There’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding future picks. We don’t know how a team will perform, how the ping pong balls will bounce, and how a highly-rated prospect will develop in a professional basketball setting. But we can say with certainty that superstars can be acquired through the draft, and that the higher a team is selecting, the greater chance they have of finding generational talent. A 25%, or even 10% shot of landing a future MVP candidate has considerable value, even if it is not tangible.
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For that reason, our NBA asset rankings put a premium on unprotected picks belonging to teams projecting poorly in the short term. Currently “Better of BOS or BRK 2017 1st” ranks as our 29th best asset, and the PHL 2017 1st (with SAC swap rights) is 30th. Brooklyn and Philadelphia project as two of the NBA’s worst teams in 2016-17, and Sacramento could also land in the lottery. Upon completion of free agency, as we get a better understanding of the 2016-17 regular season landscape, other future picks could move into the top 50.
At the same time, we have discounted picks with minimal upside. Take, for example, the OKC 2018 1st (protected 1-15) belonging to Utah. The best case scenario for the Jazz is a 16th overall pick. While star players and even Hall of Famers have been found outside the lottery, it is far more likely to land a rotation-level player at this point in the draft.
This isn’t to say those picks don’t have value. Young players on long-term, team-friendly contracts are necessary components to championship caliber teams. In addition, those picks can be used as trade chips. But the odds are stacked against any such an asset developing into a franchise player. So while a competitive team’s future pick (ie. DET 2017 1st) may project as a worse asset, we would value it over of a protected pick because of the small possibility of it landing at the top of the draft.
Predicting the short-term future: The order of the draft picks were determined based on a rough projection of the team’s future. The picks belonging to contenders such as the Warriors and Cavaliers were devalued, while those belonging to likely lottery-bound teams such as Philadelphia and Brooklyn (err, Boston) ranked higher than even some all-star players.
Predicting the long-term future: With the help of ESPN’s Future Power Rankings ($), we projected how each franchise would fare over the next few years and beyond. Roster makeup, assets, ownership, and front office were all taken into consideration when evaluating each franchise. Teams with stars under contract are less likely to net high first round picks, but if key players are in jeopardy of leaving for free agency, that team’s first round pick could potentially rise in value the following season.
Discounting: All else equal, a first round pick in 2017 is worth more than a first round pick in 2023. (Teams are prohibited from trading picks more than seven years into the future). However, on a team like Golden State whose core is expected to remain intact, the upcoming picks are likely to fall outside the lottery. Given that, we’ve ranked the Warriors’ firsts in reverse order. As their stars exit their primes, their odds of landing a top pick increase.