A Look at ESPN’s #NBARank

In a league of less than 300 players (not counting the G League) ranking the top 100 players can be a monumental task. ESPN took it head on leading into the 2017-2018 campaign by attempting to rank the top 100 in their #NBARank list. With a list that big there is a wide margin for disagreement about where certain players belong, and whether they are under or over valued. Let’s look into some of the rankings that pit players as either overrated, or underrated depending upon their position.

Overvalued:

#82 Greg Monroe

While I wasn’t surprised to see Monroe break in at the back-end of the top 100, some of the names he was ranked ahead of were perplexing to say the least. One name that stuck out to me was Derrick Favors at #94. Favors had a down, injury riddled season last year, but is expected to be healthy for the new campaign, and is definitely a better player than Monroe, especially defensively. Monroe can provide some scoring and is a solid passer, but he is not a great rebounder and is a minus defensively. I don’t hate Monroe being in the top 100, but think he is a little overvalued at 82.

#63 Lonzo Ball

Ball is an easy target for this list and has been scrutinized heavily over the last couple of days (through no fault of his own) for coming in at 63. It is lofty praise for a rookie, especially with some of the names that are slotted behind him on the list (we will get into that later). While I am high on Ball and his potential as an NBA player, placing him this high and having never played an NBA game is not something I agree with. He is still a rookie, he is still going to have to adjust to the NBA game, and he is still going to go through growing pains. He was terrific in the Summer League, and will be a cornerstone piece for the Lakers’ rebuild. It is just a little too early to place him this high.

#16 Nikola Jokic

Jokic is one of the best young big men in the league and his advanced metrics last season were off the charts. But 16 is a bit too high this early for the Center from Serbia. Jokic is an incredible young offensive talent. He can score at a high clip, he shoots it well and he is a tremendous passer. He definitely deserves to be mentioned with Towns, Porzingis and Embiid as up-and-coming big men. However, Jokic still needs to improve defensively. He is young and has the tools to become an effective defensive player, but he needs to take that next step. While he is a bit too high for the 2017-2018 campaign, Jokic is a budding superstar that will be a factor in the top 25 portion of these rankings for years to come.

Undervalued:

#64 Carmelo Anthony

It is easy to be blinded by all the negative hype Melo received this off-season, but being ranked 64th is a pretty startling injustice as far as NBA rankings are concerned. Melo is no longer the superstar he once was (if Silver lets him play in a Hoodie however we do need to revisit this), but he is still a very productive offensive player and is better than a number of names ranked ahead of him on this list. He averaged 22 points and 6 rebounds a clip last year for a tumultuous Knicks organization. Melo’s prime is nearing the end, but he is still well above the 64th best player in the league.

#25 Kyrie Irving

While being a top 25 player in the NBA is nothing to scoff at, Kyrie is underrated at the 25th spot on the list. While Irving is certainly far from a good defensive player, he is the best ball handler in the league and an elite offensive player overall. I would rank him ahead of at least Conley, Lowry and fellow Celtic addition Gordon Hayward, while a case could be made for him to be ranked even higher up the list. There are legitimate criticisms of Irving’s game and his ranking among the elite players in the league. However, there are not 24 better players than Kyrie Irving.

#60 Devin Booker

Booker is one of the most lethal scorers in the NBA in just his 3rd season. His 70 point outburst last season was one of the most prolific scoring games in recent memory. I would take Booker over numerous people ranked ahead of him, including almost everyone ranked 59-51. His Suns teams have been poor, but Booker’s leap from his rookie to sophomore campaign was nothing short of incredible. With a healthy Eric Bledsoe and the addition of Josh Jackson, the Suns should win some more games this season, and are trending upward. Booker is still improving, especially defensively, but having him outside the top 50 was an oversight on this list.

Those are some of the things that stuck out to me while looking over the top 90 names on the list, as the top 10 is slated to be released today. As I previously stated making a list of the top 100 NBA players is an inexact science and there are bound to be disagreements all over the place. I think that ESPN did a really good job all things considered, and believe that their NBA coverage is generally top-notch. If nothing else, it gives some room for NBA discussion only a couple of weeks out from the start of training camp.

P.S. Feel free to comment with some of the oversights that you found while reading the list, I am sure there are some ones that I missed.

