Houston Rockets reason #1 to love the James Harden trade: Non-lottery picks
About those lottery picks: it’s possible the Houston Rockets won’t need them to directly net a superstar from the Harden trade.
A quick perusal of this year’s All-NBA squads certainly suggests provides hope. Nikola Jokic, the league’s MVP, was astonishingly selected with the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Kawhi Leonard, initially perceived as a 3-and-D prospect with a questionable three, was selected with the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA draft and Jimmy Butler was selected with the 30th pick that same year.
A commonly made argument is that since the Nets picks are unlikely to convey into lottery picks, then historically speaking, they are unlikely to convey into superstar players. Aside from the fact that the names Ben Simmons, Tyler Herro and Caris Lavert were conspicuously absent from this year’s All-NBA teams, this argument also ignores that the historical trend of All-NBA players being mostly selected in the lottery is shifting.
Of course, higher selections will continue to typically result in better players. Professional scouts are professional for a reason. They know how to evaluate talent. Still, in the midst of a season where the league MVP was selected in the second round, it’s worth asking: how predominantly do lottery picks typically populate the All-NBA teams? We looked at the All-NBA selections over the past 12 seasons and grouped them in four-season stretches to see what percentage of them had been selected in the top 14 of the NBA draft:
% of All-NBA team that was a lottery pick
From 2009-10 to 2012-13: 90% (54 out of 60)
From 2013-14 to 2016-17: 76.7% (46 out of 60)
From 2017-18 to 2020-21: 71.7% (43 out of 60)
As we can see, there has been a shift in the trend of lottery picks dominating All-NBA selections since the 2013-14 season. Is there a normative explanation for this empirical trend? One possible theory is simply that basketball players are getting better.
With more talent to scout, scouting talent accurately becomes more difficult. Another possible explanation is that in an increasingly positionless league, unorthodox players are finding ways to impact NBA games that are harder to anticipate. For example, Draymond Green, who accounts for some of those non-lottery All-NBA selections, was selected in the second round. Scouts wondered what position he would guard. Turns out, the answer is all five.
Meanwhile, it’s easy to forgive scouts for failing to recognize that a team might run their offense through a prodding, pass-first center like Nikola Jokic. Yet, he is likely to garner All-NBA first team honors several more times throughout his career. The fact remains that the lottery is the best place to secure All-NBA talent, however, with an increasing trend towards non-lottery picks being selected for All-NBA squads, draft picks retain a higher value than ever before.
The Houston Rockets acquired seven of them (including pick swaps) from the Brooklyn Nets, and that may well end up being worth more than any of the players made available to them for James Harden.