The Toronto Raptors used the eighth overall pick to select Washington's Terrence Ross, a decision that inspired much confused glancing about from the media members assembled in laptop covered rows just to the left of the stage where Ross was shaking hands with David Stern. Ross is a sinewy 6-7 shooter with a promising defensive profile, but Chad Ford had him listed as the 11th-best available player on his Big Board and John Hollinger ranked him the 27th-best prospect.
Did the Raptors reach for Ross?
No way, says Toronto's statistical consultant Alex Rucker, who believes Ross was the seventh-best player in the draft. In an interview with Tom Liston of Raptors Republic, Rucker explains how Toronto's analytics team informs their choices on draft night:
We had him ranked as the 7th best prospect – and one of the guys ahead of him slid down the board due to medical concerns. When we got to our actual pick, we took the best player available. I agree with the general sentiment that he does a lot of things reasonably well – and that’s precisely one of the reasons he projected well in our in-house analytic tools. Unless you’re looking at a guy who can provide elite production in a key area, you’re often better served taking a player who can contribute positive value in multiple key phases of the game. I’d much rather have a guy who’s a slight positive in 6 areas at the pro level than a positive in 1-2 areas and a negative in the others. Bottom line: athletic wings who can hit the 3, play defense and get after it on the boards have positive value on nearly any team, regardless of how it’s constructed. We’re a team that’s building and improving, and based on the data we’d accumulated on him, Ross was a guy we assess will very quickly become a player who can contribute on both ends of the court.
Read the whole post for an enlightening look at how teams gather, analyze and synthesize mountains of data from wildly different sources to come up with their player rankings. Teams invest a ton of time, money and faith in their draft process. Which, Rucker explains, it shouldn't be a surprise when a team with all that information makes a decision few see coming.
I’d also offer that the media’s perspective of player values is interesting, but it doesn’t always align with pro team’s perspectives – and one of those two enjoys a significant information advantage by virtue of the resources invested into the draft process.
If you look back historically, I think you’ll find that the real decisions (actual drafts) fare better in terms of assessing player value than the media projections (mock drafts). Neither is perfect, but one has less error than the other.