Jon Barry factcheck

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I caught a clip this morning of NBA analyst Jon Barry, lamenting (what else) the one-and-done. Barry’s angle was that the one-and-done players don’t really have a choice because, if they stay in school longer, the flaws in their game get exposed and their draft stock might plummet. Since NBA GMs are drafting on potential, a 19-year old showing just a glimpse of greatness is likely to be selected early on draft night, whereas a 21-year old with a more developed game but a clearer and presumably lower ceiling is less enticing.

I don’t disagree with the logic here, by the way, though I don’t think of this situation in quite the dolorous terms that Barry does. For Barry this is all a vexing conundrum – players incentivized to come out early, before they’re ready and then washing out quickly at the pro level. As evidence, Barry cited the 2012 national champion Kentucky Wildcats. That team, Barry said, had seven players drafted in 2012. And, he thought, only two were still in the league, a seemingly damning record of failure. That sounds pretty bad – only two of seven draftees sticking in the NBA. Now it’s one micro-sample, but because Kentucky is the epicenter of the one-and-done phenomenon, this was supposed to be a particularly illustrative example of the dilemma that bedevils contemporary American basketball.

In fact, six players were drafted from Kentucky that year. Barry remembered Anthony Davis, of course, and also Terence Jones, the very productive Houston Rockets’ forward, who left Kentucky after his sophomore season. Surprisingly, he forgot about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who, like Davis, left after his freshman year and was the number two pick in the 2012 draft, and who has blossomed into an all-star caliber player at the ripe old age of 21.

The three remaining draftees -Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller –  were all on NBA rosters as of the start of this season, although all have now gone overseas or been moved to the D-league. Miller stayed at Kentucky for four years.

So, the final count for the 2012 Kentucky draft class is this – three out of five underclassmen are not only still in the league, but are excellent players (one of the three, of course, is a transcendent one) who, barring injury, will have long and productive NBA careers. That sounds a lot different than merely two of seven guys being on NBA rosters, doesn’t it? And it stacks up damn well to the overall success rate of draftees sticking in the NBA. Check out any draft class to see how many players managed to hang around for three years, assuming they made a roster at all.

Over and over again, no matter their angle, those who lament the current state of basketball affairs – especially the horror of 19-year olds being eligible for the NBA draft – either use cherry-picked evidence or none at all. In the case of Barry, if you’re going to cherry pick, at least do so with “data” that actually supports your claims.  If the 2012 Wildcats are your test case, leaving early and getting drafted on potential seems like a clear win-win, both for the players and for the pro teams that snatched them up.

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2 comments

  1. I think that’s why he was hired at ESPN. They just love misused and misrepresented data/trivia. For example, player x makes y shots in the last 3 minutes of February games against playoff teams while on the road.

    1. Andrew,

      One thing that’s funny about this is that, especially among former athletes who are commentators for ESPN, there remains a tendency to bash analytics and “stat geeks” and so on, as if using data shows that you don’t really understand the game. But everyone cites data that’s convenient for their arguments. So, the real question isn’t whether we should or shouldn’t use stats to understand sports. Instead, the question is whether we know what we’re doing when we *do* trot out our favored data points.

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