Chad Ford's Annual Ranking Prospects by tier

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Chad Ford's Annual Ranking Prospects by tier


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.)


Tier 1


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.


Tier 2


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.


Tier 3

Anthony Bennett
Alex Len
Ben McLemore
Nerlens Noel
Victor Oladipo
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.


Tier 4

Steven Adams
Trey Burke
Michael Carter-Williams
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
C.J. McCollum
Cody Zeller

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.


Tier 5

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Reggie Bullock
Isaiah Canaan
Allen Crabbe
Gorgui Dieng
Jamaal Franklin
Rudy Gobert
Archie Goodwin
Erick Green
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Pierre Jackson
Sergey Karasev
Shane Larkin
Ricardo Ledo
C.J. Leslie
Tony Mitchell
Shabazz Muhammad
Mike Muscala
Lucas Nogueira
Kelly Olynyk
Mason Plumlee
Glen Rice Jr.
Dennis Schroeder
Tony Snell
Jeff Withey
Nate Wolters

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.


Tier 6

Alex Abrines
Lorenzo Brown
Jackie Carmichael
James Ennis
Colton Iverson
Livio Jean-Charles
Grant Jerrett
Myck Kabongo
Ray McCallum
Nemanja Nedovic
Phil Pressey
Andre Roberson
B.J. Young

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.

Ang Puti Lalaki
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Mr. Ford

If I have not tokld you. I love you man

Chewy's picture
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No tier 1 or 2!

This really puts this draft into perspective. It is a weak draft when noone is showing the potential to be a star. However, the real strength lies in the late first round and early second. There are so many players that could be 10 yr career back ups that when it's all said and done, you could agree for a ton of people being drafted too low!

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Shabazz tier 5?


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Its a consensus among scouts

Its a consensus among scouts not only his opinion,some of them probably worked him out,all of them watched films.Are you saying most nba scouts who do this for a living are wrong,and you're right?

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yeah, Shabazz Muhammed=

yeah, Shabazz Muhammed= Archie Goodwin.........................the same gotta be kidding me. I don't Believe Shabazz is the second coming of Jordan by any means but man, He's gonna be wayyyyyyyyyy better than goodwin will ever be.

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i think mclemore should be a

i think mclemore could be a tier 2..and ricky ledo tier 5?? eeeee

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Agreed with McLemore as a

Agreed with McLemore as a tier 2 prospect. I really don't see why he's a worse prospect than Beal or Harrison Barnes. IMO he would be a top 5 pick even in a strong draft, just not a possible #1 player overall.

I also think Muhammed is starting to be underrated. IMO he should be tier 4. I would probably also bump Burke to tier 3.

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^ i totally with you, i think

^ i totally with you, i think Burke is vastly underrated and he has got such little respect w/ his play during the tournament. I also think Mclemore is a tier 2 prospect, IMO he would be ranked every bit as high as Beal if they were in the same draft, I'd don't understand why alot of ppl think he is the lesser of the two. He's bigger, that fact alone is the reason theres so many ppl who say MCW>Burke(which i do not believe.) Kinda shocked Burke got no love w the season he had.

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Ford's Last Year Tiers.

Interesting to see last year's Tiers.

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.

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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I can understand the argument

I can understand the argument that the point guard and combo guards, while talented, would probably not be up to the All-Star standard of Chris Paul or Tony Parker and the like in the West and Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, and the like in the East. I tend to agree with the assessment that the big men are going to be All-Star caliber. What gets me, though, is what really makes Otto Porter all that different from the grouping of a Kawhi Leonard, Luol Deng, Paul George, Tayshaun Prince where they aren't isolation players but are really good well-rounded players who have been rewarded for their roles winning teams with All-Star nods. Also, I just would not be entirely certain that Porter, in a different system, couldn't show an even more diverse offensive repertoire. He learned a ton playing by playing in the Georgetown system, but it is possible he could have showed even more. What is the difference between Ben McLemore and Bradley Beal? If 455 of Beal's 687 shots were long twos or threes and is assisted on three-quarters of his makes (and the incredible difference he saw when playing with John Wall as opposed to the replacements), then why would the criticism of McLemore extend to him not being capable of being a similar styled player with similar upside?

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I agree. I think a lot of the

I agree. I think a lot of the Tier 3 players are just as good if not better than the folks that were in Tier 2 last year.

I think Kyrie was only a Tier 2 player because of the injury and how few games he played in college. You just couldn't say "sure thing" when the sample size was so small and the athleticism wasn't through the roof. But if he had put up his college numbers over a two year injury free college career, I think he would have been viewed as a can't miss star.

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