Draft Positioning

Draft Positioning

Following up on the last post, On to the Draft, I am digging further in to the WNBA Draft database. As a note, I will be posting the full WNBA Draft database with updates for the 2018 WNBA Draft this Friday, April 10.

One of the major questions that comes up surrounding a team’s potential draft picks is whether they will select based on need or the best available player. Based on that information, this time I am focusing on the positions of players drafted. Certainly that is not all that defines “need”, but it’s a starting point.

Before getting in to the data, recall that players are listed by their primary position, so this does not account for draftees who might be more of a swing player (G/F) or a post player who might drift between forward and center. Position data is also pulled from several sources and will likely need to be refined over time as there is not a clear consensus. For example, is Sancho Lyttle a forward or a center? For what it’s worth, she is listed in this database as a center, as she is listed on the WNBA’s 2005 Draft Board.

Let’s start out with a simple query. How does each position break down in the history of the draft?

PositionTotalPercentageAverage Pick
G41346.723.0
F30534.522.6
C16618.821.9

Guards are by far most often selected in the draft. Nearly half of the picks play guard primarily. Though centers are drafted the least frequently, they are taken highest (on average, at pick 21 or 22 in history), but the spread really isn’t that interesting between the positions. Filtering down to just the last 10 drafts (starting with 2008), the trend actually points even more to guards:

PositionTotalPercentageAverage Pick
G18750.619.8
F12032.418.9
C6317.017.3

The positioning of the picks within the draft really isn’t much different, though in the last 10 drafts there have only been three rounds, whereas the overall data is skewed a bit by the four-round years.

As with any draft — but especially in the WNBA — it’s not often a player drafted outside of the first round has longevity in the league. So, let’s repeat the last search with just picks from the first round:

PositionTotalPercentageAverage Pick
G5746.37.1
F3730.15.8
C2923.67.0

The numbers tighten a bit here, but guards are still overwhelming the favorites. The average pick suggests forwards are taken earlier than any other position.

Lastly, take a look at the breakdown in percentage of picks by position in each draft. The major disparities are easiest to see in the graph which follows the table.

Draft YearGFC
199737.55012.5
1998304030
199933.335016.67
200037.531.2531.25
20015031.2518.75
200256.2531.2512.5
200333.333.333.3
200446.1523.0830.77
200538.4623.0838.46
200671.4321.437.14
200738.4638.4623.08
20085035.7114.29
200930.7738.4630.77
201058.3316.6725
201141.6733.3325
20122541.6733.33
2013502525
20145033.3316.67
201541.672533.33
20165033.3316.67
201766.6616.6716.67

2006 was the biggest year for guards, when 10 out of the 14 picks were guards. The inaugural draft (1997) featured the largest percentage of forwards (50) but also had the fewest picks per round (8). 1999 was the biggest year for forwards in the first round with the modern format of 12 picks per round, also at 50%. The percentage of centers taken has held pretty steady between 25% and 33% but are trending downward in recent years.

We can also analyze first-round picks by team:

TeamGFC
Charlotte Sting723
Cleveland Rockers142
Houston Comets343
Los Angeles Sparks962
New York Liberty776
Phoenix Mercury853
Sacramento Monarchs453
Las Vegas Aces956
Dallas Wings1475
Washington Mystics994
Minnesota Lynx1284
Connecticut Sun867
Indiana Fever745
Seattle Storm871
Miami Sol101
Portland Fire400
Chicago Sky544
Atlanta Dream431

Dallas, Minnesota, and Los Angeles all tend to go small with their early selections, while Connecticut is the only team that leans slightly more toward bigger players, with almost 60% of their picks being forwards and centers.

Lastly, to depart from the theme of positions, I want to revisit draft selections by school. In the last post, we looked at total selections by school across all drafts, but it would also be interesting to see which schools have the most picks more recently, so I repeated the query using just the past 10 drafts:

School# of Draft PicksAverage Pick
Tennessee1816
Connecticut169
Maryland1212.3
Texas A&M1121.3
Duke1120.2
Stanford910.8
Notre Dame810.5
Florida State820.8
Georgia824.4
Rutgers815.9
Baylor820
Oklahoma721.4
North Carolina719
Ohio State615.5
LSU615
California616.3
Gonzaga523.6
DePaul521
Georgia Tech515.4
South Carolina59.4
Louisville523.8
Kentucky516.4
Iowa State523.2
Oklahoma State518
USC528.8

Some items of note considering both the overall rankings from the last post and the rankings in the last 10 drafts:

  • Some schools have shot up in the rankings in the past 10 drafts, including Texas A&M, Florida State, and Baylor.
  • California, Gonzaga, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, and South Carolina are in the top of the rankings in the past 10 drafts but are not overall.
  • Florida, Iowa, Louisiana Tech, NC State, Penn State, Purdue, Texas, and Vanderbilt are in the top rankings across all drafts but not in the past 10 drafts.

At the end of this week I will follow up on this data by tying in the 2018 WNBA Draft selections.

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