‘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 Northwest Division. Follow the links for the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Southeast 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: 110.11
The Utah Jazz may not have one bona fide superstar, but having three guys around the top 30 is a position plenty of teams in the league should envy.
FiveThirtyEight pegged Rudy Gobert as the best player. Bleacher Report took Favors. But Hayward coming out on top in Sports Illustrated, Today’s Fastbreak and BBALLBREAKDOWN gave him the edge in the composite.
Jazz fans and analysts love Gobert, but there can’t be many who love him quite as much as the statistical model at FiveThirtyEight.
The best rim protector in the NBA is projected to have the 20th-most Wins Above Replacement in the league. And if the preseason is any indication, Gobert may live up to that hype. With Hayward and Favors out with injuries, Gobert took on a bigger offensive load and averaged 22.1 points per 36 minutes.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 115.99
Last season, Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry became the third and fourth players in NBA history to average at least 25 points and five assists, while hitting at least 200 threes.
Lillard may take it as a slight to be called a Curry-lite, but he shouldn’t. He’s one of the pioneers of the ongoing evolution of basketball, and his leadership more than made up for the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge last summer.
C.J. McCollum, who averaged a career-high 20.8 points last season, would be on the verge of top-50 status if not for the projections from FiveThirtyEight.
Maybe they see something of a regression to the mean or they did more to account for his defense. Either way, he came out as No. 100, which was worse than Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu on that list.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 123.96
Karl-Anthony Towns is 20 years old, about to start his second season in the NBA and is already a consensus top-20 player. In fact, the only source that had him outside the top 20 was Sports Illustrated. FiveThirtyEight has him 10th.
None of this should come as a surprise. Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal are the only two rookies in NBA history who qualified for the minutes leaderboard and matched Towns’ per-100-possession averages for points, rebounds and blocks.
The average of Minnesota’s top 10 players ranks seventh in the NBA. Not seventh in the West. Seventh in the entire NBA. Some people are understandably pumping the brakes on the Wolves hype wagon, but if you put any stock in preseason player rankings, playoffs are almost a foregone conclusion.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 158.36
If we throw out the FiveThirtyEight projections, Danilo Gallinari is comfortably Denver’s best player. The numbers love Nikola Jokic, though.
To wit, among rookies who qualified for the minutes leaderboard, Jokic’s Box Plus-Minus of 4.8 ranks 11th. His ability to shoot, pass, rebound and defend made him one of the most well-rounded players in the league last season.
Jokic is good. It’s pretty easy to see that when you watch him play. But trying to wrap your head around him possibly being the 15th-best player in the league is tough. The other rankings pulling his average to around 50 seems a lot safer.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 160.14
Russell Westbrook’s lowest rank among the five outlets was the No. 5 Sports Illustrated gave him. His average rank of 3.8 puts him behind only Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
And with the makeup of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s roster this season, it’s hard to imagine his production not living up to that lofty ranking.
Enes Kanter’s rankings are all over the map. Without FiveThirtyEight, his average would be in the top 100. But their model must care about defense, because he’s not even starter-level there.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.