Most Overrated and Underrated Stars from ESPN's NBA Rank
The art of power ranking NBA players is far from an exact science.
The simple concept of uncovering any sort of official order for the world's greatest talents in the world's greatest game is highly subjective. Grading scales differ. Judging criteria rest solely in the hands of the ranking class.
One person may prefer proven production and traditional stat lines. Another might be a card-carrying member of the analytical school or place more value on potential than past performances.
The powers that be over at ESPN, or at least a crew of writers from ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network, undertook the daunting task of ranking the league's best players from No. 500 to No. 1. The resulting NBA Rank is this group's collection of the game's greatest stars judged on, in ESPN's words, the "overall level of play for each player for the upcoming NBA season."
If that isn't vague enough for you, the grading criteria seem to differ over the course of the list. Injuries seem to hamper some stars more than others. Some players get a boost from their potential, while others apparently have to prove their worth.
For those reasons (and many more), there are arguments to be made about a number of this crew's selections. Thanks to the powers that be at Bleacher Report, I'll be the fortunate one to put a voice to those arguments.
When dissecting any rankings, particularly one of this magnitude, it's imperative that you pick your battles.
If player No. 175 really should have been No. 173, you're best to just let that one slide.
Still, some minor complaints are worth mentioning. They may not make my blood boil, but they got me heated enough that I have to bring them up.
Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets (No. 47)
No. 47 seems a bit high for a glorified rebounding specialist, no? Unless the "Manimal" discovered an offensive post game this summer, I just don't see him getting enough aerial chances in Brian Shaw's controlled offense to warrant a spot inside the top 60.
Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 49)
I understand the hype, I really do. Defensively he's a pest, and his razor-sharp court vision will take his already impressive assists numbers (career 7.7 per game) to new heights, given the upgraded pieces around him. Still, absent any sort of scoring touch (career 35.9 percent), I can't see him producing top-50 numbers.
Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors (No. 76)
This ranking put plenty of stock into his postseason production, I'd say. After a ho-hum regular season (9.2 points and 4.1 boards), Barnes' breakout performance in 12 playoff games (16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds) isn't enough to get me on board just yet. Add Andre Iguodala to Mark Jackson's suddenly crowded perimeter, and I think Barnes could fall back to those regular-season stats.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat (No. 18)
I'm still searching for evidence of Wade's collapse last season. He was still a top-10 scorer (21.2 points per game, eighth best) and shot a career-best 52.1 percent from the field. The lingering knee injury is a concern, but it hasn't bothered him so far in the preseason (15.7 points, 4.3 boards, 4.0 assists in 24.0 minutes per game).
Luol Deng, SF, Chicago Bulls (No. 46)
Is Luol Deng the second star that Derrick Rose needs? No. But is he a top-40 talent in this league? Absolutely. He is a two-way force whose offense will only clean up with Rose's return. Don't be shocked when he's packing for his third straight All-Star Game in February.
Gordon Hayward, SF, Utah Jazz (No. 90)
The criteria for this ranking, again in ESPN's words, included "both the quality and the quantity of his expected contributions." Are we that worried about the quality of Hayward's production? Because the quantity is going to be massive. He might not affect the win column, but he'll be filling his stat sheet quite nicely.
Overrated: Omer Asik, C, Houston Rockets
NBA Rank: 64
Should Have Been: Outside Top 90
Here's where I get lost in terms of the voting measures.
If this was strictly based on talent, then yes, Omer Asik is a top-70 player. But as you pour through the rest of this list, it's clear that this is far from being talent-driven.
Shift the conversation over to opportunity—the quantity portion of the criteria, I presume—and Asik is struggling to stay in the top 100.
Notice how Asik did next to nothing to extinguish those fires at Rockets media day? Why would he? Howard hasn't played fewer than 34.7 minutes since his rookie season.
Unless you're wagering on Howard's injury problems resurfacing—ESPN slotted him in the No. 7 spot, so clearly it's not—you're either banking on the Rockets caving to Asik's request or finding a way to play the big men together.
Frankly, I'm not willing to take either leap or accept this ranking.
Underrated: Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York Knicks
NBA Rank: 15
Should Have Been: Top 10
Leave it to the blogosphere to discredit Carmelo Anthony on the heels of a career season. And here I was thinking we'd moved past that.
Would I like Anthony to pass the ball more than he does? Sure. But you know what I'd like to see even more? Capable scorers around him who are deserving of those touches. Isn't that a more pressing issue for the New York Knicks?
Yet when Anthony steals the scoring crown, suddenly he's penalized for having too many touches?
You can discredit his defense, but you must also recognize what else he brings to the floor. Like the fact that he's a top-10 rebounder (6.9 per game last season) at his position. Or that only four players made more trips to the free-throw line in 2012-13 (7.6 per game).
He might not have a lot of postseason success on his resume, but it'd be nice see him have a chance with championship-caliber teammates.
His defense keeps him from being a top-five player, but his incredible offensive gifts put him inside the top 10.
Overrated: Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
NBA Rank: 6
Should Have Been: Outside Top 10
And once again, I'm lost.
After clearly penalizing Carmelo Anthony for being a one-dimensional player, ESPN rewards Stephen Curry for being the exact same thing? Not too mention the fact that Curry doesn't even pose the same offensive threat as Anthony.
Curry has some top-10 gifts.
His shooting stroke is unrivaled in today's game. Need proof? Just check his record-setting 272 made triples last season or the fact that he buried 45.3 percent of his league-high 600 attempts.
More of a scoring guard than a traditional point, he's improving as a setup man (6.9 assists against 3.1 turnovers last season). Still, he'll never be a top-flight distributor and could lose some of those assists with the offseason arrival of Andre Iguodala.
