Analyzing Non-First Round, One-and-Done Players in the NBA Draft, from 2007-2020

October 16th, 2021

By Alan Lu

NBA centers, Hassan Whiteside and DeAndre Jordan are two of the best one-and-done second round picks that have turned out to have very good careers in the NBA.
Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports, via Fansided’s All U Can Heat)

Today in the news, former one-and-done, 2020 second round pick, Tyrell Terry was released by the Dallas Mavericks. Just last season, it was thought that the Dallas Mavericks had one of the best drafts heading into the 2020-21 season. But now, they’ve let both of their second round picks go, and the only draftee that remains is their first round pick, Josh Green, who struggled as a rookie, but did throw down a nice dunk in the preseason to show his potential. Even worse, the Mavericks could have had either Saddiq Bey or Desmond Bane. While their picks may have looked good back then, it is starting to look pretty shoddy in hindsight.

While an obvious lack of playing time may be to blame for the failures of the Mavericks’ 2020 second round picks, I also wondered why they cut bait with Terry this early in his career, even though he hasn’t played well for them and Terry has dealt with a lot of personal issues in his short tenure with them. That, and combined with the pressures of having to contribute to an NBA playoff team probably were the culprits of why Dallas decided to cut bait with Terry and eat up the rest of his salary.

This Tyrell Terry news has me flummoxed. Midway through his freshman season, I’ll admit, I didn’t know who Tyrell Terry was, until he started making waves on websites that touted his shooting and ball-handling prowess. He had shot up draft boards, so I had to scramble to do my research on him during the 2020 draft, especially since he didn’t play for an especially good Pac-12 team. My first instinct in finding out about this sudden draft buzz was to react with skepticism. After all, Terry was not a player I had set out to watch to start the 2019-20 college basketball season or known about, and I wondered if it would be a good use of my time to watch him play. But then, I took the time to watch Tyrell Terry play games at Stanford, and he seemed to be a good draft prospect. He rose from obscurity, and just as quickly, is now out of the NBA…and he will probably end up on a two-way contract with another NBA team later on this season.

Secretly, I have always felt that it was pretty tough to evaluate one-and-done freshman players, especially the prospects that rise up boards from seemingly out of nowhere.  Since they are in school for just one season, and they can build up so much draft stock without a heavy body of work.  It always throws me off when a new prospect bursts his way onto the draft board midway or late in the season, and I then have to do research and watch film on him to figure out if he has what it takes to make it to and succeed in the NBA. I have long felt that it is easier to evaluate the elite prospects at the top, though I have had my fair share of misses over the years.  But as much as I’d like to think that the draft is like a science, there is guess work and luck involved, and sometimes the future of those players may be just as dependent on the NBA teams’ developmental systems, or lack thereof.

With the recent release of former Stanford’s one-and-done point guard, Tyrell Terry by the Dallas Mavericks, who was one pick away from getting selected in the first round, I wondered….just how risky is it for one-and-done prospects to enter and stay in the NBA draft, especially if they slip to the second round? Since 2007 is considered to be the beginning of the one-and-done era more or less, I decided to analyze and dissect how those types of players have done since.  The qualifications of this would be a player has to play in college for exactly one season before leaving to the NBA draft.   Also, for those that are interested, I went to RealGM and Basketball-Reference for research purposes.

We know that plenty of one-and-done freshman first round picks have succeeded in the NBA.  There are in fact many examples of this, such as Kevin Durant, Mike Conley, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson, Jrue Holiday, Ben Simmons, Trae Young, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, Jaylen Brown, Bam Adebayo, DeAndre Ayton, De’Aaron Fox, Julius Randle, Jamal Murray, Tobias Harris, Myles Turner, Anthony Edwards, and well….you get the point.  A good handful of those players are some of the very best in today’s NBA right now. That’s also pretty much an All-Star game’s worth of players, and that would be a good NBA All-Star game at that. The positives tend to far outweigh the negatives in NBA teams drafting one-and-done players in the first round, especially if they go in the lottery. If you want to draft a prospect that has superstar potential, that is a good place to start.

Alright.  But what about…how well do one-and-done prospects that don’t go in the first round fare in the NBA? 

In the findings, one-and-done non-first round picks have generally been a risky investment.  Some of those players have really panned out, and in the second round, some of the best of those players include current Los Angeles Lakers’ center, DeAndre Jordan, Utah Jazz’s center Hassan Whiteside, and former Indiana Pacers’ guard Lance Stephenson.

