ESPN’s NBA player rankings create controversy each year, and they’ve been right on target so far this season. Earlier in the week, the internet nearly went up in flames over Kobe Bryant’s #25 ranking. Now, new drama is stirring over Carmelo Anthony’s #15 ranking.
On the surface level, the rankings seem ludicrous; finding 24 or 14 players better than Bryant and Anthony would be difficult. However, there’s more to ESPN’s rankings than meets the eye. In fact, at the top of the page of each ranking, it states:
We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate each player on a 0-to-10 scale, in terms of “the overall level of play for each player for the upcoming NBA season.”
This is a tough way to judge and, essentially, quantify players; it goes both ways. Past performance doesn’t necessarily predict future results. On one hand, can we judge Anthony — who’s coming off his best season to date — based on his performance last season? However, ESPN’s system of rankings, which looks towards the upcoming season, not the past, is also tough to predict. How do we judge a player’s future performance without really considering his past?
It seems most people would agree (based on Twitter reactions) that Anthony is too low. Eye on Basketball placed Anthony at #11 in their own rankings, which seems more appropriate. As mentioned, Anthony’s 2012-13 season was borderline MVP worthy, and while people generally appreciate his offensive output while criticizing his lack of defensive production, some of the glory of his game goes unnoticed. Yes, Anthony’s 28.7 points per game came on a bevy of shots and average 45% shooting, but he also produced this while working at an absurdly high 35% USG. Similarly, while using over a third of the Knicks’ possessions, he still posted a 56% True Shooting mark and a fairly low turnover rate. Last season, the Knicks as a team shot better, rebounded better, and turned the ball over less with Anthony on the floor. Realistically, coming off Anthony’s season, are there 14 players a team would rather have? Hard to argue against it.
However, as mentioned, ESPN’s rankings try to predict future performance, and there is some reason to believe that Anthony won’t replicate last season’s success to quite the same level. Last year’s stellar performance had a lot to do with his positioning on the court, which was primarily at the four in the Knicks’ small-ball system. This year, with the addition of Andrea Bargnani and the hopeful return of Amar’e Stoudemire, Anthony will see more time at the three than four.
This isn’t a terrible thing — he’s obviously had quite a few successful years at small forward. However, his high-efficiency 2012-13 campaign resulted from his positioning as the Knicks surrounded Anthony with three shooters and a dominant roll man in Tyson Chandler. This forthcoming season, there are questions about how well Bargnani can space the floor as a power forward, and Stoudemire, efficient as he is on offense, simply doesn’t provide Anthony with that space, so long as Chandler is on the floor, too.
Most importantly, these are also meaningless rankings. Anthony has moments of having top-1o player caliber, but his more limited skill set also separates him from guys who are concretely placed in the top 10 rankings.
If Anthony himself is concerned with his relatively low ranking, another excellent season like last year would change a lot of minds and make the Knicks all the better for it.
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