Breaking Down the Success of Each Position in the NBA Draft Lottery

Historically, which picks have been worth more than others?

Everyone would love to have the first pick in the draft, but the truth of the matter is that only one lucky team can have it. Last night, that big winner was the Boston Celtics. With the best odds to land the first overall pick, they held position and will make the first selection of this June's draft.

As for the entire lottery, here's how things shook out.

1Boston Celtics8New York Knicks
2Los Angeles Lakers9Dallas Mavericks
3Philadelphia 76ers (via Kings)10Sacramento Kings (via Pelicans)
4Phoenix Suns11Charlotte Hornets
5Sacramento Kings (via 76ers)12Detroit Pistons
6Orlando Magic13Denver Nuggets
7Minnesota Timberwolves14Miami Heat

The Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers are certainly happy with their position, but should they feel all that great about it, considering the historical value of a top overall pick? As we go even further down the list, which of the remaining -- 4, 5 and so on -- slots have yielded more productive players?

According to Basketball Reference's win shares and win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) metrics, there's been quite a chasm between the value of the top overall selection and the value of the remaining lottery picks.

Pick Avg. Career WS/48 Avg. Car. WS
1 .134 69.71
2 .100 48.72
3 .101 45.73
4 .100 48.29
5 .092 48.88
6 .074 22.03
7 .083 32.60
8 .072 27.24
9 .099 40.47
10 .092 37.38
11 .088 26.71
12 .063 17.58
13 .081 32.33
14 .064 17.95

Since the lottery's birth in 1985, the number one pick has, on average, produced 20.83 more win shares than any other one selection over the course of his career. In a shorter amount of time, that average comes to .033 additional win shares per 48 minutes.

Historical Trends

What about the rest of the 14 total lottery picks? Here's how the trends have taken shape.

Avg Career WS/48 by Draft Position

There's not too drastic of a dropoff after the first pick, right? The trend line and corresponding R-squared (coefficient of determination) figure -- 0.5423 -- tell us that the difference has been gradually negative, but that the relationship between the pick and production can only be explained by roughly 54% of the plotted data.

Using total career win shares, this next chart helps to explain the first.

Avg Career WS by Draft Pick

As you can see, the R-squared (0.6349) is greater, meaning that over 63% of the variability, by draft pick, can be explained by the data. In other words, there's a stronger relationship between selection and that selection's average career win shares.

Naturally, win shares are a better indicator because they take into account career longevity as well as minutes played. As a result, number one picks further separate themselves here, as picks two through five all settle around the 50-win share mark.

Outside of the top five, picks 6 to 14 are between 17.5 and 40.5 career win shares. That lucky number nine seems to be a hot spot, as players selected in this slot have produced an average of 40.47 career win shares. Dirk Nowitzki, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Tracy McGrady were all draft ninth overall, while more recent selections include Andre Drummond (2012), Gordon Hayward (2010) and DeMar DeRozan (2009).

To give you an idea of how drafting at the end of the lottery can severely change the availability of top players, only 4 of 32 (12.5%) selections have produced 50 or more win shares over the course of their careers. Below them, no other player has reached the 40-win share plateau.

Recent Top-5 Performance

In more recent history, how have top picks' per-48 production fluctuated throughout the past 16 years?

Top-5 Picks: Car WS/48 back to 2000

If you're able to follow the erratic nature of the above lines, you can see that no one pick has been near constant. In fact, the minimum production of a top pick is just .013 win shares per 48 minutes (Anthony Bennett) while the maximum production is all the way up at .239 win shares per 48 (LeBron James).

Generally, first overall picks have had higher peaks with more moderate valleys. However, there have been just a few others to reach those same levels.

In 2007, you'd see that second overall pick Kevin Durant has gone on to produce .219 win shares per 48. Likewise, from the three-spot, James Harden has yielded .212 win shares over the length of a regulation game.

That yellow mountain top in an otherwise unimpressive run of second overall picks is Chris Paul, who, in 12 NBA seasons, has averaged .250 win shares per 48. And, of this century's fifth overall picks, Kevin Love, at .180 win shares per 48, represents the cream of the crop. With .174 win shares per 48, Dwyane Wade isn't far behind, but generally the fifth selection hasn't been a place for cornerstone players.

To summarize, you want your team to have a top-4 pick to be safe, but you probably already knew that.