Which NCAA Basketball Programs Produce the Best NBA Players?

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Which NCAA Basketball Programs Produce the Best NBA Players?
Alex Brandon/AP Images

The NBA draft is extremely important to college programs and that's why on Thursday night you will see several coaches in attendance.

They are there supporting their players, but that's not their only motivation for attending. It is also beneficial for coaches to get recruits thinking, "If I go play there, I'll end up in the NBA." But what should be even more important to recruits than schools simply getting their players drafted is how those players perform once they are in the league.

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

How has John Calipari, for instance, been so successful recruiting point guards? He can tell the best point guard in every class that some of the top guards in the world—Derrick Rose and John Wall—played for him.

Of course, it's obvious why Kentucky or Kansas or North Carolina end up with the most players in the NBA. They typically recruit the best talent and the best talent is most likely to end up in the league. A better question for NBA teams and recruits is which schools produce the most productive pros based on where those players are drafted?

Teams expect a player drafted in the top five to perform better than a player drafted in the second round, and we should judge those players accordingly. So in order to calculate which schools are producing the best pros based on where those players are drafted, I came up with a formula studying the last 10 draft classes.

This is how it works:

  • Each draft position was given a value based on the average performance using win shares of those players from the last 10 years. I used win shares per season so that you can compare a player drafted in 2004 to one drafted in 2010*. The results were about what you would expect with one tier—players drafted Nos. 21-25—faring better than expected.

Average Wins Shares Based on Draft Position
Draft Position Average Win Shares Per Season
Picks 1-3 4.42
Picks 4-6 3.59
Picks 7-10 3.0
Picks 11-15 1.96
Picks 16-20 1.83
Picks 21-25 2.05
Picks 26-30 1.28
Picks 31-40 1.23
Picks 41-50 1.03
Picks 51-60 0.61

Basketball-reference.com

  • Using those averages, each player was given a value based on where he was drafted. For instance, Kyrie Irving, who went No. 1 in the 2011 draft, has racked up 5.33 win shares per season. The average for players drafted first through third is 4.42 win shares per season. So Irving is given a value of plus-0.91. 
  • To qualify, a player had to be drafted from 2004-13 and played at least one game in the league. Only schools with four qualifying players were included.
  • Once each player had a plus-minus value, the numbers were added up for each school and then divided by the number of players represented by that school to get an average. That way a school with five qualifying players could be compared to one with 12 qualifying players.

*While this system is mostly fair, it is not exactly apples to apples when comparing inexperienced players to veterans. Veterans are bound to perform better later in their careers than early on, so a player is likely to see his win shares per season rise after several years in the league.

 

The Results

Let's go ahead and take a look at the hard results before separating the schools into categories. 

NBA Production Based on Draft Position
Players Eligible Avg. Win Shares Per Season
1. Wake Forest 4 2.45
2. Stanford 4 1.27
3. Florida 12 1.16
4. UCLA 13 1.0946
5. Texas 12 0.8967
6. USC 6 0.73
7. Boston College 4 0.695
8. Purdue 4 0.6825
9. Washington 9 0.641
10. Pittsburgh 5 0.582
11. Marquette 6 0.5
12. Duke 14 0.3957
13. Texas A&M 4 0.3675
14. LSU 6 0.3483
15. Kentucky 18 0.265
16. Illinois 5 0.246
17. North Carolina 16 0.1663
18. New Mexico 4 0.15
19. Georgia Tech 7 0.0257
20. Georgetown 6 -0.0483
21. Arizona 9 -0.104
22. Connecticut 12 -0.1654
23. Oklahoma State 4 -0.305
24. Florida State 8 -0.5075
25. Michigan State 4 -0.5375
26. Kansas 15 -0.5593
27. Michigan 4 -0.603
28. Memphis 9 -0.634
29. Ohio State 7 -0.704
30. Maryland 4 -0.715
31. Vanderbilt 5 -0.72
32. Louisville 5 -0.812
33. NC State 4 -0.8375
34. Gonzaga 5 -0.81
35. Baylor 4 -0.93
36. Indiana 5 -1.128
37. Syracuse 10 -1.3
38. Iowa State 5 -1.406

Basketball-reference.com

There's a good explanation for why Wake Forest is on top and why new coach Danny Manning probably can't really sell these numbers to prospects.

The Demon Deacons had four players qualify and one of those four was Chris Paul, the fourth pick in the 2005 draft. Paul has 115.2 win shares over nine seasons in the league. Wake Forest also hasn't had a player drafted since 2010, so the school was not hurt by a rookie or second-year guy who hasn't met his potential yet. Only two of the four—Paul and Jeff Teague—were on the positive side but the other two players—Al-Farouq Aminu and James Johnson—did not have big negative values that brought the overall score down.

Smaller sample sizes like Wake Forest is why it makes sense to separate the schools based on the number of qualifying players.

So now let's take a look at only the schools with at least eight players who qualify.