Stephon Marbury Needs to Avoid Return to NBA

Stephon Marbury has reportedly been eyeing a return to the NBA. It has been eight years since Starbury has competed professionally here in the America, but if he has his way, fans will see him once again. Life after the NBA has been a roller coaster for Marbury, very similar to his career in the NBA. Shortly after his last NBA games, Marbury went viral for an internet meltdown. The video led to countless jokes on Marbury’s behalf.

Years later, Marbury admitted he experienced depression and suicidal thoughts towards the end of his NBA career. It was clear Marbury was not handling his fall from superstardom well. Thankfully Marbury would resurrect his career, though not on American soil. In 2010, he signed with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association. From there Marbury would become a Chinese basketball sensation.

Life in the CBA

Starbury’s accolades in the CBA include 6x CBA All-Star and 3x CBA champion. He won the 2010 CBA All-Star MVP award, as well as 2015 CBA Finals MVP for the Beijing Ducks. After helping lead the Ducks to his first CBA title in 2012, Marbury was honored with a statue in front of the MasterCard Center in Beijing.

Stephon Marbury was honored with a statue outside the MasterCard Center, which was the home of the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Now, he is looking to parlay his Chinese basketball success into an NBA contract one last time. I think that is unwise. Like most competitors, Marbury still likely wants to prove he can compete at the highest level. He wants his last NBA moments to be better than being bought out by New York and playing an irrelevant 20 games for Boston.

Stay Away, Steph

This is the NBA, where teams buy stock in young players, hoping they reach their potential and mature into assets for their team. Aside from riding the bench for a championship contender, there’s no real place for a ball dominant 40-year-old point guard. Now I’ll admit that the images I have in my head of Marbury are from his days with a horrendous Knicks team, and that’s not entirely fair to him. If Marbury’s goal is to make an NBA team, then maybe he can do that. Maybe a team will take a chance on a seasoned vet who revitalized his career overseas and has one good season in the league in him.

But would he be content with that? Would he accept seeing DNP – Coaches Decision next to his name on a regular basis? Maybe he would, but for someone who was a former all-star in this league, and who is coming off a recent string of success in a foreign league, why open yourself up for what could be another epic failure in the NBA? Why not enjoy yourself for one more year in a league where you are beloved, and hang up you sneakers on a high note, a note that seemed unfathomable six years ago.

Stephon Marbury went from NBA All-Star, to internet laughing-stock, back to a basketball superstar. While his career may not have gone the way he envisioned when he was a budding superstar in Brooklyn, NY, Marbury was able to rise from the ashes of a burning NBA fallout and once again become an adored basketball player. And while he still may be feeling the highs of CBA success, Stephon Marbury needs to avoid an NBA return for his own sake.

Retiring Kobe: The Best of Number 8 and 24

It was announced today that the Los Angeles Lakers will honor Kobe Bryant on December 18th prior to their match up against the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers will retire both 8 and 24, the two numbers worn by Bryant during his time in LA. Bryant will become the sixth player to have two different jerseys retired, joining Julius Erving, Pete Maravich, Earl Monroe, Oscar Robertson and former teammate Shaquille O’Neal. Prior to the announcement that both would be etired, the internet had fun speculating which number would be hung in the Staples Center. Each number represents different points in Kobe’s career; let’s take a look at some of his best moments in both numbers.

#8

Bryant wore 8 from his rookie year in 1996 through the 2005-06 season

81 Point Game vs Toronto

On January 22, 2006, Kobe Bryant torched the Toronto Raptors for 81 points in a Laker win. 81 points set the second most points scored in an NBA game behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points. What many people forget is that this was a close contest for much of the game. Only in the 4th quarter did the Lakers proceed to pull away for a 122-104 victory. Not only was it one of the most prolific scoring efforts in NBA history, it wasn’t in a blow out, lopsided win.

2004 NBA Finals

The 2004 Finals is one that Laker fans like to forget during that span of winning. Alongside Hall of Famers Shaq, Gary Payton and Karl Malone, Kobe and the Lakers were upset in five games by the Detroit Pistons. The lone Laker win in that serious, however, was a bright spot for Kobe. He scored 33 points and had 7 assists. He also buried a clutch three-pointer that sent the game into overtime. It was a forgotten series in LA, but on a personal level, but it was still vintage Kobe.

