Kevin Jones Passes on NBA Draft, Returns to West Virginia

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By Ryan Feldman

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In the NBA, the difference between drafting the next LeBron James or the next Kwame Brown could be the difference between winning an NBA Championship and never reaching the playoffs.

It's a fine line. There are only two rounds in the NBA Draft. Every pick is coveted more than in any other sport. General Managers can't afford to make a mistake with a lottery pick.

On the other end of the spectrum, finding a gem in the second round is invaluable. Drafting the best player with the No. 1 pick? That's relatively easy. But finding a future All-Star in the second round? That's impressive.

There are different ways to build an NBA franchise. One way is through trades. Another way is through free agency. Another way is by building around one superstar.

But the simplest way to build an NBA franchise is through the NBA Draft. Find some young talent, take advantage of each and every pick, develop that talent, and build a talented, young roster in a few years.

It's been done. Look at the Oklahoma City Thunder. Since 2007, they've drafted Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Jeff Green (who was recently traded to the Celtics), which very much make up the core of the Thunder, a team that just won the Northwest Division.

Before 2007, prior to GM Sam Presti's arrival, the Thunder, formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics, drafted bust after bust with Mouhamed Sene, Johan Petro and Robert Swift in back-to-back-to-back years. And that's why the SuperSonics struggled prior to Presti's hiring as the General Manager.

The San Antonio Spurs, the team Presti worked for before the Thunder, have maximized their value in the draft over the years. They drafted George Hill and Tony Parker in the late first round, and Luis Scola in the late second round. They drafted Tiago Splitter and Beno Udrih in the late first round, and DeJuan Blair in the second round. They've only made one bad first round pick - Ian Mahinmi - in the last 10 years.

That's why the Spurs have been one of the most successful NBA franchises of this era.

I studied and analyzed every team's draft picks over the last 10 years (since 2001). I put together a rating system that takes into account which draft pick each player was selected with. For example, Andrew Bogut is a good player but he isn't one of the best No. 1 picks over the last 10 years. Nicolas Batum isn't a great player but he was a great draft pick in the late first round.

Every first round pick was rated as a positive or negative pick, and to certain degrees of positivity or negativity. Second round picks were only rated positively. Teams weren't penalized for bad second round picks.

First round picks have guaranteed contracts and are much more important than second round picks. Finding a useful player in the second round is very valuable. It's worth it to take a risk on a player in the second round. But with a lottery pick, it really hurts if that player doesn't pan out.

Also, 2010 draft picks weren't rated because it's too early to judge those players. Players from the 2009 draft were only rated positively. It's too early to call a second-year player a bust.

The rating system gives extra weight to draft picks in the last five years as compared to the picks in the previous five years. It takes into account the average rating of draft picks as well as the total accumulated rating of the picks, in order to not give an advantage to a team that had a lot of draft picks over the last 10 years over a team that did not have a lot of picks. Teams were judged on players they either drafted or acquired on draft night.

Here are the results:

The Spurs are the best drafting team in the NBA. As mentioned above, they've only made one bad pick in the last 10 years, and they've found some serious gems. And it's not like the Spurs have ever had a high draft pick in the last decade.

Believe it or not, the second and third most successful drafting teams over the last 10 years are the Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively.

In the last few years, the Kings made a few solid picks in Omri Casspi, Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson, plus a great pick in Tyreke Evans. Earlier than that, they made two great picks in Kevin Martin and Gerald Wallace.

The Cavs haven't made any bad picks since drafting Luke Jackson in 2004. Maybe, that's why they were consistently one of the top teams in the NBA. Also, LeBron James had something to do with that. But he wasn't their only great pick. J.J. Hickson and Carlos Boozer were both wise selections. Shannon Brown, Daniel Gibson, Anderson Varejao and Jason Kapono all turned out to be solid value picks.

Next up are the two top teams in the Eastern Conference this year: the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls.

The Heat have only made one bad pick in the last 10 years: Wayne Simien in 2005. Other than him, they've drafted Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Daequan Cook, Dorrell Wright, Caron Butler and Rasual Butler, all solid selections.

The Bulls built the rebirth of their franchise around their two best draft picks over the last decade: Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Taj Gibson, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, Kirk Hinrich and Tyson Chandler all turned out to be worthy of where they were drafted. Eddy Curry and Jay Williams didn't turn out so well, but they haven't had any terrible picks since 2002, so it's no coincidence the franchise has been on the rise since then.

The next five teams, in order, are the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets.

The Clippers have been ridiculed for the way they've drafted in the past. And from 2001-2005, they were pretty bad in terms of the draft. But since then, they've been great. They took Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin in 2008 and 2009. They also found DeAndre Jordan and Al Thornton. Their recent success in the draft made up for the disappointments that were Yaroslav Korolev, Melvin Ely and Shaun Livingston.

The success of the Celtics in the draft may be the primary reason they were able to win the NBA Championship and become an elite team once again. They found a gem in Rajon Rondo as their franchise point guard. They drafted Al Jefferson, who was traded for Kevin Garnett. They also drafted Kendrick Perkins and Joe Johnson, along with role players Glen Davis, Leon Powe, Delonte West and Tony Allen. Of course nobody has forgotten about Joe Forte, Kedrick Brown, Marcus Banks and Gerald Green, but the Celtics have only made one bad pick - J.R. Giddens - since 2005.

The worst drafting team of the last 10 years is the New Jersey Nets, so it's no coincidence that the Nets are now struggling. They've been responsible for such names as Sean Williams, Marcus Williams, Josh Boone, Antoine Wright, Zoran Planinic and Brandon Armstrong.

Right next to the Nets are the Orlando Magic. The Magic did draft Dwight Howard, and built their franchise around Howard, but Orlando has been less than impressive in the draft. In the last decade, the Magic have drafted Fran Vasquez, Reece Gaines, Ryan Humphrey, Steven Hunter and Jerryl Sasser.

Maybe surprisingly, the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers are among the five worst drafting teams in the league.

The Jazz found Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and C.J. Miles, but they also found Kosta Koufos, Morris Almond, Kirk Snyder, Curtis Borchardt and Raul Lopez.

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