If you were an NBA executive, how would you attempt to find the next superstar to build around? There are three main strategies.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently made it clear that “losing is our best option” to improve his team’s core for the future. It’s a controversial statement, but one that likely has merit considering teams like the Philadelphia 76ers have an immense amount of talent on their roster
Pat Riley, however, argued on the opposite end of the spectrum when he was discussing his Miami Heat. He said the best way to maximize potential isn’t through tanking to get lottery picks (via Bleacher Report):
“For me, it’s not through the draft, because lottery picks are living a life of misery. That season is miserable. And if you do three or four years in a row to get lottery picks, then I’m in an insane asylum. And the fans will be, too. So who wants to do that?”
Our research shows that Cuban, not Riley, is correct in his assertion that the draft is often the best route to finding star-caliber talent. Here is what we found:
Draft — 59 percent
The best way to build a roster in the NBA is to develop players internally through the draft. Most of the players who have made All-Star teams since 2001 were selected by their respestive team.
In 2010 and in 2015, 19 (!) All-Stars joined their team via the draft. For those seasons, that is more than double than what was acquired through free agency or trades combined.
For 17 consecutive years now, the draft was the leading way to get an All-Star on your squad.
Trade — 26 percent
While the best way to get an All-Star on your team is through the draft, trading is not a bad option. This year, for example, nine players got to their current roster through a trade.
Earlier this month, we wrote about the players who were traded during a season they were selected as an All-Star. Back in 2008, Allen Iverson was traded for Chauncey Billups and they were both selected as All-Stars later that year.
During the 2001 All-Star Game, more players ended up on their teams via trade than from the draft.
Free Agency — 15 percent
Some teams (like the Boston Celtics, who recently signed Gordon Hayward) are very good at recruiting but for many others, it’s a tough gamble.
Matt Moore summarized why free agency is so tough on rebuilding teams, calling it a compromised market (via CBS Sports):
“Key star free agents are rarely available in the first place, and if they are there’s still a huge percentage that they re-sign. If you’re going shopping for a core in free agency, you’re getting the guys whose teams didn’t think they were worth the investment.”
It’s hard to evaluate and predict who will be available as a free agent and if your team doesn’t already have a strong unit to build with, you are entering very dangerous waters.
Front offices that are not careful may end up overpaying for players and/or giving them lengthy contracts that lock themselves into mediocrity for far too long.
Alberto de Roa contributed research to this article