The Warriors Drafted Better Than (Almost) All Other Dynasties, an in-depth series
Honestly, most dynasty drafts were terrible
All articles in this series are at How the Warriors Extended The Dynasty Through The Draft, an in-depth series
The Series So Far
We’ve analyzed the Warriors performance in each NBA Draft between 2014 and 2021 and showed that these were usually one of the best players available.
Now we’re going to compare how the Warriors did compared to other Dynasties.
All modern NBA dynasties face the same problems: they draft very late for several years in a row and they are constrained by the salary cap from trading for high draft picks. The whole salary cap and draft / lottery system is built to erode and destroy dynasties.
How Do You Compare Dynasty Drafting?
I’ve mulled over different options for comparing how well teams draft, and how to measure player value, and have wrestled with various options.1:
In the end, I came up with an elegantly simple measure of how well dynasty teams drafted. Simply count up the total number of minutes the draftees played in playoff games during the dynasty.
Is this a perfect measure? Of course not. But it captures directly how much the team trusted them to play in the only setting that counts for a Dynasty, and how much they were available. Doesn’t this advantage teams whose Dynasty lasted longer? YES. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. If your draft is part of a process that leads to a longer Dynasty, that is better drafting.
You could improve this by somehow accounting for the leverage of the minutes or by calculating the minutes per possible playoff game. But it’s not necessary, because — spoiler alert — frankly, almost all the other dynasty drafts were really bad.
Now of course this blunt number won’t tell the whole story, so we will try to look at each draftee and give some context for their contributions.
I will look at the Dynasty drafts starting with the draft after the first Finals, through the draft before the last Finals.
Measuring the Warriors Dynasty Drafts
Let’s establish the baseline and look at how the Warriors did by this measure.
We’ve just completed a study of how well the Warriors drafted during the Five Finals run. We saw the Warriors netted in four drafts:
#30. Kevon Looney. Key starter/first bench big with major contributions in the 2018, 2019 and 2022 Playoffs. 1267 Playoff Minutes.
#60. Traded to IND in 2011 in the Brandon Rush - Louis Amundson trade.
#30. Damian Jones. Athletic flashes, but very injury prone and inconsistent, leading to his being traded to make the D’Angelo Russell sign-and-trade possible. 40 Playoff Minutes.
#38. Patrick McCaw. Occasional moments, including some nice spot minutes in the 2017 Finals, but wanted a bigger role and forced a trade. Pick acquired through cash considerations. He played 197 Playoff Minutes
#60. Traded away in the Andre Iguodala sign-and-trade (for Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush, the 2014 1st, 2016 2nd, 2017 1st, 2017 2nd, 2018 2nd and cash). These picks were essential to getting Iguodala on the team.
#38. Jordan Bell. Spectacular cult hero with key contributions in the 2018 HOU series, but overall a role player with minor impact. 279 Playoff Minutes
#30 and #60. Iguodala trade (see above).
#28. Jacob Evans. Never quite found his shot, was shifted to point guard, and then was traded to get out of luxury tax repeater penalty. 18 Playoff Minutes
#58. Iguodala trade (see above).
#28. Jordan Poole. Electric lead playmaker for the bench and second shot creator next to Stephen Curry. His breakout play in the 2022 Playoffs was a massive contribution to the championship run. 606 Playoff Minutes.
#39. Alen Smailagic. A flyer by one of the Lacobs on a player who never stuck in the NBA. 0 Playoff Minutes.
#41. Eric Paschall. Fan favorite undersized big who was traded to UTA to clear a roster spot. 0 Playoff Minutes.
#58. Traded to UTA for $2M.
#2. James Wiseman. Spectacular physical gifts but cursed to never actually play basketball. 0 Playoff Minutes.
#31. Traded in 2016 with Andrew Bogut to clear cap space to sign Kevin Durant. However, we aren’t going to play games; we don’t count this as acquiring KD.
#48. Nico Mannion. Acquired from PHI with a 2021 2nd Rd pick for Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson in a big push to get under the salary cap and avoid the repeater tax. Draft and stash in Italy. 0 Playoff Minutes.
#51. Justinian Jessup. Acquired from DAL for Willie Cauley-Stein. Draft and stash in Australia. 0 Playoff Minutes.
#7. Jonathan Kuminga. Dazzling powerful athlete, but still raw. 138 Playoff Minutes.
#14. Moses Moody. An old soul in a long 3-and-D body. 105 Playoff Minutes.
#47. Traded to NOP with a 2023 2nd Rd for 2019 #39 (Alen Smailagic).
The Warriors got players totaling 2650 Playoff Minutes, and made the sign-and-trade for Andre Iguodala (2912 Playoff Minutes) possible. Here is everything summarized in one chart:
Spoilers for the rest of the series
I’m going to give you the big picture now, and give you in separate articles the details which give meaning and nuance to the numbers. In short, GSW actually did better at dynasty drafting than every other post-80s dynasty.
Here are raw numbers of how many dynasty Playoff Minutes were played by the dynasty’s picks and also the players they added by trading the picks. These numbers are just for a quick overview and are an extremely blunt measure. To see the story behind the numbers, we’ll dig into each dynasty’s draft for the rest of the series.
By these standards, GSW drafted better than all other dynasties except LAL 1980-91. The large part of the value from 1980s PHI, BOS and LAL drafts came from their high draft picks (lower than #8).
These great picks came from legendarily bad trades where the coaches and owners involved were usually kicked out of the league soon after. Even ignoring the worst malpractice, overall in the 1980s era, most teams didn’t properly value draft picks. That makes BOS and LAL far-sighted and brilliant. But it also means that the rest of the league caught up, and no dynasty since the 1980s got anywhere near such high draft picks (no dynasty has drafted better than #20 since then).
The Other Dynasties
For the sake of this series, I am going to use a generous definition of Dynasty. Let’s look at every team that made the Finals 3+ times after 1980, advancing to the majority of possible finals over that span.
LeBron-Love-Kyrie Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron-Wade-Bosh Miami Heat
Shaq-Kobe and Kobe-Pau Lakers
Dynasty Spurs, the Raid Boss
Michael Jordan Bulls
Bad Boy Pistons and Julius Erving Sixers
Larry Bird Celtics
Magic Johnson Lakers
The reason for the looser definition is that all these teams faced Dynasty troubles by reigning over their conference: drafting late over a series of years and being strapped by the salary cap from trading easily for young talent.
We’ll focus on these dynasties one-by-one over the next few weeks.
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Which player performance measures are appropriate here? You could compute some all-in-one number like Win Shares or Value Over Replacement Player or BPM per 48 and sum up the total of draftees, or average such value per draft pick, or go harder and look at stats that incorporate plus/minus like RPM, PIPM, etc etc. These have different strengths and weaknesses and the hugest weakness for ALL of these are: (1) most advanced stats aren’t available before recent years and (2) they aren’t calculated separately for playoff performances.
How do you account for players that were injury-prone and only played some of the games? *cough* Looney *cough*.
Do you account for draftee performance compared to their peers, or to the expected value of the draft pick, or compared to who was available, or some other way?
How do you account for the value of picks that were traded to bring in veterans?
How do you account for prorating player value drafted later in the dynasty?