Basketball Commentator Power Rankings 2010

Andrew WillinghamContributor IMay 5, 2010

LAS VEGAS - JULY 9: TNT NBA analyst and former NBA player Charles Barkley jokes around as he arrives at the celebrity basketball 'New School vs. Old School' poker tournament at the Mirage July 9, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event was held to benefit Operation Smile, the American Cancer Society and the Sports Dream Foundation.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

With the recent announcement of NBA awards, I have been thinking about player rankings. There are so many metrics! We’re all familiar with the stats per game metrics, assist to turnover ratio, +/-. These metrics are simple- there are plenty more complicated stats like PER, true shooting percentage, usage rate, value added, etc. These metrics aren’t always clear, but they give us a variety of ways to try and quantify a player’s value to a team. My dream job is to be a basketball color commentator, so I set out to rank commentators in my first Commentator Power Rankings column. How will I evaluate commentators in a fair and balanced way? I propose a new metric with which we can judge a commentators value to a broadcast:

Commentator Efficiency Rating:

[ (interesting insights) x (catch phrases) ]
annoying factor + number of made up words used + former player?

For non math-majors, things on the top of the fraction make a commentator better, the higher the stuff on the bottom, the lower the CER will be. Now let’s get down to business- here is my commentator power rankings for 2010:

473. Steven A. Smith
I think this one is self-explanatory. But to be fair, Steven set the record for lowest CER ever with a -7,434,233,128,894,478,954,341,125.

30. Bruce Bowen

                                            Just look at this:

Bow Tie = Low CER

29. Ric Bucher

Sideline reporting is hard: there is nothing that we can learn from the sideline of a basketball game that the crew at half-court couldn’t tell us. Ric does ok, but, is it just me or is it possible Ric is a robot? And his orange hue is shocking…

Tan much?

28. Mike Tirico
Stick to the Masters Mike…Not horrible, but too friendly for my taste, Mike Tirico comes in at 28 this year. Seems to have a low basketball IQ. You know what you’re getting with Mike- a solid but uninteresting broadcast.

27. Jalen Rose
Does pretty well for a former player, but I’m not impressed. Hampered by inconsistent dress choice and one of the worst broadcasting voices, Jalen’s “analysis” on ESPN is standard at best. Better choices among former players include Reggie Miller, Gary Payton, and Brent Barry.

26. Cheryl Miller
Cheryl is my favorite sideline reporter if only because she is taller than many of the players she interviews. You better be nice to Cheryl, she’ll kick your ass if you aren’t.

25. Jon Barry
The worst baller of the Barry clan, Jon adds little to the ESPN halftime shows. He lacks personality and is nowhere near as funny as brother Brent. To compound these shortcomings, he lacks the basketball clout to make up for his uninspired television performances.

24. Stu Scott
Stuart Scott’s CER just keeps on falling. A stalwart of the 90s, Stu has become a one-trick pony. His overuse of one-word, staccato, declarative “street phrases” has gotten stale. This is national television Stu, not “The Best of Rucker Park” on the WB.

23. Magic Johnson
Great player, poor broadcaster. He makes no effort to try and hide his pro-Laker bias. His interviews with big-time players are lame. I might even prefer Jon Barry to Magic. Look for his CER to fall next year.

22. Doug Collins
Where to start? Doug Collins talks too much. Way too much. He has a severe case of diarrhea of the mouth. He will talk for minuets without stopping if you let him; the play-by-play guy has a hard time getting a word in edgewise. Doug is my least favorite color commentator. I hope he accepts a coaching job so we don’t have to listen to him anymore.

21. Kenny Anderson
“Kenny’s Pictures” is not a great segment. Rarely, if ever, does Kenny say anything noteworthy or particularly revealing. I like the banter he shares with Charles, but that alone was not enough to move Kenny any higher than 21.

20. Mike Fratello
“The Czar” is nothing special as a color commentator. Like the distinctive voice, but not sure about his analysis at times. Somewhat obnoxious. Actually, straight up obnoxious. Don’t have anything horrible to say about The Czar, but nothing great to say either.

19. Tim Legler
Tim does a solid job as a basketball commentator on SportsCenter. His opinions are well grounded, and he is not obnoxious. Could lose the 90s “flip” hairstyle though; I keep expecting to see him with frosted tips.

