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Is Trading for Draft Busts Really Worth It?

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The Trail Blazers have brought in multiple underwhelming young players over the years. Is the strategy viable?

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Some occupations require extreme patience. A stock broker’s whole existence relies on waiting for values to rise over time. A surgeon needs a steady hand to ensure a procedure goes as planned.

In the NBA, patience is a choice.

It almost seems that certain players come equipped with an alarm clock. Once they’re drafted, expectations soar. The minute a player puts on that ordained hat on draft night, the timer starts. Grow, or be benched. Develop, or risk losing it all. Business Insider reported that the average NBA player’s career is over after just 4.8 years. How many ticks before potential runs out and impatience takes hold?

But there is hope. Up here in the top left corner of the country lives a second chance enthusiast.

Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey feeds off of franchises that have given up on young talent. Players like Noah Vonleh and Maurice Harkless fizzled out with their original teams, opening a door for Olshey to snatch them up. It’s a way to get your hands on lottery picks without holding draft position. But how often does it work?

Since the draft lottery started in 1985, 91 lottery picks have been traded or released from their original team within three years of being drafted, having averaged eight points or less in those first seasons. Out of those 91 players, just 21 of them went on to have moderate success with future teams.

Among the most successful of those stories are Joe Johnson and Derrick Favors.

Last year, CBS Boston labeled trading Johnson in 2001 one of the worst moves in franchise history:

Seven-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson was very briefly a member of the Boston Celtics. The team’s 10th-overall pick in the 2001 Draft played only 48 games for the Celtics before being traded to Phoenix. At the time, the team’s thought process was to go for a shot at the title that season.

In 2011, the Brooklyn Nets traded Favors, along with Devin Harris and two first round draft picks, in a blockbuster move for Deron Williams. Favors had struggled in his first season with the Nets, averaging 6.8 points per game. He’s enjoyed a terrific career with the Jazz, averaging 12.3 points per game.

While it’s easy to look at successes like Johnson and Favors, 70 lottery picks failed to produce given a second chance. That leaves the effectiveness rate at just 23 percent; not even a quarter of these players went on to have prosperous NBA careers. Despite that discouraging fact, the Blazers seem to favor the strategy.

The reason for this might be more geographical than anything. Small markets have always had difficulty drawing interest from major free agents, but Portland seems to be snubbed more than the average franchise. Just last summer, targets such as Hassan Whiteside and Chandler Parsons dodged the lucrative contracts the team was rumored to have offered them. Perhaps the “former lottery pick” strategy is one of Portland’s answers to the lack of free agent interest. Acquiring young talent on the cheap is a low risk, high reward alternative.

This brings up the question of the day. Over the past three drafts, multiple lottery selections have already been labeled as busts. Here’s a list of under-performing or mismatched young players that might be available this summer: Dante Exum, Nik Stauskas, Mario Hezonja, Stanley Johnson, Kris Dunn and Jakob Poeltl.

What if the Blazers went to the well one more time? Would you trade for any of those players or would you bring up another candidate? Let us know in the comments below.