ESPN NBA Rank: Analyzing Players 500-401

March 20, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat center Eddy Curry (34) reacts during the first half against the Phoenix Suns at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

ESPN’s annual NBA Rank has commenced, an exercise that ranks every player in the NBA from 500 all the way to the very top.  The worldwide leader asked 104 basketball experts – basically analysts, writers, and bloggers – to assign all players a grade from a whole number of 1 to 10.  Once that’s done, the numbers are calculated into a finite answer that gives a player a numerical value.  From there it’s as simple as listing the players’ grades from lowest to highest, and NBA Rank is done.

This is obviously an exercise rife with objectivity and potential for error, but it’s a fun one nonetheless to get the NBA world’s almost-consensus opinion of a particular player going into a season.  Basketball Twitter’s been buzzing about NBA Rank for days, debating grades certain players deserve and trying to figure out how to distinguish a 5 from a 6, a 7 from an 8 and so on.  For instance, if LeBron James is the best player in the NBA is he the only one worthy of a perfect 10? What to do with aging stars like Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce – how many points is regression worth? And the opposite goes for younger players and improvement.

Lists like NBA Rank are far from the be-all end-all of determining a player’s worth, but the analysis they spark and the questions they pose is great fodder during this dormant time of the off-season.  So we’ll analyze NBA Rank on a daily basis, noting individual rankings that stick out one way or another and gleaning what we can from the lists as a whole.

Today’s list ranks players from 500-401.  To the analysis!

  • Looking at this group in reverse order immediately elicits a humorous response.  At 500 and given the infamous as worst player in the NBA is free agent center Eddy Curry, with a rating of 1.21.  Curry’s story is well-known by now and it’s a sad one, a player with all the natural attributes – great size, feet, and touch – to be a force in the NBA plagued by off-court character issues and basketball/conditioning apathy in general.  It wasn’t long ago that Curry was the face of the Baby Bulls or even a prized free agent acquisition of the Knicks, let alone on the comeback trail just last season with the eventual champion Miami Heat.  But he’s a punch-line today more than ever and perhaps rightfully so, especially considering his rank is .25 points lower than 499th ranked Golden State rookie Kent Bazemore.  That’s sure to be the overall list’s biggest discrepancy from one number to the next, and it’s indicative of just how far Curry has fallen and what his perception in basketball circles.  If you’re feeling bad for him – and I’m starting to – read this awesome piece by Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams.
  • If Curry is the first sexy name on the list, the Knicks’ James White is probably the next at 479th.  Maybe the best professional (as in NBA, Europe, etc.) dunker ever, White’s one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum caused a blip on the league’s radar this off-season, and given that and his surreal athleticism it’s kind of surprising to see him rank so low.  Of course, he’s never been much of a player domestically despite all that so it makes some sense; still, to see a player so relatively famous with a wealth of professional but non-NBA success down this far on the list stands out.  Especially given the Knicks’ sudden rush to sign him to a guaranteed contract out of the blue.  It will be interesting to see if he can crack New York’s barren wing rotation and prove this ranking wrong.
  • Juwan Howard and Mike Bibby rank 476th and 471st, respectively.  Sounds about right, and it makes it even more amazing to remember that the Heat counted on each of them for significant playing time just 18 months ago.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom (rank: 456th) had a great college career at Marquette but was drafted just 55th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers.  DJO plays a man’s game, always knowing where to be and the right play to make; he can drive and finish, too.  He’s not much of a shooter, athlete, and is of the dreaded combo-guard ilk, but he could see some floor-time in LA this season nonetheless.  LAL reserve perimeter options are very poor defensively, and given that and his feel for the game in general he could warrant spot minutes this season on occasion.
  • The basketball media doesn’t see in Hasheem Thabeet what the Oklahoma City Thunder do.  The second overall pick of the 2009 draft is ranked 443rd.
  • The Detroit Pistons drafted Missouri sniper Kim English with the 44th pick in the draft, and he looked like a steal during summer league play.  English is an absolute dead-eye shooter and a classiclocker room guy – he’s supposedly taken Andre Drummond under his wing in offseason workouts – that could stick in the league for a long time.  Every team needs a shooter deep on the bench, and if English can improve defensively it wouldn’t shock to see him do better than that.  He’s ranked 441st here, not necessarily high or low but noteworthy because of his one high-level skill.
  • Ish Smith’s rank of 423rd has ruffled some blogger feathers.  A second round pick of the Houston Rockets in 2010, Smith was recently re-signed by the Orlando Magic and was very impressive in his limited court time with Golden State early last season.  His per-36 minute numbers really stick out: 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.3 assists,  and 2.3 steals.  Smith can’t shoot struggles to defend due to his lithe body, but is a blur on the floor and plays hard.  Smith is in line for a big minutes increase as Jameer Nelson’s lone backup, so we’ll know whether or not he’s worthy of such a low ranking soon enough.  But his extrapolated production and non-rookie status makes it seem a bit low.
  • The Brooklyn Nets’ Tyshawn Taylor, ranked 417th, is one of the league’s best athletes at point-guard and showed off a much-improved jumper his senior year at Kansas. He’ll get some playing time for the cash-strapped Nets this season and should prove this ranking wrong.  He’s too electric athletically and too good a finisher to not thrive (relative to his draft positions) in the up-and-down open space of the NBA.
  • The Portland Trailblazers’ Will Barton is under-ranked at 409th, too.  He was awesome in summer league play, showing deep (if streaky) range on his jumper and rare rebounding ability for a player his size.  He needs to bulk up and may not see the floor much his rookie year, but he’s a better talent than NBA Rank suggests.
  • Jeffery Taylor of the Charlotte Bobcats is another rookie that deserves better.  A great athlete with rare size and strength on the wing known for defense, Taylor’s jumper was much-improved during his senior season at Vanderbilt, too.  He was drafted 31st overall but was considered by teams selecting in the 20s, indicating his potential niche as a defender and opportunistic three-point shooter.  Taylor is the type of player that every good team needs, and unfortunately that’s not the Bobcats.  But it would hardly surprise to see him contributing in the postseason a few years down the road.
  • Free agent Josh Harrellson might very well be the 403rd best player in the NBA, but the league needs big guys that can grab a rebound and hit an open jumper.  He can do both those things and will eventually be picked up because of it.
  • Two overall observations: rookies are, again, being under-appreciated and big men dominate this list.  The young guys are all second rounders, of course, but players like Tyshawn and Jeffery Taylor and Barton are simply better than this.  The rankers are weary of the unknown, it seems, but why not err on the side of optimism with regard to these guys? Wouldn’t it be more fun predicting good things for a rookie and being right than bad and being the same? As for this section’s propensity of big men, it’s pretty simple – stiffs are stiffs and every team needs size deep on their bench.