Bower: One of the best drafted GM's

DRAFT Initiative looks at how general managers have fared since 1989


As our week-long look at front offices around the league wraps up and NBA prospects showcase their skills in the Final Four, it's time we focused our attention on the general manager.

Who are the best GMs on draft day?

Four years ago, we tackled that question in the debut of the DRAFT Initiative, our empirical study of every draft since 1989 (the first year of the two-round format). Evaluating draft choices is a tricky task, but our methodology set out to determine an expected value for each draft slot using John Hollinger's Estimated Wins Added metric.

Simply put, the higher the draft pick, the more you should get out of it. Using that historical baseline of draft-slot value, we then graded GMs based on how their draft pick actually produced in the NBA compared to what was expected at the pick. For example, selecting Dirk Nowitzki at No. 9 is far more impressive than getting him at No. 1 overall. And reaching for Kwame Brown at No. 1 hurts more than if he were picked at No. 21 overall. In other words, how many wins did you squeeze out of your opportunities?

For more on the methodology, give this a read.

Let's update those numbers to reflect the last five drafts. To qualify for this particular list, the GM would need at least 10 picks on his resume. Luckily for former Cleveland GM Chris Grant, he does not appear on this list since he made just eight picks over his four-year tenure. On the other hand, GM Gregg Popovich would have easily ranked as the top drafter (i.e. Manu Ginobili at No. 57 and Tony Parker at No. 28), but he didn't qualify with just nine picks. He'll console himself with four championship rings.

So, what do we find?

Oh, this gets good. First, a bit of an explanation of the terms here. The "Actual EWA" term is the total sum of value that the GMs picks yielded. The "Expected EWA" is what we'd expect given his pick slots. After that, you'll see "Net EWA," which tells us how many extra wins the GM churned out on a per pick and total basis.

Got it? Let's dig in.

Best drafting GMs

1. Isiah Thomas | Toronto Raptors 1995-97; New York Knicks 2004-07
Picks: 12 | Actual EWA: 42.7 | Expected EWA: 22.0 | Net EWA: +1.7/pick (+20.7 total)

Believe it, folks. Thomas put up an outstanding hit rate in the draft, no matter where he picked. His run of lottery picks in Toronto should be the stuff of lore. He started off by getting Damon Stoudamire with the No. 7 pick in 1995. Then with the No. 2 pick in 1996, he grabbed Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby. The following year in 1997, he nabbed some high schooler named Tracy McGrady at No. 9.

He found some serious gems outside the lottery, as well. People remember him striking out on Renaldo Balkman at No. 20, but don't forget he also got David Lee (No. 30 in 2005),Trevor Ariza (No. 43 in 2004), Wilson Chandler (No. 23 in 200) and Nate Robinson (No. 21 in 2005). All told, Thomas' average pick was the 23rd slot, but the talent he found was more like picking at sixth every year. That's an absurdly good return. The irony is that Thomas never quite grasped the value of draft picks; he couldn't wait to get rid of them, despite his overwhelming success on draft day.

2. Jim Paxson | Cleveland Cavaliers 1999-04

Picks: 12 | Actual EWA: 46.2 | Expected EWA: 28.7 | Net EWA: +1.5/pick (+17.4 total)

Yes, LeBron James fell into Paxson's lap in 2003. There was no real skill involved with that. But Paxson did impressive work besides stumbling onto the King. He found All-Star Carlos Boozer (2002), Anderson Varejao (2004), Jason Kapono (2003) all in the second round, and he also took Andre Miller, perhaps the best non All-Star ever, with the eighth pick in the 1999 draft. It's not all James.

Paxson's ranking is obviously boosted by the fact that he drafted one of the all-time greats, and we do have to give him some credit for not screwing it up. The DRAFT Initiative doesn't know how much of a no-brainer James was at No. 1. Ultimately, the James, Boozer, Varejao and Miller picks were so profitable that it masked striking out on three top-10 guys in DeSagana Diop (eighth), Dajuan Wagner (sixth) and Chris Mihm (seventh). Paxson was eventually fired after the 2005 season, so the Cavaliers evidently figured his draft record was more luck than anything.

3. Kiki Vandeweghe | Denver Nuggets 2002-03; New Jersey Nets 2008-09

Picks: 10 | Actual EWA: 33.0 | Expected EWA: 20.1 | Net EWA: +1.3/pick (+12.9 total)

With the third pick in 2003, Vandeweghe really thought he was going to lose Carmelo Anthony, but after Joe Dumars selected Darko Milicic at No. 2, Vandeweghe got his guy. Also during his Denver stay, the current league office executive picked up Nene at No. 7 in 2002. By the way, the Knicks should have picked in that slot, but Scott Layden traded it away in exchange for what ended up as 18 games of Antonio McDyessFrank Williams andMaciej Lampe. Yikes.

