Ranking the ESPN NBA Rank: What’s Your Number?

By: Daniel Reynolds

So you’re this guy, Cartier Martin, #435. You’re actually down three spots from last year. You’ve been in the league for four years, played on three teams, probably made some decent money. You are in the NBA which immediately makes you one of the best basketball players on the planet. But to the rest of the population you’re like the punchline to a bad joke: necessary but not particularly appreciated. It has to be something of an indignity then to have a number assigned like that, to be tossed into a huge exacting list of names, some interchangeable part in an endless machine.

Ah, but what a beautiful machine it is. And when you start to get up to that rarefied air, the top 10, you start to consider human beings who are indisputably the best alive at something. Now, I realize I’m starting to veer dangerously into Klosterman territory here[1] but I thought it interesting to note some of the list’s idiosyncrasies.

The Cream of the Crop.

If you are like me (perish the thought), then you can probably predict the top 10 fairly easily. Lebron the undisputed #1, title holder, and best player on the best team in the league. No shock, Durant holds #2, lagging just behind the King. Howard, Paul and Rose, each their own team’s MVP[2]. Kobe poetically[3] falls in at #6, still as hungry as ever but perhaps a step slower. Ranks #7 to #10 are a mixed bag, with Kevin Love putting up monster stats on a bad team[4], Wade a former king of the league relegated to prince on his own team, Westbrook as Wade 2.0, and Deron Williams orphaned in Brooklyn[5].

Now, we move out of the top 10, a real wild frontier. Join me now for some highlights:

First up, one of my favourite players in the league, Rajon Rondo. In at #12 and easily the highest ranked guard to shoot 60% from the free throw line. Also, he seems mildly disliked by most of his teammates. Plus, and this is true, his best friend on the team, Keyon Dooling, just retired.

There’s James Harden, at #26, the captain of the All-Mystique team. To hear NBA-ers talk of Harden is to hear rumour of a mythical creature. A mythical creature with an awesome beard. Any team would apparently want to have the ball in Harden’s hands in the clutch[6] as opposed to #28, Andre Iguodala, the highest ranked player that every Nuggets fan will actively discourage from shooting.

Look at #34! Zach Randolph! He once fought with teammates and coaches alike, and was responsible for this. Yet, he actually dropped to #34, mostly because of injuries. He was ranked at #20 last year proving perhaps that no talented player is beyond saving[7]. Just ask #42, DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings are hoping for the best.

In case you were curious, I’m absolutely crushed that Danilo Gallinari, #54, is somehow the highest ranked Italian. Not because I want him to be ranked higher, but because he is somehow ahead of Andrea Bargnani (#58) who is, literally, a pasta eating machine.

Past the top 60, we start to get into a bizarre mish-mash of unsung rookies (seriously, Anthony Davis at #62) and semi-valuable veterans (Ray Allen, #64); guys who were inexplicably cut (Luis Scola, #68) and guys who teams are really, really hoping will work out (Tyreke Evans #69). I mean, for god sakes, I already see Ersan Ilyasova[8] and we haven’t even left the top 100 yet!

Before we descend into the 100s and beyond, if you had told me a few years ago that JaVale McGee (#77) would be ranked higher than Andrei Kirilenko (#79) and be a valuable weapon for a playoff contender, I would have said you were crazy. But sandwiched in between is Jeremy Lin (#78), he of seemingly unlimited expectation. His value is astronomical but everyone (relatively speaking) waits with bated breath to see if he’ll actually for a whole season at the same level of Linsanity.[9]

Here in the netherworld of the 100s though, we have bench guys, spark plug players, locker room chemistry dudes, vets who are there only for their presence, and Chris Kaman. The 200s start to get depressing, with guys like Josh Howard showing up (remember him?), still somehow ahead of Linas Kleiza (wish I could forget him). Poor Baron Davis sits at 265.

The 300s is Kwame Brown territory. It is trouble. And the poor 400s don’t even get a full entry. Just a name and number. Ending, tragically, with Eddy Curry, #500, 4th overall draft pick in what feels like a different life.

And that all brings us back to Cartier Martin, #435. Let’s be honest guys, even his sparkling name will never allow him to ascend the merciless ranks of the NBA. He will forever be a fringe player, playing in less than half of his team’s games. He’s still better at basketball than you or I am at pretty much anything, really. But he’ll also have to hang his head and admit that somehow he’s not as good as Mike James.

[1] I sleep with Simmons’ Book of Basketball, where Klosterman wrote about this very subject in the forward, under my pillow after all

[2] Huge caveat here with Howard, I know. Theoretically, he would be any team’s MVP, if he could stop being such a baby.

[3] He’s gunning for his sixth title to match Jordan.

[4] The T-Wolves should be good this year, but still, they are the T-Wolves. And I’m a Raptors fan; I’m allowed to say that.

[5] OK, not orphaned. He gets to play with the always chipper Joe Johnson!

[6] Just don’t tell Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook that. Especially Westbrook.

[7] Or that Mike Dunleavy and Isaiah Thomas are terrible coaches.

[8] Easily the highest ranked player with a name that is impossible to spell without looking up.

[9] Hope this doesn’t sound too mean spirited, but I’ll be fine if he tanks if only to never have to hear “Linsanity” again.

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