NBA Draft Positions

Updated: In Sports

A bit of data analysis of draft positions across starting lineups in the NBA. For the five starting players on each team, I collected the draft positions and year drafted. So the data is for the 150 players across the 30 teams. I figure starters tend to have the biggest impact and what you want out of your drafts. Undrafted players were assigned a draft position of 61, since NBA has only two rounds 60 spots in the draft.

For any given starter, the average position picked: 19.7

For any given starter, the average year picked is 2010 , or said another way, the average starter has 7 years experience.

Number of first round picks11778%
Number of second round picks2416%
Number of undrafted players96%

Teams sorted on average pick position of their starters, for example Cleveland is LeBron (1), Kyrie (1), Tristan Thompson (4), Kevin Love (5), and JR Smith (18) for an average pick of 5.8. The chart shows us the Knicks have the second highest starters, so high draft picked players alone don’t necessarily make a winning team.

Cleveland Cavaliers5.8
New York Knicks7.8
Minnesota Timberwolves8.2
Charlotte Hornets8.4
Oklahoma City Thunder11.0
Portland Trail Blazers11.2
Orlando Magic11.6
Phoenix Suns13.8
Washington Wizards15.4
Sacramento Kings16.2
Indiana Pacers17.2
LA Clippers17.6
Los Angeles Lakers17.8
Toronto Raptors17.8
Utah Jazz17.8
Chicago Bulls18.6
Detroit Pistons19.0
Golden State Warriors19.4
New Orleans Pelicans20.2
Denver Nuggets21.8
Milwaukee Bucks24.0
Brooklyn Nets24.2
Houston Rockets26.8
Memphis Grizzlies28.6
Dallas Mavericks28.8
Atlanta Hawks30.0
San Antonio Spurs30.4
Miami Heat31.8
Boston Celtics34.4
Philadelphia 76ers36.6

Here are the teams sorted by average draft years of starters, showing which teams have the oldest to youngest starters.

Memphis Grizzlies2005
LA Clippers2007
Cleveland Cavaliers2007
Dallas Mavericks2008
San Antonio Spurs2008
New York Knicks2008
Golden State Warriors2008
Toronto Raptors2009
Chicago Bulls2009
Houston Rockets2009
Boston Celtics2009
Indiana Pacers2009
Utah Jazz2009
Phoenix Suns2009
Denver Nuggets2009
Sacramento Kings2010
Atlanta Hawks2010
Charlotte Hornets2010
Washington Wizards2010
New Orleans Pelicans2011
Brooklyn Nets2011
Miami Heat2011
Detroit Pistons2001
Oklahoma City Thunder2013
Orlando Magic2013
Minnesota Timberwolves2013
Portland Trail Blazers2013
Philadelphia 76ers2013
Milwaukee Bucks2014
Los Angeles Lakers2015

A scatterplot of all starters by draft position and year #1 overall pick and undrafted picks highlighted.

NBA Draft Position/Year

Finally a cumulative graph by draft position showing what percentage of starters in the league are above a given point, for example 21% of the starters are from top 4 draft picks.

NBA Draft Position Cumulative

Summary

I initially started playing with it because I was curious how big of an impact the top players really do have, are people making too big of a fuss over the first handful of picks. Well, it turns out it is a great amount, more than half the starters in the league come from the top 15 draft positions.

Also, the data will get even more skewed towards the top once Philadelphia starts playing all their early picks, they’re going to jump from bottom almost to the top.

If you want to play with the data, download my Excel workbook NBA Starters Draft, and let me know if you come up with any additional insights.

§ Starting player data from ESPN Depth Chart, draft position and year from Basketball Reference.