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Biggest Surprises and Disappointments from ESPN's NBA Rank

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

Biggest Surprises and Disappointments from ESPN's NBA Rank

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    Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    Player rankings are quite the conversation starter.

    ESPN recently finished up it's annual NBA player rankings, to no shortage of gleeful responses and combative uproars. That's the thing about these types of lists—they incite emotion.

    Individual evaluations are predominantly subjective. Values of players—aside from maybe LeBron James—vary from person to person. When you attempt to make a comprehensive list of everyone, you're bound to make some friends, enemies and belligerent haters.

    You're also going to make a few mistakes. 

    Rankings are open to interpretation, but there are arrangements which qualify as acceptable and ones that are indefensible. You can't get away with placing one player far too high or low without catching our attention.

    We know the difference between something that's spot-on, a pleasant surprise and something that's just plain wrong.

    *All stats were obtained from Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

Disappointment: Rajon Rondo

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    David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Ranking: No. 27

    2012 Ranking: No. 12

    New coach. Bum knee. Tanking roster. Franklin the Turtle-like features. I get it—there are plenty of reasons to doubt Rajon Rondo.

    After Andrew Bynum and Derrick Rose screwed last year's rankings six ways to Sunday, I don't blame ESPN for being overly cautious. Rondo may not be the same player upon return or he could sit the entire year (even though the Boston Celtics aren't tanking). It makes sense not to potentially overrate him when his safety nets, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, are busy contending for a championship with the Brooklyn Nets.

    Still, pinning Rondo to No. 27 is an insult. It's like saying he's almost not a superstar anymore, which at age 27, he is. 

    Harping on the past can be damaging to forward-thinking evaluations like this one, but Rondo has the second-most postseason triple-doubles of any active NBA player and has been selected to four consecutive All-Star games. That has to count for something.

    Suggested Ranking: Top 15

Surprise: Stephen Curry

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Ranking: No. 6

    2012 Ranking: No. 40

    I love Stephen Curry as much as the next delusional New York Knicks fans who harbors nothing but resentment for the Golden State Warriors pirating him at No. 7 in the 2009 draft, but seriously, this is pushing it.

    Curry is coming off an incredible season, during which he appeared in 78 games and solidified himself as the best three-point shooter alive (sorry, Ray Allen). Injuries weren't as big an issue as they were in 2011-12, and he led his Warriors to an improbable second-round playoff appearance, compelling many, like myself, to (probably) overrate the Dubs this season.

    But a 34-spot jump is steep for someone who hasn't sustained 2012-13-like play for more than a year. And could we please recognize him as a top-10 or 15 star first, before we start saying things like "Curry will be markedly better than Tony Parker and Derrick Rose?"

    By the end of next season, I could see Curry joining the top-10 ranks. He should even nab his first All-Star appearance. Joining a top-seven foreground that includes a player like Chris Paul is too ambitious a goal.

    Appreciate Curry for who he is now and who he'll be in one year, not two or three seasons down the line.

    Suggested Ranking: Top 15

Disappointment: Kobe Bryant

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Ranking: No. 25

    2012 Ranking: No. 6

    Ruptured Achilles or not, Kobe Bryant isn't the 25th-best player in the NBA. He's better than that. Way better.

    Putting Kobe at 25 is like plucking fries off my plate—you don't do it, because it's disrespectful. And I'm hungry.

    Just last season, the Black Mamba was one of only three players to rank in the top 10 of minutes and points, usage rate, PER, PIE and win shares, according to statistical rankings compiled from Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. The other two were LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who were ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively.

    Now, Kobe shouldn't have been third. That's too high. Folks at ESPN also made it clear his placement was impacted by injury. But 25? Behind Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah and John Wall? Something smells funky there.

    Oh well, at least Kobe got a sweet new Twitter avatar out of the deal. You can't put a price on social media scores like that one.

    Suggest Ranking: Top Seven

Surprise: Kyrie Irving

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    Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Ranking: No. 8

    2012 Ranking: No. 22

    Much like Curry's No. 6 standing, Kyrie Irving coming in at No. 8 was a pleasant surprise.

