On – 18 Sep, 2017 By Tom Ziller
Four years ago, six SB Nation NBA writers predicted who the top 100 players would be in 2017. It went about as well as can be expected.
We’re taking this opportunity to review where we got it right and where we went wrong. Of course, to assess how we did in 2013, we need a top-100 ranking for 2017. I went ahead and put that together with input from the SB Nation NBA team.
It’s all pretty subjective, so take everything with a grain of salt.
Without further ado, let’s begin this torture session.
Current top-100 players we didn’t pick in 2013
We left 42 players who are actually in the top 100 in 2017 off our projected list in 2013. The biggest miss: Karl-Anthony Towns, who is No. 9 overall in 2017 but went unpicked four years ago. This was before he’d played a college game. As you’ll soon see, that didn’t stop us from picking some far less worthy teenagers.
Three other top-20 players went unchosen in 2013: Draymond Green, then a second-rounder backing up David Lee, Rudy Gobert, an incoming rookie picked late in the first, and Isaiah Thomas, who … yeah. You can include us among the millions of NBA-adjacent people who underrated Isaiah Thomas.
We missed a number of players who hadn’t yet played in the NBA in addition to Towns and Gobert, including: Nikola Jokic, C.J. McCollum, Kristaps Porzingis, Devin Booker, Joel Embiid, Clint Capela, Myles Turner, Gary Harris, Steven Adams, Robert Covington, T.J. Warren, D’Angelo Russell, Andre Roberson, and Rodney Hood.
As noted, it’s really hard to know what teenagers will do in the league four years out. As noted, this didn’t stop us from picking largely the wrong teenagers. (We’ll get to them in a minute.)
We also missed on a few guys who were fighting for their careers in 2013. These include JaMychal Green, Khris Middleton, James Johnson, Jae Crowder, even Patrick Beverley to a certain extent. We missed on a few old fellas who have hung on longer than expected: Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Dirk Nowitzki.
We missed on Dion Waiters, a fact for which I shall never forgive myself.
Perhaps the most interesting name left off our list is Kyle Lowry. In 2013, Lowry was 26 and coming off his first season in Toronto. Lowry shared top billing with Rudy Gay in that disastrous combination.
The Raptors had a slow start the following season, and a fire sale seemed likely. Masai Ujiri spared Lowry but flipped Gay for spare parts and Toronto took off, never to look back. Lowry’s numbers and stock soared. It did not look like that was going to happen circa 2013.
Hassan Whiteside is another player who completely changed his fortunes since 2013. Heck, even two years ago he wouldn’t have made a best-of-2017 projection list. What a story!
Like Lowry, Goran Dragic is another mid-tier point guard we didn’t expect to get really good by 2017. He did, and we’re all richer for it.
We missed a couple of role players who have hung on and found ways to be mighty valuable late in their careers that we didn’t project in our top 100. These include Trevor Ariza, Robin Lopez, and Andre Iguodala.
No one expected Joe Ingles. No one ever expects Joe Ingles.
Players we underrated
Of course, in addition to those 42 guys we completely whiffed on, we had some players who went way lower than they ought to have. Not counting those guys we’ve already discussed, we had six players who are at least 50 spots better than we projected four years ago.
Tops on that list is a divisive player who has continued to excel at certain key aspects of the game: DeAndre Jordan. He went No. 100 in our 2013 projections but came in at No. 26 in my 2017 list. Jordan’s an All-NBA center in a league moving away from the paint. He can’t shoot, but there is still more to basketball than that.
Then there’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who we ranked at No. 79 in 2013 but came in at No. 8 today. In fairness, Antetokounmpo hadn’t played a single NBA minute at that point. We had only a few clues pointing toward his eventual excellence. Overall, Towns (age 17 in 2013) and Antetokounmpo (age 18) were our biggest misses in terms of players we underrated.
Others big names who enjoyed rises include Klay Thompson (picked No. 83, actually No. 16), Paul Millsap (picked No. 91, actually No. 27), Kemba Walker (picked No. 96, actually No. 32), and Gordon Hayward (picked No. 80, actually No. 18).
