NBA Rank and the Pelicans

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Published: October 3, 2013
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Every year, ESPN runs a segment called “NBA Rank,” where they rank the top 500 players in the NBA.  They are in the midst of this process right now, and before the final results are divulged, I thought it might be a good time to take a peek at last year’s results and see if there are any patterns that emerged.

In 2012, 104 voters from various media outlets ranked each player on a scale of 1 to 10, and the players were assorted based on their average score.  I compiled the data from each team into a painfully big spreadsheet and listed the top 12 ranked players on each team (besides Phoenix, who only had 11 listed players).

There were trades that happened at various times during the season, but in the interest of time and my sanity, I decided not to obsess over changing the information. I did alter Houston and Oklahoma City’s numbers by switching James Harden, Jeremy Lamb, and Kevin Martin to their proper teams (the ones they played with during the season).

The table reads fairly easily.  Atlanta’s top-ranked player from 2012 was Al Horford, who was ranked 30th.  Their next highest, Josh Smith, was 31st. Etc, etc.

   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12
Atlanta 30 31 88 108 109 186 196 223 319 397 398 457
Boston 12 21 29 81 97 106 116 172 247 300 340 389
Brooklyn 10 33 60 70 84 148 230 237 249 254 415 417
Charlotte 128 146 154 184 199 222 253 260 283 317 416 440
Chicago 5 36 37 67 82 187 188 225 276 302 329 356
Cleveland 22 74 200 208 250 255 271 293 299 345 363 385
Dallas 11 85 90 92 98 113 159 185 204 212 301 339
Denver 28 48 54 71 77 93 94 203 220 269 274 337
Detroit 49 103 144 177 206 221 241 244 245 262 277 407
Golden State 40 45 59 124 135 161 179 180 181 284 334 370
Houston 26 78 99 152 175 231 280 290 311 318 321 324
Indiana 35 39 56 75 87 147 174 246 251 275 405 408
L.A. Clippers 4 14 86 110 111 114 122 126 130 308 316 346
L.A. Lakers 3 6 15 19 137 156 219 239 248 350 351 358
Memphis 24 32 34 65 66 168 195 197 314 315 344 359
Miami 1 8 18 64 104 107 129 209 236 252 256 257
Milwaukee 46 61 72 136 153 166 213 226 227 273 295 333
Minnesota 7 47 79 105 133 134 139 145 194 270 298 353
New Orleans 38 50 62 169 224 258 261 272 285 328 425 452
New York 17 23 43 127 132 138 157 167 173 176 325 437
Oklahoma City 2 9 41 76 100 117 120 190 267 286 306 343
Orlando 80 102 115 141 143 192 214 259 282 304 365 378
Philadelphia 13 73 91 118 119 121 165 182 232 332 375 400
Phoenix 57 68 83 140 158 191 235 238 296 322 369
Portland 20 63 109 202 211 268 330 338 357 373 401 409
Sacramento 42 69 131 150 178 189 215 228 263 264 305 313
San Antonio 16 25 27 95 149 151 155 160 162 171 198 309
Toronto 51 58 96 112 164 207 217 233 234 278 307 376
Utah 44 53 89 123 125 163 201 205 242 310 323 380
Washington 52 55 101 142 170 218 266 279 281 292 360

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My interest in making this table was seeing if there were any trends involving playoff teams. The Pelicans have made it very clear that the playoffs are their goal this season, and the majority of my analysis this offseason has been geared towards figuring out if there is any evidence supporting the idea that they can make it.  As of now, 5 of the top Pelican players have yet to be ranked, and before these players’ ranks are revealed, I thought it’d be good to develop an understanding of good patterns to look for.  Here is what I found.

Trend 1: Having a top 10 player

Qualifiers: Miami, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota, Brooklyn, Chicago, and the Los Angeles Lakers

Success rate: 85.7% (or 83.3% if you exclude the Bulls)

6 of the 7 NBA teams with a top 10 player made the playoffs. The exception? The injury-riddled Timberwolves, whose best player, Kevin Love, missed almost the entire season.  It is also notable that Chicago’s only top 10 player, Derrick Rose, missed the entire season.

Trend 2: Having 3 players in the top 50

Qualifiers: San Antonio, New York, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Miami, Boston, Chicago, and the Los Angeles Lakers

Success rate: 100%

Each of these teams made the playoffs.

Memphis traded one of its top 50 players, Rudy Gay, roughly halfway through the season.  Take that for what you will.

Trend 3: Having 4 players in the top 100

Qualifiers: San Antonio, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Miami, Indiana, Denver, Dallas, Chicago, Brooklyn, and Boston

Success rate: 90%

The only qualifier in this category that didn’t make the playoffs was Dallas, whose best player, Dirk Nowitzki, missed 29 games (noticing a trend here?) and was working himself back into form much of the season.  Dallas missed the playoffs by 4 games.

Visual Aid

It is a lot easier to see the trends with some visual aid, and here is the picture that I used to help me out. The numbers are a little harder to see here than they are in the table above, but the colors are easy to pick out.

Color keys:

Green: Players 1-10
Blue: Players 11-50
Yellow: Players 51-100

NBA Rank

Conclusion

These trends are not meant to give exact percentages of what to expect with NBA rank. Rankings are subjective and the NBA is a fluid league, and I’m not trying to say that any of these trends are an absolute, end-all-be-all indicator of who is making the playoffs and who isn’t. There are plenty of factors in play, such as coaching, chemistry, health, etc.  Ranking the top 500 players is anything but an exact science, and the parameters that I defined (top 10, 50, 100) are, well, arbitrary. But these patterns were very clear from the data and are at least another set of lenses with which we can view this upcoming season.

I realize that the correlation of teams with better players (in this case, higher-ranked) and success is obvious.  But the NBA is a star-driven league, and role players tend to be somewhat interchangeable.  This is why I was more concerned with the organization of the top players from each team than, for instance, the team with the lowest sum from its top 12 players’ ranks. If anything, this is just a fun look at an exercise that generates a lot of interest from fan bases across the nation.

9 comments
mazonmafia
mazonmafia

16 teams have 2 players ranked in the top 50.  14 of those teams made the playoffs.  The only 2 teams that missed were the Twolves (Klove hurt) and the Hornets (Gordon hurt).  Pretty remarkable considering that there are only 16 slots total. 7 for 7 in the east and 7 for 9 in the west.

adfly
adfly

Very excited about the top 100 talent that'll be on full display I'm New Orleans

SamuelWhoDatWilcher
SamuelWhoDatWilcher

I love this article and you can see that Talent will lead to success.  The question is will we have 6 people in the top 100 in two years.


adfly
adfly

Pelicans would fall under trend 3. They'll surely have 5 players in the top 107.

nmasri
nmasri

While we may not YET have a top 10 player (AD will be soon), we easily have three top 50 players (AD, Holiday, Evans) and at least four if not five in the top 100 (Gordon, Anderson). The fact that all of these players are relatively young bodes well for our future - both this season and for seasons to come.

Michael Pellissier
Michael Pellissier

@mazonmafia good eye! I'm doing a second article on this sometime in the near future and will be sure to add your trend. 


Michael Pellissier
Michael Pellissier

@nmasri I'm not sure how Evans will be ranked, but I'd be surprised to see him in the top 50 right now. In terms of talent, Gordon is easily top 50, but he just hasn't shown that he can stay healthy. Ryno deserves to be top 50 every year

I agree that Davis will be top 10 sometime in the next couple years, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Jrue as a top 30 player within a couple of years as well.

Whatever it winds up being, we have a lot of talent, and all of it is very young. Exciting stuff