The Case for the Phoenix Suns acquiring mid-draft picks


The Background

Lots of discussion recently has revolved around us attempting to acquire additional first round picks in this year's draft. The vast majority of the conversation has revolved around swapping Gortat or Dudley for a lottery or near lottery pick. There has also been discussion about picking up the Dallas pick, but as that situation is entirely unpredictable, I'm not going to deal with it.

In general, the propositions, in my opinion, overvalue our assets. That being said, I do think Gortat and Dudley have trade value for picks, in particular middle of the draft picks. But, in order to advocate for this, I thought it would be worthwhile to look into how players picked here fair in the NBA.

Mid Draft Picks

Since Gortat and Dudley aren't really worth a lottery pick in and of themselves, some people might write off moving them. However, I got to thinking, while they might not be worth a lottery pick, they are surely worth a middle of the draft pick. That got me thinking, what is the real worth of a middle of the draft pick? It is widely debated, with some viewing them as kind of worthless (the Suns used to sell theirs) and others seeing them as the keys to building continuous winners (the Spurs).

First off, I needed to define what I was identifying as a middle of the draft pick. To some degree, I think of the draft as divided up into three parts: picks 1-19, filled with the most direct to the NBA talent; picks 20-40, filled with more developmental prospects or less surefire picks; and picks 41-60, where you take long-shots and hope for the best. Middle of the draft picks, then, will be considered those picks in the 20-40 range.

Then I needed to define success. I decided to go with a career MPG criteria. This is probably the most objective way to think about success, because it leaves defining success up to the teams. The more minutes a player gets, which is totally determined by the team, the more successful that player can be seen to be.

I established 4 categories, based on career mpg: 25+ mpg (equates roughly to starter); 18-25 mpg (equates roughly to rotation player); 10-18 mpg (equates roughly to bench player); and Bust.

Bust is a unique category, and requires a little bit of explanation. First, and most simply, a player is considered a bust if they never averaged a career mpg above 10. Second, however, a player is considered a bust if they are no longer in the league at this point in time. Considering I only went back to 2007, I think it is fair to consider a player who is no longer in the league a bust. Finally, because bust has two characteristics, it is possible to be a player who falls into one of the other categories and is still considered a bust. A prime candidate would be someone like Jordan Farmer (drafted in 2006, so not in the sample). He averaged around 20 mpg, which would put him squarely in the rotation player category. However, he hasn't played in the league since 2011, and is therefore considered a bust.

I also collected data on age of prospects, whether they were international players, whether they played at a small school, and how many of the years since their draft year they played in the NBA (at least 20 games).

The Results

25+ mpg

18-25 mpg

10-18 mpg


Median yrs played/since draft




































As the chart shows, results are somewhat mixed. The best draft for middle of the draft picks was undeniably 2008, where 18/22 picks ended up having career MPG totals of 10 mpg or better. 2010 seems to have been a particularly bad draft: despite being seen as a relatively strong draft, players taken after pick 19 have fared poorly, with more than half the guys taken between 20-40 having played only 1 real season with an NBA team and 14 guys busting out, or about 2/3 of those drafted. Now, it is still somewhat early, and some of those guys may come back, but it isn't encouraging.

The greater trend, however, is that these picks have a fairly strong tendency to develop into serviceable rotation players. Of the 105 players in the sample, 45 have ended up as either starters or key rotation players.

Some key points not found in the chart:

- International players in this range are slightly less likely to bust than American players. There were 21 international players taking: 8 were taken and played immediately, with a 50/50 split between busts/not busts; 13 were taken and stashed for various amounts of time, with 7 busting and 6 not busting.

- Small School guys don't seem to be any more or less likely to bust than guys from larger schools. In total, there were 22 guys taken from small schools, 12 of whom busted.

- There does not seem to be any correlation between busting and age on draft day, though drafting players at 18-19 seems to have paid large dividends (only one bust, Daniel Orton, out of 7 players). After that, it actually seems that being older pays higher dividends, with 19/33 players aged 22 avoiding the bust label, the highest percentage after 19. As both upperclassmen and international players (most of whom are drafted at age 22) usually come out at 22, this seems to indicate they are the safest picks in this range.