18. Avery Johnson
Avery has one of the most distinctive voices in all of television. I like this enthusiasm and passion for the game. Have to wonder why this guy doesn’t have a coaching job yet. If I had a team, preferably one in Seattle, and I couldn’t hire Jeff Van Gundy, I’d hire Avery. My confidence in his coaching abilities didn’t help his CER though.

17. Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson’s struggles as a color commentator are even more visible when he works with Kevin Collabro. Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy seem to bring out the best in Mark, whose strongest commentary comes in the form of arguments with former coach Jeff. He overuses his catchphrase “Momma there goes that man”, which I don’t find particularly strong to begin with. I know he is a former player, but I think Mark could do better. I wonder if “Momma” is pleased her son is ranked 17th…

16. Chris Webber
Chris Webber is a bit of an enigma. Funny at times, but not so articulate on basketball analysis, he is someone whose reputation as a player has become greater because of his broadcast career. When I see him on TV, and he says something funny or smart, I think to myself, “Yeah. Chris was a great player, he knows what he’s talking about.” Looking back at Chris’ stats though, we can see that he had a great career but was not an all-time great. His strong on-air personality makes us forget about his attitude problems that got him traded from Golden State to the Bullets after his Rookie of the Year season. Has potential to be a really solid broadcaster- not sure he is sharp (or interesting) enough to become the next Barkley.

15. Austin Carr
Austin Carr, or “Mr. Cavalier” as his friends call him, is the local TV color commentator for the Cavs. Austin’s CER benefits from the fact he is unintentionally humorous. His catchphrase, “Throw the hammer down” is solid, but overused. I also like that he refers to “the paint” as “in the office.” Carr is the highest-ranking local broadcaster.

14. Brent Barry
Brent Barry is new to the broadcasting scene; but one could call him the “Rookie Broadcaster of the Year.” As if being the only white guy to ever win a dunk contest doesn’t automatically cement “Bones” as a great broadcaster, he has a real knack for television. He is sarcastic, ironic, and understated. He needs some more experience, but Brent has the skills to become one of the great broadcasters- I think he could go as high as the top 3. If you’re still not convinced, you can enjoy the videos below. If you don’t like those, you don’t like basketball.

13. Kevin McHale
I wasn’t happy with Kevin at first because he replaced my boy Gary Payton, but McHale has proven himself to be a knowledgeable and funny commentator. I like him better in the studio than calling a game, but Kevin has some good analysis and blends well with Webber. I was shocked when Minnesota fired him, but Kevin could make a career in broadcasting.

12. Craig Sager
Craig Sager’s ranking was due solely to his awesome choice of suits. His wardrobe is a source of envy for pimps everywhere. If the dress makes the man, Craig is the best broadcaster of all time.

11. Gary Payton
Gary Payton did an incredible job as a commentator on last year’s NBA Fan Night on NBA TV. Not only was he hilarious, he paired well with Chris Webber and Ahmad Rashad/Andre Aldridge. Payton and Webber together was the best hour on TV last year. I don’t know how they allowed this to go on for a year…but they did. His catchphrases include calling Michael Jordan “Black Jesus”, calling players he likes “my boy”, and dunking on someone is “hitting them in the head.” Just tell me you didn’t laugh during these three clips. Bring him back!!

10. Kevin Harlan
Although Kevin Harlan is a solid play-by-play guy, he is in the top 10 for one reason: his catchphrase. “ (Player Name) with no regard for human life!” is the best catchphrase on here. Sure, Collabro could give him a run for his money back in the Sonics days, but that’s it.

(Notice the start of a Doug Collins’ 4min comment at the end).

9. Bill Walton
This is where the Power Rankings get interesting. Although Bill is not currently active, I felt he deserved a place in the top 10. Is Bill Walton annoying? Yes. Does he have a horrible pro-Laker bias? Yes. Is he hard to look at? Yes. Like Reggie, Bill Walton is annoying, but he makes the broadcast better. He has clear opinions and is not afraid to disagree with other members of the broadcast, which makes for some interesting debates.

8. Mike Breen
Mike Breen is the play-by-play guy on the strongest broadcast team (Breen, Jackson, Van Gundy). He’s funny, not obnoxious, and asks the right questions to provoke interesting and often humorous responses from Mark and Jeff. He is more reserved than the guys ranked ahead of him, but his role as straight man to Mark and Jeff’s comedy hour is solid. He has covered some all-time great NBA games including the Knicks brawl with Jeff Van Gundy being dragged while holding onto Alonzo Mourning’s leg, Kobe’s 61-point night in MSG, and the Pistons/Pacers brawl in ’04.

