The Importance of College Experience Revisited

 by Jon Nichols

Two months ago, I wrote an article titled “Does College Experience Lead to NBA Success?”  The title of the article may have sounded like I was trying to prove that players don’t get better by playing college ball.  That is not the case.  The point of the article was to see if players drafted at a younger age who developed in the NBA as opposed to college had better careers. 

With that being said, I think the study can be improved.  This time I’m approaching the question from a different angle.  I originally planned on revising the statistic I developed called “bust percentage,” a good idea that had its flaws.  I defined a bust as a player who failed to appear in at least 50 games in his career.  The problem is, you can play in at least 50 games and still stink.  Also, poor performance from a number one overall pick is much more disastrous than from a late first rounder.

That leads me to my next topic: expectations.  Higher picks are almost automatically given more respect and playing time than guys taken later in the draft, not to mention millions of more dollars.  Thus, we should expect better performance out of top picks.  Also, the higher picks tend to be young college players and (when they were still eligible) high school players.  That fact most likely had an effect on my last study and hurt the ratings of the older players.

To level the playing field, I performed a study using PER.  PER, or Player Efficiency Rating, was developed by ESPN’s John Hollinger.  According to Hollinger, “Player Efficiency Rating is a rating of a player’s per-minute productivity.”  The league average is set at 15.  More information can be found here:

In this study, I determined if each first round pick between 1995 and 2002 was a success.  For a #1 pick to be a success, he had to have a career PER of at least 16.8.  For a #2 pick, 16.6.  I subtracted .2 from each subsequent required PER, all the way down to pick #30 which needed a PER of 11 to be a success.  This way, college seniors are not punished for having a lot of players drafted late in the first round. 

Keep in mind, if a pick was not considered a success, that doesn’t mean the player was a total bust.  For example, Kenyon Martin, with a career PER of 16.2, certainly is not a bust.  He just didn’t meet the expectations of a number 1 overall pick.

In the end, this study determined which age groups are underrated or overrated.  If a group was overrated, their players would be picked too high and would have a hard time meeting their PER expectations.  If it was underrated, they would be picked too low and would have a much easier time reaching expectations. 

Pick Success % by Age









High School




            So far, freshmen and international players have been underrated when it comes to the draft.  College seniors had a surprisingly high pick success percentage as well.  On the other end, college juniors have been the most overrated.  High school players have also been picked too high.  Do the major successes of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Tracy McGrady have anything to do with this?

            Combined with the last study, you can say that as an aggregate, high school players will have better careers than older players.  They just might be picked too high based on those expectations.

            As always, your comments are always welcome.  I’d love to hear about anything you liked or hated about this study.

Information from and was used in this study.




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