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A Bottom Heavy League: Snapshot Of ESPN’s NBA Rank Project

Over the past few weeks ESPN has continued to unveil the results of the NBA Rank experiment. Ninety-one writers from their NBA staff and the TrueHoop Network, including myself, were asked to rank each NBA player on a scale of zero to ten, with the criteria being “current quality”. The scores were averaged, the players were ranked, and the results have been released daily, a few at a time.

I’ve been attempting to follow the project closely, and noticed a trend as we’ve gotten closer to seeing the entire set of rankings. The trend is how incredibly bottom heavy the league is in terms of talent. Make no mistake, the NBA represents the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled, but that talent is not equally distributed among the players. Today ESPN, released their rankings through #46, Luol Deng at 6.89 out of 10.0. That means we have just 45 players to go and still haven’t see a single player with a ranking above 7.0.

I put the rankings which have been made public so far into a simple bar graph and attempted to highlight what I see as an essential piece of information

Even though we haven’t seen all the results, there are some numbers that are definitive. Only 135 of the 500 players included in this project will have been given a “current quality score” of 5.0 or higher, the theoretical mid-point of talent. Less than 45 players will have received a “current quality score” of 7.0 or higher. Setting a conservative rank of 8.0 for a star player, it’s also looking probable that we will find less than 30 players in that range. I’ll let you do the math on how many stars that would leave for each team in a completely even distribution.

I recognize that these rankings aren’t an actual objective measure of production, but rather a subjective opinion of value. Still, they are complex enough to make the point. As Henry Abbott and the Wages of Wins crew have pointed out during all the lockout hullabaloo, the limiting factor for parity is not as much payroll as it is talent.

You can see the results of the NBA Rank project by following @NBAonESPN on twitter and become part of the discussion by using the #NBARank hashtag.

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