The Cost of Moving Into the Top 10

June 6th, 2013 | by Dan Clayton

When ping pong balls failed to put someone like Trey Burke or CJ McCollum within the Jazz’s draft reach, fans immediately started hoping for a June trade that would do so.

Not so fast.

The history of draft trades confirms how hard it is to get into the top 10, and doing so almost always requires giving up real assets. Combining later picks (like 14 & 21) doesn’t do the trick, so the only way the Jazz get a Burke/McCollum type of point guard is by giving up something of real value: one of their young core players or some of their cap space.

Don’t believe me? I scoured 10 years worth of draft history to analyze the economics of scoring an extra pick or moving up, and below are my findings, based on 53 past cases.

I included any trade where a team acquired a new 1st round pick or moved up within the draft to obtain a first round pick, but only when the trade occurred immediately pre-draft or during the draft. I didn’t include player trades conducted throughout the year that also included picks. Different economics apply to picks in this situation as the supply & demand of a draft pick is completely different because teams’ motivations to deal are different at other points in the calendar.

For example, in February 2004 the Jazz scored a pick that would become the #9 in 2010 (Gordon Hayward) because they were willing to take on Tom Gugliotta’s contract in exchange for two guys whose salaries were being paid by insurance. No way that trade happens with a top 10 pick in June, so I left these kinds of trades out.

Here’s what I found out.

The Cost of Top Ten Picks

My first takeaway here is that top 10 picks don’t move very often leading up to draft day. There are only 13 examples in the last 10 drafts of a team trading up or in to land a top 10 spot. The other takeaway: doing so is costly. Multiple picks just doesn’t cut it.

Five of the 13 were teams already in the top 10 trading up to a more favorable spot, and even then they paid a premium to do so. For Charlotte to move up two spots from #4 to #2 in 2004, they had to throw in the #33 pick (valuable as you get fringe first-round talent without guaranteed money) and they had to agree to absorb Predrag Drobjnak in the expansion draft. Similar story for Memphis in 2008, moving from #5 to #3 for OJ Mayo only after they gave up three rotation players and absorbed loads of bad salary from Minnesota.

The other eight were all (to some degree) true rebuilding trades: deals where they gave up an All-Star or multiple starters in order to start over with young talent. For example, Seattle gave up on the Ray Allen era for a consolation prize of the #5 pick and two overpaid sub-stars in Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. Minnesota had to give up two starters AND take back three bad contracts to land the Ricky Rubio pick. There are many more trades like this one: give up a star or multiple starters, take back bad salary and a team MIGHT give you a 2-10 pick.

The one anomaly in this group was a 2004 trade that landed Luol Deng in Chicago. The Bulls only had to give the Suns a future protected pick, Jackson Vroman and $3 million in cash. A lot of history says that a future pick and an end-of-bench guy shouldn’t be enough to get you a top 10 pick. Maybe the cash did the trick for the Suns, who were paying their top 4 guys $49M for a lottery finish and would pursue Steve Nash that same summer.

In every other example, teams had to give up at least two of the following: a top 10 pick, capable players, or cap space to absorb bad salary.

The bad news for the Jazz is that it seems impossible to get into the top 10 without giving up one of the young guys AND sacrificing some cap space. So if you like Burke, you have to ask yourself if you like him more than Alec Burks or Enes Kanter, because that would almost certainly be part of the price tag.

Want more? I kept going in my study and also looked at the cost to acquire later first round picks. Check out today’s bonus content to see what picks in the teens and twenties usually cost a team on draft night.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

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  1. JT McKenna says:

    I like Michael Carter-Williams and Dennis Schroeder as much as Burke or McCollum. But the Jazz need 1 of those 4 players in order to come out of this draft feeling good about it. If they are all off the board at #14, I think it puts the Jazz in a bad spot. No other player appeals to me that high. I think they’d want to trade down.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Agreed, though I like Schroeder more than any PG in the draft. I’m afraid all four might be off the board by 14, though.

      • Jesse says:

        I’m not too worried, though of those 4 I think I like Schroeder’s potential more then any of them. His ability to run would be great for Hayward and Burks, and his defensive game would compliment Hayward, Carroll, and Favors very well.

