NBA Talent Rankings

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January 9, 2013 by Brandon Keller

Dorothy Mantooth is a Saint!

Dorothy Mantooth is a Saint!

I love power rankings. I love power rankings more than rednecks love racing. I want to take power rankings out to a nice seafood dinner, and immediately call it back (Dorothy Mantooth, holla at me). When I see a power rankings my trousers get tighter than Brent Musburger’s when he is checking out A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend. Be it a ranking of the best teams in the NBA or the top bars in Idaho, if I see it I’m probably reading it. There is something satisfying about the absolute and concrete nature of power rankings, which conversely are influenced nearly entirely by subjective opinion and circumstances. It’s kind of like why people like watching the Academy Awards, except power rankings do not take 5 hours to read and drinking is heavily encouraged.

So that takes us to the NBA. The NBA, more than any other sport, is a game that relies immensely on talent.  If you look through all of the media invented storylines and use of buzzwords like “chemistry”, most of the time, the team that has the most talent and can peacefully coexist (looking at you 2004 Lakers) end up winning the title.

But the league is also top heavy.  More important than having talent, is having a top talent. To win a title, you need to have one of the top players in the league.  Since 1980, only one team, the 2004 Pistons, did not feature a top-5 player, and that title should have an asterisk because if Karl Malone had been healthy the Lakers would have won easily.  The list of NBA champions and the top-5 player they had:

  • 1980 Lakers- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar*
  • 1981 Celtics- Larry Bird
  • 1982 Lakers- Magic Johnson
  • 1983 76ers- Moses Malone*
  • 1984 Celtics- Bird*
  • 1985 Lakers- Magic
  • 1986 Celtics- Bird*
  • 1987-88 Lakers- Magic**
  • 1989-90 Pistons- Isiah Thomas
  • 1991-93 Bulls- Michael Jordan**
  • 1994-95 Rockets- Hakeem Olajuwon*
  • 1996-98 Bulls- Jordan**
  • 1999 Spurs- Tim Duncan
  • 2000-2002 Lakers- Shaquille O’Neal*
  • 2003 Spurs- Duncan*
  • 2004 Pistons- N/A
  • 2005 Spurs- Duncan
  • 2006 Heat- Dwayne Wade
  • 2007 Spurs- Duncan
  • 2008 Celtics- Kevin Garnett
  • 2009-10 Lakers- Kobe Bryant
  • 2011 Mavericks- Dirk Nowitzki
  • 2012 Heat- LeBron James*


(* indicates if player won MVP the year they won title)

Clearly, top-level talent indicates a team has the best chance of winning a title, so with this in mind I have devised a power ranking that is based purely on the amount of top-flight talent a team has. No use of chemistry, or the fact that a player “can’t win the big one”.  To get the rankings, first I made a list of the top 5 players at all five positions (PG, SG, SF, PF, C), along with a ranking of the top 5 “Supporting Casts” to account for teams that have one fantastic superstar and have built the team around them.  Then teams are allotted points as follows:

Number 1 player = 10 points
Number 2 player = 8 points
Number 3 player = 5 points
Number 4 player = 3 points
Number 5 player = 1 points

The points are skewed so that the elite players are more valuable. Therefore, the only exception to the above point distribution is for supporting casts, in which the best supporting cast gets 5 points, second gets 4, etc. When the numbers are added up, the team with the most points will be number one.  Finally, these are rankings based on a player’s production this season, not past results or projections of future potential. For example, in the PG rankings Derrick Rose and Damien Lillard do not make the top 5. And now, on to the rankings along with the players 2012-13 stats thus far. Let’s start with the Floor Generals:

Point Guards
1. Chris Paul (17.0 ppg, 9.3 apg, 2.6 spg)
May not have the scoring numbers of Westbrook or the assists of Rondo, but he is quite simply the best in the league at making other players better.  He is so good it only took a little over a year for him to transform the Black Sheep of the league into a title contender.  He has his steady hands over every aspect of his team, turns half court offense into an art form, and on top of that is a great isolation scorer at the end of a shot clock.  Until proven otherwise, Paul is the cream of the point guard crop.

2. Russell Westbrook (21.7 ppg, 8.5 apg, 2.2 spg)
The Lebron of point guards.  His go-to move is to drive directly at his defender and simply jump over them, either drawing a foul, pulling up for a jumper, or finishing above the rim.  Only improving as a scorer, but his athletic ability shows in his high rebounds, ferocious and pesky defense, and numerous highlight dunks.  Give him a reliable outside jump shot, and the league should just start waving the white flag because it’s over.

kyrie-irving1-279x3003. Kyrie Irving (23.1 ppg, 5.6 apg, 1.4 spg)
Damn is this guy good. Not quite the athlete that the new wave of point guards (Westbrook, Rose, Wall) tend to be, but he makes up for it with a silky smooth crossover, ahead of the curve jump shot, and top notch agility that allows him to contour at the rim to finish in traffic. His defense leaves something to be desired, but that is the case with most young guards. Give this guy a supporting cast and the Cavs should be a contender for years to come.

4. Rajon Rondo (13.2 ppg, 11.3 apg, 1.9 spg)
Rondo is a dynamic playmaker that can see passing lanes that most can’t, and the skill and smarts to thread the needle through those lanes.  However, Rondo has more holes in his game than a termite infested shanty, starting with his inability to stretch the defense with his shooting or make free throws. Despite his handicap he is such a successful passer because he uses ball fakes better than any player in the NBA, thanks to his freakishly large hands.  He is a “crafty” finisher around the rim, but lacks real explosiveness, and also is a player who needs talent around him to thrive.

5. Deron Williams (16.5 ppg, 7.8 apg, 1.1 spg)
So, uh, what happened to this guy? A few years ago he looked like a legitimate contender to the Point Guard throne, now I just might be overrating him at 5. He has lost some athleticism with age, and he is either a few months pregnant or may need to run some extra wind sprints. As a result, he does not get to the rim as much and increasingly has to rely on jump shots. He is still a gifted passer and a bear in the lane, but unless he is hiding some injury, his steep decline is problematic.

In the next post, the Shooting Guards and Small Forwards are ranked.


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