It has happened to everyone. You’re walking down the street, or sitting in a restaurant, or wrapping the floss around your finger when you wonder: “Who’s the better forward, the Suns’ Gani Lawal, or the Wizards’ Hamady N’Diaye?” Fortunately, ESPN solved this conundrum recently by ranking NBA players 1-500.
LeBron James finished No. 1. Lavoy Allen finished No. 500 (robbed!).
But what about the Trail Blazers?
Below is the list of where 91 experts collectively rated those currently on Portland’s roster, along with whether I think they were properly evaluated and why.
Feel free to debate for hours on end. After all, that’s about as close as you can get to feeling like an NBA player these days.
461, Chris Johnson.
Too low. Anyone who saw him in the playoffs knows that he is indisputably a top 455 guy.
452, Elliot Williams.
About right. He was a late first-round pick who has yet to play an NBA game due to knee surgeries. However, if you place a decimal between the 5 and the 2 in his ranking, that’s Williams’ vertical leap. Expect the Memphis product, in typical fashion, to rise.
426, Earl Barron.
Who cares. All I know is that dude is so low-profile that, the day after Osama bin Laden’s death, he tweeted: “BREAKING NEWS…..All mini-marts, convenient stores, hotels and 7-11’s will be closed this week due to death in family,” and got away with it.
419, Armon Johnson.
About right. For now. I don’t know that AJ has the talent to become an NBA starter, but there may not be a player in the league who so desperately wants to become one. The demotion to the Idaho Stampede midway through the season frightened Johnson worse than Rudy Fernandez facing an open 3. So every day since the Blazers called him back up, the point guard would be the last to leave the practice facility — working on his isolation game, outside shot, and occasionally his Dougie.
404, Luke Babbitt.
Too high. Before the season, this is the guy fellow rookies said was the best shooter from the 2010 draft class. After the season, Babbitt had posted a field-goal percentage of .273, a 3-point percentage of .188, and a free-throw percentage of .333. No, Blazers fans are not actually saying “Luuuuuuuuuuuke.”
394, Nolan Smith.
Who knows? Four-year Duke product. The 22nd pick of last June’s draft. A first-team All-American who improved every season. Smith may not end up higher than 390 next year, but he seems reliable enough to stay in the top 400.
316, Patty Mills.
Too low. Mills was the third or fourth guy off the bench for the Blazers in the playoffs, and if you’re a squad’s eighth to ninth best player in a 30-team league, shouldn’t your rank fall somewhere between 240 and 270? Maybe, but Mills’ court time also was a by-product of Portland’s lack of point guards. Patty may have gotten lost in the shuffle among ESPN’s voters, but not as lost as he tends to get on defense.
184, Greg Oden.
Too high. Oden is like a preseason No. 1 in college football who starts the year 1-3 and still finds itself in the top 25. This ranking was based on potential and projection, not production. I have a friend who’s in a picture with Oden playing beer pong. Some would worry that this might prompt him to become embarrassingly intoxicated. I’d be more worried about him hyperextending his elbow.
100, Wesley Matthews.
Way too low. LaMarcus Aldridge deserves all the credit he’s received for shouldering the Blazers sans Brandon Roy, but Matthews is the one who effectively replaced Roy as the starting 2-guard. His 15.9 points per game were second on the team. His .407 3-point percentage led the team (unless you count Armon Johnson going 5 for 12 from deep), and he may be Portland’s best perimeter defender. Matthews routinely fulfills expectations when he takes the basketball court. Unless, of course, you’re expecting to get the ball back after passing it to him.
80, Raymond Felton.
About right. Was last year’s statistical spike a result of Felton’s improvement, or his quarterbacking Mike D’Antoni’s caffeinated offense in New York? Most likely, it was the latter. But the 27-year-old who the Blazers traded for on draft night is still a solid piece of what could be become a more high-paced offense for Portland. As for his stomach? Well, that’s not as solid.
74, Marcus Camby.
Way too high. The fact that the 37-year-old has never made an All-Star team is a definite slight. But the fact that he is still considered one of the top 75 players in the league is equally egregious. He played only 59 games last year. He averaged less than five points. He posted almost one fewer block per game compared to his career average. And he was a 7-footer who shot under 40 percent from the field. Number 74? Maybe in the Western Conference.
70, Nicolas Batum.
Too high. GMs drool over his potential, but the case for the Frenchman belonging among the top 15 percent of players in the league is about as thin as his Olive Oil arms. Batum averaged just 12.4 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting .455 from the field last year, and Portland coach Nate McMillan never quite seemed satisfied with his defense. Nicolas has long said that he aspires to be like Scottie Pippen. At this rate, unfortunately, he might have to settle for the Blazers’ Scottie Pippen.
59, Brandon Roy.
Way too high. And that’s way too sad. Frustration led Roy to make a few me-first comments throughout last season, but the three-time All-Star is still one of the more genuine personalities in the NBA. That’s why it has been so difficult for fans to see bad knees transform him from a Hall-of-Famer to a Never-the-Samer. Yes, Roy’s fourth quarter in Game 4 vs. Dallas was legendary, but three games without a field goal in the final 40 days of the season tell us he is far more risky than he is regal.
48, Gerald Wallace.
Too low. Let the correlation vs. causation debate begin, but you can’t overlook this stat: Before the Blazers acquired Wallace last February, they were 8-19 vs. playoff teams. After his acquisition, they were 11-5. That might be a coincidence. Paul Allen never making the GQ cover might be, too. Wallace’s 15.2 points stand out because he never feels the need to score, he just does so when necessary. Add his 9.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and contagious energy on both ends of the floor, and the former All-Star is top-40 talent at the very least.
23, LaMarcus Aldridge.
Too low. Maybe way too low. I was one of the few locals who felt Kevin Love’s total body of work justified his beating out Aldridge for the final All-Star Game selection. But I also thought that Aldridge deserved to make second-team All-NBA, not third. If you look at some of the power forwards above him on ESPN’s list — Kevin Garnett, Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph, and Love — none of them had them had the single-handed impact on their team’s success that Aldridge did. Word is that LA has been spending much the offseason working on his off-hand. Perhaps his mastering the left will get the national media to finally get it right.
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org