Washington & USC Best at Converting Talent into NBA Draft Picks: Ranking the PAC-12

In our current series on college basketball programs’ abilities to transform their available high school talent into NBA draft picks, we have decided to start with summary data for each school.  We plan on concluding the series with a statistical model that predicts the likelihood of a player being drafted based on the player’s recruiting ranking, the school’s investment in the program, the rankings of the player’s teammates and other factors. We decided to start with the summary efficiency rankings simply because these rankings are more accessible to fans and tend to generate more conversation.

Our series continues with an examination of recruiting classes from 2002-2011 in the PAC-12.  The chart below lists our efficiency rankings for the PAC-12 (for more details on our methodology, please click here).  The University of Washington was the clear leader in the PAC-12 in converting talent into NBA draft picks.  The Huskies were followed by USC and Cal.  Traditional power UCLA finished 5th.

In the period of our study, Washington produced nine draft picks, and 22% of the overall recruits for UW were drafted into the NBA.  66% of 5-Star recruits, 31% of 4-Star recruits, and 12.5% of 3-Star recruits from UW were drafted.  This is truly remarkable given the overall national draft rates: 51% for 5-Star, 13% for 4-Star and 3% for 3-Star!

USC finished second in the PAC-12 rankings.  The Trojans had 29% of their 4-Star recruits drafted, and had two 3-Star recruits drafted in the first round.  Cal finishing third potentially speaks to the importance of the head coach in the efficiency rankings.  Mike Montgomery, the head coach for Cal, was at Stanford in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Cardinal enjoyed an excellent talent to NBA draft pick conversion rate.  Current head coach Johnny Dawkins has produced a grand total of 0 draft picks for the Cardinal from his recruiting classes.

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Purdue & Illinois Best at Converting Talent into NBA Draft Picks: Ranking the Big 10

We spend a lot of time on the site talking about statistical models.  Statistical models are great for identifying trends and relationships between variables when we have a significant amount of data.  Models are also useful for moving us beyond arguments based on examples and anecdotes.  We think this is particularly important when discussing sports.  Every guy in every bar has a theory that they can support with an example.

In our current series on college basketball programs’ abilities to convert recruits into NBA draft picks, we have decided to start with summary data for each school.  We plan on concluding the series with a statistical model that predicts the likelihood of a player being drafted based on the player’s recruiting ranking, the school’s investment in the program, the rankings of the player’s teammates and other factors. We decided to start with the summary efficiency rankings simply because these rankings are more accessible to fans and tend to generate more conversation.

I wanted to use today’s rankings of the Big Ten schools as an excuse to delve into a specific comparison between two schools.  I have two reasons for this.  The first is that looking at the data for a couple of schools will highlight why our statistical model gives the results it does.  The other reason is that I (Lewis) want to provide some recruiting material for my Illini.

The chart below lists our efficiency rankings for the Big Ten.  At the top, we have two solid programs in Purdue and Illinois.  These two are followed by the recent and traditional powers: Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State.  While Ohio State has the most draft picks, they also had the greatest recruiting success with players like Greg Oden, Mike Conley, BJ Mullens, and Jared Sullenger coming through Columbus in the last decade.

(For more details about the methodology, click here)

Now back to my second motive.  As an aside, I thought about titling this piece “Why Jabari Parker, Cliff Alexander and Jahlil Okafor Don’t Need to Travel Far from Home.”  In our rankings of the ACC, the Duke Blue Devils finished in the middle of the pack.  What I’d like to do (and I know this is self-indulgent) is to compare the Illini with Duke.  In the table below I give the rankings of members of Duke’s and Illinois’ recruiting classes from 2001 to 2002 (I collected these by hand so please excuse any omissions).

Over the relevant drafts, Duke had 11 players selected compared to 4 for Illinois.  While this may seem to be a reason for a student athlete to choose Duke, when we look at the input, things are much less clear.  From 2002 to 2010 Illinois had 1 top twenty recruit.  In contrast, Duke had 13.  If we look at top thirty recruits, Illinois still had 1 while Duke had 15.

I think the explanation for these results is pretty simple.  When an athlete chooses a school in a power conference, but without a roster loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans, that athlete has more chances to see the floor, and even when on the floor the athlete has a better chance to be the focal point for the offense.  Going all the way back to 2002, Dee Brown was a featured star at Illinois while the similarly rated Sean Dockery was a role player for Duke.  Another highly rated player from Illinois Michael Thompson ended up transferring from Duke to Northwestern.  And while some attrition is natural, it is interesting that Thompson was rated higher (30th) than every single Illinois recruit in the period from 2002 to 2010.

