Much Ado About Nothing? The Rookie Season of the 2007 Draft Class

Much Ado About Nothing? The Rookie Season of the 2007 Draft Class
Feb 17, 2008, 01:31 am
The 2007 NBA draft class was one of the most eagerly awaited in recent memory. After a series of mediocre draft classes, 2007 was hailed as a return to greatness. Teams eagerly raced to the bottom of the league to increase their odds of drafting superstars Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. After last year’s disappointing class, which rivaled the all-time weakest in some eyes (including ours), the current class presented a refreshing return to high expectations. In addition to the star quality at the top of the board, there was much talk about the depth of this draft. There were reportedly very good players available in the late lottery, and fans expressed renewed hope that some late first and even second rounders could immediately turn into contributing players.

While we have consistently held that it is truly impossible to get a good read on the outcome of a draft until at least five years out, and that expecting much from the—1381, we are going to ignore our own advice to peek at the early returns of this “strong” draft class. First, we will compare the 2007 class head-to-head with the 2006 draft class at the All-Star break, and then we will attempt to place them in a larger historical context.

In brief, our analyses led us to the following conclusion: Despite all of the positive advance notices, the 2007 draft class has not only performed as anemically overall in their first half-season as the 2006 class did in theirs, but has been, by some measures, the weakest performing rookie class in the last 20 years.

2006 vs. 2007: The Midseason Tale of the Tape

We examined the relative quality of the 2006 and 2007 drafts by dividing each draft into four distinct bands (top ten picks, eleven to twenty, bottom of the first round, and second round) and comparing them head to head. Among other things, this enabled us to assess the validity of the 2007 “deep draft” appellation. For each of the four draft categories, we assigned a winner to the 2006 versus 2007 rookie draft clash.

Top Ten Picks, 2006 vs. 2007: The prospects for the top of the 2007 draft class were obviously hindered by the pre-season loss of Greg Oden due to surgery. They were also impacted to a lesser extent by Mike Conley’s two injury stints. However, Kevin Durant and Al Horford have certainly had productive rookie years thus far (Table 1). While Durant has not shot a particularly high percentage, nor exhibited strong production in aspects other than scoring, he is on pace to be the highest scoring rookie since LeBron James. Horford, grabbing 10 rebounds per game (which has him in the top 15 in the league), along with 9.3 ppg and a respectable 47% field goal percentage, has waged a nice rookie campaign as well. Meanwhile, Yi Jianlian has given Bucks fans a reason to be excited, with occasional big games like his 29 point, 10 rebound showing against Charlotte in December. Finally, the aforementioned Conley, when playing, has had a few very good games as well.

Those four players alone tilt the scale to the 2007 Top Ten picks in comparison to the 2006 cohort, who really only had Brandon Roy playing at a comparable level. Several 2006 players - Andrea Bargnani, LaMarcus Aldridge, Randy Foye, and Rudy Gay -were showing signs of their potential by the All Star Break, although each had fairly modest production. Shelden Williams and Adam Morrison, on the other hand, were displaying more limitations than potential, Tyrus Thomas had limited playing time, and Patrick O’Bryant and Saer Sene were poster children for the reasons people considered the 2006 draft so weak. Advantage: 2007.

Picks 11-20: In both 2006 and 2007 there is (as expected) a precipitous drop in production from the first ten picks to the next 10 (Table 2). Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2007 class has been Boston College cast-off Sean Williams, considered one of the riskiest picks of the draft due to his off-court problems. Playing an average of 21 minutes in 48 games this season, he has shown why he may be worth the risk: he is among the top five players in the NBA in blocks per 48 minutes, while displaying some tenacity on the offensive boards and shooting an excellent 55% from field. Al Thornton, on the other hand, has been the model of inconsistency, with seven 20+ point games to his credit interspersed with significant stretches of poor shooting, and less production in other aspects of the game than you would expect from someone with his tools. However, his most consistent and productive stretch so far spanned the nine games leading into the All Star break in which he averaged 18.6 ppg on 46% shooting with 5.7 rpg. Perhaps this is a sign of good things to come for Thornton. Finally, Thaddeus Young, who had a slow start, has seen more playing time as the season has progressed, and has put up a series of nice games over the past few weeks. Young and Thornton may be the rookies most likely to show large increases in production over the remainder of the season.

Meanwhile, the 2006 mid-first round group had no substantial performers. Across the board, these players chipped in with modest contributions in modest minutes. Advantage: 2007.

Picks 21-30: After the first 20 picks, things start to go rapidly downhill for the class of 2007 (Table 3). Three of the last 10 picks of the first round (Rudy Fernandez, Tiago Splitter, and Petteri Koponen) are still employed outside the NBA, and of the remaining seven, another three have yet to reach double digits in games played (Wilson Chandler, Morris Almond, and Alando Tucker). Daequan Cook is the only player in this segment seeing considerable minutes (19.5 per game) with reasonable production (5.7 EFF). While his production is limited (3.7 EFF), Arron Afflalo is at least playing some meaningful minutes for one of the better teams in the NBA.

The last segment of the 2006 first round offered decent production from a solid group of rookie point guards: Rajon Rondo, Marcus Williams, Jordan Farmar, Sergio Rodriquez, and Kyle Lowry (who was unfortunately felled by a season-ending injury). Nine of the ten players in this segment had also played in at least ten games by the All Star break last year. Advantage: 2006.