  2. Clint Johnson says:

    Generally, I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusions. I think draft picks are likely the most overinflated asset in the NBA, though the new CBA offsets that somewhat because of the value of rookie contracts.

    I do think this draft just might be different, however. It is a rare combination of extreme weakness at the top with respectable depth. I think it may be possible for a team like the Jazz to package #14 and #21, maybe add a Jeremy Evans, and move into the #8-#10 range because a team has their 8th best player ranked fairly similarly to their 14th. I would at least explore diligently, because I think it’s more likely than this year than most.

    The only players I consider giving up Burks to trade up for are Oladipo and McLemore.

    • Roy says:

      In a draft where the 8, 14, and 21 pick are nearly identical as far as available talent, why would you package two picks to move up 4-6 spots, let alone throw another into the deal? This makes no sense at all.

  3. Riley says:

    I like Burke, I like Burke too much, I don’t see Shoeder, McCollum, or even MCW turning out like him, because when I see him step on the court he has that mentality that he is better than everybody. He will be the only non-bust in the draft, this kid is good. That is why we need to trade up for him, it’s a must. Give up Burks, Heck give up Kanter if it is demanded, but you must get this guy!

    • JT McKenna says:

      We could trade Kanter for the #1 overall pick, and the other team would laugh their way to the bank. That’s how weak the top of this draft is. But if I’m right, it also says a lot about how Kanter is valued league wide. I’m pretty sure most teams would rather have Kanter than Nerlens Noel at this point. I know I would. Trading Kanter for Burke would just be insane. We’d need to get something else in return.

  4. Dan Clayton says:

    Just one thing to remember to those talking about this being an abnormal draft: I pulled 10 years worth of precedents, which means the sample included drafts of all kinds. There were strong drafts, weak drafts, drafts with no real star, drafts with very even talent level. The cost of a draft pick in the top 10 is always going to be high, no matter what kind of draft you’re in.

    Now, as for the Burke / MCW / McCollum / Schroeder debate, that’s another topic entirely… and probably not my department.

    • JT McKenna says:

      Has there ever been a draft that appeared to be THIS weak at the top though, Dan? I’m not so sure. There may only be 2 tiers in the top 14 picks.

      And again, I don’t think the Jazz NEED to trade into the top 10. They may only need to trade up to #11, 12, or 13 to make sure they get a PG they like.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Statistically, yes, but you included the Deng anomaly. Also, what counts as “a lot?” Let’s take the Timberwolves this year as an example and pretend DraftExpress’s current mock accurately represents their big board (it’s just an exercise).

      They have pick #9 and the players projected to go between that slot and #14 are Shabazz Muhammad, Steven Adams, Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, and Michael-Carter Williams.

      It’s plausible that the T-Wolves want to win right now so as to keep Love in the fold, so say they retain Pekovic. They decide they need spot up shooting from this draft badly, as much as they can get, or a defense-now big. Only Muhammad could possibly fit their needs of the players slotted to go before #14, but lots of teams are wary of his attitude. After Love’s comments about attitude in Minnesota in the past, say they really don’t want Muhammad. They honestly think that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would help them more than anyone left on the board.

      The Jazz offer pick #14 and #21 for #9. They decide to take it, grab Caldwell-Pope at 14 and Gorgui Dieng, Sergey Karasev, or Tim Hardaway Jr. at #21. It’s a no brainer because they saw little or no discrepancy in value between picks 9 and 14.

      I’m not saying it’s probable, merely that it is possible. And I think that possibility is more likely this year than most.

  5. Dan Clayton says:

    Fair point but remember: 10 years have never produced a precedent of two mid first rounders getting you inside the top 10. In 10 years’ time, SOMEONE has been in a similar situation to Minnesota’s and still none of them have performed the operation you’re describing without demanding other pieces or a salary dump. That’s why I cast a wide net: 10 years’ worth of different drafts and teams in different stages of rebuilding is too much to play the “but THIS case is different!” I mean, we can hope, but the last 100 top 10 picks is a pretty strong sample size to evaluate the economics behind those picks moving.

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