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Crunching the Numbers: Recruiting rankings and the NBA Draft


Rankings don’t matter?

We’ve crunched the numbers to see just how accurate they wind up being in basketball, and we beg to differ with those who hold that belief. With the 2016 NBA Draft on tap for Thursday, there’s no better time to take a look at the overall numbers.

The Numbers

We wanted to look at the Rivals.com rankings to see how accurate they are when it comes to predicting future success. Beginning with the first archived Rivals150 from 2003 – where some guy named LeBron James was ranked No. 1 – we took a look at every graduating class.

Between the 2003 and 2015 NBA Draft, a total of 780 players have been selected. However, before starting we had to throw out all of those drafted during that timespan from a year in which there was no Rivals150 (i.e. a player who graduated high school in 2000 that gets drafted in 2003) and eliminate the international players.

Here’s what we found from the 467 players meeting those parameters:

374: Ranked in the final Rivals150 for their high school class (or 80.1 percent).

201: Finished high school as five-star prospects.

127: Finished as four-star prospects.

46: Finished as three-star prospects inside the Rivals150.

54: Ranked as three-star prospects outside of the Rivals150.

8: Ranked as two-star prospects.

31: Unrated as high school players.

The Numbers, Part II

Between 2003-14, there were 1,800 Rivals150 ranked players. That means that 20.8 percent (the 374 number above) of all ranked players have been drafted. At the same time, only 1.2 percent (62 of 5,082) of three and two-star prospects outside the Rivals150 get drafted.

But the recent high school classes have not finished the draft cycle – many of them are still in college.

So taking into account the 2003-11 classes, which have all finished their draft cycle, 321 of those 1,350 players (23.8 percent) ranked in the final Rivals150 were drafted. While only 58 of 4,115 (1.4 percent) two and three-star prospects outside of the Rivals150 were drafted during that time span.

Here is a breakdown of how each star rating fared:

201 of 319 five-star prospects from 2003-14 have been drafted by an NBA team.

127 of 867 four-star prospects from 2003-14 have been drafted.

100 of 3,870 three-star prospects from 2003-14 have been drafted. Another interesting detail is that three-stars inside the Rivals150 are much more likely to be drafted (7.5 percent) than three-stars outside the Rivals150 (1.66 percent).

Ranked lower than a three-star? Then it’s not looking good for you. Only eight out of 1,826 (0.44 percent) of two-star prospects have been drafted.

Finally, there were just five of roughly 1,814,000 high school basketball players without Rivals.com profiles between 2003-14 that wound up being drafted. That’s 0.00028 percent for those scoring at home.

The Best Class?

Ask any recruiting analyst to name the best senior class in recent memory and they will almost always answer with either 2004 or 2007. At least when it comes to total numbers of prospects drafted by the NBA, they are correct.

The class of 2007 produced a whopping 55 players that would go on to get drafted while 2004 is right behind with 54. Each class has its share of stars with 2007 producing Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, James Harden, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Teague, Kevin Love and many others. The class of 2004 counters with Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Shaun Livingston, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and many others.

However, we will give the edge to the class of 2007 for a few reasons. One, it is the only class since 2003 that has produced two No. 1 picks (Rose in 2008, Griffin in 2009). Maybe more importantly, though, is the crazy depth of the 2007 class. Of the eight two-star prospects that have been drafted, six of them came from 2007.

The Worst Class?

With just 27 players drafted so far, the class of 2012 is going to need some help in Thursday’s NBA Draft to avoid leaping to the top, or should we say bottom, of the list. At 36 players each, the classes of 2005 and 2011 are currently the poorest when it comes to producing NBA Draft picks.

The class of 2005 actually had two more (29) Rivals150 players drafted than 2011. However, it’s a pretty uninspiring list that featured Gerald Green at No. 1 and the likes of Monta Ellis, Andrew Bynum, Tyler Hansbrough, Louis Williams and Danny Green as some of the most notable players.

The 2011 Draft has at least produced the likes of Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond which keeps it slightly ahead of the 2005 group when ranking graduating classes from best to worst.

The Outliers

Still, it’s fun to celebrate the underdog.

When Derrick Williams selected Arizona in late June of 2009 after getting out of his USC commitment, the non-ranked three-star was considered a nice late piece, but nothing out of this world. As it turns out, Williams came ever so close to being the only non-five-star (or international) player to be drafted No. 1 overall when he went No. 2 in the 2011 NBA Draft.

Other notable non-ranked three-star prospects to be drafted highly include 2004’s Tyrus Thomas (No. 4 overall in 2006), 2006’s Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Jordan Hill and Epke Udoh, who all went in the top eight after being non-ranked three-stars in high school. The class of 2008 produced Gordon Hayward and Paul George, who went back to back at Nos. 9 and 10 in the 2010 Draft.

The gold standard of two-star prospects who defied the odds has, is and will likely always be Portland’s Damian Lillard. A product of the class of 2008 was tagged with two-star status before blowing up at Weber State and going No. 6 in the 2012 Draft.

The highest drafted two-star prospect goes to 2007’s Wesley Johnson from Corsicana, Texas, who went from playing on his Dallas Mustang summer program’s second squad the summer before his senior year to being drafted No. 4 overall in 2010. Another 2007 product, Larry Sanders went from two-star to No. 15 in the same 2010 draft after three seasons at VCU.

Finally there are the non-rated prospects and the elusive non-profiled player. The highest drafted player who had a profile but no Rivals.com rating? Adam Morrison of the class of 2003. Morrison went No. 3 overall in 2006 after lighting up scoreboards at Gonzaga. Right on his heels is 2004’s Patrick O’Bryant who went No. 9 in the same draft. In 2014, Elfrid Payton from the class of 2011 leapt to the top of the listing for players that didn’t even have a Rivals.com profile when the Orlando Magic took him at No. 10 overall.


We would never downplay the chances of a player outplaying his ranking and developing into a world-class NBA talent such as Curry and Westbrook. From that regard, high school rankings don’t define prospects or mean that they have no shot at the NBA.

However, the math and data make it quite clear that those who leave high school as celebrated, ranked prospects like James and Kevin Durant are still, and always have been, much more likely to find their way to the NBA Draft.

So, yes, rankings do matter.