From 2007 to 2020, 44% of the one-and-done second round picks are still active players in the NBA.  However, most of those players didn’t see much playing time in their rookie seasons, and only one player, Frank Jackson played over 1000 minutes as a rookie amongst one-and-done second round picks.  Amongst the one-and-done undrafted players that played at least one minute in NCAA Division 1 college basketball, just 28% of them are still active players in the NBA, and the highest minute total played in a rookie season by a one-and-done undrafted player that was in a draft class from 2007 to 2020 would be from Lu Dort, who played 820 minutes during the 2019-20 NBA season.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s swingman, Lu Dort is one of the best one-and-done undrafted players to enter the NBA.
Jeffrey Swinger/USA Today Sports, via Fansided’s Thunderous Intentions)

The investment for NBA teams looks to be much riskier if they were to invest in one-and-done undrafted players, although there are some successes, and the 2019 undrafted pool is mostly to credit for that. Chicago Bulls’ forward and one-time NBA slam dunk champion, Derrick Jones Jr. has played the most games among one-and-done undrafted players, and he’s played 229 games in the NBA so far.  Other notables largely stem from the 2019 draft class in Oklahoma City Thunder’s guard Luguentz Dort, as well as Minnesota Timberwolves’ center, Naz Reid, Dallas Mavericks’ center Moses Brown, and Sacramento Kings’ forward Louis King, whom won the 2021 NBA Las Vegas Summer League Championship game MVP.

In analyzing one-and-done second round and undrafted players, it seems that the best bets to succeed from them would be the centers and wing players.  DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside, Moses Brown, and Naz Reid are the notable big men to succeed as one-and-done non first round picks in the NBA at the center position.  At the wing, some of the notable names include Lance Stephenson, Gary Trent Jr., Luguentz Dort, Derrick Jones Jr., Talen Horton-Tucker, and Hamidou Diallo.

Detroit Pistons’ point guard, Frank Jackson may arguably be the best, one-and-done, non-first round point guard to play in the NBA amongst players that were in the 2007 draft class and beyond. Jackson was drafted 31st overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Leon Halip/Getty Images, via Fansided’s Piston Powered)

The riskiest positions look to be the one-and-done point guards and power forwards that do not get drafted in the first round.  Among the point guards, Detroit Pistons’ point guard Frank Jackson has carved out a solid career as an offensive-minded backup point guard, but others such as Josh Selby, Tyrell Terry, Nico Mannion, Trevon Duval, and Kobi Simmons have failed to stick in the NBA.

At power forward, Jarred Vanderbilt has been a reliable rotational big man for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but there also have been plenty of other one-and-done, non-first round selection power forwards that either did not play a single minute in the NBA (i.e. Tiny Gallon, Simi Shittu), or had short careers in the league (Cheick Diallo, Quincy Miller, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Grant Jerrett, and Cliff Alexander).

While it’s great for NBA teams that there will be plenty of one-and-done prospects to enter the draft every year, and that a handful of them could end up being elite players, the prospects may dwindle considerably for them if they don’t end up going in the first round, as they may not necessarily get guaranteed contracts or playing time.

Would this make players think twice before entering the draft?  Probably not.  Maybe it should though, and the Dallas Mavericks may be a prime example of why prospects should re-think their decision if they might not go in the first round.  We have already seen the Dallas Mavericks choose not to keep two of their second round picks in the 2020 draft, as they let Tyler Bey walk in the summer (who’s been waived multiple times since),and they also waived Tyrell Terry today. 

It is also somewhat important to note that Nico Mannion and Tyrell Terry were two prospects that had considerable hype and buzz going into the 2020 draft, as both were mentioned to be possible first-round prospects, but both went in the second round, didn’t play much in their rookie seasons, and right now, neither are in the NBA right now.  (Nico Mannion has his rights held by the Golden State Warriors and is playing in Italy, and Tyrell Terry missed parts of last season and the preseason due to personal issues, but he could latch onto an NBA team on a two-way contract at some point this season.)

The takeaways are that it is riskier to take a one-and-done prospect in the second round rather than the first round.  Also, one of the riskiest moves would be to take a chance on a one-and-done point guard that does not get selected in the first round.  This makes sense, because the point guard position is a cerebral position because it is tied largely to decision-making, and so it may take point guards more time to develop. With so few minutes to go around for many of the non-first round, one-and-done point guards, they may not be afforded the playing time and game action to be able to develop in the NBA. Therefore, NBA teams should exercise caution before thinking to select a one-and-done point guard in the second round, especially if the first round of the NBA draft is already over.

So to wrap it all up, drafting a one-and-done player in the second round does not seem to be nearly as much of a slam dunk process as it would be in the first round. There are factors in whether or not if a one-and-done, non-first round pick succeeds in the NBA or not. Often times, one-and-done, non-first round picks don’t play nearly as much as the first round selections, so they usually are faced with a much more difficult path to stick in the NBA. In order to do so, they often will need some kind of specialty to catch the attention of the coaching staff. Otherwise, they are very likely to flame out and have short or in some cases, non-existent careers in the league. In the case where one-and-done players are not guaranteed to be first round picks, it may be in their best interests to stay in school for another season to polish their skills.

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