Men's Basketball

April 17, 2012

How Valuable Are Top 100 Recruits?

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By Max Wernecke
Ty Lawson

As spring rolls around, it’s hard not to be hopeful about next season’s men’s basketball team. After taking the NIT crown, the team returns 5 of 2011-12’s top 6 players and has 2 top-100 recruits, Rosco Allen and Grant Verhoven, coming to The Farm. Stanford has not had this much talent since at least 2008 (not coincidentally, the last time the program made the NCAA Tournament).

But how much impact can Cardinal fans expect from Allen and Verhoven? Using Win Shares (an estimation of a player’s total value over the course of a season) data from, I examined how valuable Top 100 recruits were to a program, both in terms of their average per-year win shares (WS) and their contribution over their careers. I started with data from 2006, when the NBA instituted the current one-and-done draft eligibility structure.

To do this, I found the win shares data from each recruit and calculated the total WS and average WS for their careers. Here is an example of the top 10 recruits in 2006. The top 100 recruit rankings come from, which aggregates recruiting rankings from multiple sources, including, and Click on the table for a larger version:

As you can see, Kevin Durant was the most valuable player in 2006-07, and also had the highest average WS. However, Ty Lawson was more valuable to North Carolina over his entire (3-season) collegiate career.

Here is the graph of the whole top 100 for average WS:

To examine the class as a whole, I used a 5-player average for each rank, to eliminate some of the fluctuations in the data. (For instance, for rank number 60, I would not only average the three players that were ranked 60, but average the WS of all the players ranked 58-62.) Some conclusions are obvious: the top players are far better than those in the back end of the top 100. However, I was interested in breaking the players up into easily divisible categories based on average WS.

As seen in the graph, the top five players are far better than their peers, and average about 6 WS per year. The players ranked 6-20 average about 4.3 WS per year. Then there’s a dramatic drop-off. From 21-65, players averaged 2.8 WS per year, and the players at the end of the class averaged 2 WS per year. So:

The best characteristic of Win Shares data is that it roughly equates to wins in a season (although it is usually a slight overestimation, so the sum of the player WS is slightly higher than the team’s actual number of wins). Stanford’s top incoming recruits, Allen and Verhoven, were ranked 66th and 99th in the September rankings for the class of 2012. The final recruit rankings will come out over the summer, but assuming their positions hold relatively steady, together they are roughly worth 4 wins next season. Of course, that doesn’t account for the subtraction of players they are replacing–graduating seniors Josh Owens, Jack Trotter, Andrew Zimmerman and Jarrett Mann–or the growth of returning players from this season’s squad. Keep in mind that WS can also be negative if a player hurts his team, but this post won’t delve into the 2011-12 Utah Utes.

Another interesting graph is the total WS per rank:


And its close relative, the average number of years highly-regarded recruits stay in college:

I see a few interesting takeaways:

  • The most valuable recruits, in terms of total WS, can fall anywhere in the top 65 players.
  • The number of years a recruit stays is almost linear for the first 40 prospects–from 1 to around 3.5 years. After that, most players average somewhere between 3 and 3.5 years.
  • Unless a team is confident that it can get top 10 players every year (read: no program whose head coach isn’t John Calipari), it can be beneficial to have a few players with a mid-100 rank, who will be good but not good enough to leave after their first two years of school.
  • The bottom of the top 100 is significantly worse than the top 60 in total WS. Although those bottom-40 players stay as long, they simply aren’t as good and don’t provide as much value as their peers in the top 60.

For Stanford, it seems that Johnny Dawkins is doing a good job of targeting good players who are unlikely to be one-and-done. Critics will argue that Dawkins isn’t landing the cream of the national crop, but he is bringing in solid talent that might bring the Cardinal back to the NCAA Tournament. Here are the current Stanford players who were top 100 recruits:

Again, keep in mind that Allen’s ranking in the above table is a fall ranking and could change in the final grades. Given Verhoven’s position on the fringe of the top 100 and the possibility that he will fall outside of the top 100 in the summer rankings, he is not included in the table. Once again, the rankings come from

In my next post–which will go up next week–I will compare the talent of the 2012-2013 edition of the Cardinal to that of Stanford teams from the past decade.


(Headline image courtesy of Wikipedia)

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About the Author

Max Wernecke
Max Wernecke is a junior at Stanford University, where he studies Management Science and Engineering.


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