‘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 Southwest Division. Follow the links for the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Southeast Division, Northwest Division or Pacific 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.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 115.8
Few teams in the history of the NBA would have been able to lose an all-time great like Tim Duncan to retirement and still have another one in his 20s waiting to take over. That’s exactly what happened with the San Antonio Spurs this summer, who are now firmly Kawhi Leonard’s team.
The human embodiment of 3-and-D, Leonard is one of only two players in NBA history with a career Defensive Box Plus-Minus over 2.5 and a career three-point percentage over 35 (minimum 10 attempts). The other is Larry Bird. And if you raise those thresholds to Leonard’s numbers (2.9 and 39.1), he’s the only one on the list.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s average rank would comfortably be in the top 20 if we didn’t include FiveThirtyEight’s projection. And there, he’s not just outside the top 20, he’s all the way down at No. 88.
That’s surprising, given Aldridge’s reputation and career scoring average of 19.2. But when you look at how he scores, the number starts to make a bit more sense. We’ve known for years now that the long two is one of the worst offensive options in basketball. Aldridge has taken a third of the shots in his career from the range of 16 feet to the three-point line.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 143.05
It’s remarkable that Dirk Nowitzki, even at 38 years old, is still the best player on an NBA basketball team.
Last year, in his age-37 season, Nowitzki scored 1,372 points, grabbed 489 rebounds and hit 126 threes. There have been 40 individual seasons in which all three of those numbers were hit. The oldest player to do it? You guessed it, Dirk in 2015-16. And, oh, the second-oldest was 35-year-old Dirk in 2013-14.
There’s been talk of the demise of Rick Carlisle, Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks for a few years now, but they somehow keep holding it off.
This season, the average of their top 10 players ranks 12th in the NBA and seventh in the West. They should be in the playoff hunt again.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 147.79
James Harden may be the least fairly analyzed player in the NBA. Look no further than the fact that he didn’t make an All-NBA team last season.
Harden scored 2,376 points, dished out 612 assists and grabbed 501 assists in 2015-16. The only other player with at least as many points, assists and rebounds in a single season was Michael Jordan in 1988-89. Not surprisingly, Jordan was First-Team All-NBA and second in MVP voting that year.
Clint Capela has big shoes to fill following the departure of Dwight Howard. For all the grief Howard caught, he still averaged 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.
Capela’s averages were around half those numbers, but that didn’t stop Sports Illustrated from placing him firmly in their top 100. Capela and Howard’s Player Efficiency Rating and Box Plus-Minus were very close, though. SI must be banking on an increased role not hurting his efficiency.
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 149.92
He’ll have to stay healthy and rediscover himself as an impact defender in 2016-17 to live up to his borderline top-30 status.
Gasol and Mike Conley landing outside the top 50 in FiveThirtyEight’s projections probably isn’t too encouraging for Grizzlies fans.
Both will likely have to outperform that ranking to have a shot at keeping Memphis’ postseason streak alive.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Average Rank of Top 10 Players: 167.24
There may not be another team in the NBA who relies on a single player more than the New Orleans Pelicans rely on Anthony Davis.
Davis’ average rank puts him inside the top 10. The team’s next two best players, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, are in the 65-75 range. Everyone else is outside the top 150.
FiveThirtyEight putting Evans at No. 60 may be tough to figure out at first glance. He only appeared in 25 games last season, but his Box Plus-Minus of 1.7 ranked 62nd among the 350 players who logged at least 500 minutes last season.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.