One thousand ninety-eight players made their NBA debut between 1991 and 2006. (according to data at Basketball-Reference.com). Three hundred twenty-seven of these guys were never drafted, according to my calculations. It equates to around 20 such athletes per year on average.
Last year, 27 guys (by my reckoning) made their NBA debuts without being picked. Many of these players are only in the NBA for a short time. Between 1991-92 and 2005-06, 300 players began their careers in the Association. This career lasted only one year for 128 people (about 43 percent). Moreover, 79 of these players logged less than 100 minutes of action (including 23 who played less than 10 minutes). Below are more history concerning Undrafted NBA players.
Many undrafted free agents only appear for a few games, earn their names on Basketball-Reference.com, and then move on to another career. However, for some undrafted players, the initial try-out might lead to a long career. And it’s about these fortunate few that we’d want to talk about today.
There were 29 undrafted players that played 100 games and averaged 20 minutes per game from 1991-92 to 2005-06. To put it another way, around two players are undrafted each year and go on to become regular parts of a team’s rotation.
When we look at the career stats of these players (shown in Table One), we can see that Ben Wallace is by far the most productive Undrafted NBA players in the last 16 years.
Table One: The Best Players Who Didn’t Get Drafted (1991-92 to 2005-06)
Ben Wallace has played in the NBA for 11 years. In these eleven seasons, he has 176.6 victories and a WP48 (Wins Produced per 48 minutes) of 0.348. Big Ben’s game does not revolve around scoring, and he barely scores 6.6 points per game on average. Wallace’s game isn’t about scoring points; it’s about grabbing rebounds and blocking shots. His ability to recover missed shots, either terminating the opponent’s possession or letting his team’s possessions continue, is a critical component of his team’s success.
Wallace isn’t the only undrafted player who has made an impact. Brad Miller, Bo Outlaw, and Darrell Armstrong are next on the list. Jose Calderon, who just started his career in Toronto, is already ranked fifth on this list. Eight of the 29 players listed have a career WP48 that is higher than the average of 0.100.
When you look at this list, it’s not just about who’s productive and who isn’t, but also about who’s undrafted. The story of the scorer vs. role player has been discussed many times on this forum (with this column being the best explanation of the distinction). A typical NBA player averages 0.400 points per minute. Scorers are players who do better than the average, while role players do not.
Players of all time in the NBA
Everyone, except Brad Miller, is a role player when we look at the productive undrafted players, and Miller has just crossed the 0.400 bar.
Players who average 0.500 points per minute were recognized as scorers in The Wages of Wins. We can observe that none of the undrafted players mentioned in Table One meet the WoW definition of a scorer when we use this tighter threshold. Only Trevor Ruffin (point guard for Phoenix and Philadelphia in the mid-1990s) managed to break the 0.500 marks in scoring per minute among the 300+ undrafted free agents since 1991. Yes, in 16 years, just one undrafted player has scored one point for every two minutes played.
When we look at the undrafted’s scoring rates, we can see a clear lesson to be taught. If you don’t hear your name called on draft night, you should give up your hopes of being the next Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson. To earn the NBA salary, these players will have to contribute to the team’s success in ways other than scoring.
On the weekly series on sports-related issues. Every week, I illustrate data science applications in sports.
Earlier this week, I published an introduction to the Sports Reference API, which demonstrated how the API might be used to create a comprehensive dataset of NBA players’ statistical information. As a result, I’ll be delving deeper into that data set to examine how players progress over time.
Teams in the NBA have a well-documented preference for picking up young players in the draft. As a result, teenagers are typically the first players off the board, whether transferring from another league or one-and-done in the NCAA. More experienced and older players must frequently wait until the second round, and many of them go undrafted. NBA scouts value experience, so let’s examine why that might be the case for you.
Young players, it stands to reason, will have more time to improve until their prime years arrive. However, when does a player reach the height of their powers, and how much do they improve over time? It varies from player to player in actuality, although trends can be found in the data.
It’s the height of the day!
Looking at PER (Player Efficiency Rating) by age, I can estimate when the normal NBA player reaches the height of their powers. PER is an advanced basketball metric created by John Hollinger that combines classic box score metrics into a single score. While PER isn’t perfect, especially when gauging defense, it’s as good as it gets for a single score.
To begin, I load the dataset and create a few simple charts to familiarize myself with the information. To find out how to create this dataset, go no further than my previous post. In addition, I add a few extra columns and eliminate seasons that do not fulfill the PER rating’s minimum minute threshold.
PER seasons are distributed similarly to our total age distribution, as illustrated in this graph. While intriguing, this doesn’t indicate anything about players’ superiority in their late twenties; all I’ve established so far is that the majority of players come within this age range. A boxplot can illustrate the PER distribution for each age group to provide a clearer picture of predicted performance as people get older.
The Importance of Being a Teenager
The preceding paragraph still leaves open why clubs place such a premium on selecting young talent. What’s wrong with drafting athletes who are closer to or already in their peak if 19- and 20-year-olds are less effective? Returning to the premise that young players have more time to improve before reaching their peak, I’ll examine how players evolve throughout their professional lives.
Of course, just because these guys aren’t their teams’ top scoring option doesn’t mean they don’t make an impact. We see the same average productivity in all undrafted free agents as we do in second-round picks, and both have a WP48 average of 0.066. On another day, the ramifications of that equality should make for a fantastic narrative. You have to know more about the Undrafted NBA players.