1997 Slam Dunk Contest

Kobe Bryant took part in the 1997 dunk contest as a Rookie in the NBA. Kobe Bryant won the 1997 dunk contest and became the youngest player to ever win the event. While a dunk contest title doesn’t separate the good from the great, fans do like to see the best in the game compete during All-Star weekend. For Kobe, this became another similarity he shared with MJ. His dunks weren’t too shabby either.

2000 NBA Finals

Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals showed the emergence of the Mamba’s clutch gene. His partner in crime fouled out in overtime of a crucial Game 4, leaving Kobe to take the reigns and lead the Lakers to victory. With the score 112-109 in favor of LA, Kobe would score three of his team’s final four buckets, helping the Lakers take a 3-1 series edge on the Indiana Pacers. In what would become a career of clutch moments, 2000 was just the beginning for Kobe.

#24

In 2006, Bryant switched to number 24, which he wore for the rest of his career

2010 NBA Finals

Bryant’s fifth and final NBA title was classic Kobe through and through. While Game 7 wasn’t one of his best shooting games in the series, like always, Kobe found a way to win. Kobe scored 10 of his 23 in the 4th quarter, tallied 15 rebounds and helped erase a 13 point deficit to win a second straight NBA Final and Finals MVP. It was the perfect “find a way to win” performance from Bryant, something we saw many times from him in his career.

61 Points at MSG

Like many NBA players, Kobe loved playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. Also like many players, Kobe would go on to dominate the Knicks with a memorable performance, dropping 61 points in a 2009 win over New York. The world’s most famous arena, saw a famous performance. Bryant made 18 field goals on 31 attempts and shot 88% from the stripe that night. His 61 passed Bernard King’s Garden record, but would later be broken by Carmelo Anthony in 2014.

2009 NBA Finals

2009 was a big year for Kobe personally. It was the first championship post Shaq and proved to those that doubted him that he could win on his own. He and the Lakers would make light work of the Orlando Magic, dominating them in five games. Bryant would get his fourth ring, but first Finals MVP, averaging 32.4 points, 7.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. Shaq had gotten his ring without Kobe three years earlier, now Kobe would get his without Shaq.

One Final Game in the Staples Center

Some may argue that this is not one of the Mamba’s best moments, but I think it’s perfect. Did Kobe need 50 shots to score 60 points? Sure, but for one last night, basketball fans got to remember the real Kobe. Leading up to his last game in 2016, Kobe struggled with injuries from 2013-2015. He was a shell of the assassin he used to be. But on April 13th, in his last game ever at the Staples Center, Kobe scored 60 points in a 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz. 60 points was the most points scored in a game that season, and Bryant became the oldest player to score 60 or more points in a game. It was the perfect way for Bryant to walk into retirement: a winner.

Kobe Bryant is one of the most decorated players in NBA history. He’s one of the best winners of his game’s generation and one of the best players to play in the NBA. There was nothing like the seeing Kobe get that snarl on his face, and proceed to pick an opponent apart. While it may look a bit funny of a player to have two separate numbers retired by the same team, Kobe Bryant certainly has had enough memories in each to warrant this decision.

Breaking Down the Big 12 Conference

For over a decade, the Big 12 conference has belonged to the Kansas Jayhawks. Teams have come and gone, but the one constant has been KU finishing atop the regular season standings. The feat is impressive when you consider the talent that circulates around the Big 12 Conference on a yearly basis. Unlike most conferences, the Big 12 hangs their hat as crowning “one true champion.” It’s the only conference that each team players each other twice. How will the Big 12 fair in the 2017-18 season? Will Kansas reign again? Will someone find a way to knock them off? Let’s preview the Big 12.

Kansas

Spoiler alert: Kansas will likely not be dethroned this season. The Big 12 has been, and will continue to be Kansas’ Conference. While the Jayhawks do not have the typical powerhouse recruiting class coming in, they do have a lot of experience returning to a team that made an Elite Eight appearance last season. The starting back court is solidified, and is the foundation of success for the Jayhawks. Devonte Graham returns to take on a bigger role than last year, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick also return, and former McDonald’s All-American Malik Newman joins the rotation after sitting out a transfer year.

