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Rebuilding through the draft vs. trading for a potential all-star: An analysis

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by SC1211, Oct 28, 2012.

  1. SC1211

    SC1211 Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2009
    Likes Received:
    First of, let me say I'm absolutely shocked by the amount of criticism that this trade has received. The root of such a criticism is the notion that teams are better off building through the draft, rather than trading for a player that has all-star potential. I wanted to actually examine the empirics of such a strategy more comprehensively and see if there was any merit to it.

    The probability of landing a franchise centerpiece
    Let's begin by seeing where Harden ranks among the top 14 players drafted in the last 5 years (excluding 2011 and 2012 for now, because it's obviously way too early to tell). Bolded names denote players that can be considered superstar caliber players. (Note: I'm going to be EXTREMELY liberal in this estimation, giving the most benefit of the doubt to the build-through-the-draft-supporters). I'm also going to put an asterik next to players that can be considered better than or equivalant to Harden in superstar potential. Again, I am going to be EXTREMELY liberal with this calculation.

    Andrea Bargnani
    LaMarcus Aldridge*
    Adam Morrison
    Tyrus Thomas
    Shelden Williams
    Brandon Roy
    Randy Foye
    Rudy Gay
    Patrick O'Bryant
    Mouhamed Sene
    J.J. Reddick
    Hilton Armstrong
    Thabo Sefolosha
    Ronnie Brewer

    Greg Oden
    Kevin Durant*
    Al Horford
    Mike Conley
    Jeff Green
    Yi Jianlian
    Corey Brewer
    Brandan Wright
    Joakim Noah
    Spencer Hawes
    Acie Law
    Thaddeus Young
    Julian Wright
    Al Thornton

    Derrick Rose*
    Michael Beasley
    O.J. Mayo
    Russell Westbrook*
    Kevin Love*
    Danilo Gallinari
    Eric Gordon
    Joe Alexander
    D.J. Augistin
    Brook Lopez
    Jerryd Bayless
    Jason Thompson
    Brando Rush
    Anthony Randolph

    Blake Griffin*
    Hasheem Thabeet
    James Harden*
    Tyreke Evans
    Ricky Rubio
    Stephen Curry
    Jordan Hill
    Demar Derozan
    Brandon Jennings
    Terrence Williams
    Gerald Henderson
    Tyler Hansbrough
    Earl Clark

    John Wall*
    Evan Turner
    Derrick Favors
    Wesley Johnson
    DeMarcus Cousins*
    Ekpe Udoh
    Greg Monroe
    Al-Farouq Aminu
    Gordon Hayward
    Paul George
    Cole Aldrich
    Xavier Henry
    Ed Davis
    Patrick Patterson

    So out of the 70 players drafted in the lottery from draft 2006 through draft 2010, 18 have been denoted as centerpiece caliber players. Essentially, you have roughly a 26% chance of landing a player that pans out. Now, keep in mind, this is including guys with chronic health problems (Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon, Brook Lopez, potentially Ricky Rubio), guys who haven't even been featured in a starring role yet (Paul George, Derrick Favors etc.) and guys who have been in the league for a while and, while good, haven't reached superstar status (Rudy Gay comes to mind). And let's be real, Boogie Cousins should never be counted on as a sure thing. So if you're drafting in the lottery, a 26% chance any given year doesn't seem like a sure thing, especially when I'm including players who haven't come near Harden's level of production.

    When including only the players that are of Harden's level or better (again, extremely liberal with this category), the number falls to 9 out of 70, for an 13% chance.

    The odds get even worse when you look at where the Rockets might be drafting. If the Rockets drafted in the top 5, obviously their chances would improve dramatically. Of the 25 players drafted in the top 5, 9 have been denoted at a superstar level, for a 36% chance.

    All 9 of the players denoted as having Harden's superstar potential or higher were drafted in the top 5.

    If you're outside the top 5, your odds fall DRAMATICALLY. Of the 45 players drafted outside the top 5, only 9 are considered franchise-caliber centerpieces, for odds of 20%. For every 5 lottery picks you have, one is likely to pan out.

    0 players were outside the top 5 for Harden potential or greater.

    Now, the counterargument is going to of course be that Morey is above-average at scouting the draft, and would therefore be able to do more with his picks. While this might be true, and increase the odds from a Rockets perspective, the lack of talent at this level in the draft is still likely to prevent the Rockets from getting a superstar.

