B/R NBA 200: Series Ranks the NBA's Best Players Heading into 2016-17 Season

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2016

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball against Tristan Thompson #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ask five people how to organize just the NBA's best players, and you'll probably get five different answers. 

Now, let's provide the real answer.

To do so, we need to use the end point of last season as our starting point for now. And a lot sure did change last year:

Until LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers took over during the NBA Finals, the 2015-16 campaign belonged to the Golden State Warriors. Stephen Curry was the runaway favorite for MVP, eventually earning the award in unanimous fashion for the first time in league history. Around him was a stellar supporting cast that included two more legitimate stars—Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. 

But the Dubs didn't claim every great player. Kevin Durant bounced back in fantastic fashion, and he may not even have been the best on his own team. Kawhi Leonard continued his emergence as a bona fide superstar. Kyle Lowry thrived for the Toronto Raptors. 

Buckle up for the ultimate ranking of the Association's best and brightest: the B/R NBA 200 as we count down all of the NBA's standout performers this year before arriving at a definitive answer to the aforementioned question, as well as so many others. Over the next few days, we'll be going position by position, determining the top dogs at each based on a combination of extensive scouting and plenty of number-crunching fun. 

Remember though, these aren't going to be the positions you're used to. Well, not entirely. Positions are increasingly fluid in today's NBA, meaning players aren't necessarily pigeonholed into one spot in the lineup. That was never more true than in 2015-16, which saw some lineups become almost entirely amorphous. 

May 1, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN;  Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) steals the ball from Toronto Raptors in game seven of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Players such as Paul George and Carmelo Anthony routinely suit up as both small forwards and power forwards. We have guards such as C.J. McCollum who are perfectly comfortable running the show as point guards or taking on more off-ball duties as shooting guards. Anthony Davis and LaMarcus Aldridge defy description as either true power forwards or true centers. 

To account for the burgeoning irrelevance of the five typical positions, we're breaking down the top 200 into nine types of players: point guards, combo guards, shooting guards, swingmen, small forwards, combo forwards, power forwards, combo big men and centers. If and when you don't see your favorite player at the expected traditional position, check out his profile on Basketball-Reference.com, and you'll probably see that he slots into a different set of rankings. 

Second, we're looking at the 2015-16 season and nothing else. Reputation, past success, previous accolades—none of these things were taken into account, nor was potential going forward. It's all about each player's performance this year alone. 

Unfortunately, that means not everyone is eligible, including injured standouts and high-potential players who don't yet have large roles. In order to qualify for the rankings, they must have suited up at least 30 times and spent 500 or more minutes on the court.

DeMarre Carroll played in only 26 games during the regular season, so he's not eligible for NBA 200.
DeMarre Carroll played in only 26 games during the regular season, so he's not eligible for NBA 200.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Nine categories were used to evaluate these players, though each was weighted to account for its importance at each position. We'll go over these metrics at the beginning of each positional ranking, but first, let's give a brief overview of how we define each category.  

Below, you can click on certain hyperlinked categories to view the exact formula used to provide the baseline score—a foundation that was invariably tweaked to account for context. 

  1. Scoring: This accounts for volume, efficiency and the ability to create shots for oneself. The best scorers are those who can put up points in bunches without racking up misses but also those who score off the dribble rather than relying on the passes of teammates. 
  2. Facilitating: It's all about generating opportunities for teammates and putting them in a position to capitalize on those opportunities. Oh, and turning the ball over is a big no-no. 
  3. Off-ball offense: Using ICE data provided by B/R Insights, we looked at players' effective field-goal percentages in spot-up situations, as well as the gravitational effects they have on defenders. The latter shows how much a player's mere presence and the need to keep covering him influences defensive coverage. 
  4. On-ball defense: How well does a player fare when guarding isolation sets, navigating pick-and-roll plays and fighting against post-up situations? 
  5. Off-ball defense: How well does a player track opponents without the ball, following them around screens, cutting off lanes to the basket and closing out on spot-up shooters? Involvement is also key here, as you don't want a guy loafing around the court. 
  6. Rim protection: Only applicable for combo forwards and up, this category is a combination of how well a player limits opponents' field-goal percentage at the rim and how often he's in position to alter shots. 
  7. Rebounding: A score was given based on rebounding volume, the rate at which boards were compiled and the more subtle aspects of this skill—contested versus uncontested rebounds and opportunities generated by being in the vicinity of a missed shot. This was subjective last year, but that's no longer the case.
  8. Durability: Using ICE data provided by B/R Insights, we looked at physio load, which measures the workload a player's body has endured by factoring in weight, distance traveled, speed and other physical components. Players were rewarded not just for stepping onto the court (as has been the case in past editions of the NBA 200) but for handling heavy physical responsibilities and playing significant minutes. 

All players' total scores were out of 100, not because of potential or historical output, but just by how well they performed in 2015-16. Ties were broken subjectively by determining which would be more desirable if constructing a team right now. That was done by a voting committee comprised of myself, three B/R National NBA Featured Columnists (Grant HughesZach Buckley and Dan Favale) and B/R Associate NBA Editor (Joel Cordes).

Now that you understand the process—if you don't, leave a comment below—let's get ready for the rankings. Do note the number of players at each position will not be equal. For example, the NBA is a point guard-dominated league, so that position will contain 32 players.

Note: This intro is an updated version of the one that appeared prior to the 2015 B/R NBA 200. Special thanks to Kelly Scaletta, who helped me develop the metrics used for scoring, facilitating and rebounding during the 2014 offseason.