NBA Draft: The Value of Second Round Picks

I have been a mostly ardent supporter of everything that Chris Grant has done in his time rebuilding the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the moment,  I questioned the selections of Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters but after some reflection and analysis I came to understand and really like those moves. And at this point I feel confident in saying those were both the right selections. I’m obviously in favor of the trades that Grant has made. In fact I’m not certain you can even call some them “trades.”  Is it really a trade if you give up your ball boy for Speights, Ellington, Selby, and a first round pick? Anyways, I just really think that Grant has done a masterful job of over-hauling this team and stocking it with young talent and assets.

The only gripe I have with Grant is his seeming disregard for second round draft picks. In fact, now that Daniel Gibson is no longer under contract, the Cavs do not have a single player on their roster that they drafted in the second round. Generally, many NBA teams look at second round draft picks as being pittance. Nothing that you should place any value in. In reality though, if you do your scouting right, there are good players that can be had in the second round. Here’s a quick list of players taken in the second round over the past ten years: Carlos Boozer, Marc Gasol, Anderson Varejao, Monta Ellis, Paul Millsap, Luis Scola, Mo Williams, Ramon Sessions…just to name a few.  And just in case you didn’t notice, four of those guys actually have played for the Cavs.

Boozer 001

Furthermore, adding to the value of second round picks, their contracts are non-guaranteed. You can cut them without penalty, so there’s really no downside to drafting those players. If they don’t work out then you let them walk. No harm done. And if they end up being an All-Star caliber player then you look pretty smart.

Now, in fairness to Grant, he didn’t have any draft picks his first summer on the job back in 2010. Danny Ferry had shipped them all away and left his successor with nothing but the fleeting hope that LeBron would stay in Cleveland. So I can’t really hold it against Grant that he missed out on guys like Dexter Pittman, Landry Fields, Lance Stephenson, and Luke Harangody. Though he did make up for it by trading for The Harangody.[1]

However, starting with the 2011 Draft we can hold Grant culpable. In that draft the Cavs went in with two second round picks: nos. 32 and 54. Grant traded no. 32 to Orlando for two future second round picks because there wasn’t anyone there that he liked. The Magic chose Justin Harper, who now plays in the D-League. But just one pick later the Pistons selected Kyle Singler. Five picks after that Chandler Parsons was taken by the Rockets. Both are good rotational players just two years into their NBA career. And both would look really good on this Cavs roster right about now, especially Parsons. What I wouldn’t give for a shooter like that. Also, just two spots before the Cavs,  the Bulls took Jimmy Butler at no. 30. All three of those guys play the position that is currently held by Alonzo Gee. I feel I’ve said enough on the issue.

I mentioned that the Cavs had two second round picks of course. Grant took Milan Macvan of Serbia at no. 54. We will probably never see this guy. But it’s ok, it’s not like we could have also picked up a backup PG to pair with Kyrie that late in the draft. Oh wait, the Kings took Isaiah Thomas at no. 60.

In the 2012 NBA Draft the Cavs went in owning back-to-back second round picks at nos. 33 and 34. They of course used those picks to move up in the first round from no. 24 to no. 17 to select Tyler Zeller. It’s a little early still to tell which of the second round picks in that draft are legitimate NBA players. Draymond Green went no. 35 and appears to be a solid rotation guy. There were also some undrafted players like Pablo Prigioni and Alexey Shved who appear to be pretty good too.

Now, Grant will no doubt defend all these moves under the guise of maximizing assets. And I agree that you’d probably rather have Zeller than Jared Cunningham, Bernard James, and Jae Crowder—the three guys Dallas ended up selecting with picks previously owned by the Cavs.[2] So I can understand that. I’m also willing to give him that he can easily justify trading that 2011 second rounder for two future ones. That makes sense on the surface—except for the whole “we could have had Chandler Parsons instead” thing.

Also, the success rate of second round picks ending up becoming even rotational players in the NBA is very low. That’s why you see so many GMs who throw them away like used up…uh…practice jerseys. However, I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse for not doing your homework and trying to find those gems. And as I mentioned before, it’s such a low-risk move so if the player doesn’t work you just cut him and move on.

Daryl Morey, the GM of the Rockets, is great at finding and utilizing second round talent. There was a great SI piece this past December that laid out how Morey amassed a bunch of seemingly random assets and turned them into James Harden. For instance, in 2007 Morey traded a future second round pick for Carl Landry who was selected with the first pick in the second round that year. Landry developed into a solid player and then was flipped to the Kings in a trade that brought over Kevin Martin who was then part of the deal that brought in Harden. In 2009, Morey selected Chase Budinger in the second round. Three years later he traded Budinger to the Timberwolves for a first round pick. Oh yeah and he’s also the guy who found Parsons.

I like what Grant has done to utilize those second round picks to move up in the draft. But I would like to see him actually draft some players in those spots to see if we can’t get a guy that can be developed into a rotation player and potentially flipped in a trade for other assets. Trading the picks before they’ve been made doesn’t maximize their value. You’re selling low at that point. Granted, if you draft a player and he turns out to be crap then you’ve got nothing. But still, the point remains: if you’re a great GM you’ll be able to find players in the second round.

Much like I mentioned with regard to foreign players yesterday, I don’t have the time or resources to evaluate these second round players properly. So I’d be lying to you if I said that Mike Muscala is going to be a real find or that Tony Snell has the goods to be a great player.[3] I don’t know who the potential steals are in the second round. And I know that it’s not exactly easy to figure it out. If it was, those guys wouldn’t last to the second round.

But I’d like to see Grant take a couple shots with some second round picks for once. What do we have to lose after all?


[1] I really hope people don’t have to read this footnote to understand that joke.

[2] Little rant…When is the NBA going to get with the times and just allow these trades to be announced at the time and allow the picks to be announced for the actual team they’re going to? I mean, Really!? Is it too hard for you, NBA, to just say that Tyler Zeller is being selected by the Cavs? Really!? You have to go through the charade of saying he’s been selected by Dallas and make him put on the hat and take the stupid pictures when even he knows that he didn’t get picked by the Mavs? Really!? The NFL knows how to announce trades when they happen during the draft. Come on, Stern! Are you Really going to let Roger Goodell out-class you? I mean, Really! This is the same guy that had to bring in his old boss to fix up all the problems he’s created. He’s probably the worst commissioner in all of sports history not named Gary Bettman. And if I had any clue if/when/where they hold the NHL draft I’d be willing to bet that even that pathetic excuse for a professional organization can figure out how to announce trades when they happen! I mean, Really! This is your last draft, Sterny boy, and you’ve done a great job running the NBA. But you Really can’t make this happen? Really!?

[3] I will say that I have no idea why people aren’t higher on Seth Curry. I realize that he’s not as good as his brother but their advanced numbers from their final college season are pretty similar actually. Now, Steph had a way higher usage rate getting 23.6 possessions per game compared to Seth at just 13.8 so the PER numbers aren’t close. However, Seth’s 1.27 pts/pos is better than Steph at 1.21. Seth also had a lower turnover rate (0.09/0.16 TO/pos). Also, Seth shot 43.8% from three compared to Steph at 38.7% (his highest was 43.9% in his sophomore season). I realize that Seth likely will not be anywhere close to as good as his big brother is. Steph after all is on his way to being a superstar in this league. But why can’t Seth at least be a backup guard who comes in and knocks down 3’s? He has the pedigree as a Duke guy and they almost never bust in the pros. He’s better than Boobie Gibson, right? I’m probably wrong and Seth Curry actually has no place in the league and this is why I shouldn’t be a GM. But I’d give him a shot.

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