NBA Rank 2: It’s a Celebration

Published: October 14, 2013

It’s time to celebrate. Davis is looking very much like the franchise player that New Orleans fans expected him to be, and national media finally appears to have arrived at the consensus opinion that he is going to be a star in the league. But of course, we all knew that, so why does this newfound national optimism about Davis’s career expectations matter? Because now you don’t have to tolerate scowls and accusations of “homerism” when you talk about his bright future with fans of other teams. You can wave his NBA Rank card (seriously, print/laminate one and keep one handy) in their faces, boldly proclaiming that this is the opinion of the majority and that the majority IS ALWAYS RIGHT, as we (the majority) know we are.

Last week, I took a look at the 2012-2013 NBA Rank and how the results played out.  I had one goal in mind: look for trends in teams who made the playoffs. I found 3 trends and was fortunate enough to have one of our readers (MazonMafia) point out one that I missed.

If you missed last week’s piece and want more detail, check out last week’s piece. If you don’t want to read through any more of my mindless drivel than you have to, here’s a quick recap.

Trend 1: Having a top 10 player

Success rate: 85.7%

Trend 2: Having 2 players in the top 50 (thanks, MazonMafia)

Success rate: 87.5%

Trend 3: Having 3 players in the top 50

Success rate: 100%

Trend 4: Having 4 players in the top 100

Success rate: 90%

Pelican results

Now to the fun part. The Pelicans have all been ranked, so it’s time to take out the measuring stick. Here are the results of each Pelican. Please excuse the formatting.

       Player        Rank
Anthony Davis 33
Jrue Holiday 43
Ryan Anderson 56
Eric Gordon 71
Tyreke Evans 79
Al-Farouq Aminu 170
Jason Smith 243
Anthony Morrow 265
Austin Rivers 281
Brian Roberts 316
Greg Stiemsma 350
Darius Miller 380
Jeff Withey 387
Lance Thomas 391
Arinze Onuaku 494


Trend 1: Having a top 10 player
Result: Failure

Trend 2: Having 2 players in the top 50
Result: Success (Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday)

Trend 3: Having 3 players in the top 50
Result: Failure (Ryno fell short by a few spots)

Trend 4: Having 4 players in the top 100
Result: Success (Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans made the cut, which means that the Pelicans had one more than the benchmark of 4).

Establishing a Comparison

After the dust settled from the summer storm that was the Pelicans offseason, I went over the roster again and again trying to establish an idea of what to expect this season. I wanted to find a team from last year to compare to this year’s Pelicans, and I decided to find it using NBA Rank.

Assumption: in establishing a team comparison, it is most important to match the values of the best players. In my last article, I mentioned the widely-used notion that many role players are interchangeable. Successful teams almost always have a star, and champions always have a star. That’s what I believe matters, and I went off of that assumption in this analysis.

New Orleans had 5 standout players in NBA Rank, so I chose to find a team whose players’ NBA Ranks from last year closely approximated those of the 13-14 Pelicans.

In this table below, the NBA Rank of each team’s top 5 players from last season was compared to the NBA Rank of the top 5 Pelicans players from this year. Each number represents the absolute value in distance (in regards to rank) from the Pelicans player.

If that doesn’t make sense, here’s an example. Last year, Denver’s top 5 players were ranked 28, 48, 54, 71, and 77.  Its best player, therefore, was 28. The number in the “1” column, 5, was calculated by subtracting from the first Pelicans player (33).  It follows that..

Column “2”:      5 comes from absolute value of (Pels 43 minus Denver 48)
Column “3”:      2 comes from absolute value of (Pels 56 minus Denver 54)
Column “4”:      0 comes from absolute value of (Pels 71 minus Denver 71)
Column “5”:      2 comes from absolute value of (Pels 79 minus Denver 77)

I decided to use absolute values because the sum of a highly negative value and a highly positive one (let’s say -91 and 91) could still wind up being a small number. For example, Team X’s best player was ranked 91 spots away from the Pelicans’ best player and its 2nd best was 91 spots away from the Pelicans 2nd best.. yet their sum winds up being 0, which leads one to believe that the teams are comparable. Moving on..

