Chad Ford Insider: Ranking Prospects by Tiers

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Chad Ford Insider: Ranking Prospects by Tiers

This one will affect a few mock drafts I bet...

Originally published at

Every time I put up a new mock draft (Mock Draft 8.2 was updated on Thursday), 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. 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. As hard as it is for NBA draftniks to believe, there is very little consensus within teams, let alone between them, on draft night.

Obviously, the draft is an inexact science. NBA teams watch prospects play thousands of hours of games. They go to practice. They go to camps. 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 Spurs draft players who can fit into coach Gregg Popovich's system) when making their decisions.

To make sense of disparate rankings and debates over team needs, the past few years, I've chronicled a draft ranking system employed by several teams that have been very successful in the draft, which I call a tier system. Instead of developing an exact order from No. 1 to No. 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.)

(Note: Players are listed alphabetically in each tier.)

Tier 1

Anthony Davis

Note: This category is usually reserved for guys who are surefire All-Stars/franchise players. Last year, we didn't have anyone here. In 2010, John Wall was the only guy in this tier. In 2009, Blake Griffin was the only one. This year, Davis is the only player in the draft to get the nod.

Tier 2

Harrison Barnes
Bradley Beal
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Thomas Robinson

Note: Tier 2 is reserved for players who are likely locks for the top half of the lottery and are projected as either very good starters or potential All-Stars by scouts. Robinson, Beal and Kidd-Gilchrist got the nod for Tier 2 from every GM I spoke with. Barnes, who has been rising on draft boards the past few weeks after some stellar athletic testing numbers at the NBA draft combine, was on 75 percent of the lists.

Tier 3

Andre Drummond
Damian Lillard
Dion Waiters

Note: This is a smaller than usual Tier 3. These are the only three players (outside of the five mentioned already) who were consensus top-10 picks among the GMs I spoke with. Of the group, Drummond and Lillard had every vote. Waiters was on most of the ballots. Drummond is the toughest guy to peg. One team has him No. 2 on their draft board. Others are much more nervous about him and see a high bust potential. He barely missed the Tier 2 cut. Interestingly, a few teams had Waiters in Tier 2, while a few teams had him in Tier 4. That's a pretty big spread.

Austin Rivers
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireTeams disagree on where Austin Rivers should be taken in the draft.

Tier 4

John Henson
Perry Jones III
Terrence Jones
Jeremy Lamb
Meyers Leonard
Kendall Marshall
Austin Rivers
Terrence Ross
Jared Sullinger
Tyler Zeller

Note: After Tier 3, it's very difficult to find a real consensus here. There are 10 players here for a total of five spots left in the lottery. A few players, such as Jeremy Lamb and Austin Rivers, got a few votes in Tier 3. A few others, such as Kendall Marshall, got some Tier 5 votes. But in general, this group makes up the 10-20 range of the draft. (We should note that I received some of these responses before GMs had a chance to review Sullinger's physical. He is in Tier 5 on some teams' boards now.)

Tier 5

Moe Harkless
Fab Melo
Quincy Miller
Arnett Moultrie
Andrew Nicholson
Marquis Teague
Royce White
Tony Wroten Jr.

Note: This next group looks like locks for the first round, but most likely won't make the lottery. A few teams had Harkless, Melo and Moultrie in Tier 4, but not quite enough for them to make the cut. Wroten and Miller were borderline picks here. Both players dropped out of the top 30 on at least one NBA team's draft board.

Tier 6

Furkan Aldemir
Will Barton
Jared Cunningham
Festus Ezeli
Evan Fournier
Draymond Green
John Jenkins
Orlando Johnson
Doron Lamb
Kyle O'Quinn
Kostas Papanikolaou
Miles Plumlee
Jeff Taylor
Tyshawn Taylor

Note: This is what I would call the first-round bubble group and where the consensus really started to break down. A few teams had Fournier, Green, Jeff Taylor and Barton in Tier 5, but many did not. Overall there are just four spaces left in the first round ... so most of the players on this list are falling to the second round.

So how does the tier system work?

A team ranks players in each tier according to team need. So, in Tier 4, if shooting guard is the biggest need, a player like Rivers or Ross is ranked No. 1. If center is the biggest need, Leonard or Zeller is ranked No. 1.

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 Pistons are drafting No. 9 (Tier 3 territory) and Damian Lillard (a Tier 3 player) is on the board, they take him regardless of positional need. If they have Meyers Leonard ranked No. 1 in Tier 4, they still take Lillard even though center is a more pressing need.

This system protects teams from overreaching based on team need. The Pistons won't pass on a clearly superior player like Waiters to fill a need with Perry Jones. 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.

The Pistons followed this model last year at the draft. While the consensus was they needed a big, when Brandon Knight, who they had ranked in a higher tier fell, they took him anyway.

My all-time favorite historical example is from the Atlanta Hawks. GM Billy Knight took Marvin Williams ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams in 2005, and Shelden Williams ahead of a guards such as Brandon Roy and Rajon Rondo in 2006 because of positional needs.

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.

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