Remember that draft? It was actually pretty fun. In the days leading up to it, nobody knew who'd go first. There was some sentiment for LaMarcus Aldridge, who had length and skill but couldn't bench press much. Tyrus Thomas -- an incredible athlete -- earned some consideration. But in the end, a relatively unknown young Andrea Bargnani was the top pick.
As that crew enters its fifth season, it's time for the 2006 draft class to stop trading on potential. These players are squarely in their primes, and some things are coming into focus:
- Neither Aldridge, Bargnani nor Thomas should have been the top pick.
- Based on production thus far, the seven best have been Rajon Rondo, Brandon Roy (although his production is way down), Rudy Gay, Aldridge, Bargnani, Tyrus Thomas (his 23.2 PER this season is 15th in the NBA) and Paul Millsap (who leads the class with a 24.9 PER).
- That was a terrible draft.
Yes, the 2006 draft class was not a very productive group of players. However, I've been over this before: Bargnani was not in the top 7, the top 10, or even the top 20. Even PER (a terribly flawed metric that rewards shot attempts) rates his first four seasons as 13th best.
Of the players taken in the 2006 draft, Rondo, Balkman, Roy, Millsap, Brewer, and Powe were in the top 7 in terms of per-minute production. Over the last two season Balkman has suffered from George Karl's wrath and Powe has been injured. Brewer spent most of last season out with injury. The next players on the list are Josh Boone (not on an NBA team this year), Kyle Lowry (who has had a terrible year so far), and Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha, despite has tiny PER, is a good player - he just doesn't shoot very much. There were a full 11 players from the 2006 draft who played at an above-average level (WP48 of 0.100 or higher) over the course of their first four seasons. The big problem was that the productive players were not selected in the top 10, and thus didn't really get the court time to prove their worth. But when they did - like Millsap, Rondo, and Powe - they excelled. Additionally, unproductive players like Bargnani and Morrison were selected in the top 3 - the top 3! - and several lottery players never even played a minute in the league. The problem with the 2006 draft class wasn't necessarily the fault of the players; it was more of a function of the drafting teams being bad at identifying promising talent.
Arturo Galletti has done a ton of work on this subject - go check out his work right now!