ESPN #nbarank--the Blazers so far (Updated 7X)

We had a bit of a lull as there were no Blazers listed after Robin Lopez at #128, until today. Expect this post to be updated as more players are revealed (the list is up to #57 as I write this).

The #ESPN #nbarank feature, which purports to rank the top 500 active professional basketball players in the US (generally, NBA players or prospects), is gone through the "bottom 300". Note that there are only 450 NBA jobs (30 teams times 15 roster spots each), and some teams might not have a full roster; so SOME of the guys on the list, mathematically speaking, will be playing in the D-League (without an NBA contract), or overseas, or not at all this year.

Of course, at the higher-numbered ranks, the list is a crapshoot--it's kinda hard to say this benchwarmer is better than that. But generally, a team will want most of its players to be in the upper end (lower numbers) of the list. If a team is giving rotation minutes to guys at #250 and above (assuming said players don't prove such a ranking wrong and earn those minutes), or has large numbers of starters worse than #150 (there are 150 starting jobs in the league), it's a Bad Sign.

Blazers on the list so far:

  • 487: Terrel Harris. OK, he was waived, and a longshot to make the roster anyway.
  • 441: Joel Freeland. Given that he's a second year guy, and not expected to be a major contributor, I don't mind. Unrated last year, despite playing.
  • 422: Victor Claver. Looked halfway decent in EuroBasket, but will he be able to play effectively against NBA competition? Unrated last year, despite playing.
  • 411: Allen Crabbe. If I have a complaint about #nbarank, is that it's evaluation of incoming rookies is a total crapshoot; unless he blows everyone away he will probably play worse than the guys below him on the list, simply for being a rook. As a rookie, no prior #nbarank.
  • 379: Will Barton: At this point, I'd rank Claver or Freeland slightly ahead of Barton, myself. Will the Thrill has more potential, but still far more cringe-inducing moments. #409 last year.
  • 370: Earl Watson: If he was our backup PG, I'd be worried. As the third PG on the roster, not so much. #323 in 2012, #295 in 2011.

As expected, the names above are our third string. Any player worse than 360 or so (300 for top teams) is someone that deserves to spend time on the inactive list or in the D-league. And other than Watson, an aging veteran at the tail end of his career, I expect that many of these guys will see time in Boise. Some potential here, but none of the four rooks/sophs is a lock to stick in the league.

Our rotation is next. Generally, you want to have at least 8 players in the top 200, and preferably more than six in the top 150 (which means you have starter quality on your bench). Less than five in the top 150 means you're starting guys who shouldn't be starting.

  • 255: Myers Leonard. A "potential" rating; as Leonard hasn't done anything to deserve this (yet). Quite a few serviceable NBA big men, either journeymen with little upside potential, or former stars on their last legs, not to mention one Ohio State big man whose name will not be uttered here, all fared worse than Leonard. (OTOH, Kelly Olynyk comes in at #202...) Was #330 last year.
  • 204: Thomas Robinson. An even bigger stretch, IMHO; as T-Rob ranked better than guys Samuel Dalembert and Udonis Haslem, and better than former-consensus-#1-until-he-got-hurt Nerlens Noel. Was #215 last year.
  • 200: Dorell Wright. #182 last year, #152 the year before--not the right direction. Of course, the Sixers last year were a train wreck; Wright should be able to get plenty of shots off on the Blazers.
  • 185: CJ McCollum. Ahead of players such as Jason Thompson, Marco Bellinelli, Metta World Peace, Darren Collison, Tayshaun Prince, and Trevor Ariza. I'd be thrilled if he were even that effective, given that all of those just listed are at least competent NBA ballers, even if they are either on the downsides of their careers, or have stalled in their development.
  • 169: Mo Williams. Took a step backward in #nbarank from last year--he was rated #125 in 2012 and #127 in 2011. While he only played 46 games for the Jazz, he started all of them; his skill-set is arguably more suited to coming off the bench. His best years were alongside LeBron in Cleveland, where he was able to function as a lights-out shooter catching passes from the King. He's more than adequate as a backup point guard, however.

The Starters:

  • 130: Wesley Matthews (109 in 2012, 100 the year before). We has made a few small steps in the wrong direction--even though his 2012-13 campaign (playing with a competent point guard) was arguably better than the prior year (playing with Raymond Felton). His limitations are well-known at this point--he's a 3-and-D player with a poor handle--but he does the 3 and D game quite well. Many consider him to be the Blazers' weakest starter; he's frequently mentioned as trade bait (more as a throw-in than as a principal in any deal) and there's a lot of guys on the bench (Crabbe, Barton, and McCollum) with an eye on his job. But none of them are anywhere close to displacing him, and Matthews keeps on doing his thing.
  • 128: Robin Lopez (169 in 2012, 163 in 2011). A guy clearly moving up in the world. After several years in the league playing Harvey Grant to brother Brook's Horace, Sideshow Rob improved himself greatly last season with the HornetsPelicans. Of course, the Pels are Anthony Davis's team now, making Lopez expendable--and enabling the Blazers to pick him up on the cheap. Lopez is (hopefully) the latest in a long line of steady, unspectacular centers to suit up for the team. And unlike guys like Chris Dudley or Joel Przybilla, Lopez has a decent midrange jumper--one that might even let LMA spend more time on the blocks than at the elbow. (After all--you want J.J. Hickson shooting from the elbow)?
  • 57: Nicolas Batum (63 in 2012, 70 in 2011). Progress in the right direction--although not enough, for a guy making what he's making. Being a top 60 player in the NBA is nothing to sneeze at, and it's great for a 3-and-D guy, but there is the whole issue of "potential". It's interesting to compare Nic to two of his countrymen: first, Boris Diaw--a guy who has had a long NBA career and is a good quality player to have in your rotation, but was widely considered a potential All-Star based on talent, talent he lived up to; and Tony Parker--who as a rookie grabbed the NBA between the legs and squeezed good and hard, and is a likely shoe-in for Springfield when his basketball career is done. Right now, Nic looks more like Diaw than Parker--which isn't a bad thing--especially when the Blazers may well have a Tony Parker of their own on the bench. But when you watch Nic play, you want to see more--and many excuses have been made (out of position, Nate McMillan didn't appreciate him, injuries) why Nic is "just" a second-tier NBA starter, as opposed to an All-Star or better.

... and that is the list so far: The Blazers, if nothing else, satisfy the criteria of 8 or more in the top 200, with 2 Blazers still to be revealed. Still no mention of Lillard or LMA. The other starters 2012 #nbaranks are indicated below. (In 2011, LMA was #23; Damian Lillard obviously doesn't have a 2011 #nbarank).

It is interesting to note that McCollum's rank (#185) is higher than Damian Lillard's ranking last year (#211). Of course, this year's rookie class is generally regarded as far better than the 2012 class.

For comparison, here's the Blazers list for last year (opening night roster only).

NR-Victor Claver, Joel Freeland, 422--Eliot Williams, 409-Will Barton, 401-Luke Babbitt, 373-Ronnie Price, 357-Sasha Pavlovic, 338-Nolan Smith, 330-Myers Leonard, 268-Jared Jeffries, 211-Damian Lillard, 202-JJ Hickson, 109(T) Wes Matthews, 63-Nicolas Batum, 20-LaMarcus Aldridge. Even factoring in absurdly-low ratings for Lillard and Hickson--that was a BAD team, with only six players in the top 300 (!).

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