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Padanilam: Questioning ESPN’s rankings

| Friday, October 9, 2015

As some of you avid NBA fans may be aware of, ESPN is currently in the process of releasing its fifth-annual ranking of the top-400 players in the league. Now, as you could expect with any list of rankings this comprehensive, there are sure to be controversial decisions as to who’s above who and where a particular player is ranked. However, ESPN has drawn a lot attention for its rankings this year, and deservedly so, as it has left many including myself scratching their heads.

Of course, the first name that comes to mind is Kobe Bryant’s. The five-time champion was somehow dropped all the way to No. 93 in the rankings this year. While I can concede a drop is fair — largely in part due to the health concerns, as he has missed 123 games over the last two seasons — I cannot believe there are 92 players in the NBA better than Kobe Bryant.

The simple fact of the matter is the talent drop-off has not been nearly as steep as his decline in health has been over the last few years. In 35 games played last year, Bryant averaged 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game last year. Many people point to his career-low in shooting percentage of 37.3 percent and say his numbers are inflated by the fact that he shoots so often, but that is overlooking the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers as a team lacked talent around him last year and were more inept as a unit with him off the court than on it. And you cannot ignore the fact that he has five championship rings, which adds experience, leadership, and drive to the declining yet significant level of talent he still offers. There simply are not 92 other players who give you that skill set in the NBA, and there are certainly not 92 players anyone would pick for their team for just this season over Kobe Bryant.

Despite the attention he’s received, Bryant certainly isn’t the only player who’s being clearly overlooked. Shooting guard Tony Allen is a key component that keeps Memphis together as a playoff contender year-in and year-out. His offensive output is by no means significant, but he is undoubtedly the best defensive player in the NBA. Ranking him at No. 100 is disrespectful not only of his talents, but the importance of defense in today’s NBA.

No player is game-planned for opposing coaches more on the defensive end of the court than Allen, and the numbers certainly back this statement up. When Allen was on the court last season, the Grizzlies led the NBA with a 94.9 defensive rating. Individually, he’s contributed an additional three wins for the Grizzlies each of the last five seasons, as he’s averaged a mark of 2.92 defensive-win shares during that time period. In the playoffs alone in the last three seasons, Allen has contributed an average of 0.5 defensive-win shares per season, or just under one additional win per postseason for the Grizzlies. Considering Taj Gibson came in at No. 84 and is simply a role player off of the bench for the Bulls, there’s a clear lack of respect for Allen’s impact on the game. If we asked Steph Curry how it felt being hounded by Allen this past postseason, I’m sure we’d agree to Allen’s playmaking is deserving of a higher ranking.

There were certainly several other problems with ESPN’s evaluation of players, but Bryant and Allen were the big ones. It underscores the lack of respect for experience, competitiveness, and defensive impact that exists in today’s NBA game. Talent and contributions extend beyond how many points a player can score on a given night, or how much potential a player has to grow into a superstar. When you rank the players for 2015, think about what impact they can or will have that season, not beyond. Marcus Smart is a promising talent, for example, but his play last year was far from warranting a spot in the top 100. ESPN disrespected Bryant, Allen and many others thus far in their rankings, and it remains to be seen where they will go from here.

One thing is for sure, though: I do not want to be the guy who crosses either of those guys. And neither should you.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

Contact Benjamin