Quantitative Analysis Of Early Entry Decisions: Part I
May 11, 2011 3 Comments
The deadline for early entrants to withdraw from the 2011 NBA Draft passed on Sunday night, ending two weeks of speculation on the futures of many of college basketball’s prized players. Around this time every year, it is common to read plenty of discussion on the merits of the decisions to stay or go. Without fail there are always a handful of players who decide to stay in the draft who get reamed because of their limited draft buzz. This season there appeared to be more of these fringe prospects declaring early because many of the projected lottery picks decided against testing the draft waters. The common consensus is that the influx of these borderline guys has made a weak drafter even weaker.
Despite the trend of top players staying in school, the overall number of early entrants for the 2011 NBA Draft is very similar to what we have seen in previous years. In total, 40 of the 61 current Division I players who declared opted to hire an agent and stay in the draft — a number that is actually smaller than last season’s figure of 48. However, there was a large decrease in the number of players who decided to test the waters, from 78 in 2010 to the 61 this year. Since the pool of those who stayed in has been relatively constant over the years, I decided to take a look at what has happened to those early entrants in an effort to quantitatively analyze whether or not the players hoping to be drafted this season made a quality decision or not.
To accomplish this task, I gathered lists of all the early entrants for the three drafts since 2008. For the purposes of this post, I’m assuming that the goal of each early entrant is to be drafted. The second part of this series will focus on the goal of actually playing in the NBA. For the first part, then, the results are pretty telling of why players decide to leave. On average, early entrants were drafted 75% of the time over the last three years. Essentially, players have a 3 in 4 chance of being drafted, or a 1 in 4 chance of going undrafted. Those are pretty nice odds for a borderline guy to consider, but they do not tell the whole story.From here I separated the individuals into four categories: lottery picks, non-lottery first round picks, second round picks, and undrafted. I separated out the lottery picks from other first round picks because it is common for these players to have solid information about their draft chances ahead of time. In other words, these players don’t have to fret as much over their decisions. Moreover, I only included Division I college players for this project. The results of this sorting technique are shown below.
The distributions represented in the pie graphs above are incredibly uniform across the years. For the guys who are outside of the lottery projections, there has typically been about a 50% chance of being drafted in either picks 15 through 30 or in the second round. These individuals have the toughest call to make because sliding out of the first round entails the loss of a guaranteed contract.
However, the chances of being picked at spots 15 through 30 are actually greater than they are at spots 30 through 60. On average over the course of the last three drafts, 58% of the non-lottery first round picks have gone to early entrants. By comparison, early entrants have accounted for just 30% of second round picks. The other picks selected in these spots traditionally consist of college seniors or international players. In sum, it’s no wonder players testing the waters fret so much about whether or not they can find their way into the first round — the odds of being drafted are not quite as great if they fall to the second.
The final component here — and the one no one wants to be a part of — is the undrafted pool. Last year, both Manny Harris and Samardo Samuels went undrafted as early entrants yet managed to find their way onto an NBA roster. The Cleveland Cavaliers won’t be there for all undrafted players though. Over the three years studied here, Harris and Samuels were the only undrafted early entrants to play in the NBA. Statistically, that comes out to a 6% chance of making an NBA roster as an early entrant who goes undrafted. Yikes.
So what does this tell us for this year’s much-maligned early entrant class? Using the historical averages gleaned from this study, I came up with a multiplier to use for each of the four possibilities awaiting early entrants in June. The following numbers represent the forecasted outcomes for this year’s 40 early entrants.
While the actual results of the draft will no doubt deviate from the numbers in the figure above, they should at least give us a fairly strong idea as to the fates of the 2011 early entrants based on history. One factor that could shift this representation is the presence of a number of highly-regarded international prospects eligible for this year’s prospect pool. Many mock drafts have up to four or five international players projected in the lottery. This would definitely be a departure from the trend lately toward choosing early entrants from college in the lottery (last year all 14 lottery picks were DI early entrants).
For now these figures should give this year’s early entrant class some breathing room. Most of the guys who have been projected as fringe prospects have a great chance of getting drafted based on history, even if about half of these borderline guys do fall to the second round. If you can pick out 10 guys on this list who will go undrafted, then there is a strong possibility all of the others will be drafted. There are only about five or six guys of the 40 early entrants who seem like absolute locks to go undrafted, and many of them are only here because their options for college ball have dried up due to suspensions or character issues. Ultimately, history has shown that NBA teams will take a flier on an early entrant later in the draft just as often as they do on seniors and foreign players.
In the next part of this series, I’ll go beyond the simple goal of being drafted to look at the goal of becoming an actual NBA player — because not all draft picks end up in the NBA.