7. Reggie Miler
I was surprised to see Reggie this high, but like Walton, his CER was boosted by his positive annoying factor. Reggie is annoying, for sure, but he and Marv work well together. Although we may not like Reggie, his unintentional comedy factor is off the charts. Let me reiterate that I am as surprised as you are that Reggie is ranked this high, but the CER is unbiased! Reggie is kind of like the friend you have around that everyone makes fun of; you don’t like him for his personality as much as the role he fulfills in your social circle. Reggie is like this for a broadcast. His CER was hurt by his repeated use of made up words, most notably, “intrical”, a combination of “intricate” and “integral”, which Reggie uses to mean “important.”

6. Marv Albert
Marv has been the voice of the NBA for 20 years now. His catchphrases and delivery are known by all NBA fans. Marv’s ranking is due mostly to his reputation as a seasoned broadcaster. However, Marv’s CER has increased recently due to his pairing with Reggie Miller. I love that Marv often mocks Reggie without him noticing, often asking “You all right Reg?” Extremely distinctive voice, extremely distinctive hairpiece, solid catchphrases, and experience make Marv the second highest ranked play-by-play guy on our list.

5. Kevin Collabro
I’m being a bit of a homer by ranking Kevin this high, but he deserves it. When he was the play-by-play announcer for the Sonics he was, without question, the best play-by-play announcer in the NBA. His CER was bolstered by his array of unique catch phrases including, “Flying chickens in the barn-yard,” “Straight down the boulevard on a Saturday night,” “Get on the magic carpet and ride,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “Nobody do the voodoo like you do,” and who could forget “Get up for the downstroke.” Kevin used to do both the radio and TV broadcasts, which is rare. His calls allow you to picture the game unfolding. He is quite simply, the best play-by-play guy I’ve ever witnessed. The one thing that kept him out of the top 5 was the fact that I think he tones it down too much on national broadcasts. I’m sure the producers tell him to “keep it simple,” but Kevin, let ‘er loose! We miss the enthusiasm, crazy nicknames, and signature catchphrases.

4. Ernie Johnson
The ultimate straight man, Ernie has the most difficult job of any broadcaster on the list. He has to manage Kenny, Charles, and often Chris Webber, not an easy task. His efforts to keep the broadcast crew on point, as well as deal with unexpected profanities, nonsensical comments, and general tomfoolery of the TNT show make him the 4th strongest broadcaster in 2010.

3. Hubie Brown
Hubie is old-school. Like born in the 1800’s old school. Hubie is the most knowledgeable color commentator we have in the game today. I learn something every time I watch Hubie. Hubie’s CER is high and was hurt only by his physical appearance (see pictures below). As if someone with so much basketball knowledge could ever be doubted, remember this is the man who coached the Grizz to a playoff appearance in ‘03.


I can't tell the difference...

2. Jeff Van Gundy

Much like a great point guard, Jeff makes everyone around him better. His presence makes Mike Breen great and Mark Jackson tolerable. I love the dynamic he has with Mark, having coached him and all. As a color-commentator, Jeff has the rare combination of basketball knowledge and on-camera charisma to deliver funny quips in the flow of the game. Jeff is smart, self-deprecating, and interesting to listen to. Why he hasn’t been hired for a coaching job yet, I have no idea, but I hope Jeff sticks to broadcasting- he is the best color-commentator we have.

1. Charles Barkley
I’m sure some people out there are surprised to see Chuck at number one. Does he have trouble pronouncing big words? Sometimes. Does he make outlandish statements regarding players and teams he likes? Sure. Is Charles the smartest man on television? Probably not. But Charles loves the game, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He truly is a larger-than-life personality (no pun intended). I recently met Charles in an Atlanta nightclub and he behaves in person just like he does on TV; he is always looking for a good time. Charles always has something to say and that is good for basketball. He loves less-popular players, which I respect (his two favorite being Ginobili and Mickael Pietrus). His most notable catch phrase is his unique pronunciation of “GINNNNNOOOOOBBBBIIILLLLIIIII!!” Charles doesn’t abide by the normal rules of television; he makes his own. His sense of humor, honesty, and outspokenness make him the number one basketball commentator in 2010. Don’t be surprised if Charles repeats as number one next year: the title of the best basketball commentator is his to lose.

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