    What picks are we missing out on?
    There are three picks that are affected by this trade.

    Toronto's pick
    Let's start with the one that everyone is the most upset about: The Toronto non-lottery protected pick.

    The specifications for the pick is that it is top 3 protected in 2013, top 2 protected through 2015, and top 1 protected through 2017. The first question to see how valuable this pick is going to be obviously lies with where this pick is likely to fall.

    Last year, the Raptors finished 23-43 (for a winning percentage of 34%). They had the following roster:

    Jose Calderon/Jerryd Bayless
    DeMar Derozan/LeAndro Barbosa
    James Johnson/Linas Kleiza/Gary Forbes
    Amir Johnson/Ed Davis
    Andrea Bargnani/Aaron Gray

    Note that Barbosa was traded at the deadline and Bargnani missed more than half the season with injuries. Their record was good enough to put them EIGHTH in the draft. For the record, of players drafted 8-14, exactly 3 of 35 players panned out as a superstar caliber player, for a whopping 8% chance of landing a superstar. Again, also a 0% chance of landing a player of Harden's caliber or better.

    This year, they've played excellently in pre-season already, and are rolling out the following line-up:
    Kyle Lowry/Jose Calderon/John Lucas III
    DeMar Derozan/Landry Fields
    Terrence Ross/Linas Kleiza
    Andrea Bargnani/Ed Davis
    Jonas Valanciunas/Amir Johnson

    If there's one assumption I'm going to make in this post, it's that any rational basketball fan should expect the Raptors to better this year than last year. The worst part about the draft pick is also that this Raptors team is YOUNG. If we can't expect the pick to payoff higher than eighth this year, then what is it going to look like 2-3 years down the line as the players develop? From a fan's perspective, how long are we willing to wait for the ping pong balls to go are way with a Raptors pick, only to have a 26% chance of landing our player IF it goes our way?

    All in all, the probability of landing a player that is of superstar caliber is extremely slim through the Raptors pick, especially if we're looking to get a player better than Harden.

    Dallas' Pick
    The Mavericks pick is top 20 protected through 2017, and unprotected in 2018. Unless there are some truly crazy pro-tankers out there, waiting until 2018 is not ideal, so let's work with the premise of picking between 21-30.

    From 2006-2010, of the 50 players drafted, only 2 are considered "max-worthy" players: Rajon Rondo and Nicolas Batum (who received such an offer from the T-Wolves, again, being very liberal here). That's good for a 4% of landing a superstar (or even all-star) quality player using the Dallas Mavericks pick.

    Sorry, this just wasn't ever going to pan out for us.

    The Rockets own 2013 pick
    I suspect most pro-tankers are upset about where we're going to end up this season. As I stated before, I don't think we were ever going to land a top 5 pick with this team, but even if we did, we stood a 13% chance of landing a player better than or equal to James Harden. Is that truly a good enough chance to suffer a year of horrible losing, especially when we essentially get that first round pick back with Harden aboard as our guy with potential? Not sure I like those odds, especially because it wasn't a given we were going to be THAT BAD.

    Attracting the next superstar: Free agency/trades or the draft?
    Looking at the previous arguments I've laid out, the chances of landing another superstar by tanking is slim. Remember, even if we got lucky and landed a player of Harden's caliber, we'd STILL be in the same position the next year, unless we absolutely hit a home run with a guy like Anthony Davis.

    The underrated aspect of James Harden is the rep he has among players. If you look at the player reactions on twitter last night, you'll notice one thing: almost every single one of them thought that Houston made a great deal. Now, more than ever, we have a system in the NBA where you have to rely on guys being friends off the court and having a good reputation among other NBA stars to attract them to a franchise. We didn't have that before, and now we do. Remember that it was with Team USA that the big three in Miami decided to team up.

    We also are going to have plenty of capspace to work with (and we don't have to blow it all this summer. We could also work another trade and eat way more salary than we give up, and act as a cost-saving team for someone looking to blow it up). When you look at the chances of landing a player better than Harden through the draft (less than 15%), and you look at the fact that the Rockets have cap room to play with and a guy to attract talent, I think there's NO QUESTION that we've sped up the rebuilding process substantially. Even if we aren't satisfied with the free agent class this year, if we end up trading for a guy, there's a higher likelihood he's going to stick around and sign extensions with us if he knows that there's young talent like Harden around him.

