Today we reach the midway point through our Top 100 List of Portland Trail Blazers players and influencers. The gap between #51 and #50 is more than mathematical. This marks the delineation between players people are going to be surprised to see make the list (as in, “Oh! I had forgotten about him!”) and names almost every Blazers fan will instantly recognize. Yes, there are 50. The franchise has been around half a century, after all.
The halfway marker seems like a good point to affirm that no Top 100 list is completely objective. Multiple criteria come into play with each selection, some weighing more than others, some even conflicting at times. That’s part of the fun of it; everyone’s order will be different and some might include players that others leave out. Arguments about these things are half the fun.
In the course of conversation, folks have presented questions (occasionally accusations) about the criteria used for this Top 100 List. Before we hit the More Obvious 50, I’ll share some of them.
Talent provides the starting point for most rankings on the list. In general, better players will occupy the higher positions.
Statistical production is a part of the equation, but also particular skills and abilities that make the player stand out. Guys scoring 15 a night who made you stand up out of your seat with their dunks or root for triple-doubles are likely to rank ahead of guys who scored 17 a night. Players who evidenced skills unusual for their time—especially ahead of their time—tend to get promoted higher than their talent would strictly indicate.
One sneaky criterion I like to use is, “If you were picking a bunch of All-Time Blazers teams, would you want this player on your roster, even today?” Players like Nick Van Exel and Shareef Abdur-Rahim would be sneaky good picks to fill out some of those hypothetical historical squads. People sleep on them because of their short tenure or the era they played in, but those guys could ball. That tends to get you noticed on this list.
That said, this is not strictly a “Top 100 Best Players” list. That would be a bit obvious. Other factors modify rankings up or down from a player’s initial starting spot.
This is a given, considering the nature of the list. Sixth or seventh players in a rotation may rank higher than their more obvious teammates if they provided the “special sauce” that lifted the squad over the top. Similarly, guys like Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford—both good NBA players with more talent than some who made 100-51 on this list—weren’t included because their contributions didn’t end up helping much at all.
Note that “helping” usually translates to “more wins”, but not always. Some seasons the Blazers weren’t going to win no matter what. Players providing life rafts during the dark years have made the list even though their contributions didn’t reverse what ended up being un-reversible. Not everybody can play alongside Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter.
In general, the list tends to be biased towards longer-term players, since longevity is its own impact. The Blazers kept long-term players for some reason. You can find plenty of guys with bigger stats and more obvious talent than some of the journeyman centers and power forwards we’ve included, but those everyday, clockwork guys impacted the franchise too. In fact, it’s pretty “Blazers” to value that kind of player as much as the high scorers. That was bred into the fan base from the championship years.
This is often the inverse of longevity and production. Players who came in with big expectations (from presumed talent) shaped the team in their own way, whether or not that potential was fully realized. Every so often a “Can’t Miss” guy will miss (or get traded away before he hits) but that becomes its own story. A few of these players have made the Top 100.
Nobody has made the Top 100 list on popularity or notoriety alone. (Sorry, Walter Berry fans.) Being beloved, hated, or occasionally both can raise a player up or down the scale from their original talent position, depending on what the stimulus was.
Darius Miles had a lot of raw talent and spent a minute with the team, but all the hype amounted to, “Pfffftttt.” He (and a couple other players yet to come) probably lost places because of that. On the other hand, a controversial or even villainous player would probably rise from their natural position if they helped define a generation with controversy.
It’s not as big of a factor as the others, but a player who excelled elsewhere, either before or after their Blazers tenure, would probably get a boost from that, even if it’s only from name recognition. Nobody went down the list because they didn’t excel elsewhere, though. Having an impressive NBA résumé helps on this list; lack of one doesn’t hurt.
Though they’re a minor concern, presentation aesthetics do play a role in the list order. Technically speaking, every blue-collar center the Blazers have fielded might belong in the same stretch of eight picks. That would be awfully repetitive to write and read, so we find criteria to split them up a little. Nobody loses or gains huge ground because of this, but a selection or two might get inverted from their original positions to make the list flow better.
Two Special Notes
As soon as the list was conceived as more than, “Top 100 most talented players” and influence/impact came into play, I knew we needed to include coaches, executives, and other non-players. The problem is obvious. How do you compare the contributions of a radio broadcaster to a small forward? It’s nearly impossible, so we compromised.
I kept a separate list of non-players, then ranked them against each other by impact, influence, longevity, and etc. After that, I shuffled the non-players into the list, making sure they were in the right ballpark and that none of them were clumped together. I didn’t worry overly much about whether a #52 non-player selection would be precisely one skosh more valuable than the #53 player selection, since that’s a wholly subjective determination anyway.
Another important thing to note about the list is that progression between all hundred slots is not linear. Truthfully, most of the 100-51 selections could be ordered in almost any way, based on the criteria the list-maker chose. If you wanted to, you could probably draw a line in our list right around 65 and say, “100-66 are one category of contributor, 65-51 are somewhat higher,” and call it good. Either way, the distance between 51 and 100 is significant, but not huge.
That’s all about to change. The distance between selections will spread out farther as the list nears its culmination. The difference between the 50th slot and the 1st will be enormous compared to the difference between 51 and 100. That’s just the nature of the beast when you’re doing lists like this.
Now you know everything you wanted to know about how the list was formed. Come with us as we begin the journey from #50 to #1 tomorrow.