Last year, to much fanfare, our own Jacob Padilla broke down his letter grades and rankings of players at each of the positions in the NBA. This year, I'm going to do the same thing, but with two twists.
First, I am going to introduce a slight empirical element to this grading system. Instead of going entirely by the gut, I will base at least part of my grades on a composite ranking scale that takes into account a players ranking on four aggregate statistics from the 2013-14 season that all have slightly different emphases: Win Shares per 48 (from basketball-reference.com), ESPN's Real Plus/Minus, PER, and PoP48 (from BoxScoreGeeks.com). This hopefully adds a little objectivity to the analysis. (Note: because there are players who didn't play last year, the rankings cannot be entirely based upon this.)
Second, I am taking a cue from the great Bill Simmons, who invites commentary from the infamous Cousin Sal in his NBA rankings columns, and inviting commentary from my friend and Suns junkie Gottlieb. Whereas I rely on statistics to inform my grades, Julian Gottlieb will provide gut check evaluations.
The grading system will remain roughly the same as last season:
S: Best in the Game (LeBron James)
A+: Second Best in the Game (Kevin Durant)
A: Top 5 Player
A-: Top 5 at the Position
B+: All-Star Caliber
B: Above Average Starters/Fringe All-Star Caliber
B-: Above Average Starters
C+: Average Starters
C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player
C-: Good Bench Player
D+: Average Bench Player
D: Fringe Rotation Player
D-: Fringe NBA Player
F: Soon to be Puerto Rican League All-Star!
NOTE: Order within the grades is arbitrary.
I am evaluating the Small Forward Position today (link takes you to the publicly viewable Google Sheets page for all position raw rankings).
Please keep comments relatively civilized - this is a family friendly community where opinions are bound to differ.
A: Top 5 Player
James Harden (2.25)
Alright, get it out of your system now. I don't like putting Harden this high either. For me, the competition for the last guy in the Top 5 group was down to Harden and Steph Curry, since Paul George went down to injury and I'm not quite ready to jump on the Anthony Davis train (choo-choo). Curry and Harden are remarkably similar offensively. Curry's a better 3 point shooter, but Harden gets to the line almost twice as often. Neither plays great defense, even though Curry definitely looks like he cares more frequently than Harden does. I'd venture to guess that this is, at least partially, a reflection of the Rockets' ethos compared to last season's Warriors group. Getting back to Harden compared to his positional peers, I just don't see any other player at the position who can legitimately claim to be better than Harden. There are guys you might be more inclined to put on your team given finite resources, but given no resource restrictions, Harden is undeniably the choice for best overall at the position.
A-: Top 5 at Position
Dwyane Wade (5.75), Lance Stephenson (12.5)
This isn't a typo. I only have 3 players in the Top 5 for the shooting guard position on purpose. This position has become so weak in recent years that increasingly teams are playing point guards at the position to get better production. As such, I adjusted accordingly. I was conflicted about D-Wade. While I'm sure his stats last season were inflated due to the Extremes effect, I am equally convinced that, with the loss of LeBron, he is going to be asked to do more, and his usage rate and associated production will go up. If he can remain healthy, I am confident leaving him at this spot for at least one more season. I bump Stephenson a little bit because he is so young, and I think he is going to improve and thrive in Charlotte.
Gottlieb's Gut Check
The Pacers reportedly offered Lance Stephenson $44 million for 5 years, but he walked, thinking he was worth more. He ends up signing a $27 million/3 year contract with Charlotte? Am I stupid at maths or is that basically the same value on a shorter contract? Fool me once... This is really about getting of the sinking ship that is Indiana, right? Speaking of Lance Stephenson, my favorite blowing meme: gotta go with the Nintendo one. Classic.
where was Lance Stephenson when you needed him? pic.twitter.com/ElIiFJAcvV— Justin Ace (@Justinace) May 29, 2014
B+: All-Star Caliber
Andre Iguodala (10.5), Wesley Matthews (13)
Iggy had a great season last year, but is getting up there in years and was noticeably less comfortable on offense than in years past, which bumps him down a bit. Coupled with the fact that it is likely he is going to come off of the bench, and I am fairly comfortable with putting him here. Matthews had arguably his best season last year, and I expect him to play at about the same level. He is a really, really well rounded player - offensively solid, defensively solid (garnered All NBA Defense votes), and a solid rebounder for his position. This may be a slight reach, but only two shooting guards made the West team last year, and one of them was Kobe...
