How The Raptors Stack Up in ESPN’s NBA Rank

The star-less Raptors are lacking at the top, but #NBARank agrees with the RR consensus that the team is deep and the bench is solid.

ESPN thinks the Raptors have a solid bench.

ESPN’s NBA Rank series isn’t quite done yet, but it is as far as Raptors fans go. Yes, our players topped out at #51, meaning we can begin to reflect on the rankings in advance of the “LeBron, KD, Kobe” class being released.

For those who don’t know, ESPN used 104 experts, including our own Sam Holako, to rank 500 players on a scale of 0 to 10 on current player quality. So a score of 10 would mean every expert thought the player was perfect, whereas a score of 0 would mean every expert mistook the player for me.

Now, unfortunately for Raptor Nation, talent is not evenly distributed throughout the NBA, and this is a key part of the analysis here. If talent distribution approached a “fair” one, we would expect each team to have one player in the 1-30 range, one in the 31-60 range, one in the 61-90 range, and so on. Obviously some teams would still be better than others in this scenario, but it would at least hold that each team’s best player is better than another team’s second best player.

Like I said though, this isn’t how NBA talent is handed out, but it’s an important means of evaluating Raptor rankings on the list. Below are the ranks, with a few lines drawn in as indicators of the “level” those players stand on based on their ranking.

Star – top-30 player, would be the best player on a team in a fair distribution.
Starter – 31-150 range, would be a starter on a team in a fair distribution (30 teams * 5 starters).
Rotation Player – 151-240 range, would be part of an 8-man rotation in a fair distribution (30 teams * 8 rotation players).
Bench Players – 241-360 range, would be on the active roster in a fair distribution (30 teams * 12 active players).
Inactive Players – 361-450 range, would be expected to make a team in a fair distribution (30 teams * 15 roster spots).
Waiver Wire – 451-500 range or Not Included, would not be expected to make a team in a fair distribution.

Obviously, there’s a tonne of individual ranking analysis that can be done, but I’ll leave that part of the analysis to Arse for Friday or the weekend, if he so chooses. At the team level, though, this chart tells us a few things, or at least confirms a lot of our assumptions.

It should come as no surprise that no player on the Raptors ranked in the top-30 class of players that could be expected to lead a team. Some would call this a failure of the NBA’s system for talent distribution and some would call it a failure of the organization, but let’s just call it our reality. Kyle Lowry is our best player, Andrea Bargnani is a close second, and the team needs one of them to make a leap into an upper class of players.

Believe it or not, the NBA Internet Universe thinks the Raptors have four start-worthy players in Lowry, Bargnani, Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan. While that’s one short of a starting lineup (not to mention it’s a pretty small unit), the fact that the world thinks the Raptors have four quality players is nice, and a bit surprising. In reality, Calderon will come off the bench, likely pushing Landry Fields (our 5th-ranked player) and one of Jonas Valanciunas or Aaron Gray into the starting lineup.

As expected, the Raptors perform better than average in terms of rotation-quality players, placing nine players inside the top-240. This confirms what most of us have been thinking all offseason in that while the team lacks a star, they are balanced and deep. ESPN NBA Rank suggests a rotation involving Lowry and Calderon at the point, DeRozan, Fields and Linas Kleiza on the wing, and Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Valanciunas and Bargnani down low. When you figure in that Terrence Ross is likely undervalued by these rankings since nobody has seen much of him, and the team conceivably has a 10-man rotation of quality players.

Gray, John Lucas, and Ross round out the bench, providing 12 players of half-decent quality for Dwane Casey to use on a nightly basis. Dominic McGuire just missed the cut as well, and since one would expect a bit of an offense-bias in these rankings (because people who represent a single team ranked all players and may be going off boxscores/stats/reputation) you could argue the team has 13 capable players to have active for a given game.

The Rest
According to these rankings, Quincy Acy is a practice-body only, while Alan Anderson and Jamaal Magloire should both be cut since someone inside the top-450 will be available at the start of the season. The spread in rankings once you get beyond about the 400 mark is negligible, so you could certainly argue that any spots given out beyond your top-13 players can be based on need, off-court considerations, or role specialization.

Random Thoughts
Like I said, I’ll leave individual player rank analysis for a future post (potentially for Arse) and for the commenters, but allow me a few stray thoughts.

*Jose Calderon had a huge rise in ranking despite doing nothing more than usual. Not sure how that happens. Bargs also rose after an injury-plagued season, but that might be a reflection of the impact of his injury on the team adjusting people’s previous opinions of him.

*Jonas, Ross, and Acy are all artificially low based on being rookies. Jonas could struggle in is first year but based on talent alone could be expected to move up next year, while Ross is more of an unknown given that so many players have had similar profiles and the range of outcomes has been extreme. Acy probably belongs more safely in the “rosterable” range, at least the Raptors must think so, anyway.

*Once the list is done, I’ll try to compile some sort of “Team Average,” “Top-5 Average,” and “Top-8 Average” metrics to compare teams on and use that to see how the Raptors stack up in the East. This type of analysis will obviously ignore synergy, coaching, and more, but will be a means of comparing the Raptors to other teams on the basis of current individual talent alone.

*I’ll also have a piece (or someone else will) next week looking at Hollinger’s PER estimations and player evaluation cards for everyone, since those are now available.

And as always…follow me on Twitter (though commenter Nilanka will warn you that there is occasional hockey chatter on there).

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