August 17, 2012

The Things We Do With Our Lives...

If someone from about 500 years ago managed to find a time machine and took a trip forward to 2012, I am sure they would look at some of the things we do today and marvel at some of the useless, non-productive stuff we spend/waste our time on. Case in point: ESPN's NBArank project.

Last fall, ESPN canvassed a group of 91 NBA "experts" to rank players who play, have recently played or are likely to soon play in the NBA on a ten point scale. The network then compiled all the results and published the top 500 list, in reverse order, over several weeks on their website with announcements through Twitter. The result of all this time and effort is theoretically a list of the best to worst NBA players. I have no idea how these experts would have spent their time, let alone how they would have earned money, before ESPN existed but whatever. Well, this year it's back but this time with 104 experts to make it even better.

Having sort of argued this is a total waste of time, if there are two things I could spend all day doing, it's making lists and examining statistics so of course I love this stuff. I'm sure I'll be spending the next few weeks awaiting the next batch of results as the list counts down from 500 to 1. 500 seems like the right length, by the way, since there are 30 teams carrying a maximum of 15 players thus capturing all the players from last year, recent draftees and maybe a handful of free agents.

So since this is the first day of the list, I thought I'd take a look at how my beloved Washington Wizards fared last year in the eyes of the experts. Since the list was published at the beginning of last season, I figure it makes sense to start with the players that made the team on December 25, the first day of the season. If the experts were right, I'd expect our players to rank pretty low on the list, although the case could easily be made that last year the Wizards collectively performed at a level below the sum of their parts, at least until shortly after the trade deadline when we shipped out JaVale McGee and Nick Young and told Andray Blatche to just stay home and keep collecting a paycheck. The ultimate point of this whole exercise will be to make myself feel better about this upcoming season.

The Wizards opened last season with 15 players and all 15 were on last year's NBArank. Here's our roster from opening day last year:

  • 40: John Wall
  • 99: JaVale McGee
  • 124: Rashard Lewis
  • 146: Nick Young
  • 147: Andray Blatche
  • 210: Jordan Crawford
  • 247: Ronny Turiaf
  • 279: Roger Mason, Jr.
  • 313: Jan Vesely
  • 320: Maurice Evans
  • 321: Trevor Booker
  • 360: Chris Singleton
  • 435: Kevin Seraphin
  • 469: Shelvin Mack
  • 486: Hamady Ndiaye

Of the top eight on the list, six are gone: McGee, Lewis, Young and Turiaf were traded away; Blatche was released via the amnesty provision in the collective bargaining agreement; and Mason departed via free agency. Of the bottom seven on the list, five are still around: Maurice Evans remains an unsigned free agent and Hamady Ndiaye was released last year. On the surface it doesn't seem too smart to jettison six of your supposed eight best players, unless what we got back was greater in value and/or you subscribe to my theory that the reason our team underperformed in the first half of last season was due to lack of team cohesion rather than lack of talent. Don't get me wrong here, lack of talent was still a contributing factor.

Considering last season's results, I'd change the order of the list for the seven guys remaining on our roster. I'd put Wall first without a doubt, but then follow him with Seraphin, Crawford, Booker, Vesely, Singleton and Mack. I also think Wall was ranked too high at 40 (as was McGee at 99, in my opinion) and Seraphin too low at 435, but I'm not sure I'd expect dramatic movement out of anyone else remaining from Christmas Day last year.

The real improvement on the court this coming season (if there is any real improvement) is going to come from the guys who were not on the team last year. Perhaps NBArank can help portend these results. Right now we have six guys under contract who didn't start last year with the Wizards: Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nenê, Cartier Martin, Emeka Okafor and A.J. Price. Beal is a rookie and wasn't ranked last year. Nenê and Okafor were 31 and 71 respectively and Trevor Ariza was 113. So basically we traded away 99 and 124 (McGee and Lewis) and got back three guys all ranked higher in the eyes of the experts. All three should be starters when the season starts on October 30. Price is potentially our backup point guard; he was ranked higher than Shelvin Mack last year, but not by much. Having Price and Mack backing up John Wall continues to be a question mark. Cartier Martin came in at 432 last year but I believe Cartier will end up higher on the list this year. I think he will prove to be useful as a clutch shooter as the season progresses.

So are the Wizards a better team on paper in the eyes of the experts? I think so. I think our starting frontcourt will grade out well and our starting two guard will be the weakest link in the starting lineup. I also think NBArank will demonstrate this weakness and our lack of depth at point guard. I'll follow over the next few weeks and see how it goes.

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