Roughly a week ago, basketball fans were taken on a journey to an alternate dimension through a magical portal known as SI’s Top 100 Basketball Players. In this dimension, George W. Bush is president of the United States, Rihanna’s Umbrella is played on repeat over radio stations, and Andre Iguodala is a better basketball player than Devin Booker. To most, this dimension is known as ‘2007’; thanks to Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 players rankings, we have been given the opportunity to visit this weird and unique universe.
If you haven’t yet deduced, I’m not the biggest supporter of Sports Illustrated’s annual player rankings. I am however, a sane basketball fan; and my message to other sane basketball fans is loud and clear: don’t take SI’s rankings seriously!
The first step to accepting the list is understanding its purpose. Sports Illustrated is more concerned with drawing eyeballs and creating traffic than with creating the perfect basketball player ranking. Despite this, many fans still accept the annual list as fact.
Fans must remember that it is impossible to accurately compare the quality of players who play different positions. On SI’s rankings, Cody Zeller, a centre, can be found slated at spot number 70, seven spots above Hawks point guard Dennis Schroeder. Rankings such as Sports Illustrated’s must be able to justify their placements using more than just the proverbial eye test. Given the attributes that make a good centre are so vastly different than what makes a good point guard, it is difficult to find applicable statistic support to justify placing one above the other. Surely ranking these players on their ability to rebound the basketball would be unfair to the point guard, while comparing their assist numbers would put the centre at an obvious disadvantage.
It is not only difficult to rank players of different sizes, positions and physiques, but also players who play significantly different roles for their respective teams. Take Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams for example. The Rockets guard can be found three spots ahead of sweet Lou, despite their drastically varying strengths and weaknesses. Williams is a ball handling scoring guard; Beverley is a lockdown defender who is scarcely seen handling the basketball. The list also exhibits a difficult time differentiating between low volume and high usage offensive players. For example, Khris Middleton appears a spot above Raptors superstar, DeMar DeRozan. Even the most casual of NBA fans would be able to tell what analytics don’t: that DeRozan’s value to his club, far surpasses Middleton’s as the third scoring option on his team.
Though the list comes with its glaring flaws, it allows basketball fans like me and you to discuss what we feel is most valuable in a player. Also, don’t expect SI to stop with their hot takes anytime soon!