    Is Harden the real deal?
    Look, I don't need to repeat the same advanced statistics that you've been reading everywhere. I just want to respond to the ridiculous criticisms that have been lobbed the way of James Harden as arguments for why he's a second tier player.

    James Harden is a good third option, but can't lead a team
    Based on what, exactly? Look, 98% of the players in the league would be a third scoring option behind Westbrook and Durant, especially if that guy is younger and newer to the league! This is just a statement thrown around without any advanced statistics to back it up. Look, a lot of the pro-tankers are older guys who want to see a bona-fide superstar on the Rockets again (I get it, I was there for the Dream too). Here's the thing: every advanced metric that shows that Harden RAISED his game when Westbrook and Durant were off the court. Chris Bosh can be a 24-12 guy when he's the centerpiece, or he can be a complimentary third scorer on a team with two established superstars (also, did you notice how he was THE REASON that Miami put away Boston in the East finals). Good players, like Bosh and Harden, know how to adapt when there are other good players around them. We should be excited that Harden played so unselfishly, not jumping to irrational conclusions that he can't be the first option, when every basketball mind worth a damn thinks that he can.

    James Harden disappeared in the finals, and therefore isn't a true superstar
    Look, I'm willing to forgive a guy for not playing his best in the finals his first time there against the likes of Dwayne Wade and LeBron James. He's young. It was a sample size of 6 games. If you think that he can't handle the pressure, go rewatch the series against the Spurs (you know, only a team that won 20 games in a row before playing OKC). Seriously, go watch it and try to tell me with a straight face that James Harden wasn't the reason they won that series. A sample size of 6 games irrationally convinced legions of dumb basketball fans that LeBron James wasn't the greatest player of our generation. Don't be one of those dumb basketball fans. James Harden has consistently performed on the big stage.

    You know what the best part about all of this is? The guy is only 23, entering his 4th season as a pro in this league. He's going to improve his game from here.

    Final thoughts
    First off, sorry this turned into a novel.

    Second, in the end, it's very simple: James Harden is the type of player that you tank to obtain. It's easy for us as basketball fans to have fantasies about potential. Potential is the great unknown, and we just can't help but visualize what the greatest outcome might be for the player. It's why we think that Donatas is the next Pau Gasol, or that Jeremy Lamb could have been Kobe if he just stuck around, or that Terrence Williams was headed for superstardom, or that our first round pick next year would finally net us that savior we've been looking for. For every Hakeem Olajuwon, there's a Darko Milicic, a Kwame Brown and a Sam Bowie. Finding true superstar players is SUCH a rare happening. The sobering truth is that our expectations get so high that we conflate reality with desire. We wanted to tank because we thought that we had visions of Andew Wiggins holding up a Rockets jersey. We thought that we could nab that guy who would lead us to the place that Hakeem did.

    Ask fans of Milwaukee, Washington, Charlotte, Sacramento, and Minnesota what it's like to rebuild through the draft. Finding a superstar isn't a fun process.

    You know what the best part is? We just found ours.


    Fear the beard.
  2. Rasselas

    Rasselas Contributing Member

    Nov 23, 2002
    Likes Received:
    This is the best analysis yet I have seen of the trade, either by a professional or a poster.

    Nice work.
    HakeemOnlyFan likes this.
  3. James Harden

    James Harden Member

    Oct 28, 2012
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    how long did this take you?
  4. Marsarinian

    Marsarinian Contributing Member

    Apr 21, 2006
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    Logged in to give you some rep. Nicely done!:)
  5. SC1211

    SC1211 Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2009
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    Haha about 30 minutes. I have too much time on my hands.
  6. JayGoogle

    JayGoogle Member

    Nov 3, 2007
    Likes Received:
    This is a great post, but if you look at the top 5 draft spots your chances at getting a potential all-star raises substantially.
  7. meh

    meh Contributing Member

    Jun 16, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Honestly, calling Harden a potential all star is really underrating him. I know this is a board that even called Yao "only all-star because there are no center" throughout his career. So I'm not totally surprised. But let's give the guy some credit. He's 23 yr old. No injury issue. Incredibly efficient. And has many OKC fans wondering if they should trade him or Westbrook if they can't pay both.

