ESPN 500 NBA Rank Analysis

facebooktwitterreddit made a great project, ranking 500 present and near-future NBA Players by asking 91 of their journalists, bloggers and other affiliates to rank players on a 1-10 grade basis.

Today, the final player came out on the website, as the best player in the world. And from the word go, there was no doubt, that this guy would be LeBron James.

But the predictability of the top player choice, doesn’t necessarily mean the rankings were boring. They had their surprises, for better and for worse creating a lot of controversy, especially around Kobe Bryant who (quite fairly in my opinion) was ranked as the 7th best player in the league.

These last few days, I’ve been inserting all the grades and ranks into a spreadsheet, creating average team grades(which I can give you access to if you hit me up on twitter or via e-mail) to find some things about the implications of the project for the teams.

I ended up with a bunch of data that I really enjoyed analyzing. Mind you, this ranking doesn’t rank team quality, but overall depth. That said, some of the top (and bottom) teams might be surprising, but, if you’ll read my analysis, you will see how within the world created by NBA Rank, it all makes sense.

See you after the jump!

First, let see the average grade results:

The two pictures show you how teams ranked in regards to their average grade. It’s no surprise that the NBA champions, the by far deepest team in the NBA is at the top. With so many good players, it’s hard to bet against Dallas in any matchup where depth is involved. This team can have a 12 man rotation, with each player bringing something to the table.

The surprise here for me, was Memphis. I didn’t really look at their players in the course of the rankings, but now that I did look them over, I’m certain that with a healthy Rudy Gay, the Grizz would’ve been a tough matchup for the champs. The next few places are no surprise, given that the Bulls, Celtics and Thunder are all very, very deep teams by NBA Rank’s standards. The 6th place Heat, are still higher than I anticipated. Aside from the Big Three, Chalmers, Haslem and Miller, the Heat are outright terrible. Yes, they can easily play a 7 or 8 man rotation to hell and back, but, once again, by these standards, they aren’t going to be that good. I might do an article soon (as in, after I rested a bit from the spreadsheets) showing the rotational ranks, which might change this ranking completely.

Now, basically tied are the Lakers and Spurs, and once again, it’s no surprise. They have strong 7 and 8 man rotations, but after that it gets pretty nasty. Given that these ratings rate every single player on a team (seeing how much injured players some teams have, it’s no surprise), these two teams aren’t going to go any higher.

Finally, my most pleasant surprise of the evening, the Phoenix Suns resting in 9th place. Come think of it, I should’ve predicted this, but it was still a nice thing to see. Make no mistake, the Suns are deep. The bench unit is certainly at the top of the NBA when it comes to offensive production, and that units defense wasn’t all that bad either. Overall, it’s a great indicator of what the Suns are; Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Marcin Gortat and a team stacked with role players, some of which would probably be starting in other teams.

Now, Portland is deep too right? Why are they behind Phoenix? Because they’re deep in starters, while being deficient down low. Their ratings suddenly drop from 184th Greg Oden to 316th Patty Mills. It’s the kind of hole, that Phoenix doesn’t have due to guys like Childress, Pietrus, Warrick, Lopez, Brooks, Carter (who will depart, hopefully without a replacement), Dudley…  So, that’s why the high ranking.

Now for bottom of the stack, the Washington Wizards are the worst NBA Rank team. No surprise there, given that their depth ends with *eek* Andray Blatche, and with John Wall still developing, it’s hard to put them anywhere higher. The surprise lays in the second worst team (tied with Charlotte for that dubious title), the New Jersey Nets. You’d think a team with a Top 10 player (Deron Williams) in the NBA, and one of the best centers around in Brook Lopez would at least get over teams like the Wolves, right? Wrong. The word “depth” strikes again, as we have to account for the fact that their third best player is… Kris friggin


Humphries. Whereas most teams have at least 3 guys in the Top 100, these guys only have 3 in the Top 200.

While ESPN’s project isn’t meant to be interpreted on a team-wide basis, with rookies weighing down teams and such, it gives a great indication of how 91 people — 90 experts and Zach Harper (#DDLInsideJokes) view a teams depth, which is a rather fun indicator to have.

Now, finally we come to my favourite part of the analysis, the importance of a player for the rank, or as I call it: The Impact Meter or the NBA Rank MVP. Basically, what I did was recalculated the averages without the Top Player for every team and then looked at the difference it generated. Who was the NBA Rank MVP? See for yourself:

If you look at the “Differential” table, you will see the players impact sorted. Remember the case for Dwight’s MVP? This makes it pretty strong, just by showing how little talent he is surrounded by. If I multiplied this by the number of Wins, I doubt Dwight wouldn’t still be at the top of the list, above perennial MVP candidate (and, according to psychotic Cavs fans, the worst person in the world) LeBron James and the actual MVP, Derrick Rose.

Now, you are probably screaming “foul” when seeing how low Steve Nash is ranked. It’s not a foul, from a purely depth-based theoretical basis, Nash has a load of talent to use. Remember, if you add Amar’e to this team, you’ll get a championship contender, given that aside from his loss, the team actually improved by snatching Gortat from Orlando. (In fact, you’d get the 4th deepest team in the league). I’ve always said that stats rarely show how important Nash is to a team. He is what makes most of these players rank so high, he is the catalyst for the Suns offense, something that is beyond explaining in NBA Rank or whatnot.

In the end, NBA Rank isn’t the ultimate ranking system, and it’s a good thing. If, say, PER was the ultimate metric, would we even need debates about where players should be ranked? No. NBA Rank is a fun tool, a tool that shows the consensus about the abilities of some players to perform on a given level, and while many of you might disagree with some of the rankings they are probably more objective than you are.

That, or many of them didn’t watch your team… Varejao over Gortat, WHAT?!


Stay tuned for more about NBA Rank (in context of the Suns) in a debate between me and Andrew Lynch. Also coming soon: A rotation #NBARank ranking!