Is there a consensus No. 1 prospect in this year's draft? Is there a consensus anything in this year's draft?
Of course, the word "consensus" is a bit of a joke. We are a week away from the draft and there are still major debates running internally within every front office in the league. If teams can't agree, internally, on the order of draft prospects, how can we create a "consensus" ranking? As hard as it is for NBA draftniks to believe, there is very little agreement within teams, let alone between them, on draft night.
This year is especially difficult. There aren't any elite players at the top of the draft and then there is enormous parity from the late lottery to the early second round. Many prospects are all over the board. I've been doing this a long time, and I've never seen so little agreement so close to the draft. Obviously, the draft is an inexact science, despite concerted attempts to create analytical models that are more predictive of a player's future success. I've read through a number of those models, and they don't agree on anything either.
NBA teams watch prospects play thousands of hours of games. They go to practices. Go to camps. Hire guys from MIT to create statistical solutions. Work out players, give them psychological tests, do background checks and conduct personal interviews. And still, there is very little consensus. Factor in the debate between taking the best player available versus filling team needs, and the situation muddies itself further.
To make sense of all of this, the past few years I've chronicled a draft ranking system employed by several teams called the tier system.
In the tier system, 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, here is how the tiers look this year.
(Note: Players are listed alphabetically in each tier.)
Note: This category is usually reserved for guys who are sure-fire All-Stars and franchise players. Since 2009, only Blake Griffin, John Wall and Anthony Davis have been ranked in this slot. This year, there just isn't anyone who looks like a "sure-fire" anything.
Note: Tier 2 is reserved for players who are projected as potential All-Stars by scouts. They are typical high lottery picks in a normal draft. Last year Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all got the nod as Tier 2 players. In 2011, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams were in this tier.
This year, I couldn't get a majority of teams to project anyone in this draft as a potential All-Star. Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore and Anthony Bennett all got a vote or two from teams that had them in Tier 2. But the overwhelming majority of teams I talked to had these players all ranked as Tier 3 prospects. This is the first draft tiers column I've ever done where there no players ranked in Tier 2.
Otto Porter Jr.
Note: These are the top six guys in the draft. Noel, Bennett and McLemore each received a small amount of votes for Tier 2, but the majority of teams I spoke with had them in Tier 3. This is one of the very few places in the draft that you'll find consensus. While there are a few exceptions, there's a very good chance that these six players will be the first six players to hear their names called on draft night. Teams have these six ordered differently depending on team needs or whether they are looking for immediate help or upside, but every team I spoke with had these six as their top six in some order.
Note: After Tier 3, the consensus breaks down pretty quickly. These are typical late-lottery to mid-first-round selections in a normal draft -- selections 10-20. In this draft this group is more likely to be drafted in the 7-14 range. Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum and Michael Carter-Williams got a small number of votes for Tier 3. But the majority of teams had them ranked in Tier 4. Zeller was ranked in Tier 4 by every team I spoke with. Caldwell-Pope and Adams had some Tier 5 votes, but the majority were in Tier 4.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Glen Rice Jr.
Note: This next group is the largest Tier 5 I've ever had, and it shows where the strength of the draft is. There is incredible depth here, and it's not uncommon to hear teams say that the player you draft at No. 35 might be as good as the player you get at No. 15. There is a whopping 25 players in this group. At least seven of these players won't hear their names called in the first round.
A few teams had Antetokounmpo, Karasev, Muhammad and Nogueira in Tier 4, but not quite enough for them to make the cut. Interestingly, Ledo got two votes for Tier 4 and is a guy who clearly has been impressing people in workouts.
Note: This tier has the players who were listed as top 60 prospects by the majority of the teams I spoke with. Of the group, only Abrines, Jerrett and Pressey got some Tier 5 votes.
Like every draft system, the tier system isn't perfect. But the teams that run it have had 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 has proven to be a much more precise tool of gauging which players a team should draft.