It's hard to know exactly what's at stake in Wednesday's NBA draft lottery, when the order for the June 28th draft will be finalized. Anthony Davis is the clear frontrunner for the No. 1 pick, but after that, it gets murky. Beyond speculation on who gets picked when and by whom, there's really no telling how any of the draft prospects will turn out once they become pros. The history of the draft is full of stories about "can't miss" phenoms who never fulfilled their ballyhooed potential. Still, history can tell us a little about the relative likelihood of draftees becoming productive NBA players.
Below is the average career PER for players taken with each of the top 14 picks since 2003, when the lottery expanded to 14 teams. PER, or player efficiency rating, is a catch-all metric developed by John Hollinger of ESPN.com to provide a concise per-minute assessment of a player's performance, as Basketball-Reference explains. Like any single statistic, it's not infallible, and overrates some players who don't see much time on the floor. That's one reason why, for instance, Mouhamed Sene and J.J. Redick have the same career per of 13.5. Still, it's interesting to see what it says about a group of draft picks over time.
Most striking is the difference between the average PER for a No. 1 pick and every other position in the lottery. The 20.1 PER for recent No. 1 picks is 32% higher than that of No. 2 picks, and 23% higher than the 16.3 PER for No. 4 picks, the next best average. So, that's one more reason teams will be rooting hard to move into the top position Wednesday. The rest of the top 10 is bunched up, with another drop from there. Here are the numbers:
Note: We've assigned zeroes for 2011 No. 5 pick Jonas Valanciunas and 2005 No. 11 pick Fran Vasquez, who've yet to play in the NBA. If Valanciunas is left out of calculations, the average PER for the No. 5 pick is 17.2, and without Vasquez, the PER for No. 11 picks jumps to 13.0.