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What History Tells us about Late First Round Draft Picks

The Spurs have had success in the past and have more picks between slots 20-30 coming. Can they keep it up?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NBA draft added two late first-round picks (picks 20-30) to the Spur’s roster. Malaki Branham, a 6’4” shooting guard was taken 20th (in a pick obtained from Toronto)1, and Blake Wesley, a 6’3” shooting guard was taken 25th via a trade from Boston. Additionally, the Spurs will likely obtain picks from the 2nd half of future drafts from Chicago (2025), Atlanta (2025 & 2027) and a finicky Charlotte pick that will hopefully convey — if the Hornets ever escape the lottery. With at least five non-lottery picks being added to the Spur’s developmental system, it’s high time the Professor’s Corner examines the recent history of NBA draft picks between slots 20-30 (years 2010 to 2020).

No single statistic fairly evaluates the success of a draft pick. One marker for success is remaining, and playing, in the NBA. This first chart uses the horizontal axis to plot the number of minutes played since being drafted in comparison to the minutes played by a theoretical, strong starter drafted the same year (Example: a player averaging 30 MPG for 70 games from their rookie season onward). The vertical axis plots the advanced metric stalwart Box Plus Minus (BPM).

Those drafted from slots 20 - 30: Years 2010 - 2020

The Success Stories

Jimmy Bulter and Rudy Gobert are the best players to be drafted in slots 20-30 from the years 2010-2020. These are the top 2% miracles of these draft slots. Of the 110 athletes, Pascal Siakam is the only other All-NBA player. There are two other all-stars, both injury reserve selections, on this chart: Dejounte Murray and Jarrett Allen. Those with NBA championship rings include Cory Joseph (Spurs), Siakam/OG Anunoby (Raptors), Kyle Kuzma (Lakers), Bobby Portis (Bucks), and Damian Jones/Festus Ezelie/Jordan Poole/Kevon Looney (Warriors). Finally, Robert Williams, Matisse Thybulle, Rudy Gobert, Jimmy Butler, Dejounte Murray, and Andre Roberson have made all-defensive teams.

The Spurs

The Good News: The Spurs have drafted wonderfully in the late first round. Cory Joseph (29th), Kyle Anderson (30th), Dejounte Murray (29th), Derrick White (29th), and Keldon Johnson (29th) are all on the resume. It’s easily argued the Spurs have had the MOST success in the league drafting late in the first round within that decade. The table below displays how the Spurs rank in Box Plus Minus. Three Spurs are in the top 15, and it’s safe to assume Keldon is beginning his climb upward.

Spurs draft picks and Box Plus Minus

The Bad News: Yes, the Spurs drafted and developed well, but only 1 of 4 primary successes remain a Spur. Kyle Anderson went to Memphis (now Minnesota), and both Derrick and Dejounte were traded away. Why? Because the Spurs couldn’t line up these players with a superstar to reach championship-level contention. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t match, and the organization was forced to trade for assets and start again.

The Bigger Picture

It’s challenging to draft a long-term rotational player when selecting within slots 20-30. Nearly a third of these athletes failed to play beyond their guaranteed rookie contract. Specifically, 26 of the 108 athletes did not exceed 1000 career minutes in the NBA — thus failing to play a single season of minutes as a low rotational contributor spread over 3 years. An additional 17 played another 2,000 minutes but left the league following their 4th or 5th seasons. These include folks such as MarShon Brooks, Jarell Martin, Skal Lebissiere, Harry Giles, and Chandler Hutchison. Thus, 40% didn’t stick and must be considered “misses” within the first round.

The middle pack of this group is more subjective. Each NBA fan will have their perspective on players like Rodney Hood, Delon Wright, Furkan Korkmaz, DeAndre’ Bembry, Trevor Booker, Andre Roberson, James Anderson (drafted by the Spurs), Quincy Pondexter…etc. Most of these players found ways to contribute, but nearly all struggled to stay valuable rotation players beyond a couple of seasons.

The upper third represents, at minimum, athletes that maintained valuable rotation positions for multiple seasons. When drafting in this range, the reasonable HOPE is to obtain a 4-8th man in a rotation on a solid team. Players like Reggie Bullock, Larry Nance Jr, Bobby Portis, Caris LaVert, Tim Hardaway, Josh Hart, or Grant Williams add security for over half a decade and allow the organization to focus on other slots or find a star to lift these players. But what happens when that star is not found? What happens when the team (Spurs) is forced to trade a good player (or two) for several picks in this range for compensation?

What’s fair trade value?

The distribution of success between these picks begs the question: How many draft picks are required to fairly compensate a team for trading away a good player? The answer: More than you’re going to get.

For example, Dejounte Murray is one of five all-stars in this group of 110 drafted players. Via several metrics, he would be in the top 15% of this group. If a team obtained 10 picks that resulted in obtaining players equally disturbed across the range, the Spurs would replace Dejounte through 1-2 of those picks while the other 8 would fail. Unfortunately, the Spurs were not awarded 10 picks in the trade with Atlanta, they were awarded 2 picks, a swap, and maybe another from Charlotte. Therefore, there’s a higher probability the Spurs will not replace Dejounte with a player of equal value with the trade assets provided.

But this is reductive. The Spurs’ choice wasn’t to keep or retain Dejounte. He’s heading to free agency, and winning the bidding war wasn’t in their plans. Thus, the team made the strategic choice to get worse, restart the development clock and wanted compensation for the losses and the exit of a good player. The same for Derrick White. At its core, this is a gamble. If it wasn’t, all tanking teams would become successful. But one needs to look no further than Charlotte, Sacramento, and Washington for verification.

Finally, let’s play a game!

By trading White and Murray, and executing the sign-and-trade of DeMar DeRozan, the Spurs have likely obtained the right to draft approximately 5 players between the slots of 20–30. I entered the 110 athletes into a random generator and “spun” the wheel of fate four times. The results are below. In the comments section, I’d love to read which draft spin you like and if the “Spurs” came out ahead.

Four Simple Spins of Fate


  1. Trade/draft History: The trade with Toronto to obtain the 20th pick was essentially a pick swap in which the Raptors obtained the rights to Thad Young, Drew Eubanks and Detroit’s 2nd round pick to shed Goran Dragic’s $19.4 million salary to get under the luxury tax line. Spurs originally obtained the Detroit pick via the large Russell Westbrook trade in which San Antionio absorbed Chandler Hutchison’s contract and were compensated by obtaining the most favorable of the Bulls, Lakers, and Pistons 2nd round picks. Considering Detroit was the third worst team, the Raptors were comfortable moving back 13 slots in the draft. Thus, the Spurs, in a fantastic series of business moves, turned the exiting DeMar Derozan into 2022 and 2025 first round picks!