By now you've probably seen a bunch of rankings for the Utah Jazz players on a number of different basketball websites. ESPN.com has ranked 11 of the 16 players on the Jazz right now. The five still yet-to-be-ranked are Mo Williams, Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Al Jefferson. Of the ones who have had their rankings released only one (Marvin Williams) is in the top 200. There are only three players between 201 and 300 (Randy Foye, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks).
CBSSPORTS.com is only listing the Top 100 players -- Big Al is #50, and Paul is #36. I don't think any of our remaining players will be ranked higher there.
Do rankings matter? What do these rankings teach us about the players leading our team right now?
Rankings are just estimations of a player though. They probably don't matter - especially not when it's a 500 person list. Should we care that MarShon Brooks is #148 while Burks is #242? We should not. But what we should be interested in, mind you, are the perceptions of our players. Why? Because when it comes to doing anything in the playoffs (e.g. winning) no team led by a "Top 50, but not Top 20" player has gone anywhere. For me it's not about idle rankings from different writers. It's about being a fan of a team that has a chance to actually win something. And no team led by guys who aren't Top 15 (All-NBA) players have won anything.
Bluntly, if your best players aren't actually "the best", and if you build around them, how likely are you to be a good team? Some teams are forced into futility. Catering to average players seems to be embracing futility. I've done the research on All-NBA players a number of times. I've done the research on how teams get them. They are essential to winning. We know this first hand as we've ONLY been good in the playoffs when led by multiple All-NBA types (Stockton and Malone; Williams and Boozer). Hitching the wagon to people who aren't even perceived to be elite seems like folly to me. (Perceptions based on All-NBA team memberships, and All-Stars; not off-season NBA blogs)
Do player rankings matter? No. But player quality does. And the highest quality players give your team the best chance to win. Essentially, tanking (something so many Jazz fans have strong feelings against) in the big picture is to 'roll with' guys who have no shot to be great, instead of trying to get great players. (And you get great players by trading for them, signing them as free agents -- or developing them through the draft. Honestly, which of those three is most easily accomplished by our team, a team with 4 lotto picks in the last few drafts?)
"But what about the 2004 Detroit Pistons..." Don't give me that. I LIVE in Detroit. I know all about that team. That team was coached by a Hall of Famer with over 2.3k games in NBA/ABA history. That team had:
- Ben Wallace (2 time All-Star, 2 time DPOY, 3 time ALL-NBA Defense 1st team, 3 time All-NBA Team (1st, 2nd, or 3rd team) member -- ALL BEFORE WINNING THE TITLE);
- Rasheed Wallace (2 time All-Star before that title, All-Rookie team guy, again, before winning the title);
- Tayshaun Prince (1 time All-NBA Defense before that title, yup, before winning);
- and Chauncey Billups (1 time All-NBA Defense before that title, same here)
That was a veteran led team that had a number of guys on it who would LATER go to a lot of All-Star teams, and All-NBA teams -- but were still LED THERE by a legit Top 15 player (in Ben Wallace, as displayed by being on the All-NBA 1st, 2nd, or 3rd team THREE TIMES BEFORE WINNING THE TITLE). And the rest of their starters were so damn good at defense that 3 of the 5 were All-NBA Defense before winning the title. We're not that team. We don't even have one All-NBA defense guy, let alone a guy who had won 2 DPOY trophies, or a team with 4 former All-Stars. We need one really great guy to build around.
Building around one really okay guy isn't going to get it done. We know how that works. We've seen how that works. We've seen the Minnesota Timberwolves led by Al Jefferson and laughed at them for years.
Rankings may not matter much, and rankings get more time in the media cycle then they should. But playing ability and capability both matter. If you're building around one of the best (Top 15) players in the league you have a chance to win. If you build around someone who has no chance to be a Top 15 guy then you're going to have a bad time. Building around Big Al, in my opinion, is tanking of a different kind. The moral objections for tanking (doing worse than you should) should similarly stand here - making your franchise worse in the short, medium, and long-term; making the Jazz worse than they should be. Tanking.
Playing to win is the opposite of tanking. Playing with no chance to win is tanking. Build around the right players. Winning is more important than egos. Winning a season, or contending for a title? As a fan I see both can be accomplished first by getting a Top 15 player - then building around them.
That's just my opinion though. I couldn't care any less about these pre-season NBA rankings. I do care about the rankings that come out after the season though, when the hardware is given out. What do you think?