    So I would go even further and narrow down your list to legit, bonafide all-stars or players that are likely to be future bonafide all-stars. And if you think about it. If all 30 NBA teams are given a re-draft, where would Harden go? Probably top-10. That's not just top-5 pick material. That's #1 pick stratosphere.
  8. AroundTheWorld

    Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2000
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    Excellent post, I was thinking the same thing: Even "the" draft pick was not nearly as valuable as Harden will be.
  9. kaitanuva

    kaitanuva Member

    Aug 29, 2008
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    I feel bad for Brandon Roy. Had he not been injured he would easily be the exception to your argument that there aren't any players outside of the top 5 that is better than Harden. If he were still 100% today Roy would arguably be the top SG in the league.
  10. SC1211

    SC1211 Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2009
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    I totally agree with you, I just wanted to give the pro-tankers' argument the most credit you could possibly give it.

    The only guys I'd personally take over Harden:
    and MAYBE Westbrook.

    And as a personal preference, I'd love to avoid the injuries with Rose and Griffin, so really he's a top 2-3 guy for me in that five year stretch.
  11. SC1211

    SC1211 Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2009
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    Yeah, but just goes to show you that injuries are a part of it too. The chances of finding someone who is both a) as talented as Harden and b) not totally injury prone, is just so rare.
  12. Blaster_333

    Blaster_333 Member

    Jan 27, 2012
    Likes Received:
    All honesty, this should be stickied. Even if you disagree with the Harden trade, would be nice if everyone used this information as the foundation of their arguments, instead of using personal opinions as solid facts.
  13. LelWestbrick

    LelWestbrick Rookie

    Jun 28, 2012
    Likes Received:
    The part where you said that Harden is the type of player you TANK TO GET is the most important. I was fine with tanking prior to this deal, but it's a total crapshoot. You're trying to get young good players with high upside. You're probably going to get solid roleplayers or worse. Well, we traded for a young good player with high upside and we've got him locked down for 5 or 6 seasons.

    Kobe is going to be retired and Wade will be old as hell when you're on the second half of those 6 years and Harden will be entering his NBA prime at 26. There's a realistic shot that Harden will be the best shooting guard in the league one day. He's not enough, but we all know this. Morey knows this. But we've still got significant cap room and a thousand young prospects.

    We're in a much, much better position going forward.
  14. tzou88

    tzou88 Member

    Nov 10, 2009
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    excellent analysis, repped
  15. Ramathorn006

    Ramathorn006 Contributing Member

    Nov 9, 2009
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    Great post, I felt like I was reading this from a professional NBA writer. Nice insight and I definitely have the same opinion on the matter.
  16. The_Yoyo

    The_Yoyo Contributing Member

    Dec 25, 2001
    Likes Received:
    great analysis

    Harden is a complete offensive player and a capable defender (but hopefully has the ethic to get better) he understands the game very well especially considering his age

    the draft is such a gamble -- even more of a gamble considering where most likely the rockets would be choosing from

    remember anything can happen with those picks -- the picks we received from the knicks were supposed to be a knock out hit -- turned out to be really nothing -- the switch was not in our favor and then the other pick was Royce White (who we still have!)

    Toronto most likely WONT have their pick fall in the top 3 and be in the 8-12 range if that. If dallas does this season that could be the 21st pick (unlikely of course)

    so to me it boils down to a great prospect in Lamb, 2 probably rotational players in the picks for Harden who immediately becomes the Rockets best player and all-star (yes he will be an all-star next season and Houston's representative --- also i dont count martin since he for all purposes was dead to this organization)

    you make that move every single day of the week and twice on sundays
  17. J Sizzle

    J Sizzle Member

    Feb 27, 2012
    Likes Received:
    Where is Lebron....
  18. trowa

    trowa Member

    Sep 24, 2012
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    drafting is very risky
  19. meh

    meh Contributing Member

    Jun 16, 2002
    Likes Received:
    I think, and I'm only guessing here, that there's an automatic backlash because pro-tankers simply don't expect a trade like this to happen. Seriously, when was the last time a 23yr old all-star was EVER available?

    Generally a trade for a star implies said star is in his prime or past it, and you have to win now or it's a bad trade. My worst fear was that in desperation, the Rockets trade for a 28-yr old version of Harden, and forced to follow that up with a Gasol/Nene type of player. I was pro-tank because never did I truly believe an all-star they can rebuild with would be available via trade. But if one is available, hell yes you go for it.
  20. BamBam

    BamBam Contributing Member

    Nov 3, 2003
    Likes Received:

    Is that you Morey?
    Wow you certainly did your homework on this trade evaluation!
    Seriously, excellent post!........rep'd:)

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