‘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 Central Division. Follow the links for the Atlantic 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: 112.3
As far as all five outlets used in this project are concerned, Jimmy Butler is a top-20 player. Every one but Bleacher Report has him top 16. And it makes plenty of sense when you look at his two-way value.
Butler was one of 11 players in the NBA last season who qualified for the minutes leaderboard, averaged at least 20 points and had a positive Defensive Box Plus-Minus.
With one player in the top 20, six in the top 100 and eight in the top 150, the average ranking of the Bulls’ best 10 guys was slightly higher than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Don’t take that as an endorsement for the Bulls winning the Central Division, though. The Cavs are way ahead of the rest of the division when you look at the average for their top three and top five.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 128.13
One of the most obvious results from this whole project is LeBron James coming out as the best player for the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
The four-time MVP was No. 1 in two outlets, No. 2 in two others and No. 4 in one.
Wait, No. 4 in one?! How can any outlet forecast LeBron James as the fourth-best player in the league? Well, FiveThirtyEight’s Wins Above Replacement projection did just that.
You can maybe wrap your head around it when you look at LeBron’s age (31), mileage (nearly 50,000 minutes in the regular season and playoffs) and the fact that he sometimes coasts in the regular season. Once the postseason starts, though, it’s hard to imagine anyone outperforming LeBron.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 133.46
Despite being miscast as a back-to-the-basket post player over the last two seasons (his field goal percentage in his first two years is 10 points higher than it was in his last two), Andre Drummond still comfortably came out as the Pistons’ best player.
It’s not hard to see why. Drummond’s Offensive Box Plus-Minus was well below zero last season, but he led the league in both defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage.
The Pistons’ starting five is generally accepted among the better ones in the NBA, but few could’ve predicted all five members ranking in the top 75.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 153.23
Paul George ranked among the top 10 in four of the five outlets, with FiveThirtyEight being the only site that left him out.
Last season, George posted career-highs in both points per game (23.1) and Offensive Box Plus-Minus. He was his typically solid self on the other end too, posting a positive Defensive Box Plus-Minus and averaging 1.7 steals.
A lot of people are understandably high on the Pacers this season. They added a lot of well-known players in their effort to play faster this season, but that may have cost them their defense.
Indiana’s composite top 10, five and three rank 19th, 22nd and 20th, respectively.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 170.66
If Giannis Antetokounmpo recreates the numbers he posted after Michael Carter-Williams went down last season, his average preseason ranking will look mighty conservative.
In the 23 games from Feb. 29 till the end of the season, Giannis averaged 19.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.5 steals, while shooting 51.4 percent from the field.
Jabari Parker being outside the top 100 isn’t necessarily surprising, but being this far outside was unexpected.
With Khris Middleton out for what could be the entire season, Parker is going to have to play much better than that ranking for the Bucks to have a shot at the postseason. Shooting more threes and playing better defense will help Parker prove FiveThirtyEight’s math wrong.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.