We always believed that it would be cool if someone would take the time to break down the NBA Draft by schools since its inception, figuring there must be a loose correlation between the collegiate powers of the past sixty years and the players that the NBA finds draft-worthy. We’re not saying that a player is talented simply because he’s drafted by the NBA or that he sucks if he isn’t – rather, a player being drafted is solely an imperfect indicator that, at the time, a player’s collegiate career inspired professional scouts to believe that he could ultimately contribute to their team. But it’s also the only consistent indicator we have. To that end, we tried to determine if there was a rational way to determine how much “bang for your buck” having these talented soon-to-be NBA players on a college team’s roster matters over time.
We realize there are many ways to do this analysis and a number of these are meritorious, but for us, it always comes back to NCAA Tournament success – Appearances, Final Fours, Championships. These three measures show that you’re good enough to be invited, you’re good enough to go deep, and you’re good enough to win the title. So in looking at Table A below, you’ll see that the table is sorted by the schools with the most NBA Draft Picks in the first two rounds since 1949 (the first year of the “modern” NBA Draft), and each school also lists those three measures of success next to it (also since 1949). We considered here only the first two rounds of each draft for consistency and the likelihood of a player actually making the parent team.
Table A. NBA Draft Picks (first two rounds) From 1949-2006
Notes: this table is sorted by the NBA Draft Picks column and is limited to schools with a minimum of ten NBA Draft Picks since 1949. The yellow shading refers to the lowest ratio in that column; the light blue shading refers to the highest ratio in that column.
Talent = Success. Out of the traditional Super Six schools – UCLA, UNC, Indiana, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas – each is among the top ten schools with the most NBA Draft picks. Collectively, these six schools have accounted for over 10% (231 of 2214) of the all-time NBA draft picks, which is fairly amazing if you consider that we’re discussing nearly sixty years worth of college basketball players and hundreds of programs.
Surprises. St. John’s, Maryland and Notre Dame are in the top fourteen of NBA draft picks with 32, 29 and 26, respectively, but their historic success as programs (two F4s each for SJU and Maryland, 1 F4 for ND) is definitely a bit lower than their talent over the years might suggest. They have had numerous good players, but it hasn’t translated into NCAA Tournament success at the same level as their contemporaries on this list. At the other end of the list, Florida‘s recent ascent into the elite company is not (yet) well-represented by its number of draft picks (only 10). However, we’d expect that to change very quickly, hitting as much as 15 after this year’s draft (Horford, Brewer, Noah, perhaps Green & Richard).
Golden gOh-fers. The biggest shocker of all deserves its own paragraph. Somehow the Minnesota Golden Gophers have managed to put 24 players into the NBA Draft over the years – only fifteen other programs have put more – yet nobody would mistake Minnesota for an elite program during any era, considering its paltry nine NCAA appearances and one F4. This disconnect is exhibited by the fact that Minnesota has the highest draft pick/NCAA appearance ratio among the schools listed. Fresno St. (thanks Tark) is the only other school with a ratio greater than 2.0. We think Long Beach St. also deserves a mention, not simply due to its high ratio (1.63), but also because it has produced more draft picks than many major conference teams despite never being much of a power, even within its own conference. On the flip side of things, it was also somewhat amazing to us that Arkansas had only produced fourteen NBA picks despite a substantial amount of NCAA success (26 appearances; 4 F4s; 1 title).
Apparently These Three Gophers Were Drafted by the NBA
Team vs. Individuals. We’re going to be careful to avoid drawing too significant of a conclusion here, but we also found it interesting that among the top ten schools, only Kentucky and Kansas had draft pick/appearance ratios under 1.0, while the other eight schools were above that marker. We wonder out loud if this shows evidence of schools that have traditionally emphasized the team concept to make up for a lack of individual talent over the years; or if UK and KU are simply an anomaly among the most talented teams. There are probably too many variables at play here to make any supportable conclusion.
F4 & Title Ratios. Reviewing the draft pick/F4 ratios, only Indiana is the outlier here, as expected schools such as Kansas, UCLA, UNC, Duke and Kentucky (along with Florida) comprise the six lowest ratios. Considering only the schools with multiple F4 appearances, St. John’s and Maryland have the highest ratios of draft picks/F4s, showing again that they’re producing a lot of good players without as much success to show for it as the others near the top of the list. Along the same lines, considering only multiple titlists, Louisville, Kansas and Duke appear to be getting the least bang for the buck from its talent, as these three schools have the highest draft pick/title ratios among multiple titlists.
Coming Next: now that we’ve looked at the overall numbers, we’ll take a snapshot look at those numbers by decade and by round to see if anything else looks interesting. View Part II (by round) and Part III (by decade) here.