Second Round: By the All Star break last year, 18 of the 30 2006 second round picks had played in at least one NBA game, while this year 15 rookies have played in an NBA game. The degree of impact (for second round picks, games and minutes played is probably the better metric, as production is scant), although not substantial in either year, clearly favors the class of 2006. Four players from the class of 2006 had seen action in at least 35 games by the all star break, averaging about 10 minutes or more of playing time: Paul Millsap (17.6 mpg), Daniel Gibson (15.8 mpg), Alexander Johnson (14.6 mpg), and Craig Smith (15.5 mpg). Four other players, David Noel, Hassan Adams, Solomon Jones, and Leon Powe, played in at least 34 games and averaged 8-10 mpg.

In 2007 only one player, Glen “Big Baby” Davis (13.2 mpg) of the Boston Celtics, played in as many as 35 games averaging 10 mpg. Big Baby’s production, however, pales in comparison with last year’s second round top dog Millsap (who was also playing with one of the best teams in the NBA). Aaron Gray (35 games, 9.7 mpg) and Dominic McGuire (41 games, 8.0 mpg) are the only other second rounders to even approach those marks this year. The second round has basically been a non-factor in the NBA this season. Who knows what the future holds, but for now, the draft day excitement about players like Josh McRoberts and Derrick Byars (now in France after being cut from Germany) falling to the second round has largely been undeserved. Advantage: 2006 All the Way.

Historical Comparison of Draft Classes

In order to compare the current class to the prior 27 drafts, we used the Adjusted Efficiency Score* that we created last year for this purpose. The Adjusted Efficiency Score estimates the total seasonal production for each entire draft class while factoring in seasonal pace differences. For a complete discussion of this metric see last year’s article.

The draft year Adjusted Efficiencies below (Figure 1) factor in the percentage of draftees active in a given year (thus years with fewer drafted players who play in the NBA will tend to have lower scores), the number of games played by those draftees (thus a player who had 1 very good game will have a lower score than a player who had 50 average games) in each season, and production.

When observed in this manner, the draft class of 2007 is the worst-performing rookie class in the past 28 years, nudging out the classes of 2000, 2002, and 2006 for this dubious distinction. At this point in the season (with teams having played an average of 52 games), the current class has the worst Adjusted Efficiency Score of any class in recent history. Notably, however, their extremely poor performance on this metric is only partially due to deficient production. Rookie point, rebound, assist, and other raw stat totals are similar to last year’s rookie class (which, admittedly, is not a high bar to meet). However, there are fewer players in this class playing NBA games this year, and those who are playing at all are playing fewer games.

Note that last year’s draft class, analyzed at this same point, finished out the year with essentially the same Adjusted Efficiency that they had amassed by February. So it is a pretty safe bet that the class of 2007 is not going to make sudden strides in the next few months to transform itself into the mythic draft class eagerly expected last spring. One could argue that the 2007 class is stronger than 2006 where it counts: in those first 10 selections. However, the above analyses clearly dispel the idea that 2007 was a particularly deep draft once you look beyond the lottery picks.

Update on the Class of 2006

As alluded to previously, last year we analyzed the first year production of the draft class of 2006 and determined that they were among the poorer performing rookie draft classes in recent times. Has the sophomore year been any kinder to this class? Not much. Figure 2 displays the second year Adjusted Efficiency Score for the past 27 years. At this point in the season, the class of 2006 has the second worst sophomore Adjusted Efficiency Score measured. (The poor performance of the class of 1997 is discussed in last year’s analysis). Additionally, the class of 2006’s first to second year efficiency change is among the worst measured. While most classes average an increase in Adjusted Efficiency of 1.1, the class of 2006 is exhibiting a gain of only .66.

What Lies Ahead?

However you look at the numbers, the much vaunted draft class of 2007 is either performing on par with, or slightly below, the dismal class of 2006. These two draft classes have offered up the poorest rookie years in recent memory. Why do recent draft classes look so weak compared to their predecessors? And can we expect more of the same in future years?

Despite recent changes in draft eligibility rules, which ended the matriculation of domestic players with no college experience, players with very limited experience against quality competition are still entering the NBA at very young ages. Today’s prospects are quite different from the typical draftee of the 1980s. This inexperience is certainly one of the factors affecting rookie year production.

The international market may be another factor limiting the production of recent draft classes. The vast body of international players who do not enter the NBA immediately after the draft (and perhaps never, as we discussed in a previous article) is substantial. The second round has become a source of risky speculation for many teams; instead of pursuing immediate role players (granted their odds of success are generally low), teams chase international players who may not matriculate for several years, but who offer greater potential upside when (and if) they do enter the NBA.

Perhaps we will see a realization of the once high expectations for the class of 2007 in the years to come. If nothing else, the expected return of Greg Oden should help this class toward a better sophomore year. Draft class improvement is certainly not unprecedented; the draft class of 1987 was also headed by a franchise center who did not play immediately after being drafted (David “The Admiral” Robinson sat out for military service rather than injury), and struggled with relatively mediocre production, ranking 17th of the 27 most recent drafts. However, by their fifth year out, with Robinson in active NBA duty and Hall of Fame form, and Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Kevin Johnson, and several others having increased their production substantially, the class of 1987 rose to second among measured draft classes. The draft classes of 1998 and 2001 both experienced similarly dramatic evolution.

So all hope is not yet lost. Perhaps we merely need to take our own advice and wait to see the class of 2007 blossom. To borrow a lesson from the political arena, early returns are not always an indicator of future success.

*Adjusted Efficiency = [((Pts + Reb + Asts + Stl + Blk) - ((fga - fgm) + (fta - ftm) + turnover))*(92.4/lgpace)]/#draftslots/#games.

Lgpace = Average pace of the NBA for each year as reported by
#draftslots = number of first and second round draftees in a given draft year
#games = number of possible games in a year (82 for all years except the strike year of 1998-99)

Note: Data for this article was compiled from,,, DatabaseBasketball(2.0), and The authors would like to thank all those involved with developing and maintaining those resources and making them available for public use.

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