S : Best in the game (LeBron)
A+ : Right on heels of best player (Durant)
A : Top 5 player
A- : Top players at their position/Potential All-NBA players
B+ : All-Stars
B : Good starters/fringe All-Stars
B- : Good starter
C+ : decent starter
C : fringe starter/bench player
C- : good bench player
D+ : average bench player
D : Fringe rotation player
D- : bad player
F : not NBA caliber
Factors: production+efficiency+talent (emphasis on this year but whole career taken into account)
*Note: There is no specific order within each tier
For the purpose of these grades/rankings, I am not looking at last season in a vacuum. I am trying to give an idea of where each of these players stands in regards to each other after last season. One poor season doesn't sink a player's stock if the rest of his career paints a different story, the exact opposite is true as well. However, I am not factoring potential into my rankings, meaning rookies are graded as NBA players and do not garner special consideration because of their youth.
I'm probably making this more complicated and subjective than it needs to be, but I suppose that only makes for more discussion. With that being said, on to the rankings.
I think we can all agree at this point that LeBron James is the best player in the NBA ...
... and that Kevin Durant isn't far behind.
Melo is a bit of a controversial player, with some fans loving his talent and others hating the way he uses it. He's not on the same level as James or Durant, but he is a step above everyone else at his position.
This tier is pretty easy. It corresponds with the three small forwards (not already listed) that made the All-Star Game this year, and all three were deserving. All three are two-way players who were key pieces to really good teams last year.
Paul Pierce was a tough call here. At 35 years old, is he still on the legit All-Star tier or not? I decided not, although it's still pretty close. The defensive side of the ball is what mad the difference for me, as the three in the tier above are all great defenders as well as good offensive players.
This tier includes two vets who are winding down their careers but still productive, a productive player in his prime, an two productive young players on the way up. You can sort out who's who on your own.
Korver and Dudley are elite shooters and really smart players overall, even though they have their athletic limitations. Thad Young has no such limitation, although his skill level isn't on the same level as those two. Jimmy Butler is a young versatile player with great advanced stats. And Rudy Gay... well, he's one of those guys I wasn't quite sure where to place.
These players can start and play a decent role on the right teams, but might be even better coming off the bench. Barnes and MKG are young players that should make a jump this coming season, but neither one was all that great on a consistent basis during their rookie year.
Shooting, defense, athleticism, energy... all these players bring something to the table. But none of them are complete players or big difference-makers. It's pretty impressive that P.J. Tucker was able to go from out of the league to being considered not only a rotation-worthy player, but a good one at that.
This is a tier of young players trying to find their place in the league and older ones closing in on the ends of their careers. All of them are bench players at this point, but they all can bring something to a team's rotation. Even Mook, who has shown the ability to at least do something, and probably would have played more last year and shown that under a different coach.
These players all have skills that they have used to make rotations and contribute at one point or another during their careers, but none of them did much last season.
I still can't believe Stack was on a roster last year...
You guys watched last season. I don't think I need to offer any explanation for this tier.
An there you have it. My take on the small forward position in the NBA. This position is as strong and as deep as any in the NBA today, and looking at next year's draft projections, it's going to continue to get deeper.
What do you think about my rankings? Who do I have too high? Who am I too low on? Did I nail the Suns small forward hierarchy at least?
By any predictive measure or model, the Phoenix Suns should be the worst team in the Western Conference.
No other Western team sports such little talent. No prior Suns team has ever entered a season with such low expectations from either the fans or the media. And no prior collection of Suns players have been treated as nothing more than holdovers until a better talent replaces them.
Sports fans have always been loyal to a fault. Love and loyalty, along with a good bit of fanaticism, is a recipe for annual over-hyping of the team's chances. Last year, many of us not only drank the kool-aid, we "cooked" our own batch and kept an inventory for the whole season.
