It is early September and so you know what that means. Soon it will be team preview time! I know that because we are already deep into the early season rankings for players.
This typically results in some lively conversations, including several that include NBA players themselves. Usually, the big ruckus is all about some player who feels they are ranked too low. The noise is even worse when that player has a considerable fan base behind them. This has not changed in 2017.
Enter Carmelo Anthony.
According to ESPN’s “NBARank” for NBA players, the New York Knicks forward is ranked behind Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. Carmelo came in at 64th overall and Ball is just under him at number 63.
This got Anthony a bit ticked off, and he took to his Instagram account on Tuesday to let fans know how he felt.
A bit of a warning for NSFW language in the post below.
That sounds about right in terms of a reaction from a potential Hall of Famer being below a rookie who has yet to play an NBA game.
Meanwhile, other players are upset not only about Anthony’s ranking but how they have stood up in rankings at other outlets, including Sports Illustrated.
One of those players is Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum.
McCollum was arguably a better player for the Trail Blazers last season than star guard Damian Lillard (mostly due to a nagging injury) but he came in at just 39 on SI’s list — two spots below Anthony.
We need to start ranking these weak ass journalist. With descriptions of their strengths, weaknesses and ability to make up "sources"
— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) September 12, 2017
Lol just like some NBA players are toxic, some journalist are toxic so I know how you feel https://t.co/bCfj9lWCb9
— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) September 13, 2017
That’s certainly an interesting idea from McCollum, although it does trigger the question that at least one journalist has asked and that’s why any players in the league pay attention to these rankings at all.
I’ll let you peek behind the curtain here a little bit in case it’s not obvious: what’s really happening with these lists is an attempt to generate page views and chatter online. It’s not any more complicated than that, and it’s not very subtle, either.
Ranking individual players against each other before a game has even been played is ridiculous. Rankings also don’t make sense due to positional need, style, and team construction. They really don’t make sense within the world of professional team basketball, especially once you get below a certain threshold.
ESPN NBARank is genius: Create subjective rankings. Watch NBA players flip out. Use flip-outs to feed 24/7 debate shows. Rinse. Repeat.
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) September 13, 2017
You could point out that McCollum was a journalism major, but he and many others don’t have the simple industry experience to suss out what is really happening here. These rankings are a thought experiment dedicated to draw the kind of reaction that McCollum expressed. It happens literally every year. Everyone lost their marbles when Kobe Bryant came in at No. 93 in 2015.
Seriously, you can just Google this stuff.
Should you take the ranking seriously? No. Neither should anybody else. This is part of a post-Twitter culture where we rank everything from fruits to Kanye West albums, where the answer is never clear and that fact doesn’t matter. It’s malleable and subject to opinion.
And, while this may come as a shock to many, there is no vast conspiracy against certain players in the NBA. When it comes to analyzing statements by writers — just as you were taught in college — it’s best to understand the environmental (or explicit) biases of writers rather than to proclaim organizational or industrial sabotage.
Things like original rooting interests, beat coverage, what other sports they cover, what time zone they’re in, and other factors all affect how a writer sees a player — or whether they even watch them at all.
That’s before we even get to the way that the ESPN NBA rank actually works. Without getting too dull, it simply functions on a player vs. player voting system where writers vote which player is better between two options. ESPN then uses a model to figure out where players rank based off of the head-to-head voting results.
I don't think most people understand how the #NBArank is made. You are presented with 2 players at a time, and you pick which one is better.
— EvanZ (@thecity2) September 13, 2017
Just another way that computers have ruined sports if you ask me.
So no, you shouldn’t be worried about whether or not Carmelo Anthony is ranked lower than Lonzo Ball. My own eyes tell me that even given Carmelo’s shortcomings, he is still a “better” player than Ball.
What does “better” mean? That question is the subject of much of the basketball writing you read that has any value today. It’s one that is incalculable, subjective, and difficult to ascribe to even a whole set of statistics.
If you think Carmelo is a better player than Ball, then do what you can to enjoy watching him when he plays, wherever he does end up playing.