Vandeweghe also made a killing in the 2008 draft with the Nets, selecting Brook Lopez at No. 10 and the sweet-shooting Ryan Anderson at No. 21. But he wasn't perfect. Nikoloz Tskitishvili (fifth in 2002) goes down as one of the worst draft top-5 blunders in recent history, but at least Vandeweghe ran away with Nene a couple of picks later. Anthony, Nene, Lopez and Anderson is not a bad haul for just four years on the job.

4. Sam Presti | Oklahoma City Thunder 2007-Present

Picks: 20 | Actual EWA: 56.6 | Expected EWA: 33.0 | Net EWA: +1.2/pick (+23.6 total)

It's no surprise to see Presti is the draft's gold standard among current decision-makers (R.C. Buford and Jerry West trail him on the active exec list). Most folks recognize him for turning three top-5 picks into Kevin Durant (second in 2007), Russell Westbrook (fourth in 2008) and James Harden (third in 2009). But Presti worked his magic outside the lottery just as well. Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson were both selected at No. 24 in their respective drafts, and the former Spurs exec also found promising big man Steven Adamsoutside the top 10.

Presti does have some blemishes. Like most advanced metrics, the DRAFT Initiative model doesn't like the Jeff Green pick at No. 5 in 2007, and trading up to get Cole Aldrich at No. 11 didn't do Presti any favors. But all in all, grabbing three potential Hall of Famers with only six lottery picks is ridiculous. And we're not even giving Presti credit for pushing the Spurs to draft Tony Parker. If Westbrook takes care of his knee issues, Presti could be at No. 1 before long.

5. Jeff Bower | New Orleans Pelicans (Hornets) 2005-10

Picks: 11 | Actual EWA: 29.6 | Expected EWA: 16.8 | Net EWA: +1.2/pick (+12.8 total)

Getting Chris Paul at No. 4 helps. But like Paxson above, Bowers wasn't a one-hit wonder. He also found some gems such as Marcus Thornton (43rd) and Brandon Bass (33rd) in the second round, in addition to finding two solid players in Darren Collison and Quincy Pondexter in the 20s, where most decision-makers strike out.

Paul was Bower's first pick ever as a GM, but he never got to pick in the top 10 for the rest of his time as New Orleans' GM. He didn't strike gold with Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright at the back end of the lottery, but finding a perennial MVP candidate and then filling out his roster with rotation guys through the draft is way more than what most GMs can say.

Best of the rest:

6. Glen Grunwald | Raptors 1997-2004; Knicks 2011-13 | (+1.1 across 12 picks)
7. Jerry West | Lakers 1982-2000; Grizzlies | (+1.0 across 34 picks)
8. Bryan Colangelo | Phoenix Suns 1994-2006; Raptors 2006-13 | (+0.8 across 33 picks)
9. Bob Whitsitt | Seattle SuperSonics 1986-1994; Trail Blazers 1994-2003 | (+0.8 across 24 picks)
10. Kevin McHale | Minnesota Timberwolves 1994-2005 | (+0.8 across 26 picks)

Worst drafting GMs

1. David Kahn | Minnesota Timberwolves 2009-12

Picks: 12 | Actual EWA: 3.6 | Expected EWA: 21.1 | Net EWA: -1.5/pick (-17.4 total)

Kahn is a perfect illustration of when the numbers back up the narrative. Look at it like this: Thomas and Kahn saw essentially identical opportunities (21.1 vs. 22.0), but Kahn delivered about 40 fewer wins (3.6 vs. 42.7). Yikes. That's what happens when you draft Jonny Flynn, who lasted all of three seasons in the league, Wesley Johnson (No. 4) andDerrick Williams (No. 2) in back-to-back-to-back drafts. Three top-6 picks, zero starters.

Kahn did select Ricky Rubio at No. 5 in 2009, but Rubio stayed overseas for two seasons and his play stateside hasn't lived up to the hype. Kahn's best pick (Rubio) basically was a bunt single, and he struck out in his 11 other at-bats. What's amazing about Kahn's tenure was that he was allowed to sit in the chair for so long. Usually GMs who perform this poorly at a core aspect of the job don't last for more than a couple of seasons.

