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NBA Draft: No. 5 picks in lottery era and what kind of player you can expect

Plenty of hits, misses with the fifth pick in the NBA Draft, and comparisons to other spots in the lottery

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The Detroit Pistons tumbled to No. 5 in the upcoming NBA Draft, and with it a lot of fans got awfully depressed awfully quickly. It is somewhat understandable considering most people had this upcoming draft pegged with a clear top 3 — Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr. in some order.

But drafting fifth doesn’t necessarily mean the Pistons are picking through scraps, and history points to the fifth pick turning out just about as well as any other place in the top 5.

First, let’s dive into former Pistons drafted No. 5 overall. There aren’t any. That was easy. OK, well if the franchise’s past is not precedent then let’s take a look at who has actually gone No. 5 overall.

History of the No. 5 Pick in the NBA Draft

Year Player Win Shares
Year Player Win Shares
1985 Jon Koncak 29.2
1986 Kenny Walker 17.9
1987 Scottie Pippen 125.1
1988 Mitch Richmond 79.3
1989 J.R. Reid 22.5
1990 Kendall Gill 47.8
1991 Steve Smith 83.7
1992 LaPhonso Ellis 32.8
1993 Isaiah Rider 22.8
1994 Juwan Howard 59.4
1995 Kevin Garnett 191.4
1996 Ray Allen 145.1
1997 Tony Battie 36.4
1998 Vince Carter 125.3
1999 Jonathan Bender 3.8
2000 Mike Miller 60.7
2001 Jason Richardson 59.1
2002 Nikoloz Tskitishvili -1.6
2003 Dwyane Wade 120.7
2004 Devin Harris 54.9
2005 Raymond Felton 40.2
2006 Shelden Williams 9.9
2007 Jeff Green 50.3
2008 Kevin Love 88.6
2009 Ricky Rubio 41.6
2010 DeMarcus Cousins 46.8
2011 Jonas Valančiūnas 67.4
2012 Thomas Robinson 4.6
2013 Alex Len 21.6
2014 Dante Exum 3.1
2015 Mario Hezonja 3.2
2016 Kris Dunn 3.9
2017 De'Aaron Fox 15.7
2018 Trae Young 26.3
2019 Darius Garland 6.2
2020 Isaac Okoro 5.1
2021 Jalen Suggs -1.6

There are some clear wins and plenty of misses. It’d be a runaway franchise win if you got one of the top 10 players drafted at fifth overall, with roughly 5 more with plenty left to prove and another handful who had promising careers derailed by injury. A 50% hit rate might seem like a huge risk, but in the world of an NBA Draft, it is just par for the course.

To dive even deeper, I went through every NBA Draft Lottery since the lotto began and compiled data on the median win shares by each draft slot as well as how many players had significant careers. We will define significant careers as split between those with 100+, 75+ and 50+ win shares.

It turns out that, historically speaking, picking fifth isn’t terribly different than drafting anywhere else in the top 5. And then there is a pretty significant dropoff.

The data shows you have a 13.5% of drafting someone that will amass roughly 100 career Win Shares for any of the picks 2-4. Think players like Grant HIll (99.9), Chris Bosh (106) or Manu Ginobili (106.4). You have a 20% chance of taking a player with 75+ Win Shares — plenty of players still in the Hall including Ben Wallace (93.5), Joe Dumars (86.2) and Isiah Thomas (80.7) in this tier.

Only 62 players are not current players have at least 75 Win Shares and aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Some will get in and haven’t yet (Drik Nowitzki (206.3), Pau Gasol (144.1) and Vince Carter (125.3). Some might never make it in, including Chauncey Billups who amassed 120.8 and definitely deserves entry ... but I digress.

The median Win Shares for a player drafted in the top 5 hovers between 37.4 and 60.3 and then there is a steep decline. This is a sign that while the lottery is a crapshoot, you’ve got a pretty good chance of grabbing a very good player in the top 5.

In the 3-point era, 295 players have achieved the 50 Win Share threshold and 398 have hit 40.2 (the median total for the fifth overall pick). That puts you in the 87th percentile of NBA players.

All this is to say, it’s not about a lack of options, it is about the person making the pick, the organization developing the player, the player’s commitment to excellence, overall health and a whole lot of other factors we’ll just chalk up to luck.

If you say “In Weaver we Trust,” then there are no issues with picking fifth overall. There will be plenty of excellent players coming out of the draft, just as there are in every draft. And picking in the top 5 clearly shows an advantage and success rate that surpasses picks later in the lottery much less the rest of the draft.

Now time to put these Google Sheets away and start pulling up game film of Keegan Murray, Bennedict Mathurin, Jaden Ivey, Shaedon Sharpe, Tari Eason, Jeremy Sochan, Johnny Davis and Dyson Daniels.