Up front will be more of a question mark. Bill Self landed Oak Hill’s Billy Preston, and the Jayhawks will have Udoka Azuibuke return after a season-ending hand injury. After that it’s thin for KU. Mitch Lightfoot will rotate in after seeing sporadic action in his freshman season. More likely than not though, you’ll see Self run out a four guard rotation to exploit mismatches and keep his bigs out of foul trouble. It might not be an exciting pick, but you can never bet against Kansas winning the Big 12.

West Virginia

The Mountaineers got a huge boost this off-season when Jevon Carter withdrew his name from the NBA Draft. The reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year will be the focal point of Bob Huggins’s chaotic defense, as well as the primary ball handler for WVU. Carter’s return, as well as West Virginia’s ability to give Kansas fits, gives them a chance to steal the conference.

The Mountaineers also return a slew of key contributors to last season’s team. Esa Ahmad, the team’s second leading scorer also returns, giving the offense a potent one-two punch. Daxter Miles Jr. will be relied upon heavily to raise his level of play as a senior this season. In typical Bob Huggins fashion, West Virginia doesn’t have any major recruiting prospects. Instead, they have a veteran team that will pester the heck out of teams for 40 minutes.

Texas

Texas had some growing pains last season under Shaka Smart. Slowly but surely, Smart is bringing in a team that will fit his system and as result, turn into success for the Longhorns. For starters, UT has a great freshman class. Mo Bamba (4), Matt Coleman (31), Jericho Sims (67) and Royce Hamm (82) are all Top 100 recruits according to ESPN. Bamba is a sure one-and-done and will have fans falling in love with him from day one. Coleman could be the best point guard Texas has seen since D.J. Augustin.

The Longhorns also got promising news when Andrew Jones chose to return to school instead of pursuing a professional career. The team’s third leading scorer from a year ago will give Smart a go to offensive player as his prizes freshman adjust to the college game. With other key contributors such as Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis returning, it could be a good season in Austin this year.

Baylor

Baylor was atop the Big 12 much of last season. Injuries and some misfortune led to a 20 point blowout loss in the Sweet 16. The Bears lost Jonathan Motley to the NBA. Al Freeman graduated and transferred to NC State. Senior leader Ishmail Wainright is also gone. Scott Drew will lean on returnees Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil. Both players were key contributors to the Bears success last season, which did include wins over non-conference teams such as Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier.

Terry Matson, King McClure and Jake Lindsey all return as well this season, but a majority of the Bears’ success this year will fall on the shoulders of Lecomte and Lual-Acuil.

TCU

TCU was by far the most improved team in the conference last season. Jamie Dixon has the Horned Frogs trending in the right direction, and for the first time in a long time, TCU is relevant in college basketball. The Horned Frogs finished seventh in the conference last season, but ended the 16-17 campaign on an extremely high note. They knocked off the top seeded Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament, and then marched their way to an NIT Championship.

Jamie Dixon will return his top six scorers from last season, including leading scorer Vladimir Brodziansky, who averaged 14 points a game last season, including a season-high 28 against Kansas at Phogg Allen. Also joining the mix are two strong freshman recruits. Kevin Samuel (6’10, St. Thomas Episcopal) and R.J. Bemhard (6’4 Keller) will provide great depth to a seasoned team that is riding a lot of momentum from last year.

 

Oklahoma

It was a down year last season for a young Oklahoma team. The Sooners only had two upperclassmen average 20 minutes or more per game last season (Jordan Woodard & Khadeem Lattin). Woodard is gone, but the Sooners spent much of last season without him anyway due to injury. Lattin will return and is far and away the most experienced player for Lon Kruger.

While OU faithful need to believe that this group will learn from its growing pains last season, they can also get excited about the arrival of Trae Young. Young, the five-star recruit ranked #23 overall on ESPN, chose to stay home in Oklahoma over the likes of Kansas and Kentucky. A prolific scorer in high school, Young will be a huge addition to a team looking to take a major step forward from last season.

Texas Tech

For the past two seasons, location has been key to Texas Tech’s outcome. In two years, they are 30-6 in the comfort of their own gym. Away from home however, they are 4-16. While some of those wins are against low-major schools, they did enjoy wins over West Virginia and Baylor at home last season, and took Kansas to the final seconds.

