Revisiting the 2007 NBA draft

Posted on 09/15/2010 by

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Note: Before we start some basics for new readers . Here a guide to commonly used terms on this blog from Devin at the NBeh? blog . Here’s a Guide to Calculating Wins Produced from Wages of Wins. For some explanation on PAWS40 go here.

Recently I’ve come across a few pieces on Jeff Ma’s  new book, “The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win in Big Business.”. For those of you not familiar with Ma Here’s the info from his wikipedia page :

Jeff Ma was a member of the MIT Blackjack Team in the mid 1990s. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy. He was the basis for the main character of the book Bringing Down the House (where he was renamed Kevin Lewis) and the film 21 (where he was renamed Ben Campbell). Ma also co-founded PROTRADE (a sports stock market website)[1] and does consulting work for professional sports teams including the Portland Trail Blazers and San Francisco 49ers.[2] He cofounded Citizen Sports, a sport-information website and iPhone application based in San Francisco, which was acquired by Yahoo! in May 2010.[3]

His first book, “The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big In Business,” was published in July 2010 by Palgrave Macmillan.

Now since reading Bringing Down the House I’ve followed Ma’s career with some interest. Let’s say I shared some common interests and experiences in my life. The fact that he may be doing for a living what I do as hobby may also play a small part. The thing that most interested me about this particular piece is the following quote on Oden vs Durant (this is from the interview with Ben Golliver from BlazersEdge ):

“If people that use analytics to predict player performance in the NBA, using performance analytics, meaning what they did in college, and they tell you they had Oden ranked higher than Durant, they are full of crap. There are very few statistical measures that would have rated Oden’s system in college better than Durant’s. Oden was injured his entire career, that one season at Ohio State. He had to shoot free throws left handed, was not efficient, didn’t have a great statistical season.

Our numbers absolutely said they should pick Durant. It wasn’t even close.”


So Ma, a paid consultant for the Blazers mind you, says emphatically that Durant was the pick of the numbers but was overriden by conventional wisdom. Given my own recent experience with trying to forecast the performance of draftees and teams ignoring the evidence of statistics, I was inspired to see if could replicate the analysis that led to this conclusion. I went to my draft table and pulled the data on the players drafted in 2007. If I rank by PAWS40 it looks like this:

Durant at 19 was clearly the best prospect in college. In fact if I look at all the PAWS40 scores since 1995 :

He’s in the top five. Add in age and injury history and you could talk yourself into him as the second best on that list (behind Griffin who should by the numbers be a mega-beast).

If I were re-ranking based on performance so far:

Durant, Horford and Noah tie for #1 (that Florida team would have been a decent NBA team). Oden is by himself at number #4 so he’s a good player but injuries have killed his value. What’s really interesting is that there’s more than a few guys on this list who look like they didn’t get a fair shake in the league (including an old favorite at number 9). This lends credence to the idea that there’s some decent nba level talent to be had out there for a judicious GM (as I may have suggested previously).

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