Defensively, he's more sieve than stopper. Plus, he's never more than a rolled ankle away from shattering the Golden State Warriors' championship hopes.
He is a dynamic scorer, but he doesn't have as many offensive weapons as Anthony. So, he's ranked ahead of Anthony because he has the superior supporting cast?
Underrated: Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
NBA Rank: 25
Should Have Been: Top Eight
You knew this was coming, didn't you? Even if you weren't tracking the NBA Rank, this selection was impossible to miss.
Clearly, his Achilles injury impacted this ranking. Still without a timetable for his return, the injury looms over his future and that of his Los Angeles Lakers.
This is the "Black Mamba" we're talking about. I say that not to point to his past successes as these rankings were made for the current season, but to remind everyone of the fiery competitive spirit behind his rehab.
He's not going to stumble back onto the hardwood and lose his top-eight (or even top-five) talent. This is the same player who shredded opponents for 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting last season while matching his career best with 6.0 assists per game.
He might not have the wind to expend significant energy at the defensive end—not with the offensive load he has to shoulder in LA—but his on-ball defense remains stout when it's needed.
But his offensive output, basketball IQ and relentless drive for greatness should have earned him a selection somewhere in the top eight, injured or not.
Overrated: Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
NBA Rank: 14
Should Have Been: Outside of Top 25
I almost view this choice as a lifetime achievement award for new Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers. If Blake Griffin puts together a top-15 season in 2013-14, Rivers will run away with the Coach of the Year voting.
But his stat sheets aren't nearly as glowing.
Limitations on the offensive low block and a developing-but-not-quite-there jumper have restricted his ceiling as a scorer. His scoring average has dropped in each of the last two seasons, and he continues leaving points at the foul line (career 61.1 free-throw percentage).
Unfortunately, scoring is supposed to be his strength. It's not his defense—not after opponents ripped him for 16-plus player efficiency ratings last season, via 82games.com. It's not even his glass work, where he's fallen from elite (11.4 boards per 36 minutes as a rookie) to decent (9.2 per 36 minutes last season).
Last season, he was one of just five players to average at least 18 points and eight rebounds.
One of those players was LaMarcus Aldridge, who tallied 21 points and nine boards a night last season. He came in at No. 17. Another was David Lee, who also topped Griffin in points (18.5) and rebounds (11.2). He earned just the 50th spot.
Are we really convinced that Rivers can get Griffin to play the kind of defense needed to justify this ranking? I know I'm not.
Underrated: Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs
NBA Rank: 12
Should Have Been: Top Six
Tony Parker plays for the San Antonio Spurs, so that already puts one strike against him in any power ranking. He's also on the wrong side of 30, so that's strike No. 2 on a forward-thinking list.
Classically underappreciated and wildly productive, Parker is not the first Spurs star to be overlooked, and he won't be the last. Sustained success is apparently boring to the common fan, and it has now seemed to knock Parker's reputation.
Never mind that he finished sixth in the MVP voting in 2012-13 and would have garnered more support had an ankle injury not surfaced down the stretch. Or that he was one of only three players last season with at least 20 points and seven assists.
He was the only member of that group to finish outside of the top five.
You can (try to) argue that Gregg Popovich's preservation plan for his veteran players puts a cap on Parker's potential production. But he's churned out All-Star campaigns in each of the last two seasons despite getting fewer than 33 minutes a night.
Besides, Pop will have to get creative to get Parker off the floor in 2013-14. With a pair of unproven players behind him on the depth chart (Cory Joseph and Patty Mills), he could be in line for a heavier workload this time around.
But it's not like he needs more minutes to justify a much higher ranking than he received.
Overrated: James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
NBA Rank: 4
Should Have Been: Outside of Top Eight
Whatever book we had on James Harden prior to last season has been scrapped and tossed in the garbage can (or better yet, the recycle bin). Out of the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Harden shined in a leading role for Houston.
He finished with the fifth-best scoring average in the league (25.9 points per game). He became just the 18th player in NBA history to average at least 25.5 points and 5.5 assists.
Forced to reset his ceiling, we may have gotten a little carried away with his ranking here.
For all of the good that Harden did in his Rockets debut, he's far from a finished product.
He lost more than five points from his field-goal percentage in his move to Houston (43.8 down from 49.1). His 3.8 turnovers per game were the most of any player last season. Also, the Rockets had a markedly improved defense when Harden was off the floor (103.2 points per 100 possessions) than when he was on it (107.4, via Basketball-Reference.com).
He is a talented player for sure, but No. 4 in the entire league? We do realize that Dwight Howard (career 11.2 field-goal attempts per game) will demand more touches than Omer Asik (4.0) did, don't we?
If Harden's offensive production falters, he'll have a tough case making a top-10 argument. Even if it remains the same, though, he's not in line to have the fourth-best season in the league.
Underrated: Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls
NBA Rank: 9
Should Have Been: Top Four
Another injury-influenced ranking, I'm sure, but this one's even more perplexing than Kobe Bryant's.
After being out of action for 16 months, I can understand some hesitation around Derrick Rose's return from a torn ACL. What I can't get, though, is thinking that he'll regain enough explosiveness to reclaim a spot inside the top 10 yet fall short of the top five.
It's been awhile since we've seen him in games that actually matter, so it's a good time for a refresher course.
This is the only player not named LeBron James to earn MVP honors in any of the last five seasons. The last time he was healthy, he led the Chicago Bulls to back-to-back seasons with a plus-.750 winning percentage.
He's an explosive scorer (career 21.0 points per game) and an underrated passer (career high 7.9 assists per game in 2011-12). He's a two-way force in every sense of the term, and the 25-year-old has yet to enter his prime.
Here are the other players ESPN ranked in front of Rose: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Dwight Howard and Kyrie Irving. You tell me which player from that group will have a bigger season than Rose and do it with a straight face.