Four more stars went at least 20 picks lower than they should have in retrospect. Jimmy Butler (picked No. 58, actually No. 10), DeMar DeRozan (picked No. 73, actually No. 25), Damian Lillard (picked No. 42, actually No. 15), and Kawhi Leonard (picked No. 24, actually No. 4), have all become stars, if not superstars.
Players we overrated
With that many underrated players in our 2013 exercise, just as many had to be overrated, right? We sure have some doozies. Since 42 players in the top 100 right now didn’t get picked in 2013, that means 42 players we did pick did not end up in the actual top 100.
One of the most striking whiffs was Derrick Rose, who went No. 5 when we did this exercise in 2013 and is now outside the top 100 players. As it turns out, Rose wasn’t over the injury hump in 2013. His slide was just beginning.
There are a number of younger players who were picked four years ago that sit just outside the top 100 today and could arguably be in there. These include Derrick Favors (picked No. 27), Greg Monroe (No. 28), Tyreke Evans (No. 48), Nikola Mirotic (No. 63), Thad Young (No. 66), Kenneth Faried (No. 70), Marcus Smart (No. 71 — he’s basically No. 101 or 102 on my list today), Rudy Gay (No. 90), and Terrence Ross (No. 93).
You can debate where these players land in today’s NBA, but none of them is a huge, incredible stretch as a player in the 75-100 range. Some other names, however, are.
Deron Williams (No. 32), Joakim Noah (No. 62), and Kobe Bryant (No. 72) were picked. Nope.
Jahlil Okafor (No. 29), Andrew Harrison (No. 56), Dante Exum (No. 57), Ben McLemore (No. 65), Tyus Jones (No. 68), Alex Len (No. 87), and Ivan Rabb (No. 95) were picked. Nope.
Rabb is the only guy picked four years ago who still has not played in the NBA, with the exception of Isaiah Austin (No. 99) who was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called Marfan syndrome during the draft combine process.
Chris Bosh (No. 39) was incredible until he suffered a career-ending illness related to blood clots. The league suffers without him; one imagines that he’ll find a way back into our lives soon.
Controlled substances took two more out of the mix: Larry Sanders (No. 43) and O.J. Mayo (No. 88). (Go Bucks.) Injuries hampered the development arcs of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 49), Chandler Parsons (No. 54), Nikola Pekovic (No. 77), and Andrew Bynum (No. 82).
But the king of this list is none other than Anthony Bennett, who went No. 31. The 31st-best player in the NBA is a fringe All-Star. Bennett, in retrospect, was a fringe NBA player.
We did have a number of players who were simply picked way too high in 2013 who still find themselves among the top 100 players of 2017. The biggest example was Julius Randle, who shockingly went No. 14 four years ago and now rates at No. 99. Jonas Valanciunas went No. 18. He comes in No. 92 today. Dwight Howard went No. 15 and I have him at a controversially high No. 81. Nerlens Noel went No. 25 — again, All-Star level — but is really at No. 89.
The other players who landed at least 50 spots lower than where projected: Serge Ibaka (picked No. 19, actually No. 71) and Jabari Parker (picked No. 26, actually No. 76, but I still believe).
At the time we published our picks and banter in 2013, Andre Drummond, at No. 3 over Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, and other stars of the time, drew a heavy amount of attention and disagreement. This turns out to have been fair. Drummond is actually the No. 33 player in the league by my accounting.
Who we got right
Of the 58 players we correctly put on the top 100 list four years ago, there were 22 whom we picked within 10 spots in either direction of their actual 2017 ranking.
This list includes most current superstars, including Durant, LeBron, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, John Wall, and — narrowly — Stephen Curry.
We nailed a bunch of tricky second-tier stars too, including Nicolas Batum, Al Horford, Marc Gasol, Bradley Beal, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe.
The most impressive good pick might have been Harrison Barnes, coming off his rookie season. He went No. 40 in our future draft. Barnes is the No. 41 player on my 2017 list.
Another solid pick was Dwyane Wade, who was chosen No. 60 due to skepticism about his age arc; he’s actually the No. 55 player in the NBA by my accounting now. Cody Zeller was picked No. 86 before he’d played an NBA minute and ends up as No. 79. Nikola Vucevic was picked No. 69 and ended up No. 61.
The big takeaway from this review: The future is unknowable.
As such, we will never be undertaking a project like this aga—