Which NBA 1st-Round Draft Slots Have Produced the Best Players?

Which NBA 1st-Round Draft Slots Have Produced the Best Players?
Fact Checked by Nate Hamilton

With the 2023 NBA Draft now less than a week away, BetGeorgia.com decided to break from Georgia sports betting updates to examine which draft positions have generated the most on-court production since 2010.  

Using Basketball-Reference.com, BetGeorgia collected the Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) of every player selected in each 1st round slot from the 2010 Draft through the 2022 Draft.  All players drafted with the same pick then had their VORP’s combined to determine the top draft spot of the last thirteen years.  

As it turns out, players taken with the 15th overall pick where the Atlanta Hawks select this year have recorded more VORP than all but two other draft positions.  Read on as BetGeorgia explores the recent history of the 15th pick and looks at who the Hawks might take there come Thursday night.

What Slots Have Produced Best Players Since 2010 NBA Draft?

Rank, Draft Slot Team in Slot in 2023 Draft Combined VORP Top Player Since 2010
1. 1st overall pick San Antonio Spurs 172.9 Anthony Davis (NOH, 2012)
2. 3rd overall pick Portland Trail Blazers 146.3 Joel Embiid (PHI, 2014)
3. 15th overall pick Atlanta Hawks 96.8 Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL, 2013)
4. 6th overall pick Orlando Magic 85.0 Damian Lillard (POR, 2012)
5. 9th overall pick Utah Jazz 77.1 Kemba Walker (CHA, 2011)
6. 30th overall pick Los Angeles Clippers 73.9 Jimmy Butler (CHI, 2011)
7. 27th overall pick Charlotte Hornets69.5 Rudy Gobert (UTA, 2013)
8. 11th overall pick Orlando Magic 66.7 Domantas Sabonis (OKC, 2016)
9. 10th overall pick Dallas Mavericks 64.4 Paul George (IND, 2010)
10. 13th overall pick Toronto Raptors 63.9 Donovan Mitchell (UTA, 2017)

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The 15th Pick Has Proved To Be Special

An overwhelming majority of the recent value spawned from the 15th overall selection comes from two of the game’s biggest superstars.  Kawhi Leonard (2011) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (2013) have combined for 92.5 of the 96.8 VORP produced by players taken in the first spot outside the lottery since 2010, accounting for 95.6% of the group’s statistical output.

Leonard actually owns a higher career Box Plus/Minus (BPM) than Antetokounmpo (6.8 versus 6.2), but Antetokounmpo leads Leonard in VORP by 4.7 points thanks to the fact he has played 91 games and over 3500 minutes more than him despite being in the league for two less seasons. 

Antetokounmpo recently completed his seventh consecutive season posting a VORP of 5.6 or above, giving him the longest active streak of 5+ VORP seasons leaguewide (though Nikola Jokic just finished his seventh straight season with at least 4.8 VORP).  The Greek Freak peaked with a 7.4 VORP year in both his first MVP campaign in 2018-19 and in 2021-22.

Meanwhile, Leonard has only registered a VORP over 5 three times in his NBA career but has eclipsed 2 VORP in all of his professional seasons except for his nine-game stint in 2017-18 (and even then, he logged a 10.1 BPM in his brief time on the court that year).  His most productive season came in his final healthy year with the Spurs in 2016-17 when he recorded a 7.1 VORP on his way to his second of three-career 1st Team All-NBA selections.

Both Antetokounmpo and Leonard rank in the top 12 active leaders in career VORP.  2012 draftee Maurice Harkless sits third in VORP among all 15th overall picks since 2010 at 4.1.

What The Hawks Should Do With The 15th Pick

As for what the Hawks will do with the 15th pick this year, most public mock drafts see them taking a perimeter player, though there is little consensus about which one.  ESPN and Bleacher Report both anticipate Atlanta will land Kentucky guard Cason Wallace, the Athletic expects them to select Nick Smith from Arkansas, CBSSports predicts they will take Indiana’s Jalen Hood-Schifino, while Tankathon forecasts Kobe Bufkin out of Michigan and the Ringer projects Kansas’ Gradey Dick to the Hawks.

Wallace is a defensive menace who can operate at either guard position, which would give Atlanta flexibility in the backcourt and help insulate a squad that finished 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency this season.  There are some concerns about his overall creation ability, but Wallace still made 71.2% of his field goals around the rim per Barttorvik.com and also dished out 4.3 assists per game.  Even if he settles in as more of an off-guard, he has the skills to thrive with the Hawks, especially because of the playmaking already present on the roster.

Drafting Smith, Hood-Schifino or Bufkin would also provide Atlanta with a combo guard that could slide in next to Trae Young and Dejounte Murray.  Hood-Schifino possesses the most natural lead ball-handler traits of the group, but often struggled with his efficiency with the Hoosiers, posting just a 49.2% true shooting percentage during his one year in Bloomington.  Smith offers the highest scoring potential, though a knee injury largely sapped him of his effectiveness at Arkansas, meaning teams will have to rely on the former 247Sports Composite number one overall player in the country’s high school tape more than they might prefer for his evaluation. 

A major riser throughout the season, Bufkin plays a connective brand of basketball that fits in a wide variety of ecosystems.  Though not the defender that Wallace is, Bufkin brings more to the table on that end than Hood-Schifino or Smith, while blending excellent finishing, burgeoning shooting and solid passing.

Conversely, Dick fits as a true wing rather than a guard and would help the Hawks replace what they lost when they traded Kevin Huerter to Sacramento last offseason.  Dick does not demonstrate the same ball-handling ability that Huerter does, but he might be the best shooting prospect in the class, plus he displays excellent feel as a cutter, team defender and quick decision maker.

Among major national outlets only SBNation connected a big to Atlanta.  They foresee the Hawks drafting Alabama freshman Noah Clowney, although none of the other publications analyzed expect Clowney to come off the board before pick 20.

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Josh Markowitz

Josh Markowitz is a freelance writer for BetGeorgia.com. He is a lifelong sports fan who emphasizes basketball, football, baseball, and the scouting/evaluation process. A graduate of Elon University's School of Communications, Josh also has experience in television production.

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