Schools With At Least Eight Pros
Players Eligible Avg. Win Shares Per Season
1. Florida 12 1.16
2. UCLA 13 1.0946
3. Texas 12 0.8967
4. Washington 9 0.641
5. Duke 14 0.3957
6. Kentucky 18 0.265
7. North Carolina 16 0.1663
8. Arizona 9 -0.104
9. Connecticut 12 -0.1654
10. Florida State 8 -0.5075
11. Kansas 15 -0.5593
12. Memphis 9 -0.634
13. Syracuse 10 -1.3

Basketball-reference.com

Here are a couple takeaways from those numbers. 

  1. Billy Donovan does not get enough credit for his ability to develop players. This past season, for instance, Donovan had the most consistently good team in the country and he did it without any superstars. Another great example is a player like Chandler Parsons. Parsons didn't put up huge numbers at Florida—11.3 points per game as a senior—but he has been a really good pro. 
  2. Someone should give Ben Howland a chance. It's shocking that Howland is still unemployed. He recruited at a really high level at UCLA, won a lot (three straight Final Fours) and his players have gone on to be really productive pros. Nine of the 13 qualifying former Bruins have played above their draft value. 
  3. Texas coach Rick Barnes and Washington coach Lorenzo Romar both get knocked some for how their teams perform, but both coaches have done a good job of identifying talented recruits and preparing those players for the league. Texas gets a lot of help from Kevin Durant, but even if you took Durant away, UT would still finish with a positive score.
  4. John Calipari and Roy Williams get players to the league and their players are performing about as well as expected. This isn't a knock on Calipari or Williams. The league has done a good job of evaluating their players—not surprising as much as the scouts watch those teams play—and their players are getting drafting where they should be slotted. 
  5. Kansas needs Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins to live up to expectations. Bill Self has sent a lot of guys to the league, but Kansas hasn't produced a superstar since Self took over in Lawrence. You could look at this as a positive if you're a Self supporter by pointing out that his system makes some players look better than they are, fooling NBA teams to taking those guys higher than they should go in the draft. 
  6. That last statement could also go for Syracuse and Jim Boeheim. The Orange have had some busts over the last 10 years—Johnny Flynn the biggest of the bunch—and only Hakim Warrick provided Syracuse a score on the plus side. Of course, their ranking would get a nice boost from Carmelo Anthony had the 2003 draft class been included. Michael Carter-Williams is also likely to help Syracuse's number down the road, but the league's Rookie of the Year did not fare so well racking up win shares as his 1.3 was actually lower than the average for players drafted Nos. 11-15. 

The data for the schools with at least eight qualifying players provides a good enough sample size to draw these broader conclusions, but it's also worth looking at the smaller sample sizes as well. Once again, here are the schools with fewer than eight qualifying players. 

Schools With Less Than Eight Pros
Players Eligible Avg. Win Shares Per Season
1. Wake Forest 4 2.45
2. Stanford 4 1.27
3. USC 6 0.73
4. Boston College 4 0.695
5. Purdue 4 0.6825
6. Pittsburgh 5 0.582
7. Marquette 6 0.5
8. Texas A&M 4 0.3675
9. LSU 6 0.3483
10. Illinois 5 0.246
11. New Mexico 4 0.15
12. Georgia Tech 7 0.0257
13. Georgetown 6 -0.0483
14. Oklahoma State 4 -0.305
15. Michigan State 4 -0.5375
16. Michigan 4 -0.603
17. Ohio State 7 -0.704
18. Maryland 4 -0.715
19. Vanderbilt 5 -0.72
20. Louisville 5 -0.812
21. NC State 4 -0.8375
22. Gonzaga 5 -0.81
23. Baylor 4 -0.93
24. Indiana 5 -1.128
25. Iowa State 5 -1.406

Basketball-reference.com

A few takeaways from these results.

  1. Pac-12 schools, overall, performed really well. One theory is that some of these players slip in the draft because scouts don't get to see them play as often on television because their games are on so late. There are also fewer relevant teams out west than in the middle of the country or the East Coast, so it makes more sense logistically for scouts to spend their time in those regions so they can see more games in-person. I'll often talk to scouts who catch a Saturday afternoon game one place and then drive to see another game that night. 
  2. The Big Ten performed poorly overall and produces fewer pros than some of the other top leagues. It's surprising to see that a school like Michigan State has had only four players drafted who have played a game in the last 10 years. That number will go up for both Michigan and Michigan State this year, but maybe we shouldn't be so surprised that the league has not won a national title since 2000. Overall, the level of talent hasn't been as good as perceived.

 

Final Thoughts

The reason for NBA teams to study these kinds of numbers is to try to draft smarter in the future. This isn't a foolproof method as there are going to be anomalies and the data pool isn't always big enough to provide a fair scope, but the results are something to consider in future drafts. 

Whether it's the system or how those coaches develop talent, some do it better than others. It's also possible from these results that some players slip based on what part of the country they play their college ball. 

So keep an eye out for the West Coast players as potential sleepers in this upcoming draft, and if your team is drafting a player from the Big Ten—like a Noah Vonleh—be wary.

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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