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Ranking NBA Players Begins in Earnest

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Tom Thibodeau is ready. The NBA season must almost be here!

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Last Monday ESPN and Sports Illustrated began releasing their rankings of NBA players. ESPN is ranking 500 players; releasing 401-500 on Monday and then in batches of 25 on every day since. A number of Pelicans (and former Pelicans) have already appeared on those lists. 500 is a big number, especially considering the NBA as a whole is only allowed 450 total roster spots (not including injured player exceptions) at any one time. A number of players ranked so far are free agents or on unguaranteed contracts.

Sports Illustrated instead skipped all of that and went directly to the top 100 players. While ESPN uses a panel of over 210 contributors SI's list is created by two individuals, Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney. Sports Illustrated explains their methodology here.

The impulse of comparison is encouraged by the very nature of sports. One team beats its opponent. One player dominates a matchup. One teammate overtakes another on the depth chart. Games and leagues are built on that engine of relativity, and the NBA is no exception.

It's in that spirit that we offer our list of the Top 100 NBA players of 2015 -- an endeavor to identify and order the best of the best for the 2014-15 season. The scope of our ranking is relatively simple (no weight is given to long-term development, and as little emphasis as possible is placed on team context), but there is nonetheless a daunting complication built into the exercise itself. Put simply: While we make a considered effort to somehow compare an incredible assortment of talent, there's little grounds to suggest that basketball players can be assigned any kind of absolute value.

With that out of the way, let's first dive into the rankings according to Sports Illustrated. In October when ESPN has ranked players in the top 100 we can use those as a comparison. The entire Sports Illustrated list can be found here.

2014-15 2013-14
Anthony Davis 6 41
Jrue Holiday 50 48
Ryan Anderson 59 57
Omer Asik 64 69
Tyreke Evans 84 65

The Pelicans are one of seven teams with five players ranked in the top 100 according to Sports Illustrated. The others are San Antonio (with a league leading 7), the Clippers, Golden State, Portland, Chicago, and Washington. The Philadelphia Sixers are the only team without a player ranked in the top 100; Orlando, Boston, and the Lakers all have just one player ranked.

It is surprising that Tyreke Evans fell so far in the rankings. Tyreke Evans posted career highs in a number of efficiency and per minute/possession production categories last season. While his scoring dipped slightly from his rookie year high his assists, rebounds, and PER were all the best of his young NBA career. This despite the turmoil of injuries surrounding the Pelicans throughout the season. Obviously narrative and "eye test" has won out over what actually occurred on the court this season.

In addition to Evans's ranking, both Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson stick out. Ryan Anderson appears to be ranked rather high considering the seriousness of his season-ending injury. Pelicans fans are obviously hoping that Anderson can return to form as quickly as possible. Ranking a player coming off a herniated disk with out a single moment of competitive basketball under his belt in nine months is incredibly optimistic.

Davis ranked in the top 10 comes as no surprise. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Tim Duncan were ranked ahead of Davis while Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, Dwight Howard, and Blake Griffin rounded out the top 10. Beyond the top three the rest of the top 10 is largely a semantics argument. Balancing team success and individual contributions in basketball is a difficult exercise.

Obviously the upside of Davis is enormous; projecting what he might accomplish as a 21 year old when he just finished the most statistically accomplished season of a 20 year old is an impossible task. His lack of team success will be pointed to by detractors of this lofty ranking. His individual accomplishments will be the focal point of supporters.

It is difficult to find many NBA writers who do not believe Davis is currently a top 10-ish talent in the NBA right now. His exact placement in that hierarchy is up for considerable debate. One which his play, along with that of the others in that grouping, will ultimately resolve. Ranking Davis 6th seems to be a compromise between his transcendent individual numbers and the lack of team success those performances have wrought.

ESPN #NBARank

So far ESPN has released the rankings of nine Pelicans as they work there way to releasing the best in the NBA. While harping on where players should be ranked in the 200+ realm is relatively pointless I would like to make so general points on how the Pelican bench is rated overall compared to last year at this time.

2014-15
Austin Rivers 300
John Salmons 338
Jimmer Fredette 360
Jeff Withey 362
Alexis Ajinca 363
Darius Miller 374
Patric Young 401
Luke Babbitt 403
Russ Smith 409
2013-14
Jason Smith 243
Anthony Morrow 265
Austin Rivers 281
Brian Roberts 316
Greg Stiemsma 350
Darius Miller 380
Jeff Withey 387
Lance Thomas 391
Arinze Onuaku 494

Last year the opinion of the back of the Pelican bench was significantly higher than it is this season. For instance, Austin Rivers dropped in the rankings after dramatically improving his performance on the court from his rookie to sophomore seasons. Why? No one can explain it. Greg Stiemsma (ranked 355 this year) is still ahead of Alexis Ajinca and Jeff Withey. That is absurd!

Unsaid, however, is that the Pelicans will likely have six players ranked 125 or better this season. Last season the entire Finishing Five ranked in the top 100; Omer Asik was ranked 64th. It would not be a surprise to see one (or both) of Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans to slide out of the top 100 while Asik's ranking might improve considering his new situation as the unchallenged starting center in New Orleans.

Training Camp is just a week away. The Pelicans are expected to release alternate uniforms tomorrow. Sometime soon we might even hear some news about the new court design. The off-season is nearly done and basketball is on the way. Rejoice!