With the Spurs selecting Jeremy Sochan for the 9th pick in the 2022 draft, I thought it would be interesting to examine the last 25 years of the 9th picks to see how those selections have prospered — especially since we aren’t getting to see him in Summer League. Much to my surprise, my jaw slightly dropped as I gathered the data and created the informational graphics for this posting.
Since 1997, multiple wonderful players have been drafted in the 9th slot. For example, Tracy McGrady (’97) is already in the Hall of Fame, and Dirk Nowitski (’98) is heading there soon. Furthermore, the other 9th picks include Shawn Marion (’99), Amar’e Stoudemire (’02), Andre Iguodala (’04), DeMar DeRozan (’09) and Joakim Noah (’07)! That’s an amazing group! But before racing over to Twitter and blast that the Spurs have drafted future Hall of Famer in the 2022 draft, I should caution you that it’s not all sunbeams and daisies. Rodney White (’01), Mike Sweetney (’03) and Patrick O’Bryant (’06), were drafted ninth in a similar time frame and didn’t make it more than 3 seasons in the league, respectively, so please temper your expectations.
The 9th Picks since 1997: How Good?
For no other reasons than it being the year Tim Duncan was drafted, I selected 1997 as the cut off for this article. The first chart displays draft year and career Box Plus Minus (BPM). Starting in 1997, four of the next six drafts produced players that would change the direction of any current franchise: McGrady, Nowitzki, Marion and Stoudemire. Two of those would win a title with the Mavericks despite neither being technically drafted by that organization (Dirk was a draft day trade from Milwaukee to Dallas). Even Land of Ten-Thousand Lakes’ Joel Przybilla (’00) would play nearly 12,000 minutes in the league. Things stay fantastic with Andre Iguodala in 2004, and 2007 lands a future Defensive Player of the Year with Noah. The party keeps going DeRozan, Gordan Hayward (’10), Kemba Walker (’11) and Andre Drummond (’12).
Interestingly, the fragrance emitted by the 9th pick begins to shift thereafter. Trey Burke (’13), Noah Vonleh (14), Frank Kaminsky (’15) Dennis Smith Jr. (’17) and Kevin Knox (’18) would gradually lose their rotation minutes, and arguably the Spurs very own Jakob Poeltl is the best player drafted since 2013 in the 9th slot of the draft. That aside, I do caution the readers to limit judgment on the most recent picks of Rui Hachimura (’19), Deni Avdija (’20), and Davion Mitchell (’22). Early career BPM does not necessarily correlate for lottery picks since their respective teams are undeveloped and the players themselves are often drafted for potential. For example, DeRozan’s BPM ranged around -2.6 (end of bench player) for his first 3 seasons and has been above 3.0 (approaching all-star) in 2 of the last 6 seasons.
Did the players contribute to winning? Were the players able to stay in the league?
This chart displays career total minutes and career win shares per 48 minutes. Only 7 players have matched or exceeded 50,000 minutes in the history of the NBA, and Dirk is the 4th highest with 51,368. (In NBA history only LeBron James, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have played more.) Marion is one of only 38 players ever that have broken 40k in regular season minutes, while Iguodala is sitting at about 39.4k. Conversely, Patrick O’Bryant played a career total 524 minutes (90 games), and Mike Sweetney played 3,610 minutes (233 games)
A note about the axis: For historical perspective I identified the median career win shares per 48 minutes (0.085) and career total minutes (17,859) for 5-10 picks from 1988-2012 and used those values as the axis intersections. I created this visual reference to help the frame the hopes and expectations for the current Spurs. San Antonio didn’t trade DeRozan and Derrick White hoping to avoid the lottery. Contrastingly, they didn’t retain Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl and unreasonably hope to pick in the top 5. Call it a “respectful” or “developmental” tank. The Spurs sought to put a reasonable NBA team on the floor each night and were comfortable earning a draft pick that represented that philosophic approach.
Do Rookie Season Minutes Matter?
Spurs fans are rather accustomed to seeing rookies play conservative minutes. Many San Antonio draft picks spend ample time in the G league before joining the primary rotation(1). I’ve often wondered if minutes played in the rookie season correlate to minutes played in a career (displayed on chart). To make this work, since careers are still ongoing, I calculated the percent of a super ideal minutes total (76 games per traditional season & 36 minutes per game) and compared these values to the minutes played by each 9th pick in their rookie season.
The relationship is present (r2 = 0.25; p = 0.011), but the clusters are more interesting. Frank Kaminsky, Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. & Trey Burke played notable minutes in their rookie seasons but have faded since. In contrast, DeRozan, Marion, and Nowitzki played less in their rookie seasons but went on to play ideal minute totals in their careers. Aside from Poeltl as a notable outlier, 1,000 minutes appears as a rookie threshold. Meaning, rookies heading toward non-bust career minute totals find a way to get 1000 minutes in their rookie season. I speculate that Jeremy Sochan will be fine here. The Spurs played a 6’5” power forward from much of last season. Thus, Mr. Sochan is joining a developing team at a position of significant need, and exceeding 1,000 minutes is a reasonable expectation.
The 9th Pick Has Done Well!
To finish, I wanted to post a comparison of the 9th pick in comparison to 7th and 8th over the last 25 seasons. The green, purple, and orange lines spreading across the chart the 75th percentile career win shares for each, respectively. It’s clear the top end of the 9th picks fly above the rest. With the 9th pick producing Nowitzki, Marion, Iguodala, Stoudemire, and McGrady in comparison to the 7th pick’s Stephen Curry, Luol Deng, Nene, and Rip Hamilton and the 8th pick’s battery of Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford, and Rudy Gay. In contrast, despite the impressive top quartile, the lower quartile of the 9th pick is similar to the 7th and 8th. Additionally, the median outcomes are also similar. In fact, a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) found no statistical significance (p = 0.107) between the career win shares of the draft picks.
The draft brings hope to organization as each fan base dreams of adding an All-NBA talent to their favorite roster. These aspirations are well founded since draft success is essentially required for the vast majority of NBA teams to achieve sustained winning. Unfortunately, drafting successfully is really hard! Since 2014, 4 of the 8 athletes selected 9th in the draft (Vonleh, Kaminsky, Smith Jr. and Knox) have already been waived by NBA teams— thus half of the picks didn’t pan out. In contrast, there’s clearly greatness there to be found. Dirk Nowitzki and Tracy McGrady were drafted 9th. Stephen Curry was drafted 7th! Currently, it’s impossible to know which, if any, of the Spurs’ three picks from the 2022 draft will succeed in the league. But we do know the organization will be patient and put in the resources to develop the players. It’s time for us fans to sit back and enjoy the show.
- If you were curious. Since 2000 here are the highest minute totals for Spurs rookies. Only two (Kawhi Leonard and Devin Vassell) have exceed 1,000 in the last 11 years.
- Tony Parker (01-02): 2267
- Gary Neal (10-11): 1685
- Kawhi Leonard (11-12): 1534
- DeJuan Blair (09-10): 1494
- Manu Ginobili (02-03): 1431
- George Hill (08-09): 1270
- Beno Udrih (04-05): 1149
- Devin Vassell (20-21): 1056
- Joshua Primo (21-22): 965