B: Above Average Starter/Fringe All-Star Caliber
JJ Redick (11.25), Danny Green (12.5), Joe Johnson (16.75)
By sheer metric rating, Redick is the 5th best shooting guard in the game and should be considered All-Star Caliber. In reality, I think this is a more fair placement for him. Redick did miss quite a few games last season, and its possible he plays better this year. Danny Green is undeniably the beneficiary of the Extremes effect - I don't think most would consider him an All-Star candidate, but he is a great 3 and D wing. Johnson gets a respect placement here - he is still a versatile player, but he is transitioning to the end stages of his career. However, the East is weak at this position and he might sneak into the last spot, barring a breakout regular season performance from one of the younger guys.
B-: Above Average Starter
Manu Ginobili (4), Kyle Korver (14), Jamal Crawford (21), Monta Ellis (22), Klay Thompson (22.5), Kobe Bryant (54.25),
I bump Manu way down for two reasons - he doesn't start for his team anymore, even though he plays significant minutes; and he is the beneficiary of the Extremes effect. That being said, he was remarkably efficient in his minutes last season. Korver grades out perhaps surprisingly high for some of you, but as a long time Korver fan, this is pretty much what I expected. Korver's unbelievably high career 3 pt percentage makes him instantly a point of emphasis for opposing defenses, freeing up other players to score. With the return of Horford, I expect Korver to be even more efficient this season as teams have to pick their poison on defense. Crawford continued his great play from the bench, but I do expect him to decline a bit this season. I bump Monta and Klay for different reasons. Monta has never been well loved by metric stats - a consequence of a play style full of inefficient shots. However, he is an offensive starter, bringing up the pace and challenging teams, and was a key reason why Dallas was so surprising last season. Klay is weird. I did not expect Klay to grade out so low - he's a lights out 3 pt shooter, and at least by the eye test a solid defensive player. I bumped him up from where he would have been (average starter), and really think he is poised to be a fringe All Star candidate. I hate putting Kobe here - part of me wants to say that he isn't nearly the player he used to be, and probably is just an average starter. The other part of me recognizes two things - the position is weak, and Kobe is going to shoot. A lot. Like, 2005-06 Kobe levels (38.7% usage rate). So, barring re-injury, I expect Kobe to be an above average starter, and because of his unbelievable popularity, probably garner another All-Star appearance.
C+: Average Starter
Tony Allen (12.75), Jimmy Butler (15.5), Courtney Lee (21.75), Devin Harris (23.25), Marco Belinelli (23.75), Kevin Martin (24.75), Jodie Meeks (26.5), Alec Burks (27.25), Aaron Afflalo (32.75), Terrence Ross ( 33.5), Bradley Beal (33.5), Andrew Wiggins
Allen and Lee provided one of the more surprisingly good 1-2 punches at the position last season - by the metric, bot were considered Top 20 at the position. Only the Warriors, Spurs and Clippers feature a similar rotation. Butler was much less effective last season, and I don't really know whether he is going to go from average to good. Martin and Meeks were three point gunners last season, and both were highly rated in the Respect rating recently unveiled by ESPN. Their lack of defense hurts them from moving higher. Burks, Ross, and Beal are all bumped from fringe starter discussion to average starter discussion because they had strong 2nd halves last year. Beal had the strongest year, but the first half of the season was kind of ugly. He has the best potential to move into the next category up this upcoming season. Harris and Belinelli both benefited from being on good teams last year - Belinelli was the third string SG but grades out as a top 30 overall player at the position...Wiggins is a physical specimen and a great defensive player for his position, and I fully expect him to challenge for a starting position this year.
