Player Rankings: What Do They Really Mean?


Every year, Sports Illustrated releases a list of their ranking of the Top 100 NBA Players for the year.

A bit later, we’ll look at this list, analyze it some and hopefully shed some light for players to view, digest and use player rankings to their advantage.

For the most part, these lists are generally most interesting to fans. They are informative, interesting, and discussion-provoking. Players, too, are obviously interested in how they are regarded by others, but these rankings can be especially dangerous if players take them literally, whether they believe they been ranked too high, too low, just right or not at all.
To help players look at rankings maturely, they just need to remember is that rankings are subjective and temporary.
No matter how objective an evaluator might try to be and how sound and accurate the supporting data might be, rankings are still just opinions.
As for the temporary nature of rankings, they can also be described as merely “snapshots in time”. A snapshot a week from today can be different than one today. A snapshot a year from now will be significantly different than one today.

For instance, in SI’s 2021 Top 100 NBA list, take note of the following items:

  • Duncan Robinson is ranked #99. Who would have thought that possible his senior year in HS or when he was a D3 player?
  • Jimmy Butler is ranked 11th . He went to a JUCO out of HS and played his way to Marquette,
  • Caris LeVert is ranked 62. He signed with Ohio U in the MAC before he landed at Michigan.
  • In the Top 100, there are 10 players who played at the Mid-Major level-Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Paul George, CJ McCollum, Ja Morant, Gordon Hayward, Domantas Sabonis, Robert Covington and Pascal Siakam.
  • Only 10 of the Top 25 players were McDonalds All-Americans.
  • Of the Top 100, 18 are from other countries and never played a minute of college basketball.

So, what can we deduce from this little exercise? One can illustrate the same type of study by going back to any All-League, All-City, All-County, All-State or All-American list and ask what happened to each player. Players and coaches alike can duplicate this practice in their own locales. Players rise and fall all the time. The following are some of the factors

  • Over-ranked, Under-ranked.
  • Early bloomer, Late bloomer.
  • Sense of Entitlement or not.
  • Social issues or not.
  • Medical issues or not.
  • Academic issues or not.
  • Personal Issues or not.
  • Strong work ethic. Weak work ethic
  • Increased interest and focus. Decreased interest and focus.
  • Coach Issues or not.
  • System Issues or not.
  • Roster Issues or not.

Players: Whatever your ranking is today in anyone’s mind, fight to keep it if it’s high or fight to overcome it if it’s low.

Any Thoughts, Coach?