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Assessing Scouting Accuracy For The Last 20 Years (Part VII)

How have scouting services fared while assessing prospect abilities? Is there any alignment between prospect rankings and professional career outcomes? We take a look at these and other things thanks to the RSCI database of the last 20 years.

2015 NBA Draft Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Welcome back to the exploratory series on recruiting rankings gathered by RSCI!

If you missed the prior parts, fear nothing. Here is a quick recap of the introduction so you don’t feel lost.

What I’m aiming with this series is to get a better sense of how different scouting services have fared in terms of ranking the Top-100 prospect of each of the last 20 classes of hoopers around the nation coming out of high school. For that, I’m using a database based on data from the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI), which gathered information from multiple scouts and generated composite rankings of recruits for each year. On top of that, using information coming from, I have access to the Win Shares produced by each player that eventually reached the NBA.

Just armed with that information we can quickly see how rankings and production align, and even generate some metrics such as the simple “Prospect Value (PV)” metric I introduced in the first chapter. It just puts together the ranking of prospects and their production in order to find high-ranked busts or low-ranked diamonds. The higher the PV of a player, the more underrated he was back in the day by scouts.

With all that said, let’s keep surfing the RSCI recruiting data to answer more and more questions!

Do college-to-pros pipelines exist between certain franchises and universities?

When I put together the sheet containing the RSCI data I didn’t think I would be able to explore the information to the extent I have been able to. After all, there isn’t much to it barring a few simple fields of data such as the ranking of the guys, the round and pick they were drafted at, their college, and not much more.

I was able to expand that data and create some simple metrics with it to measure each player value to his NBA team(s), how they surpassed or fell short of expectations given their ranking coming out of high school, etc.

But not everything comes down to numerical data and pure metrics. Relationships can also be found in the data set, although they are not present and recognizable at first sight. Bending the rows and columns we can get to some interesting insights, such as the links between colleges and NBA teams to try and see if those have been present or not during the past couple of decades.

If I’m honest, I expected some relationships to pop up. Turns out that is not entirely the case. In order to get to that conclusion, I did something really simple. I got every prospect ranked by RSCI that was drafted between 1998 and 2018, which gave me 507 players spread over 37 teams (not franchises, given some of them relocated but appear as different entities in the data set). Once I had those names, I looked at how many each team had drafted and from how many different colleges. Teams are ordered by that ratio and the total of RSCI-ranked players they drafted over that time period. These are the results:

The chart makes it clearer. The relationship between teams and colleges on a yearly basis only exists to a little extent. The first nine teams in the graph have picked players from different colleges each and every time (with Denver the most, 14 out of 14). The remaining twenty-eight have ratios between 1.07 and 1.54. The lowest amount of colleges a franchise has picked players from in terms of ratio is Phoenix, with 20 selections out of only 13 different colleges. They are also ahead of anyone in terms of relationship with a given university, as the Suns have picked four players out of Kentucky. No other team has picked four prospects from the same college since 1998.

Phoenix Suns - Kentucky Wildcats Pipeline

  • Although Phoenix has taken four players from Kentucky, none of them was a Top-10 pick and only one was a lottery pick (Devin Booker).
  • The relationship between Phoenix and Kentucky peaked in the three-year span from 2013 to 2015, and has yet to make another appearance on the draft stage.
  • The highest draft pick by the Suns from Kentucky, Devin Booker, was selected 13th in 2015. He was the No. 23 recruit of the 2014 HS class, playing ball at Moss Point (Grand Rapids, MI) before jumping to the Wildcats program.
  • One more player cracked the first round: Skal Labissiere (28th pick in 2015). The other two left were second-round picks (Andrew Harrison was selected 44th in 2013 and Tyler Ulis 34th in 2014).
  • Interestingly, the best-ranked players by the RSCI that Phoenix drafted from Kentucky were not high selections. Andrew Harrison fell to the second round of the 2015 draft after being ranked as the No. 5 best prospect of the HS class of 2013. Skal Labissiere was the No. 2 of the 2015 class, though he was picked at the 28th spot.
  • It might still be early to judge them, but it looks like only Booker will be remembered as a productive NBA player. Booker has played four seasons already boasting a 2.5 WS/Yr. The other three Suns’ draftees are at 1.0 WS/Yr or less in their three-year careers.

Back to the prep-to-pros days, did any team constantly looked for the best HS prospects come draft time?

With 2022 being the year NBA teams will probably be able to draft guys straight of high school again, a whole new world of possibilities will open. And it will do for both franchises and the kids themselves.

Teams will have not only to keep an eye on college prospects during the year but also to send scouts to the smallest of high schools in the nation in order to control every potential draftee and asses their abilities.

For the kids, having the chance to declare for the draft right after graduating from their prep days will also be a decision to give some serious thought, even more in the cases of those highly developed players that don’t really need to spend a year or more in the NCAA ranks or playing overseas.

As the path is currently blocked and has been for quite some time now, we can only look at data from 1998 to 2005 in order to see if any franchise constantly banked of HS prospects when drafting new talent. The sample size isn’t great, though, as there are only 33 such entries in the data set.

Only two teams have drafted three players straight from high school from 1998 to 2005, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Portland Trailblazers. Both of them did it from the 2000 NBA draft on. Although that is the “official” count, the Clippers really didn’t draft three players, as Tyson Chandler was immediately traded to Chicago, who was the ultimate caller of his selection.

As is now known, drafting this type of player could yield any potential result. Think about it. The GOAT for some, LeBron James, never played at the collegiate level and turned to be one of the best players ever. On the other hand, guys like Korleone Young and Kwame Brown burned out sooner rather than later, if anything.

Leaving the Clippers aside because the Bulls were the ones truly drafting Tyson Chandler, here is a little breakdown of how the Trailblazers fared while picking HS prospects:

  • 2003 NBA draft 23rd selection: Travis Outlaw
  • 2004 13th: Sebastian Telfair
  • 2005 6th: Martell Webster
  • Although none of them remains active, all three played at least 10 years in the NBA.
  • Those picks by the Blazers made it back-to-back-to-back selections of HS players, the longest streak since RSCI data is available (1998).
  • Only Martell Webster was a Top-10 pick, and Sebastian Telfair barely cracked the lottery in 2005. No wonder, Webster became the best player of the three with a production of 2.5 WS/Yr on average during his pro career.
  • Again Martell Webster was the only Top-3 player of his HS class. Telfair was ranked No. 6 and Outlaw No. 14.
  • When looking at Portland’s full draft history (only of RSCI-ranked players), things weren’t that bad for them when taking HS prospects. There are 26 picks from the Blazers in the data set, and Martell Webster ranks second in WS/Yr. He’s only bested by Zach Randolph (4.8).
Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images

Getting back to their old ways and in an interesting turn of events, Portland drafted Anfernee Simons with the 24th pick of the 2018 draft. Why do I mention this? Well, Simons is the first American to be selected by an NBA team straight from high school since 2005, even with the prep-to-pros road blocked.

That was possible due to reclassification and him attending IMG Academy for a postgraduate year. Unsurprisingly given the franchise’s past (the one with the most HS draftees), Portland pounded on him and brought the Florida native to the team. Even being the No. 7 ranked prospect of his 2017 HS class, he was still quite raw so he just played 20 games for Portland during the 2018-19 season as a rookie.

No matter what, it truly seems that the Blazers are determined to keep betting on young kids as any team in the league, so we’ll see if they are in a position to make a similar move when high school players are freed to make it straight to the pros again around 2022.