Which pick returns most value?

Examining which NBA draft slots historically offer the best, worst production

Updated: April 10, 2014, 2:24 PM ET
By Bradford Doolittle | ESPN Insider

Stephen CurryAllen Einstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesGolden State's Stephen Curry is a star, but other No. 7 picks have struggled mightily.

When it comes to draft slots, all things being equal, the higher you pick, the higher the chance you're going to add a productive player. That seems obvious, right? Well, all things aren't equal.

The human element always introduces a certain amount of chaos into the proceedings, and this is the case with the NBA draft. According to the research compiled by my colleague Tom Haberstroh as part of his DRAFT Initiative, the cumulative values produced by each draft slot do not shake out in the smooth manner in which you'd expect.

Since 1989, when the NBA moved to a two-round format, the 25 No. 1 overall picks have produced an average of 8.4 Estimated Wins Added (EWA), easily the most value compiled by any draft slot. With upper-tier Hall of Fame players such as LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal included in that calculation, this is no surprise. No. 1 picks have also exceeded their expected average EWA by 1.7 wins, the best performance of any slot. This isn't exactly breaking news, but by and large it's a great -- sometimes franchise-making -- thing to pick first, and the typical top pick carries with him at least a modicum of certainty, the 2013 draft aside (when the Cavs selected Anthony Bennett).

After that, however, things are not nearly so straightforward.