The NBA draft is all about maximizing value.
When the 30 teams in the Association sit down on June 26 and attempt to figure out who to take with each of the 60 picks set to be used during the proceedings, they'll be balancing risk with reward. Ultimately, the goal is to end up selecting players whose contributions will exceed their draft slots.
If you're picking at No. 5, you want a guy who plays like a No. 1 pick. If you're at No. 30, getting a guy whose performance resemble that of a typical lottery pick is highly beneficial, and so on.
It's important to note that under these rules, we're comparing draft picks to the historical expectations associated with their draft slots, not to other people from the same draft class. Using an example from outside the last 20 years, Michael Jordan is a tremendous draft value because he dramatically exceeded the expectations of a typical No. 3 pick, not because he was picked after Sam Bowie.
Additionally, we're only looking at the first four years of a player's career.
Why? Because that's the maximum length that a player can be controlled under a rookie-scale deal using the current collective bargaining agreement. After that, a player can opt to go elsewhere regardless of his team's desire, so a franchise can only technically count on production during those first four seasons.
Now, how is draft value determined?
The primary stat used is win shares, as provided by Basketball-Reference.com. Win shares are an advanced basketball metric calculated so that one win share is exactly equal to one win provided by that player to his team's cause. The full breakdown of the calculation can be found here.
This stat is inherently flawed because it can't completely sum up a player's value, but it's the best number we have for turning overall production into a single metric, one that's based both on quality of play and time spent on the court.
Based on a database I've compiled, using data from the NBA-ABA merger through the 2010 NBA draft, I've come up with a logistic regression that can be used to predict win shares earned in the first four years of a career based on draft position: four-year win shares = -5.724*ln(draft position)+24.06.
The formula has a coefficient of determination (r^2) of 0.87299, for the statistically minded out there. For those of you without a numbers background, that means it fits really well.
Essentially, a player's draft value was calculated by subtracting his expected four-year win shares from the actual total. That residual, as it grows higher and higher, means the player was more and more valuable for that draft slot.
As a final note, players drafted in 2011, 2012 and 2013 are not yet eligible for this countdown, which shows each team's best draft value in the last two decades (draft-day trades accounted for), displayed in order of increasing value. They haven't yet played four complete seasons, so they'll only be listed as de facto honorable mentions when one has a slight chance of displacing the franchise's current representative.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of June 11, 2014.