Should you trade Spencer Hawes for two second round draft picks?

The 76ers traded Spencer Hawes to the Cavaliers for two second round draft picks this weeks. The trade caused a bit of a kerfluffle on my twitter feed, as several people seemed to think that the Cavaliers fleeced the 76ers because 2nd round picks have little value. Is that true? Before I get into the analysis, I want to caveat by saying that I think this is a great trade for the 76ers regardless. Hawes is about to become a free agent and has no future in Philly, so getting 2 picks for him is basically getting something for nothing (there was some filler but the Sixers didn’t take back anything damaging). I doubt they could have done better, because first round picks are very highly valued right now (maybe overvalued–I’ll try to explore this in a future post).

I collected data on every draft pick made between 2000 and 2009. For each draft pick, I found the maximum Player Efficiency Rating (PER) that player obtained in the NBA. For the rest of the post, that’s the number I’ll be working with: the maximum PER a draft pick has obtained for a season with more than 200 minutes. This is a very generous measure to use, because some players manage to attain a high PER but can’t maintain that level of production over more than one year. Hawes routinely has a PER above 13 and has hit 18 once, so using maximum PER is biasing my results in favor of the 2nd round draft picks and against Hawes.

First, here’s a graph that shows max PER vs draft pick number. PERs have been jittered1 so that you can visually see how many points there are at 0. A PER of 0 usually indicates that the player never played in the NBA or never had a season with more than 200 minutes.

draft pick graph

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  1. This means that a small value has been randomly added or subtracted from the points.