one hell of a steal when they drafted this crafty Argentine 2-guard, then let him develop abroad for a few years before adding him to the roster. 

    The plan worked. Obviously. 

    Based on his draft slot, Ginobili was expected to earn only 0.9 win shares over the first four years of his career. Frankly, most No. 57 picks don't even last four years. 

    He earned 4.2 as a rookie, then more than doubled that number each of the next three years. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Kawhi Leonard

1. New Orleans Pelicans: Chris Paul, 39.2

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    Drafted: No. 4 in 2005

    Expected 4-Year Win Shares: 16.1

    Actual 4-Year Win Shares: 55.3


    Even though Chris Paul was selected after only three players had come off the board during the 2005 NBA draft, he's still managed to establish himself as the best draft value in the last 20 years. Actually, longer than that, as no one since the NBA-ABA merger has exceed the four-year expectations by a larger margin. 

    CP3 found immediate success in the Association, averaging 16.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game as a rookie, which helped him earn an insane 10.4 win shares. Only 28 players have ever cracked double digits in their first seasons, to put that in perspective. 

    Though he'd earn "just" 8.8 as a sophomore—thanks to injuries—he racked up 17.8 in his third season and topped that during the 2008-09 season with another 18.3. 

    Those numbers just aren't supposed to happen. 

    Now, you can see that Anthony Davis is listed below, more for the sake of completeness than anything else, but let's go over exactly what would need to happen for the big man to top the point guard's record.

    The Brow, who was picked No. 1 in the 2012 NBA draft, has already earned an impressive 16.5 win shares in two years of action. By the end of his fourth go-round, he'll need to get to 63.4 in order to break CP3's mark. 

    Yes, that's 23.5 win shares per season from this point forward. Good luck, Davis, seeing as that number has been topped only twice in NBA history, once by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (25.37 in 1971-72) and once by Wilt Chamberlain (24.98 in 1963-64). 

    "Every situation is different," Paul said while discussing the age restrictions in the NBA earlier this year, via Dan Woike of the Orange County Register"I knew I wasn’t ready after my freshman year. But, that’s not everybody’s situation."

    I'd say he was ready after his sophomore year. 


    Biggest Recent Challengers Who Aren't Yet Eligible: Anthony Davis