Colangelo is King: An NBA GM Draft Analysis


By: Tyler Wellener

On April 6, 2016 Sam Hinkie stepped down from his position as General Manager for the Philadelphia 76ers, provoking a variety of emotions among fans the following summer.  Hinkie had taken the 76ers on a three-year journey dubbed “The Process” - losing season after season (after season) to improve their draft position.  Hinkie hypothesized that the best way to win an NBA championship was to draft a generational talent who would carry the franchise to the promised land.  

An impatient media - and front office - led to Bryan Colangelo succeeding Hinkie as the Sixers’ new GM.

With the NBA draft quickly approaching in June, and Philly owning the rights to the #1, #24, and #26 picks, there were cries for Hinkie to come back. The plan Hinkie had in place seemed to be working so far, and Colangelo was unfairly blamed for Hinkie stepping down. In short, Colangelo was not being given the benefit of the doubt that he could succeed as GM despite previous successes.

I wondered - maybe Sam is a better drafter than Bryan - but how could you evaluate this? In other words, is there a way to determine which General Managers in the NBA are the best at evaluating talent in the draft?

To accomplish this, I analyzed data from 1994-2015 that looks at GM first round picks. The statistic I used to evaluate player talent was Player Efficiency Rating (PER). PER is a rating of a player’s per minute productivity, adjusted for team pace. The average PER is set to 15.00 every season.  During this period, the #1 overall pick had an average PER of 18.81 while the #30 pick had an average PER of 11.61.

The analysis looks at every current GM, and regardless of the past teams they managed, finds the career PER of all their first round picks since 1994. It then compares each player’s PER to the overall average PER of the pick based on the draft order. From this, I was able to calculate the percentage of the time that a GM drafts a player higher than the average of that pick. This is extremely useful because some GMs that always draft early will have an inherent advantage at drafting better players, while GMs that are traditionally managing better teams, will be at an inherent disadvantage by drafting later in the round. By comparing the PER of a player to the average PER of that pick, it negates this effect.

I was also able to examine raw PER and see which GMs were drafting the best players regardless of their draft position.  The results are shown in Table 1, sorted by “% of Picks Above Avg. PER of that Pick.”


NBA GM Draft Analysis 1994-2015

GM Name Current Team Total Years as GM # of 1st Round Picks Since 1994 Avg. 1st Round Draft Position % of Picks Above Avg. PER of that Pick Avg. PER
Bryan Colangelo Philadelphia 76ers 19 14 14.36 78.6% 16.01
Scott Layden Minnesota Timberwolves 14 9 21.22 77.8% 14.00
Daryl Morey Houston Rockets 9 10 19.22 70.0% 12.62
R.C. Buford San Antonio Spurs 14 10 27.10 70.0% 13.79
Sam Presti Oklahoma City Thunder 9 15 18.67 60.0% 14.45
Neil Olshey Portland Trailblazers 6 5 11.60 60.0% 14.80
Dennis Lindsey Utah Jazz 4 5 15.00 60.0% 12.88
Chris Wallace Memphis Grizzlies 9 14 17.50 57.1% 12.80
Gar Forman Chicago Bulls 7 10 22.30 50.0% 12.12
Larry Bird Indiana Pacers 12 8 16.63 50.0% 14.48
John Hammond Milwaukee Bucks 8 8 11.38 50.0% 13.31
Mitch Kupchak Los Angeles Lakers 16 9 19.89 44.4% 13.17
Danny Ainge Boston Celtics 12 17 19.11 41.2% 10.63
Ernie Grunfeld Washington Wizards 26 16 13.44 31.3% 12.35
Rich Cho Charlotte Hornets 6 7 10.86 28.6% 14.23
Jeff Bower Detroit Pistons 7 7 15.29 28.6% 12.06
Rob Hennigan Orlando Magic 4 5 8.40 20.0% 13.20
Ryan McDonough Phoenix Suns 3 6 17.83 0.0% 9.42

Note: Excluded were GMs who had less than 5 picks, as it was not enough of a sample to evaluate drafting ability. This includes Sam Hinkie.  Also excluded from this analysis were any draft night trades that would reassign the rights of a player after they were picked.


Philly fans - woah! Yes, what you’re seeing is correct. Not only did Bryan Colangelo rank highest with 78.6% of his picks having an average PER higher than the pick where they were drafted, he also had the highest total raw average PER of any GM!  Bryan Colangelo is in outstanding company with other notable General Managers such as R.C. Buford of the San Antonio Spurs, Sam Presti of the OKC Thunder and analytics guru Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets.  

Philadelphia fans should have a lot of confidence in their first round draft picks for 2016, which included Ben Simmons, Timothe Luwawu, and Furkan Korkmaz. Go Sixers!

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