 1  2  3  4 5 Sum
Denver 5 5 2 0 2 14
Indiana 2 4 0 4 8 18
Brooklyn 23 10 4 1 5 43
Chicago 28 7 19 4 3 61
Memphis 9 11 22 6 13 61
Boston 21 22 27 10 18 98
Oklahoma City 31 34 15 5 21 106
Atlanta 3 12 32 37 30 114
Golden State 7 2 3 53 56 121
Miami 32 35 38 7 25 137
Dallas 22 42 34 21 19 138
Minnesota 26 4 23 34 54 141
Utah 11 10 33 52 46 152
New York 16 20 13 56 53 158
San Antonio 17 18 29 24 70 158
L.A. Clippers 29 29 30 39 32 159
Philadelphia 20 30 35 47 40 172
Milwaukee 13 18 16 65 74 186
Toronto 18 15 40 41 85 199
L.A. Lakers 30 37 41 52 58 218
Phoenix 24 25 27 69 79 224
Washington 19 12 45 71 91 238
Houston 7 35 43 81 96 262
New Orleans
33 43 56 71 79 282
Sacramento 9 26 75 79 99 288
Orlando 47 59 59 70 64 299
Portland 13 20 53 131 132 349
Detroit 16 60 88 106 127 397
Cleveland 11 31 144 137 171 494
Charlotte 95 103 98 113 120 529



The Pelicans’ NBA Ranks from this year were remarkably close to the 2012-13 Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers, two highly-seeded teams in their respective conferences.. but don’t jump for joy yet. Indiana’s Paul George took a quantum leap forward last year and played way better than his 75 rank and the Pacers were in a weak Eastern Conference.  They also featured the best defense in the NBA and did not face the core chemistry issues that the Pelicans will likely have to overcome this season.  Despite the similarities in rank, the Pacers are very unlikely to be a fair comparison.

The 12-13 Denver Nuggets, however, seem to be a decent comparison for what this Pelicans squad could be. The team featured many very good, borderline All-Stars, but no established superstar.  Denver’s roster from last year was full of athletic, fast players, and its depth + athleticism but lack of superstar made it a perfect candidate for the “we’re built for the regular season but probably won’t go far in the playoffs” club.. and that’s exactly what happened. The Nuggets finished 3rd in the conference with 57 wins, which was 1 more than the Clippers and Grizzlies managed.

The difference between this year’s Western Conference and last year’s starts at the top.  The Clippers and the Rockets appear to have improved, and in reality, the top 5-6 spots in the conference look pretty set. The Pelicans’ goal is clear: they want to make the playoffs. The preseason results have brought optimism, and Anthony Davis’s play is stirring up excitement. The trends from last year say the Pelicans can make it and NBA Rank says the talent is there.. what do you think?


  1. 504ever

    October 14, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Love the article’s NBA player rank driven optimism, and it’s transition from numeracy to reality.  This year the Pelicans will likely have blending-issue growing pains, and the top 5-6 spots (probably 6) in the West are a lock to go to other teams baring a catastrophic injury on those teams.  
    Would like to see this analysis next year at this time, but think we will have a great ride this year.  Can’t wait for the season to start.

  2. LieutenantKumar

    October 14, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    I have sneaking suspicion Davis, Gordon, and Evans will out play their ranks

  3. GerryV

    October 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Wow! You really went off the deep end huh? ( i grin of course)…rank em all you want…if guard play doesn’t excel Davis will suffer intense mental torture…..JUMP SHOOTING MUST IMPROVE! ” Now i lay me down to sleep i pray the Lord will ….improve guard play……enjoyed the read by the way.

  4. Michael Pellissier

    October 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    GerryV I think Morrow is a good start to that. Ryno, Morrow, Roberts, Jrue, and Miller can space and spot up. 
    Guard play is a must, and it was much better in Biloxi. Jrue was always under control and was at his best with another shot-creator on the floor.  Got the complementary options in AD/Ryno that can really mesh well with guys who get to the rim and create.  Rivers can create but needs to be ready to shoot or attack off of kick-outs . He’s hesitating and it’s wasting penetration.
    And you can’t go off the deep end if you’re already crazy! It was really just supposed to be a fun study of how NBA Rank measures talent and how well it correlates to playoff success.

