With the 2012 NBA Draft firmly in the rearview mirror, the start of the Orlando Summer League allows for our first look at how heralded draft picks can acclimate themselves to NBA-style competition.
While the offense may be sloppy and unorganized at times, summer league play provides unheralded youngsters with the opportunity to impress coaches and fans in their quest to prove that they belong in the NBA.
Every year, a few second round picks and undrafted players emerge as significant pieces on NBA rosters around the league. Although it’s a goldmine, these players find ways to contribute to the goal of the team, even if not in a glamorous, superstar role.
As fans, we use summer league play to get our first glimpse into how our young players can develop and how our team’s roster is taking shape. In a time full of trade talk and contract negotiations, the summer league helps us focus our attention back to the game.
This year, unheralded second round picks Kris Joseph, Tyshawn Taylor, and Kyle O’ Quinn—all of whom engineered spectacular performances in March Madness for their collegiate teams—have gotten off to a good start, showing that they may in fact belong in the NBA.
Watching many of these former college stars play makes me wonder why they haven’t been able to stick in the league. Even more frustrating is that many of them get passed over in the second round of the draft in favor of foreign players with no intention of immediately coming to the NBA.
This is perhaps my biggest gripe with the selections NBA teams make in the draft. It seems that college players generally leave school more NBA ready than foreign players, who usually turn out to be projects.
And why draft a player who has not made a commitment to your team? Most college players have dreamed of playing in the NBA for their entire basketball lives and would jump at the chance to contribute for any NBA franchise.
It seems that many of these “stashed” foreign players, in fact, do not even make the trip overseas to play in the NBA at all, which is essentially a wasted pick for an NBA squad. More often do their names pop up as throw-ins to a trade rather than as recognition for their talent and production.
While this is certainly a generality, I wanted to see whether players already competing for international clubs are less likely to have long NBA careers. To test this theory, I examined the second round selections from every draft from the year 2000-2009, discounting the past three drafts to allow those international players enough time to establish themselves in the NBA.
From the year 2000-2009, there were 296 players selected in the second round, 105 of whom have played more than 82 games total in their career—the equivalent of more than one 82-game season. In this ten-year period, 35.47 percent of second round picks played more than 82 games total.
But of the 80 players selected from an international club team, only 18 have played more than 82 games in their NBA career, good for a 22.5 percent success rate.
These numbers indicate that professionals coming to the NBA from foreign club have a lower success rate than the average second round pick. So for every Marc Gasol, Ersan Ilyasova, or Marcin Gortat a team uncovers in the second round, there’s plenty of picks being wasted on players who will have largely insignificant NBA careers.
These numbers don’t even consider the risk a team takes by selecting a “stash” player in the first round, as was the case with Frederic Weis in 1999 and Fran Vazquez in 2005, taken by the Knicks and Jazz, respectively.
In a process that’s already a goldmine, franchises have decided to dig further and further into the ground—a misguided notion that’s led NBA executives across the Atlantic in search of production. In most cases, teams would be better off selecting the talent that’s right under their noses, on the big stage at March Madness and outside the spotlight in the summer league.