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NBA Draft Lottery Picks: Bust potential by position

Recently I heard someone intimate that center was the most likely position to bust in the draft. Although it seemed like a somewhat logical, innocuous statement it piqued my interest as to whether or not it was actually true.

A bust... unfortunately
A bust... unfortunately
Jonathan Daniel

Sometimes things are not what they appear to be on the surface. For example, I often come across as acerbic, brooding and negative, but in real life... ok, bad example. Maybe this is a better one (thanks to the Gumpster). Take one of those boxes of assorted chocolates. At first glance most people would think - "Yum. Chocolate.", but then... by some cruel, insidious prank... it turns out some of the pieces are filled with some noisome concoction that I wouldn't feed my dog. Others are still perfectly good. Some are even absolutely delectable. But it's hard to know what you're going to get.

Such is the dilemma of the NBA draft. It's hard to know for sure how things will turn out. Sometimes there appear to be sure things, see James, Lebron, but other times unforeseen pitfalls still derail great expectations, see Oden, Greg. Now that we factor in that educated guesses are still wrong to a certain degree, how can we quantify that degree?

Let's take a look at 10 recent years of lottery picks (2002 -2011).


*Player position was determined by using the position with the most career games played based on

Here's what I used as my general criteria:

  • #1 picks need to be franchise players
  • #2 - #5 need to be above average starters and/or all-stars
  • #6 - #10 need to be below average starters or 6th man type players
  • #11 - #15 need to be productive role players (7th or 8th guy consistently for their careers
It's hard to set a criteria based on X number of all-NBA teams or all-star game appearances, since I'm looking at some players who don't have significant tenure and I'm trying to analyze recent trends. Likewise, a specific % of starts is hard to use for the same players since lots of players come off the bench early in their careers.

The numbers at the bottom of the table above are the success rates of picks (not busts). There is a 92/140 = a 65.71 % chance of drafting at least a player that is an effective contributor at the NBA level. That number is actually a little bit higher, too, because I have included players such as Andrea Bargnani as busts, due to the fact that he was a #1 overall and turned out to be nowhere near a franchise player (although that was a putrid draft class).

That being considered, there may be a few discrepancies between people on the list I constructed. But based on my reasoning here are the numbers for player busts:

Bust potential by position:
  • Point guards = 19.23%
  • Shooting guards = 23.81%
  • Small forwards = 37.93%
  • Power forwards = 44.12%
  • Centers = 40%

What does this show? That guards are the safest picks and forwards and centers are almost identically riskier picks. In fact, it's about twice as likely for a forward or center to bust.

So... fact or fiction - centers are the most likely to bust... Fiction.

What this illustrates is that once a player gets to about 6' 7" or above they are equally likely to bust.

What does this mean to the Suns heading into the draft? Don't shy away from picking a center in the lottery if he's #1 on your BPA list.

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