  5. Michael Pellissier

    October 14, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    LieutenantKumar Given health for all 3, I think Davis is a cinch to, Gordon is very likely to, and Evans is moderately likely to. But of course, that’s assuming health, which.. :/

  6. Michael Pellissier

    October 14, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    504ever I’m going to try to keep up with this.. frankly, the spreadsheet isn’t as much of a pain as explaining the assumptions and logic is. But it’s something I’ll definitely monitor as the season progresses.

  7. mateor

    October 14, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    I have often thought of Denver as a good comp for what we are going to have this year. By next season, we will hopefully be closer to the 2009-10 Magic.

  8. Michael Pellissier

    October 15, 2013 at 1:00 am

    mateor as have I, which made the results really pleasing. I was shocked just how close the comparison was. 
    If Davis can get to the level of dominance that Howard was at in Orlando, I think we have a much better supporting cast than they did. Then again, I was a very casual NBA fan a few years ago, so take what I say for what you will. I also remember hearing that the East was particularly weak that year. Not sure if that’s true either.

  9. ShamelessPel

    October 15, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Minus signs are your friend. Absolute value shows us nothing unless you sit down and do serious research or follow the NBA so intently you can guess what the ranking of the player in question on each team is. This could have been a very instructive piece, instead I am left wondering what the hell he is trying to show us except for the fact that we are close to Denver and Indiana?

  10. ShamelessPel

    October 15, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Put simply, you did the research and all the hard work, why not give us a relative +/- number in comparison to the top 5 from the rest of the teams around the league.

  11. Nithenz

    October 15, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Damn, Smith ranked 73 spots higher than Aminu…Seems lot of the voters just saw the RPG and never heard of Smith so they voted that way!

  12. mstevens41765

    October 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Nice comparison, i think we will end up as a 7-8 seed playoff team this year, and in a year or so as our team builds chemistry and davis becomes a star. we will be a legit playoff team a serious spurs style contender.  
    PS damian lillard is ranked higher than AD… really NBA rank, really

  13. mazonmafia

    October 15, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    ShamelessPel That’s exactly what he is showing us.  Its an objective analysis based on very subjective numbers.  The end result of the comparison to last years Denver was a way of projecting the success of this years team.
    I agree- minus signs would help for looking at a sum value less than 50, but that is a ton of likely wasted effort. So first he found what teams were even remotely close.  Then he analyzed subjectively those two teams that were under 25.  If he left in the minus signs, we could finish numerically with identical numbers to a team that was structured very differently from our own.
    Ps. He gave Denver’s plus/minus numbers.  The results are: +5, -5, +2, 0, and +2 giving us a +4 in comparison.  In this way, the numbers show that Denver was projected to be a slightly better team last year than we will be this year.  Personally, I think AD will easily turn that +5 into a -5 this year!

  14. mazonmafia

    October 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    GerryV  I would agree but call it guard/wing play.  I believe the play will improve greatly (once the team works through growing pains) but my biggest worry is Aminu and his lack of spacing.  That’s were we could see the greatest improvement…or biggest hindrance.

  15. mazonmafia

    October 15, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Michael Pellissier LieutenantKumar Injuries plague other teams as well. Finishing 6th in the west is not out of the question.  The rockets and clippers have injury issues similar to us.  And even if Gordon is out for an extended amount of time, we still meet the criteria for a playoff team based on Trends 2 and 4.

  16. Michael Pellissier

    October 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    mstevens41765 I frantically went through NBA Rank hoping to find Lillard lower than Davis, but it appears we have to go w/ this charade for one more year

  17. Michael Pellissier

    October 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Nithenz that was the first thing that crossed my mind with the team as well

  18. Michael Pellissier

    October 15, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    mazonmafia GerryV Aminu’s jumper looked.. normal in Biloxi and in the preseason. It has only been 4 games, so I would never say “all of his problems are solved!,” but it looked better and that’s a promising start. Now it has to stand the test of time. And you are right- if Aminu’s jumper is improved, like it looks to be, would no longer be 4 on 5 when Pels are on offense