C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player
Gerald Green (20.75), Ray Allen (25.75), JR Smith (27.25), Mike Miller (28.5), Jeremy Lamb (30.75), Randy Foye (31.25), Lou Williams (31.25), Anthony Morrow (33.75), Wayne Ellington (35.25), Iman Shumpert (36.75), Victor Oladipo (41.25), Gerald Henderson (43), Marcus Thornton (45.75), Rodney Stuckey (46.5), Jordan Adams
Gerald Green had a really good season, but I just don't think he repeats it this year. Two of these guys (Allen and Miller) are big shot experts, who will put up good minutes this season. Morrow, Ellington and Foye are bench 3 point guys who might start some games here and there, but are best suited to a 6th man role. Henderson, Thornton, Stuckey and Williams are guys who are good enough that they will get consideration for a starting position, but only because their teams don't have great options at the wings. Lamb and Shumpert are young guys who might get some starts, but have yet to live up to the potential that got them drafted. Oladipo is going to be coming off of an injury, and I don't expect him to play all that well given Orlando's struggles, but of everyone in this group I think he has the highest potential to move up to the next group. Jordan Adams has looked really good in pre-season and Summer League, and he might challenge for a starting position with Memphis.
Gottlieb's Gut Check [Ray Allen and Gerald Green]
So four-fingered assassin is floating around as a nickname for Gerald Green. It lacks staying power...but definitely on the right track. How about the 9 digit dunk deacon?
Ray Allen falls here. Jesus motha$%*$@#^ Shuttlesworth. Really hoping he decides to come back and sign this year. I was at a legendary Ray Allen performance when he was still a Sonic. Oh, Sonics...*Sigh*. I think it was the year Amar'e micro-fractured the hell out of his knees. Suns lost in double OT. Allen hit a buzzer beater from way downtown. 301 total points in the game, this is how I felt after the game. Had Geoff do a little digging through the archives about the highest scoring regular season games in history. 301 points didn't even crack the top 10! Mind. Blown. However, the Suns do make two appearances in the top 10 at 4 and 6. They were on the winning end of games that totaled 318 and 316 respectively. Impressive...and by impressive I mean impressively bad defense.
Random Aside - MarShon Brooks (36.25)
If you want evidence that NBA GMs don't always have a great idea of what they are doing, MarShon Brooks is probably a good example. While it was a limited sample size last season, Brooks managed to grade out well compared to his peers. At 25, he is probably worth a roster spot on some NBA team. However, no team in the NBA seemingly was willing to give this guy a guaranteed contract, including the Lakers, who gave his roster spot to Wayne Ellington despite the fact that in a 7 game stretch for them last season he showed an ability to be a solid spark plug off of the bench. He ended up in Europe because, he claims, he was wooed by the financial stability of playing for a team that would guarantee his contract. Maybe he'll be back.
C-: Good Bench Player
Troy Daniels (18.5), Rasual Butler (32.5), Andre Roberson (35), Avery Bradley (39.75), Evan Fournier (41), Eric Gordon (41), Dion Waiters (41.5), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (48.5), Tim Hardaway Jr (49.25), Nik Stauskas
Troy Daniels is way overrated by the metric because of his small sample size. Surprising players this low are Bradley, Waiters and Gordon. Waiters is likely to move higher because there are now two elite offensive weapons on his team, meaning he is going to get more clean looks. I've never been as high on Bradley as most, so it doesn't surprise me that he falls this low, but I do think the metric undervalues him a bit. He is likely being punished for playing out of position a bunch last season. KCP, Fournier and Hardaway are all young guys who could be starters in the NBA at some point, but face tough challenges to get on the court this season. Roberson is the player who is going to be given the most opportunity to move himself up into the Fringe Starter category - the Thunder are weak at the two guard, and see Roberson as a replacement for Thabo Sefolosha. Stauskas falls here because the Kings are terrible and McLemore was really unimpressive last year.
