Strategy session: Ranking draft prospects by tiers

BDodgers at BDodgers at
Mon Jun 18 13:38:37 CDT 2007

Strategy session: Ranking draft prospects by tiers
By Chad Ford
ESPN Insider


Every time I put up a new mock draft (look for our newest one on Tuesday), I 
get a lot of feedback from readers who wonder how I put it together and how it 
differs from the _Top 100_ 
( . 
This is how it works: Both pieces are reported pieces. In other words, I talk 
with NBA scouts and executives to get a sense of:    
A. Which teams like which players (mock draft). 
B. What the consensus is among all 30 NBA teams about who the best players in 
the draft are (Top 100). 
I use the word consensus lightly. Often, even NBA GMs and scouts employed by 
the same team can't agree on their internal rankings of players.  
"I fight with my scouts constantly," one prominent GM told me. "Everyone has 
their own ideas, their own preferences, their own methodology. There really is 
no consensus and, I hate to say it, I'm not sure there's even any real right 
or wrong." 
Obviously both lists are imperfect because the draft is a bit of an inexact 
science. NBA teams do more than just watch prospects play games. They work out 
players, give them psychological tests, do background checks and conduct 
personal interviews. All of this factors into the process and could change 
Factor in the ranking wars with another age-old debate -- do you draft for 
need or for the best player available -- and it's no surprise that the draft can 
be so volatile. Many teams take into account holes at certain positions (i.e. 
the team has no small forward) or coaching/system preferences (i.e. the Suns 
draft players who can fit into Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo 
shoot-first-ask-questions-later system) when making their decisions. 
To make sense of disparate rankings and debates over team needs, several 
teams who have been very successful in the draft employ what I call a "Tier 
System" of ranking players. Instead of getting an exact order from one to 60 of the 
best players in the draft, they group players, based on overall talent level, 
into tiers. Then, the team ranks the players inside each tier based on team 
This system allows teams to draft not only the best player available, but 
also the player who best fits a team's individual needs. 
So what do the tiers look like this year? After talking to several NBA GMs 
and scouts who employ this system for their teams, I've put together these 
tiers. (Because the teams do not want to divulge their draft rankings publicly, the 
teams have been left anonymous.)  
_Greg Oden_ 
_Kevin Durant_ 
Note: There seems to be a clear preference for Oden among GMs, but everyone 
agrees both players have superstar potential and are clearly the consensus top 
two in the draft. 
_Corey Brewer_ (
_Mike Conley_ 
_Jeff Green_ 
_Al Horford_ 
_Yi Jianlian_ 
_Brandan Wright_ 
Note: One team expanded this tier to include all of Tier 3, essentially 
making Tier 2 the third through 12th picks, but most everyone else made a cut right 
before the players in Tier 3. I'd also note that there was near consensus 
that Horford is the third-best player in the draft. 
_Spencer Hawes_ 
_Joakim Noah_ 
_Al Thornton_ 
_Julian Wright_ 
Note: Tier 3 represents the final four players in the top 12. Every team I 
spoke with had the same 12 players in the top 12. That's a pretty amazing 
consensus for this deep in the draft. It also shows the depth of the draft itself. 
Last year, Tiers 1, 2 and 3 consisted of a total of seven players. 
_Javaris Crittenton_ 
_Acie Law_ 
_Rodney Stuckey_ 
_Nick Young_ 
_Thaddeus Young_ 
Note: There was a clear preference for the Youngs in Tier 4, with one team 
saying its Tier 3 was expanded to include both players. Not everyone had 
Crittenton or Stuckey in Tier 4; some had them in Tier 5.  
_Morris Almond_ 
_DeVon Hardin_ 
_Josh McRoberts_ 
_Gabe Pruitt_ 
_Jason Smith_ 
_Tiago Splitter_ 
