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How ESPN Ranked The Rookies

US Presswire

For the second straight summer ESPN is slowly rolling out the results of their #NBARank project. The structure is simple – 104 basketball personalities affiliated with ESPN were asked to rate every NBA player on a scale of 1-10 in terms of “current quality.” Each player’s ratings are averaged and they are placed in order from worst to best. For full disclosure, my contributions to the TrueHoop Netwrok gave me a chance to vote again.

Last summer, I looked at the project as a perfect illustration of how unevenly talent is distributed in professional basketball. This time around I thought it might be interesting to look at how the group handled this season’s rookies. Anthony Davis, the highest ranked rookie, appeared last Friday which means we can now look at the entire draft class. The table below shows each selection from the 2012 NBA Draft, along with their average rating (1-10) and overall ranking (1-500) as determined by the collective’s assessment. Eight players were not included in the NBA Rank project because they’re remaining in Europe this season, or were deemed unlikely to make an NBA roster. I also didn’t include in my table any undrafted rookies.

[table id=64 /]

If we were looking at just the opinions of a few individuals, it wouldn’t surprise me to see some wild variation between the rankings and the order in which the players were drafted. However, we’re talking about the average of ratings from over 100 individuals and still we found huge deviations. Here were a few of the things that jumped out at me:

  • Top overall pick, Anthony Davis, was also the top rookie. He was ranked 62nd overall by the group, with an average rating of 6.31. The difference in rating between him and the second highest ranked rookie, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (5.03) was 1.28 points. That was roughly the same as the difference between the third ranked rookie, Bradley Beal (4.61), and the 15th ranked rookie, Tyler Zeller (3.32)
  • Last summer’s top rated rookie was Kyrie Irving, who came in 140th with an average rating of 4.99. Irving went on to have on of the best statistical seasons by a rookie in league history. If Davis really is that much better than Irving, then NBA fans are in for a treat.
  • In the minds of the group Harrison Barnes was the fourth best player in the draft, leaping Dion Waiters, Damian Lillard and Thomas Robinson. Pre-draft evaluations of Barnes seemed to vary wildly so I was surprised to see him average out so highly.
  • The group really liked Jared Sullinger. I guess when the criteria for evaluation is “current quality,” long-term concerns about potentially debilitating back injuries can be ignored. Sullinger was the seventh highest ranked rookie, jumping 14 other players who were selected ahead of him in the draft. Seventh is probably close to where he would have been selected anyway with a clean bill of health.
  • Dion Waiters’ underwheming and out of shape performance in the summer league has certainly deflated expectations. The Cavaliers selected him fourth, but the group ranked 11 other rookies ahead of him.
  • The group liked Jeremy Lamb (3.61) more than Austin Rivers (3.45), and Tyler Zeller (3.32) more than Meyers Leonard (3.03).
  • Jared Cunningham (2.03) was the lowest ranked first round selection. Draymond Green (2.99) was the highest ranked second round selection.

By far the most interesting thing to me was not just how the rookies were ordered, but where they sat on the 1-10 scale. Only four players – Barnes, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal – had a rating above 4.5. Other than that group, the evaluations of lottery selections ranged from Damian Lillard at 4.24 to Moe Harkless at 2.81. To put that in context, the group saw the talent of this year’s lottery, other Barnes, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Beal, as being somewhere between Tobias Harris (2.80) and Mickael Pietrus (4.25).

With all due respect to Harris and Pietrus, that means the majority of this year’s lottery picks were assessed as being at the fringes of an NBA rotation in terms of current quality. There will be both busts and surprises but that strikes me as a very conservative viewpoint.

In the end, the lessons of this project will probably be roughly the same as they were last summer – top-tier talent is scarce, and collective wisdom can be collectively naive. Check out today to find out who was ranked 41-50.

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