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The Philadelphia 76ers' Recent Success with Mid-First-Round Picks

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2013

The Philadelphia 76ers' Recent Success with Mid-First-Round Picks

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    When the Philadelphia 76ers traded All-Star Jrue Holiday during the 2013 NBA draft, it was a move made solely with the future in mind.

    Not only did the team land a potential defensive anchor in Nerlens Noel that night, but the New Orleans Pelicans also shipped over a top-five protected 2014 draft pick in exchange for Holiday.

    The jury remains out on the wisdom of such a swap. If the Pelicans qualify for the 2014 playoffs, it could end up being an unmitigated disaster. All-Star point guards don't just grow on trees, after all.

    Given the Sixers' recent history with mid-first-round picks, however, a Pelicans playoff berth wouldn't necessarily seal the trade's fate as a loss. The Sixers have been shockingly prescient at uncovering valuable prospects in the 12-18 range over the past half decade.

    Back in 2009, Basketball-Reference's Justin Kubatko quantified the expected value of first-round draft picks based on average win shares produced over the first four years of a player's career.

    He used this formula for his calculations: EV = 26.5 - 6.3 * log(pick_overall).

    Here, take a look at how each of the Sixers' mid-first-round picks since 2007 have measured up to those expectations. (Evan Turner is included here, too, just for fun).

     

    Note: All win shares totals, both expected and actual, come from Basketball-Reference.

2007: Thaddeus Young (No. 12)

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    Expected value: 10.8 win shares
    Actual value: 18.3 win shares

    Of any mid-first-round pick made by the Philadelphia 76ers since 2007, Thaddeus Young outperformed his expected value by the greatest margin.

    He finished his first four professional seasons with 18.3 total win shares, 7.5 more than the average No. 12 pick should produce.

    Besides the disastrous 2009-10 season, also known as the "Dear God, Why Did The Sixers Hire Eddie Jordan?" era, Young hasn't produced fewer than 4.5 win shares in a season. In fact, he's already outperformed the total number of win shares a typical No. 12 pick should contribute over the course of his career.

    Justin Kubatko projects an average No. 12 pick to generate 30.2 total win shares. Through six seasons, Thad is already responsible for 32.0 win shares.

    Young's per-game stats might not scream superstar, but for a late-lottery pick, he's been found gold for the Sixers.

2008: Marreese Speights (No. 16)

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    Expected value: 9.0 win shares
    Actual value: 10.3 win shares

    Marreese Speights, the No. 16 pick in the 2008 draft, is the Philadelphia 76ers' biggest mid-first-round miss since 2007, considering that All-Star center Roy Hibbert went one pick later to the Indiana Pacers.

    Even still, Speights outperformed his expected contributions based on his draft position during his time in Philadelphia.

    The typical No. 16 pick should produce 9.0 win shares through the first four seasons of his career. Speights finished his three years in Philadelphia with 7.6 win shares, led by the 3.8 win shares he posted as a rookie.

    Throw in the extra 2.7 win shares he produced in his one full season with the Memphis Grizzlies, and even though he's a fringe NBA player, he's still technically an overachiever for a No. 16 pick.

    With only 13.2 total win shares to his name, however, he faces an uphill battle to reach the 24.8 total win shares expected out of him over the course of his career.

2009: Jrue Holiday (No. 17)

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    Expected value: 8.7 win shares
    Actual value: 14.4 win shares

    In terms of most advanced analytics, Jrue Holiday appears to be closer to a league-average point guard than an All-Star.

    In terms of win shares produced over his first four seasons, though, Holiday trails only Thad Young as the Philadelphia 76er who most outperformed his expected value.

    As the No. 17 overall pick in 2009, Holiday entered the league expected to produce 8.7 win shares over his first four seasons. Despite a dismal rookie season in the one and only year of the Eddie Jordan era, Holiday accrued 6.9 win shares over his first two seasons alone.

    He churned out an additional 7.5 win shares over the past two seasons, although his 2012-13 output (3.3 win shares) was the lowest since his rookie year.

