‘Twas the night before the 2016-17 NBA season, and all through the net, basketball websites were ranking, even Today’s Fastbreak had a set.
Here, we’ve compiled the individual rankings of every player from Bleacher Report, FiveThirtyEight (both stat-based), Sports Illustrated, BBALLBREAKDOWN and Today’s Fastbreak. Then, we averaged the rankings from each source to get a composite for every player in the league. And finally, the average ranks were averaged into each team’s top three, five and 10 players. The results are your ultimate guide to preseason rankings.
In this piece, you can find the results for the Atlantic Division. Follow the links for the Central Division, Southeast Division, Northwest Division, Pacific Division or Southwest Division to see their results. Or, go to the page for final league-wide team and player rankings.
*International rookies may not be listed due to their absence from any of the five outlets’ rankings.
**Bleacher Report’s rankings are the only ones in this exercise based on 2015-16, rather than on 2016-17.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 113.27
After posting career highs in both points per game (21.2) and three-point percentage (38.8), Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is knocking on the door of the top 10 players in the NBA heading into this season.
At 30 years old, it’s reasonable to expect a slight decline from Lowry, but he does have a player option for the 2017-18 season. Everyone’s going to opt out to take advantage of the new salary cap, so this is basically a contract year for Lowry. That should be enough to offset any age-related slide.
After DeMar DeRozan was revealed as No. 46 on Sports Illustrated’s list, the Raptors’ long-two connoisseur tweeted: “FOH. 46” If you don’t know what “FOH” means, Google it to find out what DeRozan thought of that ranking. He was obviously surprised, which makes sense given his All-Star status.
However, FiveThirtyEight’s purely stat-driven projection has DeRozan pegged as the 71st-best player in the league. And that probably shouldn’t be all that surprising. DeRozan took nearly a quarter of his shots last season in the range between 16 feet and the three-point line. And the Raptors’ net rating jumped 4.6 points when DeRozan went to the bench.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 129.61
The Boston Celtics’ big free-agency acquisition, Al Horford, looks like a perfect fit already. The plug-and-play big man is versatile enough to play with any of Boston’s incumbent bigs. He can man the perimeter if he’s on the floor with Amir Johnson, or he can bang down low if Kelly Olynyk’s in.
And his ability to pass from anywhere on the floor should open things up for guards and wings like Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder.
Third-year guard Marcus Smart didn’t make BBALLBREAKDOWN’s top 50, and missed out on Sports Illustrated’s and Today’s Fastbreak’s top 100 as well. But FiveThirtyEight’s Wins Above Replacement Projection pegs him at No. 31.
Given Smart’s issues as a shooter (his career field goal percentage is an abominable 35.7), the projection must have everything to do with defense. “Smart is one of the few players in the NBA capable of defending all five positions on the floor,” Celtics Blog’s Kevin O’Connor wrote. “That level of elite versatility is what makes him so unique…”
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 166.22
This one is skewed for two reasons: FiveThirtyEight is the only site that had Ben Simmons listed (so his average is really just one ranking), and he’s now out for at least the first couple months of the season with a broken foot.
But if you were just asked, “Who’s the Philadelphia 76ers’ best player?,” you’d probably respond with Simmons. His passing ability, vision and sometimes too unselfish game is reminiscent of a 6’10” Jason Kidd. When he’s healthy, the Simmons/Joel Embiid pick-and-rolls are going to be a blast to watch.
When ranked by the average of each team’s top 10 players, the Sixers are projected to be better than both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn makes sense (just look at their roster), but jumping New York may surprise some people.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 172.33
If we based this entirely on Today’s Fastbreak’s or FiveThirtyEight’s projections, Kristaps Porzingis would be the subject of this section. But SI and Bleacher Report pulled Carmelo Anthony’s average to the top. And it’s hard to imagine many complaints for that.
Melo quietly diversified his game last season, posting a career-high in assists per game (4.2) and his lowest average for field goal attempts (18.2) since 2004-05. His less selfish game will help Porzingis this season, as well as the shoot-first guards New York acquired this summer.
Derrick Rose’s name may still have a lot of value in barbershop conversations and Twitter wars, but his performance puts him well outside the top 100 players in the league these days. He missed out on all three subjective lists (SI, Today’s Fastbreak and BBALLBREAKDOWN), came in at 109 for Bleacher Report and 296 for FiveThirtyEight.
At this point in his career, Rose is a shoot-first point guard who can’t shoot and a point-of-attack defender who can’t keep guys in front. The one ray of hope for Knicks fans is what Rose did after the All-Star break last season, when he averaged 17.4 points and shot 46.8 percent from the field.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 198.35
Brooklyn Nets fans may be in for a season from the worst team in the NBA. Their best player, Brook Lopez, is borderline top 50 and surrounded by very few starter-level teammates.
Lopez will probably have to outperform his ranking for the Nets to even sniff 30 wins, which isn’t impossible. Last season, he posted his best Value Over Replacement Player since 2009-10, and he’s shifted from injury-prone to durable over the last two years. He’s only missed 19 games since the start of the 2014-15 season.
Coming off a strong Olympic campaign and a seemingly solid 2015-16 season, Bojan Bogdanovic has a chance to get a lot of shots and score a lot of points for this team. You could even talk me into him being their second- or third-leading scorer.
But FiveThirtyEight has no such rosy outlook. According to their Wins Above Replacement projections, Bogdanovic comes in at No. 434, one of the worst players in the database. That pulled his average rank above 300.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.