    Irving has all the tools you look for in an elite, shoot-first floor general. He's able to reach the rim, drain outside shots and can make plays on the move for his teammates. Through two seasons, he's already made an All-Star appearance and quickly restored faith in what was a hapless Cleveland Cavaliers franchise just a few years ago.

    As much as he's done, earmarking him as a top-10 star is overzealous. Derrick Rose and Tony Parker are both behind him, two players often recognized as better point guards than he is. To claim he will jump ahead of them, when he himself has battled injuries his entire career, is a difficult sell.

    Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal has him at No. 17 in his most-recent superstar power rankings. There's certainly a case for him to be within the top 15—especially by this season's end—but Fromal's positioning is a much better barometer for where Irving is at.

    Remember, he's still a rising star. Top-10 spots should be reserved for deep-rooted talents, and Irving isn't established in that regard. Yet.

    Suggested Ranking: Top 15

     

     

Disappointment: DeMarcus Cousins

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    2013 RankingNo. 40

    2012 Ranking: No. 42

    I'm not buying this. 

    DeMarcus Cousins has a temper and his character is under as much scrutiny as anyone else, but he's too good to be ranked this low; there are not 39 players in the NBA better him.

    Big men who can pass, nail jump shots and post-up are infrequent talents. In most cases, they're also perfect building blocks, hence the Sacramento Kings' decision to hand Cousins a max extension over the offseason.

    According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cousins is one of three players in the last 25 years to debut with at least 14 points, eight rebounds and one steal per game through his first three seasons. The other players to do it were David Robinson and Antoine Walker.

    At only 23, and now free from the Maloofs' reign, it's difficult to believe Cousins won't show vast improvement over last season. With Shaquille O'Neal there to mentor him, Cousins is on the cusp of stardom, not walking the line of a top-50 player.

    Suggested Ranking: Top 25

Surprise: The Three Best (Top-Five) Friends

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Kevin Durant's 2013 RankingNo. 2

    James Harden's 2013 RankingNo. 4

    Russell Westbrook's 2013 RankingNo. 5

    If you're lost for words, it's because James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Durant stole them, just like they poached three of the top-five spots in this season's player rankings.

    Durant is right where he should be—behind LeBron. Harden and Westbrook's spots aren't as solid.

    The bearded wonder has a lot of fans in his corner after leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to revive the Houston Rockets' title chances. And it shows. He was ranked 26th in 2012 when it was initially thought he'd spend at least one more season playing in the shadows of Durant and Westbrook.

    Speaking of whom, Westbrook is four spots ahead of Rose (No. 9), even though he's still rehabbing a torn meniscus. Injuries were weighted heavily this year—see Kobe, Rondo and Rose himself—so it's a little surprising to see Westbrook at No. 5.

    My point here, Thunder fans, is you can't lament the loss of Harden like you missed the opportunity to cheer on three top-five superstars. Harden wouldn't be the player he is now if he was still in Oklahoma City being a sixth man.

    Suggested Ranking for Durant: Top two

    Suggested Ranking for Harden: Top 10

    Suggested Ranking for Westbrook: Top 10

Disappointment: Carmelo Anthony

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    2013 Ranking: No. 15

    2012 Ranking: No. 17

    ESPN still refusing to recognize Carmelo Anthony as a top-10 superstar is beyond weird.

    'Melo is coming off his most successful season as a pro. He netted his first scoring title and was the only other player besides LeBron to receive a first-place vote for the MVP award. Apparently, that was enough for only a slight rise in his stock.

    During the playoffs, Anthony struggled like the rest of the Knicks. Nagging shoulder pains impeded his bullish demeanor considerably, and he closed out the postseason shooting just 40.6 percent from the floor and 29.8 percent from three.

    But he still played. And scored. In fact, his 28.8 points a night were more than New York's second- and third-leading scorers, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton, combined (28.4). 

    Most of the knocks on Anthony are legitimate. He doesn't pass out of double-teams enough and he's not the devoted defender many of his peers are. I'm not denying that.

    With ten years of offensive dominance under his belt, he still deserves more respect than this. He's one of the best scorers in the game, and though he's missing a ring, his teams have snagged playoff berths in each of his first 10 seasons.

     

    Suggested Ranking: Top 10

     

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