ESPN NBA Rank: Analyzing Players 360-341

Feb 22, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Reggie Jackson (15) drives to the basket against Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett (5) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-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 the day each grouping comes out, noting individual rankings that stick out one way or another and gleaning what we can from the lists as a whole.

Today’s list is players ranked 360-341.  To the analysis!

  • Washington’s Chris Singleton kicks things off today at 360.  The sophomore has all the tools to be an awesome defender in the league – length (6’8”), strength (230 pounds), quick feet, anticipation, and the ability to check multiple positions – and he showed some of that off his rookie season.  But it was all lost because of his horrendous play on the other end.  Billed as a solid shooter from deep as a prospect, Singleton hit on just 34.6% from deep and a similarly horrible 37.2% overall mark.  Singleton is stuck in between positions offensively at this level, not possessing the handle to score off the dribble or the post-game to exploit his almost nightly size advantage at small forward.  That wouldn’t matter as much if he could shoot, of course, and last season he couldn’t.  His natural defensive gifts should keep Singleton in the league for a while, but he desperately needs to find his place on the other end if he’s going to be establish himself in the Wizards’ rotation.
  • The Blazers’ Sasha Pavlovic shot 39.1% from the field, 29.3% from three-point range, and did it all playing alongside Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, and Paul Pierce.  Yet his 2012 ranking of 357th bests his 2011 one by a whopping 66 spots.  Interesting.
  • Chicago Bulls rookie Marquis Teague, ranked 356th, is due big minutes this season as Derrick Rose recovers from a torn ACL.  He played just one season at Kentucky and guided the Wildcats to a national championship, but his play was extremely erratic throughout the year and UK’s only lingering question entering the NCAA tournament.  He’s got loads of ability as ballhandler and creator, though, and is a plus athlete to boot.  Most scouts believe that he’s a better prospect at the same stage than older brother Jeff, starting point guard of the Atlanta Hawks.  Teague will struggle early with turnovers and could shoot a poor percentage from the field, but will be a better player in the long run after being forced into action until Rose returns.
  • European import Alexey Shved – offseason signee of the Minnesota Timberwolves and a star of the Russian Olympic team – checks in at 353rd and it’s tough to know what to think about it.  After all, he’s got great size for a primary handler at 6’6”, great court vision, and plays with a wealth of confidence.  That’s a good start for any rookie, but players with his surface profile have struggled adjusting to the NBA game in the past.  Like Teague, he’ll get big minutes early due to injury – Ricky Rubio won’t return until early 2013 after tearing his ACL last Spring.  If Shved plays well he’s the type whose ranking could increase two-fold by next season, but it would be just as unsurprising if his adjustment is tough and he’s ranked lower.  Regardless, it’s always fun to see what happens with unique and intriguing players like him.
  • Earl Clark was part of the Dwight Howard trade to Los Angeles, and could stand to play a bigger role for the Lakers this season than many are anticipating.  If that’s the case LA better hope he’s better than his rank of 351st indicates.  Coach Mike Brown has indicated he’d like to incorporate some Princeton offense into the Lakers attack this season, and that’s a system that works best with a perimeter oriented power forward.  Clark fits that bill, athletic and capable of making plays off the dribble if not respected.  But he’s been a major disappointment thus far in his career, and to expect a turnaround might be too much.
  • Right above Clark ranked 350th is LA’s Devin Ebanks, a natural small forward who could easily play some small-ball 4 alongside Howard if Clark isn’t up for a subtantial and consistent role.  He hasn’t done that before for the Lakers, but it’s easy to imagine him thriving there as a weakside shooter and opportunistic cutter playing with guys like Howard, Steve Nash, and Kobe Bryant.
  • Gary Forbes – a useful player for Denver in 2010-2011 now of the Houston Rockets – checks in at 349, and seems destined to ride the pine this season as his team’s entered full-on rebuilding mode.  Just a reminder of how loaded with players Houston is; Forbes is no scrub and could help a lot of teams as a deep perimeter option off the bench.
  • The Thunder’s Reggie Jackson had an interesting rookie season.  Behind Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor in the rotation at the beginning of the season, he was thrust into a big-time role when the latter tore his ACL in January.  He showed some natural scoring talent and athleticism but shot horribly from the field and sometimes struggled to get OKC into their sets.  Knowing he wasn’t ready for the postseason, the Thunder snagged Derek Fisher off the waiver wire in March and Jackson was relegated to spectator for most of the remainder of the season.  All that said, he still has a future in OKC as Maynor – full recovery or not – is likely to be with the team for just this year only and OKC sometimes like to play small with Westbrook off the ball.  So he’ll get his chances again this year; what he does with them is anyone’s guess.