  19. Michael Pellissier

    October 15, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    ShamelessPel it seems that you would like to see the lowest sum of the unaltered data. The reason I chose not to do that is because my research was done with intent to “fit” the Pelicans with another team.  By treating all values with one sign and measuring the sum, the total distance from each point was minimized. I really wish I could post a picture on here, but essentially, think of this as a sort of regression analysis. It does not matter whether the values are negative or positive, it only matters how far they are from the Pelicans values.
    Here’s the best way I can explain it. Pretend I have a family of 3 and want to find the family in the neighborhood whose heights are closest to ours. All families in the neighborhood have 3 people.
    I am 6′, my wife is 5’8, and my son is 5’4.
    Family A: dad is 6’1, mom is 5’7, and son is 5’4.
    Family B: dad is 7’0, mom is 4’8, and son is 5’4.
    If you calculate the differences (of each member of A/B versus the people in my family) without converting the numbers to absolute value, the sums all equal. But what family is ACTUALLY sized more similarly to mine? Family A, of course, and that would show using absolute value. That is the bias in play with the way you want the data and why I chose not to analyze the data that way.

  20. Ludiculous48

    October 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    mateor I read an article somewhere I think it was Grantland on a good way for the Pels to run their offense that was very similar to the way that the Nuggets ran their offense, and ever since then I’ve thought the nuggets where a great comparison

  21. DavidLeBoeuf

    October 15, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    I still think we’re being severely undersold.  If Davis plays even close to the level that he’s been showing in the pre-season, we will be in contention for that 4-5 seed.  If that Denver team from last year won 57, we can win 50+.  It all depends on Davis.  The rest is just background noise.

  22. Michael Pellissier

    October 15, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    I don’t think 50 is out of the realm of possibility, but winning more than that in this loaded conference would be hard, in my opinion. Like Indiana, Denver didn’t face the core chemistry issues that we did.. I also think that the Western Conference has gotten even tougher, as fringe teams like Portland and Dallas, in my opinion, are better than last years’ squads. In theory, Minnesota also has Love and Rubio back. I just think this is a tough conference and it’ll be hard to crack top 5-6. But again, nothing is impossible.
    Some national writers think this guard situation is a disaster waiting to happen. I disagree, but I do think it’ll take time for players to adjust to one another. Consider that Miami won 58 games in its first year of the LeBron Era with the best player on Earth and another top 5 talent. 
    We can only make educated guesses about how this team will jell, but I’m of the opinion that it’ll take some tinkering.

  23. Ludiculous48

    October 15, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Michael Pellissier I agree with you but I also think that we have some advantages that Denver’s squad last year didn’t have. (potentially) 
    The biggest of which revolves around Anthony Davis taking the big jump everyone wants him to take. And over the course of the preseason it looks like he has. If Anthony Davis takes the leap to all-star/superstar. It gives us sizable advantage over the nuggets whose best player last year (IMO) was Iggy who many people argue should be at most should be the second or third option. 
    We also have more people who are much better at creating for themselves than the nuggets, which is important especially come play-off time I feel.
    So while we do have to get over the chemistry issue, we do have some things going for us and if Monty can find the right scheme that brings out everyones special talent than we could be just as good if not better than the nuggets.

  24. Michael Pellissier

    October 15, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Ludiculous48 Michael Pellissier while I agree that AD being a superstar would be a trump card of sorts, that kind of thinking still leaves us behind Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Harden/Howard, and the machine that is San Antonio. So at the highest, we’re talking 5th, at least in this theoretical exercise.
    Besides those 4 teams, you still have a Golden State team with room to improve, a strong Memphis team, and then any other potential breakout teams that we aren’t seeing.
    It isn’t that I don’t believe we can be comparable to the quality of Denver last year. It’s that the West looks to have improved and my objective side says it’d be very, very tough to vault into the high seeds. My heart, of course, says differently, but I try to keep that out of my writing and my analysis.

  25. Ludiculous48

    October 16, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Michael Pellissier No your definitely 100% right, the West is crazy deep. I think its great that we can even talk about the possibility of us being in the playoffs at all. Every team got better this year with the exception of maybe the Grizzlies who didn’t add many major pieces. I agree that at best we make maybe a 6th seed this year. 
    But I think the potential is there for us to be a top team in the west if all the pieces fall into place. And thats a big if. But what I am saying that its not crazy for us to think that it could actually happen.

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