Inside the Draft: Does a Player’s School Matter?

 

Since taking over the Kentucky program in 2009, John Calipari has had 17 players taken in the NBA Draft, including 12 first-round selections, and 2 overall #1 picks (John Wall and Anthony Davis.) 

The numbers can be staggering to look at, and they have led many around Kentucky, including fans and media, to offer the suggestion that the best way for a player to make it to the NBA is to go to Kentucky. High school players are being told often over social media that one of the reasons to choose Kentucky is this NBA Draft history.  Seeing the numbers may even make many outside of Kentucky to believe it to be true, but is it?

Does what school you go to really have any correlation to a player being drafted?

As with most things draft-related, the answer isn’t perfectly clear, but a closer look at some numbers may lead to some answers.

To test this out, I have put together the data from each of the NBA Drafts starting in 2006, the first year in which players could not go directly to the NBA from High School, through the 2013 Draft. Since this is to test the validity of the claim as a recruiting tool, I am only looking at players born in the United States or Canada, or those international players who went to school in the United States. All of the High School Recruiting rankings used are based off of Rivals data.

First, we’ll look at some simple breakdowns of the numbers. In the 8 drafts looked at, 380 who fit the above criteria were chosen in the NBA Draft.

[NOTE: One player was missing from the original count, a 3-star senior in 2013. Relevant numbers have been updated]

Here is a look at those 380 chosen, by class:

       Class

      Number

     Freshman

           60

    Sophomore

           69

       Junior

           94

      Senior

          153

         NA*

            4

*4 players who fit the criteria did not go to college or left college and played elsewhere before they were eligible for the draft: Brandon Jennings, Latavious Williams, Glen Rice, Jr., and Patrick Beverley. Jeremy Tyler was not included at all in this as he didn’t finish high school before starting his pro career.

For those interested, here is a yearly breakdown by class from 2006-2013:

    Year

 Freshmen

 Sophomore

 Junior

 Senior

  NA

    2006

     2

         8 

    14

     20

  0

    2007

     8

         5

    14

     20

  0

    2008

    12

         8 

    9

     19

  0

    2009

     4

         8

    11

     20

  2

    2010

    10

        13

    13

     16

  1

    2011

     7

         7

    14

     19

  0

    2012

     9

        13

     8

     21

  0

    2013

     8

         7

    11

     18

  1

 

The numbers look pretty much as you would expect from following the NBA Draft. Seniors have been picked more than any other class, followed by juniors, with sophomores and freshmen fairly close.

Now, this is where it all starts to make a little more sense. Here are the breakdowns of players by class and their High School ranking:

  Class/Ranking

  5 Star

  4 Star

  3 Star

  2 Star

  Not ranked

  Freshman

  56

  3

  1

  0

  0

  Sophomore 

  35

  23

  8

  0

  3

  Junior

  23

  32

  29

  4

  6

  Senior

  15

  46

  54

  7

  32

   NA

  2

  2

  0

  0

  0

 

So, a quick look at this chart shows that of the 60 freshmen selected in the NBA Draft from 2006-2013, 56 of them were considered “5 Star” high school prospects just a year earlier.  Sophomores also show the largest group of draftees coming from the “5 Star” range, though the difference between that tier and the others is not as great.

Overall, the largest group selected, by their High School ranking, are “5 Star” players, followed closely by “4 Star” players.

What does this have to do with what school a player goes to?

The answer is pretty much nothing.

A good part of the NBA Draft process is based on the “potential” of a player. It can be reasonably assumed that many of the players who are considered the top high school players haven’t reached their full potential. One year, and in many cases, two years of college will do little to tap into what NBA teams are looking for.  Teams are going to look at young players with this potential in mind. A breakdown by Class and Draft Round further bears this out:

  Class/Round

  1st Round Picks

  2nd Round Picks

  Freshman

          51

          9

  Sophomore

          54

         15

     Junior

          53

         41

     Senior

          44

        109

 

51 out of 60 freshmen selected in the NBA Draft were taken in the 1st round. 54 out of 69 sophomores were taken in the 1st round.

The guaranteed contract structure of 1st round selections makes it advantageous to teams to take players who still need time to develop. Teams sign 1st round selections to a guaranteed 2-year contract with team options in both the 3rd and 4th years, giving teams ample time to determine whether their investment will pan out.

Back to the original question –  does team matter?

Looking at Kentucky, they have had 20 players drafted since 2006 that fit the criteria. Of those 20, 11 were freshmen and 3 were sophomores, and all 14 of them were considered “5-star” prospects in high school.

And this isn’t to pick on Kentucky, though they are the most prominent example. I am sure many schools which have had numerous NBA Draft picks use it as a recruiting pitch.

-          Ohio State has had 7 freshmen and sophomores drafted since 2006. 6 were “5-star” prospects, and one, Evan Turner, was considered a “4-star” prospect.

-          Texas has had 8 freshmen and sophomores selected since 2006. 7 were considered “5-star” prospects, and 1, DJ Augustin, was considered a “4-star” prospect.

-          UCLA has had 6 freshmen and sophomores selected since 2006. 4 were considered “5-star”, 1 was considered “4-star” and Russell Westbrook was a “3-star” prospect.

Georgia Tech has had 3 “5-star” prospects drafted as freshmen. Memphis has had 3. Kansas State, Washington, Arizona, Kansas, USC and Duke have all had 2.

Now many may be quick to point out that these are all high-major schools, and that is true, but those are the schools that attract the top-rated high-school players. If a Derrick Rose or an Anthony Davis decided to play at a mid-major for whatever reason, you would be hard-pressed to say that they still wouldn’t have been 1st round picks after their freshman seasons.  

Overall, 29 different schools have had freshmen selected in the NBA Draft, including Marshall, which had Hassan Whiteside.

As you get to junior and senior years, it gets a little trickier, and certainly harder to pinpoint why some players are chosen over others. School may make a difference here, as some coaches’ styles and teachings make some players more ready to play in the NBA than others.

Other upperclassmen developed later on, or were overlooked as high school prospects.  Some may have just enjoyed the college experience.

Duke has had 7 seniors selected in the draft during this time period. North Carolina and Marquette have had 5, and Kansas and Washington have had 4.

None of this is a guarantee for NBA success and that will be a study for another time, but I think it has become somewhat clearer from the numbers that going to a particular school, especially those players in position to leave after a year or two, has very little to do with that player being drafted.  

 

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