First of all, kudos to Seth Partnow of the Athletic for saving himself a bit of social media hate by grouping players into tiers rather than making a true ranking.
But also, boo on Seth for leaving players in wide swaths of groups, as if we would be okay with “Deandre Ayton is somewhere between the 80th and 125th best player in the NBA.”
Context: there are about 450 players in the NBA. Ranking anyone among the top 125 players means you believe that player is in the top 25% of all NBA players. If you exclude the Ty Jeromes and Jalen Lecques of the league, there are about 250-275 regular rotation players in the NBA. At least half of those are, as Seth describes, “just a guy.” They’re somewhat fungible, and easy replace in the offseason with a “just a guy” from another team.
The Top 125 is a list of the league’s players who are not as easily replaced. Here’s another way to look at a Top 125 list: If you re-distributed all the talent equally across the 30 NBA teams, a Top 125 list would contain four of your favorite team’s best players, or maybe five if you’re lucky.
The 2019-20 Phoenix Suns are one of the lucky ones, with five players in this Top 125. So while I might be frustrated to see Ayton grouped in the same tier as Jae Crowder and Danuel House, and in a lower group than Jaren Jackson Jr., I have to be glad that the Suns as a team are getting respect in this off-season ranking of players.
Left off the list entirely
The Suns are even good enough to have some snubs outside the list of 125. There’s no Kelly Oubre Jr. or Cameron Johnson, despite those guys taking turns contributing to one of the league’s best lineups.
The last line of Partnow’s article sums it up well.
In reality, there are probably a few players left off this list that could easily be included. But “the top 137 players” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Top 125.” So apologies to fans of Kelly Oubre Jr., Harrison Barnes or Kelly Olynyk who just missed the cut.
Tier 5 — Rank 79-125
This is a 46-player group ranked first-name alphabetically that slots in the 79-125 range of Partnow’s list. It’s a long list that contains a lot of “name” rotation players and starters around the league. You’d recognize all of them if you watched the players in any of the last few years.
Suns in the 79-125 range:
- Aron Baynes
- Deandre Ayton
- Mikal Bridges
This large group of above-average starters and rotation players also includes some popular offseason targets for the Suns, such as Aaron Gordon (trade), Bogdan Bogdanovic (RFA), Christian Wood (UFA), Dennis Schroder (trade), Jerami Grant (UFA), Luke Kennard (trade), Paul Millsap (UFA) and Serge Ibaka (UFA). You also have old friend T.J. Warren here.
Before you get too mad about anything, remember that if the league were properly balanced, this group would consist of any team’s 3rd to 5th best player.
Tier 4B - Rank 62-78
Here we find players just a bit better than “above average rotation player,” but not a ton better. From now on, these guys are clear starters, or should-be starters on their teams.
Here is where we find one Phoenix Suns player:
- Ricky Rubio
This 17-player group also includes Booker’s former running mate Eric Bledsoe and one of Booker’s best friends, D’Angelo Russell. There’s also Jaren Jackson Jr. and potential off-season target, Montrezl Harrell (UFA), along with Patrick Beverley, Spencer Dinwiddie and Zach LaVine.
There’s others too. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you’d rather have Zach LaVine over Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.
Tier 4A - Rank 38-61
This 24-player group includes no Phoenix Suns, but according to Partnow every one of these players is better than any Phoenix Sun not named Devin Booker.
Potential off-season targets in this group include Brandon Ingram (RFA), Danilo Gallinari (UFA), Fred VanVleet (UFA), Goran Dragic (UFA) and Victor Oladipo (trade). Other names of note in Partnow’s better-than-all-but-Booker tier include: Derrick Rose, Joe Ingles, Jusuf Nurkic and P.J. Tucker. Huh. Okay...
Tier 3C - Rank 31-37
This seven-player group again includes no Phoenix Suns.
The names in this list are: Ja Morant, Jaylen Brown, Klay Thompson, Kristaps Porzingis, Russell Westbrook, Trae Young and Zion Williamson.
Note that we now have Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young both ranked better than Deandre Ayton from that 2018 Draft. Maybe if he could play more than half of next season, we’ll see what happens...
Tier 3B - Rank 25-30
And this is where your best Phoenix Suns player lands.
Suns in this group:
- Devin Booker
Other players in this 6-player group include: Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving and Pascal Siakam. All of these guys are All-Stars, so that’s a good group to be in.
Tier 3A - Rank 17-24
You might be angry about Jamal Murray slotting into this group ahead of Devin Booker, but if Booker had been the one to flame-throw his way through the playoffs a month ago you’d want him ahead of the other young shooting guards too. I have no problem with recency bias putting Jamal Murray momentarily ahead of All-Stars Booker, Beal and Mitchell.
This group also includes Bam Adebayo, Ben Simmons, Jrue Holiday, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kemba Walker, Kris Middleton and Kyle Lowry.
What’s interesting about this group is that Simmons, Holiday and Towns could all be on the move in the next few months.
As yet unrevealed are Partnow’s list of the top 16 players in the league. Those will come out Thursday and Friday.
Get the whole list here: Athletic’s Top 125 NBA Players. Sorry it’s behind a paywall. Out of respect for Seth and the Athletic, I have not listed ALL the contents of the article here for free.
Seth spent years working in an NBA front office, and goes into great detail how NBA teams do this kind of grouping/tiering exercise all the time so they can best evaluate possible trades, signings and draft picks. While using the tiers helps to level out the field a bit, every team’s list will vary. I’m sure there are teams, probably lots of teams, who wouldn’t rank Zach LaVine higher than Deandre Ayton as Seth does, for example. Or Jamal Murray over Devin Booker.
What do you think? Have the Suns been ranked properly here?