_Sean Williams_ 
Note: The consensus really starts to break up here. Some have Smith and 
Williams ranked higher. Some have McRoberts and Hardin ranked lower.  
_Arron Afflalo_ 
_Marco Belinelli_ 
_Derrick Byars_ 
_Daequan Cook_ 
_Glen Davis_ 
_Jared Dudley_ 
_Nick Fazekas_ (
_Rudy Fernandez_ 
_Marc Gasol_ 
_Taurean Green_ 
_Petteri Koponen_ 
_Marcus Williams_ 
Note: If you do the math, 36 players are on the list. Why 36 guys for 30 
slots? I included in Tier 6 every player that a team told me was in its top 30. I 
suspect had I polled every team, this number would have expanded to around 40 
So how does the tier system work? 
A team ranks individual players inside each tier according to team need. So, 
in Tier 2, if point guard is the biggest need, Mike Conley is ranked No. 1 in 
Tier 2. If power forward is the biggest need, Al Horford or Brandan Wright is 
ranked No. 1 depending on individual team preference. (See table for an 
Here's an example: 
Needs: PG, SG, PF 
Tier 2
1. Mike Conley
2. Corey Brewer
3. Al Horford
4. Brandan Wright
5. Yi Jianlian
6. Jeff Green  
Needs: PF, SF, PG 
Tier 2
1. Al Horford
2. Brandan Wright
3. Yi Jianlian
4. Corey Brewer
5. Jeff Green
6. Mike Conley  
The rules are then pretty simple. You always draft the highest-ranked player 
within a given tier. So, for example, if the Bulls are drafting No. 9 (Tier 3 
territory) and Corey Brewer is on the board (a Tier 2 player), they take him 
regardless of position. The rule is that you never take a player from a lower 
tier if one from a higher tier is available. So if the Bulls had Spencer Hawes 
ranked No. 1 in Tier 3, they'd still take Brewer, even though center is a more 
pressing need. 
Team needs: PF, C, SF 
Tier 2
5. Corey Brewer
6. Jeff Green 
Tier 3
1. Spencer Hawes
2. Joakim Noah
3. Julian Wright 
4. Al Thornton 
Here's another example (see table): 
What this system does is protect teams from overreaching based on a team 
need. The Bulls won't pass on a clearly superior player like Brewer to fill a need 
with Hawes. However, the system also protects a team from passing on a player 
who fits a need just because he may be ranked one or two spots lower overall. 
Let me give you an example from the worst-drafting team over the last few 
years, the _Atlanta Hawks_ ( . 
Hawks GM _Billy Knight_ 
(  has stated that he takes the best player 
on the board, regardless of team need. He's proven that the last few years by 
taking Marvin Williams ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams in 2005, and 
taking Shelden Williams ahead of a point guard such as Rajon Rondo in 2006. 
A source formerly with Atlanta's front office told me that the Hawks had 
Marvin Williams ranked No. 1, Andrew Bogut ranked No. 2, Deron Williams ranked No. 
3 and Paul ranked No. 4 in 2005. So on draft night, Knight took Marvin 
Williams with the No. 2 pick after the Bucks selected Bogut No. 1 overall. 
In a tier system, however, the source conceded that all four players, in his 
mind at least, would have been Tier 1 players -- in other words, the Hawks 
thought all four had equal long-term impact potential. If the Hawks had employed 
a tier system, they would have ranked inside the tier based on team need and 
fit, rather than just ranking the prospects from one to 30. 
In that case, the Hawks likely would have ranked either Bogut (they needed a 
center) or Deron Williams (they still need a point guard) No. 1. Marvin 
Williams actually would have been ranked No. 4 under that scenario. 
In any case, like every draft system, the tier system isn't perfect. But the 
teams that run it have found success with it. It has allowed them to get help 
through the draft without overreaching. Compared to traditional top-30 lists 
or mock drafts, it seems like a much more precise tool of gauging which players 
a team should draft. 
_Chad Ford_ (  
covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

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