If Chris Beard’s team wants to take a step forward, they will need to find a way to win on the road. If a team is going to do that, it’s this Tech team. TTU’s top two leading scorers return in Keenan Evans and Zach Smith. The duo combined to average 27 points per game last year. Justin Gray and Niem Stevenson also return, giving Texas Tech a solid core of returning contributors. If Texas Tech can learn how to win on the road, I probably like them to finish higher than seventh. Until that is proven though, they stay here.

Iowa State

Iowa State lost a decorated senior class after last season. Monte Morris, Naz Long, Deondre Burton & Matt Thomas were major pieces to the Cyclone’s Big 12 Championship run last year. With so much production gone, it will take multiple players to step up for Steve Prohm next season. Donovan Jackson will move from role player to centerpiece, and will likely take over as floor general. Solomon Young saw an increase in minutes midway through the year last season; he will now have a huge role in protecting the paint and owning the glass.

Lindell Wigginton is the Cyclone’s prize recruit who will be able to contribute from the start next season. Coming from prestige powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, Wigginton is a great slasher and can penetrate the defense so himself or others. Pieces are there, but it would take some Hilton Magic for Iowa State to find themselves in another Big 12 Championship.

Kansas State

It was a middle of the road finish last season for Bruce Weber and Kansas State. Good news is that they only lose two players from last year’s team. Bad news is they are their two most important players, Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson. Iwundu did it all for K-State, including leading them in points and rebounds per contest. Johnson was KSU’s most important player. Games often changed for the worse when he came off the floor. Their absence will be felt this season.

That said, the Wildcats return a good chunk of production in Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade. All three were starters and played in every contest for Kansas State last season. Adding Xavier Sneed into the starting lineup will give Weber four experienced starters, but the depth is shallow after that. Could hurt K-State in the long grind that is the Big 12 regular season.

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys backcourt is wide open with the departure of Juwan Evans and Phil Forte. Evans led the team in points and assists and Forte has been a staple in the Cowboy lineup for what feels like 10 years now. Replacing those two will not be easy. Jeffrey Carroll returns as the focal point of the offense, but they will not have any one player who can replace what Evans and Forte brought to the team.

The NCAA is Developing a Free Agent Market… Potentially

Transfers May Not Have to be Sidelined Much Longer

Earlier this week, it was announced that the NCAA was making serious strides towards allowing transfers to be eligible to play for their new programs immediately. This is obviously still a rough idea that comes with many stipulations, but I, for  one, still love it. Let’s be honest, we are not exactly at a point in professional sports where team loyalty is at an all time high, especially for basketball. The move perfectly coincides with the nature of the game today, and whether you like it or not, it will give us more headlines and more stories to talk about.

This is a move that makes coaches across the country cringe, but the reality is that every player’s goal is to play at the highest level possible. For some it’s the NBA. Others are just trying to compete at the highest collegiate level they can before attempting an overseas career or leaving the game behind. In order to do so, transfers must happen sometimes.

NCAA athletes transferring is not necessarily a common practice for big time players, however a development like this may make it so. Let’s look at someone like Michael Porter for a second. Everyone knows Michael Porter deserves to play for a team far better than a below average SEC team. However, what if at the end of the season, Porter is faced with the option of choosing between the NBA, or another solid NCAA program like Duke or Kentucky?  This would allow the number one recruit to actually compete for something meaningful at the collegiate level instead of just counting down the days until he can hear the Brooklyn Nets or some other abysmal pro team call his name on draft day.

Porter is an NBA ready talent right now. He will not pass up the NBA to play another year in college, but that doesn’t apply to all five-star recruits. Malik Newman is another example of this. Only time will tell if Newman’s decision to transfer to Kansas, over going pro, benefited his career or not. If a professional athlete can rejuvenate his career with a new team, why can’t the same theory apply to a collegiate player?

This is the closest thing that the NCAA will ever develop to free agency, and where there are free agents, there is drama. With drama comes attention and attention brings interest. The transfer rate in the NCAA is out of control, but some players truly do need a change of scenery to help them reach their highest playing potential. This new development would undoubtedly create more buzz around college hoops, so if you’re a fan of the NCAA, you should be a fan of this idea.