There’s Something Wrong With The NBA Draft’s Sixth Pick

Draft
Source: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Daily News

Whether random luck or unknown reasons, the sixth overall NBA Draft pick has typically amounted to a bust in the lottery era (1985 to present). Among them, the #6 pick has produced Jonny Flynn (who was infamously selected before Steph Curry and has the lowest win shares of the 2009 NBA Draft class), Dajuan Wagner (a perfect goose egg in career win shares), Yi Jianlian (five-year NBA career), Jan Vesely (taken before Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard) and Brandon Roy, who appeared to be a future NBA star before knee injuries forced a premature retirement.

Every pick has had its busts, but the NBA Draft’s sixth selection remains an anomaly. Since 1985, the #6 pick has yet to produce a major NBA superstar. When his career concludes, Portland’s Damian Lillard expects to be the greatest sixth NBA Draft pick ever. As it currently stands, though, Hersey Hawkins has recorded the most career win shares among #6 picks. A solid shooting guard that played alongside Gary Payton for four seasons, Hawkins made just one all-star team in his 13-year NBA career and has a 0.6% chance of ever entering the Hall of Fame, according to Sports-Reference’s projections.

Of players selected in the top 10 of their respective draft, just two #6 picks (Hawkins and Shane Battier) rank in the top 100 in career win shares. The complete list of average and median win shares and the top pick for each draft selection is listed in the table below.

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Based on median win shares, the #6 pick ranks as the 14th-best NBA Draft pick in terms of career production. The #10, #21, #18, #13 and #23 pick have all generated higher median career win shares. One potential explanation for the lack of success from the #6 pick could be average draft age. For the top four picks, the average age at the time of the draft is 20.4 years. For the fifth pick, that number rises to 20.7 and up to 21.1 for the #6 pick. None of the following four picks have an average age higher than 21. Front offices have been known to steer clear of older prospects in the earlier stages of the draft, which makes the increase in average age for the sixth pick even more puzzling.

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Source: Sports-Reference

Recent drafts have generated a handful of #6 picks who should have bright futures. Last year, Buddy Hield was drafted by New Orleans and averaged 10.6 points per game his rookie season with the Pelicans and Kings. In 2015, Willie Cauley-Stein was selected in the six hole, 2014 was Marcus Smart, Nerlens Noel was the sixth player off the board in 2013 and in 2012 it was Damian Lillard. The seasons before was where things went wrong – Jan Vesely, Ekpe Udoh, Jonny Flynn, Danilo Gallinari, Yi Jialian, Brandon Roy and Martell Webster were the #6 selections.

With this year’s historically strong draft class, a Hersey Hawkins-esque career from the sixth overall pick would likely be a disappointment. Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, Kentucky’s Malik Monk, or NC State’s Dennis Smith could land at #6 this June, hoping to avoid becoming the next sixth overall pick that never panned out.

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