The Argument

So, what does this mean? My main argument is that, rather than holding onto Gortat and Dudley if we cannot get a lottery pick for them, we should be active in trying to move them for some of these middle of the Draft-type picks. There are a few different logical pathways to this conclusion:

- Gortat and Dudley, in combination with the #5, Dragic and Scola, may win too many games for us to have a strong shot at a top 3 pick next year. Gortat and Dudley in particular had down years this season, and if they return to form, it could spell the difference between a 27 win season and a 32 or 35 win season, which could be the difference between finishing 4th in the lottery or finishing 8th. Getting rid of them heightens our chances at a high lottery selection next season.

- Gortat and Dudley at this point are role players. The numbers above seem to indicate that the middle of the draft has a fairly good record of producing role players. The #5 and next year's first should be the key star pieces for this team going forward, along with Dragic. However, you still need young role players, as well. So trading our slightly older role players for a few opportunities to develop younger role players seems like potentially a risk worth taking. It could potentially shorten the rebuild time.

- Guys in the 31-40 range come with non-guaranteed contracts. That means that, potentially, we could take a few guys in that range and, if neither pans out, we are not on the hook for any salary after this season. In the meantime, they combined are fairly cheap. Given the roughly 50/50 development chance with picks in this range, if we could acquire another on top of our 30, the chances are fairly good that at least one will develop into a serviceable rotation player.

But who do the Suns target in this range? There are a few possibilities:

- #24 (NYK): The Knicks are in something of a pickle. They need both a solid backup center, and a solid player to back up Amar'e at the PF. They have limited cap space, however, and only one draft pick. An interesting trade would be to swap Scola and the 30 for the 24 and Scola. Obviously, this trade couldn't happen until after the Draft, and so there would have to be coordination in the drafting, but it is an interesting possibility. It works out for both parties (we move up a little and dump Scola, while the Knicks dump the oft-hurt Camby and pick up a player at a position of need), and the money works out perfectly.

- #29 and #32 (OKC): You could trade either Dudley or Gortat to OKC, as they have a potential need in both spots. Trading Gortat would require us to take back Perkins. Thus a trade like that would likely have to include Perkins, the 29, the 32, and perhaps Perry Jones. That seems far-fetched, but feasible. More promising might be trading Dudley. The Thunder are in something of a sticky situation, as Thabo Sefolosha is entering the final year of his contract, and they actually cannot re-sign him unless he comes back for the veteran's minimum, the salary cap increases, or they amnesty Perkins. Dudley, with his contract through 2015, helps them extend that problem, and gives them insurance if Jeremy Lamb does not pan out. A trade of Dudley and the 57th for Sefolosha, DeAndre Liggins (unguaranteed cap ballast, though we could keep him) the 29th and the 32nd could be interesting and beneficial to both parties. Dudley is probably a wash with Sefolosha with his better offensive production.

- #31 and #33 (CLE): The Cavaliers have a ton of picks, including two in the top 20. What they are lacking is veteran leadership and a starting caliber SF. Alonzo Gee isn't cutting it. A trade of Jared Dudley for the 31st, 33rd and Alonzo Gee would be get the Cavs the benefit of a veteran, starting caliber wing to pair more effectively with Kyrie Irving. Gee only has this upcoming year on his contract, so he could be kept or waved. At the same time, since 31 and 33 are non-guaranteed, this gives us the added benefit of being able to cut the players after the season if they aren't working out.

- #39, #40 or #45 (POR): Portland has a lot of bench needs, as they are particularly weak. If we were lucky, they might be willing to take on Beasley or potentially Shannon Brown for one of those picks. However, more realistically, swapping 'Kieff for one of these picks, or 'Kieff and #57 for two of these, seems doable, and beneficial to both sides. 'Kieff is a solid bench big for them, while we get some additional young assets that might better fit Horny's system.

- #17 and #18 (ATL): While not technically in the range I discussed, this is an intriguing place for movement. It seems likely Atlanta is going to pursue a re-tooling rather than a full rebuild. Even if they are intent on pursuing Dwight and CP3, they will still be in need of a starting caliber wing. They could trade one of these picks and John Jenkins (#23 from last season) for Dudley, which wouldn't really hurt their chances for signing the two big targets and would shore up their roster, with a core of Lou Williams, Dudley and Horford to pair with Dwight and CP3.


So, I think there are some interesting possibilities for moving into this range. While it might not be the lottery, it should still be okay. The numbers seem to indicate that about half of the players taken in this range will end up as significant rotation players, the kind of young role players to surround the #5, next year's lottery and Dragic with to help them succeed in the future.

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