    Some food for thought when it comes to Holiday: Based on career win shares, Basketball Reference's similarity scores have him tied most closely to Rudy Fernandez (91.8 percent) and Jodie Meeks (90.5 percent). He's clearly the best of those three players, but it puts his first four years worth of contributions in perspective.

2010: Evan Turner (No. 2)

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    Expected value: 22.1 win shares
    Actual value: 6.8 win shares (three seasons)

    Despite the Philadelphia 76ers' ability to continually strike gold with their mid-first-round picks since 2007, they did the exact opposite with their only high first-round pick over the past half-decade.

    At the time, John Wall and Evan Turner were seen as the two clear prizes of the 2010 draft, making the No. 2 pick a theoretical godsend that year. The Sixers just had to take whichever player the Washington Wizards didn't and reap the rewards accordingly.

    Three years later, however, Wall has a freshly signed max contract while Turner could be entering his final year in Philadelphia. As the No. 2 overall pick, Turner is expected to produce 22.1 win shares over his first four seasons, or an average of 5.525 win shares per season.

    In actuality, through three years, he generated a total of 6.8 win shares, with a career high of 2.4 win shares during the 2011-12 season. Barring Turner doing his best LeBron James impersonation in 2013-14, he's almost guaranteed to fall short of the expectations for his first four seasons.

    Over the course of his career, a No. 2 overall pick is expected to produce 63.9 total win shares. Based on that lofty standard, Turner appears destined to be branded with the "bust" label.

2011: Nikola Vucevic (No. 16)

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    Expected value: 9.0 win shares
    Actual value: 7.5 win shares (two seasons)

    Two years into his NBA career, it's too early to say whether Nikola Vucevic will pan out as a legitimate long-term starting center.

    Based on his sophomore campaign, however, it already appears as though the Philadelphia 76ers gave up too soon on the USC product.

    After producing a paltry 1.8 win shares while being buried on Doug Collins' bench as a rookie, the Sixers shipped Vucevic out as part of the Andrew Bynum trade in August 2012. The big man responded by exploding for 5.7 win shares in 2012-13 while playing for an otherwise terrible Orlando Magic team.

    Assuming he generates a total of 1.6 win shares over the next two seasons combined, he'll outpace his expected value of 9.0 win shares.

    If that sophomore season wasn't a fluke, Vucevic has an extremely realistic shot of surpassing the 24.8 win shares he's expected to produce over the course of his career. Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum posted a grand total of zero win shares during his time as a Sixer.

2012: Maurice Harkless (No. 15)

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    Expected value: 9.4 win shares
    Actual value: 2.4 win shares (one season)

    If the jury remains out on Nikola Vucevic, it's even more so for Mo Harkless, the other young prospect shipped to the Orlando Magic in the Andrew Bynum trade.

    He produced 2.4 win shares as a rookie, but it's simply too early to predict whether he'll surpass the 9.4 win shares expected from him over the first four seasons of his NBA career.

    One major factor appears to be in his favor, though. The Magic, fully aware that they aren't anywhere near competing for a title in 2013-14, will give their young guys as much burn as humanly possible.

    The major goal for Orlando this season is to determine which players are legitimate building blocks, no matter how many losses the team racks up in the meantime. 

    If the Magic make even minor strides in 2013-14, Harkless' win-shares total should jump at least slightly. At this point, there's no reason to believe he won't surpass his 9.4 expected win shares over the next three seasons.

Looking Ahead to 2014

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    At the moment, the 2014 NBA draft is shaping up to be the best draft class since 2003.

    Assuming all of the heralded incoming freshman one-and-dones—namely Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon—declare as expected,  there could be as many as eight future All-Stars available, according to ESPN's Chad Ford.

    With all of that depth toward the top of the draft, players who likely would have been lottery picks in 2013 will fall to the mid- to late-first-round in 2014. (See: McGary, Mitch).

    So, even if the New Orleans Pelicans make the playoffs and send a lower-than-expected first-rounder to the Philadelphia 76ers, it's not the end of the world for Philly. The Sixers will still have an assortment of talented prospects from which to choose.

    Based on their track record with mid-first-round picks since 2007, there's a strong chance that no matter who they grab, he'll likely outperform his draft position.

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