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

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.

Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via 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 prospects 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 Basketball-Reference.com, 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!


Which is the overall relation between RSCI-ranked prospects and the NBA draft?

With the world of college and the one-and-dones mostly covered up to this point, and with the exploration of the time it takes for players to get to the NBA and debut as pros, it is time to asses how the franchises around the Association have fared in terms of giving those kids a chance.

Let’s start with something general, and then drill down on different aspects and perspectives we can look at the data from on this and future entries of the series.

To get things started I run a very simple query. I just wanted to know how many of the prospects ranked in any of the RSCI classes were drafted by an NBA team. Remember that we’re dealing with the high school classes from 1998 to 2018, which means 21 years of data. As the 2019 NBA Draft has yet to take place, I’m excluding the 2018 class to get to 20 years of draft data in which an overall of 2002 prospects were ranked and 554 were selected by an NBA team through the draft.

That’s an interesting first bit of insight. From the 1999 to the 2003 draft there were 58 slots available. From 2004 on, there were 60 (the league expanded by one team). As there were some selections forced to be forfeited due to illegal operations by some franchises over time, the total amount of open draft slots from 1999 to 2018 was 1187. Easy math tells you that only 46.6 percent of draftees have been ranked by RSCI, which is surprising considering they were supposed to be the best of the best players exiting high school.

RSCI Top-100 Ranked prospects to enter the NBA via Draft, grouped by year

All in all, we can say graduating high school as one of the most heralded prospects in the nation doesn’t guarantee an easy entry to the NBA. Leaving the first four drafts in the data set aside (we know on average a prospect plays three to four years of high school basketball), the average number of RSCI players to enter the NBA through the draft is of 30 per year, which is to say half the available slots, or the first round.

This doesn’t mean every first round pick comes from the RSCI rankings, as some sleepers fall to the second round yearly and a lot of non-ranked players enter the conversation with great NCAA-career play and make themselves wanted by NBA franchises by the time the draft arrives.

The overall trend, though, shows how scouting and early rankings correlate more and more each passing year as there are more prospects being selected each draft by NBA teams. This is only about to increase with time, as the prep-to-pros path comes back to the picture. Franchises will again have to rely on scouts at the high school level to pick raw talents that opt to jump to the NBA without playing NCAA basketball, which could potentially mean a greater amount of RSCI players being picked.


For those that heard their name on draft night, was there any relation between their position in the RSCI ranking and the position they were drafted at?

In a perfectly scouted world of basketball players, we would expect the best-ranked prospects to get picked first and the worst ones late in the draft. The reality, nonetheless, is just that, real. And real things are not perfect by any means.

RSCI rank vs Draft position (1999-2018)

As can be easily seen in the chart above, there is a relation between where prospects are ranked and where they are picked by NBA teams, but there is not a lot to it. Most of the players highly ranked tend to be picked early, but that doesn’t mean they do all of the time.

Of course, the relationship is stronger on the lower-left part of the chart, as it contains the best ranked and highest picked prospects. Those that show ability from the early days (even if that doesn’t end being such in the pros) tend to be picked early. Those who are a little more doubted can fall anywhere between late-lottery picks and the end of the draft if anything.

USA TODAY Sports

There is a very simple calculation that can be made to see who was picked according to the expectations coming out of high school, and who didn’t. I just divided the prospect rank (Rk) by the position he was taken at (Pk). For example, a No. 1 prospect drafted first overall would give us a 1 Rk/Pk; and a No. 100 prospect drafted first overall would give us a 100 Rk/Pk. Rule of the thumb: the higher the Rk/Pk, the more the player surpassed the expectations.

By this simplistic metric, none of the RSCI-ranked guys scored a perfect 100, thus no player was ranked No. 100 (last in his class) and then drafted No. 1 by an NBA team. But there is one player that was ranked No. 100 and went all the way up to the No. 2 pick in 2011: Derrick Williams by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

These are some other interesting insights:

  • Only 12 prospects scored a 10+ Rk/Pk value, and only Blake Griffin (2007 No. 16) was ranked among the Top-30 prospects of his class. The second-best ranked of the group would be 2011 No. 34 Otto Porter.
  • The second-highest Rk/Pk value belongs to Emeka Okafor. The Charlotte Bobcats made him the first ever drafted player by the then expansion-franchise in 2004. Emeka was ranked No. 99 in his class in 2001, played three years for Connecticut and was selected second overall by the Bobcats, only surpassed by Dwight Howard who was the No. 1 of the 2004 class and entered the league straight out of high school.
  • Although the data set covers every draft from 1998 to 2018. Surprisingly, “only” in 15 of those years an RSCI-ranked prospect was picked No. 1 overall. Those who were not ranked are Michael Olowokandi (1998), Elton Brand (1999), Kenyon Martin (2000), Yao Ming (2002), Andrew Bogut (2005), and Andrea Bargnani (2006).
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
  • Of the 15 RSCI-ranked first overall picks, only Blake Griffin was not a Top-6 prospect. Kwame Brown and Anthony Bennett were No. 6 in their classes while Karl-Anthony Towns, Derrick Rose, and Markelle Fultz were No. 5. All of the rest were Top-3 prospects.
  • Almost at the same level of Okafor and Williams (No. 2 overall picks), there are Hasheem Thabeet and Evan Turner. They were ranked No. 64 and No. 52 in their high school classes and have an Rk/Pk value of 32 and 26.
  • As was to expect, the prospect who spent more time in the NCAA or playing overseas or at other leagues prior to entering the NBA through the draft have a greater Rk/Pk value. Again, sure-thing players coming out of high school have more chances to get to higher draft selections than those who have to make a name for themselves.