2. Jerry Reynolds | Sacramento Kings 1989-93

Picks: 15 | Actual EWA: 6.0 | Expected EWA: 25.5 | Net EWA: -1.3/pick (-19.5 total)

Reynolds has worn just about every hat in the Sacramento Kings' organization and now does the color for the broadcasts. As an executive, Reynolds' draft-day record makes Geoff Petrie look like Sam Presti. He drafted Pervis Ellison at No. 1, which goes down as one of the worst top picks ever. None of his other top-10 picks -- Lionel Simmons (No. 7 in 1990), Bobby Hurley (No. 7 in 1993) and Walt Williams (No. 7 in 1992) -- made huge waves in the NBA.

Reynolds could have helped himself by finding a gem later in the draft, but Bimbo Colesrepresents his best pick at No. 40 in 1990, but he swapped him on draft night for the indispensable Rory Sparrow, who stayed with Sacramento for just one season while Cole carved out a career in Miami. You just can't whiff on the top overall pick like Reynolds did and not expect to find a spot on this list. But Reynolds wasn't the only exec who is haunted by the 1989 draft.

3. Elgin Baylor | Los Angeles Clippers 1989-2008

Picks: 44 | Actual EWA: 37.2 | Expected EWA: 82.3 | Net EWA: -1.0/pick (-45.2 total)

Baylor is the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of bad drafting, as his struggles stretched across nearly four decades. He's responsible for the worst No. 1 pick in the study, Michael Olowokandi, who owns a minus-2.1 career EWA, as well as other flubs such as Danny Ferry (No. 2 in 1989), Darius Miles (No. 3) and a half dozen other top-10 picks who never panned out. A whopping 35 of his 44 picks failed to meet expectations.

There were some hits including Lamar Odom at No. 4, DeAndre Jordan at No. 35 and Brent Barry at No. 15, but with his overall body of work, this is probably a case of a squirrel finding a nut. With 15 lottery picks and a whopping expected EWA total of 82.3 (by far the highest in the study), Baylor came up with zero All-Stars. Not one.

4. John Gabriel | Orlando Magic 1998-2003

Picks: 13 | Actual EWA: 10.9 | Expected EWA: 20.9 | Net EWA: -0.8/pick (-10.0 total)

Gabriel is probably unfairly judged by the DRAFT Initiative model. He's docked for theKeith Bogans pick at No. 43, even though Bogans has enjoyed a 10-year career in the NBA as a defensive specialist. EWA sees Bogans as a below replacement-level player for his entire career, so Gabriel gets a negative rating on that pick.

But Gabriel also drafted Reece Gaines at No. 15, Michael Doleac at No. 12, Steven Hunterat No. 15 and Keon Clark at No. 13, whom Gabriel traded before his rookie season even started for a future first-round pick who ended up being Marcus Williams in 2006. Gabriel's issue was that he picked a bunch of "meh" mid-first-round picks who didn't amount to much of anything. Not a huge offense. Mike Miller at No. 5 probably was his best pick, but even that rates slightly below-average for that slot.

5. Pete Babcock | Atlanta Hawks 1990-2003

Picks: 35 | Actual EWA: 12.7 | Expected EWA: 38.8 | Net EWA: -0.8/pick (-26.1 total)

Here's the long list of picks that Babcock nailed during his 14-year reign with Atlanta:Jason Terry (No. 10, +4.7 Net EWA). That's it.

Stacey Augmon got off to a fast start in Atlanta, but The Plastic Man's career flamed out shortly after leaving the organization. Outside of Terry and Augmon, Babcock's other lottery picks -- Rumeal Robinson (10th in 1990), Adam Keefe (10th in 1992) and DerMarr Johnson (6th in 2000) -- didn't live up to expectations, although Babcock can't be blamed for Johnson's unfortunate car accident that stunted his career. To be fair, Johnson wasn't exactly a home run pick before that incident anyway. Similar to Elgin Baylor, Babcock didn't break even on 30 of his 35 picks. We'd give Babcock the benefit of the doubt on Terry, but that seems more lucky than anything.

The worst of the rest:

6. Bernie Bickerstaff | Denver Nuggets 1990-97; Charlotte Bobcats 2003-07(-0.73 across 19 picks)
7. Chris Wallace | Boston Celtics 2001-03, Memphis Grizzlies 2007-present (-0.69 across 17 picks)
8. Jerry Krause | Chicago Bulls 1995-2003 | (-0.66 across 22 picks)
9. Jack McCloskey | Detroit Pistons 1979-91 | (-.66 across 11 picks)
10. Rod Thorn | Bulls 1978-85; Nets 2000-10; 76ers 2010-12 | (-0.66 across 22 picks)

Jack Benoitjeff, bower