Please Ignore Those “Team x now owns y picks” Tweets

With the trade deadline having come and gone a lot of teams/writers/fans of deadline sellers have taken to Twitter to brag (or console themselves) with how many picks they now own. While having a lot of draft picks is obviously never a bad thing, it’s also not destined to be the franchise saver that many make it out to be.

The table below shows the correlation between 3 measures of draft pick quantity/quality and future points per game (between 0 and 10 seasons in the future).  Our measures are:

  1. The percentage of picks in a given draft that a team owns (we use % of picks rather than total number to account for the fact that the number of rounds has changed through the years)
  2. The number of picks a team owns in the 1st 2 rounds
  3. The approximate total value of a team’s draft picks (which is the sum of 1/sqrt(n), where n is the number of a given pick)
Number of Years After Draft N* Correlation with Future Seasons Points Per Game
% of Picks Owned # of Picks In 1st 2 Rounds Approximate Pick Value
0 480 -0.15 -0.13 -0.34
1 478 -0.06 -0.07 -0.20
2 446 -0.09 0.00 -0.15
3 414 0.00 0.03 -0.10
4 382 -0.05 0.02 -0.03
5 381 -0.01 0.04 0.02
6 350 -0.02 0.05 0.03
7 319 -0.01 0.06 0.02
8 289 0.07 0.07 0.07
9 259 0.00 0.06 0.03
10 229 0.02 -0.01 0.00

Two things stand out from this chart:

  1. The correlations are reallllly small, which means that you can’t just rely on pick volume or quality to win; and
  2. The strongest correlations are actually the negative correlations in the first few years. This makes sense, as the teams that have acquired a lot of picks (or a lot of expected value) are generally the ones that have sold at the deadline and/or been really bad in prior years.

All of which is to say that while having a large number of picks is always better than a small number of picks, it’s not going to be the franchise saver that many people make it out to be. And while the correlations above are certainly a simplified view of what goes into making a team successful, they do show why it’s so hard for teams that have tanked to get better. If you’ve sold off all of your best assets and are sitting on a pile of picks, you’ll need to draft well and get a little bit lucky in those drafts, all while not make any mistakes in free agency. It’s hard to do all of these things, which is why you see so many teams struggle to get out of the basement for so long.

*I didn’t correct for the franchises that moved which is why some of the values of N look a little funky. 

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Posted in Draft

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