Simply Ballin NBA Player Tiers Explanation & Introduction
Who doesn’t love rankings?
It’s these rankings that sparked fun, long debates and arguments when I was in school. Who’s better Kevin Durant or LeBron James? Or should Kawhi Leonard be in this too? No, Stephen Curry has to be here, he just won unanimous MVP.
Whenever ESPN or Bleacher Report came out with their rankings, it was also fun reacting to see where your favorite player got ranked.
It was pointless and dumb, but it was fun.
But as fun as those conversations were, these rankings rarely told you anything meaningful. That’s what most rankings are and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sports, for the most part, is just meaningless, pointless, and fun to get away from the world. That’s why you can go ahead and argue that Khris Middleton should be the 17th-best player instead of the 28th.
There is also a time when you may want something more — something more than just fun and entertainment. For me right now, I love reading in-depth pieces to learn more about the players, the league, and people’s thought processes on how they value things.
And you can still get that through ranking pieces because not all rankings are the same. I’m not much of a fan of just a simple numbered list because it’s more complicated than that and a lot of the time, there aren’t any right answers.
There’s no right answer if you’re trying to decide between Gianni Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, or Curry. Anyone can make a legitimate case for each of those players and I couldn’t say they were wrong. But at the same time, you can clearly say that these players are on a much different level than a player like Donovan Mitchell.
That’s where tier rankings come in. Inspired by Seth Partnow and his tiers on The Athletic, I’ve grown a lot to put everything into tiers. They’re easier to make and they provide a much better outlook on the whole league in more depth.
Seeing the league in tiers also makes any analysis you want to have from a team-building point of view easier. I always enjoyed arguing about the Miami Heat about what they should do to compete for a championship and how they should do it. You can see the makeup of each team in a better way and see what’s needed.
And that’s why, for the first time, I’m trying to create my own NBA Tiers. I initially said it would be top-50 but based on the tiers that I came up with, a lot of players would’ve been left out. So, right now it’s looking like 75–100 players, with the majority being in the lower tiers.
Before going into the actual rankings, this piece will serve as an introduction to the criteria and an explanation for the tiers.
- Tier 5: Impactful Role Players
- Tier 4: Guards, Defense vs Offense in Bigs & Wings
- Tier 3: Lead Guards, #2s & Different Bigs
- Tier 2: Championship-Level Guys with Limitations
- Tier 1: The Elite of the Elite
- Final round-up & ranking
In any rankings, the criteria and what you value is the most important thing to set out before ranking players because they change a player’s position significantly whether that’s because of health or considering potential.
That’s the first point. This ranking has nothing to do with long-term potential. Victor Wembanyama could end up as the greatest player to ever live but he most likely won’t be that in 2024 and that’s what matters.
I should add that the potential for this upcoming season does matter. That’s to consider young guys taking a natural, reasonable progression. I think it’s fair to assume All-Star caliber players who are around 22–24 years old to be even better. But that’s as far as it goes.
This is considering players at full health. Unless there’s a real concern that the player may not be the same as they were pre-injury, I don’t take injuries as a big factor.
The playoffs are weighed significantly more. That’s where elite players separate themselves into different tiers. Being successful in the playoffs is much more difficult than having an excellent regular season. Don’t get me wrong, though, there’s still value in showing up through 82 games and it does matter — just not to that extent, especially if those players tend to decline in the playoffs.
The most important point, though, is what this is actually ranking. This isn’t ranking who had or is going to have the best regular season. This isn’t ranking who has the most trade value. This isn’t ranking who teams would pick in a hypothetical re-draft.
This is determining who’s the overall better player that will contribute to winning a championship.
But this is a broad statement. There are also many ways that you can go about that and it’s quite a difficult thing to even define. There are so many factors that need to be considered. So, let’s go a bit deeper.
The first point is that this takes multiple seasons into consideration. This isn’t a snapshot of just the current season. It’s taking the last couple of years and in a way, projecting them.
