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Power Ranking the Power Rankings: Who Ranks the Ranksmen?

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

If we’re all being honest, power rankings are kind of silly, an often-arbitrary way to express an opinion and make it appear like a quantifiable fact. The Basketball Internet seems to have caught on to the inherent insignificance of the exercise, at least to some extent. Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie is now ranking teams based on how interesting they are, and SB Nation seems to have gotten out of the rankings game entirely. While some advancement has been made, there’s still a new batch of rankings every Monday and Tuesday, starving for every click and comment from fans who take issue with their team’s placement. The men who do these rankings, meanwhile, sit back and enjoy the chaos, secure in their unimpeachable authority. But no longer. Welcome to Power Ranking the Power Rankings.

1. Ball Don’t Lie – Dan DevineCredit where credit’s due; BDL has added exciting new steps to what is otherwise a tired dance. Ranking teams based on interest instead of accomplishment draws attention to the subjectivity of the whole project, while simultaneously making allowances for the league’s collective inability to look away from the horribly beautiful gouts of toxic flame that keep erupting from the gasoline-drenched garbage fire that is the Lakers.

2. NBA.com – John Schuhmann – When it comes to traditional power rankings, John Schumann is the gold standard. He’s a great writer, and including each team’s pace, as well as their offensive, defensive and net ratings, gives his reader insight into why the rankings shook out the way they did. What really makes the piece each week though, is the historical context he adds from last season. It’s always a bit of a trip to see what we were talking about last year, and how long ago it already seems.

3. Pro Basketball Talk – Kurt HelinFull disclosure: this ranking is based almost entirely on where Helin has placed the Pistons. Sure, the prose is succinct and punchy, and the rest of the placements are justifiable and supported. But putting Detroit at No. 7 just makes sense, especially after they went 3-0 in the opening week and surprised the entire Association. If that’s not powerful, what is?

 4. Sports Line – Zach HarperMajor points for an interesting idea here. Power Rankings Ratings are unusual on a site focused on fantasy sports and betting, and bringing in a writer like Harper to explain the basketball reasons behind the weekly algorithmic shifts is inspired. There’s a lot of good information in the projected win totals and playoff chances as well. The only thing keeping it out of the top three is the focus on betting, which adds an extra edge of capitalistic excess to an already exploitative game.

5. CBS Sports – Matt MooreMoore claims these first rankings are his favorite, a careful balancing of early-season variance and preseason expectations, and he writes with the clear joy of a man enjoying his work. He has long been one of the most mercurial rankers, and he’s playing to type by dropping Houston to a shockingly low 22, while the Pistons sit at No. 8. The issues keeping him from the top are likely beyond his control, but as we’re ranking the rankings, not his specific performance, you have to take into account the lack of win-loss records and the autoplay video.

6. ESPN.com – Marc SteinThe middle is always rough when you’re ranking, as you’re forced to find small differences to separate items of very similar, and very high, quality. ESPN comes through strong with a combination of easily parsed design, useful detail and a levelheaded optimism that has the Pelicans hanging in at 17. It’s not exceptional by any means, but it shows the years of experience the committee of one brings to the table. They too, however, must be dinged for the autoplay video.

7. Hoops Habit – Gerald BourguetThe writing here is solid, and including highlight videos adds a layer of dynamism to what can be a stolid piece of content. The layout works, but is a bit confusing, and frankly the piece is longer than many readers will want to wade through. Still, if technical issues hadn’t made it literally impossible to read these rankings for the better part of two days, they’d probably be placed much higher. It is worth mentioning here that the FanSided network has quite a few issues, from site navigation to unreliability, which should be addressed at some point.

8. SI.com – Jeremy WooSlotting the Pelicans in at 15 isn’t enough to distract from the heartrending shock of seeing SVG’s Pistons at 14. It’s fine if you don’t think they deserve a top 10 spot, but to claim that the Rockets, who had just wrapped up the worst start in NBA history, should be higher ranked seems a touch unfair. The smattering of stats adds useful context to his choices, and transparency about the list’s subjectivity is always appreciated, but there are some principles you just have to stand for.

 9. Sir Charles In Charge – Michael SaenzThis is really nicely laid out, and easily navigable. Unfortunately it’s also a slide show, which makes it impossible to hit a quick search for your team and find out where they’ve ranked. Since that’s presumably what 83 percent of fans do when they read one of these, it seems like a pretty big miss. There are also a few indefensible rankings, like the Blazers below the Lakers at 28 or Brooklyn all the way up at 23, that are hard to accept, especially since the Nets’ high placement seems to be based on the false premise that winning the draft lottery would do them any good whatsoever.

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