Deep Dive: Which college coaches are best at developing NBA players?

Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 03/31/20

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How often does a John Calipari-coached player reach the NBA?

What about players who were led by Mike Krzyzewski?

Everyone knows by now that Duke and Kentucky players have dominated the college-to-NBA jump over the years. This laundry list of pros only begins with De’Aaron Fox, Devin Booker, Anthony Davis, John Wall and Willie Cauley-Stein on the Kentucky side and Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving on the Duke side.

Another question can be appropriately posed in the same conversation as well: Are John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski sending more players to the NBA just because they recruit far more talented players than opposing coaches?

Let’s take a deep dive into how often the country’s top coaches send players to the NBA.

First, a few notes about the data:

  • A player counts toward the data if the player appeared in at least one game under the specified coach and at least one NBA regular season or postseason game
  • Coaches who are included must have had at least 10 RSCI top-100 recruits and five players appear in an NBA regular season or postseason game
  • Players counted towards multiple coaches if the player transferred or the coach changed schools
  • Data is based on players who played under a specific coach, instead of just players who were recruited by a specific coach
  • Data goes back to 2000 and only players who have exhausted their collegiate eligibility as of the 2018-19 season are included
  • All data used in this article is courtesy of Sports Reference and Basketball Reference

The table below shows the 36 active head coaches who have coached at least five eventual NBA players and 10 RSCI top-100 recruits since 2000. Listed next to their names is the frequency of the top-100 recruits reaching the NBA and the total number of sub-100 recruits reaching the NBA under the specific coach.

How to read data: A total of 66.7 percent of top-100 recruits who played under John Calipari have reached the NBA and seven total sub-100 recruits who played under Calipari have reached the NBA.

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Key takeaways:

  • Top-100 recruits who played under the coaches in this data set reached the NBA 44.3 percent of the time.
  • The five coaches who have had the highest frequency of top-100 recruits reach the NBA are Mike Krzyzewski (74.2 percent), Roy Williams (67.3), John Calipari (66.7), Bill Self (64.4) and Steve Alford (60.0).
  • The five coaches who have had the lowest frequency of top-100 recruits reach the NBA are Kelvin Sampson (10.0 percent), Scott Drew (15.8), Shaka Smart (16.7), Bruce Pearl (21.7) and Josh Pastner (22.2).
  • Calipari has coached the most eventual NBA players with 55, 48 of whom were former top-100 recruits. A total of 24 top-100 recruits who played under Calipari failed to reach the NBA. Calipari’s rate of 66.7 percent of top-100 recruits reaching the NBA ranks third among active head coaches.
  • Krzyzewski owns the highest rate of former top-100 recruits reaching the NBA at 74.2 percent. With 49 eventual NBA players, Kryzewski ranks second in total pros coached, only trailing Calipari. Krzyzewski has coached three sub-100 recruits who have reached the NBA in Shane Battier (who played in college before RSCI rankings existed), Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry.
  • Mark Few has coached the most sub-100 recruits who have reached the NBA with 11, including Ronny Turiaf, Adam Morrison, Kelly Olynyk, Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell and Brandon Clarke. More sub-100 recruits have reached the NBA (11) than top-100 recruits (7) under Few.
  • More sub-100 recruits than top-100 recruits have reached the NBA under Few, Mike Anderson, Shaka Smart, Scott Drew, Kelvin Sampson, Dana Altman, Johnny Dawkins and Lon Kruger.
  • Bruce Pearl is the only coach among the 36 listed who has never coached an eventual NBA player who was a sub-100 recruit.

Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.

Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member.