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The relative importance of drafting well

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Every team has a different strategy when it comes to roster-building.

Franchises located in smaller NBA markets usually favor assembling their (hopeful) future contenders through the draft, since they know they may struggle to land top players in free agency.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) – with its monstrous five-year, $210 million mega-max for players with the requisite number of years played and All-NBA Team appearances – gives such teams a better chance of re-signing their own elite talents.

That, in turn, has had an adverse effect on the organizations who shun tanking (and thus, take themselves out of the running for elite collegiate or overseas-based prospects), and who prefer going whale-hunting in the open market.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

One such team is the Miami Heat. But even they, based on the comments from team president Pat Riley back in June, have realized it will be much harder to pry away elite players from other franchises going forward. From Riley’s 2017 end-of-year press conference:

“I think the [CBA] is going to dictate a lot of things about free agency. If you go back to 2010, when we were fortunate to secure the services of LeBron [James], CB [Chris Bosh] and Dwyane [Wade], the rules were different. The money was lower. You could sign six-year deals. You had sign-and-trades. All of those things. Today, it’s a lot different. Any great player… is going to have to give great pause to probably walk away from $65 to $70 million, or whatever the number might be, to go somewhere else. He’s going to have to really want to come to you, or want to leave where he is.”

Looking ahead, teams like the Heat will need to put a higher priority on the draft. And that’s important, because historically, Miami has one of the worst track records when it comes to successfully choosing the right players with their first-round selections.

Of the team’s eight first-round picks since the turn of the century, only one has received a second contract. That, of course, was future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade. Out of the seven who didn’t get a second contract, logical explanations exist: Caron Butler was traded away as part of the package that landed Miami Shaquille O’Neal, while Michael Beasley was shipped off to open up cap room after LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Wade in South Florida.

Regardless, to have had just one truly successful first-round pick over a 17-year stretch is jarring.

And the Heat are far from the only team with such problems.

Two others, the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, have had similar issues. The former has signed merely one of their nine first-round picks since the 2000-01 season to a second contract. That player was Josh Howard.

However, much like Miami, Dallas has been one of the league’s most successful franchises since the start of the new millennium, meaning their draft picks usually fell out of the top 15 and into the 20s, where it’s exponentially harder to land a game-changer.

Also similarly to the Heat, the Mavericks traded one of their promising young guys, Devin Harris, back in 2008 in order to add more help-now talent during Dirk Nowitzki’s prime. One of the players they got in return for Harris was Jason Kidd, who wound up being a pivotal piece during Dallas’ 2011 championship run.

Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Rockets are batting 2-for-13 when it comes to offering their first rounders second contracts – the two players being Yao Ming and Donatas Motiejunas. (Of course, the latter never suited up for that deal due to an ugly back-and-forth with the organization regarding a rescinded trade that almost sent Motiejunas to the Detroit Pistons, followed by a contract holdout and culminating with a voided deal by Houston, after they inexplicably matched the power forward’s offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets.) But Houston general manager Daryl Morey is notorious for his quick trigger finger when it comes to trading away assets – be they draft picks or young players still on their first (and relatively cheap) contracts.

In fact, of the 11 first-round picks who didn’t get second contract offers from Houston, an astounding eight of them were traded before the team even had to make a decision on whether or not make such an offer.

Respectively, each of the three teams we just listed signed 12.5 percent, 11.1 percent and 15.4 percent of their Top 30 selections to second deals – a far cry from the 32.5 percent of first-rounders who got second contracts from the other 27 teams in the league.

Part of the relatively innocuous issue is that the two Texas franchises and the one based on South Beach have very rarely possessed lottery picks – or felt the need to tank for them – since the turn of the century. And that’s where the players who warrant a second contract are usually taken.

Since 2000-01, 39.5 percent of players taken within the first 14 picks of the draft have gotten a second deal from the team who selected them. On the other hand, just 20.5 percent of non-lottery picks received such an offer.

This doesn’t merit much analysis, though, as it’s pretty clear why the trend is so compelling: Players with higher upside are taken earlier in the draft, and the teams who draft them have easy decisions on their hands when it comes time to offer them second contracts.

Obviously, not every team is like Miami, Dallas and Houston. Others – whether through tanking for top-three talents or just smart scouting – consistently hit singles and doubles with their first-round picks, with the occasional home run sprinkled in.

Specifically, the Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls and Denver Nuggets are three of the franchises who stand out as efficient with their first-rounders. Altogether, the three organizations have come to terms on second deals with an impressive 46.2 percent of their first-round picks since 2000-01. Considering league-average on such agreements is 31.1 percent, Toronto, Chicago and Denver’s proficiency in drafting the right guy is noteworthy.

At the same time, none of those teams have come close to sniffing a title over the past 17 years, while three of the least-effective teams in the draft – Miami, Dallas and Houston – have combined for four championships over the same stretch.

That just goes to show no matter how well you draft, selecting the right amateur athlete to join your team’s ranks is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to constructing an elite, title-worthy roster.

WHICH FIRST-ROUND PICKS RECEIVED SECOND CONTRACTS WITH THEIR ORIGINAL TEAM THIS CENTURY?

You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_





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