Grading The Mock Drafts
They all get an F
I know I’m a little late to the party, but I want to talk about mock drafts and why I think you should stop reading them. And I’m not just talking about Joe Bro’s Basement Basketball (JBBB) mock draft, but also the most polished ones from places like ESPN, The Athletic, The Ringer, and elsewhere.
Unlike big boards, mock drafts are designed to take team fit and needs into consideration. Instead of ranking players by their upside, readiness, or some other dimension, mock draft writers attempt to put themselves in the shoes of a GM to explain why a certain pick makes sense for a given team.
In theory, mock drafts are great because they let fans get a head start on imagining what it would look like if their favorite team drafted a certain player. But the reality is that mock drafts are hardly any different than fan fiction since they rarely match up with what happens on draft night.
The chart below shows the actual draft position and the expected draft position from 25 published mock drafts1. While the relationship is linear - indicating that players that were mocked later in the draft were usually selected later in the draft - the points are rarely on the diagonal line itself. Meaning, all the hours readers spent imagining the potential fit between a prospect and their favorite team was a waste of time.
On average, the mocks got about five of 30 first round selections right. Every publication got the first three picks right and only USA Today got the top five right (unfortunately, those were the only five picks that USA Today got right in the first round). The “best” mock draft I looked at, Tankathon, correctly predicted a total of nine first round picks.
Even if we hand out partial credit for selections that were close to their mocked slot, things still look lousy. About a third of first round selections across most publications were drafted five or more slots away from where they were mocked.
All this to say, whatever mock draft you look at, the player you read about was most likely drafted to a different team than the one he was mocked to.
I’m not expecting any draft analyst to correctly predict the order of the entire first round, let alone all 60 picks. That would be unreasonable. But the whole point of a mock draft is to set up expectations and discuss the potential fit between Team X and Player Y. But if that player isn’t anywhere near the spot they were mocked, the discussion was worthless.
Not to mention, as Tom Ziller recently explained, mock drafts create an unfair baseline to judge teams against. Teams that draft a player earlier than he was mocked are ridiculed, while teams that select a player who places further than he was mocked are lauded for getting a steal and generating value in the draft.
The problem is that mock draft writers are working with far less information than teams themselves. Private workouts, one-on-one interviews, and background research are just some of the things that teams have access to that mock draft writers don’t. So it’s not surprising then, as the chart below shows, that the order of mock drafts are often more correlated with each other than the actual draft order itself.
To be fair, I think some publications are only using mock drafts as a means to talk about the strengths and weakness of a given prospect. They aren’t really attempting to predict what will happen on draft night. But if that’s the case, there are far better ways to discuss these types of things without brining up concepts like team fit or writing a headline like, “Here’s why the Sixers may take Houston’s Quentin Grimes at No. 28.” Player analysis, video breakdowns, and tiering prospects by their range of potential outcomes would provide a better service to the reader than a mock draft that ages like milk.
Woj Old, Visualized
Between the draft and the start of free agency, this time of year is the Super Bowl for information brokers like ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
Here’s a chart showing what time of day each reporter tweets at most frequently.
I was kind of expecting to see more late night action, but I guess even trade machines have to sleep sometime.
Basketball News - https://www.basketballnews.com/draft
Bleacher Report - https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2946238-brs-final-2021-nba-mock-draft-top-4-picks-coming-into-focus
CBS - https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/nba-mock-draft-2021-complete-two-round-projections-for-all-60-picks-starting-with-cade-cunningham-at-no-1/
Complex - https://www.complex.com/sports/2021-nba-mock-draft-rockets-pistons-cavs/josh-primo
ESPN - https://www.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/31867997/2021-nba-mock-draft-top-players-jockeying-lottery-position
Fox - https://www.foxsports.com/stories/nba/andy-katz-mock-draft-depth-2021-cade-cunningham-college-basketball
The Los Angeles Times - https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2021-07-27/nba-mock-draft-2021-cade-cunningham-jalen-green-evan-mobley
mynbadraft.com - http://www.mynbadraft.com/2021-nba-draft/mock-draft
NBA Draft Room - https://www.nbadraft.net/nba-mock-drafts/
nbadraft.net - https://www.nbadraft.net/nba-mock-drafts/
NBC - https://www.nbcsports.com/washington/wizards/2021-nba-mock-draft-90-final-mock-two-round-edition
Net Scouts - https://netscoutsbasketball.com/scouting/2021-nba-mock-draft/
NY Post - https://nypost.com/2021/07/29/nba-mock-draft-2021-top-five-shakeup-knicks-get-playmaker/
The Philadelphia Inquirer - https://www.inquirer.com/sixers/nba-draft-cade-cunningham-jalen-green-sixers--20210726.html
SB Nation - https://www.sbnation.com/nba/2021/7/28/22596770/nba-mock-draft-2021-rumors-first-round-latest-projection
Sporting News - https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nba/news/nba-mock-draft-2021-cade-cunningham-jalen-green/1m3sz3uyg8qsx1gylfv8b4iqoa
Sports Illustrated - https://www.si.com/nba/2021/07/29/nba-mock-draft-2021-rumors-cade-cunningham-jalen-green-evan-mobley
Tankathon - http://www.tankathon.com/mock_draft
The Athletic - https://theathletic.com/2730160/2021/07/29/live-updating-nba-mock-draft-sources-say-cade-cunningham-likely-to-pistons-at-no-1-plus-more-trade-news/
The Ringer - https://nbadraft.theringer.com/mock-draft
The Score - https://www.thescore.com/ncaab/news/2188401
USA Today - https://ftw.usatoday.com/lists/nba-mock-draft-projections-rumors-predictions-jalen-suggs-scottie-barnes
Stadium - https://watchstadium.com/jeff-goodmans-2021-nba-mock-draft-3-0-final-predictions-07-28-2021/
Yahoo - https://sports.yahoo.com/nba-mock-draft-7-top-5-taking-shape-players-on-the-rise-004211696.html