D+: Average Bench Player
Will Barton (40.75), Darius Miller (46.75), Leandro Barbosa (49.5), Jerryd Bayless (50), Alexey Shved (53.25), Tony Snell (55), Gary Neal (56.75), Austin Rivers (58.75), CJ McCollum (59), Dante Exum, Garry Harris, KJ McDaniels
Barbosa, Bayless, Miller, Shved and Neal are veteran guys who are going to be bench contributors, but cannot really be relied upon to put up big, efficient minutes. Barton and McCollum are in direct competition for minutes in Portland, and I have to assume McCollum has the advantage, but neither has looked all that good. Tony Snell did not impress last season, and I fear he probably will see fewer minutes this year, hampering his development. Austin Rivers quietly improved quite a bit from his rookie campaign. It was surprising that the Pelicans decided not to pick up his option considering this improvement. Of the rookies, I expect McDaniels to get a lot of run in Philly, and because of a shrewd contract negotiation will become a free agent after the season. Exum is still raw, and will lose minutes to the veterans on the team, likely leading to him getting big D-League minutes. Gary Harris also might get lost in the shuffle, but he has looked okay so far.
D: Fringe Rotation Player
Carrick Felix (44.75), Alan Anderson (51.75), E'Twaun Moore (54), Toure' Murry (54), Ricky Ledo (56.75), Archie Goodwin (60.75), Reggie Bullock (64), Ben McLemore (66.75), Elliot Williams (67.5), Zoran Dragic, Zach LaVine, Nick Johnson, James Young
Most of these guys are really young, and have not really proven they belong in the NBA. Perhaps the most surprising players this low are McLemore and Williams, both of whom played big minutes last year. Both are also probably suffering a bit from the Extremes effect, since both of their teams were terrible. McLemore was stunningly bad last year for a player who was considered a Top 5 talent. He might improve, but Sacramento just has a reputation for ruining young players. Anderson and Murry are the outliers in this group - veteran guys who aren't really rotation players in an ideal situation. Of the rookies, LaVine is probably the best, but is behind K-Mart and Wiggins in the rotation, and is going to struggle to find any minutes, likely meaning long stretches for him in the D-League.
D-: Fringe NBA Player
Allen Crabbe (59.5), Donald Sloan (62.5), OJ Mayo (63.5), Kent Bazemore (64.75), Brandon Rush (69.25), Markel Brown, PJ Hairston, Joe Harris, Jason Richardson, Chris Wilcox
Jason Richardson is a broken body, and I just don't know where to put him. Unless he plays, he might not be able to make an NBA comeback. Brandon Rush was not particularly good last season, but he'll likely stick around for a while because he is considered a good locker room presence. Perhaps the most surprising person to see this low is Mayo, considering the previous season with Dallas he finally looked like he might have figured out his NBA niche. However, after getting paid by the Bucks, Mayo showed up out of shape and apparently overweight, and had arguably his worst season as a pro. Topping it off is the fact that he is terribly overpaid - he's owed $16 million over the next two seasons. As Rudy Gay said of Mayo, "He's had a bad season, but he's still a good player. He's a little overweight, hasn't played a lot this season, but he's still OJ Mayo in there and I've seen him do things like that all the time."
F: Future Puerto Rican League All-Star!
Willie Green (63.25), John Jenkins (71.5), Shannon Brown (73.75), Ben Gordon (75.667)
Jenkins went through a sophomore slump last year and struggled with an injury that limited him to only 13 games. I think he probably recovers, but if he doesn't his days in the NBA are numbers. Brown is going to stick around at least for this season because of his ability to help run the Triangle in New York. Gordon has one hell of an agent - he parleyed a terrible NBA season, where he shot less than 35% from the field and struggled to get minutes on a team with a weak wing rotation, into a new 2 year, $9 million contract with Orlando. Unbelievable...