So what is the take away?  In terms of the preceding comparison, it is that what the glitz and glamour of playing at a high profile school is attractive, the high profile nature of a Duke is likely meaningless when it comes to getting to the next level.  In fact, the tendency of very highly rated players to choose schools like Duke means that the player’s chances of making the pros might actually be a bit less at a Duke than an Illinois.

But, as noted, the comparison of Duke and Illinois is anecdotal.  What we really need to reach the preceding conclusions is more data.  My comparison of Illinois and Duke is mainly intended to foreshadow the statistical analysis we will provide next week.  This analysis is designed to tease out the effects of player quality, within roster competition, school investment and on-court success on player development.

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Converting High School Talent into NBA Draft Picks: Ranking the ACC

The NBA Draft can be a time for college basketball fans to cheer about the “success” of their basketball program.  Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Kansas fans can boast about the number of alums currently in the NBA.  This year, ESPN is taking that discussion one step farther by describing the quality of NBA players produced, and ranking the “NBA Pedigree” of colleges.

Our take is a bit different as we will examine the process of taking high school talent and converting it into NBA draft picks. In other words, we want to understand how efficient are colleges at transforming their available high school talent into NBA draft picks? Today, we launch our NBA draft series by ranking the schools in the ACC based on their ability to convert talent into draft picks.

The initial approach is fairly simple.  Each year, (almost) every basketball program has an incoming freshman class.  The players in the class have been evaluated by several national recruiting/ranking companies (e.g. Rivals, Scout, etc…).  In theory, these evaluations provide a measure of the player’s talent or quality*.  Each year, we also observe which players get drafted by the NBA.  Thus, we can measure conversion rates over time for each college.  Conversion rates may be indicative of the school’s ability to coach-up talent, to identify talent, or to invest in players.  These rates may also depend on the talent composition of all of the players on the team.  This last factor is particularly important from a recruiting standpoint.  Should players flock to places that other highly ranked players have selected?  Should they look for places where they have a higher probability of getting on the court quickly? Next week we will present a statistical analysis (logistic regression) that includes multiple factors (quality of other recruits, team winning rates, tournament success, investment in the basketball program, etc…). But for now we will just present simple statistics related to school’s ability to produce output (NBA draft picks) as a function of input (quality of recruits).

Our first set of rankings is for the ACC.  At the top of the list we have Boston College and Georgia Tech.  Boston College has done a good job of converting low-ranked talent into NBA picks (in this time period they had two three-star players and a non-rated player drafted).  Georgia Tech, on the other hand, has converted all of its five-star recruits, and several of its four-star recruits.  A result that may at first glance seem surprising is the placement of UNC and Duke.  However, upon reflection these results make a good deal of sense.  When players choose these “blue blood” programs they face stiff competition for playing time from both current and future teammates.

Here are some questions you probably have about our methodology:

What time period does this represent?

We examined recruiting classes from 2002 to 2011 (this represents the year of graduation from high school).  While the chart above ranks the ACC, we compiled data for over 300 Division 1 colleges (over 12,000 players).

How did you compute the conversion rate?

The conversion rate for each school is defined as (Sum of draft picks for the 2002-2011 recruiting classes)/(Weighted Recruiting Talent).  Weighted Recruiting Talent is determined by summing the recruiting “points” for each class.  These “points” are computed by weighting each recruit by the overall population average probability of being drafted for recruits at that corresponding talent level.  We are using ratings data from Rivals.com.  The weights for each “type” of recruit were 0.51 for each five star recruit, 0.13 for each four star, 0.03 for each three star, 0.008 for each two star, and 0.004 for each not ranked.  

Second-round picks often don’t even make the team.  What if you only considered first round picks?

We have also computed the rates using first round picks only, please see the table below.

NEXT: RANKING THE BIG 10

*We can already hear our friends at Duke explaining how players are rated more highly by services just because they are being recruited by Duke.  We acknowledge that it is very difficult to get a true measure of a high school player’s ability.  However, we also believe that over the last ten years, given all of the media exposure for high school athletes, this problem has attenuated.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.