How Quickly Can a Top-3 Pick Turn Things Around

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Carmelo Anthony led one of the more impressive turnarounds in recent NBA history during his rookie year in Denver.

The Sixers currently sit with the 3rd-overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Common perception holds that bringing aboard such a blue-chip talent is supposed to propel a quick turnaround for the lucky franchise. But is that really the case? I decided to comb through recent NBA history to determine just how quickly a top-3 pick will help his new group rise out of the dregs of the league and back into the postseason.

My search criteria:

  • Data goes back 1990 when the NBA started using a weighted lottery system.
  • The team needs to have missed the playoffs at least the last two years (thus avoiding a Tim Duncan/Spurs scenario where a good team has a single down year due to a major injury or some other factor).
  • The team needs to have drafted the player using its own pick (avoiding situations where a decent team lucked into a lottery pick from a trade that occurred years ago).
  • Player needs to be on the team the next time the team makes the playoffs, and have actually played in that playoffs (sorry, Hasheem Thabeet).

Now, I realize some players left off this list might have been used as a trade chip to bring in an established veteran (i.e. Wiggins for Love this year), but plenty of guys have also left years down the road before the team ever made the playoffs so I believe it evens out. Also, there are countless other factors that could have played a role in a team’s improvement: trades, free agency, maybe just barely missing the playoffs the last couple years but lucking out in the lottery. Regardless, hopefully this gives us a rough estimation of the kind of turnaround a team can expect with a top-3 pick on board. Here are the results:

DraftedPlayersFirst off, very impressive rookie seasons for both Al Horford and Carmelo Anthony, who each took teams with 8 year playoff droughts and helped lead them to the playoffs in their first year. Also, it’s interesting that some of the best players in the game today (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin) still needed 3 years to bring their teams to the postseason. Even getting a once-in-a-generation talent isn’t an instant cure-all. Finally, you can see how sometimes it takes grouping a couple of these guys together for a team to break through, like with Charlotte, Seattle/OKC, and Washington. Those situations would portend well for the Sixers who, barring a trade, will have 3rd overall picks in back-to-back drafts.

On average, it took just over 2 seasons for a top-3 pick to lead his team back to the playoffs. Such a trend would indicate fans can expect whoever arrives with the 3rd pick to help the Sixers play postseason ball in 2017, which would seem to fall right in line with the timeline the organization has more or less laid out. Then again, Joel Embiid was a top-3 pick himself and 2 seasons for him would have the Sixers making the playoffs next spring. It seems crazy, but given the state of the Eastern Conference, I wouldn’t completely rule it out. After all, numbers never lie.

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