What exactly is upside?
It's a term that gets thrown around quite a bit in NBA circles, but no one typically takes the time to explain what it means in explicit fashion. We talk about a player's long-term upside, and sometimes we call it their "ceiling." But those terms are meaningless without context.
To me, upside is a mathematical concept representing the difference between how good a player could be and the level they're presently at. Let's use a ridiculous hypothetical as an explanation, even if I obviously acknowledge that a player can't be summed up in one number on the one-to-10 scale.
- Player A is currently a one, but he has the ability to become a five (a low-level starter).
- Player B is currently a six, but he has the ability to become a 10 (a LeBron James).
Who has more upside?
Player B obviously is going to turn into the better contributor—I mean, his floor is higher than Player A's ceiling—but they have the same amount of upside. Each can improve by four points on the scale.
That's entirely relevant for the purposes of this article because it isn't about who the 10 best rookies from this class will be. It's about the disparity between where they are now and where they could end up.
Note: For those of you wondering about Nerlens Noel, I'm higher on his short-term prospects (if healthy) and lower on his long-term ceiling than most. He was the first player left out.