Prove it in SOM: In The NBA, Rookies are more Risk than Reward

Prove it with Strat-O-Matic:

In the NBA, Rookies are More Risk Than Reward



By Glenn Guzzo


            As the National Basketball Association crossed the quarter pole of its 2007-08 season, the sky-high pre-season hopes for a cluster of celebrated rookies had settled softly to Earth. Strat-O-Matic players could have warned hopeful teams and fans: Even first-round draft choices seldom make much of a difference.


This season, only four rookies were playing even half the game. Seattle’s Kevin Durant, one of three rookies averaging double-figure points, was the only one above 10 and half. And his near-20-point average was achieved on sub-.400 shooting.


Strat-O-Matic players need memories no longer than the current card/computer ratings from the 2006-07 season to teach the lesson about NBA rookies: For every LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett who can jump immediately to NBA stardom, there are 25 other first-round picks who struggle to be more than solid Strat-draft-team role players. More than half of those end up contributing far less than that, if anything at all.


The cream of the crop – the 2006-07 lottery picks – averaged merely 18 minutes a game as NBA rookies and only 60 games. Extend the analysis to the entire first round of the draft and the numbers drop to 55 games and 15.6 minutes.


Remember that the 2005-06 draft was going to be especially rich, because it would be flooded with young talent who had their last chance to move directly to the NBA. Instead, it proved to be evidence for those who want to argue that the NBA’s new rule requiring at least one year of college ball is merely a step in the right direction. Two years would give many players valuable development time with many more minutes played. A two-year requirement would strengthen the college teams and the name-identification for newly drafted players into a pro league that has endured a popularity decline while relying more on nearly unrecognizable Europeans, high schoolers and one-year collegians.


For those gamers trading established NBA players for draft picks, here’s a reminder of how the best of the 2006 NBA draft fared in their first Strat-O-Matic cards (based on the 2006-07 season). Warning: You’ll need a strong stomach to reach the end, and there’s no particular reason to hold out that long.


1.      Andrea Bargnani, Toronto … The first pick in the draft was supposed to free Chris Bosh of ill-suited duty as a center. Oops – With 0/0 rebounding and 2-7, 10 defense at center, he got more of his 25 mpg as an outside-shooting “power” forward. He’s above-average only at 3-pointers and free throws, but as a 0-rated shooter with no Penetration or Inside game, he doesn’t get to try enough of either. 

2.      LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland … A good example of a player who needs time to develop. He’d have been better off at Texas for a second year. He’s off to a fine start as an NBA sophomore in 2007-08, but his rookie card is blighted with fouls (32-45), poor rebounding (2/0 at center), sub-par shot blocking, average X columns and pedestrian offense (9 ppg in 22 mpg). He missed 19 games, too.

3.      Adam Morrison, Charlotte … The NBA knew the high-scoring college player of the year from Gonzaga would be a step slow defensively, but he turned out to be two steps slow on offense. He doesn’t draw the fouls as he did in college, is pathetic in the Penetration column and has perhaps the worst Fastbreak column ever for a starting small forward – he scores only on rolls of 2, 3 and 12. Strictly an average 3-point shooter with 0/0 rebounding and weak defense.

4.      Tyrus Thomas, Chicago … A gifted athlete capable of dominating as a freshman at LSU, he seldom did because frequent foul trouble kept him on the bench. No surprise, in the NBA, he managed to stay in for only 13 minutes per game with fouls on 30-45 in the defense column.

5.      Shelden Williams, Atlanta … Duke’s undersized center offered little offense facing the basket. Against bigger college centers, he was foul prone and a defensive liability. You guessed it: His first NBA card is mostly Replays in the offensive columns and fouls (31-45) defensively in 19 mpg.

6.      Brandon Roy, Portland … Despite missing 25 games, he was the NBA’s deserving rookie of the year, which tells you something about this class. Based on his rookie-tops averages of 16.8 ppg and 35 mpg, Roy’s first card shows above-average defense and finishing (on penetrations, fastbreaks and free throws). It’s not a star’s card, but it promises the potential for future ones – and Roy is producing even more in ’07-08.

7.       Randy Foye, Minnesota … An explosive scorer at Villanova, he was a passable threat as an NBA rookie guard – fine at 3-pointers, free throws and rebounding. But weak defense limited him to 23 mpg. The ‘Wolves are dying without him in ’07-08 – Foye has yet to play and his second-year debut will be January at the earliest.

8.      Rudy Gaye, Memphis … After one season at UConn, his ordinary 10.8 ppg and 27 mpg made him one of the better NBA rookies in ’06-07. Still, that’s a card with no strong column after 42 percent shooting, modest rebounding (1/2 at SF) and average defense. His rapid development this season (19 ppg, 48% shooting, 5.5 rpg) isn’t translating to wins for last-place Memphis. 

9.      Patrick O’Bryant, Golden State … Two seasons at Bradley earned him guaranteed NBA money, but un-guaranteed playing time. He was uncarded after 7 mpg in just 16 tries. He’s missing games and shots again this season, while keeping up his 1.8 ppg average from last year. At this point, with 5 mpg, he could be uncarded again.

10.  Mouhamed Sene, Seattle … A top-10 pick gets you a European 12th man, good (not really) for 6 mpg. Not one X in his offensive columns, 59 percent free-throw shooting to neutralize his few positive offensive results and 22-45 fouls (can you say “hacker”?). Seattle is a last-place team early in ’07-08. This pick is one of the reasons.

11.  J.J. Redick, Orlando … As a Duke superstar, he scored all day on 3-pointers and drives that ended with 90 percent free-throw shooting. As an NBA rookie, he still hit the 3 (2-5, 9) and the freebies (2-9, 11), but his slowness meant he got fewer open looks – 6 ppg and 41 percent shooting – and can’t defend at all. Translation: 15 mpg. 

12.  Hilton Armstrong, New OrleansNew Orleans expected little offense from the UConn big man, so he only disappointed with his rebounding (2/0 at center), defense (average X columns) and foul tendency (32-45) that limited him to 11 mpg.  All four offensive columns combined have only one full chance to score – on dice roll 2 Inside. Somehow, a lottery pick ought to be more than the 12th man he is in this card set.

13.  Thabo Sefalosa, Chicago … The Bulls’ chose the 6-5 Italian as their second lottery pick in this draft. He played even less (12 mpg) than fouler Thomas. Sefalosa rebounded very well (2/24) for a guard, but did absolutely nothing else without embarrassing himself. When Sefalosa backs up Ben Gordon, the Bulls suffer a drop-off offensively that can’t be made up with any combination of other players.

14.  Ronnie Brewer, Utah … Another year at Arkansas could have made him a first-team All-American. He settled for early (and possibly less) money, with 4.6 ppg and 12 mpg. His rookie card is mostly a Fastbreak finisher who defends well (average X columns, but 21-28 steal and a foul only on 34) and rebounds well enough (3/2 at guard). He’s playing more and doing fine in ’07-08. Did his 12 mpg as an NBA rookie help him more than the 38 mpg he would have had at Arkansas? Hard to tell, but it didn’t help Arkansas or Utah (much) in ’05-06.