What is the Charlotte Pick Really Worth?

Since Trade Season is coming up I thought I could try to get a concrete idea of what the Charlotte pick owned by the Bulls is worth.

1) What is the Charlotte pick? According to the Charlotte pick is one owned by the Bobcats but owed to the Bulls and is:

"top 14 protected in 2012, top 12 protected in 2013, top 10 protected in 2014, top 8 protected in 2015, unprotected in 2016"

2) I looked over the last 12 years of draft history to figure out what kind of win total we can expect from teams getting the 12th, 10th and 8th pick of the draft. Here are the simple rounded averages for the original team owning each of these picks:

12th pick: 39 wins

10th pick: 34 wins

8th pick: 31 wins

3) The problem with the Charlotte pick is gravitational, so to speak. Teams have a tendency over time to either rise or fall to average, to .500. There have been teams who have resisted this force through luck and competence (Spurs, Mavs) and teams that have resisted this force through the opposite (Kings, Wolves), but generally franchises have a powerful attraction to 41 and 41 ball.

4) There is a chapter in Dean Oliver's excellent book Basketball on Paper called "The Power of Parity" which touches on this phenomenon of regression to the mean. In it Oliver presents the following table (sorry for the poor scan quality):


How did Oliver come to these conclusions? I don't know. Apparently the $18.95 purchase price for the book wasn't enough to include that. However, Dean Oliver has worked for two NBA organizations and appears to be a very well respected analyst even by those who disagree with him. So his work here it probably pretty legit. Plus looking around online I haven't exactly found any competing framework with which to judge the future prospects of the Bobcats.

5) According to this table the 2011-12 Bobcats, winners of just over 10% of their games, were extremely likely to see their winning percentage jump to about .240 the following year. It does look like this will in fact be the case as the Bobcats are on pace for a .232 winning percentage this year. So no pick for the Bulls in 2013.

6) In 2014 the Bobcats will probably need to win over 34 games for the Bulls to get their pick. That is not likely. Odds are we see their winning percentage jump to roughly .350 for a record of 29-53.

7) In 2015 (Derrick is now 26 years old, Noah 30) the Bobcats will probably need to win over 31 games for the Bulls to get their pick. It is still most likely they will finish with somewhere between 34 and 36 games, which would probably net the Bulls pick 10 or 11; but unlike before the odds of the Bobcats getting worse, of wining less than 29 games, are now worth considering.

8) There is, according to the table, somewhere between a 25%-39% chance that the Bobcats will win fewer than 29 games in 2015, though we do not have any ideas about how many games fewer they would be expected to lose.

9) In order to try to put some kind of number to this I looked at the 36 teams between 2005-10 with 29 or fewer wins to see, among those that were worse the following year, how many games on average those teams gave up. The answer is between 3-4 games. So there is a 25%-39% chance that in 2015 the Bobcats will win 25 or 26 games, in which case the Bulls probably will not get their pick.

10) In 2016 the pick is now unprotected. Derrick is 27 and Noah is no longer under contract. If the table is correct, we can expect the Bobcats to finish this year with 30 to 33 wins, which would give the Bulls a pick likely between 7 and 10.

11) So much has to go wrong for the Bulls to get a higher pick than that, you're really praying for a series of disasters and total futility. And I do not think I would bet on the Bobcats being that bad of a franchise. As I said before, the 2012-13 Bobcats are on pace to win about 19 games. Consider how the Bobcats did the last time they had this kind of performance:

2005: 18 wins

2006: 26 wins

2007: 33 wins

If they simply follow a similar arc this time around the Bulls would probably get the 8th or 9th pick in the draft two years from now.

12) So when the pick is made what can we expect from it? This article from gives us a good idea of the probabilities of drafting players of varying quality based on draft position. Since if the Bulls were to keep this pick it will have represented a fairly substantial investment (at the very least in the form of opportunity cost), I am only going to focus on the odds that the Charlotte pick will net a "star" (e.g. all-star caliber player). Why wait so long for a "solid starter"?

13) I think we can use the draftexpress graph and Oliver's table to construct what an optimistic but not implausible scenario would look like for the Charlotte pick. Say there is a 39% chance the 2015 Bobcats win 25 games (see 8 and 9 above). And lets say the Bobcats do improve in 2016 but only to 30 wins, which is the low end of their projection (see 10). Given the trends over the last 12 years, that should be enough to give the Bulls the 7th pick in the 2016 draft*. So the odds of the Bulls both getting a pick as high as 7 and turning that pick into a star is about 14% (.39 multiplied by .36).

14) The other likely scenario (see 7 above) is that the Bobcats give the Bulls pick 10 or 11, which has historically yielded an all-star caliber player 15% of the time.

15) Keep in mind also that guys generally take a few years to mature into stars (even Durant needed that). So the Bulls might not even truly have an all-star caliber player until 2018 or 2019 (Derrick will be 28 or 29, Hinrich will be 38, JFK would be 101).

So I guess I think a decent estimation of the value of the pick is that it represents about a 15% chance to pick up an all-star caliber player by 2018 at the earliest. What does everyone else think?

*with a 4.3% chance of moving into the top 3! Crazier things have happened I'm told.

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