Regarding how I rank them, I think the best way is by evaluating them to the standards for their role. That obviously means deciding on the player’s ideal role. I say ideally because I don’t know how to feel about a player being punished for things outside of their control. A player not be good enough to be the best player on their team but if that’s simply the situation they got placed in, I don’t see how you can use that against them.
Each role also is valued differently. For example, a player who I’d say is great at their role in tier two would be better than a guy who’s elite at what they do in tier three or four.
One important point about what I value more is offense(with a couple of exceptions). When it comes to individual players, they have a significant impact on the game on offense than the best defender can do on defense. Barring some extreme examples, a player who’s elite on offense will be ahead of guys who are elite on defense.
Finally, the goal is also to win a championship. This does mean that players who are ceiling raisers and ones who have skills that can translate with other elite players will be valued more than players who can carry bad teams. But that’s also not a straightforward thing. That’s the general starting point, but everything is fluid.
So, using all of that I try to answer who’s going to help me win a championship in 2024 more in their ideal role.
The first step in deciding my tiers was listing as many players as possible somewhat in order and grouping them together that I feel are on a similar level(tier).
That gave me a very rough skeleton of what the tiers would look like and what players would be in each tier. Then came defining each tier:
Tier 1: Your superstars.
The elite of the elite. The clear(mostly) proven #1 that has won a championship. This was the easiest tier to make and I don’t see anyone else having a case to be alongside these players.
I see these players as almost flawless as you can get. Every single one of the players is an all-time talent. Every single one of them has enough counters that you just can’t stop them because they will find a way to punish you. That’s what separates them from everyone else.
One main thing they also provide is a huge margin of error. They’re so good just by themselves that they can flip a switch and do historic things but also elevate others at the same time, it makes life so much easier for everyone else.
You don’t have to cover for their weaknesses because they either don’t have it or they can cover that by themselves.
Plus it doesn’t hurt that almost all of them have a history backing all of this up.
Tier 2: Your borderline superstars.
They’re still elite players. They’re still capable of being a #1 guy on a championship team but just not on the same level as the guys above. And there are a few main differences.
They have more flaws. They may not be huge flaws. It may not exactly cost them a championship, but these little differences are what separates them from the very elite. It can be as small as someone not being an outside threat or being as good of a passer(even if they’re still elite compared to everyone else). These players are compared to the standard of being #1, so they’re also compared to the elites.
But their strengths also aren’t at an all-time level either. What they’re good at may not also provide as high of a ceiling as the others, so there’s less room for error and you may need to cover up for them.
Tier 3: Your great #1s or elite #2s.
For the most part, I don’t see these players capable of being a #1 on a championship team that has a high ceiling, unless they’re surrounded by perfect teammates — that’s the main difference between these tiers, these players will require more help and have less margin of error.
So, the majority of these players will be elite #2s. That’s their ideal role. But a lot of this is team-dependent. I can see these players being elite as a #2 but the rest of the team matters too. It matters who the #3 is.
Tier 4: Your complementary stars.
These are guys that typically would be the third-best player on a championship team. Ideally, they’re best suited to complement the other best players on the team but when needed, they can step up. But at the same time, there’s something holding them back from the next tier.
This tier and above were the most difficult ones to define and there may be some overlap.
Tier 5: Your elite role players and starters.
Finally, you have the first non-stars. These are the elite role players that excel in their roles. They most likely won’t put up big numbers or have the self-creation to go out and get there, but they will impact the game beyond the stat sheet.
They are elite at 1–3 skills that easily translate with high-level players. They are the glue that makes everything else better around the stars.
But the difference between them and the upper tier is I don’t think they have enough on-ball or self-creation juice to not rely on stars creating the offense for them.
And that is all for the introduction to my tiers. Laying out the criteria and defining the tiers was important to get out first because that can change everything about the rankings.
Although I’ve tried my best to define them and give them labels, this is all very fluid and a lot of it will have overlaps and have many players that can be argued either way.
The first rankings will be out tomorrow!