It's article's like this that make Chad Ford one of my favorite reads. I love this way of drafting!
Originally Published: June 17, 2009
Ranking draft prospects by tiers
By Chad Ford
Every time I put up a new mock draft (Mock Draft 5.0 came out 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 GMs and scouts employed by the same team can't agree on rankings of players.
"I fight with my scouts constantly," one prominent GM told me last year. "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 pieces are imperfect because the draft is an inexact science. NBA teams do more than 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 can change opinions.
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 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 Jazz draft players who can fit into coach Jerry Sloan's system) when making their decisions.
To make sense of disparate rankings and debates over team needs, last year I chronicled a draft ranking system employed by several teams that have been very successful in the draft, what I call a tier system. Instead of developing an exact order from one to 60 of the best players in the draft, these teams group players, based on overall talent, into tiers. Then, the teams rank the players in each tier based on team need.
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 GMs and scouts whose teams employ this system, I put together these tiers. (Because the teams do not want to divulge their draft rankings publicly, the teams will remain anonymous.)
Players are listed alphabetically in each tier.
Note: Not only is Griffin the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft, but he seems to be a mile ahead of the next prospect in the draft. This is the first time we've had just one person in this, or any, tier.
Hasheem Thabeet Note: Virtually every team I spoke with has these three players in the top five, regardless of team needs. A few teams argued Rubio should have this tier all to himself and Thabeet and Harden should be in Tier 3, but the majority saw all three in this tier.
Jrue Holiday Note: It was pretty easy to get consensus for Tier 3. Virtually every team I spoke with had all these players here. A few teams had Hill in Tier 2, and two teams had Brandon Jennings in this tier. But for the most part, this is pretty set and why a number of GMs say this draft really goes 10 deep. The Nets' Rod Thorn obviously is hoping someone from Tier 4 will creep up and push someone from Tier 3 down.
Sam Young Note: This is a huge tier and shows the parity in the draft. Theoretically, teams are saying you can get the same quality of player at 11 that you will get at 24. This is where the real depth of the draft is. A few players like Blair, Clark, Hansbrough, Henderson, Jennings, Johnson, Teague and Williams were unanimous selections. Summers was borderline between here and Tier 5.
Jeff Pendergraph Note: This is what I would call the first-round bubble group and where the consensus really started to break down. A number of teams had Budinger in Tier 4, but not quite enough for him to make the cut. Carroll, Gibson and Pendergraph were borderline picks here. Every one of these players dropped out of the top 30 on at least one NBA team's draft board.
Nando De Colo
Note: If you do the math, 41 players are on the list. Why 41 guys for 30 slots? I included in Tier 6 every player a team told me was in its top 30. All of these guys got one vote, with the exception of Jerebko, who had two.
So how does the tier system work?
A team ranks players in each tier according to team need. So, in Tier 3, if swingman is the biggest need, DeMar DeRozan is ranked No. 1. If power forward is the biggest need, Jordan Hill is ranked No. 1.
Here's an example:
5. SF Tier 3
1. Stephen Curry
2. Tyreke Evans
3. Jonny Flynn
4. Jrue Holiday
5. DeMar DeRozan
6. Jordan Hill
1. Jordan Hill
2. DeMar DeRozan
3. Jonny Flynn
4. Stephen Curry
5. Jrue Holiday
6. Tyreke Evans
The rules are pretty simple. You always draft the highest-ranked player in a given tier. Also, you never take a player from a lower tier if one from a higher tier is available. So, for example, if the Bobcats are drafting No. 12 (Tier 4 territory) and Jrue Holiday (a Tier 3 player) is on the board, they take him regardless of position. If they have DeJuan Blair ranked No. 1 in Tier 4, they still take Holiday, even though power forward is a more pressing need.
This system protects teams from overreaching based on team need. The Bobcats won't pass on a clearly superior player like Holiday to fill a need with Blair.
5. Tyreke Evans
6. Jrue Holiday
1. DeJuan Blair
2. Earl Clark
3. James Johnson
4. Tyler Hansbrough
However, the system also protects a team from passing on a player who fits a need just because he might be ranked one or two spots lower overall. Let me give you an example from one of the the worst drafting teams over the past few years, the Atlanta Hawks.
Former Hawks GM Billy Knight said every year that he would take the best player on the board, regardless of team need. He took Marvin Williams ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams in 2005, and 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.
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.