I’m not jealous of the writers who are ranking players right now. You have to first identify all the possible candidates (i.e. if you’re going for a top 5, figure out a top 15 first and if you’re doing a top 100, you’re probably going to start with 150-175), then you have to figure out exactly what the criteria is (i.e. is it players who are most valuable, who have the best body of work, who you personally think will be the best when the NBA comes back), then you have to spend hours and hours and hours cutting the lists down and making almost impossible, arbitrary decisions on if Player X is slightly better than Player Y. As you’re doing this, you’re profiling each and every player, watching their possessions on Synergy, looking at statistics, and trying not to throw your laptop out of your window.
Then, after all your hard work, when you’re as comfortable as you ever will be with your rankings (maybe 50% comfortable) and blurbs (hopefully 80% comfortable), you post them. And your loving readers give you thoughtful feedback like, “Top 100 scrubs….perhaps..but c’mon…”1 while your Tweetdeck fills up with people saying rankings are hacky.
It has to be bothersome, especially because we all know rankings are kind of hacky. They’re often a cheap way to put meaningless “analysis” out there. And this is why i want to take a moment to appreciate those who are making the effort to do it right, to use rankings as an excuse to do great work and give their readers insight. For the billiointh time, I’m going to quote Kelly Dwyer:
…if you’re – if we’re – to be told something, then we should be told “why” as well. Not just talked down to. Because in every column you write, you are reintroducing yourself to your old readers and introducing your voice to new readers. Even if you repeat yourself, so what? You have to stay humble and constantly restate your qualifications without appearing simpering or insecure.
Sebastian Pruiti ranked his five top post players today. He discussed how Dirk creates space with his left foot, Carmelo draws fouls, and LeBron willingly kicks it out when double-teamed. He used per-possession stats. And because he knew placing LeBron on his top 5 over Kobe could create a stir, he directly explained, with numbers, why he made that tough decision.
Zach Lowe’s Top 100 list has Serge Ibaka at 67 and Andrea Bargnani at 66. If one of my friends sent me a list with these guys side-by-side, in that order, I’d think my friend was just trying to get a reaction out of me. Ibaka is one of my favorite players in the league and, uh, let’s just say I’m not bullish on Bargs. But if I was to get mad at Lowe for doing this, I’d be an unbelievable asshole. He knew that putting Bargnani in that spot would be controversial, so he wrote enough about his rationale to constitute a post on its own. He backed up his opinion with a mini-scouting report. Lowe even acknowledged that he’d have no argument if you put the four more defensively-apt big men occupying slots 70-67 ahead of him.
During this lockout, finding content worthy of a blog post can be a difficult task. Sometimes, this obstacle can breed creativity and sometimes it means we’re stuck writing another goddamn post about a player “considering” going to Europe. It’s not like there are normally games on right now, but there would at least be transactions to analyze at this time of the year. There would be predictions to make that didn’t come with the “if there’s a season” caveat. Finding a way to write about basketball rather than CBA negotiations is tricky and with guys like Pruiti, Lowe, and the CBS trio doing so, we’re learning things. Sure, rankings are kind of pointless, but the ranking themselves aren’t the point. Predictions are pointless on their own, too, but I want to read what knowledgeable people think will go down if I get to see how their brains work at the same time.
There are enough things to be cynical about right now if you’re a die-hard basketball fan. This stuff? No way. We have to appreciate it. It’s a reminder that despite having no idea when the hell we’re going to see NBA basketball resume, the blogosphere makes it a pretty great time to be a fan.2