This 2013 NBA Draft is going to be uneventful for most Wisconsin Badgers fans. Jared Berggren, who has worked out for about a dozen NBA teams (most recently the Lakers and Clippers), seems resigned to going undrafted. A Big Ten fan might tune in to see where Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller land.
If you are still struggling to find any interest in Thursday's draft or its implications, read on. Because no matter how much I stray from the NBA during its regular season, I still can't help but pay attention to the rumblings leading up to and during the draft. Numerous pieces of historical draft analysis released in the past month have helped hold that attention.
On Monday we examined how Wisconsin's brand equity was fairly high in spite of how few NBA players the program churns out. In defense of Wisconsin's low "conversion rate," I pointed out that counting up a school's number of draftees isn't the best way of measuring the program.1 Nor is it a good way to measure the quality of the players being drafted. Most NBA teams draft on potential only to have many of their selections crap out three or four years down the road.
Going back to Michael Lewis and Manish Tripathi's Emory University research on conversion rates, the Pac-12 has been the best conference at converting its recruits into NBA draft picks by a fair margin, followed by the ACC, Big 12, SEC, Big East and Big Ten.2
So when I saw ESPN's Path to the Draft series compiling lists of greatest NBA players from each conference, I wondered if I would see a similar pecking order. Furthermore, I wondered which conference is producing the real cream of the crop: Hall of Famers.
The numbers for our dear old Midwestern power conference weren't any more flattering than their talent conversion rates. Since the 1989 NBA Draft, the Big Ten has only produced one future Hall of Fame player: Chris Webber. I wish I could say that there were more on the way, but it's hazy. If Deron Williams stays healthy and somehow wins a couple of rings, he'd put himself in good position.
DraftExpress.com projects four first-round picks (six overall) out of the Big Ten this season, but there's no such thing as a surefire Hall of Famer on draft day.
Here are the lists for each power conference, listed in order by their Lewis and Tripathi-based conference conversion rates:
Locks: 1 - Shaquille O'Neal
Future possibilities: Rajon Rondo, Al Horford
Locks: 1 - Chris Webber
Future possibilities: Deron Williams
Here we see the ACC reassumes the throne in a sense, having produced as many as four Hall of Fame players in the past 25 years plus one of the most exciting young players in the league. The old Big East flexes its muscle, too, which shouldn't surprise anyone seeing as it had 16 members at one point. Meanwhile, the Big Ten and SEC are on an island behind the pack, with few bright prospects for the future.
There are some great players on the Big Ten list though, including Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson and Wisconsin legend Michael Finley, who checks in at No. 9 according to ESPN.
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Sure I'm biased, but I'd love to argue with anyone that Finley deserves to be higher on this list than a couple of guys above him, namely Jason Richardson and Juwan Howard. Finley, who left Wisconsin as the school's all-time leading scorer (before his mark was eclipsed by Alando Tucker), sustained excellence for a longer period of time than either of those two players, averaging 21 ppg over six seasons starting in 1997 -- his first full season in Dallas.
At the turn of the century (yikes, that sounds weird), Finley was arguably the best player on those emerging Mavericks teams before Dirk hit his prime. He was also known as an iron man, leading the league in minutes played in addition to having the NBA's lowest turnover percentage in three separate seasons.
Oh, and he also got robbed by Brent Barry in the 1996 Slam Dunk contest. Finley did a poor man's Dominique Wilkins, while Barry did the same dunk twice from the free throw line (and little else) to win. I still believe Finley was scarred for life after this, my evidence being that he pulled out the infamous cartwheel dunk the following year to mock the entire charade.
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There is one more point worth mentioning. Consider what is conspicuously absent from the lists above. Not only was 1989 a good starting point because the draft shrank to two rounds that year, but it also featured a player in Shawn Kemp who ignited a wave of talent to enter the league without playing college ball.
Many of our generation's greatest players jumped straight to the NBA from high school. How would these lists -- and NCAA basketball in general -- look different if guys like Kobe Bryant had gone to college? It is fun to think about. Bryant would have been a lock to Duke, but Lebron James is on record that he would have attended Ohio State. Many people think Kevin Garnett would have chosen Michigan (though he's been quoted saying he would have picked Maryland in a shocker).
This group of high school stars boasts a better Hall of Fame resume than any conference:
Preps to Pros
Locks: 4 - Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard
Borderline: 2 - Tracy McGrady, Amare Stoudemire
Future possibilities: 0
Those days are over, though ... at least for now. However, the power conference will endure in one form or another. On Thursday night, another chapter will be written in the dream-making transformation known as the NBA Draft and each conference will add to its legacy. Even though I don't pay as much attention to the NBA as I did when I was younger, I always pull for the Big Ten players to find the right situation and make the conference proud. Tonight is no different.
1In fact, the Emory professors released more analysis just today, concluding recruits "may want to think twice before choosing" Michigan State or Duke. While that's music to my ears personally, I think most of us are going agree that whatever numbers steer one to make such a statement might be a bit misleading, or at the very least, fail to capture the big picture. MSU and Duke are certainly two of the best programs in the country.
2Factors affecting the calculations I did: the availability of Rivals' star rankings for each player, the reversal math to find each school's Weighted Recruiting Talent and the school shuffling I did to reflect each league's pre-expansion membership.
3Basketball-Reference.com actually used .500 or higher as their baseline for accurately predicting the HOF status of nearly 97% of all players with at least 400 games played. See their methodology here.
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