On the other side, there are the fanatics who, determined never to be disappointed, systematically expect the lowest probable outcome and
laugh at lecture helpfully advise the optimists who consume the kool-aid. When they see the kool-aid, they don't just chuckle and turn away. These realists run over and try to knock the kool-aid out of the drinker's hand. No kool-aid for you!
Both groups are "realists". Perception is reality. Fandom has it's own ruleset for each individual. You're a realist, and everyone who disagrees with your basic point of view is delusional. That's just the way it is.
Many of you reading this article have already told yourself you're neither an optimist nor a pessimist. You're right in the middle, and those extremes don't apply to you. Only silly people live on the extremes, you say.
I say you're full of bunk, and it's only a question of whether you're only lying to us or if you're lying to yourself as well.
Check it: If you're reading an NBA blog on the worst team in the Western Conference in the middle of the August, you're a fan(atic). Admit it. Pick a side and stay there.
We good? Everyone on their side? Good. We can move on now.
Now that we're all safely ensconced on our side, it's time to take stock of our teammates. Look around you.
If you're on the team that says the Suns will be better than 22 wins next season, your teammates are the optimists.
If you're on the team that says this game is bull-pucky and are asking each other why you're even here, your teammates are the pessimists.
Some of your teammates are, admittedly, more fanatical than you. And some are less fanatical than you, prompting you to briefly consider if they're actually a spy from the other side.
That's okay. You still have the same basic leanings.
It's time to start planning your attack for the upcoming season.
Quickly, the optimists realize they've got a tough road to hoe. It chaps your hides that the damn pessimists finally got what they wanted - a loser to the highest degree.
The optimists spend the first twenty minutes of the strategy session hating on the pessimists.
Eventually, the conversation turns to strategy. Do we find solace in individual stats? Do we focus entirely on the Rookie of the Year race, or the visually-obvious development of the young players into better players who can play for an eventual playoff contender? Or, do we run analytics till our fingertips bleed to find statistic evidence of an improving team? Or do we rosterbate McStunna's next move to vault the Suns back into immediate contention?
Yes, to all of the above!
Never once does the conversation turn to the win-loss record. In August, wins and losses don't matter. Yet.
pessimists realists spend the first few minutes making jokes about the optimists delusional fans who keep trying to find the silver lining in the clouds. It's a veritable Comedy Central Roast. Sports pessimists, by nature, are a quick-witted lot who fancy themselves just a tiny bit more enlightened than the average fan.
Just like with the optimists, the pessimists see some of their teammates on the extreme edge. But they still have the same internal bent, so they go along. Asshat Dave made them pick a side, so whatever.
After a while, the pessimists get down to business because that's what they do. They are a serious bunch, much more serious than the typical
They talk about tanking, about losing in the best possible way. They talk about doing whatever it takes to ensure the Suns get a top-notch talent in the next draft. The pessimists occasionally harken back to the moves that got the Suns into their current predicament, go on a ten to fifteen minute rant, then finally get back to business at hand.
How do we survive the upcoming season that promises 60 losses? First of all, we start obsessing about the East. Those futhermuckers have at least two or three teams as bad as the Suns. Maybe five. What if the Suns end up with the fifth pick again? And, god forbid, have to decide between two combo guard PGs as the best available talent? Oh no.
Yes, Virginia, it CAN get worse than it already is.
The rubber will meet the road when live games actually start in October.
Optimists fanatics who have spent all summer "okay" with the prospect of 60 losses will realize they can't stand the idea of 60 g**ddam* losses. Only losers pray for losses! Pessimists realists who have spent all summer expecting 60 losses will realize they don't like being in the majority. They don't like having the big, bad team of pessimists. They're used to being the contrarian. It's no fun popping balloons if other people beat you to it, or if the optimist delusionist (gasp) left their balloon at home.
I, for one, am fascinated to see how this season shakes out amongst the Phoenix Suns fans.
At the very least, being a fan of the Phoenix Suns is still interesting and polarizing. And more popular, on BSotS anyway, than it ever was before.
Which side are you on, dear reader? And, how will you handle 60 losses?